Rand Paul’s Goldfish Story
Conservatives prove Asimov right every time they delve into their twisted understanding of science. The latest example is Rand Paul’s rant on Fox where he tried to make the case that the military and government are wasting $5.2 million for what he called “goldfish studies.”
“In the military they have $5.2 million they spent on goldfish — studying goldfish to see how democratic they were and if we could learn about democracy from goldfish,” Paul said on Fox. “I would give the president the authority to go ahead and cut all $5 million in goldfish studies.”
If Paul is right and the military is spending millions to “learn about democracy from goldfish,” then he has every right to bitch to his heart’s content. In fact everyone should be complaining of such a waste of public funds.
But Paul is not right. His take on the $5.2 million goldfish study comes from a faulty report issued by Republican Sen. Tom Coburn last November. The report dealt with how the Pentagon could save billions by cutting out specific non-defense programs. One of the suggested cuts by Coburn was the “fish” study.
“Fish could show the nation how to overcome political polarization and promote democracy, according to Pentagon-funded research,” Coburn’s team wrote. “The Pentagon claims the research provides ‘a better understanding of how individuals with low stake impact achieve a democratic consensus’ and this ‘effort supports Military Information Support Operations (MISO) mission area.’” In learning as much, though, the Defense Department blew through a $5.2 million grant from DARPA.
The tiniest bit of research by Paul and Coburn would have shown them that the project has nothing to do with how goldfish handle democracy. In fact it has nothing to do with goldfish. The four year project uses a different species of fish and studies robots and how they can help in dealing with deep oil spills and radioactive leaks. As Princeton science professor Iain Couzin explains:
“Our work aims to understand the principles of collective control in animal groups and what this can inform us about collective robotics. It has nothing at all to do with human politics.”
[The research has] “direct applications to human security and collective control of robots.”
Has Coburn issued a correction to his November report? No.
Has Paul issued a statement on Fox correcting his statement? No.
Will either man do so? No.
Why not? Because no one on the right ever admits to “mistakes” they make in presenting “facts.” They just don’t because everyone knows that true conservatism is never having to say “I’m wrong.”