Feds Spend $1.5 Million to Study Why Lesbians Are Fat?

Obesity in lesbians is a health crisis
The title was taken from the CNS News story of the same name, which made ripples in the news yesterday (Drudge linked to it).

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has awarded $1.5 million to study biological and social factors for why “three-quarters” of lesbians are obese and why gay males are not, calling it an issue of “high public-health significance.”

If this is true, you know what it means, of course. It means that TV and the movies have lied to us. Systematically, and over a long period of time.

When was the last time you saw a show or movie in which a woman oriented towards other women wasn’t hot, svelte, able to wiggle into hipster jeans without grunting? I’ll tell you when. Never. There’s even a popular sub-genre, which I’ve heard is distributed on the internet, which delights in displaying actively oriented non-obese non-heterosexual females. Our first clue should have been that the audience for such fare was (obese or not) men oriented towards women.

Science however can’t be wrong, or questioned. According to the well-funded grant (to the tune of $741,378 of your money—where was the sequester when it was needed?) Sexual Orientation and Obesity: Test of a Gendered Biopsychosocial Model Obesity “nearly three-quarters of adult lesbians [are] overweight or obese.”

S. Bryn Austin, Director of Fellowship Research Training in the Division of Adolescent and Young Adult Medicine at Boston Children’s Hospital, used that scientific statistic to convince the government to part with money to study the statistics of overweight lesbians. In other words, Austin claims already to know lesbians are fatter than normal women, but he wants (and got) three-quarters of a million to verify it.

Some of that money will be spent studying why, “[i]n stark contrast, among men, heterosexual males have nearly double the risk of obesity compared to gay males.” Austin even has a theory. He and his group “will rigorously test our innovative gendered biopsychosocial model to explain sexual orientation disparities in obesity with prospective, repeated measures survey data and biological data from three national youth cohorts.”

Sounds like the solution to the obesity “epidemic” is to have heterosexual men and non-heterosexual women switch their orientations. Maybe science can develop a pill? Or is the education provided in our public schools sufficient?

Anyway, if you’re upset about the money Austin gets, consider these facts. Austin himself only keeps half a million. He has to hand over the other quarter-mill as “protection” to his Dean (funds which are euphemistically called “overhead”). Plus, Austin was only being smart. Turns out the government issued an announcement begging people to take its money to study these things. If it wasn’t Austin, it would have been somebody else.

Yes. “PA-07-409”, or Health Research with Diverse Populations, was government instigated. It’s focus “is on research that bears upon on the health of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, and other diverse populations.”

I know, or think I know, the meaning of the first four terms, but I haven’t any idea what “intersex” means, and I’m leery of typing it into a browser. I notice, however, that it’s at the end of a list which is ordered by increasing unusualness. This is why “other diverse populations”, which could mean anything, comes last.

Oh, the $1.5 million in the title arises because the government, in its ever-increasing benevolence, handed out more than one grant on the subject. If anything, the figure is a gross understatement. On just the first page of grants “similar to” Austin’s, at least $10 million more was spent.

We glean from these grants that the preferred term for non-heterosexuality is “sexual minority”, which has a pleasing, civil rights, social justice ring to it.

A couple of other awards: Stress Reactivity and Substance Use Among Sexual Minority Girls ($339,887; boys, you’ll have to wait), Risk and Protective Factors for Suicide Among Sexual Minority Youth ($598,609), Cumulative Stress and Hazardous Drinking in a Community Sample of Adult Lesbians ($602,989), etc. forever.

What the novice reader might not understand is that all these grants are in the pipeline, thus that each will result in many to dozens of papers, and that each of these will call for more research, which itself will seem justified because the mass of “work” in the field makes the field appear important. The thing is self-perpetuating.

28 Comments

  1. Sounds like a lot of money but, the way government contracts go, $1.2M only pays for about 4 people. Yes indeed, the gov’t pays about $0.5M/man-year(or rather their PC term for one) — the accounting is interesting. If the researcher has to fork over half of the grant well then that would only leave room for one researcher.

    This isn’t something to worked up over. It (and the other studies) may sound like an unnecessary topic but then a study counting sunspots or counting x-ray photons from Cygnus X-1 are too. Where should we draw the line?

  2. DAV: You ask where we should draw the line. Perhaps we should draw the line at what we can afford. We could allocate a certain amount of money for research based on tax revenue, call it a “budget”, and spend that amount of money. Zero sum game. The lesbian obesity researchers and the sunspot researchers can fight it out for their share of the pie. But we don’t make the pie bigger a little at a time for one good cause after another.

  3. John, But we don’t make the pie bigger a little at a time for one good cause after another.

    Each agency decides what it’s money is to do. Getting more is always the goal and one way is to spend or even over-spend. That does need to stop but pointing to “silly” projects and studies is a two-edged sword. In any case, paying for studies is far more productive than doling out the money as welfare.

    Again, where should we draw the line?

  4. Briggs,

    Yes indeed but it’s a drop in the bucket. The gov’t paid about the same for my time when I was contracting to NASA and I was hardly in the position of Principal Investigator– not that I got the lion’s share of it.

