So What the Hell's the Deal With Ursine DNA?

In the debates, McCain was bitching about $3 million being spent to study bear DNA (and elsewhere people have complained about Palin lobbying to get money to study the mating habits of crabs), as if this wasn’t something worthy of spending money on. I, for one, am totally confused about this. No, seriously.

I know the damned arguments about how the government shouldn’t be spending money on this, but they don’t make any sense to me.

First of all, studying the DNA of anything adds to the sum total of human knowledge and thus should be considered a “Good Thing[sup]TM[/sup],” but even setting that aside for the moment, there’s still reasons why studying DNA of bears and crabs fucking, is a good use of government money.

Bears (and crabs) are pretty valuable resources for the economies of several states. Tourists come to gawk, and hunters come to kill (and eat) bears. Studying the DNA ensures that there will always be bears to look at and eat. I’ve never eaten a bear (though I knew a guy kept them as pets), but even I can see the value of learning about them. Having the Feds pay for it, rather than a state means that every state (rather than just one or two) can profit from the knowledge. Sounds like a good deal to me. I’d be willing to bet that folks hunting bears spend more than $3 million a year on such pursuits. Of course, I’m not a hunter, and I’ve never fired a gun, so maybe the total money isn’t that high. I’d find that surprising, given that my coworker who do own guns, like nothing better than finding an excuse to shoot something with them. (Generally its a paper target, but occassionally one of them manages to bag something lower in fiber, but much tastier, like a deer.)

Bears are mammals, just like humans, and even though by some definitions bears don’t hibernate (nevermind the fact that what they do is so close to actual hibernation [which apparently only certain species of Alaskan squirrels seem to do] that most people think that bears do hibernate), it seems to me that learning how bears do “hibernate” could be a big help for humans. As a space geek, I think about the possibilities for making long distance spaceflight more practical, but even non-space geeks should be able to recognize that figuring out how bears do this would have big payoffs if we could apply it to humans (think of being able to put someone under for delicate surgical proceedures or keeping people who need an organ transplant [or organs for transplant] around longer).

Okay, some folks are going to argue that the government shouldn’t spend money on such things, that the government should only spend money on things like national defense and the like. I’m not going to argue that limiting government spending doesn’t make any sense, I am going to point out that if figuring out how bears hibernate leads to better medical treatment (which it might), then it certainly has applications towards battlefield medicine. (If it extends the “golden hour” by any measurable length of time, its more than justified its cost to the taxpayers.)

Now, some folks will say that whatever benefits this might have towards the general population (which would fit in nicely with the whole “promote the general welfare” bit of the Constitution, IMHO), its still not something that the government should pay for. Their logic is that this is something private industry should pay for. Okay, fine. Why hasn’t private industry done this before now? It wouldn’t have anything to do with the fact that private industry tends to be focused on short term gain, now would it? And that worrying about something which might not pay off until years later is something beyond their purview, perhaps?

I dunno, and I don’t get it. Maybe someone here can explain it to me. And, IIRC, “earmarks” don’t inflate the budget, they merely direct a portion of the budget to be spend on specific things. So, the whole bear DNA (or crab fucking) isn’t a case of someone tacking something on to the budget, but grabbing X amount of dollars from the general science fund of the budget and specifying that it be spent on bear DNA (or crab fucking), which makes a helluvalot more since than spending it on Porsches for physicists, IMHO. (For Og’s sake, tell me you get that reference, even if nothing else in this post makes any sense to you at all.)

You should be confused, McCain certainly is; he ended up voting for the very bill he is now decrying:

http://www.factcheck.org/outrageous_exaggerations.html

Yeh, Honestly the fact that McCain dug around for something to replace “bridge to nowhere” in the public mind to symbolize wasteful earmark spending, and the worst he could find was this bear thing, makes me wonder if the whole earmark process doesn’t get a bad rap. Studying genetic diversity of animal populations that live in the US is type of thing I like to see the federal gov’t doing. And even if it isn’t, its a little hard to believe that we’re gonna make up our hundreds of billions of dollars in deficit by cutting two million dollar biology projects.

