For years, scientific research has been a target of Congressmen trying to make a point about waste in government spending. The art was perfected by former (late) Wisconsin Senator, William Proxmire, who created the “Golden Fleece Awards”. While some of the awards may have been deserving, too often the award would target a research project with a title that could easily rankle the general (but uninformed) public. Often, the process failed to delve into the project far enough to understand the economic benefits to the US economy and the American public that resulted from the research. A process that supposedly brought waste to the light often created more misconception and misunderstanding.
Today, the political climate has swung toward austerity. Politicians are calling for radical cutbacks in many forms of investment against the advice of many prominent economists (including many Nobel Laureates) who have criticized austerity measures as anti-growth. Lack of investment in scientific research and other areas can doom the economy to an extended period of low growth but the radicals are out to cut spending across the board. Scientific research becomes vulnerable in this type of political climate. Thus, it is heartening to see at least one Congressman willing to stand up and publicly support scientific research. Representative Jim Cooper from Tennessee has created the “Golden Goose Awards” to honor scientific research that has more than paid back a small investment by our Federal Government. “Golden Goose” is a take-off on “Golden Fleece” with reference to Aesop’s Fable, “The Goose With the Golden Eggs”. In Aesop’s Fable, the goose (in this case scientific research) produces valuable Golden Eggs (valuable scientific results). In the Aesop Fable, the greedy farmer wants all the eggs at once and kills the goose, but finds nothing. This is Congressman Cooper’s understated message, “Kill Scientific Research and the Rewards will fail to follow.” In the Congressman’s own words,
One of the scientific research results mentioned by Congressman Cooper was the Screwworm Fly research that has led to the eradication of the screwworm, a parasite of cattle from the Southern United States. Entomologists, Edward Knipling & Raymond Bushland were awarded the 1992 World Food Prize.
THE WORLD FOOD PRIZE FOR 1992 recognized a team of entomologists who gave the world an environmentally friendly means of controlling insects that threaten the production of crops and livestock. With global population growing by over 95 million people a year, effective control of pests is crucial to preserving the world food supply.
The Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) describes the economic impact:
Scientific research has been an important part of the ascendance of American Agriculture. Without these scientific advances in food production, much of the world would starve.
The allocation of funds for the eradication programme in 1976 was approximately US$15 million. Considering that potential losses from screwworm had been estimated at US$375 million, there was a significant return for the cost of the eradication programme even during a year with a serious and widespread outbreak. It has also been estimated that the economic benefit to livestock producers from screwworm control between 1962 and 1976 was in excess of US$1000 million.