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Palin vs science

Make that: Palin vs fundamental, accepted and peer-reviewed science.

David Burns of SO-AD recently posted this article on Sarah Palin on his facebook profile, which brought it to my attention. The article outlines some of the already known problems with the Palin campaign, but neatly wraps them all up into one article. What worries me most about the GOP strategy behind Palin is that the Republican party seems to like the idea of gambling with America’s future. Should this initial ploy pay dividends and land McCain in the White House, it’s clear that the resulting policy ‘shifts’ and outcomes from the new government are not going to be looking forward to a new global future, but backwards to a closed, limited and even worryingly simplified view of the world. The article goes on to talk about different grey area issues like Palin’s prior involvement in religious or quasi-religious ceremonies and – whilst I feel that these insights to her character point more towards a candidate that is not what the country deserves – do somewhat distract the point of the article.

I would like to put more weight on the argument for genetic testing on fruit flies – as outlined in the Richard Dawkins’ book ‘Climbing Mount Improbable‘ (paperback, 1997). The book discusses the genetic testing that has been done on the same species of Drosophila, which have had a remarkable impact on the understanding of gene evolution and sharing between species. Scientists (I’ll dig up the reference in a moment) have had success in isolating the gene for creating eyes in the DNA of the fruitfly (ironically labelled ‘eyeless’, the reason being that when the gene is removed the resulting fly develops without eyes), and have also been able to manipulate the gene to the extent that flies have been grown with eyes on various parts of their bodies. The same scientists have also isolated the same gene in mice, and used that gene in the Drosophila DNA to generate eyes on the fruitfly independently of it’s own ‘eyeless’ gene. Just incidentally, the eyes generated were not mice eyes, rather fruitfly eyes generated as a result of the inclusion of the ‘make eyes’ gene.

What these examples (which are more than 10 years old) show is that development and testing of the fruitfly DNA can lead to a much richer understanding of the evolution of genes and the extent of specialization which occur in naturally selective evolution. So how would a McCain/Palin government affect science in America, let alone the rest of the world? Well, the points raised in the Slate article speak of a VP candidate that doesn’t believe in the benefits of understanding genealogy, let alone believe in a world where animals evolve. As Matt Damon famously put it, does Sarah Palin truly believe that the earth/universe is only 4000 years old?

I struggle to believe that this candidate is the right candidate for the VP role, in 2008 or any other time post 1950 – and that’s being generous.