Other projects have their defenders, such as some of the scientific research Mr. Coburn has questioned.
In this year’s report, he highlights the robotic squirrel, which researchers at San Diego State University and the University of California-Davis built using part of a $325,000 grant — all to test whether they could scare a real snake into thinking the squirrel was also real.
The researchers used the carcass of a squirrel built over a robot, and went so far as to store it with live squirrels to acquire the smell, and heat the squirrel’s tail so that snakes would pick up a heat signature.
The National Science Foundation, an independent government agency, has awarded the robot researchers $325,000 in an ongoing grant so far.
The researchers said they are trying to test theories that said some animals’ behavior — such as the squirrel wagging its tail — are trying to signal their predators. In the case of the squirrel, the belief is that the tail-wagging signals to a snake that it has lost the element of surprise and should back off.
The foundation did not respond to a message seeking comment Monday evening.
But Mr. Coburn’s report called the spending “a bit squirrelly.”
Mr. Coburn and the National Science Foundation have tangled before, when he tried to cut the foundation’s funding for political research at universities, arguing that political debates can survive without the government paying for research data.
This latest report singles out 10 projects that have received the foundation’s funding, including the study on male fruit flies’ age preferences in female partners.
The scientists found that male fruit flies prefer the smell of younger female fruit flies. But when the pheromones were washed off both young and old females, which were concealed by the dark, the male fruit fly couldn’t tell the difference. The scientists then took two older female flies and coated one with pheromones of a younger female, and discovered the male preferred that one.
The ongoing research has been funded by the National Science Foundation and the National Institutes of Health.
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