News has reached mes oreilles of the Breakthrough Prizes in the Life Sciences, whose Foundation aims to honor five scientists annually to the tune of $3m each. This year, however, is an inaugural splurge, in which eleven laureates get to share the $33m payout.
Although the prizes are to be given annually “for accomplishments in life sciences broadly defined”, the scope thusfar is somewhat narrow. The current laureates – researchers all in the front rank and deserving of praise – all work in biomedical sciences, mostly cancer.
The broad definition of life sciences does not include ecology, evolutionary biology, environmental science, marine biology, taxonomy, palaeontology, biodiversity, natural history, zoology, botany or theoretical biology. There is not a great deal of neuroscience or developmental biology, either. Perhaps this will change in subsequent years.
In other news, the historic Field Museum of Natural History in Chicago is in dire straits, partly from an expansion plan that soured as the recession hit, leaving it with more debt than it could manage. For more than a century the Field has been a leading centre for research into comparative zoology, biodiversity and natural history as well as a magnet for public education. The five scientific departments will be dissolved to make a single unit. Staff cuts seem inevitable.
What seems certain is that the museum will have to slash $3m from its annual research budget – the value of one, single award to one, single Breakthrough Prize laureate.