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Shrimp Treadmill Study Paid for With Taxpayer Money

But it Wasn't Congress That Approved Shrimp Treadmill

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Have your shrimp been working out? Oh, this thing is an English soccer team mascot.

Have your shrimp been working out? Oh, this thing is an English soccer team mascot.

Pete Norton/Getty Images
Updated June 23, 2011

The famous shrimp treadmill study, conducted by researchers at Pacific University and College of Charleston, came under scrutiny during debates over the federal deficit and wasteful spending in 2011.

Yes, the shrimp treadmill research cost taxpayers more than $3 million over the course of a decade. That includes a a $559,681 grant for research into "Impaired Metabolism and Performance in Crustaceans Exposed to Bacteria."

But don't blame Congress, as the AARP did in a major television ad buy in 2011. The decision to fund the research actually came from the National Science Foundation.

Shrimp Treadmill Grilled

The AARP suggested the shrimp treadmill was but one of many examples of wasteful spending in a commercial it ran in the spring and summer of 2011, as Congress debated ways to trim the nation's debt.

The ad read: "If Congress really wants to balance the budget, they could stop spending our money on things like a cotton institute in Brazil, poetry at zoos, treadmills for shrimp. But instead of cutting waste or closing tax loopholes, next month Congress could make a deal that cuts Medicare, even Social Security. I guess it's easier to cut the benefits we earned, than to cut pickle technology."

AARP was not the first to cast the shrimp treadmill in a harsh light, though.

About the Shrimp Treadmill Study

The shrimp treadmill and National Science Foundation were initially targeted as an example of pork by U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn of Oklahoma in 2011, though the research had begun years earlier.

"As a practicing physician and a two-time cancer survivor, I have a very personal appreciation for the benefits of scientific research," Coburn wrote in a report titled The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope. "Investing in innovation and discovery can transform and improve our lives, advance our understanding of the world, and create meaningful new jobs."

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He added, though: "The theory in Washington all too often tends to be if you throw enough money at a problem, you can solve all our nation's problems. But when Congress commits the nation to significant increases in spending, Congress owes it to the U.S. taxpayers to pay careful attention to how those dollars are being spent."

Researchers developed the shrimp treadmill to test whether sickness would impair the mobility of the crustaceans. It remained unclear, however, what the practical impact of such research would be.

Sick shrimp have more limited mobility, which may mean they are less likely to avoid being eaten. "A decrease in performance may mean the difference between life and death," Scholnick was quoted as saying.

About the National Science Foundation

The National Science Foundation is a federal agency created by Congress in 1950 "to promote the progress of science; to advance the national health, prosperity, and welfare; to secure the national defense…"

With a budget of about $6.9 billion in fiscal year 2010, the agency funds about a fifth of all federally supported basic research conducted at U.S. colleges and universities.

The foundation responded to Coburn's criticism by saying that its projects "have advanced the frontiers of science and engineering, improved Americans' lives and provided the foundations for countless new industries and jobs."

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