Taxpayers paid to taste-test toilet water


Parents often wonder what colleges are feeding their kids’ brains. At one California university, they should probably be wondering what they’re feeding the kids’ stomachs, says Sen. Joni Ernst.

On Wednesday she awarded her latest “Squeal” award to the National Science Foundation whose grant of taxpayer money helped the University of California, Riverside, conduct a study having students taste reclaimed toilet water and compare it to bottled and tap varieties.

The $3 million NSF grant helped researchers learn that students, who didn’t know the sources, actually picked toilet water — dubbed “recycled water” by the researchers — over the local tap and put it on par with the bottled water.

Ms. Ernst says NSF also shipped $442,000 to the Georgia Institute of Technology, where researchers wanted to figure out how long it took mammals to poop. They concluded 12 seconds was a pretty constant time across the species studied.

In a 2017 write-up on the “physics of poo,” the researchers explained that an elephant and a human take about the same amount of time to defecate. They know because they filmed 34 species at an Atlanta zoo doing their business and then “hand-picked” the feces to “measure their density and viscosity.”

“Bigger animals have longer feces, but also thicker mucus, enabling them to achieve high speeds with the same pressure,” the researchers said in the write-up on The Conversation.

They also said they “inadvertently” managed to rank the feces from most to least smelly.

Ms. Ernst said paying for pooper peepers went too far.

“These are some of the thought-provoking questions that are being explored with the support of your hard-earned tax dollars by the National Science Foundation (NSF),” the Iowa Republican said in doling out her latest Squeal Award.

The Squeal Award is named after Ms. Ernst‘s 2014 Senate campaign mantra, where she famously revealed she’d castrated pigs on the farm where she grew up and vowed to make Washington squeal, too.

The NSF said its mission is to support “all fields of fundamental science and engineering research and education,” and said it’s living up to that mandate.

NSF is a responsible steward of tax-payer funds,” the agency told The Washington Times in a statement. “With roughly 12,000 awards made each year across all disciplines of science and engineering, it is not unexpected that disagreements about the quality or wisdom of some research investments will arise. What cannot be disputed is the return on the overall investment for the American people.”

The agency said its successes can be found embedded in Americans’ lives, including funding that led to the development of the internet, Doppler radar, DNA fingerprinting and bar codes.

The Senate is currently debating a bill dealing with the NSF‘s structure, as part of broader legislation to put the U.S. on better competitive footing versus China when it comes to research. The legislation would double the authorized budget for NSF, which currently stands at $8.5 billion a year.

Ms. Ernst said the goal is laudable, but throwing that kind of money at an agency that pays for “silly, needless studies” is worrying.

She said she’ll propose amending the legislation to require that every project funded by NSF display the total price tag.

“Government agencies need common-sense guardrails on how they spend taxpayer resources, and that’s why I’m working to make sure they stay focused on truly transformative science that will improve not only our global competitiveness, but the lives of Americans,” the senator said.

Right now, the NSF posts how much it awards to each grantee, listing it in a user-friendly searchable database. But that doesn’t account for how much each actual project cost taxpayers.

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