For decades, the late Senator William Proxmire (D-WI) poked fun at government-funded studies that he considered a waste of taxpayers' money by awarding them his Golden Fleece Award. The media loved the periodic prize, which lambasted—among many targets—a study of why prisoners wanted to get out of jail, funded by the Department of Justice, and a study of love, backed by the National Science Foundation.
An alliance that includes members of Congress and science and university groups wants to turn Proxmire's gimmick on its head. Today, they announced plans to award a new Golden Goose Award to research projects that might sound funny, but have produced serious health or economic benefits.
"We've all seen reports that ridicule odd-sounding research projects as examples of government waste," said Representative Jim Cooper (D-TN), who helped hatch the idea. "The Golden Goose Award does the opposite." Cooper hopes it will help demonstrate that government support for science "is no laughing matter. I hope more of my colleagues will join us in supporting, not killing, the goose that lays the golden egg."
The organizations sponsoring the Golden Goose Award—which include the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS, publisher of ScienceInsider), the Association of American Universities, and the Progressive Policy Institute—hope to award it annually starting this fall. Nominations will be reviewed by an eight-member selection committee that includes Bruce Alberts, the editor-in-chief of Science, and Nobel Prize-winning physicist Burton Richter as well as university research officials. Members of Congress endorsing the prize include Cooper and representatives Charlie Dent (R-PA), Robert Dold (R-IL), Rush Holt (D-NJ), and Jason Altmire (D-PA).
At a press conference today in the Rayburn House Office Building, AAAS CEO Alan Leshner said he hoped the prize would help remind people that even seemingly offbeat studies can produce unexpected results. When he was a working behavioral scientist, Leshner noted that his own mother "had a hard time understanding why I studied why rats ran in those little running wheels." It turned out, he said, that such research helped reveal how mammals regulate body fat, a key health issue.
Leshner said he hoped researchers would nominate other potentially misunderstood studies for the Golden Goose Award by sending an email to: firstname.lastname@example.org.