John McCain solves energy crisis

Oddly enough, none of these were in your OP. Just instead it was a criticism based on the fact it was McCain who suggested it.

There are arguments both ways on this. It may well be not the most efficient or effective way of stimulating such research. But you didn’t even attempt to present any arguments whatsoever.

Another Obama supporter checking in. This thread is just bizarre, Liberal. Your whole complaint seems to be that the contest might not be “fair”. BFD. These innovations are more important than partisan bickering, and the idea of a prize is fun. It will get people excited and interested.

:rolleyes: I should think even you would be able to do better than to simply ignore everything anyone else posts.

Nobody who is actually in a position to develop these batteries gives a rats ass about “fun”, and I don’t want the government spending $300M of MY tax money because it’s “fun”. Companies worth hundreds of billions of dollars are putting serious money into battery research, they don’t need to be encouraged by some stupid prize that the government is going to fuck up the administration of. They don’t care about fun, they have shareholders to answer to, they want results, not fun.

Their prize is already out there, it’s called a “market”. Hundreds of millions of people ready to plunk hard cash down on this technology, if it works. If it REALLY works, not if some board of paper pushers decides it works, if it actually, really, honestly works in real world applications.

If the government wants to encourage innovation, give money to the inventors, fund the research, I’d happily put $300M into that.

Stupid ideas that make for good headlines abound from both sides right now.

As has been pointed out, battery research doesn’t need an X-prize to motivate its development right now. The prize that is being dangled already is big enough - a whole transportation grid of electric vehicles (PHEV or BEV, doesn’t matter there) to be supplied - if one company comes out with a technology that indeed “leapfrogs” the competition at an affordable price, then $300 million is chickenfeed (well, given the price of corn nowadays, less than that!) And I say this as someone heavily invested in several battery companies and in companies dependent on upstream and downstream effects of a potential electrification of the transportation grid. The development is hot and heavy already. No additional prize is needed or likely to further motivate.

McCain has heard Newt’s schtick and tried to make it his own, but is doing it in a poor way. Maybe this is to be read as a sign that he is considering picking Newt for VP? (He’d say yes if asked.)

And Obama is just as idiotic (or pandering to a good soundbitable factoid), blaming gas prices on speculators. Futures trading cannot, in any sustained way, raise prices. Oh, in a short term bubble, sure, but any position bought must be sold before the contract comes due, which is a defined period of time. If the majority of the run-up rally is due to speculators then this would be a great time to short oil futures, because they will need to fill those positions soon enough. Not willing to do that? I’m not. Because oil is going up because of supply and demand and informed opinion about future supply and demand. Informed opinion may overshoot the mark and overestimate current and future risks to supply, or overestimate future demands. If so the market will correct it soon enough if you leave it alone.

Now, Universe, I know I’ve not been a very good pantheist, but if I could have this one sign…

If OPs were exhaustive, there’d be no need for threads.

In addition to the 8 points already mentioned, I’d add a 9th: the reward is silly because whoever invents such a battery will make hundreds of millions or more just from his patent. If anyone would care to address these 9 points, feel free.

Well, you can’t afford to win it, can you? Whether that’s fair, I don’t know.

What I would like to see is the idea defended on its merits. The only thing close, so far, is that it would get people all excited. What they would get excited about, I can’t imagine — especially if they don’t have the means to compete with big corporations.

You touch on a point. Outside of the major research facilities, which tend to stick to the tried-and-true approach, there is always the chance of the outsider with a “crackpot” idea that could actually work. We may be only one genius away from solving the problems.

The X-Prize didn’t get people excited?

I meant it would be “fun” to the average person; following the progress, getting excited to buy the final product, etc. Slashdot would probably have news stories and discussions nearly every day. It would probably lead to wider general interest in conservation and alternative fuels. I would follow it. The prize money equals about a dollar of your tax money. It’s a drop in the ocean.

I wasn’t asking you to be exhaustive. Just go maybe one step beyond “McCain has an idea, and McCain sucks.”

Right, which is why I said that nobody developing batteries gives a crap about it.

“Interest” is irrelevant. New technologies succeed because they’re better than the old, not because there’s trumped up interest in it. You don’t need people to be interested in it, they’ll buy it because it’s better.

I actually assumed that’s what the X-Prize was intended to do. No one who knows anything at all about what goes into making a reusable suborbital vehicle thinks 10 Million is a significant amount towards that goal, or a good reward. What the X-Prize did was get the attempts into the newspaper more often, so aspiring engineers would see it, maybe be inspired to try for it, sign up for more engineering courses, etc. It’s an investment in PR versus an investment in the actual technology.

