APS News

Golden Goose Award Issues Ongoing Call for Nominations

The organizers of the year-old Golden Goose Award are poised to announce the second round of winners and are looking for nominations for future honorees.

“The Golden Goose Award honors scientists whose federally funded work could initially have been perceived as wasteful or obscure but turned out to have significant positive benefit to society,” said Barry Toiv, the Vice-President for Public Affairs at the Association of American Universities, and one of the award’s organizers.

Last year the awards recognized the achievements of seven scientists, including Charles Townes of the University of California, Berkeley, whose invention of the maser in 1954 paved the way for the ubiquitous laser.

“At the time he discovered the maser…his own department chair, who was himself a Nobelist, tried to get him to stop working on it. He thought it was a waste of time,” Toiv said. “[Today there are] very few elements of modern technology that don’t involve some use of the laser.”

The idea for the awards originated with Congressman Jim Cooper of Tennessee, who had wanted to highlight the benefits of federally funded research for years. They are a response to the

“Golden Fleece Awards,” presented as a dubious distinction by Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire in the 1970s and ‘80s, to government programs that he deemed wasteful of taxpayers’ money.

Toiv said that it is especially important now to highlight the benefits of federal support of science.

“There is a growing trend in Congress to single out specific grants for special scrutiny,” Toiv said. “We’re very concerned at the possibility that Congress would want to substitute its political judgments for the scientific judgments made by scientists and those who administer the grants process.”

Scientists can nominate researchers for the prize at the Golden Goose Award’s website.