A shrimp on a treadmill is Coburn’s lasting legacy of fighting government waste

On Tuesday afternoon in Oklahoma City, U.S. Rep. Steve Russell sat before a crowd of like-minded fiscal conservatives and spoke about government waste.

“I had a lady, God bless her, from the National Science Foundation … she came in and she tried to make a compelling argument for why we needed shrimp-on-treadmill studies. I was not convinced,” Russell said.

The line garnered laughter from many in the crowd. John Tidwell, state director for Americans for Prosperity and host of the conversation, asked what the scientist’s argument was.

“That we could learn something from it,” the Republican congressman said to more laughter.

Tidwell asked, “That the shrimp could learn something from it?” and again there was laughter before Russell reached the moral of the story, the point he was trying to make.

“Let’s learn something from it from somebody else’s dollars, rather than yours. If people really have a passion for shrimp on treadmills, they can go and spend their money on it,” he said.

Russell was carrying on something of an Oklahoma congressional tradition: criticism of a crustacean study as the embodiment of government waste.

Scholnick shrimp study

David Scholnick, a marine biologist at the small, private Pacific University in Oregon, was an unlikely figure to become the face of government waste. Former U.S. Sen. Tom Coburn, an Oklahoma Republican, made him exactly that.

In April 2011, Coburn released a report — “The National Science Foundation: Under the Microscope” — as part of his yearslong attempt to root out waste in government. On page 35 was the name David Scholnick.

Scholnick and his colleagues were studying how changes in the world’s oceans affected the ability of marine organisms, such as shrimp, to fight infections. Bacteria that a shrimp is unable to remove from its body could end up on the plates of American seafood consumers.

“And since shrimp are active animals in nature, it was…

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