Saturday, May 09, 2009

Prize Roundup - May 10, 2009

From Pomerantz twitter:

I'll be speaking at Mindshare LA in about two weeks! Come check it out--should be a lot of fun!

I'm excited that we're in the Wall Street Journal! "Science Prize: Innovation or Stealth Advertising?" features #GLXP

Here's a contrary opinion from the article:

"I hate these inducement prizes and their language of social benefit," says University of Pennsylvania prize scholar James F. English, author of "The Economy of Prestige: Prizes, Awards and The Circulation of Cultural Value." "It's a cover for what they are really about, which is getting attention. I don't think that kind of small-scale frantic prize-chasing investment is the best way for us to solve big problems.

Innovation prizes certainly aren't the best way to solve every big problem, or every problem in general, but I'd argue that if they're well-chosen and well-run they are better in many cases than traditional approaches like cost-plus contracts and research grants. In many other cases they're good for chipping away at big problems, or complementing contracts and grants. In spite of recent increased use, I'd class them in the "drastically underused" category at the moment.

Of course marketing, public relations, and sponsorship are an essential part of innovation prizes. In the words of former NASA Administrator Mike Griffin, "So what?". (Dr. Griffin was speaking on tens of billions of dollars of cost overruns in NASA's large-scale, multidecade [i.e. non-frantic - possibly lethargic] non-prize investment to probably not solve a big problem that doesn't need to be solved). I don't think the language is a "cover" for these, though. These PR features are an inherent, obvious and well-understood aspect of the whole prize approach.

By the way, Dr. English is a professor of English who specializes in literature from England. I think that's pretty cool. I haven't read his book (winner of the Best Academic Book of 2005 prize by New York Magazine), so I can only comment on his brief statement for the WSJ article. The book is supposed to deal mainly with artistic prizes rather than technical innovation prizes, and it's supposed to be critical of the prize culture.

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