Wednesday, February 4, 2009

Libertarian Science

Jeff Yager writes:
The Google Gang is at it again. Yesterday, they, along with the X Prize Foundation and NASA, have announced plans to form the coolest sounding university ever, the Singularity University.


What exactly does that mean? Basically, the aim is to perfect how scientists go about doing science. Not the actual scientific method, but instead how scientific research is funded and how it is shared with the world. How exactly should this interest the liberty-minded person? Well, for that, you need to go back to one of the founders of this new university, The X Prize Foundation. You probably heard about them first a few years ago when they offered a $10 million prize to the first private team to build and launch a spacecraft into orbit. It was a smashing success, as the SpaceShipOne team claimed the prize on Oct. 4, 2004. Since then, the X Prize Foundation has created several different prizes to conquer the next great challenges of science and engineering. The next most notable prize is the Google Lunar Prize.


By offering these prizes, a radical new approach to the way science and engineering project is being explored. Right now, research priorities are largely set by the governmental funding agencies. Besides government research priorities, the incentive to do research is generally to discover something new, and then be able to patent that product. Take the pharmaceutical industry, for example. If they discover a new drug and they patent it, they have a legal monopoly on that drug that can be worth large sums of profit. They get these profits, because governments keep other competitors from reproducing similar products based on the science the researching company discovered. Without these legal protections, there may be little incentive to pour vast amounts of money into research and development. However, what if the incentive was a prize instead of a legal monopoly?

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