Earmarks probably aren’t the greatest or most efficient ways to distribute funding for such projects (the NSA model, if memory serves, allows some sort of body of scientists disperse funds, is probably preferable, but that has its own problems), But other ways have other problems, and in any case, even if we accept that it’s a problem, its frankly hardly deserves the attention that McCain focuses on it.

And finally, even given that I don’t think its a big problem, I’m still impressed that bear genetics was the worst abuse McCain could locate.

What I don’t understand is why all earmarks are being villified. Perhaps the bear/crab DNA stuff is stupid stuff, but what about funding for useful infrastructure projects? Or educational programs? Or foreign aid? Surely McCain isn’t in favor of eliminating the latter, but when he lambasts all earmarks, that’s what he implies.

I agree with Obama. Earmarks are not what’s driving up our deficit. McCain needs a fresh horse to beat.

from article here.

The argument against them, which I agree with, is that rather then have some more qualified body decide how funds should be spent, we have politicians whose primary concern is to send money home regardless of the worthiness of how its spent. As a result we end up with things like the bridge to nowhere, which is pretty blatantly a scheme to funnel federal funds to AK and pretty obviously not a productive infrastructure project (though it should also be noted that it was egregious enough that it also didn’t get built).

But like I said above, any method of allocating funds is going to be open to some corruption and/or stupidity, and plenty of earmarks go to worthwhile activities. After all, a politician would much rather fund something that helps the people of his state (especially the voting ones) rather then fund something worthless. I suspect AK is something of a special case in this regard, due to the seniority of Stevens, the fact that the state gov’t is pretty wealthy without federal funds, and the fact that the population being served by said funds is pretty small leads to a lot of federal money heading to the state with few decent projects to spend it on.

So efforts to reform earmarks are probably worthwhile, but not going to affect the federal deficit, only mildly improve the efficiency with which those funds are spent, and certainly not going to help solve any of the countries current, more pressing problems.

Earmarks are the devils playthings. I live near Johnstown Pennsylvania, a dirt poor failing community, since the steel mills shut down. But the city is doing better than it should, because the government is propping it up. Thanks to Murtha.

We have the redundant. http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/articles/050509/9ndic.htm

The one set up as a charity, with 250 million annual revenue, and top three paid 450,000 plus a year. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Concurrent_Technologies_Corporation

Plus many more, you know what they all have in common? They all donate to Murtha. Earmarks are bad, they allow a politician to bring to the very people who vote for them, a windfall. Smells like bribery to me.

Amusing story about it, and I cannot find it in the local papers archive so I cannot cite. Once they looked into how many actual good paying jobs actual Johnstown residents got thanks to all that pork it was revealed that most the good jobs went to out of towners who moved here for them. Yeah I guess it will still help the economy a bit through trickle down. Still allowing Murtha to buy his seat every year is ridiculous.

There are certainly examples of the earmark process being abused. But let’s put this into context: Earmarks are also used by Congressman to get usefull and neccesary stuff done as well. Budget bills are thousands of pages long. It would be impossible to debate and separately vote on every little provision on the House and Senate floor.

If Conservatives truly hated government waste, then they should have been completely apoplectic about the Iraq fiasco. What’s a 3 million dollar bear DNA project compared with 12.7 Billion in cash sent to Iraq that simply vanished? That’s bigger than the annual state budget of Alaska. Could have ended up in the hands of terrorists for all we know.

If he did that, it’d conflict with his campaign slogan of “You don’t change horses in midstream.” :smiley:

The option appears to be:

  1. Allow Congress to write a spending bill with specific earmarks flying around as part of the budget negotiations. This is the great tit for tat game.

  2. Allow Congress to allocate blocks of cash to the various Departments and let the bureacrats allocate the money.

Both of these have their plusses and minuses.

Sure, it would be a good use of government money…but only after everything else higher on the list of things to fund with government money is fully funded.

There is just too many other more important uses for the money at this time.

There are always “more important uses for the money” no matter what the issue is, or how much of it there is to go around, and I seriously doubt that $3 million is going to make all that big of a difference in things like cancer research (though that missing $12 billion mentioned upthread certainly would).

