Government Waste

The Government Wasted Money on 'Shrimp Fight Club' and a Million Other Things

Waste, fraud, abuse, and monkeys on hamster wheels.



In honor of the release of the new Star Wars movie, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Arizona), subtitled this year's "Wastebook" as "The Farce Awakens." The latest edition of this annual report details 100 spending programs—totaling $108.5 million—that are a complete waste of your money.

On the list, we find $1 million that went to the National Institutes of Health to study a dozen monkeys running in hamster balls on a treadmill. That's right. But as strange as the spending may seem to us taxpayers, it's not unique. The report states, "In a case of monkey-see, monkey-do, the National Institute on Aging is already spending more than $600,000 to conduct its own monkey on a treadmill study."

You should also know that $706,800 of your hard-earned money has been granted by the National Science Foundation for Duke University to conduct a so-called "shrimp fight club," where shrimp are pitted against each other so that researchers can "observe the punching power of mantis shrimp, which engage in ritualized fighting with powerful hammer-like claws."

Now, these may not be so bad as the $5 million spent by the National Institutes of Health on the organization of parties for hipsters at bars and nightclubs in an effort to entice them to "take a stand against tobacco corporations." The report, however, notes that when the "parties fail to achieve that goal, the intervention gets blunt, flashing cash in front of the hipsters' 'stache… 'Quit smoking, get cash' offers one of the programs that hands out up to $100 as a payoff to get hipsters to stop smoking."

We also spent $668,000 to study the hashtags "angrytweets" and "heartattacks," $77,000 on Yogurtopia and $448 million on free rent for freeloaders. But here's the thing: As much as this waste is annoying and undoubtedly a problem worthy of congressional attention, it's only a small component of government waste in this country.

First there are improper payments, which cost over $100 billion each year. But that pales in comparison with the pervasive waste that exists in current spending patterns. It also pales in comparison with the economic damage caused by misallocation of capital and the creation of perverse incentives—for example, the moral hazard created by government bailouts and terrible regulations.

In fiscal year 2015, the federal government spent $3.7 trillion, or 20.7 percent of gross domestic product. The consequence of this spending was a $439 billion budget deficit. A large part of this overspending was not even spending too much on things but spending that never should have happened at all—e.g., money for farm and energy subsidies, as well as other crony subsidies, outdated weapon systems, and Amtrak. Then there was all the spending that actually should have been paid for by the states, such as money for education and transportation.

According to the Congressional Budget Office's alternative scenario budget projection—the scenario under which widely expected policy changes occur, including legislators' concessions to interest groups, such as physicians and senior citizens—at its current trajectory, spending will increase to 21.9 percent of GDP in 2020 and to 25.8 percent in 2030 and to 30.4 percent in 2040.

The expansion of mandatory programs—such as Medicare, Medicaid, Affordable Care Act subsidies, and Social Security—is the driving force behind this spending growth and our exploding debt. Unfortunately, as the debt grows, the interest payments on that debt will grow, as well. If the United States doesn't change course, debt will end up as one of its biggest budget items. Our unfunded liabilities keep going up, too. The net present value of the promises made to the American people for which the United States does not have the money to pay is roughly $75.5 trillion, according to the Treasury Department.

I guess the bottom line is this: As troubling as monkeys running on treadmills—in hamster balls—and hipsters being paid to party may be, we have problems that are exponentially more worrisome. It doesn't mean that we should tolerate the $3 million paid by the Department of Homeland Security to the owners of party buses, including one described as a "nightclub on wheels." It means that we should demand that lawmakers finally start to take the more serious problems seriously.


NEXT: Feds Still Owe the $30 Billion Woodrow Wilson Borrowed for WWI

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  1. “In a case of monkey-see, monkey-do, the National Institute on Aging is already spending more than $600,000 to conduct its own monkey on a treadmill study.”

    The merits, or lack thereof, of public funding for research aside, I fail to see how studying the effects of cardiovascular exercise is particularly frivolous.

    1. Having two redundant studies each costing near a million dollars doesn’t seem even frivolous?

      And at that price tag, couldn’t you just study actual humans to make it more relevant? I assume the main arguments for animal testing would be that it could be cheaper, but that seems unlikely, or that the study was unsafe for humans, which running on a treadmill certainly isn’t.

