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Saturday, October 25, 2008

Republicans vs. Science

by tristero

Sarah Palin isn't the issue here. Sure, I'll concede that this illustrates Palin's breathtaking ignorance AND her stupidity. After all, she agreed to repeat it. But what it really demonstrates is how unqualified the upper echelons of the Republican party are to run this country. She certainly didn't write this speech: John McCain's advisers did and approved every appalling word.

The subject is government funding of scientific research:
Where does a lot of that earmark money end up anyway? […] You've heard about some of these pet projects they really don't make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.
If you know anything at all about science in the 21st century, then you know that the study of fruit flies (aka Drosophilia melanogaster) has led to some of the most important discoveries in biology, genetics, and related topics. Why is that?
Embryogenesis in Drosophila has been extensively studied, as its small size, short generation time, and large brood size makes it ideal for genetic studies.
The fruit fly's utility in genetic research, in and of itself, is enough to justify its study. Basic science, like the arts, is a worthy end that deserves federal support. But those "genetic studies" also have considerable ramifications:
About 75% of known human disease genes have a recognizable match in the genetic code of fruit flies (Reiter et al (2001) Genome Research: 11(6):1114-25), and 50% of fly protein sequences have mammalian analogues. An online database called Homophila [1] is available to search for human disease gene homologues in flies and vice versa. Drosophila is being used as a genetic model for several human diseases including the neurodegenerative disorders Parkinson's, Huntington's, spinocerebellar ataxia and Alzheimer's disease. The fly is also being used to study mechanisms underlying aging and oxidative stress, immunity, diabetes, and cancer, as well as drug abuse.
In other words, "fruit fly research in Paris, France" - as if the location of the research has anything to do with anything beyond access to appropriate tech and personnel - is part of a long, extensive, and successful effort to find better treatments for some of the most intractable and horrible diseases that afflict us all.

Words fail me. The people who elevated Palin to national prominence, who approved those words, belong nowhere near the power of the presidency. For a country like the United States to have this kind of garbage spewing from the mouth of a major party candidate is, quite simply, beyond shameful. It's actively destructive.

UPDATE: Here's a charming video called A Fruit Fly In New York

UPDATE: Given the subject matter of her talk, Palin and her speechwriters should have known that Fruit fly research has led to advances in understanding autism

UPDATE: Mike the Mad Biologist has tracked down a description of the research , which is applied, not basic:
“The Olive Fruit Fly has infested thousands of California olive groves and is the single largest threat to the U.S. olive and olive oil industries,” he said. “I secured $748,000 for olive fruit fly research and irradiation in the (fiscal year 2008) appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA will use some of that funding for their research facility in France. This USDA research facility is located in France because Mediterranean countries like France have dealt with the Olive Fruit Fly for decades, while California has only been exposed since the late 1990s. This is not uncommon; the USDA has several international research facilities throughout the world, including Australia, China and Argentina.”

Thompson’s office said Citizens Against Government Waste did not contact the congressman before it issued the award.

“Had the CAGW spent any time even talking to the USDA, they would have learned that our government does research in multiple USDA facilities around the world and that none of this money goes to other governments or for other government projects,” Thompson said.

Olives are the second-largest cash crop in Napa County, running a very distant second to wine grapes.

Dave Whitmer, Napa County Agricultural Commissioner said, Napa County had more than 220 acres of olive groves, and that the olives mostly go into olive oil production.

“(For) most of the coastal counties and a lot of the valley counties and the foothill counties that have olive producers, this olive fly is really turning out to be a really significant pest for olive producers to got a handle on,” he said. “Particularly for people who do fresh olives or olive oil production.”