NEW YORK TIMES EDITORIAL: OF GEESE AND FLEECE
April 30, 2012
The NY Times editorializes in support of Rep. Cooper’s ‘Golden Goose Award’ to recognize the return on investment of federally funded scientific research.
It has been more than two decades since Senator William Proxmire issued his monthly Golden Fleece Award that often lampooned scientific projects for supposedly wasting taxpayer money. The research he singled out — to determine why prisoners want to get out of jail or document the sex life of screwworms — were easy targets, although usually there was a serious purpose.
Leading scientific organizations have now announced plans for their own annual Golden Goose Award to honor seemingly frivolous research that produced big dividends. The goal is to make clear that financing for science should not be cut recklessly in pursuit of deficit reduction. They noted that research on the screwworm, a deadly cattle pest, saved the American cattle industry billions of dollars — and that Senator Proxmire eventually apologized.
The idea for the Golden Goose came from Representative Jim Cooper, a Tennessee Democrat, who says he was “offended that politicians were making fun of science for their own gain.” It is being administered by such organizations as the American Association for the Advancement of Science and the Association of American Universities, representing 60 public and private research universities.
While Senator Proxmire and his award are gone, the tradition lives on. Last year, Senator Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, issued a report deriding “questionable” research financed by the National Science Foundation, including a study that put shrimp on an underwater treadmill to measure their endurance when healthy and when under attack from bacteria. As silly as that may sound, it is important to aquaculture. The Democratic staff on a House science committee later sent questionnaires to the researchers whose work had been criticized, all 40 respondents said they had not been contacted by Mr. Coburn’s office to learn what the research entailed, and 34 said their work had been inaccurately portrayed.
Mr. Coburn and others are right to raise concerns about waste and abuse, but they need to do their homework to ensure that projects being criticized really deserve it. Congress needs to remember that sound research is an investment in the future.