The Republican war on science continues

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.