John McCain solves energy crisis

Mange mon shorts, mon petit! What are you betting? If it doesn’t happen, you don’t pay off. If it does happen, you win. Where’s the risk?

There’s two PRs involved here. McCain’s PR, which he’s using to try to win an election, and the PR of a career in the sciences/engineering. I don’t really care much about McCain’s PR. He’s going to try to get himself in the news, and throwing around big numbers of dollars is going to do that, and I don’t generally have a problem with that.

On the other hand, careers in the sciences/engineering fields have a PR problem. Ask a random 100 kids if they want to be an engineer or an athlete and I’d bet a substantial majority will pick athlete. Throw in other high profile professions, such as Actor/Actress, or Musician, and the engineer/scientist choices dwindle more. I believe having scientists on the news accepting $300 Million checks could do a lot to change those responses in the long run.


Would a scientist accept the check, or some CEO? Has the X-prize led to a boom in aeronautic engineering students?

I think the $300 Million could be invested in ways to much better address this real problem. Hell, give some to Burt Rutan to go around and lecture in high schools. I saw that guy talk, and it is damn lucky my specialty is nowhere near what he needs, or I’d be sending my resume and preparing to move into the desert.

But it’s not a big number. 300 million is only the cost of one day of US operations in Iraq.
Maybe offering 365 times the amount McCain suggested would get US energy innovators off their dead asses, but he doesn’t have that much money to play with, because of his commitment to Iraq, so he offers what sounds like snake oil for the nation’s energy ills.

He just needs to work in a Laffer curve reference and a promise to cut out those unnecessary hot school lunches, and we’ll be well on our way to a reunion of The J. Geils Band.

The risk is the opportunity cost of spinning fantasies of home workshop inventor inspired flying saucer technology versus having a coherent, well considered and reviewed policy of funding viable research and infrastructure efforts to increase energy independence. As has already been pointed out, any person or organization who develops and patents a legitimate order of magnitude improvement on conventional energy storage technologies doesn’t need a taxpayer funded prize; the open market will have plenty of takers to purchase or license the technology.


Now that would be awesome! I was in Boston when they were just starting out. I saw them a few years ago, but without Peter Wolf it wasn’t the same.

Say, for example an NSF or DOE “energy and nanomaterials” grant initiative?
We might get quite a bang by applying a few billion there.

Well, say what you will about McCain and whether or not this is a particularly good way to foster this kind of competition, I think it’s a good idea.

Look, one must be really careful to make sure that the stipulation of the prize is congruent with a really good product. I don’t know if McCain has done that yet. But the point is to incentivize the production of a battery that could be a game-changer.

Personally I’d prefer an Apollo-style crash course, but I think McCain is on the right track. But let’s be honest, 300 million is a lot of fucking money. Look, it’s one dollar a person, but there’s a lot of things that 300 million could go to. What if you made it 50 million? Is the incentive that much different? take the rest of the 250 million and do something else with it…

What the hell kind of criticism is that? Isn’t the same true for any kind of government funding? In any event, I assume that this prize would come with some pretty clear and testable requirements for being awarded, and would be approved by Congress ahead of time.

Who CARES? What, is everything now a social program? If the idea here is to develop a battery, I personally don’t care if a kid in his backyard comes up with it, or Exxon Mobil does. Why do you?

That’s the whole damned point! Since you don’t award the prize except upon completion of the successful evaluation that the conditions are met, there’s no need for endless government oversight.

Yeah, that engineering stuff is tricky. Hell, we might even have to take measurements and use math and stuff. Perish the thought. Everyone knows that a much better way to go is to set up a government bureaucracy, issue RFP’s and tenders to huge multinationals, give them money up front, then regulate the bejeezus out of them to make sure they don’t take your money and run. In the meantime, the small innovators like Burt Rutan get frozen out of the process because they don’t have the army of lawyers and accounts required to even bid for government contracts.

Let’s keep doing that instead.

