WHEN MARINE BIOLOGIST DAVID SCHOLNICK WANTED TO CONDUCT RESEARCH on how changes in the oceans might affect the ability of marine organisms to fight infections, he settled on a study involving shrimp – since a shrimp’s ability to remove bacteria from its body could have an impact on bacteria that might end up in seafood.
Since shrimp are active creatures in the oceans, it seemed important to study the shrimp’s immune response during activity. So he built a treadmill. A tiny treadmill. Adorable videos were subsequently posted on You-Tube. It was featured on The Colbert Report, and numerous YouTube denizens have made their own videos of it set to various music soundtracks.
When members of the U.S. Congress wanted to rant about government spending on scientific research, they found Mr. Scholnick’s project (and videos) and spotlighted it for wasting $3 million in taxpayer dollars. Others, such as the AARP, took up the cause, suggesting that all that money could better be spent on retiree healthcare services. It made good copy for people who don’t care about facts.
The problem is that the treadmill didn’t cost $3 million in taxpayers’ money. It didn’t cost any amount of taxpayers’ money. It cost $47, paid by Mr. Scholnick, who built it using spare parts from an old inner tube, a skateboard and a used pump motor.
And the project represents important research, notes Mr. Scholnick, now a professor at Pacific University in Oregon. In a column published in the Chronicle of Higher Education, he notes that “The health of the organisms that inhabit the largest ecosystem on the planet and the potential bacterial contamination of the food we eat are serious and important questions, I, like many of my colleagues, are deeply concerned by the minimization and politicization of our work.”
THE OFFER In order to clear the air, and make sure no government money is wasted on research on such matters, Mr. Scholnick put his treadmill up for sale for the bargain price of $1 million, with proceeds to go toward marine biology research.
“That’s 67 percent off the list price listed by Forbes.com,” he noted.