Scientists Meet Their Political “Wastebook” Tormentors

In early December of 2015, Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) penned what he deemed the “Wastebook” – a report detailing what the senator believes to be wasteful federal spending, specifically targeted at research dollars.

The report took aim at research the fiscal conservative considered a waste of federal cash, including projects he summed up as a “shrimp fight club,” a study of cows in China, an exploration of why obese women can’t get dates, and a look at shrimp on a treadmill.

Earlier this month, those very same scientists that Flake criticized and reduced their research to mere waste took to Pennsylvania Avenue to reinforce the legitimacy of their work.

Researchers respond

“I am rock solid about my research. I know it is very good,” said Sheila Patek, an associate professor of biology at Duke University who led the so-called shrimp fight club study. “But this ‘Wastebook’ targeted a short paper that was the first paper in my young graduate student’s career. He is from a long line of firefighters. His father, his uncle, his grandfather. There aren’t any other scientists in his family. They are very proud of him. He is extremely civic-minded. I don’t think I’ve had anyone in my lab like that. And this has been crushing for him.”

While Flake chastised the project in his book for being frivolous and a waste of $700,000 government dollars, it turns out neither of those accusations are true. The $700,000 amount was for all of Patek’s studies and the shrimp research is aimed at understanding a mantis shrimp’s ability to generate incredible force without the assistance of outside factors, which has already sparked changes in engineered materials designed to resist impact fracture and could help military and manufacturing engineers.

Real research solving real issues

Also in attendance was David A. Scholnick, the mind behind the shrimp on a treadmill. While his research has been mocked by Flake and a number of other pundits, he states that it actually examines the very real issue of warming oceans that are causing a growth in certain bacteria in the gills of shrimp.

With Americans consuming over 5 billion pounds of shrimp each year, this study could greatly help food safety production.

Plus, the main criticism comes at the cost of the project, which critics state is $3 million. Scholnick states that number is false; that he build the treadmill himself for $47.

(MORE: Read the full story to get a summary of the “Wastebook” researchers’ work.)

A final word from Flake

Flake himself made an appearance in the room full of the very same researchers he harshly criticized just months before. He spent just 20 minutes on the floor, but when he left he had this to say:

“This has been enlightening, and we want to make sure we are accurate. It is a learning process,” Flake said. “We’ll work with them.”


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