Goofy grants and silly studies

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Column by Jim Flynn

We’ve beaten a hole in our drum writing so often about political pork earmarks. Another category of frivolous federal spending is earmarks for eggheads.
We’ve neglected examples of federal funding for goofy grants and silly studies – an annual ritual of granting money for research about which no one seems to ask: “Is that important? Is it necessary?”
With urging from global health groups and women’s organizations, federal agencies are funding a number of studies of male contraceptives which reduce or interrupt sperm production. The goal is to make condoms and vasectomies obsolete, replaced by hormone therapy, scrotum injections, or implants. Drug companies aren’t funding the studies, but they can’t wait to sell contraceptive pills and potions to males as well as females.
Getting government funding for research is a competitive sport, sometimes tainted with budget stuffing and political connections. With at least 15 agencies conducting annual grab-bag competitions for taxpayer dollars, it’s a challenge to keep track of who gets the goodies and why.
Funding to research heart disease, cancer, and dementia among the elderly is noble and understandable, but can we justify research to prevent aging? If mice had a union they would insist scientists stop feeding them applesauce to determine whether they might live longer on an apple diet and without a power treadmill.
Another subject of endless interest is air. Researchers say we shouldn’t be breathing air which sticks to our windows, but they haven’t come up with an alternative. A succession of studies has advised us that our dirty air is bad for children’s lungs and will continue to be a problem. Did we need persistent, expensive reminders, or are we just being hustled into spending taxpayer money to support a cause?
During spending discussions earlier this year, Rep. Darrell Issa, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, targeted a few silly studies his committee felt should not be funded. Rep. Issa was promptly fried by editorials in the New York Times. In some political and editorial circles the term “government reform” is considered blasphemy.
Here are a few of the programs targeted as ridiculous or wasteful: #1 None of the funds may be used to study the impact of integral yoga on hot flashes in menopausal women. #2 None of the funds may be used to examine the potential impact of a soda tax on population health. #3 None of the funds may be used to research the use of marijuana in conjunction with opioid medications such as morphine. #4 None of the funds may be used to study use of condom skills in adult males. #5 None of the funds may be used to study concurrent use of malt liquor and marijuana among young adults. And #6 None of the funds may be used to study whether video games improve mental health for the elderly.
Critics will suggest it’s mean spirited to question mental health toys for the elderly, or teaching condom skills to young adults, or encouraging yoga skills for menopausal hot flashes. They mean it’s mean spirited to question inane research.
We wonder whether there’s national interest being served by a study which collects toe nails to measure levels of nicotine? Seriously!