Ivy League school creates mouse fight club on your dime

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A new report released by a coalition of government watchdogs found that out of 100 university projects examined, none had complied with federal transparency laws that would have revealed they were taxpayer funded.

The projects include animal research, such as one controversial study that essentially created a mouse fight club.

The mouse study was conducted at Harvard. According to The Washington Times, “Harvard University researchers pitted mice against each other” with one mouse having genetically-altered genes, “then sticking it next to an ‘intruder’ mouse and seeing how long it took for them to go at it.”  Someone who observed the research called it a “mouse fight club.”

Designed to determine if suppressing serotonin neurons sparks aggressive behavior, the mouse-fighting project’s conclusion that it does might not be worth it to taxpayers. In a press release, Harvard did not disclose that nearly $900,000 worth of federal tax dollars were spent on the project.

The omission leads to speculation about why Harvard and other schools fail to disclose the federal funding.

One of the groups behind the coalition is the White Coat Waste Project. White Coat’s vice president Justin Goodman says, “It’s a mix of ignorance and arrogance.” He says the schools might not be aware of the requirement. He also says there may be a “level of arrogance” and they may not feel “accountable to anybody.”

As to the type of research being done on the taxpayers dime, Goodman says, “There’s a whole lot of wasteful experimentation on animals that the public is concerned about. If they knew exactly how much money is being spent on some of these projects, like forcing dogs to run on treadmills until they have heart attacks, they would give a second thought about whether this is the way they want their money spent.”

Since 1989, the language in the transparency rule has been included in every spending bill. It says any entity that gets federal grant money and issues any document describing the project has to detail what amount of their spending came from federal taxpayers.

The coalition identified many projects that did not comply with the rule. Among them were 51 Harvard projects and 14 Yale projects.

A majority of the projects examined by the coalition were funded by the National Institutes of Health. Other sources of money were the National Science Foundation, and the Defense and Veterans Affairs departments. The 2016 funding from these sources came to almost $250 million.

The Senate’s top five waste-watchers, GOP Sens. Jeff Flake, Ron Johnson, James Lankford, John McCain and Rand Paul, have asked the federal comptroller general to investigate the violations.

“We believe it is unacceptable for agencies and grant recipients to disregard longstanding transparency requirements, and those agencies have an obligation to spend taxpayer dollars effectively and efficiently,”  they said in a letter to the Government Accountability Office.

Former Sen. Tom Coburn founded Restore Accountability, part of the watchdog coalition. He says, “The report’s findings are an embarrassing, but all too familiar, example of oversight organizations doing the job Congress has failed to do. Transparency in how taxpayer dollars are spent is essential for Congress to restore the American people’s trust, and these problems should be immediately addressed.” 

Some universities do seem to be aware of the policy and include compliance guidance on their websites.

Others, like Northeastern University, took $3.4 million in federal funds and failed to disclose funding details on a project that studied whether Prozac makes hamsters more aggressive.

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