Wastebook 2014: Eight Absurd Government Projects Funded With Your Money

Wastebook 2014: Eight Absurd Government Projects Funded With Your Money

The feds wasted millions on mountain lion treadmills, synchronized swimming for sea monkeys, monkey gambling, and more.
Sean Davis
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It’s that time of year again: Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) just released Wastebook 2014, his annual list of the most wasteful government projects during 2014. Coburn’s wastebook list includes a comprehensive analysis of 100 of the most wasteful government projects funded over the last year. The full report, which includes detailed descriptions and investigations of every wasteful project, spans more than 200 pages.

Here are eight of the most egregious and infuriating wasteful projects listed in Coburn’s 2014 Wastebook report, which can be read in full here.

1) $171,000 To Study How Monkeys Gamble

Gambling Monkey
If scientists wanted to see a bunch of dumb primates gamble with money that wasn’t theirs, they could’ve just gone to a congressional appropriations committee hearing. Instead, they decided to spend a bunch of money to watch monkeys try their luck. From Wastebook’s entry on the project:

Humans have long been known to have a “hot-hand bias” in which they believe hot or cold streaks exist where there is actually none. Researchers wanted to know if monkeys had the same problem.

“Luckily, monkeys love to gamble,” said Tommy Blanchard, a doctoral candidate at the University of Rochester who worked on the study. But scientists “had to create a computerized game that was so captivating monkeys would want to play for hours.”

[…]

The researchers contend the study could “provide nuance to our understanding of free will” or even “inform treatment for gambling addiction.” But taxpayers are likely to go totally bananas that NSF is monkeying around with federal research dollars.

2) $856,000 To Film Mountain Lions Running On Treadmills

If you liked the National Science Foundation’s hit film “Shrimp On A Treadmill” (not joking: that happened), you’re going to love its sequel: mountain lions running in treadmills. If spending $560,000 million to film shrimp running on treadmills is the government waste version of Sharknado, then lions on treadmills has to be Treadnado 2: The Second One. It’s every bit as dumb as the first installment.

And lest you think I’m exaggerating, here’s the video of the experiment:

What people won’t have a hard time believing is the federal government would pay to put the big cats on a treadmill. Not so long ago, after all, the National Science Foundation (NSF) paid $560,000 to run a shrimp on a tiny treadmill. In fact, the federal government has raced animals, large and small on a treadmill from monkeys, to rats, and even cows and goats.

In this study funded with an $856,000 NSF grant, three captive mountain lions were taught to use a treadmill. It took eight months of training before the cats were “comfortable on the treadmill.”

“People just didn’t believe you could get a mountain lion on a treadmill, and it took me three years to find a facility that was willing to try,” said one of the project’s key researchers.

Perhaps it will take another $856,000 to study why people don’t think it’s a great idea to spend six figures to put mountain lions on treadmills.

3) Synchronized Swimming For Sea Monkeys

Sea Monkeys
It’s exactly what it sounds like, unfortunately. The National Science Foundation handed out $50,000 to watch sea monkeys do their thang under water. From Coburn’s Wastebook report:

Cartoon-style ads for pet Sea-Monkeys promise that you can learn to “make them appear to obey your commands, follow a beam of light, do loop-the-loops and even seem to dance when you play” music. The New York Times says it is “sort of true” that Sea Monkeys can be trained because they do follow light. With the financial support of three government agencies, researchers put these claims to the test and essentially choreographed a laser guided synchronized swim team of Sea Monkeys as part of a study to measure the swirl created by their collective movements.

“Coaxing Sea-Monkeys to swim when and where you want them to is even more difficult than it sounds,” said John Dabiri, a California Institute of Technology professor who worked on the project.

I bet it is, John. I bet it is.

4) Swedish Massages For Bunnies

Bugs Bunny Massage
Terrible ideas about how to spend taxpayer money apparently breed like rabbits. You can’t make this stuff up:

The real lucky rabbit’s foot may be attached to one of the bunnies receiving Swedish massages courtesy of taxpayers.

A group of rabbits received daily rub downs from a “mechanical device that simulates the long, flowing strokes used in Swedish massages.” The National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine of the National Institutes of Health provided $387,000 for the two year project which ended in April 2014.

The massages were given after subjecting the rabbits to exercise to measure its impact on recovery. To conduct the experiment, 18 “New Zealand White rabbits were instrumented” with “nerve cuffs for stimulation of hindlimb” leg muscles. The rabbits were “anesthetized and secured supine with one foot attached to a foot pedal.”

