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Tech Leaders Create Most Lucrative Science Prize In History 147

Posted by samzenpus
from the bucks-for-brains dept.
redletterdave writes "Mark Zuckerberg, Sergey Brin and Yuri Milner have teamed up to create The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation, which now offers the most lucrative annual prize in the history of science: A $33 million pot to be split among 11 people, with individual rewards worth $3 million apiece. Comparatively, the monetary value of the Nobel prize is just $1.1 million. 'Our society needs more heroes who are scientists, researchers and engineers,' Zuckerberg said. 'We need to celebrate and reward the people who cure diseases, expand our understanding of humanity and work to improve people's lives.'"
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Tech Leaders Create Most Lucrative Science Prize In History

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  • by vswee (2040690) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @06:31AM (#42964903) Journal
    or is this some sort of advertising thing? You simply cant's trust people with money and power to be genuine these days.
    • by Anonymous Coward

      Most likely in it to take advantage of some tax relief loophole.

      • by jmhobrien (2750125) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @08:42AM (#42965543)
        NO WAY! This is a genuine philanthropic endeavor by some of the most altruistic people on the planet. They are giving away their fortunes out of the goodness of their hearts. And besides, isn't it better that we let the righteous distribute their earnings as they see fit, and not let those socialist tax collectors get in the way?
        • by the gnat (153162) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:09AM (#42967023)

          And besides, isn't it better that we let the righteous distribute their earnings as they see fit, and not let those socialist tax collectors get in the way?

          One of the stranger complaints I've read about the philanthropy of Bill Gates was that it unfairly allows Bill Gates to decide which causes are worthy, instead of the people of the United States. This is rather perverse if you consider what he's spending the money on - how many Americans do you think die from malaria each year? Any guesses how many Americans would vote to continue funding research into malaria versus, say, obesity or Alzheimer's or other 1st-world afflictions? Basically, people are upset that his charity is directed at impoverished equatorial nations instead of the American middle class.

          I'm no fan of how Bill Gates made his money - I still wince every time I have to use Microsoft products, with the lone exception of their optical mice - nor am I a particular fan of Facebook. But I think in this case I'll trust their judgement over that of the people who elected Bush twice.

      • You have to worry about paying taxes first. Zuckerberg gets a pass on that. It's good to have friends in the White House.
    • by mwvdlee (775178) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @07:04AM (#42965041) Homepage

      First thought when I read the names Zuckerberg and Brin was; There must be a clause in there which states that to claim the prices means handing over any and all patents.

      I do agree with the sentiment that a "hero" is somebody who saves lives rather than somebody who is really good at sports, making money or generally getting themselves in front of a camera. People seem to admire the wrong people nowadays.

    • Brin, Milner and Zuckerberg just want to live forever (or have a medical condition). They have the money to fund these sorts of things, so might as well start investing into it while you're young. I don't know their religious views, but if it involves not believing in the existence of an afterlife ... I suspect that to be highly motivating for funding a life sciences contest.

      I'm kind of surprised that Elon Musk isn't involved with this some how.

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        I'm kind of surprised that Elon Musk isn't involved with this some how.

        And Ray Kurzweil, with his fucking vitamin pills.

        "I will live to see the Singularity, I will".

    • What makes you assume they were 'genuine' in days past?

    • by jadv (1437949)
      You make it sound as if having money were directly correlated to not being trustworthy.
      • by tehcyder (746570)

        You make it sound as if having money were directly correlated to not being trustworthy.

        The love of money is the root of all evil.

        It's not having money that makes you untrustworthy, it's wanting to have it above all else.

    • by morgauxo (974071)

      Why should we care what their motivation is? If the money helps improve my future or the future of one or more of my loved ones then why should I care why they did it? If it doesn't then well.. it was their money any way I didn't expect to benefit from it yesterday! And no, it doesn't matter what I think of how they got the money. They already had it even before making this announcement. To me this just means that I MIGHT some day benefit from their fortunes. That's a win as I see it!

      Besides, they are rea

  • all 11 winners are from the US.
    • all 11 winners are from the US.

      The two Dutch scientists that won [dutchnews.nl] would probably disagree.

