fruit flies, & Creationist Palin’s science ignorance

An earlier post here addressed the question, “Why should anybody care what Palin thinks about creationism?” That post quotes Fordham Institute science education specialist Lawrence Lerner:

In the direct sense, vice presidents don’t have much to do with what goes on in classrooms. But a person who’s a creationist doesn’t understand science and technology at all … It doesn’t bode well for science, and doesn’t bode well for interaction between science and government.

Source: http://blog.wired.com/wiredscience/2008/08/mccains-vp-want.html

Palin’s non-understanding of science was dramatically displayed in her first policy speech of the campaighn Friday, Oct. 24. Her subject was federal policy to provide for children with special needs, for which she pledged:

In a McCain-Palin administration, we will also fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. … the federal government’s obligations under the IDEA have not been adequately met. And portions of IDEA funding have actually decreased since 2005.

Where would the money come from?:

This is a matter of how we prioritize the money that we spend. We’ve got a three trillion dollar budget, and Congress spends some 18 billion dollars a year on earmarks for political pet projects. That’s more than the shortfall to fully fund the IDEA. And where does a lot of that earmark money end up? It goes to projects having little or nothing to do with the public good — things like fruit fly research in Paris, France — I kid you not! [*] … In our administration, we’re going to reform and refocus. We’re going to get our federal priorities straight, and fulfill our country’s commitment to give every child opportunity and hope in life.

*Note: The “I kid you not!” line is in the speech as she delivered it; the rest of the quote here is in the text released in advance by the McCain campaign.

Since Palin “don’t know much biology,” she is unaware of how biological evolution has afforded species, including fruit flies, that can be used in research to model processes at work in humans. In particular, research with fruit flies has been very valuable in yielding discoveries about conditions such as autism. For more on these connections see Texas Citizens for Science president Steve Schafersman’s blog post on [Houston] chron.com.

Schafersman suggests that ignorance sometimes can be innocent; but willful ignorance may be another matter. What’s more troubling to me is the kind of ignorance that refuses even to acknowledge any possibility of ignorance.

But this is not merely personal ignorance. Her first policy speech is not something she just wrote out herself the night before. Surely this was reviewed (at least) by the people around her. And none of them had enough understanding of the nature of scientific inquiry that they would pause to look into the fruit fly research that their candidate was ridiculing. Again, the VP’s personal views are less important than the collective ignorance of the crowd that McCain-Palin would bring into their Administration.

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