Science Market Update

Penn Provost Weighs in on Basic Research Funding and Golden Goose Awards

Posted by Jaimee Saliba on Wed, May 09, 2012

At the University of Pennsylvania, Steve Fluharty is the senior vice provost for research, as well as a professor and researcher himself in the School of Veterinary Medicine. Now he's got one more hat to wear, as a member of the selection committee for the newly-announced Golden Goose Awards, sponsored by a congressional committee and supported by the AAAS and a broad base of other organizations and industry. At a time when basic research in particular is hard-tasked to justify its continued funding, the point of the awards is to look positively at the sometimes-serendipitous nature of scientific progress so as not to "kill the golden goose" (that lays the golden eggs), which all variations on the ancient fable agree is a really bad idea. Wikipedia says of the phrase: It is generally used of a short-sighted action that destroys the profitability of an asset. Exactly.

If the Golden Goose Awards sound like a PR campaign for basic research funding, they are. They're also acknowledging the fact that, to non-scientists, some basic science projects sound a bit out there, but nevertheless great and profitable discoveries have come from taking a risk and doing an experiment just to learn something new about how a tiny part of the world works. And with that knowledge, whole new fields have opened up, costly problems have been solved, and scientific solutions have had their start. It's traditionally been the role of government to fund basic research because it's just that: a building block for further invention and translation into practical (or applied) research.


The current Golden Goose Award campaign is an oddly harmonious, bipartisan effort, which alone makes it noteworthy. Basic research funding has historically taken hits from both sides of the aisle, as in the 1970's, when Wisconsin Senator (and Democrat) William Proxmire began giving out what he called The Golden Fleece awards to projects he thought were a boondoggle and undeserving of federal funding. Usually those projects had titles like "The Sex Life of the Screwworm," which sounds esoteric at best, but in fact led to an enormously valuable veterinary advance for the livestock industry (causing Sen Proxmire to retract his award). More recently, Republican Senator Tom Coburn of Oklahoma has taken up Proxmire's rallying call to put an end to research that, well, just sounds frivolous to a lot of taxpayers. Countering that attack are the Golden Goose Awards, proposed initially by Rep. Jim Cooper, this time a Tennessee Democrat, and aimed at celebrating the great good that can come from taking a risk, whether in your experiment or just in the naming of it. It's an ancient debate, which is probably why we keep harkening to ancient stories to champion either side.

Provost Fluharty, meanwhile, had firsthand experience with the Proxmire threat when he was a PhD student in veterinary medicine at Penn (apparently animal experiments in particular have a tendency to fall under attack). He was working with a lab group studying the hormonal controls of salt consumption in a rat model. Don't see the immediate need? Neither did some politicians at the time. Fluharty says:

“It’s easy to say, ‘Why do we care about salt preferences in rats?’ But the reality is that the hormonal mechanisms that were identified are now some of the key components of many of the hypertension drugs that...are used for controlling blood pressure today."

The first round of awards will be given out in September, after a lot of deliberation (and perhaps some healthy laughter) by Dr. Fluharty and other scientist-members of the selection committee.


Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. is looking forward to bringing basic science researchers and professional lab equipment vendors together in Philadelphia to talk shop and eat good food next week at our two Philly tradeshow events, which we hold each year in May:

For information on exhibiting at either of these events, click the buttons below:

philadelphia researchthomas jefferson research

Biotechnology Calendar, Inc. is a full-service event marketing and planning company producing on-campus life science research tradeshows nationwide for going on 19 years. We plan and promote each event to bring the best products and services to the best research campuses across the country. Life science researchers, purchasing agents, and lab managers are actively invited to attend to see the latest products and equipment and discuss their laboratory tool and service needs. See our nationwide show schedule for 2012.



Tags: Northeast, University of Pennsylvania, scientific research, animal science, Philadelphia, Funding, scientists solutions, basic research funding

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