Now that I’ve had a chance to look at the blog reactions to the Palin fruit fly idiocy, I’m amazed at how rapidly everyone assumed she was talking about Drosophila. This is because most of the world – including virtually all Drosophila researchers – mistakenly believe that “fruit fly” is the proper common name for members of the genus Drosophila. However the proper common name for Drosophila is vinegar fly or pomace fly. Fruit fly properly refers to members of the family Tephritidae. Now, oddly (and I’m sure accidentally), Palin got it right – the project she was criticizing involved the olive fruit fly (Bactrocera oleae) – a tehpritid.
What I find particularly amusing about this is that I’ve had several conversations in the past few years – usually late nights at the bar at the annual Drosophila meeting – about how we should really get Drosophila researchers to use the correct name. But these conversations always end because we quickly realize that the whole issue is absurd. I mean when would it ever actually matter what common name we use for Drosophila. I mean it’s not like it’s ever going to be at the center of a presidential campaign or anything….
[UPDATE: There’s a great historical discussion of the common name of Drosophila in this essay from Mel Green]
[UPDATE 2: It seems that some people seem to think that I was saying that the fact that Palin was talking about Bactrocera instead of Drosophila makes her comments acceptable. I meant nothing of the sort. Whether she was talking about basic research in Drosophila or applied research in Bactrocera, her mockery of science is dangerous, vile and unacceptable. What I find most repugnant is the utter ignorance McCain and Palin manifest – and the pride they seem to take in it].