Lawmakers in Washington are calling on the National Institutes of Health to explain why millions of taxpayer dollars are being spent on seemingly ridiculous research projects, including:
-- how dragon boating can help cancer survivors;
-- how canoes can help cultural identity;
-- how snorting cocaine creates anxiety.
In a letter to NIH director Francis Collins, Rep. Greg Walden (R-OR), the ranking member of the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations, and Rep. Joe Barton (R-TX) on Thursday demanded to know the screening procedures and review criteria used to approve $1.6 billion in stimulus grants and another $20 million in grants from the regular NIH budget.
"It's outrageous," says Walden. "It's beyond embarrassing in my book. I don't think there's enough oversight being done there."
FOX News identified more than a dozen suspect studies, many of which were funded by stimulus dollars, and compared them to Walden's research, to come up with over 30 studies that appear to be wasteful and silly -- and often on subjects who are not American.
Among those grants was $73,000 to study whether the Asian tradition of dragon boat racing will enhance the lives of cancer survivors more than just walking; $65,472 to study the relationship between HIV and sex in St. Petersburg, Russia; and $700,000 for a study that examines how taxes, trade and politics affect tobacco sales in Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam and other nations in Southeast Asia.
Researchers say these studies are important to provide a scientific research baseline, or that they result in programs that help people who are ill or have problems with addiction.
But some of them are beyond the pale, the lawmakers say.
"We're all for medical research ... but come on," says Walden.
The NIH is the primary federal agency that conducts and supports medical research, but money is tight and competition is stiff. Just 9,460 of the 43,467 applications submitted -- 21.8 percent -- received funding in 2008.
Walden said Congress could hold up funding for the NIH if it doesn't get answers. But, he admits, projects already in the pipeline will go forward.
"But spending $73,000 to study the impact of dragon boat racing on cancer survivors, I'm not sure how that gets us to the cure."