Sarah Palin is Right - Science 2008

John McCain, Barack Obama and Sarah Palin made it into this year's "Celebrities and Science Review 2008 (pdf)." This is a yearly review by scientists of comments made about science by celebrities during the year. It's amusing, but frankly I think the scientists come off as pompous and elitist. Check out the pdf to see if you agree.

The politicians' statements, and the scientists response is given here as well:

Mr Obama and John McCain blundered into the MMR vaccine row during their presidential campaigns.

"We've seen just a skyrocketing autism rate," said President-elect Obama.

"Some people are suspicious that it's connected to the vaccines. This person included. The science right now is inconclusive, but we have to research it," he said.

His words were echoed by Mr McCain.

"It's indisputable that [autism] is on the rise among children, the question is what's causing it," he said.

"There's strong evidence that indicates it's got to do with a preservative in the vaccines."

Exhaustive research has failed to substantiate any link to vaccines or any preservatives. The rise in autism is thought to be due to an increased awareness of the condition.

The scientists are quite right to point out McCain's and Obama's ignorance here. In fact, they are not hard enough on them. Promoting this anti-vaccine nonsense is irresponsible and dangerous. I give McCain a slightly lower grade here than Obama. McCain seems to have bought into a autism-vaccine connection, Obama merely states he thinks we should look further into it.

Sarah Palin gets dinged thusly:
Sarah Palin, Mr McCain's running mate, waded into the mire with her dismissal of some government research projects.

"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," Ms Palin said.

But the geneticist Ellen Solomon takes Ms Palin to task for not understanding the importance of studies into fruit flies, which share roughly half their genes with humans.

"They have been used for more than a century to understand how genes work, which has implications in, for example, understanding the ageing process," she said.

How dare Ms Palin dismiss some government research projects!

First of all, let's take geneticist Ellen Solomon to task for spouting off about something she knows nothing about. The fruit fly study to which Ms Palin was referring was not a study intended to gain knowledge of human genetics. It was a study in France supported by the US Department of Agriculture on a fruit fly that threatens olive groves, including some in California. Is Ms Solomon's position that all fruit fly research is worthy because some has been fruitful in the past?

Second, and more important, Ms Palin is right generally about wasteful spending in science. The idea that all scientific research supported by the government is necessary or a good investment is laughable, yet I hear such claims all the time (example). The "Science Industry" likes to promote the idea of course, because it wants more money from the government. It uses its self-review process as 'proof' that each study is worthy, but in fact this creates an 'I'll scratch your back if you scratch mine' environment where scientists give positive reviews of each others' bogus research.

As a scientist wholly dependent on government support, I can assure you that much of what is supported by the NIH and NSF will never amount to anything and is a complete waste of time, dollars and human resources. On the scale of wasteful government spending, it may be small potatoes, but it is still wasteful.

Don't get me wrong. My research, of course, is absolutely vital.