Value of Basic Research (even in France)

Value of Basic Research (even in France)

In the middle of a speech on commitment to special needs children, Vice-Presidential candidate Sarah Palin chose to take a pot shot at some pork–research into fruit flies. It was a particularly good political shot, because the research is taking place in Paris, France, and obviously, “real” Americans don’t want to pay for anything that takes place there.

Like many research projects, fruit fly research simply doesn’t sound very exciting. It makes a good political joke. And it’s a joke that works because too many Americans have almost no idea of the basic science that must take place before they can drive their cars, operate their computers, or generally have jobs.

Responsible leadership would inform such people of just how essential basic research is. Leaders would examine the process and see just what benefits were intended, even if those benefits were only in developing the framework of scientific understanding in which all that technology, you know, the stuff we all have to have, is accomplished.

But instead, Palin chose to make it a good joke about wasteful spending. I’m not going to go into detail, but it turns out the fruit flies being studied are abundant in Europe and are just starting to appear in California, and successfully handling this may well involve quite a number of people’s jobs in the future.

Brighter people than I am have written up a few more details at Inside Higher Ed. List this as another strong reason why I simply can’t stomach the Republican team this year.

3 thoughts on “Value of Basic Research (even in France)

  1. I am quite excited about research on fruit flies. My house for the past year has been swarmed with them. We have looked for water, vegetation, anything that could be causing them to no avail. I would really like to know what is causing them! I don’t care who is doing the research. France is fine with me. 🙂

    Seriously!

  2. Henry, the link is to the actual video and transcript, not IHE.

    Which is useful, actually; a lot of biologists were up in arms because they thought Palin was talking about Drosophila—a model organism that we call a fruit fly but isn’t really—research, and she wasn’t. Reading the transcript, it was barely a throw-away line, and I don’t understand why the creatively outraged managed to get so creatively, um, outraged.

    Hang on, I think I just answered my own question…

    Interestingly, Nature (the leading scientific journal) has just endorsed Obama. There are links here: http://www.nature.com/news/index.html

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