Feminist Philosophers

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Fruit flies and Sexism? October 28, 2008

Filed under: gender,politics,science,Uncategorized — annejjacobson @ 4:57 pm

Does Paris have a fruit fly problem?  Is it sexist to worry about a woman’s use of couture clothing?  How could these questions be connected?

Research on fruit flies is at the foundations of our modern understanding of genetics and congenital disorders.  But what does Sarah Palin think of research on them?  Well, have a look:

from the Huffington Post:

Fruit flies are more than just the occasional vehicles for research relevant to human disabilities. They are literally the foundation of modern genetics, the original model organism that has enabled us to discover so much of what we know about heredity, genome structure, congenital disorders, and (yes) evolution. So for Palin to state that “fruit fly research” has “little or nothing to do with the public good” is not just wrong — it’s mind-boggling.

…  anyone who has stayed awake through even a portion of a high-school-level biology class knows what fruit flies are good for. But leave that aside for a second. … Listen to the tone of her voice as she sneers the words “fruit fly research.” Check out the disdain and incredulity on her face. How would science, basic or applied, fare under President Palin?

What in the world does this have to do with sexism?  Well,  it has been said that concern over the $150,000 spent on Palin’s wardrobe is sexism at work.  But, arguably, we should be concerned over the elements going into the manufacturing of this image, which a too sizable part of our population in the States seems to think reveals a woman ready to be president of the US.  Scorn for science practices, folksy cuteness and couture clothing?

Finally, I’m not sure it’s dumb to forget about fruitflies from high school.  But I think it is appallng to assume one can assess the merits of funded scientific research without more inquiry than has been shown here.

 

8 Responses to “Fruit flies and Sexism?”

  1. jj Says:

    And I could have noted the irony of her attack on research on fruit flies while arguing for research on special needs kids. The general connections are there, and more specifically, according to HuffPo, fruitflies are especially relevant to autism.

  2. Calypso Says:

    Unfortunately she and her “running mate” appeal to a wide group of Americans with this anti-science snobbery and who is at fault for that? What accounts for the appallingly dismal science literacy of our fellow Americans? Who is doing work and where to counter it? I know some science teachers in middle and high schools and what they are up against… The same culture that leads to “No Child Left Behind” guarantees there will be poor educational resources available to the very children and schools and teachers most likely to be left behind. I think if America elects these clowns then we deserve them. :-(

  3. saint Says:

    Unfortunately, you are wrong, wrong and wrong

    D@B

  4. jj Says:

    O dear, Saint, I don’t think so. Here’s why: She thought it was enough to conjoin “fruit flies” and “Paris” to show something is wrong. That’s pretty ignorant, and even perhaps a willful refusal to educate the public.

    In addition, your source shows a woeful ignorance of the very tight restrictions on using federal funding on overseas research.

    Finally, the idea that real scientists are not behind the outrage Palin provokes – that it is just students and people like that – shows how out of touch your source is. Earmarks fund exceptionally important scientific research; many extremely well regarded scientists work closely with the representatives in DC to promote the sort of research that fuels this country’s innovation, and we are all dead worried about Palin.

  5. saint Says:

    No she giving a policy speech about special needs kids. Not about fruit flies. Not about the bee in your bonnet. Special needs kids.

    The context in which this came up was when talking funding -both finding it and reprioriritizing. She gave TWO examples, very easily identified (yes by Paris France, and the self-named centre) because they had been also raised by the local Republican candidate and the local media (duh there must be an election going on) and were in the Pig Book also widely reported elsewhere. They were in the Pig Book because they didn’t meet expected criteria. They were pure pork.

    But it didn’t matter if they weren’t immediately recognizable because her point was something broader: giving assistance to special needs kids more priority, which may also require a revamp on both how you fund things and what you fund as a priority.

    So what you would like to tell me now is what? That your system isn’t corrupt (oh no, no global financial meltdown now thanks largely to the porkers in your Congress either;) or that you’d just like to keep it corrupt.?

