"It's Congress' job to set guidelines for how NIH and other agencies spend taxpayer money and then exercise oversight to ensure that those guidelines are being followed. "However, over the last several years, Congress has neglected its oversight function," Flake's office told ABC News. "It's difficult for Congress to criticize NIH for wasteful grants when Congress itself is earmarking billions of dollars every year on similarly wasteful pet projects."
A spokesman for NIH declined to comment about studies that some consider a waste of tax dollars.
While discovering whether porn arouses women may not seem to warrant a hefty price tag, Goozner pointed out that you never know when something seemingly silly could lead to the next miracle discovery.
"Certainly, some of these questions are more significant than they are made to appear when they're poked fun at," he said. Any outrage over government-funded research, from both Congress and watchdogs, tends to focus on industry-financed research, he said. "Industry funds a lot of research that often helps its bottom line. That shouldn't surprise anyone," Goozner said.
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."
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.
"People study things because they are trying to understand things they don't," Abrahams said. "There are often a lot of problems that seem trivial, unless you happen to encounter it. If you or a relative get that disease, then it becomes the most important thing in the world."