5) Free Luxury Gym Memberships For Federal Bureaucrats

Vida Fitness
The federal government is all about cutting the fat, just as long as 1) the fat comes from their waistlines instead of their budgets, and 2) taxpayers are forced to pay for the whole exercise:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced earlier this year that budget cuts “require[ed] difficult choices to align resources to address the greatest needs of the Department.”

Apparently one of those greatest needs is 236 memberships to a “state-of-the-art” gym and spa in downtown Washington, D.C. for some of the headquarters employees of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), a DHS component.323 The gym, Vida Fitness, describes itself as “more than just a gym,” offering an “Aura Spa, Bang Salon, Fuel Bar, Gear Shop, Endless Pools, luxurious locker rooms, and the rooftop Penthouse Pool and Lounge.”

6) $331,000 To Study Whether “Hangry” Spouses Are More Likely To Stab Voodoo Dolls

When members of Congress get hungry for pork, they gore taxpayers. When spouses get “hangry,” they stab voodoo dolls representing their partners, according to a pricey study from the National Science Foundation. And what does this mean? According to this vital and ground-breaking research, it turns out that people get prickly when they’re hungry. From the report:

Over the course of twenty-one consecutive evenings, 107 couples were given a chance to stick up to 51 pins into a voodoo doll representing their spouse.173 The pin-pushing happened in secret, away from the other partner. Participants then recorded the number of pins they poked into the dolls. Those tests revealed what may already be obvious to many couples: a spouse with low blood sugar was an angrier one, and stuck more pins in the doll (on average).

[…]

Not all academics believed the results. Two psychologists who reviewed the work suggested, “[I]t might be a big leap to interpret the results with voodoo dolls
as indicating risk for actual physical aggression against a spouse.”

Funding for the voodoo doll project came in part from National Science Foundation grant worth $331,000.

7) $18 Million To Renovate A Low-Traffic Airport That Serves A High-End Ski Resort

Sun Valley Terminator

Hell hath no wrath like a wealthy ski bum wishing to avoid the hoi polloi at a large airport. Thankfully, our betters won’t have to face the indignity of regular air travel due to an insanely expensive luxury remodel of a low-traffic local airport near Sun Valley, Idaho:

The airport for “Sun Valley ski resort that is a magnet for the rich and famous” is getting a multi-million dollar facelift courtesy of taxpayers.

The Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) awarded $18 million as part of a series of federal grants to cover the majority of the $34 million construction project for Friedman Memorial Airport.509 The federal requirements that supposedly warrant the project include a waiting lounge for arriving passengers that “will have comfortable chairs and a fireplace.”

[…]

Some of the celebrities that frequent or have second homes in Sun Valley include Tom Hanks, Bruce Willis, Ashton Kutcher and Arnold Schwarzenegger.

In 1936, the Resort was built to mirror the “luxury” of Swiss ski resorts. … The two main hotels foyers are “jammed with pictures of celebrities spanning three quarters of a century.”

8) NIH Spent Over $800,000 To Make A Video Game About Food Fights

Forget AIDS, cancer, and heart disease. The National Institutes of Health (NIH), whose director mostly recently blamed the worldwide Ebola outbreak on budget cuts at his agency, has been using its limited resources to focus on the most important aspects of public health in America: vegetable arguments between parents and their kids:

A federally funded video game wants to give parents the edge over their children who continue to wage war over veggies. The app’s main character — a fussy eater named Kiddio — will give mom and dad a chance to test out new negotiation styles. “Kiddio: Food Fight” will consist of 24 episodes in which parents will select a vegetable to offer Kiddio and then select a tactic for influencing Kiddio to eat the veggie. Parents can also tailor Kiddio’s mood so it mimics that of the parent’s child.

“Kiddio’s responses to these options – whether to take a bit or say something like ‘Yuk!’ – are based on what we’ve learned so far about kids’ reactions to these parental tactics,” according to one of the creators.The hope for the game is “to give [parents] a safe, low-risk, nonthreatening way to sharpen their parenting skills,” according to one of the scientists behind “Kiddio: Food Fight.”

Why spend money developing an Ebola vaccine when you can spend it on a stupid video game about vegetables, right? At least NIH has its priorities straight.

Sean Davis is the co-founder of The Federalist.

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