Some federal grants are just monkey business

Then he offered up a partial list of grants to illustrate how taxpayers are nickel-and-dimed to death.

Like the $516,000 study to develop a so-called ecoATM that is supposed to dispense cash in exchange for old cellphones.

And a $349,862 study hoping to measure the benefits of meditation for college science majors.

A $600,000 grant hopes to develop a new website, SiteJabber.com, which is supposed to rate the trustworthiness of other websites.

And $325,000 was set aside by the National Science Foundation to invent a robot squirrel, and use it to study how live squirrels use their tails to talk to each other.

A robot female sage grouse named Snookie cost only $375,000, helping biologists study mating habits, although, if one "grouse" is a robot, who cares?

Is this science or is it a cruel practical joke?

There's also a $49,774 grant to develop a game teaching scientists about ethics, and $106,868 to chart the rise of candidate-driven elections over party-dominated elections, and $47,783 to help analyze how American presidents cooperate with Congress when issuing executive orders.

Wow. That last one, the analysis of how presidents cooperate with Congress, sure sounds like Viagra for the mind, doesn't it?

"It does employ professors at universities, I can agree with that," Coburn said of the research grants. "But I'm not sure that political science is a science."

Please, political scientists, don't pound your tiny fists in rage and write me angry letters. Write Coburn.

The senator allowed that many grants are indeed worthy and necessary, but not the stupid ones involving animal pictures in old magazines.

"It's about lack of control and respect for every penny from hardworking Americans," said Coburn.

"Most grants aren't followed up on. A lot of them do a lot of good. But we have no control over it. There's no metrics: What are they supposed to do? Did you spend the money the right way? What's the result? Did we get a good result out of the American taxpayer money that was invested in X grant or X research or X purchase?"

I guess that all depends on what the definition of research is.

If you're getting paid a quarter-million dollars to look at photos of baboons with red behinds, you'll think it's awfully important work.

Unless you're one of us baboons with red behinds who have to pay for it all.

jskass@tribune.com Twitter @John_Kass

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