I figure McCain’s proposal could do the same thing. Looking at Google news today I see no less than three articles about this on the main page in two or three different sections, written from different slants. It’s an attention-getting device. It spurs interest outside of the field, where there is already interest and well-understood rewards awaiting in the form of patents, and brings fresh blood into the field. Maybe it brings in people like my undergrad dorm-mate who was only a Computer Science major because she heard there was good money in it(and had virtually no aptitude for the topic, in fact she once had to call me to “fix her computer” when she had the caps lock on and it wouldn’t accept her password), but it could also bring in the next genius who advances the field. These kinds of grandstanding things, in the mass media age, aren’t aimed at the people already in the field and who understand the costs/opportunities, they’re aimed at the masses to encourage some of them to think seriously about pursuing a scientific career instead of trying to be the next Michael Jordan. When was the last time you saw a headline about a sports figure accepting a ton of cash for their career choice? Ok, now the hard one, when was the last time you saw a headline about a scientist winning double-digit millions or more for their career choice? Now mention those two names to 100 random high school students and ask them which one they want to grow up to be like.

Now, all of this mainly addresses the effectiveness of the “Big Cash Prize” as a technique for the advancement of scientific/technological goals. Since the thread has a political element as well, I would be remiss if I didn’t mention something about it. While this kind of tactic can hold value in the longer-term shaping of our workforce and attitudes towards scientific/technological career choices, personally I believe McCain is using it as a short-term PR move. Which I see nothing at all wrong with. I think it’s at least a defensible part of an overall energy strategy, and I’d much rather he be making headlines on this kind of action than see mudslinging. I say good for him.


I’m still trying to understand what McCain is/was thinking here. It makes no sense to offer this prize.

Whoever invents a vehicle as or more reliable than a traditional internal combustion engine that runs on electric or solar power will be rich beyond his wildest dreams. His great-grandchildren will never have to work. This has been true for at least the last 30 to 40 years.

Does McCain think that there are engineers out there sitting on their thumbs who will hear of this and think, “Wow, I can be rich if I come up with a reliable electric car!”

The government could save that $300 million and use it elsewhere. It is leading me another step away from McCain…

I guess I’m a little slow today.

I thought I saw some posters making statements in the past about how the government should be taking a more active role in convincing corporations to develope alternative (or green) energy and related technologies.

This “cash prize” is one way to do that, isn’t it?

What was the form of government “guidance” envisioned in it’s stead?

In the history of these “so-and-so prizes for doing a certain incredible thing,” it has been some bold and wealthy cat laying out his own money. In John McCain’s case, even though he’s a wealthy guy, he’s (proposing to be) offering tax dollars to the winner. It easier to be bold and adventurous, with somebody else’s money. That somebody else is you. He’s boldly (proposing to) give away your money.

Right. I got that part.

Now, for those in favor of government “incentives” and taking an active role in developing new technologies, why isn’t offering tax money part of that plan? (In my mind, an incentive could also be a tax break to offset the R&D costs, as well as research grants.)

Or was the idea of government involvement assumed to be limited to setting minimum standards and target completion dates?

As has been said over and over, the fairly immediate benefits of developing such a battery are going to be more important than any government prize.

One thing the government could do (and did for hybrids) is to offer tax incentives to encourage early adopters. This gets us up the learning curve, reduces costs, and opens the market to more people. It also doesn’t declare a “winner” - any one buying a product meeting broad guidelines gets the benefit, no matter who makes it or how it is made.

How sustained is the sustained bubble? If a speculator thinks the price is going up, he buys, and if enough do he sells and makes a profit off the next guy who thinks the market is going up further. Eventually they all take a bath, but that doesn’t much help the poor shnook paying $4.50 a gallon now. yeah, some of the increase is based on fundamentals and will be permanent, but I challenge you to show me fundamental reasons for the short term increase we’ve seen. Speculation on Israel attacking Iraq seems to have overpowered a real production increase by the Saudis and the real impact of the increase of gas prices in China. That looks like a bubble mentality to me.

Yes, let us place our hope for the future on the vicissitudes of crackpotism.

This “short-term PR move” isn’t part of an “overall energy strategy,” it is nothing more than absurd pandering for attention. A genuine strategy for addressing energy issues would involve feasible, measurable steps toward a worthwhile goal, not specious balloon-waving and Bunco prizes. This is not to blame McCain specifically; virtually all politicians engage in this kind of photo op/sound bite behavior at every opportunity, and the voting public eats it up on buttered toast. An electorate so poorly educated on the fundamentals of science can’t help but think that waving a suitcase full of cash around (where is this money coming from, anyway?) will automatically accelerate the pace of technological progress without any organization or plan. US$300M spent on a large overarching program to reduce United States dependence on foreign energy sources might be worthwhile (and given the strategic and economic implications, arguable a reasonable use of tax revenues under the aegis of serving the common good and protection from malevolent foreign influence); a fantastical US$300M prize for a magical superbattery pulled out of someone’s arse is a political stunt and nothing more.

Let Nike blow $300M on an ad campaign if they like. I’d prefer to see my tax dollars go toward something of actual merit.


To give McCain credit, this idea is certainly consistent with the gas tax holiday idea. He’s developing a voodoo energy policy to a fine art.