You’re going off into bizarro land here. McCain’s plan IS the provision to pay the award. Obviously a bill creating this would include the requisite funding upon a successful test of the battery.

And one of the criticisms of it is that the money isn’t nearly enough to kick off real R&D.

YAY! Or are you saying now that you LIKE having the government pick which research should be funded? Their track record in picking winning technologies is fantastic, isn’t it?

So would your argument then be that goverment should not be subsidizing any R&D at all? Do you think the average Obama supporter would agree with that? because you can’t on the one hand argue that a prize isn’t necessary because companies are already working full-tilt on this R&D, and also argue, as Obama does, that the government needs to invest more money in this technology. Which is it?

Okay, now you’re just being offensive for no reason. Do you, former libertarian that you are, really need to have the value of prizes vs government management of R&D explained to you? Well, maybe so, so let me have at it:

[li]Prizes have a history of triggering much more R&D than the value of the prize.[/li][li]Prizes actually have a record of good success, going all the way back to the early aviation prizes which triggered a flurry of development.[/li][li]Recent prizes have also been successful, such as the Ansari X-Prize and the DARPA millennium challenge.[/li][li]Prizes stimulate research without heavy regulation, without the need for government oversight, and without the need for the government to pick winning and losing technologies.[/li][li]Prizes are risk-free for the government. You either get the battery you want, in which case the prize was dirt cheap, or you don’t, in which case it cost you nothing.[/li][/ul]

I could go on. There are also some drawbacks with this particular prize, but that can wait for another message, as I have to run. But certainly the idea deserves more than a snotty and cursory dismissal.

Well, it sounds like a great plan for a sitcom plot:Ralph: Hey, Norton, I need you to lend me a hundred bucks.

Ed: Geez, Ralph, you know I ain’t got no hundred bucks. Whaduyah need a hundred bucks for, anyways?

Ralph: I’ll tell ya, Norton, I had this really swell idea for a new super-powerful battery.

Ed: Well, Ralph, that sounds great, but who’s gonna pay money for that?

Ralph: Norton, you are the biggest idiot that ever climbed out of a manhole stinking of human filth! The whole darn country is going to line up for this thing! It’ll revolutionize transportation! And I’m giving you the opportunity to get in on the ground floor!

Ed: I had one of them ground floor apartments, once. I hated it with all those people walking overhead.

laff track

Ralph: Har har, hardee har har! Norton, I’m gonna walk all over your head if you don’t lend me that money!

Alice: Ralph, what are you yelling about now?

Ralph: I’m just telling Norton here about my great new idea! Yessir, this is the time I’m gonna get my pot of gold.

Alice: Just go for the gold, you’ve already got the pot.

laff track

Ralph: You’re a riot, Alice. You’re a regular riot. Hope they like those jokes on the moon, ‘cause that’s where you’re goin’.

Alice: Only if you can build a rocket that runs off all the hot air that comes out of your mouth.

laff track

Ralph: That’s it, Alice! That’s just it! All of you, you just wait and see! The President of the United States is gonna give me three hundred million dollars when I show him my new super battery, and none of you is going to see a dime of it. This is probably the biggest thing I ever got into.

Alice: The biggest thing you ever got into was your pants.

laff track

end credit music


Meanwhile, back at the open-new-areas-to-drilling ranch:

This modified quotation is in violation of the explicit rules of the SDMB that note that one may not modify the statements of other posters within the quote tags.

Do not do this again.

[ /Moderating ]

I added words in square brackets to clarify, which is in accordance with the explicit rules of the SDMB.

Just a little addition here.

Ralph *One of these days, Alice. Bang, zoom, straight to the moon! *

Alice Go ahead, Ralph. The Lunar X Prize is still available.

laff track

I pretty much agree with the substance of your post, Sam, but good God man, look who’s being snotty!

I say that the $300 million prize should just be a small fraction of government investment in energy alternatives.

However, the “blah, blah, blah” is a clear editorial comment on the text that you did not even provide.
Find a different way to refer to a previous post in the future. Leave the quote tags for direct quotations.