NIH Spent Money Testing Cocaine on Honeybees and More Instead of Testing Coronavirus Drugs

Yet NIH researchers had the audacity to claim there wasn't enough money to research coronavirus drugs.

By Rachel Alexander Published on April 19, 2020

We now see clearly that the medical community stood unprepared for the COVID-19 pandemic. There were multiple entities at fault. One of them was the National Institutes of Health. Instead of studying drugs for the coronavirus, the agency spent billions on nonessential studies. If NIH had done the proper testing, could this all have been avoided? Would we have had a cure in place when the outbreak started?

Investigative reporter John Solomon, writing for Just the News, lists some of the waste that has been taking place at NIH in recent years. NIH gets $40 billion a year in funding for medical studies. But according to Dr. Michael Bracken, a Yale University epidemiologist, up to 87.5% of that is wasted or inefficient. He warned about this problem back in July 2016 during a speech he gave at NIH. “Waste is more than just a waste of money and resources,” he said. “It can actually be harmful to people’s health.”

The NIH admitted in a monthly newsletter that 90% of its biomedical research is wasted.

Bracken says of every 100 research projects, only 50 lead to published findings. And of those 50, half have significant design flaws. Of the remaining 25 that don’t have significant design flaws, half are redundant or unnecessary. That’s how you get to the 87.5% number. The NIH admitted in a monthly newsletter that 90% of its biomedical research is wasted.

Not Enough Money for Coronavirus Research? Hardly

Just the News correspondent Christine Dolan talked to researchers at NIH who claimed there weren’t enough resources to plan for both a flu pandemic and a coronavirus pandemic. So they skipped the clinical trials on treatments for the coronavirus. However, money abounded for all the frivolous studies NIH performed.

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The list of things the agency spent money on, instead of studying drugs for the coronavirus, is appalling. Solomon notes that it’s been 15 years since evidence emerged that chloroquine might be able to treat the coronavirus. So they’ve had plenty of time to shift away from the wasteful spending.

Former Senator Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) issued a report in 2016 highlighting much of this waste. He presciently argued that the funding would be better deployed to find “treatments for cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and viral infections such as Zika and Ebola.”

Alcohol, Cocaine, Sex, Gambling and Walking All Took Priority Over Coronavirus Research

The list of ridiculous studies is too long to cover in one article, but here are some of the most egregious examples. One study out of the Oregon Health & Science University the NIH funded with $5 million. It studied whether alcohol affects the singing of the zebra finch. NIH funded a researcher at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana $242,600 to determine the effects of cocaine on honeybees. He found that it made them twice as likely to dance.

Researchers at Bowdoin College in Maine spent $3.6 million to study the results of giving sex steroids to male goldfish. They found it made the goldfish more social and swim closer to female goldfish.

A 12-episode soap opera was created at Northeastern University in Boston that featured the love lifes of HIV-infected people. Another study spent $3.5 million to analyze why lesbians are obese and gay men are not.

A Yale University and Arizona State University study spent $350,000 to determine whether young adults lost more money gambling if they drank alcohol.

Perhaps most insulting of all, the NIH released the results of a study a few days ago, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, which made the groundbreaking finding that more walking leads to a longer life.

Enough! We Need Oversight

This wasteful spending by NIH has gone on far too long. People dying in large numbers from COVID-9 should serve as a jarring wake-up call. NIH needs oversight, perhaps by Congress. The people who work for us in government are to be good stewards with our money. With limited government resources, the money should go to crucial matters, not pet projects that only a handful of researchers care about. Do those responsible for this waste have blood on their hands? Maybe. We’ll never know if they would have discovered a cure had they directed the money toward it.


COVID-19 is causing massive disruptions in life. The Stream’s parent organization, LIFE Outreach International, is helping send a first wave of help.

LIFE’s local mission partners are already distributing thousands of surgical masks, gloves and other sanitary supplies to first responders, hospitals and nursing homes. In addition, other partners have focused on distributing as many meals as possible to help those who need food.

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Rachel Alexander is a senior editor of The Stream. Follow her on Twitter at Rach_IC. Follow The Stream at streamdotorg. Send tips to [email protected].

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