Sunday, October 26, 2008

Fruit Flies: Updated 3x

    Does this look like pork to you? Journal of Endocrinology 

Sarah Palin made a policy speech on Friday.  It was a doozy.  To quote:
“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.”
Evidently, Ms. Palin has no understanding whatsoever of modern science.  Anyone with a decent memory would remember learning about fruit flies in high school.  Even if they weren't much interested, they would have learned that:
Drosophila melanogaster is a popular experimental animal because it is easily cultured in mass out of the wild, has a short generation time, and mutant animals are readily obtainable.
Drosophila  is also popular because it has only 135,000 genes compared to 4 billion in humans.  These 135,000 cover most of the basic construction shared by all multi-cellular organisms.  Perhaps another example of reality showing a liberal bias.

The value of fruit flies is so pervasively obvious that it cannot be unknown to Ms. Palin or one of her advisers.  Her father is a biology teacher. Yet she made the statement.  One has to conclude a willful ignorance is at work.  A studied anti-intellectualism as corrosive as it is misguided.  This is to my mind the most appallingly ignorant thing I've ever heard from a supposedly mainstream politician.  The flies have, and will continue, to deliver far more value to society than Ms. Palin and her enthusiasts.  I kid you not.
---------------------- Update
     Pestus Alsakus?
It gets better.  Or worse, depending on your point of view.  The specific research she mentioned being done in Paris is not general medical or genetic work and is not done with Drosophila.  Its studying a species of fruit fly that targets olive trees and is considered a major pest. The research was funded at the urgent request of California which is worried about its growing olive industry.  Naturally enough, the key research is being done by European scientists, particularly the Spanish, but the research institute is located in Paris.  Value of US funding: $748,000. $211,000 Estimated value of California's olive crop at retail: $80 million.

So you can ignore all the criticism above about Palin's ignorance of basic science.  But  all the criticism about willful ignorance and anti-intellectualism stands.
-------------- Update 2
Christopher Hitchens (who I usually disagree with) weighs in :
This is what the Republican Party has done to us this year: It has placed within reach of the Oval Office a woman who is a religious fanatic and a proud, boastful ignoramus. Those who despise science and learning are not anti-elitist. They are morally and intellectually slothful people who are secretly envious of the educated and the cultured. And those who prate of spiritual warfare and demons are not just "people of faith" but theocratic bullies. On Nov. 4, anyone who cares for the Constitution has a clear duty to repudiate this wickedness and stupidity.