Last month, Oklahoma Republican Senator Tom Coburn declared, in no uncertain terms, for more senators "with gonads" to help him fight the federal budget crisis. As for his own efforts, he's released a 73-page report, called "Under the Microscope", criticizing the National Science Foundation for funding "questionable" projects with US taxpayers' money.
In a televised report by ABC News, the coverage highlights the $1.5 million robot that takes 25 minutes to fold a towel, research that involved making shrimp run on treadmills, and the nearly $315K used to study whether FarmVille had real effects on human bonding:
Michigan State researchers were provided $314,863 to study "The Role of Social Network Sites in Facilitating Collaborative Processes."127 According to the funding request, the researchers wanted to use social networks to study how undergraduate students collaborated online and to analyze "aggregate behavioral patterns on Facebook."128 The study did not examine whether or not spending too much time playing Farmville with strangers on-line had any impact on Facebook users' relationships with their own family or friends in the real world.
According to one of the researchers, the study found that people were initiating relationships with strangers because having more friends allows you to advance to a higher level in the game. But in other cases, interacting through the game provided the opportunity "to build on relationships that would otherwise have been left stale."129
But FarmVille isn't the only example of NSF-funded games research. Page 31 of the report says that $604,755 was spent on understanding MMO "group dynamics" for Sony Online Entertainment's EverQuest 2. Another games researcher, Professor Bonnie Nardi, received no less than $3 million in NSF grants for studying World of Warcraft, which resulted in a book titled, "My Life as a Night Elf Priest".
Is this really as ridiculous as it sounds? Frankly, I suggest you read Coburn's report and judge for yourself. It's quite entertaining, being that it contains lots of hilarious, eye-opening stuff about NSF activities. And check out the ABC News broadcast too. Cause who knew that shrimp running on treadmills could be so adorable?