      1. How do you know they’re redundant? You don’t just get some monkeys to run and then suddenly know everything about exercise. There are tons dependent variables with exercise that are relevant to human health. Like if you think, say, the polio vaccine was developed without anyone repeating a single experimental paradigm you’re delusional.

        Human research is actually worse. For exercise, long-term experimental studies are basically impossible for due to compliance issues, and short term studies are mostly useless. Observational studies are also useless due to confounds. Also with monkeys you can kill them whenever you want and analyze their tissue however you want. Basically you can get way more data out of monkeys and it’s much higher quality data.

        1. I mean the article sort of implied that they were redundant, although that might have been my own faulty interpretation, looking back at it it wasn’t that specific. I also understand that cardiovascular health is a pretty complex subject, but the notion that having unaccountable beaurcrats dole out in charge of doling out public money to understand it is a legitimate function of government is fucking ridiculous.

          1. If the govt doesn’t do research on monkeys running on treadmills, who will? Besides, they are extra, super careful when spending other people’s money.

            1. It’s also obvious it’s just research to advance their primary scheme of bringing the monkey people to the boiling point till they go off on all of us.

          2. Yeah. Public funding of research is a hard topic. There are definitely a lot of perverse incentives going on, leading to waste, falsified or poorly collected data, publication bias, and a lot of what I like to call “great, who cares?” studies. On the other hand the basic research done with public money would be seen by a business as very high risk, very long-term reward; it might be that no business would touch it. And I would worry about the open sharing of knowledge in a world with only private research. Yet it still seems untenable that money obtained from coercion would be used for this purpose.

            1. No. Research will be done, one way or another. There’s no stopping it. And without state involvement, it’d be cheaper, more widely available, and as a result more easy to assess with regards to validity. A lot of important research would cost almost nothing if it weren’t for the fucked up system imposed by the fascist academic state hegemony complex.

              This becomes readily apparent if one ever looks at the state of research in countries where it’s less funded. All kinds of very cheap, effective, and replicable designs are invented and employed and useful results get published, without all the hooha and pukefesting that goes on in this country, and at this point the vast majority of research in areas where I have to have some quotidian familiarity seems like shite, which probably don’t make up a majority of fields, about which I have less experience.

            2. Comrades!
              Public funding must continue!
              Look at all that has been accomplished with public funding down through the decades.
              Cancer has been cured.
              Diabetes no longer exists.
              Sickle cell anemia no longer affects blacks.
              AIDS is the thing of the past.
              The blind can see.
              The deaf can hear.
              There is no more mental retardation.
              War is the thing of the past.
              Nobody farts in crowded elevators any more.
              All countries have strong, vibrant economies through central planning and five year programs.
              Monkeys can vote for Donald Trump.
              Shrimp can vote for Comrade Bernie Sanders.
              We can attribute all of this to public funding.
              Isn’t life wonderful?

            3. “On the other hand the basic research done with public money would be seen by a business as very high risk, very long-term reward; it might be that no business would touch it.”

              Two other equivalent ways of saying this are:

              1) The research has practically negligible probability of producing results of any value.

              2) No one who has a choice in the matter is willing to spend his own money on it.

              If either of those observations serves in your mind as justification to funnel public money into such endeavors, I think we have identified the problem.

          3. Reason had a post some months back about a study spending almost 1 million to learn why Chinese whores drank too much.

            I’m sad they didn’t include it in this one.

            I tried to volunteer to help with that particular study but Mrs OneOut didn’t think I was scholorarry enough to add value.

        2. contrarian|12.24.15 @ 1:30AM|#
          “How do you know they’re redundant?”

          Your handle is correct; you have this exactly backwards.
          That’s MY money; you prove to me that both the studies are worthwhile, or knock it off.
          And you smell of tulpa.

          1. I never argued that public funding for research is worthwhile, just that Wastebook and this article, either deliberately or through ignorance, mischaracterized the research so that it seems frivolous. Shared models and replication are cornerstones of biological research, so doing the same procedure twice is virtually always an example of good science.

            1. contrarian|12.24.15 @ 11:03AM|#
              “…Wastebook and this article, either deliberately or through ignorance, mischaracterized the research so that it seems frivolous….”

              You have not shown that; it is YOUR task to do so, not the taxpayers to prove otherwise.

