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Excerpted from Eye on Bureaucracy Volume VI, Number 6
FEDERALLY-SUBSIDIZED URINALYSIS OF PRAIRIE RAT SEDUCTION TECHNIQUES COST $150,000
The New York Times (5/22/95) reports that Republican budget cuts will fall hard on Federally-funded civilian science putting something called "basic research" at risk.
Terrific. A meat ax should be taken to this basic research budget because much of what is spent in this area is, to put it charitably, highly questionable.
IT'S YOUR MONEY BEING PISSED AWAY
For example, The Chronicle Of Higher Education (5/19/95) reports on one such basic research project as follows: "Humans may not find it sexy, but a smell carried in the urine of male prairie voles really turns on female voles. The voles are rat-sized mammals....Scientists at the Johns Hopkins University and the University of Massachusetts conducted the research." Says Gregory Ball, an associate professor of psychology at Hopkins: "We presented the female with urine at different times of the year, and we looked at the effects on cells in the brain." This project was supported by a three-year, $150,000 grant from the National Institute Of Health's (NIH) Child Health And Development Division.
When I spoke with Associate Professor Ball, he insisted that basic research such as his "is one of the things that has made this country great and pushed us forward," that this kind of thing -- though some may see it as "silly" or "strange" -- is "one of the great achievements ever of American culture." Still, he adds, there are "anti-intellectual" elements in Congress who oppose this kind of research even though the peer review process is "unparalleled in the world" and "thorough."
HUMANISTIC, DARWINIAN PRESUPPOSITIONS ACKNOWLEDGED
When I ask Ball what he would say to an outraged taxpayer who said his project was a waste of money?, he says he "often" hears this kind of statement. But, the goal of the NIH is "to improve the health of the United States," that "humans are animals," and "you have to have a feel for evolution" to appreciate the work he's doing.
Me: "But what does female voles smelling the urine of male voles have to do with improving the health of our nation? Besides, millions of us don't believe in evolution."
CONTEMPT FOR CHRISTIAN WORLDVIEW UNDERLIES NIH RESEARCH
Ball (Laughing): "Well, millions of Americans may also not believe in gravity, or may think the world is flat. But if these things were believed we wouldn't be able to work as a society."
Me: "But, how do you justify using Federal tax dollars for such a project?" Ball explains that many aspects of science take so long to pay off that the private sector wouldn't support them. Well, yes, I say, people who spend their own money do spend it more carefully than people who spend other people's money, like our Federal government. But, again, what possible "pay off" is there to the American taxpayer from these urine-smelling voles?
Ball: "This helps us understand how environmental stimuli effect neuro-functioning, circuitry of the brain, brain's response to things, how the brain integrates information and can be healed" re: "all psychiatric and mental diseases."
Me: "And we learn all of this from female voles smelling the urine of male voles?!"
Ball: "Oh, absolutely. Oh yeah. There's no question about it."
Me: "You've alluded to the long-term payoff from your research. How long is long term?"
Ball: "Decades." He insists that "to benefit future generations" the government must "invest" in research like his.
Me: "But, future generations are being crushed by our massive Federal deficits. Future generations are being drowned in a sea of Federal budget deficit red ink!"
Ball: "Right." That's it. "Right." That's all he has to say to this.
Ball asures me that he knows that taking Federal grant money for projects like his is "a very big responsibility." He agrees that private funding should be sought. He says: "We're looking into this." But, he adds, that his kind of project is "the seed corn for your grandchildren's future."
Sorry, Professor Ball, but the seed corn for my four grandchildren will be, among other things, the amount of money they will be able to save during their lives. And when each one of these kids came into the world deeply in debt because of our massive national and Federal debt, a lot of their seed corn had already been eaten!
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