Wednesday, October 20, 2010

An Epidemic of Political Proportions: Smearing Science by Stomping on Ants

If you're as interested in science and medicine as I am, you've no doubt noticed the latest rash of political attack ads and, indeed, a conservative culture with a decided strain of anti-science smears.

It's not enough that science has to be constantly justified. No, friends, the ultimate litmus test for entry into the ranks of the GOP might be that a conservative politician must utterly pillory science, reason, and erudition in the process, via the political attack ads. (Welcome to the continuing idiocracy of the Unitud Stayts of Dumberica!)

Tea Party Doesn't Know at What Temp H2O Boils, Only Their Blood

As Southern Fried Science's own David "WhySharksMatter" (@WhySharksMatter on Twitter) so ably pointed out in "The Tea Party's Disturbing Views About Science" here:

"The Tea Party movement is anti-science. They believe global warming to be a hoax. They believe that evolution isn’t real. They are against stem cell research. They are against science-based regulation.

In our political system, decisions are made by those who show up. The outcome of the 2010 midterm election will affect United States science policy."

This is the Bit Where the GOP Stomps on Research

Indeed you are correct, Southern Fried Science (SFS)! Showing up at the anti-science soapbox of late is the National Federation of Independent Business, or "the voice of small business."(R) Friend to American Crosshairs--ready, aim, blow all that useless science and medicine out of the water, patriotic Amur-cans!--oh, I mean American Crossroads, a Karl Rove-inspired dinktank.

In a recent New York Times article by Ashley Parker titled "Big Spending By Republican-Friendly Groups," here, she writes:
"On Wednesday, the National Federation of Independent Business also went live with its 'Stop Wasting Our Money' issue-advocacy campaign, attacking nine Democratic incumbents in the House — Jerry McNerney of California, John Salazar of Colorado, Russ Carnahan of Missouri, John Hall and Bill Owens of New York, John Boccieri of Ohio, Christopher Carney of Pennsylvania, John M. Spratt of South Carolina and Ron Kind of Wisconsin."

Now, observe the accompanying "Stop Wasting Our Money" video. (In my case in the Midwest, we were treated to the anti-Russ Carnahan strain.)

Anything insidiously tunnel through your brain and threaten to trigger a meltdown? For me, it was overwhelmingly the slam that $1.9 million was spent to study ants in Africa. Goodness knows, that was so much worse than the "more than $3 million" spent on these 30-second spots that will run for 10 days (New York Times).

Science Slurs, Like Racism, Shall Not Pass; Defending the Ants

Let's have a moment of silence for science, shall we? Actually, let's not. Because this science slur shouldn't be allowed to pass without note (for silence could imply consent), as the scientists at the Southern Fried Science blog, as well as the Bad Astronomy blog by Phil Plait (more on that in a moment), have pointed out.

Let's instead take up the mantle of science, worn by researchers from Mendel to Mendeleev to Marie Curie to Mandelbrot, the latter lately passed. Here goes, such as it is by this medical editor, mom, and science aficionado.

According to Political Correction (an arm of the Media Matters Action Network), a similar attack ad that attempts to squash the ant research ran in September against Sen. Michael Bennet (D-CO). In it, American Crossroads GPS (the aforementioned drove of Rove lovers) takes aim at the Recovery Act's effect on Coloradans.

"The first example dealing with ants is in reality a $1.9 million grant to the California Academy of Sciences to send researchers to the Southwest Indian Ocean Islands and east Africa to chronicle some of most exotic of the 22,000 ant species worldwide. The stimulus money created 16 jobs in the process. The principal researcher on the project ["The Ant Hunter" Dr. Brian Fisher] said, 'Consider that the collective weight of all the ants in the world is equal to the weight of all the world's humans. It's a big subject with a big impact. That alone makes ants worthy of scientific study.' "

Dr. Fisher, who was a budding botanist, later switched to entomology after unforgettable experiences with insect-laden "rain" in the tropics. His research, including that into so-called Dracula ants, can be explored further here.

