- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 11, 2016

With Valentine’s Day falling on Sunday, many singles are looking for the tips and tricks needed to pick up a date. Not to worry, Uncle Sam has done the leg work for lonely Americans, using their own tax dollars.

In his latest waste report, Sen. Rand Paul, Kentucky Republican, reveals how the National Science Foundation (NSF) helped fund a 2013 Stanford University study that saw researchers examining speed dates to determine how to have the perfect date and make the best connection with someone new.

“We wanted to see if there is anything about the interaction that matters or is it really just what I look like, what I do, what my motivation is. Is it all things that are psychological or in my head or is there actually something in how we hit it off?” Stanford researcher Dan McFarland said of his study in a 2013 paper.

The study cites three NSF grants, which contributed to this project, totaling $2.5 million.

Mr. McFarland and Dan Jurafsky examined nearly 1,000 four-minute dates and found that women are pickier than men when choosing a mate. Both sides are more interested if the conversation focuses on the woman, but women do not like answering lots of personal questions.

Men don’t like it when women use words like “kinda, sorta, and probably,” on a date, but are attracted to women that mix up the conversation by speaking quickly and with inflection.

Mr. McFarland and Mr. Jurafsky also noted that women tend to like it when men interrupt a conversation because it shows that they are interested and engaged in what she is saying.

For allowing U.S. tax dollars to bankroll a speed-dating study that should have been left to the private sector, NSF wins this week’s Golden Hammer; a weekly distinction awarded by The Washington Times highlighting examples of wasteful federal spending.

Spending watchdogs call it absurd for the federal government to fund a dating study when private dating companies like eHarmony and match.com make up a nearly $2 billion industry.

“Taxpayers shouldn’t be feeling the love for this absurd expenditure,” said Curtis Kalin, a spokesman for the non-partisan Citizens Against Government Waste. “This is yet another example of the federal government spending public dollars on something that successful private businesses already have covered. Americans have plenty of options as they pursue their true love. Uncle Sam should not be acting as a taxpayer-funded wingman.”

Richard Manning, president of the conservative spending watchdog Americans for Limited Government called on the Obama administration to do some “speed firing” of federal officials who approved the speed dating research.

“The very premise of using speed dating as a way to determine the perfect date proves only that those who approved this waste of taxpayer funds have never been in a real relationship, where time spent together is the key component to success, not first glimpse infatuation,” Mr. Manning said.

NSF spokesman Rob Margetta defended the grants, saying in a statement to The Washington Times that “each proposal submitted to NSF — including those deemed ‘wasteful’ — is reviewed by science and engineering experts well-versed in their particular discipline or field of expertise.”

He also said that many scientific breakthroughs started out as studies that might have seemed silly.

“A simple truth remains regarding fundamental scientific breakthroughs: Before those discoveries were made, they, too, might have been considered novel or outside-of-the-box. Sometimes, based solely on the title of a project or study, or a characterization of some portion of the research, these ideas might have even seemed impractical or inappropriate at first glance.”

Neither Mr. McFarland nor Mr. Jurafsky immediately responded to a request for comment from the Times.

None of the three grants referenced in the dating study make any mention of romance or dating in their descriptions. In fact, they tended to deal more generally studying with human social connections and innovation.

One of the grants was aimed at discovering how “ideas are created and propagated through scientific communities, how these communities are formed and change over time, and how much multidisciplinary networks spanning these communities shape scientific innovation.”

“Apparently there must have been some confusion about what ‘chemistry’ means,” Mr. Paul wrote in his report.

“If taxpayers could etch their thoughts about this NSF grant on a candy conversation heart, they’d probably write, ‘No Way’. Unfortunately by reading the NSF’s grant descriptions, they would have a difficult time knowing that any part of the funding was actually steered in this direction,” said Pete Sepp, president of the National Taxpayers Union.

This is not the first time the federal government has had a problem keeping track of how its grant money is spent by researchers.

Last week, Mr. Paul highlighted another case in which a Defense Department grant was used to fund a study on how long it takes people to open an e-mail.

“In both cases, once money went out the door, and for other purposes, the government had trouble keeping track of it downstream, allowing money to be shaved off for frivolous, unintended research,” Mr. Paul wrote.

It’s also not the first time NSF has used tax money to fund programs that the private-sector is already operating.

In July it was revealed that NSF spent more than half a million dollars to teach kids how to make video game-style movies that most can learn to create for free, simply by watching a tutorial on YouTube.

“It’s remarkable that with a half trillion dollar deficit, federal officials continue to fund activities such as speed-dating research,” said Chris Edwards, a budget analyst at the Cato institute. “Believe it or not, single Americans “research” dating all the time by themselves, and they don’t need the government’s help.”

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