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On the Backs of Others

As researchers are lauded this week with the announcements of this year's Nobel laureates, Vinay Prasad from Oregon Health and Science University argues at the New York Times that such prizes honor researchers who least need such recognition and downplay how advances in science build upon one another.

Researchers who receive such awards — though deserving — are often already well known and well funded, Prasad writes. He also notes that the work by the winner of this year's Lasker-DeBakey prize, James Allison, drew upon studies conducted by 7,000 researchers working at some 5,700 institutions during the course of a century — but only Allison's effort was recognized

"The prize industry contributes to a deeper problem in scientific research: We throw resources at a privileged few who have already achieved enormous fame," Prasad says.

Instead, he suggests that prizes be given to well-structured studies, regardless of outcome, as researchers are able control their methods or that large prizes be broken up into smaller ones or that the prize money be used instead to find ways to better fund research.

"All the winners of this year's Nobel Prizes deserve praise," Prasad adds. "But the most important scientists are the ones who demand better experimental design and pursue the truth, regardless of how things turn out."

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