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This is where our tax money goes

Caricature of SteveThe late Wisconsin Democratic Senator William Proxmire was famous for several reasons. One of particular interest here was his monthly publication of the “Golden Fleece Awards.” From 1975 to 1987, Proxmire documented what he considered wasteful federal government spending on projects and research of dubious value.

Some noteworthy examples included:

–$500,000 to learn why people, monkeys and rodents clench their jaws and bite;

–$100,000 to fathom the effect of alcohol on the aggressive behavior of Sunfish. And whether they become angrier after consuming gin rather than tequila;

–$84,000 to find out why people fall in love;

–$46,000 on a study to understand the effect of scantily dressed females on male Chicago drivers;

–$27,000 to determine why prisoners want to escape from prison;

The watchdog returns

Now Oklahoma Republican Senator James Langford has picked up the baton with his annual “Federal Fumbles.”

In just the first two years of his reports, Langford found:

–The Department of State paid an outside consultant $545,000 to train department senior-level personnel how to tell the truth in testimony before congressional committees;

–The Department of Defense (DOD), in safeguarding America, has spent $284,000 spying on the lives of the tiny California Gnatcatcher bird;

–The National Science Foundation (NSF) awarded $500,000 on projects to unearth the connection between religion, politics and cemeteries in 12th Century Iceland;

–So far the NSF has spent $2,000,000 to document the impact of climate change on pandas living in China. And the study is only half done;

–The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has donated more than $1,000,000 on its campaign to tell mothers how to discourage their teenage daughters from tanning;

–The NSF has invested more than $1,000,000 to program robots to help the elderly pick correct color combinations when dressing. This makes sense when combined with another NSF grant of $374,000 to study dating practices of adults over the age of 60;

–$65,000 spent by the National Park Service to illuminate our understanding of how bugs act when we turn on lights.

Thirst for knowledge

As a former academic, I fully understand the intellectual interest and curiosity that motivates much university research and the need for money to fund it.  And, yes, university faculty have to publish for promotion and tenure.

Yet some of the projects cited above are beyond justification whether on or off campus.

Seriously, do we really need to know whether sunfish are dangerous when drunk? How many of them even frequent bars?

And why do prisoners want to leave prison? Really, you have to ask that question?

Future studies: Too many like these without a doubt.


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