PRIZES….For some reason, many conservative bloggers seem to be captivated by the idea of offering prizes for scientific progress. This is mentioned most often in the context of space exploration, but how about something more down to earth? Republican congressman Dan Lungren has an idea:

What would happen if the United States were to offer a $1-billion prize for the first American automaker to sell 60,000 midsized sedans that could travel 100 miles on one gallon of gasoline?

It wouldn’t be a panacea for our energy problems, but it would stimulate the development of viable technologies to reduce oil consumption while we develop alternatives to petroleum.

My problem with this is the same as my problem with most other prize ideas: it’s chump change. A billion dollars for a car company? Ford’s R&D budget is already somewhere in the neighborhood of $7 billion a year, and just yesterday they abandoned their pledge to sell 250,000 hybrid cars a year by 2010 because they figured it was too expensive a proposition. And that’s for a technology that’s already pretty well understood.

I can’t imagine that any car company would seriously change its behavior for a lousy billion dollars. Better make it a hundred billion, Dan.