Within our mammoth sized government with its myriad of agencies and departments, are endless examples of wasteful spending. Here are just two that caught my attention today.
Feds Studying How to Use Twitter For ‘Depression Surveillance’
The University of California, San Diego (UCSD) began a study financed by the National Institutes of Health last month that will provide “population level depression monitoring” through the social media site.
The project, “Utilizing Social Media as a Resource for Mental Health Surveillance,” is costing taxpayers $82,800.
While Twitter has been used by government agencies, such as the Secret Service and Department of Homeland Security, for national security related monitoring, the project suggests the social network can be used for public health surveillance as well.
“Major depressive disorder is one of the most common debilitating illnesses in the United States, with a lifetime prevalence of 16.2 [percent],” the project grant states. “Currently, nationwide mental health surveillance takes the form of large-scale telephone- based surveys.”
The project argues that Twitter is preferable to phone surveys on the mentally ill because the site offers a “multilingual source of real time data for public health surveillance.”
The researchers will create algorithms to determine if people are depressed through their tweets, which they hope will serve as a basis for monitoring mental illness. They will also engage with depressed individuals on Twitter directly.
“Developing these algorithms and resources will provide the bedrock for building social media based surveillance systems,” the grant said.
The study will also look into ethical and privacy issues for using Twitter to survey the mentally ill.
Mike Conway, Project Scientist in the Division of Behavioral Medicine at UCSD, is leading the study. His research interests include “using social media to track health behaviours [sic].” Conway’s most recent research subject was monitoring tweets about tobacco use.
Okay, so it’s just $82,800 – that’s nothing compared to other equally asinine expenditures they’ve made, so that’s not the part that bothers me. The part that bothers me, aside from the fact that this violates the Fourth Amendment, is that the government and a scientist think they’re qualified to diagnose depression. To do this based on algorithms that monitor tweets is beyond insane. Tweets have a limit of something like 140 characters and for me, that is simply not enough information to determine someone’s mental status.
Not that it would make the data any more reliable, but there is no mention of a doctor or psychiatrist involved in this study. Who’s going to interpret the tweets and make the determination? A scientist who studied tweets about smoking.
Shutdown Doesn’t Stop Grant for ‘Reproductive Health’ in Pakistan
Never one to let a shutdown get in the way, the federal government has deemed the collection of grant proposals for the improvement of reproductive health of women in Pakistan “essential.”
The U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) created a grant on Thursday, October 10, seeking applicants to administer “family planning” in the south Asian country through its Maternal and Child Health (MCH) program.
“The MCH Program’s overall goal is to dramatically and sustainably improve health outcomes of women and children in target areas, and the MCH Program comprises five components: 1) Family Planning/Reproductive Health; 2) Maternal, Newborn and Child Health; 3) Health Communication; 4) Health Commodities; and 5) Health Systems Strengthening,” the grant said.
The funding will provide “health communication” targeted at married women of reproductive age. The USAID is accepting applications through November and the project will ultimately cost $24.5 million.
The program will focus on changing “cultural norms” and “behavior change.”
“The project will also play a lead role in generating demand for health products and services, utilizing innovative approaches drawn from commercial marketing and other behavior change-related disciplines,” the grant said.
A more detailed description of the grant explains that mass media and mobile media will be used in Pakistan to “change individual behaviors and social norms,” primarily in the Sindh and Punjab Provinces.
USAID credits its family planning programs for decreasing the number of children per family from 6 to 4.5 in 27 countries. The agency distributed 751 million condoms and 64.6 million oral contraceptives overseas in 2012.
The first problem I see with this grant program is that $24.5 million bucks is our money. The logic of spending that amount of money during a shutdown versus barricading off an open-air memorial eludes me.
Our government is ‘seeking applicants’ to go into a predominantly muslim country, where the men treat their animals better than they treat their women. This is a country where women are often raped, then punished for speaking up, and for many of them it starts when they’re young girls. Many of their babies are not created out of love and they’re not normal babies – most of them are jihadists in the making, and our government wants volunteers to go there and talk about family planning and birth control.
Apparently, someone in Washington didn’t get the memo that these people hate us and their population problem is none of our business. Anyone willing to volunteer for this project needs to have their tweets analyzed for insanity.
Both stories can be read in full at The Washington Free Beacon.