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Rand Paul's failed fish tale

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We talked last week about an unfortunate phenomenon: congressional Republicans pointing to government spending they consider wasteful, which turns out to be money well spent under closer inspection. Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) offers another fun example.

On Fox News on Thursday night, Paul said the military has spent $5.2 million studying goldfish and advocated yanking funding for such programs to cut the budget.

"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."

At first blush, Paul sounds like he has a point, right? If policymakers are looking for funding to cut, $5.2 million to "learn about democracy from goldfish" seems excessive, at least at first blush.

But Princeton science professor Iain Couzin filled in some of the gaps to Poltico: "[Paul] got the funding wrong and the species wrong, and he misrepresents the work we've done."

Apparently, the research has nothing to do with learning about "democracy" from goldfish -- they're not even goldfish -- but rather, is intended to "lead to advances in technology for robots that work on deep sea oil spills and radioactive leaks."

Couzin said the research has "direct applications to human security," adding, "Perhaps Sen. Paul should read our papers before he comments on them and perhaps he should consider more broadly how science can help society."

To be sure, that's a worthwhile suggestion, but Paul wants to condemn research, not read it. There's no reason to let information get in the way of perfectly good rhetoric.