What Proxmire's Golden fleece Did For--And To--Science

In early 1975, psychologist Ronald Hutchinson was proceeding smoothly with studies investigating why rats, monkeys, and humans clench their jaws. The work, bankrolled to the tune of $500,000 by several federal agencies over a decade, had placed Hutchinson at the forefront of research into the biological causes of aggression. But that April, a fiscally conscious legislator from Wisconsin skewered the research with a “Golden Fleece Award,” the second ever, designed to he bestowed mon

Robert Irion
Dec 11, 1988

In early 1975, psychologist Ronald Hutchinson was proceeding smoothly with studies investigating why rats, monkeys, and humans clench their jaws. The work, bankrolled to the tune of $500,000 by several federal agencies over a decade, had placed Hutchinson at the forefront of research into the biological causes of aggression.

But that April, a fiscally conscious legislator from Wisconsin skewered the research with a “Golden Fleece Award,” the second ever, designed to he bestowed monthly upon the agency responsible for “the most outrageous example of federal waste.” And over the next two years, Hutchinson’s grantors pulled out their funding, one by excruciating one.

So began Senator William Proxmire’s tempestuous relationship with scientists, a relationship that may end this month with the 73-year-old Democrat’s retirement. Although citizens of every bent lauded most of Proxmire’s fleeces for the rest of Washington’s bureaucratic money sieves, many scientists feel that when Proxmire picked on academia,...