Yesterday I read about a new science award, aimed to recognize research breakthroughs that paid off long after the initial research funding. The organizers/sponsors of the award include the organization formerly known as the American Association for the Advancement of Science, the Association of American Universities, the Progressive Policy Institute, and a collection of House members from both parties. The first award(s) are intended to be announced this fall, after a selection process involving at least one Nobel laureate and one current editor of Science.
But there’s this name – The Golden Goose Award. It doesn’t sit right with me.
I know that this is trying to counter the “Golden Fleece” award, popularized by William Proxmire back before I could drive. While sound bite criticism of silly-sounding science projects remains, the award is really only mentioned by those complaining about the recent criticism. In short, this seems like a bit of preaching to the choir.
Then there’s the fable at the heart of the name. Putting aside that Proxmire’s Golden Fleece was not intended – as far as I can tell – to evoke the object at the heart of Jason’s quest, the organizers of the Golden Goose Award are trying to evoke a fable (one of Aesop’s, for those keeping score). From the announcement:
“The name of the award is based on the fable about the goose that laid the golden egg. Its sponsors view America’s federally funded research enterprise as an extremely valuable goose whose golden eggs are the innovations and discoveries born from basic research that transform lives and fuel the economy.”
So, if the award is recognizing the innovations and discoveries, why are we calling it the Golden Goose? It really should be called the Golden Egg.
Besides, the goose in this fable isn’t golden. Those of you who read and/or remember their fables might recall the actual Golden Goose, a tale from the Grimms. In this story, the goose has golden feathers. Everyone, besides the protagonist, who tries to grab a feather or otherwise interfere with the goose gets stuck. The fable ends with a huge conga line of people stuck to each other. Funny, but not necessarily relevant to scientific research.
It’s not too early to change the name. Let’s really honor the research results and call it the Golden Egg Award.
Either way, clearly the old literature is not being taught in our schools – or not that well.