Saturday, October 25, 2008

I <3 Fruit Flies

Yesterday Sarah Palin visted Bass Pro Shops headquarters, nestled in the heart of Springfield, Missouri. Filled with statues of dead deer and growling grizzly bears, it is the literal meca of hunters and outdoor enthusiasts everywhere.

Considering Springfield’s position as a college town, it is reasonable to note that Palin choose not to speak at an academic arena, when there were five highschools, the state university, the private university, and several smaller religious colleges around.

Reading the transcript of the event you begin to understand why she might not go over well with a crowd that follows world events and follows the scientific literature.

As every politician is doing right now, Sarah Palin spent time talking about the budget, where we could cut spending. And she starts talking about pet projects. You know, the pet projects that have "little or nothing to do with the public good".

And you have to ask yourself, where does all that money go? It goes to projects
sometimes having little or nothing to do with the public good, things like fruit
fly research in Paris, France. And I kid you not.
Wait.... fruit fly research in France? That doesn't sound like something American tax dollars should be going to, right? Yet the scientificy-political-sort-of-blogs are getting pretty riled up.

The assumption is that the reference was aimed towards olive fruit fly research based in France. The bill came from a democratic senator out in California. California grows olives, and is being torn apart by a plague of the little critters. According to University of California’s Statewide Integrated Pest Management Program the fruit flies “poses a severe economic threat for the state’s commercial olive growers. The olive fruit fly is considered the most devastating insect pest of olives in the Mediterranean region, where it has occurred for over 2000 years.”

So… democratic representative Mike Thompson directed $742,764 to research on the prevention of infestation. Preventative research that could save an entire agricultural base, considering that 100% profit losses are visible in some table growers, while oil manufactures can suffer 80% losses.

If she was attacking the methodology of the allotment of funds, it would be reasonable. That is not what she is doing. She is attacking the science. “It goes to projects sometimes having little or nothing to do with the public good, things like fruit fly research in Paris, France.” She does not understand how scientific research can have anything to do with the public good.

The focus of the research was on the species Bactrocera [Thanks, anonymous poster, for the information on the fruit fly subspecies, and correcting my attempt to lump them all together]. There is something even scarier underlying this message, however. It is Palin’s complete intolerance for the idea that scientific research is invaluable to our future as a society.

It is especially odd that she would show such intolerance for fruit fly research, considering the importance of fruit fly research in our understanding of human genetic variables. Drosophila... one of the most useful animals for laboratory testing out there... is a subspecies of the fruit fly. Their short lifespan, mapped genomes, and propensity to breed like mad are all things scientists love.

Moments before Palin attacked the funding of fruit fly research aimed at Bactrocera, she spoke about her quest to understand the purpose behind Trig, and her sister's struggles with an autistic son.
“Every child is beautiful before God and dear to Him for their own sake and my
sister Heather who has an autistic teenage son she and I we know that we have
been so blessed with the large and strong family that helps us out, but not
everyone is lucky enough to have that strong network of support and their
experiences then point the way to a better policy in the care of children with
special needs. In a McCain-Palin administration we’ll put the educational
choices for special needs children in the right hands. The hands of parents.”
The odd thing about this overlay of comments is that highly promising leads on the genetic mutations leading to many diseases is coming from drosophila fruit flies. This research survives off government grants, is starting to lead us to a better understanding of many diseases. Diseases like.... you know it is coming... autism. I have an idea. Perhaps her problem isn’t with pork barrel spending. (I mean... Palin doesn't exactly have a history of avoiding pet-projects.)

Perhaps the problem is that Palin is so backwoods-evangelical-nutcase-crazy that she thinks we should all be on our knees instead of out spending our days in laboratories doing research. Perhaps she thinks that God will protect us, so there is no reason to attempt to prevent global warming. With the impending resurrection, do we really need to worry about a pest infestation on of California’s major agricultural crops? We need to be praying for the ill, not actively pursue scientific answers. Actually, lets throw another quote in the fray...
"When I learned that Trig would have special needs I to be honest with you I had
to prepare my heart and I had to do a lot of praying and asking for
understanding and for strength and to see purpose... "
You know what? Prayer, as a placebo, may help the parents but it isn't going to do as much good as the scientific research. Period.

We need to be pouring funding into scientific preventative research.Palin's complete disrespect for science, for our understanding of the human genome, our understanding of evolution, our understanding of genetics, is astounding. If Palin had the best interest of those children, of our entire culture, at heart, she would be pumping money into the research. She would be pumping funds into the scientific community, filling the universities with grants.

Instead she has shielded herself into a cocoon of idealogical fluff. She can't imagine that fruit fly research can have any real world impact. She stands next to McCain as he mutters about the useless "three million dollar overhead projecters". She ignores the National Academy of Science when it openly criticizes her states barbaric practices.

She is bad news for science, bad news for research, and bad news for special needs children. Just because she is able to get up there and rally a crowd doesn't mean she has the credentials to lead our country, or steer us in the right direction.

Watch the clip... Get pissed. Vote against this loon.

[Thanks, again, anonymous poster!]


Anonymous said...

Actually, the research she was talking about had absolutely nothing to do with drosophilia. The olive fruit fly is part of an entirely different family of flies: Bactrocera. Yes, Drosophilia melanogaster (the commonn fruit fly) is used in all kinds of medically-related research. Bactrocera? No. While it's conceivable that the olive fruit fly research in question might lead to some medically significant breakthrough. But that's unlikely. Of course if that's really a relevant consideration, then we ought to be pouring billions into olive fruit fly research on the off chance that they discovery something that cures cancer.

nisemono3.14 said...

Good point!

I changed it to reflect this. =)

JT Eberhard said...

This is brilliant, and it negated any of the effort I was going to put in for a similar post.

Two awesome points to you.