Saturday, July 10, 2010

Great Moments in Government Waste

Politicians often talk about the supposed value of federally-funded research and development, which sometimes sounds like a good idea to people unfamiliar with the incompetence, inefficiency, red tape, and bureaucracy of even well-intentioned programs. But it turns out the government-financed R&D also is boondoggle for academics looking to get on the federal gravy train. Here's a blurb from a report in Science Daily indicating that our tax dollars were used to fund a study on whether soccer referees are more likely to call fouls based on the direction of a play. This may genuinely be an important issue for the sport, but then the leagues, teams, and/or fans should pay for the research. I'm particularly puzzled why this study was funded, in part, by a grant from the National Institutes of Health, but I really shouldn't be surprised at the creativity of bureaucrats when they're wasting our money.

Soccer referees may have an unconscious bias towards calling fouls based on a play's direction of motion, according to a new study from the of University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine. Researchers found that soccer experts made more foul calls when action moved right-to-left, or leftward, compared to left-to-right or rightward action, suggesting that two referees watching the same play from different vantage points may be inclined to make a different call. ...This research was supported by the National Institutes of Health [RO1 DC004817, RO1 DC008779] and the National Science Foundation [subcontract under SBE0541957].

Here's a ridiculous example of waste that relates to something I do every day. The National Science Foundation is squandering more than $1 million to study the "tags" people use when posting things on the Internet. Amazingly, though, I actually managed to use tags for this blog post like "Boondoggle," "Taxpayer Ripoff," and "Government Waste" without being subsidized by other people's money. Maybe I should submit a grant request, just like the moochers from McAlester College.

Dr. Shilad Sen, assistant professor in the Mathematics, Statistics, and Computer Science Department at Macalester College, has been awarded a four-year, $1.2M grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF) to study tags, or words that people use to describe videos, photographs and web pages online. The grant will lay the groundwork for research collaboration between Macalester College and the University of Minnesota. Macalester’s portion of the grant is about $250,000. ...It studies tagging, the assignment of descriptive labels to objects such as videos on YouTube. Sen and his students will develop ways to measure the health of a tagging system, create tools that help users improve the tags in a system, and explore new web applications that use tags to navigate a collection of items (videos, photos, etc.). Improving the effectiveness of tagging will help millions of users find the information, products, and services they seek.

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