Saturday, October 25, 2008

Sarah Palin is an ignorant fool. I kid you not.

On any given day, the odds Sarah Palin will say something outrageously stupid approach those that the sun will rise in the east.

So I have to admit that I wasn't exactly surprised to see her make the following comments about 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."

Just parenthetically, keep in mind that this was her first major policy address of the campaign, so you think that she might have thought a bit about what she was going to say. (Which is more unsettling: that she did or that she didn't?)

And spare some space in your mind for the fact that this speech was about a topic area she has proclaimed to be one that she is knowledgeable about and has a personal investment in: the treatment of 'special needs' children.

First off, I'm not sure how to understand the jibe about Paris. Is Palin simply unaware that scientific research is often done across international boundaries? Or is this just anti-European bias (not all that uncommon on the right, after all)?

Is she suggesting that the French are inept at science?

Or -- given her lack of personal experience of the wider world -- does she just happen to hold a rather stereotyped notion of what life in France is like:

All those frilly knickers, admittedly, might just get in the way in the lab.

Might she feel better about such research if we re-named fruit flies, say, 'freedom flies'?

Anyway, I'm not a scientist, nor does my work involve Drosophila. Indeed, my only experiences with the little bastards have generally been negative. Rather like Dale's.

However, reactions from people who do know a thing or two about scientific research have not been kind.

Take it away PZ:

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.

Via Think Progress, a report last year highlighted just one of the practical results of fruit fly research:

Now scientists at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill School of Medicine have shown that a protein called neurexin is required for these nerve cell connections to form and function correctly.

The discovery, made in Drosophila fruit flies may lead to advances in understanding autism spectrum disorders, as recently, human neurexins have been identified as a genetic risk factor for autism.

jforman at Daily Kos gives some examples of the usefulness of such basic research, and he then observes:

Why do we use model organisms to study human biology? Well, it's kind of hard to tinker with live humans. Ethics and what not.

And why is it even possible to study human biology using model organisms? That answer is simple - evolution. Yeast, worms, fruit flies, slime molds, corn, humans - we all have the same common ancestor. Our basic components are the same. It's shocking to think about, but it's true. Our basic components are the same as those in single-celled yeast at the molecular level. That's why studying the yeast cell cycle means studying the human cell cycle. There are differences, of course. But they're not nearly as big as you would think.

I'm not really all that shocked that Sarah Palin didn't know this. She doesn't even believe in evolution, after all. But that she has advisers and speechwriters who don't really, really scares me.

It is, of course, only really 'scary' should McCain-Palin win. Otherwise, it's merely shameful. But, then, it's mainly a problem for the good people of Alaska.

And they elected her, so, as momma used to say, that's their fucking problem.

This is hardly a one-off: McCain also expressed his disdain for science education by dismissively referring to an 'overhead projector' that Barack Obama had sought funding for: it turns out this was a major item of long-overdue machinery that is the centrepiece of science education at the oldest planetarium in the western hemisphere. (Which I feel quite strongly about, seeing as some of my fondest childhood memories involve that place. To quote Jon Stewart: Fuck all y'all.)

Given that her popularity is melting faster than the ice on Alaska's North Slope and that even the McCain campaign itself might even have grown tired of her, might we be able to hope that she will totter off back up north on her Naughty Monkeys and let the grown-ups get on with the serious business of governing?

Given that there is a section of the right-wing 'base' that continues to adore her not despite but rather seemingly because of her ludicrous viewpoints, I suspect that things will turn out rather differently.

Tina Fey has a long career before her, methinks.

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