Andy Warhol told guests at an exhibition of his art in Stockholm in 1968 "In the future everyone will be famous for fifteen minutes." I wonder if he knew just how right he would be and the unintended consequences.
The ease of becoming famous, even if only for a moment, is staggering. Some of the biggest names on the planet have become so through their ability to capitalise on this fact. Justin Beiber created fame from Youtube, getting kicked by Eden Hazard got Charlie Morgan to 90,000 twitter followers and one of the most tweeted comments when she announced she were expecting was "Kim Kardashian's baby hasn't done anything yet and is already more famous than me #depressing"
I spend a lot of time on campuses and in classrooms speaking with young people about their future and am regularly saddened to hear how revered celebrities are. I'll steer clear of commenting on the vacuous of most celebrities with psydo "fame" and whether they make any real contribution. I'd rather bemoan the impact they have on the expectations and aspiration of young people.
So I was delighted to read that Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, Google's Sergey Brin and venture capitalist Yuri Milner have joined their (super) forces to create their Breakthrough Prize For Life Sciences.
This week they announced 11 winners - each receiving $3million - and will be offering 5 prizes, of the same monetary value, each year "to celebrate and reward the people who cure diseases, expand our understanding of humanity and work to improve people's lives." Said Zuckerburg .
It is the most lucrative annual prize in the history of science and an innovative philanthropic venture.
The desire to inject excitement into life sciences is to be commended. The quest to understand and cure cancer, diabetes, Parkinson's disease and other horrible diseases is often a lonely one and lacks wide-spread recognition and financial compensation. This is what the trio are hoping to combat.
The inspiration will ripple far beyond the award. Might we see it become a blueprint for other models of philanthropy? In classrooms and on campuses might we see a shift in the status of science from boring to cool? And as Brin says ""Curing a disease should be worth more than a touchdown" so will the Breakthrough Prize encourage bright young things to chuck away the football and get behind a microscope - maybe we will see more sustainable aspiration?
Passion and creativity are the parents of all great discoveries but money smoothes the path to success. If the path is lined by some of the most influential people in the world then all the better.
Throwing a spotlight on the importance of medicine and upon scientists, researchers and engineers can change the way young people view their future careers. Sergey, Yuri and Mark can put their money where their mouth is and the potential to change and improve the world is massive.
Let's celebrate the power of philanthropy and let's celebrate that, at least for now, the nerds are influential and making waves!
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