All In   |  April 03, 2013

Why studying duck penises matters

The right-wing noise machine loves picking out its favorite targets of so-called government waste, but research matters--yes, even a study of duck genitalia. Chris Hayes describes how and why.

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This content comes from Closed Captioning that was broadcast along with this program.

>>> an update to the story about arkansas oil pipeline which spilled thousands of gallons of crude. congressman tim griffin , who represents the affected area, and who supports the keystone pipeline said in a radio interview today, well, first of all, pipelines, despite this accident, just like we have car accidents , despite this accident, pipelines are the safest way to move oil, they are safer than moving it in trucks and on a train. i think some people are trying to say, well, if there's a car crash , no more cars. if there's an accident with a pipeline, no more pipeline. if we follow that logic, we are all going to be riding bicycles. our invitation to congressman griffin to be a guest on our show stands. we can talk about bicycles.

>>> now as we say in this business for something completely different, this is a duck penis, and that is a fascinating thing. the fall iss are corkscrew shaped spirals but the female counterparts have clockwise spiraling vaginas. in fact, quote, the males and females are engaged in a genital arms race. i learned about this from a scientist named patricia brennan defending her work from infantile attacks. turns out duck genitalia is part of an elaborate system. on a broader level, it's an incredible artifact of evolution, how it works. fox news predictably questioned whether it was an appropriate use of taxpayer money, poll in which, shockingly, 89% of respondents said no. there's two types of scientific research , basic and applied. she correctly notes that basic research is the natural predecessor to basic research and notes that investment in the national science foundation is just over $20 per year per person, while it takes upward of $2,000 per year per person to fund the military. it's the latest example of a tried and true tradition of attacks on government-founded research. writers and republican politicians and conservative economists think the u.s. should invest more in basic research , the skefshive noise machine is obsessed and seems to genuinely relish research projects they can hold up for ignorant mockery. here's a respondent to president obama 's 2009 address before congress.

>> and $140 million for something called volcano monitoring. instead of monitoring volcanos, what congress should be monitoring is the eruption of spending in washington, d.c.

>> that guy. of course, about a month and a half later, there was a massive volcano eruption in alaska, but the persistent attacks have a real and destructive effect. this is what's happening to basic research funding. it's getting cut. the national science foundation national institutes of health are all suffering cuts from the sequester. republicans, led by senator tom coburn , even managed to smuggle an outrageous piece of language that instructs the director of the national science foundation that political sign research can only be funded if it is certified to promote national security or the economic interests of the united states . in other words, a rank bit of micromanaging by a few committed demagogues in the united states senate of the research agenda of academics. one of the things i admire and have truly learned from the conservative intellectual tradition is a kind of emphasis of humility on bureaucracy, government, central planning , and some of the best and wisest conservative writing emphasizes how little we know, how hard it is for institutions to predict the future. and it is, in a way, out of that spirit that we fund and embark upon basic research , because we do not know what we do not know. here's a classic example from an article in the new yorker about the worth of basic research . it's a british lepadoptrish and his study of butterflies. all he did was tracking where those butterflies were. and you might think to yourself, that's fun, i guess, but who cares? why does this matter? and as he did his work, he began to find the butterflies' habitat was creeping ever northward and there's a map that's a perfect visual representation of how climate change is altering the planet. and he didn't know when he started tracking butterflies that he was going to create this incredible use of knowledge. he went at it because he loved knowledge and he was curious about the world and loved bulleterflies, and that's the beauty and genius of research. you do not know what benefits it will provide. and so we do not know right now just what breathtaking vistas of knowledge we are losing with each cut. we'll be right back with click three. [