From 1975 to 1988, Senator William Proxmire issued monthly “Golden Fleece Awards, which targeted federal spending Proxmire considered wasteful. Unfortunately, the awards often targeted federally-funded scientific research for ridicule. Science that sounded odd or obscure was easily singled out, but the awards reflected fundamental misunderstanding of how science works, and how such research can turn out to be extremely important regardless of whether it makes sense to non-scientists. Indeed, such research can have a major impact on society. The nature of scientific research is that its impact is hard to predict.

It is this legacy that Representative Jim Cooper of Tennessee was intent on reversing when he envisioned the Golden Goose Award almost two decades ago. Congressman Cooper foresaw an award that would recognize the tremendous human and economic benefits of federally funded research by highlighting examples of seemingly obscure studies that have led to major breakthroughs and resulted in significant societal impact.

Representative Jim Cooper announces the creation of the Golden Goose Award in Spring 2012 at a press conference in the Gold Room of Rayburn House Office Building on Capitol Hill.

In 2012, the Golden Goose Awards’ founding organizations took up Representative Cooper’s idea and issued the first three awards to groups of researchers whose seemingly obscure, federally-funded research had led to major breakthroughs in biomedical research, medical treatments, and computing and communications technologies. Since then, groups of researchers have been recognized each year for breakthroughs in the development of life-saving medicines and treatments; game-changing social and behavioral insights; and major technological advances related to national security, energy, the environment, communications, and public health. The Golden Goose Award has strong bipartisan support, and winners are honored every year at an award ceremony in Washington, D.C., where Members of Congress of both parties speak to the importance of the award and of federal funding of scientific research.

The Golden Goose Award Steering Committee is made up of individuals from the Founding Sponsors of the Award, Benefactors of the Award, and universities who helped launch the Award in 2012:

American Association for the Advancement of Science

Association of American Universities

Association of Public and Land-grant Universities

Breakthrough Institute


Progressive Policy Institute

Richard Lounsbery Foundation

The Science Coalition

Task Force on American Innovation

United for Medical Research

University of Pennsylvania

Vanderbilt University