Wednesday, December 24, 2008

A Work of Science Fiction

In the January 2009 special issue of Scientific American, Steve Mirsky makes fun of Republican politicians who dared to criticized some taxpayer-supported scientific research:

"On October 24 vice presidential candidate Governor Sarah Palin took on what looked through her designer eyeglasses like silly pork-barrel spending by the U.S.: “Some of these pet projects, they really don’t make a whole lot of sense, and sometimes, these dollars, they go to projects having little or nothing to do with the public good. Things like fruit-fly research in Paris, France. I kid you not.” Never mind that fruit-fly research has brought us modern genetics and molecular biology. The particular earmark in question was some $211,000 to a laboratory in Montpelier, France, with long experience studying ways to protect olive trees from fruit flies. And the little pests are threatening California’s olive crop—with a retail value estimated in 2005 at $85 million. So this money might be looked at by anybody with business savvy as an investment."
The question Mr. Mirsky fails to answer is why an industry with a retail value of $85 million deserves a $211,000 transfer payment from taxpayers. The beneficiaries of such money often dress it up as an "investment." Anyone with business savy knows that such "investments" are, in reality, examples of the truth of Bastiat's observation: "The state is that great fiction through which everyone tries to live at the expense of everyone else."

That would make Mr. Mirsky's "Humorous Case of the Olive Trees and the Fruit Flies" a work of science fiction.

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