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.)