by Steven Hale
In Sunday's Washington Post, U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper shared a byline with Alan I. Leshner, under a piece titled "It's time to get serious about science."
In the piece, Cooper and Leshner, the chief executive of the American Association for the Advancement of Science and executive publisher of the journal Science, announce the winners of the first Golden Goose Awards. In doing so, they call for more push-back against politicians who scoff at scientific research projects, and the money spent on them, just because of chuckle-trigger titles like "Acoustic Trauma in the Guinea Pig" and "the sex life of the screwworm."
It is human nature to chuckle at a study titled “Acoustic Trauma in the Guinea Pig,” yet this research led to a treatment for hearing loss in infants. Similar examples abound. Transformative technologies such as the Internet, fiber optics, the Global Positioning System, magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), computer touch-screens and lithium-ion batteries were all products of federally funded research.
Yes, “the sex life of the screwworm” sounds funny. But a $250,000 study of this pest, which is lethal to livestock, has, over time, saved the U.S. cattle industry more than $20 billion. Remember: The United States itself is the product of serendipity: Columbus’s voyage was government-funded. Remember, too, that basic science, the seed corn of innovation, is primarily supported by the federal government — not industry, which is typically more interested in applied research and development.