LIPINSKI INTRODUCES BIPARTISAN GENIUS ACT TO CREATE CASH PRIZES FOR SCIENTIFIC BREAKTHROUGHS
April 22, 2010
Today, Congressmen Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) and Frank Wolf (R-Va.) introduced the bipartisan Generating Extraordinary New Innovations in the United States (GENIUS) Act, H.R. 5094, which would create a National Science Foundation program to offer cash prizes for solving crucial basic research problems in science and engineering. The legislation is expected to be incorporated into the reauthorization of the America COMPETES Act.
"If America is going to maintain its leading position in the ultra-competitive global economy, we need to dream big and inspire our brightest scientific minds," Congressman Lipinski said. "Prizes for solving specific scientific and technological problems have a long history and a strong track record of sparking notable achievements and discoveries. Recently, the $10 million Ansari X Prize induced private organizations to spend more than $100 million developing reusable manned spacecraft, and the Clay Mathematics Institute prizes have brought wide attention to some of math's hardest problems, including the 100-year-old Poincaré Conjecture, which was finally solved three years after the $1 million prize was announced. A prize program at the National Science Foundation will complement the NSF's traditional funding approach, helping it to spark research breakthroughs capable of opening up new industries and creating jobs."
"The return on this investment will be well worth it," Congressman Wolf said. "Innovation creates jobs and bolsters our manufacturing base."
While innovation inducement prizes have been utilized by NASA, the Department of Energy, the Department of Defense, and the private sector, they have not been employed by the NSF. Congressman Lipinski's bill would authorize a total of $12 million for up to five prizes of at least $1 million each, in contests lasting up to seven years.
The National Academies' 2005 report Rising Above the Gathering Storm, which laid the foundation for the America COMPETES Act, recommended that federal research agencies set aside a portion of their budgets for high-risk, high-reward research. A later study by the Academies concluded that innovation inducement prizes would be "a sound investment in strengthening the infrastructure for U.S. innovation." There is a growing consensus in the research community that the peer-review system has become too conservative in its funding decisions and even the brightest and most creative scientists and engineers are not bothering to submit more ambitious proposals. Establishing innovation prizes at the NSF is a novel way to address this problem.
A traditional grant proposal necessarily focuses on meeting incremental challenges during the grant period, which is typically only four years. But a prize contest can spur solutions to seemingly intractable problems by providing a new kind of incentive for researchers both inside and outside of academia. In addition, prizes are exceptionally cost-effective, since no payments are made unless the specified goal is met, and they can prompt institutions and groups of researchers to spend more than the amount of the prize in labor and other costs. By highlighting critical problems and inspiring breakthroughs, innovation prizes can also help to stir a wider excitement and interest in the frontiers of science.
"The greatest achievements are the result of tackling the biggest problems," Congressman Lipinski said. "The GENIUS Act recognizes this, which is why it is such a promising approach to encouraging American innovation."
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