Biologist Lou Burnett was in his car when his cellphone rang recently. It was a CNN reporter, asking about the fact that his research had been featured in a new report about wasteful government spending.
That was news to Burnett, who works at the College of Charleston in South Carolina. “I was pretty irritated,” he recalls.
The report, put out by Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK), blasted the National Science Foundation, a major government funder of research, saying it squandered taxpayer money on questionable science projects, including one pursued by Burnett and his colleagues that involved putting shrimp on a tiny treadmill.
Lawmakers and political groups like to point to government spending that seems wasteful — especially in tough economic times. And one popular target has been scientific studies that either sound silly or involve foreign countries or have to do with sex.
Looking at past examples, however, shows that there seems to be a pattern to how research gets singled out — and what happens after it’s put under the spotlight.
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