Twitterosphere is abuzz with criticisms of Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences. Guardian also published an article titled New Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences is Misguided.
Let us make no mistake that any selection system is arbitrary and receives some degree ‘grapes are sour’ criticism, as Daniel MacArthur ?succinctly pointed out -
Still many criticisms are indeed relevant for the recognition system itself to be recognized. Here we will present few contrasts between our Top Bioinformatics Contributions of 2012 with ‘Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences’.
1. Money: We offer no money. None. Nada. In contrast, the breakthrough prize is offered by billionaires and, based on press releases, they clearly want to set up a structure that tops monetary payment of Nobel prize.
But is ‘more money’ = ‘more recognized award’ in science? If you think about Nobel prize, its monetary amount had been dwindling over the last 40 years after inflation and taxes were taken into account. However, the award retained its prestige for much of the period, because scientists care as much about recognition of their work as money. If Nobel prize loses its prestige, it will be because of making thoughtless short-term decisions of giving peace prize to Obama or any prize to Krugman.
Apart from 1, we did better than much vaunted ‘Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences’ in every respect.
2. Recognition of Young Scientists:
Based on Guardian article -
Russian tech investor Yuri Milner, one of the top priorities of the Breakthrough Prize is to “motivat[e] young scientists to stay in science, and not necessarily switch to areas that are better monetized”.
That is not how their ultimate selection turned out to be. Contrast that with the researchers considered and selected by us.
3. Dedicated to Advancing Breakthrough Research, Celebrating Scientists and Generating Excitement about the Pursuit of Science as a Career:
Selecting ‘breakthrough research’ is like start-up investing. Two young guys with long-hairs show you a semi-deformed website, and you try to decide, whether it has potential to become the next Google. Despite their big words, ‘Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences’ recognized old and established research projects, not start ups. Contrast that with our choices.
The biggest criticism we received was why ENCODE was ignored and instead some apparently obscure paper on protein-folding was selected as the best bioinformatics contribution. After all, the work most often mentioned in the media should be considered as the best bioinformatics contribution, isn’t it?
Part of that debate had been settled by Dan Graur. In general, our philosophy was to choose computationally challenging ‘small science’ projects directed toward uncovering the beauty of nature. The research project of Joanna I. Su?kowska indeed explored an unusual class of proteins (those who form knots) and masterfully dealt with computational challenges involved in analyzing them.
5. We are not the Center of Attention:
If you read the press releases on ‘Breakthrough Prize in Life Sciences’, you see pictures of multibillionaires Art Levinson, Sergey Brin, Anne Wojcicki, Mark Zuckerberg, Priscilla Chan and Yuri Milner flashed all over the screen. Despite the claim that they want to recognize scientists, it is very clear that they want to buy recognition from scientists through their money. In contrast, our recognition of top bioinformatics contributions of 2012 was about the scientists and technologists, who did the hard work. In reddit, we were criticized with comments such as ‘who are you to judge top bioinformatics contributions’? We are nobody and we would like to stay that way.