    • by fermion (181285)
      And the Nobel prize is more likely to reward science, rather than what passes for 'medical research'. Don't get me wrong, I know some life scientist, and read some life science, that conducts good rigorous work, but is that the exception rather then the rule?
  • Immortality. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by Dr_Barnowl (709838) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @06:35AM (#42964919)

    It's a bid for immortality. Young rich guys sponsoring biotech research? They want to live forever.

    • by cribera (2560179)

      It's a bid for immortality. Young rich guys sponsoring biotech research? They want to live forever.

      You need to check this http://www.2045.com/ [2045.com]

      • by tibit (1762298)

        People can fantasize all they want. Just because you have a flashy website doesn't mean there's anything of substance behind it. Just look at their timeline. It's a load of crap.

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        It's a bid for immortality. Young rich guys sponsoring biotech research? They want to live forever.

        You need to check this http://www.2045.com/ [2045.com]

        Why not be honest and call it the "it will always be 30 years in the future" project?

    • Agreed. Not the first and won't be the last, cf. Howard Hughes Medical Institute.

    • I'm cool with that. Early adopters are pretty standard in tech fields.

    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by tibit (1762298)

      Oh give me a break, that's the second post here saying the same fantasy. They are not stupid, they know that there's no immortality on the table, just as they know that normal pace of medical progress can and does extend lives without them having to do anything special about it. They just want to support what's dear to them, in a way. Crossing the chasm between supporting life sciences and offering a "bid for immortality" requires a bit more support than a one liner post. Insightful, my ass. It's a troll po

    • Couldn't they at least come up with a better name? "The Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences Foundation" doesn't really roll off the tongue...
  • Yeah right. (Score:3, Insightful)

    by KublaCant (2847303) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @06:54AM (#42965001)
    A moron who once had business cards with "I'm CEO, bitch !" thinks scientists are going to take him serious because of... what ? Money ? Dontlemmelaugh.
    • Re:Yeah right. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by JaredOfEuropa (526365) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @08:10AM (#42965343) Journal
      So just because he once had those cards made, probably as a joke, when he started the company, should he now be forever ignored? Come on...

      Scientists will take this prize as seriously as the selection process is going to be. If they award this to deserving scientists, then the scientific community will, over time, take them seriously. Silly business cards of one of the founders notwithstanding.
      • by tibit (1762298)

        Exactly! And if one thinks that scientists don't take funding seriously, then well, one has no clue what it means to be a scientist these days. If you've got your Ph.D. and have subordinates, it's very likely that quite a bit of your time will be spent in various aspects of grant hunting and fund-schmoozing. It's a sad waste of brains, if you ask me, but that's how things are at the moment, at least in the U.S. The higher you go in responsibilities, the less time you'll have for science. Feynman knew exactl

      • by Anonymous Coward

        I'm a scientist and I don't take this seriously. The problem is tech people don't understand science. That's why you see stupid comments about how the we shouldn't be funding ITER and putting all our money into Polywell. This money will do nothing for advance science. If they were serious they should donate that money to the funding agencies (DOE, NSF, NIH, NOAH, NASA, DARPA, DITRA, etc...). You will get a lot more scientific output if you divided that $33,000,000 into 66 $500,000/3 year grants.

      • The prize will come with a plaque that says, "I'm a badass scientist, Bitch"

    • by rmstar (114746)

      A moron who once had business cards with "I'm CEO, bitch !" thinks scientists are going to take him serious because of... what ? Money ? Dontlemmelaugh.

      There are a lot of scientists in the world, and some of them are quite cynical and needy of recognition - and money, anyway. I don't think they'll have trouble getting rid of that money.

    • by tehcyder (746570)
      For those (like me) who didn't know this, the fuckbucket in question was Mark Zuckerberg.
  • but why only in life sciences? other kinds of sciences are not important? they wouldn't be in their current position if there were not progress and breakthrough in physical sciences and maths. Just wondering.
    • by muon1183 (587316)
      Well, the Russian billionaire Yuri Milnor created the Fundamental Physics Prize about a year ago. http://www.fundamentalphysicsprize.org/ [fundamenta...sprize.org] The top prize is worth $3 million (meaning the breakthrough prize is not the largest science prize in history) and there are a number of smaller prizes worth $1 million each.
    • by Hentes (2461350)

      I agree, the medical field already gets far too much attention. We live in a world where we have beaten most diseases and already live longer than we should, yet we continue to pour more and more money into the medical business because of our base fear of death.

