Senator McCain's proposed $300 million prize for an improved auto battery is an excellent idea. America has the largest university-based research infrastructure to the world. If it could only be harnessed toward solving U.S. and world economic problems, we could see some huge advances in technology. Goal-oriented research works. That's one reason why wars usually lead to huge advances in technology.
I just hope Senator McCain goes further than just one prize and endorses the principle behind it. That principle is that prizes work, peer-judgment does not.
He should replace the current peer-review pre-approval process for research grants with a goal-oriented process involving prizes for the best, second best, and third best contributions toward achieving specific goals. The prizes would not have to be large. All we really have to do is to take the money that universities are currently getting through peer-reviewed National Science Foundation grants and turn it into prizes for achieving goals.
The current peer-reviewed process for awarding grants is forcing conformity upon academia. Any academic who differs from the academically-correct consensus loses funding. That's one reason why retired professors tell the truth about global warming while active researchers tend to keep quiet. That's one reason why my father, a retired economics professor, tells the truth about trade, while active economic professors keep quiet. The peer-oriented review process stiffles dissent from whatever is the prevailing academic opinion.
Peer-pressure is not a positive force in schools of any sort, not elementary schools and not graduate research institutes. If we would move from peer-reviewed funding to prize-oriented funding, the standard of income of the entire world would increase and the quality of advice that the US government gets from academia would also improve.