The Intersection

The Fruit Fly

i-5731cc0156461ca8f07fb915eb0aa6ec-fruit_fly_research_s.jpgYes, we’ve heard all about it. I’ve been receiving a good deal of email and indeed, would have blogged Drosophila melanogaster earlier, but it’s difficult to post while traveling. As Christopher Hitchens explained, curiously it’s true:

last Friday, when, at a speech in Pittsburgh, Gov. Sarah Palin denounced wasteful expenditure on fruit-fly research, adding for good xenophobic and anti-elitist measure that some of this research took place “in Paris, France” and winding up with a folksy “I kid you not.”

But rather than wax poetic on everything wrong with this, I give the floor–err, screen–to our esteemed colleague Lawrence Krauss:

Maybe Palin also should have been told that a University of North Carolina fruit fly study last year demonstrated that a protein called neurexin is required for nerve-cell connections to form and function correctly. That discovery may lead to advances in understanding, among other things, autism, one of the childhood disorders that has been stressed by the McCain-Palin campaign.

It is easy to attack what you don’t understand. But politicians would be wiser to attempt to better appreciate how science affects the issues central to our political priorities before rushing to use scientific research and education as a scapegoat in their campaigns.


  1. #1 Coturnix
    October 29, 2008

    Oh, since you’ve been traveling you missed all the fun we had with Palin, fruit flies and the UNC response.

  2. #2 Sciencefan
    October 29, 2008


  3. #3 TomJoe
    October 29, 2008

    Dear Medical Researchers:

    The scientific world does not revolve around you. Get over yourselves. The research Sarah Palin was referring to, and it’s been covered elsewhere already, but people obviously haven’t bothered to look beyond their own interests and pay attention, was for agricultural purposes. Yes Virginia, there is scientific research done in agriculture too.

    While it is a shame that scientific research has become politicized, let us accurately report and defend the issues at hand. When Sarah Palin, or any other candidate for that matter, talks about agricultural issues, let us not tie it to autism or some basic research. That’s stupid. Instead, counter her arguments with the facts of the situation.

    Pissed off at the shortsightedness of seemingly everyone,
    Thomas Joseph

  4. #4 Wes Rolley
    October 29, 2008

    We keep coming back to the disconnect between science and politics. Maybe it is between science and life as most live it. Some pseudo random inputs:

    KQED-TV, PBS station in San Francisco, had a 30 minute segment last night on the problems of science education. Entitled Science Struggles in the Schools, it highlighted the lack of funding for science education, the lack of trained teacher and gave some examples of innovative programs. It was a shame that they had to turn to NASA for the best examples.

    My local (2xweek) newspaper has an entire section in each issue about local sports but rarely has any story on the academic achievement of pupils from either of the two high schools in the community other than to castigate the school district when test scores drop.

    Our town is the future home for the American Institute of Mathematics. They are constructing a significant facility in Morgan Hill, CA complete with a championship length golf course. Local coverage has been focused on the fact that they have violated zoning and development regulations rather than what AIM actually does. The way that media defines what is news has an effect on how we perceive science.

    I still have not seen that Scientists and Engineers for America Action Fund has had much effect. Both candidates for Congress in my district have ignored their questionnaire. And McNerney has a PhD in Applied Math.

    The road is long and the distractions are many.

  5. #5 Wes Rolley
    October 29, 2008

    Had I seen Sheril’s next post, I might not have worded my last example in exactly the same way, but the point about campaign’s not taking SEAFORA seriously still holds.

  6. #6 Norman Doering
    October 29, 2008

    TomJoe wrote:

    The research Sarah Palin was referring to, and it’s been covered elsewhere already, but people obviously haven’t bothered to look beyond their own interests and pay attention, was for agricultural purposes. Yes Virginia, there is scientific research done in agriculture too.

    That is only a handy excuse, but it doesn’t fit what Palin actually said, and what got a reaction from her audience:

    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.

    The above Palin statement is using buzzwords and buzz phrases to get a reaction; “fruit fly research” and “France” are used the same way she uses “socialism.”

  7. #7 bfish
    October 30, 2008

    Just for the record, the picture accompanying this post doesn’t look like a drosophila melanogaster to me. I think it’s a zaprionus – note the cool racing stripe.
    And the olive fruit fly itself looks kind of cool.

  8. #8 TomJoe
    October 30, 2008


    Handy excuse? I’m not handing her an excuse. Not in the slightest. If you actually read my comments, you’ll see that I think her comments are boneheaded. I just also think that the initial criticisms of her comments were also boneheaded.

    I am fully aware of the research she’s talking about, it being agricultural, applied research, and me being an agricultural, applied science researcher. What I take offense to is, in their rush to get to the front of the line to be offended, the people in the medical field taking her words and using it to get their point across while shoving the actual ones who should be offended (the agricultural researchers) aside. That is what pisses me off.

  9. #9 Norman Doering
    October 30, 2008


    Ahh, I’m sorry. I did misunderstand you.

    Alas, that term “fruit fly” is confusing because the first thing that comes to my mind when I hear it is the famous Drosophila, and some evolution confirming experiments. I expect creationists to run in fear of them. The olive fruit flies (Tephritids), an agricultural pest, were just not on my radar. She was actually criticizing applied research on pests – if she knew what she was saying.

    Since your “fruit fly” research is done in France, I think you should start calling your flies “Freedom Flies” from now on to avoid confusion ;->

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