      • Re:that's nice (Score:5, Insightful)

        by IndustrialComplex (975015) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @11:01AM (#42966919)

        We live in a world where we have beaten most diseases and already live longer than we should

        Oh yeah... beaten most disease? Give me a fucking break. We certainly nailed some big viruses, but those aren't diseases.

        Let me know when you figure out how to cure something as simple as Migraine headaches. How about depression, we have 'treatments' but certainly no cures, and those treatments are a crapshoot. Maybe this drug works... oh no, well lets try this one... Yeah it works, but your heartrate doubled...

        The simple fact of the matter is that the current state of 'medicine' is that your options for actually beating a disease are:
        1. Take a vaccine for the cause before you actually get the disease (if a vaccine exists)
        2. Take antibiotics if it is bacterial in nature. Hope that the infection hasn't caused irreversable damage
        3. Take a knife and cut it out.
        4. Sew it back up.

        Everything else is basically palliative care. We are just now beginning to se the barest glimpse of genetic treatments, and you are considering most diseases beaten and that people live too long?

        I know misanthropy is hip on slashdot, but that doesn't make you right.

      • by tehcyder (746570)

        We live in a world where we have beaten most diseases and already live longer than we should

        I can only assume you're a healthy, young ans an optimist.

        Wait til you get to 50 and see if you think the same way

        • by Hentes (2461350)

          I know that most old people feel different, maybe I will too, but that's not really an argument in itself. I was thinking about the people who can't do much but vegetate for their last 10-20 years. Maybe we should embrace death with dignity rather than prolonging our lives artificially past the age when we can still take care of ourselves.

      • by mattack2 (1165421)

        already live longer than we should

        Feel free to off yourself (and you only, not you + a bunch of co-workers or random people), and make room for the rest of us who want to live as long as possible (combined with a reasonable standard of life.. e.g. I still want tasty food).

  • by Yvanhoe (564877) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @07:02AM (#42965031) Journal
    The Nobel price is not about the money, it is about the reputation the reputation is from the Nobel committee. They will have to assemble a well-functioning one, otherwise it is no more than a set of private grants.
  • by complex_pi (2030154) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @07:25AM (#42965105)
    If we want to have actual heroes doing the research that will lead to such prizes, why not give reasonable career path to scientists? Right now, heroes are first selected by "who is willing to stay in academia despite the working condition", which is not a very interesting criterion in my opinion.
    • by the gnat (153162)

      who is willing to stay in academia despite the working condition

      Actually, if you're a tenured senior professor with a good stream of grant money, like the prize winners are, life is pretty decent - and there are a few HHMI investigators on the list, so they don't exactly have to grovel for funding. Their salary doesn't put them in the top 1% but it certainly qualifies for the top 5% or better. It isn't a truly upper-class lifestyle, but if you are capable of living modestly, which most people are, it's no

    • If we want to have actual heroes doing the research that will lead to such prizes, why not give reasonable career path to scientists?

      THIS. With $33M a year you can fund about 8000 postdocs (NIH payscale), or 3000 professors.

      Or you could directly fund your own institute, with positions that are more stable than the dreaded post-doc, but less cushy than the unfireable tenured professorship. Like Louis Pasteur [wikipedia.org] did with his Nobel money, to the enduring benefit of mankind.

      Either of these would probably do much more for actual science than piling up more money on folks who are likely to have their career behind them.

      • by femtobyte (710429)

        I think you mean 800 postdocs or 300 professors, unless NIH postdocs really only cost $4000/year.
        However, I still think that would be far more useful for advancing the field than creating a tiny handful of super-rich superstars.
        These zillionaire CEO types have an awfully skewed vision of the world where they think bright people are deciding whether or not to stay in academic research based on whether or not they have a shot at mega-millions. In reality, the case is more typically "still no job positions ope

  • Yeah, I want a "prestigious" award from that guy...

