By Michael Bastasch, DCNF
Have you ever wanted to get paid to stare at cute animal photos all day? The National Science Foundation will fund that!
NSF gave the Michigan State University $227,437 to study animal photos appearing in National Geographic magazine from 1888 to 2008. Specifically, researchers looked at 108 photos to see how they “make salient the problem of a changing climate.”
Lawmakers, however, are not happy that NSF decided to fund this animal photo study while rejecting funding to other studies, including studying ethics of cyber-warfare, stemming pandemic diseases from spreading in Africa and the looking into the hurdles of quantitative climate modeling.
“All government employees and their agency heads need to remember they are accountable to the American taxpayer who pays their salary and funds their projects,” Rep. Lamar Smith, a Texas Republican who chairs the House Science & Technology Committee. “But the NSF is playing possum after awarding a researcher more than $227,000 in taxpayer dollars to thumb through pictures of animals in old National Geographic magazines.”
The only study to come out of the huge taxpayer grant found that “popular science is contributing to an expanded public discourse on climate change that extends beyond the vulnerability of iconic wild megafauna to include insects and amphibians and issues facing the relationship we have with other animals, such as the widespread consumption of animals for food.”
According to MSU’s proposal, access to National Geographic’s photo archives required taxpayer funding. But a Daily Caller News Foundation internet search found that National Geographic has thousands of animal photos available on its website for free.
A quick Google search for “National Geographic pictures” yielded 30.8 million returns and a plethora of free online photos from the renowned magazine. National Geographic also sells a six-DVD set which has every issue going back to October 1888 that sells for $29.99 plus shipping and handling — far less expensive than $227,000.
Interestingly enough, the NSF has previously shot down nine similar proposals in the past and critics have said the Michigan study has been done numerous times before. In fact, a Google search for “animal picture studies” yielded 34.1 million results.
“When asked to justify this and other questionable grants, the agency put its head in the sand,” Smith said. “Taxpayers should not be seen as a cash cow for researchers’ pet projects. The NSF should be accountable for every grant it funds and explain why it is in the national interest.”
But NSF argues that past studies focused on language used to describe animals in photos, this study focused primarily the images themselves to see how people have changed their perception of the natural world throughout the years. NSF says the study will enhance our understanding of human behavior and perception.
Researchers are also supposed to use taxpayer dollars to develop digital photo archives of animal photos along with an online discussion forum for students. This is despite the numerous photo archives and the numerous animal discussion forums already on the web.
“The National Science Foundation receives about 50,000 proposals each year and funds about 11,000 of those proposals, following the agency’s merit review process,” the NSF said in an emailed statement to TheDCNF. “Through this process, NSF ensures that each proposal submitted is reviewed in a fair, competitive and in-depth manner. All proposals submitted to NSF are reviewed according to two merit review criteria: Intellectual Merit and Broader Impacts.”
“Nearly every proposal is evaluated by a minimum of three independent reviewers consisting of scientists, engineers and educators who do not work at NSF or for the institution that employs the proposing researchers. NSF selects reviewers from the national pool of experts in each field,” NSF said.
The Michigan State University researchers responsible for the taxpayer-funded study did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.
Special thanks: DCNF