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    Sarah Palin: Why Are We Wasting Money on Fruit Fly Research?
    By Michael White | October 25th 2008 09:19 AM | 13 comments | Print | E-mail | Track Comments
    About Michael

    Welcome to Adaptive Complexity, where I write about genomics, systems biology, evolution, and the connection between science and literature,

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    Sarah Palin is opposed to the basic model organism research that forms the bedrock of biomedical research.

    Over at Pharyngula, go listen to her mock the fact that we spend money on

    projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.


    Don't just read the quote - you've got to hear the mocking inflection of her voice as she says "fruit fly research".

    This is off-the-deep-end ignorance in someone who wants to be a major public official. It's one thing for average members of the public to not be sure why scientists study yeast, flies, and worms, but it's another entirely for a vice presidential candidate, who will be in a position to have a major influence on our science policy, to not just understand but mock basic research like this.

    This is worse than McCain's $3 million bear DNA study comments - that study is ultimately about bears. Our studies in flies (and yeast and worms and bacteria) are ultimately about us.

    Nobody should let that women hold a scalpel or a hatchet anywhere near our science budget.

    Comments

    adaptivecomplexity
    PZ's response to her comments: "What does she expect, that scientists should mutagenize human mothers and chop up baby brains for this work?"
    Mike
    Hank
    There's no chance at all Republicans are winning this election.   So it's fun to be outraged (has PZ ever gotten outraged at a Democrat? We'll have 8 years to find out) at her pandering to her base but, at least in the science community, there wasn't much chance of anyone voting for McCain anyway.

    That's a pretty darn good quote from him, though.
    adaptivecomplexity
    This doesn't have to be partisan - not even Bush was as bad in his public statements about science as Palin is. Palin is in a league of her own. You'd be hard pressed to find a presidential or VP nominee from either party in the last 50 years who is as off the deep end on science as Palin is.
    Mike
    adaptivecomplexity
    but, at least in the science community, there wasn't much chance of anyone voting for McCain anyway.
    That stereotype gets exaggerated - sure, academic scientists lean more left than right, but it's not that lopsided - scientists are a different breed in academia, not the same politically as their colleagues in the humanities. If you polled my department, you'd be surprised at how many people have voted for Bush twice.

    But 8 years of non-reality based government and then especially McCain's choice of Palin of pushed many of these people over towards Obama. There were many potential McCain-Lieberman voters in my dept. who will not even consider McCain Palin.
    Mike
    Hank
    That stereotype gets exaggerated - sure, academic scientists lean more left than right, but it's not that lopsided - scientists are a different breed in academia, not the same politically as their colleagues in the humanities.
    So that equivalent list of 60 Nobel prize winners banding together and supporting McCain will be making its way to newspapers real soon? :)
    rholley

    O wad some Pow'r the giftie gie us
    To see oursels as others see us
    It wad frae monie a blunder free us
    An' foolish notion
    If there were such a thing as a magic mirror in which people could see the effects of what they have just said.  Sarah Palin certainly needs one, but then neither that comedienne nor PZ are a suitable candidate for the job. 

    Talking of magic mirrors, have y'all seen this?  Harry Potter fails to cast spell over Professor Richard Dawkins  - Harry Potter has become the latest target for Professor Richard Dawkins who is planning to find out whether tales of witchdraft and wizardy have a negative effect on children.
    Robert H. Olley / Quondam Physics Department / University of Reading / England
    adaptivecomplexity
    Wow - you'd have to include The Lord of the Rings and Hans Christian Andersen in that study too. I'd rather be studying fruit flies.
    Mike
    This is perfect...if we haven't moved beyond the fruitfly and worms then we are in far worst shape than anyone can imagine. The reality of this scenario is a painful truth...the general populous has grown weary of declared claims of "enormous value" to the World that dated methods and minutia minded study fails to reveal. Bear in mind that it is the general populous that is taxed to support Government funded projects that give credence and permission to many in the Scientific community to toil in failed study after failed study. The "astonishing" revelation that someone might dare to vote for Bush two terms in a row from the Science crowd says more about the person who made the statement rather than those who voted. The magic mirror is not necessary...only a standard mirror is needed, which would be better employed should Mr. Olley need to take a look of his own...and exactly what "job" are they not qualified for with this magic mirror? The Science crowd (and you know who you are) give no thought or sense of outrage about how Palin has been so richly dissected in the public media but one mention about a "major" (kidding here) scientific study has the hair under your ponytail standing on end...which is also perfect.

    Perry V.

    adaptivecomplexity
    This is perfect...if we haven't moved beyond the fruitfly and worms then we are in far worst shape than anyone can imagine.


    Perry, that is an astonishingly misinformed statement. It's not about 'moving beyond the fruitfly and worms' - the vast majority of the genes in these organisms have functions very similar to the homolgous genes in human beings. We can do amazing experiments in these animals that are just not possible in humans - ethically or physically. We can't deliberately knock out out each human gene in turn in a set of real human beings, but we can do so in flies. We can't purposely cross two humans harboring deliberately produced mutations and see what the offspring looks like, but we can do that in worms. We can't make mutant human babies and subject them to all sorts of fairly harsh experiments, but we  can do that with flies.

    This means that we will never, at least not in the forseeable future, move beyond fruitflies and worms. These aren't organisms we work on just until we can some day work on humans - the are animals we work on in order to understand humans.
    Mike
    Well it's a good thing to know that I can "astonish" somebody. I can understand that you as a studious Scientist need "something" to poke in the eye and purposely cross but those things that come to light from the result of this unabated assualt to these helpless flys (where is PETA when you need them) yield information that is still incompatible with a being that is infinately more complex. Because you "can't" experiment with humans there is zero conclusive evidence that those things perpetrated to the fruit fly can equate to a human. It sounds like the worms are fairing even worse than the fruit flys. Come on Michael...the fruit fly has been under assualt since the 50's at least. I know the Brits are doing things over the "pond" that would never see the light of day over here in the States. Have you considered grabbing Massimo and going to have a look?

    adaptivecomplexity
    ...yield information that is still incompatible with a being that is infinately more complex
    That's demonstrably false. We're learning lots of things about human genes by studying the function of the homologous genes in flies.
    Mike
    ...well not to be too fussy but what for instance have you learned?? Say...what happened to the "notify me when someone adds to the post" box. Is it gone by design?? I wonder...

    adaptivecomplexity
    There is the comment tracker up at the top, if you have an account, but I don't know if you can still get email notifications. Maybe Hank can fill you in. About specific examples of the relevance of fruit fly research to humans: Read Endless Forms Most Beautiful if you're interested in the story of how scientists used fruit flies to figure out how the genes controlling animal embryo development work - including the genes that control human embryo development. This paper is a fairly routine example of how previous studies of gene function in fruit flies helped researchers understand the role of a gene involved in a human disease:
    Identification of a 2 Mb Human Ortholog of Drosophila eyes shut/spacemaker that Is Mutated in Patients with Retinitis Pigmentosa. ...In conclusion, we identified a gene, coined eyes shut homolog (EYS), consisting of EGFL11 and the human ortholog of Drosophila eys, which is mutated in patients with arRP. With a size of 2 Mb, it is one of the largest human genes, and it is by far the largest retinal dystrophy gene.
    The kind of functional studies of this gene in fruit flies would have not been very feasible or efficient in humans.
    Mike