Friday, February 29, 2008

Problems with Science Prizes

One major problem with science prizes is that in creating publicity they also attract crazies.

James Randi offers a 1 million dollar prize for someone exhibiting paranormal powers. This prize has produced a lot of anger in the paranormal community and Randi has spent a great deal of time dealing with it.

The fact that this celebration of the upcoming closing of the challenge is bringing such joy to the woo-woo community, proves that the challenge offered an insurmountable impediment to the wonder-workers out there. They will all heave a mighty sigh of relief when March 7th, 2010, rolls around, and then will begin wailing that they weren’t given their chance to carry off the prize money…”

Another example of this is Alfred Wallace (the co-discoverer of evolution) who won a prize for proving the world was not flat.

The judge for the wager, the editor of Field magazine, declared Wallace the winner, but Hampden refused to accept the result. He sued Wallace and launched a campaign, which persisted for several years, of writing letters to various publications and to organizations of which Wallace was a member denouncing him as a swindler and a thief. Wallace won multiple libel suits against Hampden, but the resulting litigation cost Wallace more than the amount of the wager and the controversy frustrated him for years”

Prizes put up a great “put up or shut up” argument however particularly with people with odd beliefs engaging with them is a bit like covering yourself in barbecue sauce and rolling around in a bag of rabid badgers. Can you think of anyways to reduce the crazy tax associated with science prizes?

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