Federal Funding of Scientific Research Produces Unexpected Successes

by John Sides on September 20, 2013 · 6 comments

in Academia,National Science Foundation,Science


 
Seven researchers, including two Nobel Prize winners, will be honored today at the second annual Golden Goose Award ceremony, celebrating researchers whose seemingly odd or obscure federally funded research turned out to have a significant impact on society.
The awardees will be honored at a ceremony on Capitol Hill, where they will receive their awards from a bipartisan group of Members of Congress.

From the press release.  The Golden Goose website is here. A short item at Inside Higher Ed is here.

Several months ago, I wrote a post called “Why Study Social Science” and said this:

…it’s very hard to determine the value of any research ahead of time.  It’s hard because any one research project is narrow.  It’s hard because you can’t anticipate how one project might inform later ones.  It’s hard because some funding goes to create public goods—like large datasets—that many others will use, and those myriad projects also cannot be anticipated.  It’s hard because some research won’t work, and we can’t know that ahead of time.

The Golden Goose awards illustrate what I meant, as does Robert Putnam’s story.  This is all the more reason why cherry-picking projects that sound “silly” (duck penises, etc.) is not a useful way to evaluate the efficacy of federal funding of scientific research.

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