In the recent kerfuffle over Sarah Palin’s disparaging remarks about “fruit fly” research, an important point was missed by the general public, scientists, and even Drosophila geneticists: she wasn’t talking about Drosophila. Now, this point has been clarified by a few people (notably Mike the Mad Biologist), and I think people are starting to get it. But it was remarkable how people automatically assumed she was talking about Drosophila.
Okay, maybe it wasn’t so remarkable, given that even Drosophila researchers refer to these little insects as “fruit flies”. The problem with that nomenclature is that Drosophila are not fruit flies. The olive fruit flies to which Palin was referring are true fruit flies (Tephritids), and these guys are major agricultural pests. She was actually criticizing applied research (as opposed to basic), which makes her comments even more absurd.
But everyone out there assumes that she’s ragging on Drosophila research (which, for the most part, tends to be quite basic in nature — note that basic does not imply worthless), even Drosophila geneticists. I’ve been notified of “Sarah Palin’s attack on Drosophila” by multiple Drosophilists, only to point out to them that she wasn’t going after us. Funny thing is, there is at least one Drosophila geneticist who also works on Bactrocera (the genus to which Palin’s olive fly belongs): Michael Eisen. He’s also fed about by the Drosophila/fruit-fly mix-up. And you should be too. The least we can hope for is that people who actually study Drosophila will know that they’re not fruit flies.