Longitude Prize for Antibiotics – Right Problem, Wrong Criterion

I voted for the problem of rising antibiotic resistance in disease organisms to be chosen for the new Longitude Prize.

I’m delighted to see that it was chosen. But I’m horrified to see what the organisers propose as the criterion for winning the Prize:

“The challenge for Longitude Prize 2014 will be set to create a cheap, accurate, rapid and easy-to-use point of care test kit for bacterial infections.”

This is not the specification of the problem! It specifies a particular way in which the problem might be solved, and thereby rules out every innovative approach to solving it. Perhaps innovative approaches are the only ones that will work. That has happened before, you know.

It happened with the original Longitude Prize. The proposed criterion above is analogous to specifying, for the original prize, that the solution must be by means of astronomy. Which would have ruled out a solution by clocks – the eventual winner.

Please don’t use that defeatist, stultifying criterion. Just specify the problem: to find an effective method of preventing the disaster of the impending upsurge in bacterial infections, caused by antibiotic resistance. Let the winners solve it in whatever creative, innovative way they can!