As a non-entomologist, I'd have to agree that this science is important, apart from the results, whether in terms of human repercussions or not. But in terms of the outcomes ... What if this information contributed knowledge to gird against (further) species loss, thus safeguarding biodiversity? What if it even had human implications, such as research into disease processes involved with cancer or Alzheimer's or AIDS or, gasp, autism spectrum disorders? What if it spoke to the mountain of evidence in support of anthropogenic climate change and offered an actionable way to help ant species and, in so doing, Homo sapiens sapiens?

Oh, that's right. Republicans don't seem to want to support science (or healthcare, but that's another matter). It doesn't make money or give jobs, so they say. As Phil Plait re-iterates in his exclusive rebuttal/interview with climate scientist Dr. Michael Mann (Mann finally being allowed to address Rep. Joe "I'm so sorry that you lost all those precious profits, friends at British Petroleum" Barton's Gollum-esque comments from the WaPo from last week), "And I’ll remind you, every single one of the Republican Senate hopefuls this election season is against taking any action about climate change."

Yes, that's the same Barton who accepted $1.7 million from the oil and gas industry, making him the highest-paid fossil fuel shill Congress has had in the last 20 years (Reuters, via Bad Astronomy blog).

Lying and Teabaggers and Fruit Flies, Oh My! Or 2010: An Anti-Science Odyssey

Lest you think this anti-science outbreak is "so 2010" in a Republican party besieged by a sea of teabaggers, perhaps you might remember the story of the Carter-era solar panels on the White House, circa 1979, or his 1977 tax credits for installing said panels on American homes, or his support thrown behind energy research--all "the real meat of Carter’s energy initiatives" (The Yale Forum on Climate Change and the Media).

Never mind Carter's sweater-clad "Sun Day." Vilified then and dismantled by Reagan, Jimmy Carter's solar panels and his policies are now lauded as forward-thinking.

How about the parable of the "lowly" fruit fly?

What? You don't remember that?

Okay. After you've looked at the videos at the SFS site, about Christine O'Donnell's denialism of evolution and global warming, recall that in October 2008 a then-unknown vice presidential hopeful from Alaska had these insults to level at science in a talk about, of all things, people with "special needs":
"You've heard about some of these pet projects they really don't make a whole lot of sense and sometimes these dollars go to projects that have little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not." (quote discussed and Palin video footage of the quote are provided at A Blog Around the Clock)

It turned out that former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin was criticizing research into Bactrocera, a crop pest par excellence seen at right, bottom--and not research workhorse Drosophila on the right, top--the latter of which has implications in human neurological health (Knight Science Journalism Tracker). The former has repercussions in agriculture. Please, how much more American, salt-of-the-earth, and middle class can you get than farmers?!

Palin's son, Trig, as everyone knows by now, is just such a special needs individual with Down syndrome. He might someday benefit from the results of just this kind of research. Pot, meet kettle.

But never mind that.

Best to throw out the baby fly with the sugar water, yes?

Fight the Treasonous Anti-Reason Epidemic Sickening the Nation

If you are the least bit reason-inclined, please remember the science--and scathing attacks on it from the right in the form of political attack ads--when you go to the polls in a few weeks.

Not only does science provide jobs, but it saves lives and has at least some of the power needed to help us understand and eventually save, I am hopeful, this pale blue dot and its plethora of species.

Please vote to end this burgeoning idiocracy (or idiotocracy, if you prefer).

1 comment:

  1. I hope that this article will mark the first in a Monday, Wednesday, Friday series--beginning next week--by me in which Mondays are "Miscellaneous Mondays"; Wednesdays are "Whatever happened to...?" (writer, product, band, entertainer, you name it) Wednesdays; and Fridays are dubbed "Sci-Fridays." Other posts will come catch-as-catch-can (whenever I'm able). More on this format later. Thanks for reading!