By Adam Andrzejewski for RealClearPolicy

While they don’t have bills to pay or worldwide pandemics to worry about, even rats and monkeys experience stress.

The National Science Foundation, National Aeronautics and Space Administration and the Office of Naval Research spent more than $500,000 — more than $2.5 million in inflation adjusted 2021 dollars — over a decade to determine under what conditions rats, monkeys, and humans bite and clench their jaws.

In 1975, Sen. William Proxmire, a Democrat from Wisconsin, gave the agencies a Golden Fleece award, deeming the funds a waste of taxpayer money.

Proxmire called behavioral scientist Ronald Hutchinson’s work “nonsense” and discussed it in detail on the Senate floor, with his staff, and in a newsletter sent to more than 100,000 of his constituents.

While the newsletter didn’t use Hutchinson’s name, it said the “NSF, the Space Agency, and the Office of Naval Research won the ‘Golden Fleece’ for spending jointly $500,000 to determine why monkeys clench their jaws.”

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Hutchinson sued Proxmire for libel, seeking $8 million and arguing that the senator’s statements were false and harmed him. Proxmire argued his statements, press release, and newsletters were protected by the Speech and Debate Clause.

The case made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, where the justices agreed partly with Hutchinson and partly with Proxmire and sent the case back to the lower court for further proceedings in 1979, when the men settled the matter out of court.

This didn’t deter Proxmire, who continued to present the awards for what he saw as wasteful spending until he retired in 1988.

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Syndicated with permission from RealClearWire.

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