Saturday, October 25, 2008

McCain Palin going after fruit flies

As if scientists did not have enough reasons to vote against McCain-Palin who seem to have decided that Bush was overly supportive of science. Now Palin is attacking of all things "fruit-fly research." Lovely. Proof that they are both clueless (not knowing what a fruit fly is probably) and anti-science at the same time. For more on this see:


  1. While her comments do not really surprise me, the fact that so many still seem to be enthralled by her does.

  2. yeah, wouldn't want to fund fruit fly research that couldn't be relevant to someone with say Down's Syndrome...

  3. How ignorant she is. Palin should know that there is a group studying Down syndrome using fruit fly. Fruit fly can help to find therapy to treat her son!!!!

  4. Given the chances that Senator McCain might die in the next 4 years based on insurance actuarial tables, how scary is this?

  5. This is a great example of how the use of common names instead of scientific names can muck up communication.

    Looking at the details of the earmark in question, Palin's "fruit fly" is not the genetics workhorse Drosophila but the Olive Fruit Fly, a tephritid. Or as we entomologists like to call them, a true fruit fly.

    Drosophila is not a fruit fly at all but a vinegar fly. The geneticists buggered up the common name a long time ago, leading to all sorts of confusion including the one here.

  6. Alex, sure common names can muck up communication. But nevertheless, Palin and her speech writers probably did not know the difference anyway (I think you or someone else may have written about this).

  7. John:

    That's certainly true, but it's also true that 99% of the progressive blogosphere who went for the jugular on this also don't know the difference between a tephritid and a drosophilid, and in my eye they've come off looking like morons where they should have the upper ground. It doesn't help us make our case when we can be perceived as being loose with the details.

    There is a real policy issue here- one that you won't get from either Palin's sneering demagoguery or from the blogosphere. That is the use of non-peer reviewed congressional earmarks to support scientific research that is ordinarily funded through agencies like USDA, NSF, etc.

    I worry that channeling science funding through these non-reviewed channels might have long term political consequences that won't be favorable for science as a whole.

  8. Alex

    No argument from me. Earmarks suck for many reasons. I am against them for science just like I am against them for other things. But again, that was not really Palin's point I think. She seemed in the end to be kind of doing a Proxmire like critique of funding something that sounds silly and not specifically a critique of earmarks.

  9. I dunno. Her comment came in the middle of a long critique of earmarks, so I perceived the broader subject as being a critique of earmarks.

    The real damage is not from the topic but from her tone. By sneering and laughing at "fruit flies" (the same way Bush derided "bugs and worms" when defending his defunding of the Smithsonian), she uses her bully pulpit to promote anti-intellectualism. That risks eroding public support for basic science in general.

  10. Yes, what you said is kind of what I meant by "in the end" ... I think she was doing double duty ... bashing earmarks (all the power to her) but also bashing intellectualism (not a big fan of this) ...

  11. Unfortunately, you are wrong, wrong and wrong.

    Honestly, you guys are making yourselves a laughing stock. Next thing you know you'll tell us about Bush and the plastic turkey.


  12. Not buying it D@B. Sure some of the bloggers got the details of the organism to which she was referring wrong, but this is really a red herring regarding this issue (although it is sort of funny).

    I personally like that Palin was going after earmarks, which I view as completely ludicrous in general. However, she could have picked ANYTHING to ding and she chose a relatively cheap and possibly important science project. Why? I think the answer is that she is going after the viewers/supporters who are anti-science and trying to get them riled up. In terms of science I find that every way you look at it the McCain-Palin camp is drifting towards the Bush-Cheney position of treating science poorly. That is what I was writing about. I do not think there is any evidence to suggest that they are big fans of science. Now, you may not like science (or you may, I do not know) but I think there is little doubt that McCain-Palin are playing to an anti-science crowd.

  13. I'm no Palin fan, but the "in Paris, France" comment gave me pause. After a little digging it does seem like she was going after the ear mark funding of the olive fruit fly.

    As a practicing research biologist, I believe that all non-peer reviewed funding of research projects should be eliminated. Without going through the process, who's to say whether this research is well designed or a good use of valuable research dollars?

