Editore"s Note
Tilting at Windmills

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October 28, 2008

THE REPUBLICAN WAR ON SCIENCE CONTINUES.... As a rule, when conservative Republicans start bashing scientific research, it's a safe bet they're wrong. This is especially true of the McCain/Palin campaign.

Last week, for example, Sarah Palin delivered a speech on the ways in which the government could do more for special-needs children. She noted that Congress could invest more in tackling autism, for example, by eliminating earmarks, such as one devoted to "fruit fly research," which she said has "little or nothing to do with the public good."

Palin, not surprisingly, had it backwards. "Fruit fly research," ironically, has helped identifiy specific proteins on nerve-cell connections, and offers possible advances in, among other things, autism.

More notably, John McCain takes great pleasure in mocking an earmark Obama requested for, as McCain puts it, "an overhead projector at a planetarium in Chicago."

Lawrence Krauss explains today that McCain doesn't know what he's talking about.

The "overhead projector" in question is in fact a 40-year-old Zeiss optical projector that needs to be replaced at the Adler Planetarium in Chicago. The one-ton, 10-feet-long instrument is the central component of the Adler, the first planetarium ever built in the Western Hemisphere. It projects the night sky on the dome of the Sky Theater at the planetarium, which has hosted more than 35 million people since it opened, including more than 400,000 schoolchildren every year. In fact, the request -- made by Obama along with others in the Illinois congressional delegation, including three Republicans -- wasn't granted.

If it had been, it wouldn't have been a waste of government money. The National Academy of Sciences has targeted science education as a key goal in preserving the economic competitiveness of our nation. Similar "overhead projectors" in Los Angeles and New York have recently been replaced with the help of federal funds. McCain's gleeful attack sends this message: Encouraging science literacy is not worthy of government support. [...]

It is easy to attack what you don't understand. But politicians would be wiser to attempt to better appreciate how science affects the issues central to our political priorities before rushing to use scientific research and education as a scapegoat in their campaigns.

Ironically, when the McCain campaign started identifying exceptions to McCain's proposed "spending freeze," a senior policy adviser to the campaign told reporters that McCain's budget plan includes "a specific carve-out for spending on science," adding that we would "definitely see, under John McCain, more spending on research."

We're talking about a ticket that questions science when it comes to global warming, questions science when it comes to modern biology, and questions science when it comes to sexual health. That McCain and Palin support and oppose federal spending on science is consistent with their general incoherence on the subject.

Steve Benen 12:40 PM Permalink | Trackbacks | Comments (36)

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Comments

If Palin were truly against science she wouldnt be proposing building a 40 billion dollar pipeline.

Posted by: Jet on October 28, 2008 at 12:49 PM | PERMALINK

Misinformed voters can't make good decisions. When candidates actively mislead and misinform voters, they are subverting our democracy for the presumed benefit of their campaigns. Shouldn't the media be more actively calling them out on this? Wouldn't it be nice if it were generally considered shameful?

Posted by: karen on October 28, 2008 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

Earmarks in general have taken a beating in this cycle. It's impossible to rail against "all earmarks" without coming out against some very worthwhile (even necessary) federal expenditures. If I may present one recent example: Funds earmarked for the replacement of the I-35W bridge that collapsed on August 1, 2007. The new bridge is up, interstate traffic and commerce is flowing, thanks to....an "evil earmark".

Posted by: Gary Stoneking on October 28, 2008 at 12:50 PM | PERMALINK

No doubt the less Americans know about science, mathematics, biology and sociology, the more likely they are to vote for corporatist policies that maintain a poor working class, a rich ruling class, and zero middle class.

When people don't understand basic science or biology, it's easy to convince them that Creationism and Intelligent Design are "sciences" and so they can be used as a wedge issue.

People who don't understand basic math, economics or sociology can't possibly fathom why it's a bad idea to perpetually lower taxes on the rich and corporations or why deregulation leads to greed run amok.

Low-information "Git 'R Done!" voters are the backbone of the modern republican party. Why on earth would they want them to be "informed" by anything other than Rush Limbaugh and Fox News?

