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Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
New York NY USA

Brian Krueger is the owner, creator and coder of LabSpaces by night and Next Generation Sequencer by day. He is currently the Director of Genomic Analysis and Technical Operations for the Institute for Genomic Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center. In his blog you will find articles about technology, molecular biology, and editorial comments on the current state of science on the internet.

My posts are presented as opinion and commentary and do not represent the views of LabSpaces Productions, LLC, my employer, or my educational institution.

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Monday, October 17, 2011

AARP put out a commercial a few months ago deriding wasteful spending in Washington.  Unfortunately, the soundbytes don't accurately represent the full story behind the spending.  Have a watch before continuing.

The main points of this mis-infomercial are: We're wasting money on a Brazillian corn institute, Poetry in Zoos, Shrimp on treadmills, and pickle technology.  The problem is that the commercial, due to its brevity, is misinformed and tries to induce a rage reaction that for the most part is unwarranted. 

 

  • This Brazillian corn institute we fund for $147 million dollars a year is the result of a dispute between the US and Brazil over the US farm bill and the subsidy it provides to US farmers.  The World Trade Organization has determined that the US farm bill is illegal, and to avoid trade sanctions with Brazil, we instead pay them off to the tune of $147 million a year.  You may be thinking, "So what, screw the Brazillians!" but we do about $64 billion in trade with Brazil every year, so keeping them happy should be a priority.  
  • $1 million was spent to update zoo exhibits as a part of the “Language of Conservation” program to help raise environmental awareness using poetry.
  • This isn't the first time we've heard about the shrimp on treadmills, however, the criticism of this research is unwarranted. $1,000 was spent on a shrimp treadmill as a part of a $500,000 study to explore the health of the shrimp industry.  The treadmill was an insignificant part of the greater industry study.
  • The final target of AARP's scorn is pickle technology.  This is another ongoing industry grant to insure safety, quality control, and determine the environmental impact of the pickling industry ($700,000)

When considering the facts, AARP's commercial is really infuriating.  However, the soundbytes taken at face value shouldn't make you angry, but the way that the commercial tries to dupe the viewer should.  Essentially, the corn institute is a bribe that saves us billions in trade sanctions, while shrimp on treadmills and pickle technology are pieces of important grants that assess the health and safety of entire industries.  Now, maybe poetry in zoos could be considered wasteful spending in these tough economic times, but using misleading soundbytes to disparage science is neither fair nor helpful.  When we talk about failing economies, the last sector that should have its funding cut is science.  The discoveries and innovations made in government funded labs around the country are the lifeblood of our economy.  Without their work, we cannot expect to remain world leaders in research, especially with countries like China investing billions in biomedical research while Republican politicians are talking about cutting funding to some of our most valuable scientific assets. 

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Redshift42
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It's also infuriating because the real threat to Social Security and Medicare isn't some nickel-and-dime tradeoff between that and a few science grants, it's the insistence that "we're broke" and everything must be cut rather than let any tax cuts expire. With only a passing mention of "tax loopholes", this ad implicitly buys into that mindset, apparently in the belief that outrage, no matter how misdirected, is the most effective result.


Brian Krueger, PhD
Columbia University Medical Center
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Totally agree, and that's why it's so annoying that they targetted 2 science projects.  The amount of money they're talking about is insignificant when compated to the budget or the debt.  Why throw science under the bus?  We make all of the drugs and therapies that keep old people alive :)

 

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