Proxmire affair

Science of love (Golden Fleece Award)William Proxmire
Wisconsin Senator William Proxmire’s inaugural so-called “Golden Fleece Awards”, which ran from 1975 to 1988, was an award to NSF funded research on the science of love, which Proxmire deemed as fleece or excessive wastefulness of public money. [7]
In terminology, Proxmire affair refers to 11 Mar 1975 press release by Wisconsin senator William Proxmire, and aftermath of debate and discussion to follow, which lambasted the National Science Foundation, for, apparently, wastefully funding research on "romantic love", per reasoning that "life is a mystery" and why people "fall in love" is the biggest puzzle that people don't want to know the answer to.

In 1974, the National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded American psychologist Ellen Berscheid, of the University of Minnesota, and her colleague Elaine Walster, a grant of $84,000 ($371,000, in 2014 terms) for a study on romantic love, the phenomenon of falling in love, and or relationship research. (Ѻ) The project description included the subject of “romantic love” in its proposal, which provoked considerable controversy on use of tax dollars, and called into question use of public funds in scientific research. (Ѻ) Proxmire soon herd of this spending and awarded the NSF the first-annual so-called Golden Fleece award, given to “wasteful, ironic or ridiculous uses of taxpayer money”, per the following logic: [2]

“I object to this not only because no one—not even the National Science Foundation—can argue that falling in love is a science; not only because I'm sure that even if they spend $84 million or $84 billion they wouldn't get an answer that anyone would believe. I'm also against it because I don't want the answer. I believe that 200 million other Americans want to leave some things in life a mystery, and right on top of the things we don't want to know is why a man falls in love with a woman and vice versa. So NSF—get out of the love racket. Leave that to Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Irving Berlin. Here if anywhere Alexander Pope was right when he observed: ‘if ignorance is bliss, tis folly to be wise.’”

Proxmire also said: [3]

“No one can argue that falling in love is a science. The impact of love is a very subjective, nonquantifiable subject matter. Love is simply a mystery.”

Proxmire’s self-serving proclamation garned widespread publicity, both pro and con, soon thereafter becoming known as the “Proxmire affair”. (Ѻ) In 1978, Elaine Hatfield, a research partner of Berscheid, and William Walster, Hatfield’s co-author, e.g. refered to Proxmire’s statement as an “idiotic press release gleefully fired off.” [2]

In 1969, Walster and Berscheid, in their Interpersonal Attraction, reflected on this: [4]

“It is odd that the notion that attraction, particularly such intense forms as romantic love, are simply ‘non-quantifiable’ has lingered to the present day. It seems especially strange when we consider that each of us, every day and in a variety of ways, manages to quantify our attraction to others and measure their attraction to us.”

(add discussion)

The following are other quoted truncations of Praxmire’s reasoning:

“The study of love is better left to poets and mystics, to Irving Berlin, to thousands of high school and college bull sessions.”
— William Proxmire (1975), on NSF grant to study love, quoted in NY Times obituary (2005) [5]

“Senator Proxmire was trying to turn back the clock by criticizing valid research on love. Proxmire himself has suffered marital separation. I would think that he especially would want to understand about love being the basis for the marriage contract.”
— Ellen Berscheid (1975), “Proxmire Barb Goes Unloved” [6]

1. (a) Proxmire, William. (1975). “Press Release”, Mar 11.
(b) Short, Ray E. (2003). Sex, Love, or Romance: You Can’t Really Trust Your Heart? (Proxmire, pgs. 21, 214). Frederick Fell Publishers.
2. (a) Hatfield, Elaine and Walster, G. William. (1978). A New Look at Love (quote, pg. viii; Proxmire, 3+ pgs). University Press of America.
(b) Ellen S. Berscheid – Wikipedia.
3. Solomon, Robert C. (1981). Love: Emotion, Myth, & Metaphor (pg. 93). Prometheus Books, 1990.
4. (a) Walster, Elaine and Berscheid, Ellen. (1969). Interpersonal Attraction (pg. 5). Addison-Wesley.
(b) Solomon, Robert C. (1981). Love: Emotion, Myth, & Metaphor (pg. 94). Prometheus Books, 1990.
5. Severo, Richard. (2005). “William Proxmire: Maverick Democratic Senator From Wisconsin, is Dead at 90”, New York Time, Dec. 16.
6. (a) Berscheid, Ellen. (1975). “Proxmire Barb Goes Unloved”, Milwaukee Journal (pg. 4), Mar 11.
(b) Short, Ray E. (2003). Sex, Love, or Romance: You Can’t Really Trust Your Heart? (Proxmire, pgs. 21, 214). Frederick Fell Publishers.
7. Golden Fleece Awards – Wikipedia.

See also
● Shaffer, Leigh S. (1977). “The Golden Fleece: Anti-Intellectualism and Social Science” (abs), American Psychologist, 32(10): 814-23, Oct.

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