  • by OzPeter (195038) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @08:05AM (#42965321)

    And yet the amount of money still pales in comparison to what pro athletes make.

    • And yet the amount of money still pales in comparison to what pro athletes make per game.

      FTFY. Though I'm sure some pro athletes make somewhat less per game. It still is ridiculous; depressed economy my ass!

    • by ArhcAngel (247594)
      Not just pro athletes but entertainers in general. Perhaps a tax on the entertainment industry that would go towards grants for science. I mean the recording industry gets to tax blank media because it might be used to copy media illegally. And certain vices get sin taxed to fund recovery programs and what not. Why not a mind numbing tax for certain entertainment avenues to go towards reversing the dumbing down [wikipedia.org] of the average person?
  • This does nothing except provide a tax write off and stroke the giver ego.

    Do real scientist do this for the money and the prizes? No.

    Providing a wad of cash provides no extra incentive.

    If the real goal is to change the overall culture of enourgaging science - its still misguided.

    Why not take that $$ and use it for more grant proposals and set fund science VC style and get more incubators?

    • by the gnat (153162)

      Do real scientist do this for the money and the prizes? No.

      Who made you the arbiter of what constitutes a "real" scientist? Scientists are human beings just like everyone else, with the same motivations and aspirations - in fact, to be successful on the level of the people who just won the prize, you need to have quite a bit of self-confidence, often to the point of egotism. (Eric Lander, for instance, is not known for his humility, but he does some terrific science. Craig Venter is an even more extreme

  • So the anti-privacy king, Mark Zuckerberg, is trying to clean-up his reputation a bit? Too bad not one thing that man does is altruistic. I do dislike Mark Zuckerberg because he believes people should bow to him because of his wealth. Zuckerberg is not some Nobel Prize winning intellectual but someone who found a way to capitalize on blogging. He hasn't created anything new or novel. I don't automatically hold the wealthy on a pedestal simply due to social status.
  • And (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Murdoch5 (1563847) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @08:15AM (#42965381)
    I think truly great teachers should be included. Now to be fair out of the last 20 years of school I think I could nominate two profs. Good teachers are almost impossible to find. Just like great science leaders or engineers, a great teacher can inspire, the problem is 99.9999% of teachers inspire kids to give up rather then strive ( like my entire experience in elementary and secondary ).
    • by cribera (2560179)

      I think truly great teachers should be included. Now to be fair out of the last 20 years of school I think I could nominate two profs. Good teachers are almost impossible to find. Just like great science leaders or engineers, a great teacher can inspire, the problem is 99.9999% of teachers inspire kids to give up rather then strive ( like my entire experience in elementary and secondary ).

      Please MOD PARENT UP. Jaime Escalante's innovative style of teaching science should be rewarded, instead of letting people like him die in poverty, and his work destroyed (he wasn't allowed to leave a legacy).

  • Is science driven forward primarily by individual heroes? They talk about inspiration, but how inspiring can it be when the difference between nr. 12 and nr. 11 is 3 million dollars?

  • by paiute (550198) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @09:18AM (#42965763)
    My plan is to emulate my hero Zuck - find a scientist with a great idea, sign up to work for him, copy all his notes, disappear for a while, reappear with his work with my name on it, claim the prize.
  • >>> ... this prize will re-energize the medical field to continue their endeavors to research and battle cancer, Parkinsonâ(TM)s disease and diabetes, among other medical maladies.

    Great just what we need (not), just like the Gates foundation and pretty much every "charity" out there, yet another funding source for destroying natural slelection in humans uand extending peoples lives even though we are already very good at making more people to the point where its arguable that there are alread

    • by the gnat (153162)

      yet another funding source for destroying natural slelection in humans

      Great, another amateur eugenicist on Slashdot. Jesus Christ, where do you people come from? As far as I'm concerned I'd happily trade one of you for a dozen starving African children with malaria, selected at random.

      its arguable that there are already too many people on the planet

      Why don't you become part of the solution then?

