The Tang Prize

Taiwanese businessman Samuel Yin has endowed a new science prize that not only gives bigger cash awards than the Nobel Prizes, but supports research as well. Individuals or institutions that have demonstrated what judges deem to be the most creative and influential research will receive about $1.36 million in each of four fields; an additional $341,000 will support recipient-proposed plans for research and talent development in related fields for 5 years. The combined $1.7 million tops the Nobel Prize, which for 2012 was about $1.2 million.

Announced at a press conference today in Taipei, the Tang Prize, named after China’s Tang Dynasty, which Yin admires as a golden age for Chinese civilization, will be awarded biennially for work in sustainable development, biopharmaceutical science, sinology, and rule of law.

Yin, who is endowing the Tang Prize Foundation with about $102 million, hopes “the prize will encourage more research that is beneficial to the world and humankind, promote Chinese culture, and make the world a better place,” according to a press release. Yin made a fortune in real estate, finance, and retail investments, and is worth about $3 billion, according to Forbes magazine. Academia Sinica, which oversees Taiwan’s premier research labs, will be responsible for the nomination and selection process. The first prize announcement is slated for July 2014.

The link is here and for the pointer I thank Michelle Dawson.  This goes back to a discussion I have regularly with John Nye.  If you simply put up money — say for a new prize or even for a new university, and try to spend that money well — but don’t court the traditional markers of status per se, how far can you get?


'will be awarded biennially'

So the prize is larger, but only paid every other year? Talk about effective marketing - seems like he looked at how the Sveriges Riksbank wormed its way into prestige awarding, and decided to go for the more direct route. But only by paying out more than a Nobel half the time - quite clever. It certainly worked here, for example.

The trick is to give enough awards to "normal" recipients that people will immediately see those as high status picks and then use that legitimacy to boost your choice of less obvious selections. At the same time, you can't just be "me too." I remember reading something to the effect that giving the Nobel Memorial to two Scandinavians first was risky for them and they picked Samuelson second so that the new Econ prize would develop legitimacy.

It looks like the prizes will be four areas: 1. Sustainable development 2. Medicine 3. Chinese Studies, and 4. Law.

Unfortunately, no econ prize :(

It seems like everyone is only focusing on one side of the equation. In other words, how much prestige can the prize get the prize-winner (a proxy for the prestige of the prize itself). The reverse is also a factor. Giving prizes to luminaries will enhance the prestige of the prize.

In other words, the Tang prizes have a chance to gain prestige by picking winners who will reflect well on the prize.

The other germane point is that the Tang prize could be enormously successful (and prestigious) in Asia while remaining close to unknown in the U.S. After all, how many Americans have ever heard of Manchester United?

After all, how many Americans have ever heard of Manchester United?

Probably more than of FCB, which is a much better club.


"Probably more than of FCB, which is a much better club."

Indeed, I have never heard of FCB (till now). My point exactly.

Why do AZNs love looking towards the past, and never towards the future? Perception that the best times for AZNs are in the past and not the future? Rename it the FoxConn Singularity Future of Humanity Prize. There, I just boosted the status of the prize by 15%, where's my $10k consulting fee.


"Why do AZNs love looking towards the past, and never towards the future?"

4000+ years of Chinese history?

The most creative application of the law? I guess a lot of CDO building lawyers are going to win those. Talk about a waste of a category.

Good prize, but the 'activation energy' is not high enough to matter. For inventing fusion you need more than a mere $1.8M or so. You need more like a prize fund of say $100B, granted by governments, if a team meets certain milestones. Still, it's 'better than nothing' but not by much. IMO encouraging innovation is still in the Dark Ages. Future generations will marvel at how primitive we are in the same way we marvel at foot binding, or slavery, or lack of women's rights, and so forth in previous generations.


Future generations will marvel alright... At how quickly the West declined and fell, and how swiftly the east took over.

Your $100B estimate is based on how much money researchers have spent in the past to achieve failure at fusion?

How much money was spent in the past is irrelevant going forward. If anything, if the research that shows what does not work is published, it can be used to save money in the future (and make the prize fund smaller). If you think fusion is very difficult to achieve on earth (and I don't, research "Inertial confinement fusion") you should up the prize fund from 100B to $1T.

Who gets the "rule of law" prizes? Tough police chiefs?

I always thought it was supposed to be T'ang, not Tang (which is a drink).

If they interpret "rule of law" broadly, then I sure hope Posner is one of the first to win it. That would be a good way to give that prize legitimacy.

Who decides on the recipients?

The obvious recipient for the rule of law prize are reformers in developing countries who have successfully led anti-corruption campaigns to clean up their judiciaries.

Comments for this post are closed