    What's more important is what these candidates think about funding of science in general (and not just the NIH). Unfortunately, the extremist dynamics of both sides in this election have all but eliminated discussion of this and all other issues that can't be extracted down to an "us vs. them" sound bite.

  14. Anonymous --- I agree that earmarks and non peer reviewed funding for research is a bad thing. But if you look at ALL the earmarks, the hundreds of billions of dollars being dumped down the drain, the science related earmarks are trivial. And if you add in all the non reviewed "grants" awarded relating to the Iraq war the non reviewed science stuff is completely trivial. So I think the Palin advisors selected a science related earmark to discuss because they are trying to energize their largely anti-science base. And it is not just a bunch of cooky left wing science bloggers taking on Palin and McCain - it is scientists from the left and the right. And today, even Nature,which rarely expresses this type of opinion, stepped in and endorsed Obama see here so I think your "extremist" comment about eliminating discussion simply is not accurate.

  15. Jonathan

    She cited two earmarks as an example -$211,059 for Rep. Mike Thompson, D-Calif., for olive fruit fly research in Paris, France, and $1.95 million for Rep. Charles Rangel, D-N.Y., for the narcissistically named Charles B. Rangel Center for Public Service.

    And they have been in the press and cited by others.

    And the one thing that is abysmal is how your scientists have politicized science. PZMyers in an obvious expample in the blogosphere. But you just demonstrated this by your last link too. And I see it often. Something I haven't seen yet down here in Australia except for the pretend scientists who set themselves up as climate change experts (now there's an industry, thanks Al)

    This politicization is precisely what peeves people.

    Frankly it's a shame so many people got hyped up about this and missed the real focus: special needs children.


  16. D@B - I am with you on the Rangel Center and all other earmarks. They are part of the problem of the bloated federal governments largesse here. But your logic escapes me on how (1) this is an example of not politicizing something by Palin and (2) how this whole case is an example of politicizing science by scientists. I am a big fan of democrats or republicans (or for that matter, any party) who shows strong support for making decisions based upon evidence and taking science into consideration. By consensus of pretty much the entire globe, the current administration is not a big fan of evidence in any way. To say this is not to politicize science. Quite the contrary - the Bush administration has sought consistently to manipulate science for political gain, not the other way around. What dismays me about McCain -Palin is that despite McCain's past history of avoiding the politicization of science and actually listening to scientists, he has backed away from the position and is embracing those who view evidence much like the Bush administration does. And Palin is a prime example of this -- despite her rhetoric that her father was a science teacher and that she therefore loves science -- she seems inclined to want to manipulate science for political expediency. And the disdain in her voice for science research was clear in her discussion of the fruit fly project in France - this is what I objected to and again, not to her bashing earmarks.

    As for the Nature article you discount, I found it pretty interesting. A science publication that generally avoids making political statements, that had good things to say about both candidates, still made it clear that they think McCain is not inclined to listen to a diversity of scientific points of view whereas Obama is. How this is politicizing science is beyond me - it seems to be the opposite - it is saying that they are for the candidate who will listen to scientific advice, whether it supports or is against their political goals.

  17. It's really annoying when people point out that she was actually referring to olive flies and not Drosophila, the genetic workhorse.

    That's totally and utterly irrelevant. Her audience did not know this! She did not make it clear, and it's obvious that she won't know the difference anyhow.

    Her comment was a diss against "fruit flies". That's what she said. It shouldn't require digging deep into the obscure nonsense she was referring to to respond to her comment, since she intended her comment to be taken at face value. And at face value, it was a knock against fruit flies, and by implication, any research that deals with such "insignificant" creatures.

    It's outstanding to me that Republicans expect their critics to research the hell out of their comments, and then find the most charitable (though utterly implausible) interpretation, rather than respond simply to what Republicans said.

    If you think Palin only has a problem with this particular earmark on olive flies and that her comment was not meant to be more general (and anti-French too), then you live under a rock and need to take a class in communication.

    But yet, if you really believe that, and you have any common sense left, you'll agree that she should have at least said that -- i.e. refer to that particular example -- rather than make the general idiotic statement she made, in her idiotic ignorant tone.


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