Most Americans would agree that a federal study -- burning through hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars by the way -- on duck penises is not exactly a high priority when we need to get our fiscal house in order. But Patricia Brennan would disagree with you, and she took to the liberal online journal Slate to do so last Tuesday.
Wait, did I mention that Brennan has a vested interest in defending the study of duck dongs? She's a research professor at University of Massachusetts, Amherst receiving federal money for the study?
Aside from insinuating that conservatives "miss the point of basic science" and whining about the “fierce” competition within the scientific community for federal funding, she explained why we should pick up the bill -- sorry I could resist -- for her study:
Male ducks force copulations on females, and males and females are engaged in a genital arms race with surprising consequences. Male ducks have elaborate corkscrew-shaped penises, the length of which correlates with the degree of forced copulation males impose on female ducks. Females are often unable to escape male coercion, but they have evolved vaginal morphology that makes it difficult for males to inseminate females close to the sites of fertilization and sperm storage.Males have counterclockwise spiraling penises, while females have clockwise spiraling vaginas and blind pockets that prevent full eversion of the male penis.
Our latest study examined how the presence of other males influences genital morphology. My colleagues and I found that it does so to an amazing degree, demonstrating that male competition is a driving force behind these male traits that can be harmful to females. The fact that this grant was funded, after the careful scrutiny of many scientists and NSF administrators, reflects the fact that this research is grounded in solid theory and that the project was viewed as having the potential to move science forward (and it has), as well as fascinate and engage the public. The research has been reported on positively by hundreds of news sites in recent years, even Fox news [dead link]. Most of the grant money was spent on salaries, putting money back into the economy.
You read that right. This is a study about competing genitals, and how male ducks rape female ducks? Now, there may be scientific merit to this study -- perhaps the fellas behind Duck Dynasty might like to direct some of their earnings from the hit reality show to the research -- but its hardly one that is worth the cost to the American taxpayer. Wealthy donors sponsor scientific endeavors, medicine, and the arts all the time, and at a huge rate. If her column to convince people outside of liberal academic circles, she failed miserably.
Scientists will always say their research is worth taxpayer funding and beneficial to human understating of nature, no matter how obscure or divorced from practical application the research may be. But paring back on scientific funding and prioritizing projects based on utility is hardly being an enemy of science.