Many will remember Sen. William Proxmire’s (D-WI) Golden Fleece Awards, established in 1975 and designed to call attention to perceived wasteful government spending, frequently focusing on federally funded research projects.
Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN), with the support of a bipartisan group of Representatives and several business, university, scientific, and public policy organizations, announced the creation of the Golden Goose Award. The new award is designed to recognize important discoveries that flowed from federally-funded basic research projects that may have seemed “unusual, odd or obscure” at the time they were funded, reflecting the serendipitous nature of basic research. Golden Goose Awards will be for work that occurred in the past rather than current work that may lead to future breakthroughs.
In the Academic Minute, a program of WAMC Northeast Public Radio and Mount Holyoke College, I noted an example of unexpected outcomes from seemingly obscure research at work just this week. The research of Dr. William Wood, a professor of organic chemistry at Humboldt State University, focuses on chemical ecology – how plants and animals use chemicals to communicate. In a study looking for marking pheromones in California black-tailed deer hoof gland secretions, Dr. Wood came up empty handed. However, he wondered why deer rub these glands over their bodies if not for pheromone-based communication. It turns out that chemicals in the secretions inhibit the growth of athlete’s foot fungus and acne bacteria, and may lead to the development of new classes of antibiotic and anti-fungal agents of use in human medicine.
Who knew? And that’s the point of basic research – and why its so important that we fund it adequately and manage it effectively.