The Victory Project

Not long ago Dubner and I wrote in our Times column about some innovative approaches to solving big problems.

Here is another example: The Victory Project, which pledges to give $1 billion to the first person to solve any of the following problems:

1. Develop a cure for breast cancer.

2. Develop a cure for diabetes.

3. Reduce greenhouse emissions from petroleum-powered automobiles by 95 percent without increasing the cost of a normal car more than 5 percent.

4. Achieve 150 miles per gallon of gasoline in a 3,000-lb. car, using E.P.A. standards, without increasing the cost of a normal car more than 10 percent.

The Victory Project hopes to fund the $1 billion prize through small donations.


These contests do not fund the actual research needed in order to accomplish these goals. This is just a bunch of investment brokers looking to get their hands on a big pile of money.

They use some common societal goal to market their plan. They make the terms of their contest such that it is almost impossible that any of these goals will be met anytime soon. Meanwhile the fund managers get to make a mint doing nothing and can say they working to make the world a better place.

People who are able to accomplish these goals will be well rewarded. This scheme is about rewarding greed.


#17, you're an idiot. Diabetes, Type I, is not treatable by "eat right and exercise." As a diabetic, I know. And, just for good measure, check out these diabetics: (Iron man participants). Type I diabetes requires constant blood sugar monitory AND injections of insulin. For the tragic few, Type I can be wildly unmanageable requiring risky transplant surgeries.

But, as other people said, a cure for diabetes will net considerably more than $1B. Heck, diabetes treatments net more than a $1B.

Matt Kromer

#10: This statement is simply not true.
While catalytic converters do convert some reaction byproducts (CO and hydrocarbons) to CO2 and water, these are combustion residues.

The basic chemical reaction in an engine is:
Gas + O2 --> H20 + CO2
Some of the reactants remain unreacted or only partially reacted, leading to the formation of conventional pollutants (CO, Hydrocarbons, and NOx). These measure in the parts per million. So no, removing a catalytic converter would have a negligible impact on GHG.

Interestingly, a 150 MPG vehicle is not that unrealistic (very small turbo-charged diesel engine; aerodynamic chassis; low rolling resistance wheels; and hybridize the thing). The trick is doing it with a power plant that competes with conventional vehicles in terms of performance, cargo space, and in a package that people will buy.
(Current incremental costs on hybrids are on the order of 15%-20%)


Fred T.

As a co-worker alluded to, $1 Billion is the same as 100 $10 Million prizes. Why not set a deadline for proof of research and then give $10 Million to the Top 25 in each category to help push their research further?

Heck, make it 10 prizes of $100 Million, with the top 2 ideas in each category getting the money and then the top 2 overall getting an extra $100 Million?

Seems that would help us get to actual answers faster than waiting to give the money afterwards.


Here is Rule #3 from the foundation website:

"In order to receive the cash Award, the winner must agree to transfer all rights to the invention to the Foundation."

If a group (or a for-profit corporation) invented a 150 mpg car, I think the commercial value would far exceed $1bn. If there is a good chance that the inventors would ultimately decline this prize, where is the additional incentive?


As for No. 2, exercise and eat right. Can I have my billion dollars, please?


not to be cynical, but won't the patents on some of this stuff be worth circa $1 billion?

g p burdell

Why breast cancer? It gets a lot of "outrage" but is actually not #1 in terms of actual threat. Cancer in general, maybe - but heart disease kills more woment, right?

How about saving more lives by reducing the incredible number of people that die on the roads in the US each year.

Sometimes you guys amaze me.


As much of the fuel efficiency of the next generation of cars can come from reducing the weight without compromising space or safety, putting a weight criteria on prize 4 is probably a mistake.


Isn't this idea very similar to what Stiglitz (and probably others) have suggested as an alternative to patents? Have you thought about whether the cure for the mentioned diseases can be patented if they want to collect the prize?


Call me crazy (or heartless), but the value of all these things far exceeds $1 billion. For example, suppose you found a cure for diabetes. You could market that drug yourself and earn far more than $1 billion in profit. Same is true with a 150mpg car.

So, I don't at all see how this $1 billion is going to do anything to increase the incentive to work on these problem. The market incentive is quite enough. As a result, I will not be donating.

Robert L.

Any design team that can pull off #4 will get a huge amount of money from the market. Do you really think there's anyone out there who's sitting on a 150 mile per gallon idea saying "I'd roll it out if only there were some way to make money from it?"


Are you serious? Breast cancer??? C'mon people, like there aren't more important, far-reaching causes to take up? What about malaria, famine, unclean drinking water? If people are serious about improving the conditions of this world, they should proactively seek out ways to do the most good, help the most people. I'm sorry, but my sympathies do not lie with a fifty year old breast cancer patient (or testicular cancer patient, not picking on the ladies), they lie with the children of impoverished nations who will not live long enough to ever worry about things like breast cancer.


You could reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 40%-60% if you got rid of the catalytic converter. (Which converts smog into greenhouse gas)

I got halfway there "and" made the car cheaper -- I'll take $500M-- HaHa!

Charles D

Why a billion? Why not $500 million or are you guys putting a lofty number knowing it can't be reached in order to give partial money to partial credit?


While I respect the goals of the Victory Fund, I generally have problems with goals that serve narrow or limited purposes. The last three problems are problems that are or could be of concern to the general population. The first problem (breast cancer) is not a universal problem in the sense that it disproportionately impacts women. How about extending to include a form of cancer that is just as prevalent but which impacts men (i.e., prostate cancer)? The are already a number of organizations that are devoted to curing breast cancer while, without a thorough investigation, I am not aware of any similar organizations or efforts for prostate cancer. Just a thought from a man who hopes he never has to deal with cancer of any form.


It would probably take a billion dollar reward to give enough incentive for people to invest the money and time to solve these problems, given the inherent risk that money and time is no guarantee of success.

My problem with this is that it rewards the final product and not the path. I imagine the final cure for a disease or discovery of a clean energy will be the last step in a very long chain of research- and now this chain will have increased incentives to patent and protect their research.


Why would breast cancer be on their list, but not other cancers, or cancer in general? Is breast cancer worse than cervical, lung, and other cancers?


Oresearch lab will never come up with a cure for breast cancer on their own. Any breakthroughs will come from a build-up of scientific knowledge from many other scientists up to that point. Who would get the money if so many people contributed to an innovation?



1. How do you define a "cure"? 100% effective? What about 99% effective?
2. Only the person who takes the last step in the journey of making any of these solutions a reality gets the $1B? What about all of the giants whose shoulders they stood on to get there?
3. I'm not sure that they could accumulate $1B by the time any of these problems gets solved, but I allow that it may be possible. Problem is, by that time, $1B will probably be worth about $100 in today's dollars. That's probably what the founders of the Victory Project are counting on also.


Interesting idea but will it work? I hope so...