Serendipity in Science: Golden Goose Awards
♦ Scientists are sometimes accused of doing ‘wasteful’ research-studying the obscure or possibly irrelevant. The late senator William Proxmire was famous for his monthly Golden Fleece award, where he called out seemingly silly research projects. One such study on the sex life of the screw worm, however, would go on to effectively cure cattle of a major parasite and save the industry over 20 billion dollars. The beauty of basic research is that one can never predict where and when the next breakthrough happens. The Golden Goose award counters this short sighted vision, and recognizes odd-sounding federally funded research which led to big dividends down the road.
♦ Federal tax dollars fund rat massage: In 1979, a team of researchers at Duke University were frustrated in their attempts to measure key growth markers in rat pups. When they separated the pups from their protective mothers, the markers mysteriously declined. Patiently, they ruled out nutrition, body temperature and pheromones until they noticed how vigorously the mothers groomed and licked the pups. Could tactile stimulation be important? “I couldn’t get the lab technicians to actually lick the pups”, Dr. Schanberg joked. But a stiff brush worked wonders and the pups thrived away from their mothers. A chance encounter with a psychologist led to testing the effect of infant massage on preterm babies. In controlled studies, massaged infants showed increased growth rates of up to ~50%, greater alertness and quicker hospital discharges, averaging differences of 6 days. A recent analysis estimates that these savings amount to about $10,000 per infant, resulting in a nationwide annual health care savings of $4.7 billion. Infant massage therapy is now used by nearly 40 percent of NICU’s in the US, and is on the rise. Do you have examples to share of seemingly wasteful research with unexpected benefits?
Review on Preterm Infant Massage Therapy Research: http://goo.gl/yQgMs
From Lizard to Laboratory: my post on the 2013 Golden Goose Award http://goo.gl/Kx3bWI
#ScienceEveryday when it’s not #ScienceSunday .