Fox News host Sean Hannity launched a series of "investigative" reports this week, in which he claims he will reveal oodles of wasteful stimulus spending by the Obama administration. In his first report, Hannity and his sidekick Tucker Carlson blasted Michigan State University for using stimulus funds to preserve their historic arthropod collection. MSU's entomology department received a $187,632 grant from the National Science Foundation.
This isn't a multi-million dollar boondoggle. We're not talking about a bridge to nowhere, or a no-bid contract to Halliburton here. We're talking about $187,632. But in these tough economic times, let's assume for a minute that this $187,632 grant from the National Science Foundation might break the back of the American taxpayer, and go with Hannity's premise that this funding is suspicious.
In 1867, Professor Albert John Cook established an insect collection at what was then Michigan Agricultural College. During its 143 year existence, this insect collection has been expanded, through aquisitions and donations, to house well over 1 million arthropod specimens. The Albert J. Cook Arthropod Research Collection functions as a library of information for entomologists. The Cook Collection represents the arthropod biodiversity of Michigan, the Great Lakes region, and to a lesser extent, the world.
So why did MSU apply for a $187,632 grant? MSU just doesn't have the space needed to store such a vast collection properly. Some of the Lepidoptera collection filled hallways. Much of the collection was still housed in vintage 1950s cabinets that don't protect specimens from pests (yes, bugs that feed on the preserved bugs). The arthropod collection was at risk, and MSU didn't have space to expand or funding to purchase pest-proof storage cabinets.
With the $187,632 grant, MSU can purchase 13 storage cabinets, enough space to store at-risk specimens and expand their collection for the next 10 years.
But wasn't stimulus money meant to create jobs? Tucker Carlson mocked MSU entomologist Anthony Cognato for stating that grant funds were being used to employ four students for two years. The students will make between $8 and $10 per hour for moving specimens into the new storage cabinets. Cognato also noted the storage cabinets are manufactured here in the U.S.A., so MSU's order supports American jobs.
What Hannity and Carlson don't bother to "investigate" is the ripple effect this grant will have through the entomology universe and beyond. The Cook Collection is like an industry unto itself, in terms of job creation and support. MSU employs 18 faculty, staff, and students to oversee the operations of the arthropod collection.
But the true reach of the MSU arthropod collection goes far beyond East Lansing, Michigan. The Cook Collection is a lending library. Scientists can check out specimens to support their own research for periods of 2 years or more. Their research may in turn lead to new pest management products or techniques, which translates into new jobs in pest control services or product manufacturing. Research on agricultural pests directly supports farmers and nursery owners by helping them find cost-effective ways to control pests. Improved control of agricultural pests has an immediate impact on the quality, quantity, and cost of fruits, vegetables, and other foods at the grocery store. Do you see where I'm going with this?
The jobs supported by the impact of this $187,632 Science Foundation grant are both concrete and infinite. While the immediate impact of the funding is an improved and preserved library of arthropod specimens, the long-term reach of the grant is far greater. Researchers, professors, graduate students, pest control specialists, pesticide manufacturers, journal publishers, farmers, nursery owners, extension specialists, and food manufacturers all stand to benefit from this funding.
Sean Hannity is an ignoramus.