              1. You missed the point.

                Biology depends on shared models. Someone figures out how to make monkeys exercise, and publishes a methods paper describing how to do it. Then everyone else can use this model of exercise and look at different outcomes, e.g. do the monkeys have lower insulin resistance? do they show fewer signs of Parkinson’s? Alzheimer’s? why does this happen and can we replicate this effect with a drug targeted to the relevant pathway? In this case, they’re all making monkeys run on treadmills, but each providing unique information relevant to human health.

                Science also depends on replication. If no one bothered to replicate anything, we would still believe stupid crap like “vaccines cause autism” or “coffee stunts your growth.” Once a finding is well-established, there is no incentive to replicate it again. Researchers have tight budgets and want to publish in the highest impact journals they can.

                “Redundant” research, if it exists, is an extremely rare exception, because of the way science works. No one remotely acquainted with the scientific method could assume that the studies are redundant just because they’re both studying exercise in monkeys, it’s an absurd proposition.

              2. But you can see for yourself. One was a methods paper, so an example of the former. link

                The results of the second haven’t been published, and Wastebook had basically no information on it. But here’s the link to the project info.

                So they’re not redundant at all.

                1. They may not be redundant. I don’t care.

                  My concern is more towards are they worth borrowing money for that we will never pay back in net and will pay interest on forever ?

                  Me thinks not.

                  1. No, you care. You probably wouldn’t even have been reading an article on such research had it not been possible to characterize it as silly. Proxmire used to do that all the time with research projects for his Golden Fleece awards.

                    1. The title of the Phillips paper, “Take the monkey and run”, didn’t help. But it’s so great, I wouldn’t have it any other way!

                    2. Why not?
                      After all, as any socialist will tell you, monkey grows on trees.

            2. “so doing the same procedure twice is virtually always an example of good science.”

              I think they should do the shrimp fighting one twice for sure.

              Then we could hae the shrimp fightoffs and have shrimp fantasy leagues. The possibilities are endless and due to the magical mystery government deficit spending multiplier effect we would all soon be rich. Rich I tell ya.

              Do hrimp fights have weight categories ?

              1. Heh. Good science, not necessarily worthwhile science.

                Although it was studying the swimming of algae, if you can believe it, that led to optogenetics, which it seems will soon see clinical applications in restoring sight in some blind people, as well as better deep brain stimulation for neurological/neuropsychiatric disorders.

                1. This is true scientific research at its pinnacle.
                  This research again shows how global warming affects our lives…shrimps pick fights and monkeys monkey around for apparent reason.
                  I can’t wait until Uncle Sam takes even more money out of the taxpayer’s wallet for such scientific research. Who knows? Maybe these scientists and grad students will find a cure for acne.

          2. Fuck if they’re redundant. They’re too fucking expensive, right off.

      2. Using actual humans would have been cheaper. Grad students are free (and expendable). You have to pay for the upkeep of the monkeys.

        1. As a grad student, I can attest that the above is true, but that you forgot to note that grad students are much more adept at ass-kissing than are other primate lifeforms.

        2. …and most monkey are smarter than grad students.

    2. Because research on monkeys can only be applied to a limited subset of people living in DC???

      If you want to understand effects of cardiovascular exercise on monkeys then you study monkeys. If you want to understand it in humans you study humans. Data for the sake of data typically worthless.

      (And to be honest your time would be better spent studying human genetics and epigenetics)

      1. Exercise has been studied in rats for a long time and even the results of that research seem to hold true in humans: improved cardiovascular health, increased IGF-1, improved memory, reduced drug intake. And thanks to rats, since we can cut them open, we now have an idea why these things happen, opening up new therapeutic avenues.

        Of course rats, monkeys, and humans are all mammals, there’s no way to know if this applies to the parasites in DC.

        1. Rarely do we have to cut a rat open at the end of a study to gain info such as you list here. Even if we do gain information the ability to apply it to humans requires studies on humans to prove they are transferable. There have been several recent articles in the literature arguing about if rats are an appropriate model for human exercise science.

          Then the problem is exactlying what you mentioned earlier- you can’t control for humans behavior in all facets outside of the study. So the research from a rat study means very little to me when I am sitting in front of a patient.

          Maybe I am just bitter because a drugbi prescribe named forteo was found to increase osteosarcoma risks in rats during trials. Because of that great nonhuman study and the warning on the box it created I can’t prescribe forteo for longer than 2 years- even though there are no links between osteosarcoma in humans and those who have used forteo.

