"Shrimp on a treadmill" has become a byphrase for wasteful government spending. But the scientist behind the study says lawmakers are distorting the facts. The treadmill test—singled out by Sen. Tom Coburn in an attack on National Science Foundation funding—was designed to study shrimp's reaction to changes in water quality and was a tiny part of a major research project on an economically important species, marine biologist Lou Burnett tells NPR.
The treadmill cost around $1,000, but Coburn and other critics made it sound as if the project's entire $500,000 grant had been spent building shrimp gyms, Burnett complains. Scientists say the attack on Burnett's research followed a familiar pattern, in which politicians or groups seeking to criticize government spending misrepresent scientific research in an effort to get an easy sound bite. "What's scientifically sound and indeed cost-effective—to collect biospecimens for cancer research—was twisted in what was intended to ridicule an important life-saving research effort," says a researcher whose project measuring nicotine exposure in toenail clippings was targeted by the Traditional Values Coalition. (Read more National Science Foundation stories.)