Investing in Health Research

By Scott LaFee

January 29, 2020 7 min read

A new report by Research!America (the exclamation point in the middle is the giveaway that this is an advocacy group) says total spending on health and medical research in the U.S. in 2018 exceeded $194 billion.

It's part of a rising trend. Since 2013, medical and health R&D has increased by $51 billion, with industry responsible for two-thirds of funding, followed by federal agencies and then academic institutions and foundations.

The $194 billion total is a lot, more than the gross domestic product of 133 countries. But it pales compared with how much Americans spend on health care: $3.6 trillion in 2018 alone. That works out to 5 cents of research for every dollar spent on health care.

Body of Knowledge

Everyone has a different number of taste buds, ranging from an average of 2,000 to 10,000. Taste buds are not limited to your tongue; they are also found in the roof and walls of your mouth, throat and esophagus. As you age, the number and sensitivity of your taste buds decline, helping to explain why foods that you don't like as a child become palatable to you as an adult, or simply become less tasty and appealing.


40: Percentage of all antibiotic prescriptions that could be "inappropriately" prescribed.

Source: Oregon Health & Science University

Stories for the Waiting Room

Sage Werbock is a performer known as The Great Nippulini, whose claim to fame are nipples capable of lifting 70 pounds each. He holds a Guinness record for the heaviest vehicle pulled by nipples for 20 meters (66 feet). The car weighed 2,179.27 pounds.

Number Cruncher

A serving of two microwaveable White Castle hamburgers (89.6 grams) contains 260 calories, 117 from fat. It has 13 grams of total fat, or 20% of the recommended total fat intake for a 2,000-calorie daily diet.

It also contains 25 milligrams of cholesterol (8%), 350 milligrams of sodium (15%), 25 grams of carbohydrates (8%), 1 gram of dietary fiber, 3 grams of sugar and 12 grams of protein.

Never Say, Diet

The Major League Eating speed-eating record for glazed doughnuts is 55 in 8 minutes, held by Joey Chestnut. A professional speed eater, Chestnut garnered this particular record on Salvation Army National Donut Day, which seems hole-y appropriate.

Mania of the Week

Ergomania: an obsession with work or exercise. Or, to loosely paraphrase the Latin comment attributed to Rene Descartes, "Cogito, ergo sum" ("I think; therefore, I work too much.")

Best Medicine

A patient was asked to fill out a form before seeing the doctor.

After name and address, the form asked for "nearest relative."

The patient wrote, "walking distance."

Hypochondriac's Guide

Jargon aphasia is a type of language disorder where an individual's speech is incomprehensible but appears to make sense to them. Expected words are replaced by illogical substitutes that may sound the same, or by random sounds.


"Sedentary people are apt to have sluggish minds. A sluggish mind is apt to be reflected in flabbiness of body and in a dullness of expression that invites no interest and gets none." — Philanthropist, socialite and matriarch of the Kennedy family Rose Fitzgerald Kennedy, who lived to be 104

Perishable Publications

Many, if not most, published research papers have titles that defy comprehension. They use specialized jargon, complex words and opaque phrases like "nonlinear dynamics." Sometimes they don't, and yet they're still hard to figure out. Here's an actual title of an actual published research study: "Coolness: An Empirical Investigation."

In 2012, a pair of researchers — one in New York, the other in England — were debating whether bug-eyed, neurotic actor Steve Buscemi was "cool." They could not agree and so conducted an investigation to tease part coolness and social desirability by surveying 353 college students at a large Canadian university. (Canada is perhaps more commonly known for its coolness meteorologically speaking, but no matter.)

The scientists concluded that coolness is characterized by these attributes: Be hot. Be friendly. Be successful. Be pro-social. Be trendy. Be confident. Be funny.

After publishing their findings in the Journal of Individual Difference, the scientists still could not agree if Buscemi is cool.


Q: What is dyscrhonometria?

A: A brain dysfunction in which affected individuals cannot accurately estimate how much time has passed, also called distorted time perception. It is similar to other forms of dyslexia.

Fit to Be Tried

There are thousands of exercises, and you've only got one body, but that doesn't mean you can't try them all. The "cobra" strengthens your abs and back. Lie on your stomach on the floor, with your hands by your sides, positioned directly under your shoulders and facing forward. Extend your legs, with your feet and toes pointing away from your body.

Gently exhale; press your hips into the floor; and pull your chest away from the ground while keeping your hips stable, arching your lower back and stretching the muscles in the chest and abdomen. Hold for 15 to 30 seconds.

Gently relax, lowering your body to its original position. Repeat 10 times.

Medical Myths

You should not brush your teeth immediately after a meal. Doing so may push acids from the foods or drinks you've consumed deeper into your teeth enamel, causing greater damage. Researchers advise waiting 30 to 60 minutes after eating.

Med School

Q: Why do people instinctively put an injured finger in their mouth?

A: Partly it's a self-soothing behavior, but physiologically, it's a way to stop pain signals in the brain. Let's say you've hit your thumb with a hammer. Pain receptors in the digit send signals via nerve fibers to the brain, which screams back, "Ouch!" Sucking on the injured thumb, however, sends other signals to the brain, crowding out some of the pain signals and, perhaps, lessening the perception of pain.

Last Words


Norwegian playwright Henrik Ibsen (1826-1906) reportedly stood on his bed protesting after he overhead his doctor tell his wife he was looking better. (Ibsen suffered from tuberculosis.) In another version, however, he simply replied, "Tvertimod," which means, "to the contrary," and then died.

To find out more about Scott LaFee and read features by other Creators Syndicate writers and cartoonists, visit the Creators Syndicate website at

Photo credit: jarmoluk at Pixabay

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