Sen. Charles E. Grassley, R-Iowa, has criticized NIH and the way the agency handles its grants. Grassley recently said the agency failed to oversee conflicts of interest in its grants. Many of those grant recipients also get money from drug companies. Grassley has accused NIH of not doing a proper job of requiring all of its grant recipients to also disclose their other funding sources.
Grassley's office declined comment for this story, but in a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee, the senator wrote, "Researchers need to be put on notice that government grants come with obligations of financial disclosure."
Marc Abrahams, editor of Improbable Research, an organization that tracks unusual research studies, said that with roughly 100,000 medical journals published in the United States, part of the reason there are so many studies is simply because of the way academia works.
"In order to get hired, in order to keep your job and to get promoted, you have to publish a lot of studies," Abrahams said. "There are an awful lot of studies that were done apparently because somebody needed to get some more things on their resume."
NIH recently funded a study that proudly proclaimed the benefits of a massage to athletes after exercise.
Yes, that's right, your tax dollars helped conclude that a Swedish massage -- combining long strokes, kneading and friction techniques on muscles and various movements of joints -- can make you feel better after working out.
Granted, the researchers didn't use humans for this study. Instead they used sedated rabbits. The grant is part of a larger research program at Ohio State University and officials there said they can't break out how much money from NIH went to this specific research.
Also in the category of things scientists have spent money to determine: Men are much more likely than women to have random sexual encounters.
In a 1989 study by two state college professors, titled Gender Differences in Receptivity to Sexual Offers and published in the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality, men and women were asked to randomly approach strangers of the opposite sex on a college campus and say: "I have been noticing you around campus. I find you to be very attractive," and then invite the strangers to have sex.
Guess what? "The great majority of men were willing to have a sexual liaison with the women who approached them," the study determined. "Not one woman agreed to a sexual liaison."
Abrahams said there's some questions that people really want answered, but there "are also a lot of studies that, to me, don't seem to be done for any reason."
Referencing the random sex study, he said, "It's still hard to figure out: What did they hope to learn by this?"
But he also cautioned that just because a study seems frivolous doesn't mean that it doesn't have any merit -- it might just be hard to understand the value now. Scientists who worked on electricity, the telephone or the Internet planned and studied for years before the fruits of their labor were realized.
The rules of science dictate that even the most common sense understanding must be proved, including things that sound logical or appear to be common sense.