Posted by: chrenson on October 28, 2008 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Thanks Steven for bringing up this issue. As a scientist myself I have watched in horror the comments of these people, who clearly have total disregard for knowledge. Since it was her first "policy" speech one would have thought she did a thorough review of the issues involved in the topic, or at least somebody reviewing her speech would have caught the maliciously erroneous fruit fly reference. But maybe since she is such a diva, that comment was spontaneous and nobody knew she was going to say it.... but anyway, nothing coming from this campaign surprises me anymore...

Posted by: Monica on October 28, 2008 at 12:52 PM | PERMALINK

Our children don't need to be seeing anything in the sky but JESUS!

Don't you know astronomy was invented by MUSLIMS?!

Posted by: Yellow Dog on October 28, 2008 at 12:53 PM | PERMALINK

How much would you wager Palin is all for science that creates such things as smart bombs and missiles or bridges or those snowmobile things joe first dood eskimo rides who, if he were against technology, would be paddling a kayak.

Posted by: Jet on October 28, 2008 at 12:56 PM | PERMALINK

Without science, we'd still be living in caves. Virtually every material thing that we have comes from the scientific community, and yet we treat science dismissively, as the sole concern of nerds and wimps and eccentric losers in society. Real Americans don't need no science. They make their own way.

Maybe they think toasters and airplanes and automobiles come directly from God. Makes sense, I guess. If God made people, he can certainly make light bulbs.

Posted by: hark on October 28, 2008 at 1:03 PM | PERMALINK

There is an error in that last sentence: "That McCain and Palin support and oppose federal spending on science is consistent with their general incoherence on the subject."

Here, I fixed it for you: "That McCain and Palin support and oppose federal spending on science is consistent with their general incoherence on EVERYTHING."

That is a little truer to the overall situation.

Posted by: Jim H from Indiana on October 28, 2008 at 1:07 PM | PERMALINK

For far too long in this country, we have been beholden to political ideology that dictates that scientific advancements just automatically happen through the magic of the free market and religion. When you adhere to a line of thinking that relies on a lot of magical things occurring for positive outcomes, then it shouldn't be a big surprise to observers that you aren't a serious person and should be ignored in favor of those that offer concrete thoughts on how to achieve our national goals.

Posted by: OhNoNotAgain on October 28, 2008 at 1:08 PM | PERMALINK

Steve, I understand the specific French (ick!) research Palin was referring to doesn't involve neurology but rather the fruit fly's role as an agricultural pest.

Still, the thought that looking for ways to protect food crops from pest infestations has "little or nothing to do with the public good" is, to put it mildly, a little peculiar.

Posted by: noncarborundum on October 28, 2008 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Who were those guys from the last century who railed against the intelligentsia and said knowledge was the enemy of the working class? They burned books, killed free-thinking intelligent people and terrorized people who dared to learn about science.

Oh yeah! Fascists. Communists. And the Taliban.

I thought we were against those guys.

Posted by: chrenson on October 28, 2008 at 1:10 PM | PERMALINK

Misinformed voters can't make good decisions. When candidates actively mislead and misinform voters, they are subverting our democracy for the presumed benefit of their campaigns.

The only voters who are misled or misinformed are those who do not read or read only one source of information.

Shouldn't the media be more actively calling them out on this? Wouldn't it be nice if it were generally considered shameful? Posted by: Karen

I'm sure Rupert Murdoch, General Electric and the Reverend Sun Jung Moon are doing all they can to combat this. I know that Mara Lia(r)son and Juan Williams at NPR are on the job.

Posted by: Jeff II on October 28, 2008 at 1:12 PM | PERMALINK

Unless the research is faith based or to do with IED detection there is no funding.

It should also be noted that Bell Labs (Lucent Technologies) decided to pull out of basic scientific research in August of this year.

Posted by: Mike on October 28, 2008 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

Who needs science when its so easy to simply create your own reality?