  5. Briggs,

    Does add up but it would take a lot of these to match the waste generated by HEW and the military. Worked on a project for the Air Force and after it was over they asked for 100 replacement parts which would have totaled to $35 from Radio Shack but, hey!, this is the AIR FORCE! They ended up shelling out $5000 for those parts. Now that’s waste and they’re notorious for it.

    I worked on a top-secret AirForce/Navy project (which wasn’t much of a secret anyway) out in Colorado that Congress wouldn’t fund so the military dug up the $10B from their SLUSH fund. Who else has $10B tucked away in their small change jars?

  6. There’s a fundamental asymmetry in costs and benefits.

    Suppose 300 million Americans oppose or are at least are indifferent to a $1 M project. The people who stand to receive the $1M will lobby enthusiastically for it. But each American stands to spend 33 cents on the project and has no incentive to expend much energy resisting it.

  7. John,

    Just think, then, how many similar studies it would take to match the forced personal expenditure for health care that’s been recently mandated.

  8. Where do we draw the line? I suggest NO government funding. If a subject is of sufficient concern, the private sector can address it. It’s not the government’s place to do research. (Yes, I know we can’t chase subatomic particles and stuff if the government doesn’t help–or can we? Has anyone ever tried?) I’m sticking with getting the government out and making the people who earned the money for the study decide whether the study is worthy or not.

  9. Dav,

    There is a big difference between military specifications and radio shack specifications as I assume that you must know. I don’t know what components you were using but in general you might not want radio shack hobby parts in a jet fighter. Also for research in the physical sciences, for example, you do not use radio shack voltmeters or other testing devices, as they are just not good enough. I’m not questioning that waste does occur as this is inevitable.

    I also don’t see the $1.2M for four people, as labor is fairly cheap at universities. Most of this money is probably for other costs and overhead if there are only four researchers involved.

    Counting sunspots has at least some chance of being useful.

  10. I wonder which what the causality goes. Are they fat because they are lesbians or are they lesbians because they are too fat to attract a decent guy?

  11. William Sears,

    I do (or did) this for a living so I’m well aware of Mil Spec. In the case I mentioned the Radio Shack parts (though perhaps an exaggeration) aren’t much different in price than the Mil Spec variety and certainly not by a factor of over 100 ($50/part vs. $0.35/part).

    As for the $1.2M/4 FTE: that’s actually a bit on the low side but otherwise about right. Generally, it costs an employer nearly double an individual’s salary given vacation time, sick leave, Federal holidays, insurance and other benefits then on top of that is the added G&A overhead and (likely not applicable at a university) profit (also called fee). Of the bunch, profit is the smallest percentage which was 8% for many years. The amount permitted for G&A largely depends on the largess of the accounting agency (DCAA for military and NASA). In the case cited, if Briggs is right about the university taking 50% or more, that would leave just enough for the investigator (assuming a 6-figure income) and one or two aides. Grad student slaves notwithstanding.

    I’m not adding in the cost of overseeing the contract by whatever agency is responsible for passing out the dough. The government is willing to spend $3 to guarantee not being screwed out of $1. As Heinlein once said (about the IRS and more or less) “You can’t fight someone with the power to spend $100K to collect a dime”.

  12. “Where should we draw the line?”

    Uh, the US Constitution. Really is it that confusing? If it isn’t plainly and demonstrably constitutional, then you don’t spend money on it. It really is that fussless.

  13. All awarded projects from any government agency are announced to the public. I wish the reporter had cited the source so I can judge the project myself. Are they investigating the impacts of epigenetic or genetic factors on weight and homosexuality? What are the details?

    Every penny must be accounted for when receiving government (or any) funding. There are strict guidelines as to how money can be spent. As far as my personal experience goes, the following represents how a granting process works accurately.

    http://www.realclimate.org/index.php/archives/2011/01/reflections-on-funding-panels/

  14. JH,

    Check the Federal Register.

    I see RC complaining about overhead For each person being supported by a grant, you have to budget for their salary, fringe benefits and the mysterious ‘overhead’ (some 30 to 60% of the total). Gosh! Only 60%. It’s closer to 100% for industry.

    Oddly, though, we beat out John’s Hopkins University on one contract. We beat them on cost.

  15. DAV,

    Yep, high administrative overhead costs! In addition some necessary costs, someone has to support a large administrative unit called Office of Research that provides the organization and infrastructure to support all administrative aspects of active grants and contracts.

    Administrators are not my favorite people.

    Thanks for the link.

  16. DAV
    Years ago I was doing a cost estimate on an electronic system for a government agency. One of the companies bidding on the contract had over 200% overhead. Add the direct labor, 200% overhead and 25% G&A and you are talking big money.

    BTW, don’t buy Radio Shack parts. I bought transistors from them that were specified to have a current gain of 300 but most of them were around 100 and unusable in my application. Lying SOBs.

  17. When was the last time you saw a show or movie in which a woman oriented towards other women wasn’t hot, svelte, able to wiggle into hipster jeans without grunting?

    OTOH, there was an episode of The Family Guy in which a rather chubby woman at a sperm bank asks for “vial of sperm and an applicator shaped like Jodie Foster’s knuckles.”

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