Republicans have frequently been criticized for some of their more serious cases of denial of science, including their denial of evolution and denial of the scientific consensus on climate change. McCain is actually not as bad as many other Republicans here, but he has made some other attacks on science during this campaign. Lawrence Krauss wrote about the attacks on science by both John McCain and Sarah Palin in The Los Angeles Times.
Krauss gave two examples of erroneous comments from John McCain in the debates, explaining McCain’s errors in criticizing a DNA study on bears and his attacks in two debates on what he erroneously described as an overhead projector:
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.
While Krauss didn’t get into Palin’s views on dinosaurs, he did criticize her for her comments on research on fruit flies:
Finally, last week, Sarah Palin gave her first policy speech, urging the federal government to fully fund the Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. Along the way, she too attacked science earmarks by claiming that the shortfall needed to fully fund the act was less money than was allocated to projects that have “little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit fly research in Paris, France.”
Fruit flies can be made to seem like a silly thing to spend money on. But Palin was referring to research at a lab in France supported by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The subject is the olive fruit fly, which threatens the California olive industry. The U.S. is working with France because that nation has dealt with an olive fruit fly infestation for decades, far longer than California.
Maybe Palin also should have been told that a University of North Carolina fruit fly study last year demonstrated that a protein called neurexin is required for nerve-cell connections to form and function correctly. That discovery may lead to advances in understanding, among other things, autism, one of the childhood disorders that has been stressed by the McCain-Palin campaign.
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.