Tuesday, October 28, 2008

McPalin - The Antiscience Ticket

here have been a number of issues during this election cycle that have bothered me. However, I have limited my comments to those topics that I am most passionate about, religion, science, and education. I have tried to be somewhat nonpartisan, although I think most readers would know my leanings. But, much like the climate of the current campaign, here is where it's going to get ugly. I'm not going to say that Sen. McCain's pick for Vice President was my main reason for rejecting him (his statements on his potential supreme court choices were a big reason), but it certainly put the last nail in the coffin. Since then, I have tolerated Gov. Palin's folksy, aw-shucks attitude, her Joe-Six-Pack and hockey mom wisdom, and her blatant divisiveness. I have even went as far as defending her to those who believe she is an idiot. However, yesterday (Oct. 24) in a policy speech designed to support the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act (IDEA), she made statements that reveal an understanding of basic science that truly can only be described as negligently ignorant.

Oh Noes! We're paying French flies to do research?

Pardon my french (pun intended), but what. the. fuck?

As we are all know, Gov. Palin has a newborn with Down's Syndrome. Because of that simple fact, she represents herself as uniquely qualified to be a proponent of special needs children (those with Down's, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and the many forms of mental retardation). One would expect then, that she is at least minimally educated in the basics of the genetic basis of many of these diseases.

However, in this particular speech, she rails against $18 billion in federal "earmarks" and then specifically calls out "fruit fly research in France." Now, I know that as a sound bite, that's probably pretty effective. But here's a little fact for the Governor. The Genus Drosophila (fruit fly) is the source of much of the basic knowledge we have about the eukaryotic genome. Early geneticists exploited some key characteristics of Drosophila's chromosomal structure to understand things like, karyotyping, recombination and deletion, and polyploidy. Polyploidy is, at it's most basic, having multiple copies of each chromosome. Mammals are diploid. We have two copies of each chromosome. If you have more or less than 2 copies, that's generally bad. For example, if you have three copies of chromosome 21 (Trisomy 21) you have a particular form of mental retardation...oh, what's it called again?...oh yeah, Down's Syndrome. Gov. Palin can thank Drosophila for the knowledge necessary to even understand the basics of her son Trig's disorder.

So Gov. Palin believes that by taking money away from basic research, we can fund research into Down's and ASD? I would have thought that the McCain/Palin campaign would at least have a couple of advisors from the science community. I didn't agree with all of Sen. McCain's answers to the Science Debate 2008 questions, but they were more than adequate. Maybe he just temporarily hired a consultant to write his answers. I don't know, but there doesn't seem to be any scientist helping Gov. Palin with her science policy planks.

I suppose I ought to address the other part of the quote. The part about the researcher dollars going to France. Well, whatever your feelings are on the socio-economic policies of our European friends, you need to understand that research efforts are often multi-national. A single research project may include labs from multiple countries, each just as critical to the overall outcome as any US lab. So, like it or not, sometimes research dollars do go to labs outside the US. And as far as French researchers go, this microbiologist happens to think that Louis Pasteur is one of the most important scientists in history. Call me biased. There's also that little thing called the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine which was awarded, in part, this year to the French researchers Françoise Barré-Sinoussi and Luc Montagnier who discovered HIV (which by rights should be called HTLV III, but that's a topic for another rant).

So, with McCain's misrepresentation of the Adler Planetarium's planetarium projector as a "$3 million overhead projector", Palin's statement that she believes in teaching creationism along with evolution, Palin's reluctance to face the fact of humanity's role in global warming, and now this stupidity, I am officially calling McCain/Palin that anti-science ticket. If you, like me, believe that science education is critical to America's future, please consider the Obama/Biden ticket. Obama isn't perfect, but he appears at least to be reality-based.

Be Well.


Big shout out to Think Progres, Pharyngula, and many others who posted on this first.

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