Saturday, October 25, 2008

Fruit flies, the ignoramus, and the party of darkness

By Michael J.W. Stickings

Believe it or not, Sarah Palin gave a "policy" speech yesterday in support of (and in support of full government funding of) the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA).

In her speech, Palin stressed that "the most valuable thing of all is information" and that "[e]arly identification of a cognitive or other disorder, especially autism, can make a life-changing difference." However, she also criticized certain "pet projects," such as fruit-fly research, that are funded through earmarks and that, according to her, are utterly pointless:

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.

No, she kids us not. In her view, such research is a joke and, needless to say, shouldn't be funded. It's all a big waste, government largesse at its worst.

But is she right about the research? No. I'll let an expert, PZ Myers of Pharyngula, explain -- brilliantly, I might add:

I am appalled.

This idiot woman, this blind, shortsighted ignoramus, this pretentious clod, mocks basic research and the international research community. You damn well better believe that there is research going on in animal models — what does she expect, that scientists should mutagenize human mothers and chop up baby brains for this work? — and countries like France and Germany and England and Canada and China and India and others are all respected participants in these efforts.

Yes, scientists work on fruit flies. Some of the most powerful tools in genetics and molecular biology are available in fruit flies, and these are animals that are particularly amenable to experimentation. Molecular genetics has revealed that humans share key molecules, the basic developmental toolkit, with all other animals, thanks to our shared evolutionary heritage (something else the wackaloon from Wasilla denies), and that we can use these other organisms to probe the fundamental mechanisms that underlie core processes in the formation of the nervous system — precisely the phenomena Palin claims are so important.

This is where the Republican party has ended up: supporting an ignorant buffoon who believes in the End Times and speaking in tongues while deriding some of the best and most successful strategies for scientific research. In this next election, we've got to choose between the 21st century rationalism and Dark Age inanity. It ought to be an easy choice.

What can I add to that? Myers is exactly right. The Republican Party has become -- and has been for some time -- the party of darkness, an anti-Enlightenment party beholden to a base of theocratic Christian fundamentalism, a party that has positioned itself in opposition to science.

However unpopular generally, Sarah Palin has become, to many, the mascot and cheerleader of this movement, a leader of the darkest wing of her party.

In ridiculing the very scientific research that would support her "policy," she was just being a good Republican.

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