String Notes Rotating Header Image

Can’t stand it

When I started blogging, I decided that my main goal was to talk about string, books and plants (see header), and that in order to avoid driving away people who are interested in those topics but may hold divergent views on other issues, I would not discuss religion or politics. I do talk about science once in a while, and on political issues that touch on science policy and science funding, but I’ve been pretty good about avoiding possibly-controversial subjects.

Not today.

If you are likely to be bothered by that sort of thing, please leave now, and come back later when there’s string. Not that I want to dissuade discussion, mind you, I just want you all to know what the rest of the post contains.


This first item continues an earlier discussion of science funding. The Republican candidates continue to bash research projects that they do not understand. This time, Palin complains about US government funding for fruit fly studies, in Paris: not just funding something frivolous, but funding something frivolous in a foreign country.

First off, fruit fly studies are not stupid. The little buggers have a short generation time and can be easily raised in captivity, so they are perfect for genetic research. A great deal of what we know about genetics comes from fruit fly studies. Yes, even about human genetics. It’s unfeasible to breed humans experimentally, but knowing what to look for from studying organisms that we can manipulate gives scientists a tremendous insight into how other animals, including people, work. Without funding for basic research on fruit flies, we would know much, much less about human heredity, including genetic diseases.

But even if you doubt the value of basic research, the project Palin criticized is an applied project of great economic importance. The research is on the olive fruit fly, a pest introduced to California in the 1990s. This fly threatens California’s olive industry, and olive growers are rightfully concerned about their futures if a control method is not developed. That’s what the money is for. And why Paris? Because in Europe, they’ve been dealing with the olive fruit fly for a long time. It would be considerably more expensive, and take longer (endangering the California olives further) if US scientists had to start from scratch rather than collaborating with their European counterparts. There’s an article on the topic at Salon.

Item 2: Palin spoke here at Penn State on Tuesday evening. I didn’t go, because the urge to throw things at the stage would have overwhelmed me eventually, and I’m not sure they allow blogging from jail. While organizing the event, a Palin staffer was apparently remarkably rude to Graham Spanier, the president of Penn State. One in a thousand people in the country went to Penn State; how many of them did the campaign just anger?

Item 3: I’m speechless. Actually, that’s untrue, but the only words that come to mind are inappropriate for a public forum.

Oh, and while I’m ranting: California’s Proposition 8? They want to take away people’s marriages? “Oh, we changed our mind. You aren’t really married.” WTF???

4 Comments on “Can’t stand it”

  1. #1 Elizabeth Campbell
    on Oct 31st, 2008 at 8:53 am

    Thanks for this! You speak for mayn people, I think. I get so mad that all that comes out of my mouth is something like “Brugh!” which is not an intelligent arguement. My favorite comment is McCain’s brilliant idea to appoint a science advisor. (“Ahem.. Sir, you have one already…”)
    If we want any hope of competing in a global market, we must fund our science programs. The ramifications of this ae just too huge: keeping well-paid jobs in the US, economic leadership, technological innovation… but I’m preaching to the chior.
    I have never understood this sector’s reluctance to science and technology. We’re the country that invented the light bulb, the car, the airplane, nylon, velcro and the internet. This is a bad thing? I just don’t get it.

  2. #2 Laura
    on Oct 31st, 2008 at 3:14 pm

    My very strait-laced grandmother–who would have been 95 on Saturday–once made a remark that surprised me immensely. “The government should have nothing to do with it; it’s private.” She was referring to abortion, but I think it’s also applicable to the marriage issue. I’m not sure what she would have thought of that!

  3. #3 Laurie
    on Nov 17th, 2008 at 10:15 pm

    Came for the string, stayed for the science and politics. Just constantly dumbfounded by the McCain/Palin campaign. Agree with Laura’s grandma about the remark as applied to abortion, but with legal marriage comes transfer of property (building wealth/power) along with host of other rights, and without it comes disenfranchisement due to disparities in property transfer rights (along with host of other disparities related to those other, human and legal rights).

    Phiala, nice, nice work – blog away, string, science, politics and all!

  4. #4 Phiala
    on Nov 18th, 2008 at 2:02 am

    Laurie, thank you! And thanks for leaving a comment as well.

    I’m glad that well over 50% of voters were also dumbfounded, means I can put off any thoughts of fleeing to New Zealand.

    I don’t think I’ll stray into politics very often, as there are so many people who do that and are more informed and more eloquent besides, but it will probably creep in now and then. The plan, though, is more string! There’s been an awful lot of fluff lately, and not so much of the useful string articles I intend to write.