5 Ridiculous Studies Funded by the U.S. Government

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Have you ever pondered this eternal question: “Why do chimps throw feces?” Well, after a government-funded study spent $592,597 in taxpayer money to find the answer, researchers said they weren’t sure. For years, Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma published an annual report, the Wastebook, detailing 100 examples of ridiculous government spending. After Coburn’s retirement in 2015, another senator, Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) took the reins in producing an annual report. After all, politicians will come and go, but government waste is eternal. Here are just a few of the bizarre taxpayer-funded studies outlined in Sen. Flake’s 2015 Wastebook.

 

5. How Does a Beer Hugger Keep Beer Cold ($1.3 million)

A $1.3 million study found that beer huggers help keep beer cold. © Tim Patterson

Researchers at the University of Washington discovered that a beer hugger doesn’t just insulate a beer — it keeps condensation from forming on the outside. The Wastebook concluded that the study basically proved that a beer hugger “is an essential for keeping your favorite canned beverage cold on a hot day.” Is that worth $1.3 million in government funding? You decide.

 

4. Why Are College Students Addicted to Pizza? ($780,000)

A $780,000 study found that college students really do love pizza. © Lipik/Shutterstock.com

A $780,000 study found that college students really do love pizza. © Lipik/Shutterstock.com

A reasonable person would guess students love pizza because it has cheap calories and pizza joints deliver and are open really late at night. The government gave a five-year grant to the National Institute of Drug Abuse to study the topic (So loving pizza is drug abuse? We’ll say that if loving pizza is wrong, we don’t want to be right). Researchers found that “Highly processed foods, or foods with added amounts of fat and/or refined carbohydrates, were most associated with addictive-like eating behaviors.”

 

3. How to Get Retweeted ($2.6 million)

Wondering how to get your tweets retweeted? It helps to be famous.

Wondering how to get your tweets retweeted? It helps to be famous.

What Twitter user hasn’t pondered the question: “How can I get more people to retweet my posts?” Cornell University researchers used a $2.6 million grant from the National Science Foundation to find out why certain posts get retweeted and others get ignored. The most obvious finding: “A famous person can write anything and it will be retweeted. An unknown person writing the exact same message will be ignored.”

Digging a little deeper, the study looked at almost 2 million tweets from 236,000 Twitter users and actually developed an algorithm to predict which tweets are most likely to be retweeted. Among tips from the study: Ask people to share your message (plz retweet), be informative, and imitate newspaper headlines. The Wastebook summary notes, “No matter how you tweet it, this is #wasteful.”

 

2. A Fight Club For Shrimp ($707,000)

The mantis shrimp, one of the most formidable fighters in the animal kingdom. © Silke Baron

The mantis shrimp, one of the most formidable fighters in the animal kingdom. © Silke Baron

The fried shrimp you eat at Red Lobster don’t look very formidable, but the mantis shrimp (Stomatopoda) is a beast. Up to 7 inches in length, these shrimp can dismember a crab or split a clamshell, with the shrimp’s club creating an impact force more than 1,000 times the creature’s weight. So what could be better than pitting these shrimp against each other in a fight tournament? That idea might bomb on Pay-Per-View, but a Duke University study used a $706,800 grant to find a shrimp fight champion.

Researchers pitted 68 Panamanian mantis shrimp in 34 different fights. (Why Panamanian shrimp? We don’t know, but recall that legendary boxer Roberto Duran hailed from Panama, so …) The study concluded that, “it wasn’t the shrimp who hit hardest who won the bout, but the one who hit the most frequently.” And Sen. Flake’s summary of the study concludes with an apt quote from the Brad Pitt movie Fight Club: “We buy things we don’t need with money we don’t have.”

 

1. Monkeys on a Treadmill ($1 million)

A marmoset monkey ponders the question, “Why would I want to run on a treadmill?” We wonder: Why did taxpayers spend $1 million to make monkeys do that?” © Carmem A. Busko

A marmoset monkey ponders the question, “Why would I want to run on a treadmill?” A better question: Why did taxpayers spend $1 million to make monkeys do that?” © Carmem A. Busko

The Southwest National Primate Research Center used $1 million in government funding to train 12 little marmoset monkeys to run on a treadmill. This research is truly breaking new barriers, as the researchers noted: “To our knowledge, this is the first described method to engage marmosets in aerobic exercise.” And if you’re wondering why it’s important to put marmosets on a treadmill, the study reported that the knowledge “should be useful to researchers wishing to address physiological responses of exercise in a marmoset model.” Really, we don’t want a bunch of out-of-shape marmosets lying around, do we?

 

One More: Promoting Tourism to Lebanon ($2.1 million)

The U.S. State Department advised Americans not to visit Lebanon in 2015, the same year the a government agency spent $2.1 million promoting tourism there. Credit: 2015 Wastebook

The U.S. State Department warned Americans not to visit Lebanon in 2015, the same year a government agency spent $2.1 million promoting tourism there. Credit: 2015 Wastebook

Considering all the kidnappings and terrorist attacks in Lebanon in recent years, it’s not a place most Americans want to visit. The U.S. State Department issued a travel warning in 2015, advising Americans, “to avoid all travel to Lebanon because of ongoing safety and security concerns.” So naturally, the United States Agency for International Development spent more than $2 million in 2015 to promote tourism in the country. It’s not really a study, but it begged to be included here.

 

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