The Corner

Coburn: NIH Wasted Research Money on Massages for Rabbits

Senator Tom Coburn’s annual Wastebook, a review of questionable government spending projects, comes at a bad time for the National Institute of Health, the head of which recently attributed the Ebola crisis in part to a lack of funding for vaccine research.

Rabbits received Swedish-style massages in a taxpayer-funded study, the Oklahoma Republican points out, in order to learn about how the massages might affect athletes attempting to recover from injuries.

“Taxpayer dollars that could have supported potentially more transformative research were instead spent on exercise and massage equipment for rabbits,” Coburn’s report says. “As for the rabbits, they were eventually euthanized, so while well massaged, those feet were not so lucky after all.”

Coburn’s report quotes the Ohio State University Sports Medicine co-medical director who led the project as saying that the researchers “tried to mimic Swedish massage [for the rabbits.]”

“It’s the most popular technique used by athletes,” Dr. Thomas Best said. The project cost $387,000 over a two-year period.

NIH spent almost that much money researching the relationship between mothers and their dogs.

“Mothers have the same reaction when looking at photos of their dogs as they do to those of their own kids, according to recent government-funded research published this year,” the report notes. “Two of the scientists performing the study received a combined total of $371,026 from the National Institutes of Health this year, money intended for work in addiction research.”

Coburn’s report comes days after an NIH official said that the director of the agency shouldn’t have claimed that taxpayer-funded researchers “probably would have had a vaccine [for Ebola] in time for this” in the absence of budget cuts.

“You can’t say that,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC on Sunday. “I think you can’t say we would or would not have this or that. Everything is slowed down. But I wouldn’t make that statement.”

The report chronicles hundreds of other abuses of taxpayer money, such as the $50 million spent by 13 agencies on administrative leave for employees, many of whom were placed on leave due to alleged misconduct. 

“A police officer for the National Institutes of Health was placed on paid administrative leave in June after pulling a loaded gun on a motorist during a fit of road rage,” the report notes.

The more-famous Lois Lerner, the former IRS official who apologized for the “inappropriate” targeting of tea-party groups before the 2012 election, “collected nearly $50,000 during the four months” on leave, according to Coburn’s report.