A Golden Goose, Cats Chasing Lasers and Massachusetts

What does the love life of screwworm flies have to do with anything? Well, a lot actually. Screwworm flies can infect and quickly decimate cattle populations. Researchers in the early 1980’s found that sterilized male screwworms would sterilize the female worms, quickly inhibiting an entire worm population from reproducing. While the value of this work was initially mocked, this federally-funded research saved the livestock industry billions of dollars by eliminating the screwworm fly from all U.S. cattle.

It also sparked the idea to honor quirky-sounding basic science research that has impacted society. The result – the Golden Goose Awards. While the direct value of basic science research may not be apparent from reading the title of a study, it is important to recognize that economic growth in the United States has been driven by this country’s top-notch research and innovation activities.

Last week in Washington D.C., the fourth annual Golden Goose Award Ceremony celebrated three new scientific success stories. These awards recognize quirky-sounding scientific research that has significantly increased knowledge and impacted society. This year, in a scientific sweep, all three of the Golden Goose Awards include scientists from Massachusetts.

One of the awards was given to Dr. Philip Peake, Professor of Psychology at Smith College in Northampton, along with Dr. Walter Mischel and Dr. Yuichi Shoda, who constituted the original research team that developed the “Marshmallow Test” to study delayed gratification.

In this test, a child was offered a choice between one small reward, often a marshmallow, provided immediately, or two small rewards if they waited for a short period during which the child was left alone. The test makes for great videos, but Dr. Peake and his colleagues also made significant discoveries about how and when children develop self-control, and later —> Read More