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Weird science: Golden Goose Awards recognize obscure but important research

by Sep. 14, 2012, 1:45 PM

Golden Goose trophy
The Golden Goose Award (Vanderbilt Office of Federal Relations)

Eight scientists, including four Nobel laureates, received the first Golden Goose Awards on Thursday, Sept. 13 at an awards ceremony on Capitol Hill. The award was established to highlight the importance of federally funded basic research that, on the surface, seemed particularly odd or obscure, but which ended up having a large impact on society.

The Golden Goose Award was founded by a coalition of research organizations including the American Association for the Advancement of Science, Association of American Universities and the Association of American Medical Colleges. The award was originally conceived by Tennessee Rep. Jim Cooper as a response to Sen. William Proxmire’s Golden Fleece Award, which poked fun at seemingly wasteful federal spending and was often awarded to government-funded scientific research projects, the significance of which was poorly understood by the public. The “Golden Goose” is a reference to the goose that laid the golden egg.

“I liken it to ‘women and children first.’ In an emergency, they’re the priority,” said Rep. Cooper. “In budgetary emergencies, including sequestration, the same rule should apply to science. Science is our future and our hope – so let’s support science and give it priority.”

Vanderbilt has been closely involved with the award over the past several months. Dennis Hall, vice provost for research and dean of the Graduate School, was a member of the selection committee, Vanderbilt’s Office of Federal Relations assisted in the planning process and Vanderbilt is a sponsor of the video of the award ceremony.

“Vanderbilt is deeply appreciative of Rep. Cooper’s hard work and persistence as it has helped to bring the Golden Goose Award from concept to fruition,” said Christina West, assistant vice chancellor for federal relations. “We are grateful that our congressman is continually working to find ways to recognize the long-term implications of diverse types of federally-funded science and engineering research.”

This year’s awardees include:

  • Martin Chalfie, Osamu Shimomura and Roger Tsien – whose study of glowing jellyfish has led to numerous medical advances and resulted in their winning the Nobel Prize in 2008;
  • Charles Townes – a 1964 Nobel Prize recipient whose technique for amplifying radiation waves led to the invention of laser technology; and
  • Eugene White, Rodney White, Della Roy and the late Jon Weber – whose study of tropical coral led to the development of an ideal bone graft material.

“Human beings are curious; we ask questions. It’s what we do,” said Hall. “The Golden Goose Award reminds us that trying to answer those questions leads to great discoveries that benefit all of us. Three exceptional discoveries were honored this year, but there’s a lot more where they came from.”

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