      Medical research is already a shrewd racket that just focusses on patents and symptom-supressing drugs rather th

  • >> ...which will be made available to the public to help keep citizens informed on the latest developments in the science and medical fields.

    The thing people always seem to miss with these prizes that the football and oscar people don't? Marketing. If you want the average citizen to care, you need to MAKE them care. Take 5 of that 33 million and use it to film a series detailing some of the competitors. Focus on their personal investments in their inventions, their struggles, etc. so that people becom

    • by korbulon (2792438)

      Embracing that sort of celebrity culture is a kind of selling out, but it's a kind that needs to be seriously considered if you want to invest the average celebrity-focused person on the ideas at hand.

      Obviously you're not a bowler.

  • by Pigeon451 (958201) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @10:10AM (#42966309)

    These massive awards go to researchers who have made truly novel discoveries. They tend to be older researchers past their prime who have already reaped rewards of their research (fame and likely money).

    Funding for general research in life sciences has dipped to an all time low, with success rates less than 10% (it was much higher before the economic crisis a few years ago). The top amazing research by big groups still gets funded, but there is still some excellent work that goes unfunded, particularly by young up and coming talented researchers. These young investigators don't yet have a name for themselves, and unfortunately that impedes their ability to get grants and thus do their research.

    The Gates foundation is an excellent example of how this can be done -- In today's economy, I would prefer to see something similar than a massive pot going to a few amazing but well established researchers. Of course this wouldn't have made the news if it wasn't over the top...

  • The problem with promoting "heroes" is that everybody else can go and suck it. Throwing money at projects is a nice sentiment, but this is not how scientific progress works. A society or a group needs to promote a sufficiently large community of scientists, and every once in a while something really great pops out. It's a lot like catching fish: often what you really need is a bigger net. To that end, what isn't need is some token prize to hand out to a couple of "winners". This is the route you take if yo
  • ``Our society needs more heroes who are scientists, researchers and engineers,'' Zuckerberg said. ``We need to celebrate and reward the people who cure diseases, expand our understanding of humanity and work to improve people's lives.''

    So I guess what he left unsaid was:

    ``And we more recognition of you scientists to divert attention from the people like me and the crap like Facebook that we produce.''

  • Listening to NPR last night about this, they mentioned that the majority of the recipients already work for very large, well-funded institutions...and the money is going directly to the scientists, not being specified for actual research. So...how is this helping science? If they wanted to help scientists, they should make the money available as grants and give them to scientists who need funding.
    • by naroom (1560139)
      I think they had a different purpose in mind: recognizing scientists who are already awesome, so as to hold them up as inspirational figures. Other prizes exist for up-and-coming researchers.

      I can't speak for most of the scientists on the list, but two days ago I had the pleasure of seeing Cornelia Bargmann speak, and she was AMAZING. Some of her talks are on Youtube, and I highly recommend them:
      Genes, the brain and behavior [youtube.com]

      They're accessible enough for the general public.
  • Zuck wants to make it to the singularity. Sadly he probably will - the thought of him being alive in 1000 years is disheartening.

  • by conspirator23 (207097) on Thursday February 21, 2013 @02:26PM (#42969941)

    I, for one, welcome our new competitively philanthropic overlords.

    The new found social, political, and economic clout that modern day intellectuals are receiving as an outcome of the digital revolution is welcome and long overdue. The prize-ification of discovery and invention is a reflection of a shift in the priorities of our culture as a whole. The PBS Idea Channel [youtube.com] has argued [youtube.com] that in the modern area, societies pursuit of greatness has largely focused on athletics. That the money for, attention to, and veneration of athletes is what is largely driving the steady crushing of one record of physical acheivement after another.

    Prizes like this, the X Prize, bug bounties, crowdsourced funding of science and technology research... all of this is a reflection of gradually shifting priorities. We are slowly redefining what it means to be a winner or a hero. Even if this sort of activity is a relatively minor contribution to the overall progress of civilization, it is a welcome sign of the times.

    (P.S. Not watching the Idea Channel yet? Put away your re-tread oblig. XKCD links and get thee to Youtube.)

  • If I were one of the scientist and researchers who received $3 million, the first thing that I would do is retire. Don't need to go to work anymore.

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