Machine Design
Is This Any Way to Advance Technology?

Is This Any Way to Advance Technology?

Sen. Tom Coburn’s 2014 Wastebook is out and it’s teeming with seemingly stupid government projects that serve only to suck up taxpayer dollars and spit them out at well-connected institutes and citizens. Some are ostensibly to further technology. For example:

• NASA just finished building a $350-million, 300-ft tall rocket-testing tower, the A-3. It was built to test engines and hardware for the Constellation program to send astronauts to the Moon and perhaps Mars. The program was canceled in 2010, the same year a Mississippi senator sponsored an earmark forcing NASA to build the A-3 tower even if it was not needed. The senator surely rationalizes that he was only bringing home the bacon since the tower now stands in his home state at Stennis Space Center. Taxpayers are now on the hook for $840,000 per year to maintain and secure the tower, a “bargain” at only $2,300/day.

• The Department of Defense is in the midst of a four-year, $80-million project to develop a Tactical Assault Light Operator Suit (TALOS). Naturally, it has assembled a cracker jack team of scientists and engineers, as well as the Hollywood costume designers from movies such as Terminator, RoboCop, and, of course, Iron Man. The team estimates a working prototype will run at least $1 billion. The current design of the suit weighs 400 lb, with batteries making up 365 lb of it. One well-paid researcher made the incisive observation that the special-effects folks in Hollywood made the Iron Man suit “impossibly thin, impossibly light, impossibly agile, and impossible energy efficient.”

• The National Institutes of Health spent $387,000 on a two-year study that looked at whether rabbits recovered from an exercise workout faster if they received a 30-minute massage. The so-called workouts consisted of being anesthetized, strapped down, and then having one leg electrically stimulated so that it moved a pedal. Some were then placed in a machine designed to mimic Swedish massage because “it’s the most popular technique used by athletes,” according to one researcher. According to the researcher’s reports, rabbits that got the most massages recovered the fastest. All 18 rabbits involved in the study were then euthanized.

• In other news from the National Institutes of Health, the agency decided looking for better ways to treat diseases like Ebola and STDs was less important than figuring out if Buddhist literature can teach mankind anything about meditation. So they funded just such a study with over $544,000. The program concluded that, in fact, Buddhist writings, not science, are the key to understanding meditation experiences. This is a strange finding from a program funded by a scientific enterprise.

If our government was running a huge surplus and no one was complaining about high taxes, funding some of these projects wouldn’t be much of a scandal. It would still be a waste of money, but not as egregious.

If you can think of more worthwhile research for taxpayer funds, let us know. If you can think of more worthless ones, there might be a government job in your future.

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