Posted by: rick on October 28, 2008 at 1:14 PM | PERMALINK

@ Karen 12:50
If I ruled the world every day would be a holiday
Every day would be the first day of spring...yah right. That is not the MSM's job to call anyone out . Their job is to make money. Have you noticed the pundetry left and right proclaiming that the "race is tightening " as Obama pulls farther and farther away from McNasty. They need a horse race to keep the ratings up. It is not in their best interest to declare Obama the winner at 8:01 EST Nov 4th.

Posted by: John R on October 28, 2008 at 1:17 PM | PERMALINK

Republicans are afraid of science. Actually, they're scared out of their wits about science. It might have something to do with the rumor that there is scientific evidence to prove that all Republicans are nothing more than a figment of the imagination.

Personally, I like the idea of being able to look at my Bizarro-Land Republican neighbor, telling him that he's just the after-effect of a bit of undigested beef, or a crumb of moldy cheese, or a bit of stale bread (Gods bless Charles Dickens!), and watching him disappear in a cloud of brimstone-laced red smoke.

If it were only so easy....

Posted by: Steve W. on October 28, 2008 at 1:18 PM | PERMALINK

Egad fly...

Richard Wolfe, MSNBC political analyst:

Keith, I am going to be as restrained as I can be... but this is the most mindless, ignorant, uninformed, comment that we have seen from Governor Palin so far and there's been a lot of competition for that prize."

Video here.

Posted by: koreyel on October 28, 2008 at 1:23 PM | PERMALINK

http://peopleinthemiddleforobama.org/

Posted by: on October 28, 2008 at 1:28 PM | PERMALINK

Hitchens also had a good piece yesterday on Sarah's sophistry:

http://www.slate.com/id/2203120

Posted by: Spero Melior on October 28, 2008 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

While I agree that Chicago children would be well served by having a functioning planetarium, the money at stake, if used to reduce light pollution, might go a long way toward 1) reducing energy use 2) reducing GH gas emissions 3) save money 4) make for a cleaner, healthier city 5) allow the children to see the actual stars at night.

International Dark-Sky Association (IDA)

Posted by: jhm on October 28, 2008 at 1:29 PM | PERMALINK

I took note of McCain's stupid claim about a 3 million dollar "overhead projector" during one of the debates. At the time, I wondered why Obama didn't smack him down about it. I've been the beneficiary of a similar projector both as a young student and as a teacher. I am frankly dismayed that neither McCain nor anyone on his staff realizes how stupid this argument is.

Posted by: Winkandanod on October 28, 2008 at 1:35 PM | PERMALINK

I couldn't figure out why Obama didn't hit him on this one during the debate, when McCain said "overhead projector"

I mean, plenty of people know what a planetarium is, or at least associate them with "educational" activities.

"Senator McCain, you're talking about the oldest Planetarium in the United States, visited by millions of schoolchildren a year, which has 40-year-old equipment. If that's your best example of wasted money, I'm not sure you're going to get much agreement from the American people."

Would have been easy.

I can only assume he didn't want to get sidetracked at all on the "earmark" argument....

Posted by: Z. Mulls on October 28, 2008 at 1:36 PM | PERMALINK

Sciants is fer libruls ayan turrists. We gots Jayzus ayan sum guns.

Posted by: doubtful on October 28, 2008 at 1:40 PM | PERMALINK

fuck Hitchens. He's trying to save his reputation.

Posted by: grinning cat on October 28, 2008 at 1:43 PM | PERMALINK

Feh! Fruit flies!

And, next... let's get rid of all this zebra fish nonsense!

We need to do ALL genetic experiments on humans. Doing experiments on animals is just an evil offshoot of the idea that animals are related to us in some way. You know... that evolution claptrap.... "We came from lower species therefore what works on them often works on us."

HA! As if that would ever work.

Posted by: toowearyforoutrage on October 28, 2008 at 1:51 PM | PERMALINK

I'm sure the "science" Palin would fund is the kind of pseudo science the nut job evangelicals believe in.
She would probably spending boat loads of tax payer money using "science" to prove creationism and similar nonsense.

