Did the government spend $50 million (or more) to learn "how much monkeys love their mothers"?

From Journal of the History of the Behavioral Sciences, Vol. 45(3), 193–218 Summer 2009:

It is also important to note that the agencies supporting Harlow’s research were interested in the human implications of his studies, as it became clear when public controversy erupted over the wisdom of providing federal support for his work. The debate ranged from West to East, from the humor pages of newspapers to prestigious scientific journals like Science , from the U.S. House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate. The first shot came in 1962 from Senator Harry Byrd. The press turned it into a national affair, as the Arizona Election News alerted the public that $50,000,000 of their hard-earned tax dollars had been used to “pay for studies to find out if baby monkeys love their mothers.” The alleged amounts varied in different newspapers, as did the assessments of Harlow’s research. In one cartoon the issue was put forward in graphic clarity. A monkey is represented asking another monkey nursing an infant about the national debt. The caption underneath read: “The new Frontier plans to spend $1,201,925.22 to study the affection of the monkey’s offspring.”

I remember the claim that "the government spent $50 million learning how much monkeys love their mothers" was widely circulated among ultra-consevative groups back in the early 60s (though I admit I don't recall what specific amount I heard claimed). The best "hard" reference I can find for the amount is MATERNAL DEPRIVATION : EXPERIMENTS IN PSYCHOLOGY -- A CRITIQUE OF ANIMAL MODELS which quotes a figure of $34 million, though it's Table IV states that the primate (vs dog, cat, and rodent) studies cost $20.4 million.

  • I think your question is badly phrased. There is a long and disreputable history of attacking science by trivialising it. One might equally attack Newton by suggesting his greatest discovery was "why apples fall out of trees". Harlow was investigating deep questions about the instincts and behavior of primates, which includes us. The text you quote alludes to this, but your question emphasises the attacks. Are you asking about the total bill, or are you asking if the "how much monkeys love their mothers" bit is valid? – Paul Johnson Oct 22 '17 at 17:00
  • @PaulJohnson - I'm asking about the total bill. I'm attempting to reconstruct a story from my early teen years (involving cognitive dissonance and "learning moments'), and I wanted to get the numbers right, as close as I could, and place them in perspective. – Daniel R Hicks Oct 22 '17 at 21:37

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