I saw the Breakthrough Prizes announced this weekend and was excited to learn about the interesting scientists on the list, including Jennifer Doudna who many of us in life science recognize for her CRISPR/Cas9 work. I’ll start out saying that I am glad to see a group of such influential people (Sergey Brin and Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan, and Yuri and Julia Milner) wanting to “honor important, primarily recent, achievements in the categories of Fundamental Physics, Life Sciences and Mathematics.” Most scientists only get offers for $3M in prize money with the caveat of providing our bank account first. But….
One of the other goals of the Breakthrough Prizes is “to celebrate their achievements and inspire the next generation of scientists.” I propose that much more is required than prize money, a televised gala of the stars (and scientists) and a program of lectures and symposiums to enable that vision. The funders of this prize have invested in and built technologies/businesses that have changed our everyday lives, including Google and Facebook. Could they help these (and other) scientists translate their discoveries in ways that are approachable to non-scientists AND enable spreading of those messages using the technologies/businesses?
What if a young person, someone interested in science but without much training (a pre-scientist?), saw the prize for CRISPR/Cas9 prize and searched the interwebs to learn more about it? (Admittedly, already a big what if – but that is where we hope to end up, right?) The young folks I know like to learn through videos so to Google Videos: about 12,800 results with the first page filled with technical explanations of the science. I saw similar things when I searched YouTube directly. I tried adding non-scientist to the search terms and was able to find this one minute video from The Independent.
What if these prizes were built (around existing resources) to explain the science and the potential impact of these breakthroughs? What if these technology barons could #breaktheinternet with science (scientists)?
Note: Scientists critiquing these prizes isn’t new. One I recalled from last year was GrrlScientist’s piece in The Guardian, which includes a discussion about rewarding individuals for what many of us consider a team endeavor.