Tuesday, October 28, 2008

My Two Cents

With the election fast approaching, I am more and more shocked at what political campaigns will do and how much they will lie in order to try to win (ever seen Election?). The McCain campaign continues to awe me in the sheer stupidity of all the things they do. The latest thing is our dear friend Sarah Palin, the (good god, does she know ANYTHING?) VP candidate for the Republican party. She was recently talking about "earmarks" which politicians tack on to bills to get their special interests taken care of. She happened to screech over into my territory (research) and she really made a misstep. She claimed that earmarks had been going to "Fruit Fly Research in Paris, France". She then said, "I kid you not, this is where money is going and it's not benefiting all Americans".
Here you go, Sarah, straight from my heart.

As scientists, we're a plucky group. We're unable to do research on human beings (that whole unethical thing) so we tend to use "model systems". These are well studied, generally genetically similar or identical animal models which we can use to model disease states, try to figure out how stuff works, etc. One of the model systems we use is the "fruit fly", otherwise known as Drosophila, and it was originally used in breeding experiments. Work on Drosophila by Thomas Hunt Morgan led to some major advancements in modern genetics as well as its use in modern labs today. Drosophila is a little powerhouse. They are really amazing creatures and we can study everything from early development to cell movement, biochemistry, adult behavior, stem cell maintenance and self renewal, aging, life extension, diabetes, alzheimers, as well as a plethora of other things. And do you wanna know a secret. Lean in close, because it's a doozy! Lots of the things the Drosophila have, you have too! Drosophila have many, many genes that are conserved right up to human. And you know what else is amazing? These gene products behave similarly too! Can you believe it? So, essentially, we can study processes that occur in a whole organism, generate many, many, many of these organisms, and try to make predictions on how things will behave in humans. We can then translate our findings in Drosophila and try them out in, say, mice. They're vertebrates, mammalian, so a little closer to what humans might be like. Because of evolution, so many things, including which genes you have and how they function are conserved from a tiny little fruit fly to human beings! Isn't that amazing? But, of course, I can't expect the VP candidate to understand this. I can't expect her to condone things that might further support evolution, can I? The funny thing is that she was talking about trying to get money for kids with disabilities and kids with special needs. She didn't even realize that perhaps some of the "Fruit fly research" could eventually lead to some treatments for diseases that kids with special needs have! Her son has Down's syndrome, which is caused by trisomy 21, meaning individuals with this have three copies of chromosome 21 (instead of 2 - usually have two from their mother and one from their father) - a genetic disease which is being studied in these "model systems" which the government's money supports.
The government supports medical based research through the National Institutes of Health, a part of the federal gov't supported with taxpayer money. If we did not support research, how would we come up with the causes and treatments for diseases or try to understand how stem cell work for therapeutic work? How would we study the causes of breast cancer (or any cancer for that matter) which involves genome instability, errant development, and (possibly) cells adopting a "stem cell-like" fate? Sadly, all of us will, at one point, be touched very closely by disease. For me, my Uncle Dennis died at a very young age from prostate cancer. This research is necessary, it is vital to the health of our country and our world. It is not something to make fun of, just because you don't understand the value of research done on model organism. I like Obama's approach best - let the scientists figure it out and base policies on their findings. Smart man.


KathyR said...

It amazes me that people who are so vocal in calling Palin 'stupid' don't have a clue what she was talking about. Just assume she is stupid,,,that is much easier, right? The fruit fly that she was referring to is the Olive fruit fly. And the research that she was referring to had nothing whatever to do with autism,,or even people. The research was directed at finding ways to help prevent olive fruit fly infestation of olive groves.
So...if you want to be upset with her, at least know the facts, ok?
To say that she is against medical research based on her comment about using government money for research in Paris on fruit flies is just plain incorrect.
But I think that it probably won't matter that you got it completely wrong. To you, Sarah Palin is stupid,,even when she is not. Why let facts get in the way of your hatred of her?

ceedee said...

Gee, thanks for your informed opinion, KathyR. Because research on fruit flies infesting olive trees is not valuable at all! Nobody uses anything having to do with olives! Studying ecology is not at all valuable, esp since the world is going up in flames! The fact remains that scientific research is valuable, no matter what it is. Palin has made it clear (along with McCain) that they do not support scientific findings or research. They do not plan to expand the NIH budget by much and Palin only cares about research directly supporting "special needs", which in my opinion is quite narrow minded. Scientific research in a host of other fields have led to great advancements in disease study (including cancer, fragile x and many many more). I don't have to defend my position to you, but I will. The facts speak for themselves. Palin does not know enough to be VP. She does not have the experience or the political, economic, knowledge to be VP and this is why I am not voting for McCain. Just because she's spunky and you might want to have a beer with her does not mean she is qualified for the job.

Coodence said...

Crust - I thought your post was really well written, well thought out, and well explained.

KathyR said...

but that is not what your original post was about. You specifically targeted Palin because in your opinion, she is too stupid to realize that fruit fly research has given us valuable insights into medical conditions..so I was pointing out that she was not referring to that type of research. Now you have changed your focus to fruit fly research in general, without bothering to acknowledge that you got it wrong the first time. You jump to the conclusion that because she does not want to use taxpayer money to fund research in another country then she is against research, period.

ceedee said...

OK, then, let's break this down. "Specifically targeted Palin" implies that I am attacking her for no reason. Not true. I am stating that she does not support scientific research - Watch the video, she says that fruit fly research is invaluable, laughing at the end of her sentence and saying "I kid you not". I find the majority of research valuable - hello! I am a scientist. Whether she was talking about fruit fly research in a lab or fruit fly research in agriculture is of no import to me - I find them both inherently valuable. But, for the record, she also got it wrong. Research is NOT funded by earmarks, it is funded by parts of the federal government (which is, I think, the point she was trying to make). The NIH, the NSA, the FDA, the Dept of Agriculture, even the DOD and many more all give grants to study particular parts of science. Research is not funded by earmarks, as she tried to say, and therefore, my point is: Sarah Palin got it wrong, gets it wrong and has no idea what she's talking about.

Randi said...

Well lookee here! Got ourselves a blog rumble.
This post was very well written and
Palin is awful. For women. For our country. For the world. Period.

I did.