Posted by: on October 28, 2008 at 1:52 PM | PERMALINK

You're making a mistake a lot of people make.

You are expecting coherency from the McCain campaign.

Posted by: And a pit bull would have made a better candidate for Vice President also. That's TWO things even. on October 28, 2008 at 2:15 PM | PERMALINK

They are desparate and erratic and dangerous in their stupid comments. Let's all just write them off and tell them to go home and stay there in Alaska and Arizona - so not come out again .... ever.

Posted by: wom45 on October 28, 2008 at 2:19 PM | PERMALINK

Palin's cognitive ability is lower than a fruit fly. That makes her just right for the far right wing.

Posted by: mljohnston on October 28, 2008 at 2:23 PM | PERMALINK

Earmarks in general have taken a beating in this cycle. It's impossible to rail against "all earmarks" without coming out against some very worthwhile (even necessary) federal expenditures. If I may present one recent example: Funds earmarked for the replacement of the I-35W bridge that collapsed on August 1, 2007. The new bridge is up, interstate traffic and commerce is flowing, thanks to....an "evil earmark".

It's pretty simple, you campaign against "evil earmarks" and promise to veto any legislation that has earmarks attached.

When you come into office, you must veto legislation with "earmarks" but you may pass legislation with "special federal initiatives". Problem solved.

Posted by: Mick on October 28, 2008 at 3:02 PM | PERMALINK

Hark said:

"If God made people, he can certainly make light bulbs."

One thing's for sure--this election has shown that God has made a lot of people who also are dimbulbs.

Posted by: Bill H. on October 28, 2008 at 3:07 PM | PERMALINK

The specific fruit-fly research in question is being done in France because they have more experience with the olive fruit fly. If successful, it could save California olives a lot of problems.

Posted by: SocraticGadfly on October 28, 2008 at 3:12 PM | PERMALINK

Jet - You are confusing science with technology. This is a very common error among Republicans, take for example the missle defense shield. It is definitely technology, but is more faith based than science based.

Posted by: J. Frank Parnell on October 28, 2008 at 3:16 PM | PERMALINK

The Adler Planetarium is a right of passage among Illinois schoolchildren. Of course it needs to be updated and maintained, but I wondered how many people who've never been to Chicago's great institutions and museums would understand what it was when McCain & Palin derided it.

Posted by: Varecia on October 28, 2008 at 5:03 PM | PERMALINK

This brings back my own experience with very expensive "overhead projectors." (And I'm going to saddle you with it.) As a child growing up in Philadelphia I was a very frequent visitor to the Fels Planetarium, always rapt by Dr. I. M. Levitt's moving and dramatic presentations of the night sky. The Zeiss planetarium instrument - the Platonic "overhead projector" - was awe-inspiring no matter how many times I saw it. The giant, many-tentacled ant silhouetted against the night sky was a technological marvel, and an amazing piece of industrial design. (I recall Dr. Levitt saying it was the first Zeiss instrument in a US planetarium. Oh, and correct me if I'm wrong, but I think he also said that the term "planetarium" actually referred to the instrument, not the building.) As you can see, the experience has stuck with me for at least the age of the Adler instrument. It was education at its finest. (Augmented by occasional trips to the rooftop telescopes.) And by the way, Dr. Levitt, a Jew, did a bang-up Christmas show.

These planetarium thingys are expensive and complicated and tend to be owned by non-profits with an educational purpose and constant shortage of funding. Educate me Drs. Zeiss and Levitt did, along with many thousands of others. At that point the US was in the so-called space race. How many scientists, engineers, and astronomers were inspired by these overhead projectors? How many kids like me who just wanted to expand our literal horizons? How much return on investment did the nation realize by having these things available to a public thirsty for new ideas and a glimpse at the future?

I hope Adler has gotten a new instrument (though I understand the old Zeiss optics are still superior), and I like to picture Dr. Levitt rooting on Obama from his own front-row star, if he can be bothered to look in this direction at all.

Posted by: SteveB on October 29, 2008 at 12:28 AM | PERMALINK




 

 

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