The National Science Foundation recently spent $384,949 on a Yale University study that took a look at the wild world of duck penises. News of the study was picked up by conservative media outlets, and many readers and listeners are complaining that the study exemplifies unnecessary government spending.
Fox News put a poll on its website asking readers to vote on whether the study represents a useful or wasteful use of government funds. A mere 3.87 percent of respondents said the study was a good use of federal money, 8.77 percent said they were not sure, and a whopping 87.36 percent of readers said the study was a waste of government money.
Others are laughing off the outcry over the study, saying that scientific research is an essential part of an educated society while pointing out that $384,949 represents no more than 0.0000001 of this year’s federal budget.
Science writer Carl Zimmer thinks studies like these are more important than people may initially realize.
“Studying animals is also a way for us to look in the evolutionary mirror,” he said. “We share a common ancestor with other animals, and the same kinds of evolutionary processes play out in both us and them.”
“Now, you may wonder what ducks — with gigantic cork-screw-shaped penises and a gigantic cork-screw-shaped reproductive tracts — could possibly have to do with us,” Zimmer continued. “The manifestation of sex evolution may be different in different species. But the process is similar.”
Monetary issues aside, the study found out some pretty interesting things about duck mating. Forced copulation, a fancy term for rape, accounts for about 50 percent of duck mating occurrences. But only 2 to 4 percent of duck pregnancies occur from forced copulation.
As Zimmer said above, the duck has a cork-screw shaped penis. To avoid getting pregnant from an unwanted male, female ducks have evolved vaginas that can block the male ducks advances.
“This is literally anti-screw anatomy,” lead researcher Richard Prum said.
So although human females — despite Todd Akin’s best wishes — don’t have “ways to try to shut that whole thing down,” ducks do. This fun bit of information might be worth the $384,949 cost of the study alone.
Regardless of the study’s findings, one thing is clear here: Our country has much bigger fiscal problems to worry about than a $384,949 duck penis study. Social security, the sequester, and the national debt all come to mind.
Personally, I’d think of this study in the same way I think of Joe Biden’s hotel bills: eye-catching and quirky, but far from anything to get upset about when it comes to America’s financial woes.