WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Rand Paul released the latest edition of ‘The Waste Report,’ an ongoing project cataloguing egregious examples of waste within the U.S. government.

In today’s report, Dr. Paul takes a look at taxpayers funding a documentary on the International Prototype Kilogram. This $500,000 grant opportunity from the Department of Commerce will focus on efforts to replace “Big K” with a natural constant.

‘The Waste Report’ can be found HERE or below.


You may recall a Waste Report from last year called “Measuring Waste”, highlighting a $188,000 NSF grant to produce a book on the history of measurement and finally answering the age-old question of why Americans do not like the metric system.

If you have not made the trip to Barnes and Noble to pick up a copy, do not worry.  Netflix will soon be able to satisfy your metric system cravings, thanks to the Department of Commerce spending $500,000 to make a documentary on the Kilogram.[1] This is not just any kilogram, but THE granddaddy of all kilos: Big K, the International Prototype Kilogram.

You know, Big K, the metal cylinder stored in a vault in Paris that serves as “the standard for measuring mass in almost every country on Earth.”[2] That is right!!  Taxpayers are funding a movie about a metal cylinder.  Well, sort of.  The movie is actually about the quest to replace Big K with a natural constant.

What is a natural constant?  Well, take a meter, for example, which used to be defined by the distance between two marks on an iron bar kept with Big K in Paris.  In 1984, a meter was redefined “as the distance light travels, in a vacuum,” in 1/299,792,458 of a second, a natural constant.[3]  Certainly, Waste Report readers remember when that change happened, right? 

Turns out Big K is the last standard of measurement in the vault.  Cracking the nut of how to redefine mass by a standard constant has proven challenging for the international community of measurement scientists, which is why the movie will be titled The Last Artifact.  Howeverafter decades of research and debate, it appears an international committee will likely reveal a measure of mass based on something called the “watt balance” in late 2018.[4]

If this Waste Report seems to be getting heavy (pun intended), not to worry.  We are sure replacing Big K is of great value to science, but is a documentary about it of great value to taxpayers?  Probably not.  According to the grant opportunity, “The overriding objective of the documentary is to convey the subject in a compelling and original way to an audience of science-interested viewers.”[5]

But if viewers interested in this kind of science are a broad audience, ticket sales or sponsors should cover the cost of production, making government aid unneeded.  If they are a narrow market, then 69 average Americans worked all year to pay for a film about a metal cylinder that only a few people will even care to watch.

How about a Government Waste Documentary?



[2] Ibid

[3] http://www.surveyhistory.org/the_standard_meter1.htm

[4] http://www.nist.gov/public_affairs/upload/20160707-NIST-Documentary-Film-FFO.pdf

[5] Ibid

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