One of conservatives' favorite examples of wasteful government spending in recent weeks has been a federally funded study of duck penises. This is dumb. They should be celebrating duck penis research. As the Republican Party looks to recover from its 2012 losses, sure, it should appeal to a wider audience by talking more about immigration and talking less about gay marriage. But they should demand more duck penis research. So far, the most prominent Republican demanding this kind of path forward has been Newt Gingrich, who said that Republicans should promote the very type of technological innovation made possible by the weird science research the party is currently dismissing as silly and wasteful.
Fox News and several other conservative outlets have bashed duck penis research recently. Leading duck penis researcher Patricia Brennan defends her work at Slate Tuesday in her cold, hard, sciencey way, explaining that the federal government funds basic science — why things are the way they are — in part because it can lead to applied science. So, as Brennan explains, a new adhesive is based on research on geckos. But Brennan sort of underplays her hand here. Duck penises are incredibly fascinating. Male ducks have penises that explode into a corkscrew during an erection. Because female ducks are raped so much — as much as half of duck sex is rape — they've developed complex corkscrew vaginas that makes insemination really difficult. So, as PolitiFact noted, that thing Todd Akin said about "legitimate rape"? That the "the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down"? That's actually true of ducks! Duck penises waste away when mating season ends, and grow back bigger or smaller based on how dominant the other males in the group are. The clichéd "dick measuring contest"? That is real life for ducks. They are "are essentially engineering their own phallus in response to social challenges," Brennan told Wired in 2010. Duck genitals are incredible! Really great party anecdote at the right kind of party.
Meanwhile, conservatives have been bashing scientific research recently as Washington debates spending cuts. President Obama announced a $300 million-a-year program Tuesday to map the human brain, and Michelle Malkin mocks the research as silly. Cuts to really expensive things, like the military and Medicare, are controversial. But cutting funding of animal genital research sounds more inoffensive. House Speaker John Boehner wrote in February, "no one should be talking about raising taxes when the government is still paying people to play videogames, giving folks free cellphones, and buying $47,000 cigarette-smoking machines." New York's Jonathan Chait explained that the smoking machines were created to simulate smoking in mice so the Veterans Administration could study chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. So yeah, smoking machines sound dumb, until you consider the alternative, which is training mice to smoke cigarettes, or start testing on humans. Likewise, the "paying people to play video games" thing is a National Science Foundation grant to study if playing video games can slow old people's loss of brain power.
Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal appeared to call for a less anti-science tone right after the election, when he said the GOP needed to stop being the "stupid party." He used this line again. But when he gave nearly the same speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, he cut that bit from his speech. A CPAC panel titled "How I Learned to Stop Worrying & Love Plastic Water Bottles, Fracking, Genetically Modified Food, & Big Gulp Sodas" had a long riff on "dihydrogen oxide" — as in, water is a chemical, so we shouldn't fear any chemicals! (There were no thalidomide babies on the panel.) The only speaker to demand at CPAC that the GOP go pro-science was Newt Gingrich. Gingrich held up a candle and a light bulb and said the GOP should be the party of the latter. Of the House GOP, he said:
They could be having a hearing every week on the future in every single committee and subcommittee. They could be contrasting the various and sundry bureaucratic candles that are trapped in a world of limited light with all the breakthroughs in new science and technology.
A bunch of reporters made fun of Gingrich on Twitter, on the Internet, a thing Gingrich embraced way back in the '90s while many of their publications were hoping it would go away. Gingrich suggested the GOP should counter anti-progress back-to-nature tendencies on the left. (Those are real!) The party should focus on encouraging technological innovation, he said. That includes duck penis research. Who knows what kind of miraculous technology might come from understand spiraling duck genitals? Gingrich/Duck Penis Research 2016.
(Top photo by Binu . via Flickr; inset photo by Jose Luis Magana/AP)
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.