Overton: Fund "mollusk porn"

BY JON OVERTON | APRIL 25, 2013 5:00 AM

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Every so often, we need a good ol’ fashioned rabble rousin’. Keeps the populace pissed, the powerful panicked. But what to do when there’s little rabble to rouse? Attack science, of course.

Some conservative bloggers recently took on a study at the University of Iowa that examines snails having sex, funded by a four-year $876,752 grant from the National Science Foundation.

“The National Science Foundation assuredly has fantastic reasons to fund snail sex, but blowing $880,000 to view mollusk porn is not stimulating the sluggish economy,” said Kyle Becker, a former UI student who runs the Independent Journal Review.

Robert Laurie of CainTV was less dismissive, saying he understands that this is just “a drop in our debt-filled bucket, but the drops are adding up,” and the government has to cut back because it’s broke, and if scientists can’t demonstrate why this is important, we shouldn’t pay for it.

I don’t entirely disagree. Government should ensure it spends money effectively. Watching snails taking it downtown doesn’t initially seem like a good use of funding, but neither does deriding this study without properly understanding it.

The study attempts to understand why a species of New Zealand freshwater snail, which can reproduce on its own, often chooses to mate with another snail. The hypothesis is that there may be an evolutionary benefit to having two parents instead of one.

“Because only females can directly produce offspring, the production of sons by sexual females creates a two-fold ‘cost of males’ that should culminate in the rapid elimination of sex,” Maurine Neiman, a UI assistant professor of biology, said in a news release.

This study, as Laurie acknowledged, “has repercussions for cloning, growing replacement body parts, etc.”

The study’s focus also ultimately comes down to a profound existential question for about half the human race: Why does the male sex exist?

Granted, one study isn’t going to resolve all of these issues, but science is usually incremental, gradually building upon itself.

Ah geez, but we’re in massive debt. The government can’t afford this. I guess understanding cloning, creating limbs, and why men exist can wait.

Actually, you know this looming debt crisis? It ain’t gonna happen. We’re not going to have a debt crisis, not now, not ever.

Since dollars only have value because the U.S. Government says so, we could just keep printing money to hold back a debt crisis, though it would be unadvisable to do so for long.

Nevertheless, it’s prudent to tighten up the budget, maybe take a machete to that beast we call a defense budget, which by comparison, makes Jabba the Hut look like Twiggy.

According to a report by the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, “In 2012, 19 percent of the budget, or $689 billion, paid for defense and security-related international activities.”

Meanwhile, federal funding to scientific and medical research made up 2 percent of the entire national budget.

Even the total given to research “mollusk porn” is miniscule. The grant from the National Science Foundation lasts four years and costs $876,752. That’s $219,188 per year.

The Congressional Budget Office projected the federal budget deficit for 2012 at around $1.1 trillion.

Becker and Laurie, who attacked this study, skewed the facts and intentionally manipulated readers over a molecule of one drop in the bucket for what seems to be the sole purpose of furthering their rabidly zealous commitment to the idea of small government.

Rabble rousing has its time and place, but not where important scientific endeavors are concerned and definitely not when there are other parts of the budget we can do without.

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