    You’re arguing for federal earmarks for a 30 something million dollar industry? A BOUTIQUE industry. In some corner of California? While the global olive oil industry suffers from oversupply? ( Who’s the market for this precious snake oil I wonder? )

    While Palin was talking of ways to find funding to help special needs kids without being fiscally irresponsible.

    Man both your budget processes and priorities really are stuffed.

  6. Jender Says:

    Saint, Despite your chosen name you are getting abusive. Future abusive comments will be deleted and you will be blocked. You’re very welcome to disagree with people on this blog, but keep the discourse civil.

  7. Noumena Says:

    Saint –

    First and foremost, I don’t believe the post at the top of this thread was about whether or not Palin’s criticisms of olive fruit fly research were good ones. If you go back and read, I think you’ll find that the post was about whether or not these criticisms — and the way they are treated by the media and by bloggers — are in some way related to sexism. This, of course, is separate from the question of whether or not what Palin’s critics said was accurate.

    Second, I think there are two reasonable criticisms someone might make about this research:
    (1) It’s not in the public interest. (Because it’s only to the benefit of a small industry, etc.)
    (2) It should not be funded using earmarks. (Because of (1), it shouldn’t be funded by federal money at all; or because it should be funded using regular Department of Agriculture funds, in the form of a grant award; etc.)

    It certainly appears that critics of Palin who argued against (1) by pointing to autism research done with Drosophilia were mistaken about which research she was discussing. The fact that your source seems to think this is a devastating criticism is a bit telling, though, about how reliable and fair a source she or he is. I think it’s more charitable to assume they made a reasonable but false assumption — that Palin was talking about Drosophilia, one of the most-studied organisms in the history of biology.

    Third, let’s take a closer look at Palin’s argument. She’s arguing, ultimately, for (2), on the basis of (1). But she doesn’t give a clear argument for (1). Her characterisation of the research — `fruit fly research in Paris, France’ — is, apparently, supposed to stand as both a description of the research, and the argument for claiming that it’s not in the public interest. So this means one or both of these two claims is the crucial premiss in her argument for (1):
    (a) This research is done with fruit flies.
    (b) This research is done (in part) in Paris, France.
    That is, the fact that it’s done with fruit flies, the fact that it’s done in Paris, or the combination of the two facts is supposed to be the reason why this research is not in the public interest.

    But neither (a) nor (b) nor the combination of the two strikes me as sufficient, by itself, to support (1). Nor do I see any other reasonable implicit premiss in Palin’s words that could amount to another argument for (1). In her or his three posts, your source certainly never gives an argument of any kind for (1), much less an argument for (1) based on either (a) or (b) or both.

    This doesn’t mean I disagree with Palin on either (1) or (2). Indeed, for the reasons I sketched in parentheses, I’m inclined to believe both (1) and (2). But I do disagree with her apparent belief that (a) and/or (b) provide good support for (1) and, thereby, (2).

  8. jj Says:

    Noumena, yes. The post attempted to make two claims:
    1. Her argument as given was pretty awful.
    2. It is not sexist to criticize spending lots of money to construct an attractive image for someone who appears to many people as dangerous, particularly when the image and the spending are at odds.

    In that regard, it interesting that the $150,000 on her wardrobe is not that much less than the $211,000 that went to Paris for the fruit fly research.

    Finally, the research appear not to be for a boutique industry, contrary to Saint’s source:

    From the Napa Valley Register:

    “The Olive Fruit Fly has infested thousands of California olive groves and is the single largest threat to the U.S. olive and olive oil industries,” [Rep Mike Thompson, who got the USDA earmark] said. “I secured $748,000 for olive fruit fly research and irradiation in the (fiscal year 2008) appropriations bill for the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The USDA will use some of that funding for their research facility in France. This USDA research facility is located in France because Mediterranean countries like France have dealt with the Olive Fruit Fly for decades, while California has only been exposed since the late 1990s. This is not uncommon; the USDA has several international research facilities throughout the world, including Australia, China and Argentina.”


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