          But don’t worry, they are only going to study it in humans for 15 years before revisiting the warnings on the box.

          Cardiovascular exercise is good for a wide array of human health. Because of genetic, epigenetic and inflammatory markers it is impossible to give information about the correct dosage (frequency, duration, mode and intensity) for individualized patients. If one of these monkey trials says anything different I will give up my license to practice.

          1. “Rarely do we have to cut a rat open at the end of a study to gain info such as you list here.”

            Indeed. What I was saying is that we can confirm that the same phenomena happen in rats and humans—and though you can do a short term experimental study on exercising in humans, for most subjects you need a model animal to establish causation—and then you use the model animal to dissect the mechanism, pun intended.

            It’s also not just about exercise per se; understanding the mechanisms behind exercise’s effects would lead to new targets for therapeutic interventions.

            Humans are obviously ideal but there are a lot of experiments you can’t perform and a lot of data you can’t collect. You’re right that you have to figure out what’s transferrable, some systems are very well conserved and others not so much.

            That’s a shame about the drug. Although I think the FDA is more to blame than the rat.

          2. “Rarely do we have to cut a rat open at the end of a study to gain info such as you list here.”

            Most of the time we just do it for kicks and pretend it somehow tells us something, other than rat is full of guts and cover in hide, and if they are removed then one is left with some really good smoking meat.

  2. ‘You should also know that $706,800 of your hard-earned money has been granted by the National Science Foundation for Duke University to conduct a so-called “shrimp fight club,” where shrimp are pitted against each other so that researchers can “observe the punching power of mantis shrimp, which engage in ritualized fighting with powerful hammer-like claws.”‘
    Now this sounds promising, with TV rights and organised betting this could really rake in the cash. I’d watch.

    1. I’d eat the losers… with Darwin sauce.

      1. I’d eat the winners and losers, along with a good steak, corn on the cob and a baked potato.
        Nothing goes to waste.
        Our tax dollars at work.

    2. I wonder if they ever get a hang fire, where on of them snaps at the other, nothing happens for a minute, then the whole fucking tank explodes.

  3. +1 Gabriel Nahas

  4. On those projections, this is assuming the two entrenched looter parties continue to divvy up 97% of the vote, right? Federalist, Whig, Republican… all of these looter parties were formed of parasites using a sort of biological mimesis to approach their prey. Surely this can be overcome.

  5. Since we’re to the point of both Democrats and Republicans warming to the idea of “minimum guaranteed income” to do away with all the “inefficiencies” embedded in the myriad of welfare schemes, it won’t be long before these boondoggle research grants go away. The only reason they exist is to keep the trickle down of endless Keynesian Economics. Perhaps once the pretense of who earthworms have sex while spinning frisbees, real science will re-emerge.

  6. How much was wasted on the space programme which brought us satellites and GPS? It’s bound to far in excess of the paltry monkey money the author is so worked up about.

    1. Although I’d rather the dollars came from private funding, the space program had some very useful returns. Some of the medical spinoff kept me alive, for instance.

      Please do research before opening your mouth.

      1. You might want to put new batteries in your sarcasm meter.

      2. “Some of the medical spinoff kept me alive, for instance.”

        Well, now that you’re alive and all, aren’t you angry that this funding has robbed you of the much better results that would have inevitably followed had the whole thing been in private hands where it belonged?

  7. Am I supposed to be outraged or surprised or something?

  8. $108 million that could’ve been spent on cocktail parties for brave warriors involved in the wars on drugs, terrorism, poverty, women, inequality, etc. it’s a number so astronomical that can’t someone put it into terms of quarters stacked and how far?
    Thank god he wasn’t questioning entitlement programs and defense budgets and other govt expenditures.

  9. Google pay 97$ per hour my last pay check was $8500 working 1o hours a week online. My younger brother friend has been averaging 12k for months now and he works about 22 hours a week. I cant believe how easy it was once I tried it out.
    This is wha- I do…… ??????

  10. I note this piece is neatly tucked by the the heroin and sex trade articles. It seems to me that the writers at ‘Reason’ have practical, objective stances regarding each of the three subjects. ‘Reason’ is a fine paper.

  11. We could pick away for years at all of the wasteful spending item by item, and meanwhile, the bureaucrats will find new ways to waste our money and make us to apply for fast loans to make the ends meet.

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