I’m against all waste in government, and you have to start somewhere. Lets start by acknowledging it. Making it an Iraq war thing is bullshit. Waste is waste is waste is waste. Whether in Iraq or in my own backyard. Neither party is innocent in the waste, neither will correct it, it is the bread and butter of the two party system.

Simple no special requests in the budget, you fund the government and be done. If Murtha needs to line some more pockets he can have a special bill to do so. And then not only will our high paid Representatives have to spend some more time doing the job, no other politician can say “they didn’t see it in with everything else”

I’ll agree that the $3 million wouldn’t make a difference. When added to the many other “less important things on the list” it would certainly add up to some real money.

Pork is in the billions a year in spending, some wasteful some might be useful but it is all baloney. One example being used is the 3 million but that is just one special project. At the rate it is going we will all travel OurCongressPersons Name highway to OurCongressPersons Name airport, passing by OurCongressPersons Name center for excellency, OurCongressPersons Name Tech Park which have three or four OurCongressPersons Named businesses.

You think they’re elected to represent you or to fund you? I think they’re elected to represent me and should do whats best for not just me, but the nation as a whole. And pork spending is nothing more than lining pockets to stay in power. I don’t want anyone that wants in power that badly.
Total Earmarks

They include such wonderful funding for

$229,383 for rural systems research

$186,684 for pasture and forage research

$1,950,000 for the Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service

$2,502,360 for the Dairy Forage Agricultural Research Center in Prairie du Sac

$7,556,660 for grape and wine research

$2,085,300 for the Forage-Animal Production Research Facility

$1,709,946 for sorghum research

$968,175 for berry research

$1,117,125 for mormon crickets

$460,752 by for hops research

http://www.cagw.org/site/PageServer?pagename=reports_pigbook2008

I’m not saying that the system can’t be abused (clearly any system involving human beings involved can be abused), I am asking what the hell’s wrong with the government studying bear DNA and crabs fucking? Those are, in fact, pretty good things to spend money on, IMHO.

Why did McCain pick bear DNA research and not something like “The Larry Craig Center for Research on Airport Restrooms”? Why pick something that yields valuable information, and not something like the pet Murtha projects listed above.

It’s really about business and common sense (not yours, the politicians) we will use the bear DNA study, the congress person who earmarked it most likely didn’t even see if a similar study was already being done, or if a group somewhere else already did it at all. If you look over the link above you will see a lot of similar but named different “research” earmarks. Do we really need to spend 7 million on grape and wine research or do you think the wine/grape industry can go ahead and look into using the profits they already make?

Was the bill a DNA study or just a bill to DNA ID the current bears to keep a population count? I’m getting various hits on google if it is to just keep a DNA database of bears that’s a huge waste of money IMHO. Nothing wrong with the old method of tagging.

Because it has sex in it (albeit animal sex) which can be spun to make the base giggle sheepishly.

The problem with having wine/grape industry pay for the research vs the government is that quite often you wind up with one group locking the data down and not letting people in unrelated industries (who could make use of it) see it. I know that many times I’ve stumbled upon something which was utterly unrelated to my interests, but which actually applied to something I was interested in. If the DNA data isn’t publicly available, then folks won’t necessarily be willing to fund it if they can’t see a direct application to their field. (Why should we sequence the DNA of grapes? We’re tomato farmers!) If the data’s free (or available at a much lower cost than it would be to sequence it yourself), then its not that big of an issue to check it to see if it can be useful to you or not.

Actually, the old method of tagging only gives you limited information, DNA sequencing will give you a broader spectrum of information, especially if its done over several generations. Not only can you tell the parentage of a particular bear, but you can track things like genetic mutations and see their effect on the population as a whole. Additionally, if there’s a rash of bear attacks (or other problems, like being in areas where they’re liable to encounter humans frequently) and you’ve got the DNA, you can tell if the bear you’ve captured/killed is the right one or not.

It sounds like more conservative anti-science to me. Like when McCain said about Obama:

http://www.suntimes.com/news/elections/1164527,pig091508.article

Planetariums are only foolish to the fools who don’t understand the value of science education. If he can’t see the value in a planetarium, then the scientific value of bear DNA isn’t going mean much to him.