Golden Goose Awards: Your tax dollars at work for science research

Los Angeles Times

The National Institutes of Health are on track to receive more than $30 billion in federal funding in next year’s budget, and NASA is set to receive at least $17 billion. On top of that, Congress looks likely to dole out more than $7 billion to the National Science Foundation; nearly $5 billion to the Department of Energy’s Office of Science; and several billion more to other federal agencies like the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Geological Survey, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Research Service and the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency.

It’s not always clear what that money is going to buy, and some critics say say it should be dialed back. Most famously, former Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wisc.) established the Golden Fleece Awards to “honor” what he saw as wasteful public spending. Winners included the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (for studying whether fish drunk on tequila are more aggressive than sober fish) and the Office of Education (for spending nearly $220,000 to create a course to teach college students how to watch TV), according to this report from the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Now another member of Congress, Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), brings us the antidote to the Golden Fleece Awards -- the Golden Goose Awards, which honor scientists “whose seemingly odd or obscure federally funded research turned out to have a significant impact on society.”

The winners of the inaugural Golden Goose Awards are:

--Physicist Charles Townes, whose research enabled the invention of lasers, though no one realized that when he was working in the 1950s. He won a Nobel Prize in Physics for this work back in 1964.

--Eugene White, Rodney White, Dellay Roy and Jon Weber, who discovered a widely used bone graft material by studying tropical coral in the 1960s.

--Martin Chalfie, Roger Tsien and Osamu Shimomura, whose studies of glowing jellyfish led to “numerous medical research advances and to methods used widely by the pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries,” according to this press release. Members of this team also won a Nobel Prize – this time for chemistry – in 2008.

More information about the scientists and their serendipitous discoveries is online at

The awards will be presented at a Capitol Hill ceremony involving members of Congress from both major parties. The awards are also backed by a dozen organizations: The American Assn. for the Advancement of Science; the Assn. of American Universities; the Assn. of Public and Land-Grant Universities; the Breakthrough Institute; the Progressive Policy Institute; the Richard Lounsbery Foundation; the Science Coalition; the Task Force on American Innovation; United for Medical Research; the Assn. of American Medical Colleges; the American Chemical Society; and the American Mathematical Society.

You can check out details on federal funding for science at this helpful ScienceInsider page, from the folks at the American Assn. for the Advancement of Science.

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