Senator Coburn appears to be stepping into the shoes of the late Senator Edward Proxmire who famously issued his “Golden Fleece Award”: “to focus media attention on projects he felt were self-serving and wasted taxpayer dollars.”  On one occasion Senator Proxmire became incensed that taxpayer money was being spent for the apparently ridiculous purpose of studying the sex life of a fruit fly.
However as it turned out, understanding the sex life of a fruit fly had serious economic implications for fruit growers in Florida whose crops, and livelihoods, were being decimated by the pests. The study of their chemical sex attractants (pheromones) proved the be the most effective way of trapping and destroying the pest fly population. The senator was said to have earned a reputation for unfairly obstructing scientific research for political gain.
But a robot that folds towels? Really?
Robots are extremely adept at handling rigid objects in precise, repetitive applications, they are used extensively in industry for this reason. However robots are not well suited in handling “deformable” objects; non-rigid things in unstructured environments. Folding laundry is an excellent application to develop robots that can manipulate pliable three-dimensional objects then assess and formulate non-structured actions in order to complete the task. 
Ok, but shrimp walking on a treadmill? C-mon!
The shrimp treadmill, invented and built by [David] Scholnick [Pacific University], allows researchers to measure the activity of an exercising shrimp for a set period of time at known speed and oxygen levels. "These studies will give us a better idea of how marine animals can perform in their native habitat when faced with increasing pathogens and immunological challenges." I don’t know about you, but I am not enthused about eating sick shrimp – wood fired or deep fried!
However, in my opinion, Senator Coburn is certainly no Senator Proxmier. As he told the Wall Street Journal:
“As a practicing physician and a two-time cancer survivor, I understand the benefits of scientific research,” the senator said. “There is no question NSF serves an important – and legitimate – purpose in our society and has contributed to scientific discovery… Unfortunately, in some ways NSF has undermined its core mission through mismanagement and misplaced priorities.” Senator Coburn's intent seems to be emphasizing that, during times of economic deficit and budget constraints, he would like to see social sciences NOT be the primary focal point of the nations premiere science research agency. He believes that the NSF should take it’s funding more seriously by focusing on research that provides the highest benefit to the largest demographic.
Senator Coburn's point about the NSA needing to make judicious choices about how their resource dollars are allocated is both valid and reasonable criticism.
1. Wikipedia, Senator Edward Proxmire.
2. Towel folding Robot (Video and article), Wired.com, April 5, 2010,
3. Scientists put shrimp on a treadmill, MSNBC.com, Oct. 18, 2006
4. Sen. Coburn Targets Shrimp on Treadmill, Other NSF Spending, Wall Street Journal, May 27, 2011
Towel folding robot video