Federal tax dollars have also funded 92 studies on pigeons since the early 1970s. The studies, funded by the National Institute of Mental Health, have focused on how pigeons learn, and what they are thinking. Critics say while pigeon studies are funded, other studies involving mental illness that affect millions of Americans have been rejected.
"The average citizen would be shocked at what their money is being spent on," said Dr. E. Fuller Torrey, president of the Treatment Advocacy Center in Arlington, Va. "They've turned down projects on the mentally ill homeless. They've turned down projects on developing new medications that would be useful for people with schizophrenia, manic-depressive illness."
Torrey issued a report in 1999 that showed a little more than a third of your tax dollars go to researching serious mental illness.
But Torrey found that mental health funds are being used for other kinds of studies. The government spent $210,000 in tax funds to study music, looking at the timing, dynamics and articulation that make music expressive. Another $200,000 was spent on analyzing adolescent romantic relationships. Plus, there was $68,000 to study sentence processing in Japanese and English, and the interaction of grammar in particular languages.
"I think anyone would say the priorities are really out of whack here," Torrey said. "Something's wrong."
In a statement, the National Institute of Mental Health said that it funds more than $103 million in major studies to find treatments for schizophrenia, depression and other diseases. The institute also says that the research on animals has paid off. By studying birds, scientists have figured out how the human brain generates new nerve cells.
Researchers say that mankind will not progress without money to fund basic science. A mission that may sound odd to outsiders has a different meaning for scientists, the squirrel researcher said.
"We need to have a broader view of our exploration of the universe," Waterman said.
This is the first in a three-part Good Morning America series called "You Paid for It," in which ABCNEWS' Bob Woodruff took a look at some of the things your tax dollars are paying for. The series included Taxpayer-Funded Study of Hostile Reporters and You Paid For It: A Study Of Who Smiles More.