Local lawmakers are backing a new annual award for scientific research that will be launched in Washington later this year.
The Golden Goose Awards is a play off the Golden Fleece Award created by Senator William Proxmire from Wisconsin in 1975 to highlight what he saw as wasteful government spending, some of it on on silly-sounding research. The award fizzled out, then was revived by Taxpayers for Common Sense in 2000.
The Golden Goose will highlight the payoff of that silly-sounding research.
“There are lots of obscure science research projects that turn out to be very important,” said U.S. Representitive from New Jersey Rush Holt, one of the backers of the new award. “The Golden Goose Award is to highlight some of these more obscure areas of research that turn out to be important economically, socially, culturally.”
Holt says in times of economic turmoil, there is a tendency to cut funding for programs that make future economic prosperity possible. The award is meant to highlight the benefits of those programs.
Vice provost for research at the University of Pennsylvania Steven Fluharty is one of eight members of the selection committee for the Golden Goose Award. He has a personal stake in the issue, from his PhD work at Penn.
“I worked with a team of investigators that were studying salt consumption in rats,” Fluharty said. “And in fact we were notified by our funding agency that Senator Proxmire was considering targeting us for a Golden Fleece Award. It wasn’t at all clear why anyone would be interested in salt consumption in rats.”
In fact, the study examined how salt impacts hormones that affect blood pressure and led to greater understanding of hypertension in humans.
A famous example of the type of research that might be heralded with this award: a study looking at the sex life of the parasitic screw worm. It was singled out by Senator Proxmire, but later went on to save the cattle industry billions as it fought the parasite.
Three to six awards will be handed out later this year.