Last week, Sen. Tom Coburn released his new Wastebook, which exposed a litany of obscene federal expenditures. Taxpayers paid $387,000 for experiments in which rabbits at Ohio State University were given Swedish massages. For a cool $856,000, three mountain lions were trained to walk on a treadmill. At the University of Rochester, $171,000 was frittered away on experiments that concluded that monkeys like to gamble. And the government spent $331,000 learning something that James and I could have told them for free: People who feel angry as a result of being hungry will stick more pins into voodoo dolls representing their spouses.
The timing of the report is ironic, as Francis Collins, head honcho at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) — the agency that funds many of these absurd projects — recently made headlines by charging that if funding to NIH hadn’t been cut in recent years, we would have had an Ebola vaccine by now.
Forget that NIH already commands $30 billion annually. Forget that President Obama has pledged to increase NIH’s budget by more than $600 million for 2015. And forget that Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH office in charge of Ebola research, publicly disputed his boss’s accusations.
Clearly, the issue isn’t so much the size of NIH’s budget as it is the institute’s judgment about the best way to spend its money.
A case in point is another head-scratcher that I’ve been following and that could easily have graced the pages of the Wastebook.
Try this one on for size: An NIH laboratory just outside the beltway has received $30 million in the last seven years to breed hundreds of depressed baby monkeys, take them from their moms at birth, lock them all alone inside tiny cages, systematically scare the heck out of them with loud noises and mechanical snakes, among other things, and addict them to alcohol in order to make their depression worse.
This is a multimillion-dollar government boondoggle that’s been quietly coasting along for more than three decades.
Not so quiet was video footage from the laboratory, which shows baby monkeys shrieking and crying piteously, cowering at the backs of their cages, clutching themselves and desperately trying to escape from their abusers. As a decent person and a mother, I found this footage painful to watch.
Making matters worse, Dr. Jane Goodall and other scientists, physicians and mental-health professionals have concluded that this costly project has never helped people with mental illness — but has apparently been approved to continue and receive funding until 2017.
Recently, when NIH was asked by CBS to defend the experiments, it cited its Earth-shattering discovery that monkeys get stressed when you put a lot of them in a small space.
In other words, 30 years of bullying baby monkeys on the American taxpayers’ dime hasn’t helped humans, so the obvious solution is to throw more money at the monkey experiments.
And we wonder why we don’t have a vaccine to protect us against Ebola.
In the face of such out-of-control spending on these ridiculous projects, it’s difficult to take Collins seriously when he whines about NIH’s budget cuts. Americans are a generous people, and we are happy to pay for science that boosts the economy and helps us live longer, happier lives — but squandering millions of dollars on monkey abuse and rabbit massages erodes public trust. And now, it’s not just the monkeys who are unhappy.
It’s a shame that Sen. Coburn is leaving office because, at this rate, the Wastebook-worthy federal boondoggles could fill an entire library.