About Those NIH “Budget Cuts”

On Friday, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, complained that budget cuts had interfered with his agency’s ability to develop an anti-Ebola vaccine:

Frankly, if we had not gone through our 10-year slide in research support, we probably would have had a vaccine in time for this that would’ve gone through clinical trials and would have been ready.

This sent Democrats into a twitter frenzy: sequester, here we go again! Ebola is the Republicans’ fault!

The Democrats’ argument is silly in almost too many ways to count, but let’s have fun with this one: has the NIH’s budget been stretched so tight that there was no money for high-priority projects like Ebola research? Or is this simply a case of misplaced priorities?

The Daily Mail answers that question in hilarious style:

The $30 billion U.S. National Institutes of Health blamed tightening federal budgets on Monday for its inability to produce an Ebola vaccine, but a review of its grant-making history in the last 10 years has turned up highly unusual research that redirected precious funds away from more conventional public health projects.

The projects included $2.4 million to develop “origami” condoms designed with Japanese folding paper in mind, and $939,000 to find out that male fruit flies prefer to romance younger females because the girl-flies’ hormone levels drop over time.

Other winners of NIH grants consumed $325,000 to learn that marriages are happier when wives calm down more quickly during arguments with their husbands, and $257,000 to make an online game as a companion to first lady Michelle Obama’s White House garden.

The agency also spent $117,000 in taxpayers’ grant dollars to discover that most chimpanzees are right-handed.

The same group of scientists determined, at a cost of $592,000 for NIH, that chimps with the best poop-throwing skills are also the best communicators. …

Part of a $666,000 NIH grant supported a University of Buffalo researcher who determined that watching sitcom reruns like “Seinfeld” or re-watching old movies helps older people feel re-connected with pseudo-friends from their past.

Another outlay of $181,000 went to University of Kentucky researchers who studied how cocaine use “enhanced” the sex drive of the Japanese quail.

That one is my favorite.

It took a different NIH department to see the value in giving a University of Missouri team $548,000 to find out if 30-something partiers feel immature after they binge drink while people in their mid-20s don’t.

“We interpreted our findings to suggest that, at 25, drinking is more culturally acceptable,” declared a doctoral student who coordinated the government-funded field work.

A generous $610,000 paid for a 120-nation survey to determine how satisfied people in different countries are with their lives.

A staggering $1.1 million funded research into how athletes perceive their in-game surroundings, including one Purdue University study that discovered golfers can putt 10 per cent better if they imagine the hole is bigger.

And $832,000 went to learn if it was possible to get uncircumcised South African tribesmen into the habit of washing their genitals after having sex.

This chart shows the funding of the National Institutes of Health in red, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the agency that is actually working on treatments for Ebola, in blue:


Note that NIAID’s funding has grown by more than 200% since 2000.

This episode reflects the fact that the Democrats simply aren’t serious. A worldwide epidemic threatens to kill thousands, potentially millions of people, and all the Democrats can think of: is there some half-baked way we can blame this on Republicans and get a boost in the midterms?

It also illustrates the fundamental problem with one federal agency after another: instead of sticking to its core mission and executing it competently, the agency goes down one trendy (and often politically correct) byway after another. It thereby dissipates its resources, loses its focus, and winds up performing its real mission poorly.

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