October 24, 2008

Sarah Palin: Autism expert

This afternoon, AK Gov. Sarah Palin delivered what was billed by her handlers as a "major policy speech" directed at children with special needs.

Less than two weeks ago Sarah Palin's running mate and mentor, Senator John McCain, had referred to "children who have autism. Sarah Palin knows about that better than most."

In her speech, Palin took pains to mock a federal research grant devoted to studying fruit flies, a.k.a. Drosophila melanogaster.

Just about everybody knows that scientists use fruit flies in genetics work because of their short life spans. Therefore, numerous generations can be observed within a relatively short period of time.

And, of course, anybody who knows about autism better than most would understand that it has genetic components. Fragile X syndrome, for example, which is an inherited genetic condition with a close connection to human mental impairment, including autism and other severe cognitive disabilities.

In fact, according to the National Fragile X Foundation, it is the leading known cause of autism. Sarah Palin actually said this today:
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.
And here is what researchers at the Emory University School of Medicine in Atlanta announced last March:
Scientists using a new drug screening method in Drosophila (fruit flies), have identified several drugs and small molecules that reverse the features of fragile X syndrome — a frequent form of mental retardation and one of the leading known causes of autism. The discovery sets the stage for developing new treatments for fragile X syndrome.
I kid you not.

eta: Not surprisingly, PZ Myers noticed too.


Jennifer Rouan said...

You're missing the key point. The fruit fly experiments only work if you believe in evolution. That's why they're silly!

illusory tenant said...

You may be on to something there.

AutismNewsBeat said...

Here's me talking about autism on Good Morning America.


{/ shameless plug }

Zach W. said...

See, the problem with Sarah Palin suddenly becoming an expert on special needs children is that just because you have a child with special needs doesn't qualify you as an expert. As the parent of an autistic child, I'm certainly passionate about the issue, but I know I'm far from an expert.

It's a shame someone didn't brief Gov. Palin a little bit more before she opened her big mouth.

illusory tenant said...

Apparently she was referring to olive flies, which are not only a different species, they belong to an entirely different family of insects.

Olive flies are native to the Mediterranean, but have recently appeared in California, hence the research being performed in Paris.

If she was aware of the Emory University findings and chose to make a deliberately ambiguous allusion to "fruit flies," anticipating the reaction of sciencey-types, then that was very clever indeed.

But I doubt it.

illusory tenant said...

Right you are. Thanks.

Anonymous said...

Further the bigger point is this negative attitude about science. Basic science carried out at universities is where we all learn about our universe and this basic knowledge leads to bigger discoveries. Unfortunately this seems to me as a continuation of the "war on science".

AutismNewsBeat said...

McCain made some idiotic comments about autism last winter, telling supporters that there is "strong evidence" for a link between vaccines and autism. In reality, the evidence exists solely on fringe websites and in the imaginations of a few deranged conspiracy theorists.


Display Name said...

Overhead projector, planetarium projector, same thing.

Other Side said...

I think her misspeak was intentional -- an allusion for the homophobic and anti-science base.

Imagine the scene inside James Dobson's head of leather-clad flies strutting about.