Martin Rees writes that John Harrison “came closest to receiving the reward money” offered in the 1714 Longitude Act (Nature 509, 401; 2014). This description conceals a long and painful battle between astronomers and those who argued that Harrison should be awarded the prize for his marine chronometer, designed to determine the longitude of a ship's position by using existing tables.
The astronomers of the day claimed that watching Jupiter's moons, as suggested by Galileo, was the scientific solution. But in practice, this 'astronomic' solution would not work under a cloudy sky.
Today, by contrast, the winner of the 2014 Longitude Prize, who we now know will be working on antibiotic resistance, will be “decided objectively — as in athletics”, as Rees points out.