It’s budget time in Washington so we can count on someone’s research entering the crosshairs of controversy. This time it is termite research. From the Washington times (byline Jennifer Harper) we read,
Read it and snort. Consider $3.4 million for termite research in Louisiana… among thousands of earmarks that bulked up the kabillion dollar spending bill”
Americans for Limited Government piles on, “This $1.27 trillion omnibus monstrosity …. contains more than 6,600 outrageous earmarks, favors, kickbacks, and handouts from lawmakers to favored special interests totaling more than $8 billion. That includes …$3.5 million for termite research in Louisiana,…”
The idea is to stir up anger and resentment against spending in general with scientific research as the convenient whipping boy. Science is a convenient target because (unlike Jersey Shore) most people don’t know much about science and don’t necessarily understand what they do hear about science. However, people do know that $3.5 million is a LOT of money. $3.5 million is more money than the lifetime earnings of a 65 year old who has earned the median US income over a 47 year work history. $3.5 million is more money than a cast member of Jersey Shore makes in a year. So $3.5 million for research on some stupid bugs is terrible. How can our craven politicians spend that MUCH money on termites? “Let the termites fend for themselves!!”
Where is sleight of hand? Convincing people that $3.5 million is too much to spend on termite research requires that people have no idea how much money is spent on termite control and damage repair. How much do people in the US spend on termite control? Over $300 million every year is spent just in the New Orleans area alone on one species of termite, the invasive Formosan Termite. In the US, termite damage and control runs about $5 Billion per year. That puts the price of $3.5 million in research at less than a penny per dollar spent on control and damage repair. Suddenly, the costs don’t seem as outrageous.
A research program that is less than 1 percent of the treatment costs can quickly pay for itself if damage can be reduced by only a few percent per year. Research spending can be an investment in future wealth or in reducing future costs. In this context, failure to invest has the same consequences as failing to repair a leaky roof. The damage accumulates year after year at a much higher rate than necessary because penny pinchers would not make the needed investment. By the way, that leaky roof can provide just the right amount of moisture that termites need to infest your home.
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