For decades, people have heard tales of the crazy government-funded scientific research that our tax dollars get spent on. Seemingly insane studies are often conducted in these research situations and, to the naked eye, they seem like useless wastes of money. But just how useless are these crazy research situations? Take a look at Senator Tom Coburn's report on the wastefulness of some National Science Foundation studies to find out. (With all these spending, you have to wonder Is The U.S. Government Too Big To Fail?)
TUTORIAL: Economics Basics
How long can a shrimp run on a treadmill?
Really? Do we need to spend $3 million just to watch shrimps run on a treadmill? Actually, yes, if we want to begin to understand the effects of bacteria on mobility, according to National Science Foundation spokeswoman Maria Zacharias. The National Science Foundation's page on the study explains that these tests help us better understand the effects of pollution and a crustacean's natural immune defense system have on the survival of the species. Since the survival of the species can not only affect the environment but also the fishing and seafood industry, the study of a shrimp's ability to run away from predators and survive when its health is compromised by human influence through pollution, is pretty important.
Does playing FarmVille on Facebook help people to make friends and keep them?
FarmVille is a simulation game on Facebook that allows users to create a virtual farm, grow and harvest crops, trade and exchange seeds with other farmers. At first glance it seems ludicrous that $315,000 would be spent on attempting to study the real social aspects of an online game, but is it really? With more and more time being spent online with friends, the impact of these activities on our health, happiness and attitudes is an important concept to explore. This study happened to show that relationships that would otherwise have been "left stale" were actually built up through the game. Imagine how this information can transform the lives of people with physical and mental disabilities preventing them from taking part in real-life interaction. (With social media continuing to grow, it is difficult to determine What Are Social Media Sites Really Worth?)
How do you ride a bike?
According to the Senator's report, $300,000 was spent in 2009 helping scientists study how humans ride bicycles. Since the velocipede has been around in many forms for well over 100 years, you might think this a completely useless study. But, how often has the design of the bicycle changed over the course of that 150 or so years? The NSF report on the study notes that spending the time to study how humans ride and handle bicycles will give designers insight into ways they may improve bicycle design. This could result in bicycles that are more comfortable, encouraging increased usage, and more accessible, allowing a wider variety of individuals (including those with certain physical disabilities) the ability to utilize this healthier form of transportation. The future impact this could have on life spans, health and healthcare costs as more and more people are able to ride and get the benefits of exercise from improved bicycle engineering, can have a powerful affect on many industries and socio-economic classes.
Can Twitter predict the stock market?
Twitter, an online social networking and micro blogging site allowing users to converse in 140 character blocks, has almost become a household name. Its trending topics are discussed on CNN and famous actors like Ashton Kutcher have been known to use the site to reach out to fans and spread the word about upcoming projects and events. Recently, the air maneuvers that were part of the attack which resulted in the death of Osama Bin Laden were narrated live on the Twitter account of an individual who had no idea what he was witnessing.
Since market movement is all about public perception of economic and news events, it makes sense then that the tweets of this vast network of relatively connected individuals might give some insight into market movement. The NSF spent $25,000 to find that in fact, "measuring the collective public mood by analyzing millions of tweets can predict the rise and fall of the stock market up to a week in advance with up to 90% accuracy." It's hard to argue the value in that statement.
The Bottom Line
While a study may look silly or useless on the surface, it's always a good idea to take a further look at the impacts of the study and its results. In our ever-changing social, physical and technological world, there is so much left to explore that it might just take a few seemingly unorthodox measures to get us to a place of understanding. (With the government funding these unorthodox research, we have to wonder What Is The Impact Of Research On Stock Prices?)