Bruce Charlton and Peter Andras write,

a research foundation working in a specific scientific field might at present spend 100 million dollars per year – and might spread this money among ten 10 million dollar program grants. In all likelihood, this money will at present be spent on normal science, and will produce modest incremental progress.

We are suggesting that such a research foundation might instead spend 100 million dollars in a single prize, awarded to a relatively young scientist or a few scientists in recognition of a significant success in revolutionary science.

Their thesis is that the existing system in science over-rewards low-risk, low-reward science and under-rewards attempts at revolutionary science.

As they point out, this raises the issue of how to measure revolutionary science. In economics, there is the famous case of Coase walking into a Chicago seminar with 20 participants convinced he is wrong and walking out with most convinced that he was correct.

I think that many of the Clark Medal winners would count as having done revolutionary science. Krugman, surely. Acemoglu, surely. Perhaps Summers could be accused of only doing a lot of good “normal science.”

Which leads me to ask, what would a big award for revolutionary science have done in economics? I think that what many economists value most is peer recognition. It seems to me that in the United States, revolutionary economists get some important high-end peer recognition–the Clark Medal. So it could be that a big cash award might actually be overdoing it in terms of the incentives to take high risks in economics research.

What we need are incentives for greater diversity in the new-hire gene pool.