Robotic squirrels, Chinese prostitutes, and Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul has taken up the mantle of Sen. William Proxmire's Golden Fleece Awards, calling out what he thinks are wasteful government-funded research projects.
Ashley Killough of CNN writes that Paul argued against a tax increase when the government is spending "$300,000 a year on robotic squirrels" and $2 million "on how we can convince Chinese prostitutes not to drink so much on the job." [The quotes are Paul's.]
She then explains what he was talking about. The squirrel researchers, at the University of California Davis, received $390,000 from the National Science Foundation in 2010, according to a university press release. They are trying to find out why squirrels sometimes confront rattlesnakes in the wild. Reasonable people could differ on whether that research is worth funding, but Paul was not making a reasonable argument. He was distorting it to make a point.
Killough stumbles while trying to explain the reference to Chinese prostitutes. "Paul wasn't too far off," she writes.
Yes, he was.
The project, funded in 2008, was about whether treatement for alcoholism could reduce the spread of HIV/AIDS among sex workers, which Paul neglected to mention. Again, reasonable people can disagree about the value of this, but Paul trivialized it.
Killough also neglected to report that dropping projects such as these would have a negligible effect on the federal budget. If the government dropped these two projects, and even a dozen more like them, would Paul then support a tax increase? Not likely.
Most other major news outlets seem to have stayed away from this. That's not a good decision either. Report it, evaluate it, and put it in context.