A leading researcher on a ridiculed taxpayer-funded study of duck penises is now using her expertise on orca whales and is going to the "March for Science" to protest budget cuts.
Patricia Brennan, a visiting lecturer at Mount Holyoke College in Massachusetts, worked on the duck penis study that received $384,949 from the National Science Foundation, a grant that was funded through the 2009 stimulus package. The study looked at the differences in the corkscrew-shaped penises of ducks.
A recent interview with New England Public Radio revealed that Brennan is still fascinated by genitalia of various marine animals, this time one from an orca whale that was just delivered from Sea World to her lab.
"Holy cow," Brennan said when the penis first arrived. "Oh wow. Oh my goodness. It's enormous!"
"Although Brennan has spent 20 years studying the sex organs of marine animals, she's never seen anything this big," New England Public Radio reported. "It takes up an entire lab sink."
"So this is the tip right there," Brennan said. "It's not super long, it's just wide."
Brennan is on a new mission to protest budget hawks in Congress and the Trump administration seeking to cut funding for frivolous research.
She is attending the "March for Science" this weekend as a political activist, even though what "she'd really like to do, is get back to the lab and take another look at that killer whale penis."
New England Public Radio said the "stakes for science have never been higher," because Donald Trump is president and has called for budget reductions in the face of a $20 trillion debt.
Trump's budget blueprint would leave the National Institutes of Health with $25.9 billion. The National Science Foundation was not mentioned in the budget blueprint. The agency currently gets roughly $7 billion annually.
Since taxpayers were informed about how much her duck penis study cost, Brennan has become a "sought-after science activist," giving lectures on how scientists can defend their research.
"They were attacking everything," Brennan said of news outlets reporting the cost of her study. "They were attacking the science itself, like, ‘what a waste of money.' They were attacking me, as a person, like, I must be some kind of deviant to be looking at penises.
"Like, who does that?" she asked.
New England Public Radio explained that Brennan is a "basic scientist," meaning she only observes how things work and is not "necessarily applying that knowledge to a particular problem."
There is no real premise to her new research on orca whale penises. "Just the fact that we just don't know what we're going to find is so exciting," she said.
"In order for us to actually be able to solve problems, or make money, or innovate, we actually need to know … about how the world works," Brennan said.
Brennan justified her duck penis study by explaining that it discovered male ducks rape female ducks and that both duck vaginas and penises have evolved in response to "sexual conflict."
"Males have counterclockwise spiraling penises, while females have clockwise spiraling vaginas and blind pockets that prevent full eversion of the male penis," Brennan explained in Slate.
"Male ducks force copulations on females, and males and females are engaged in a genital arms race with surprising consequences," she said, adding, "male competition is a driving force behind these male traits that can be harmful to females."
Brennan says she now tells researchers to "come out swinging" to defend their own "weird-sounding stuff."