When I started blogging, I decided that my main goal was to talk about string, books and plants (see header), and that in order to avoid driving away people who are interested in those topics but may hold divergent views on other issues, I would not discuss religion or politics. I do talk about science once in a while, and on political issues that touch on science policy and science funding, but I’ve been pretty good about avoiding possibly-controversial subjects.
If you are likely to be bothered by that sort of thing, please leave now, and come back later when there’s string. Not that I want to dissuade discussion, mind you, I just want you all to know what the rest of the post contains.
This first item continues an earlier discussion of science funding. The Republican candidates continue to bash research projects that they do not understand. This time, Palin complains about US government funding for fruit fly studies, in Paris: not just funding something frivolous, but funding something frivolous in a foreign country.
First off, fruit fly studies are not stupid. The little buggers have a short generation time and can be easily raised in captivity, so they are perfect for genetic research. A great deal of what we know about genetics comes from fruit fly studies. Yes, even about human genetics. It’s unfeasible to breed humans experimentally, but knowing what to look for from studying organisms that we can manipulate gives scientists a tremendous insight into how other animals, including people, work. Without funding for basic research on fruit flies, we would know much, much less about human heredity, including genetic diseases.
But even if you doubt the value of basic research, the project Palin criticized is an applied project of great economic importance. The research is on the olive fruit fly, a pest introduced to California in the 1990s. This fly threatens California’s olive industry, and olive growers are rightfully concerned about their futures if a control method is not developed. That’s what the money is for. And why Paris? Because in Europe, they’ve been dealing with the olive fruit fly for a long time. It would be considerably more expensive, and take longer (endangering the California olives further) if US scientists had to start from scratch rather than collaborating with their European counterparts. There’s an article on the topic at Salon.
Item 2: Palin spoke here at Penn State on Tuesday evening. I didn’t go, because the urge to throw things at the stage would have overwhelmed me eventually, and I’m not sure they allow blogging from jail. While organizing the event, a Palin staffer was apparently remarkably rude to Graham Spanier, the president of Penn State. One in a thousand people in the country went to Penn State; how many of them did the campaign just anger?
Item 3: I’m speechless. Actually, that’s untrue, but the only words that come to mind are inappropriate for a public forum.
Oh, and while I’m ranting: California’s Proposition 8? They want to take away people’s marriages? “Oh, we changed our mind. You aren’t really married.” WTF???