The value of dog urine, screwworms, and toe clippings

Is research into dog urine a waste of taxpayer money?

Rep. Jim Cooper (D-Tenn.), a couple of Republicans, and some scientists apparently have had enough of the obvious answer that it is.

Cooper, the Washington Post reports, has just created the first Golden Goose Award, which honors scientific breakthroughs via research that appeared wasteful.


Federally-funded research of dog urine ultimately gave scientists and understanding of the effect of hormones on the human kidney, which in turn has been helpful for diabetes patients. A study called “Acoustic Trauma in the Guinea Pig” resulted in treatment of early hearing loss in infants. And that randy screwworm study? It helped researchers control the population of a deadly parasite that targets cattle–costing the government $250,000 but ultimately saving the cattle industry more than $20 billion, according to Cooper’s office.

Cooper says that his original inspiration for the Golden Goose Award was the long-running “Golden Fleece Awards” that the late Sen. William Proxmire (D-Wisc.) bestowed upon the most wasteful government spending, beginning in 1975. More recently, Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) has taken up that mantle. In a report last year on the National Science Foundation, Coburn blasted frivolous-sounding research that received federal funding, including one study that put shrimp on miniature treadmills and another that asked smokers to mail in their toenail clippings.

Toenails?

“Sometimes the bad news is not really bad news,” Cooper said this week, “just something that it is easy to take a cheap shot at.”

  • Chris N.

    What’s frustrating is that the process to get federal research grants is very competitive. Projects that aren’t interesting and have a very low chance of discovering something useful just aren’t done, because there are so many good proposals out there. The likelihood of spending research dollars on dud projects is really low.

    More importantly, all federally-funded scientific research takes up a whole whopping 2% of the budget. You could cut it all and still be a good way from making a dent in our budget deficit. (Disregarding of course the loss of any money made or savings realized from the fruits of such research).

  • jon

    yes, and the entire budget for NASA is less then 0.5% but they still managed (until recently) to put people into space.

    Makes you wonder what we could do if we moved social security into an R&D department.