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A Project of The Annenberg Public Policy Center

Cruz, Paul: A Menagerie of Misinformation

Sens. Ted Cruz and Rand Paul got laughs at the federal government’s expense at the recent Conservative Political Action Conference, but the facts don’t jibe with the jokes.

  • Cruz accused the EPA of “trying to use a lizard to shut down oil and gas production” in West Texas to set up a one-liner about lizard boots. But the jab — an old campaign joke — no longer has any basis in fact. The federal government decided against listing the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard as “endangered” in June 2012.
  • Paul, meanwhile, monkeyed around with the truth when he claimed the federal government is spending $3 million on research “to discover that monkeys, like humans, act crazy on meth.” Paul mischaracterized research that aims to improve prevention and treatment of drug abuse in humans.

We’re not here to throw a wet blanket on the levity, but facts are facts.

Cruz and His Lizard Boots

Cruz, a Texas Republican, recycled a joke about lizard boots from last year’s campaign (at the 26:53 mark of the video). But in setting up his punch line, Cruz misstates the facts to fit his narrative about an out-of-control Environmental Protection Agency.

Cruz, March 16: We need to rein in the EPA. You know, in West Texas, the EPA is trying to use a lizard to shut down oil and gas production. You know my view of lizards? They make darn fine boots.

Cruz told that same joke at a Feb. 1, 2012, candidate forum. The American-Statesman (of Austin, Texas) quoted Cruz at that forum as saying: “That’s our lizard, and they make darned fine boots.”

But here’s the problem: It’s simply not accurate anymore to say that a lizard is threatening oil production in West Texas.

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (which is in the Interior Department, by the way, not the EPA) proposed listing the Dunes Sagebrush Lizard early last year as “endangered.” At the time, state officials and oil industry representatives warned that such a decision would hurt oil production in the Permian Basin in West Texas. However, the Fish and Wildlife Service determined on June 13, 2012, that it would not put the lizard on the endangered list.

In announcing the decision, Interior Secretary Ken Salazar praised the “voluntary conservation efforts” of state agencies and the oil industry to help protect the lizard. Salazar said the cooperation proved “we don’t have to choose between energy development and the protection of our land and wildlife — we can do both.”

State Comptroller Susan Combs called the decision a “major victory for Texas jobs and our energy economy.” The Texas Oil and Gas Association said it was “pleased” with the decision.

So, for now, oil production in West Texas is safe from the threat of lizards. However, a new threat lurks. The Fish and Wildlife Service is now considering listing the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a “threatened species.”

Texas Railroad Commissioner David Porter warned in a Dec. 5, 2012, op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that such a designation “would make drilling all but impossible” in the Permian Basin. But he remains hopeful. “Since Texas was able to produce a plan for the lizard that would work for environmentalists and operators alike, there is reason to hope that a similar plan being drafted for the Lesser Prairie Chicken will work,” he wrote.

Perhaps Cruz could have used the Lesser Prairie Chicken as a punch line in a joke about federal government overreach. But we doubt the chicken makes for good boots.

Rand Paul: Monkeys on Meth

In his speech, Paul criticized President Obama for canceling White House tours in response to “sequester” budget cuts and instead offered examples of federal spending that should be cut first. (Obama since had said that he is open to resuming White House tours for student groups.)

Paul, March 14: So what I ask the president, if he wants to let the school children back in the White House, what about the $3 million that we spend studying monkeys on meth? Does it really take $3 million to discover that monkeys, like humans, act crazy on meth?

It’s an example the Kentucky Republican has used before, and it is a reliable laugh line, but he misrepresents the research.

Paul’s press office did not return our calls seeking backup for his claim, but it’s true that the National Institute on Drug Abuse has awarded more than $3.8 million in federal grants since 2000 to a research project that studies the effect of methamphetamines and other illicit drugs on rhesus monkeys. But as you might imagine, there’s a lot more to the research than trying to discover if “monkeys, like humans, act crazy on meth,” as Paul described it.

According to a description of the latest research project, “Primate Model of Drug Abuse: Intervention Strategies,” led by Marilyn E. Carroll at the University of Minnesota, “the main objective of this research is to develop nonhuman primate models (rhesus monkeys) of critical aspects of addiction that will yield useful information for the prevention and treatment of drug abuse.”

Specifically, the most recent experiments seek “to evaluate vulnerability factors in drug abuse, such as sex and phase of the menstrual cycle (hormonal status), that are related to the development and persistence of drug abuse.” As part of the research, rhesus monkeys — used because results are very close to those found in humans — are administered oral drugs such as phencyclidine (PCP) and methamphetamine (meth) and smoked drugs such as cocaine, heroin and meth. Then, “behavioral and pharmacological interventions will be applied as treatment models in males and females and in females during different phases of the menstrual cycle.”

Ultimately, researchers wrote, the research is intended to “further our understanding of addiction-prone vulnerability factors and treatment for drug abuse.”

When we asked about Paul’s comments on the primate research, the National Institute on Drug Abuse released the following statement:

National Institute on Drug Abuse, March 18: Drug abuse and addiction are a major burden to society. In economic costs alone, tobacco, alcohol, and illicit drug abuse are estimated to exceed $600 billion dollars annually in the United States related to health care, crime, and losses in productivity—not to mention immeasurable social costs such as those related to child neglect and family dissolution. Behavior therapy is the cornerstone of drug addiction treatments, particularly for those cases where FDA-approved medications do not exist (e.g., cocaine). Unfortunately, such treatments have been only partially successful, calling for additional research to develop more effective treatments.

The researchers in this study are using a primate model to study aspects of addiction that can yield useful information for preventing and treating drug abuse by recognizing critical gender differences in the response to drugs and to treatment, and in the propensity for relapse. Such differences may pertain to hormonal factors that modify the effects of drugs. For example, drug cravings and withdrawal symptoms have been shown to intensify at specific points in the menstrual cycle. This type of research is needed to identify such critical aspects of drug abuse and addiction that could affect the efficacy of drug addiction treatments and thus improve outcomes for both men and women.

One can argue whether it is worthwhile for the federal government to be studying the effects of addictive drugs on monkeys as a way to combat drug addiction for humans. But Paul misrepresents the study by describing it as simply trying to “discover that monkeys, like humans, act crazy on meth.”

— Eugene Kiely and Robert Farley