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What Drives Drosophila to Drink, and Science Editors to Report on It

Don’t miss our friend James Barham’s enjoyably acidic reflections on science “news” reporting, in the context of that article in Science that was making the rounds last week about how male fruit flies will consume alcohol in the wake of sexual frustration, as if to drown their sorrows.
Barham takes apart a cutesy-poo New York Times report on the subject:

Like most articles reporting on the latest scientific findings that are alleged to throw light on human nature, this one is written in that irritating combination of sophomoric facetiousness and pious credulity that is unique to science journalism.
The stupid jokiness is not just the sugar that makes the bitter pill of science go down more smoothly — it’s the whole story. Without the anthropomorphic projection, there is no story. Certainly, no story worthy of the front page.
The real story — what makes a bunch of boring experiments front-page news — is clearly the tiresome insinuation that human beings are “just like” fruit flies.
Remember that the article is entitled “Learning from the Spurned and Tipsy Fruit Fly.” The key word here is “learning.” What is it, exactly, that the experiments are supposed to teach us?
Well, it’s interesting in a way that Drosophila like alcohol, though the fact that animals in general are susceptible to alcohol and can become intoxicated, just like humans, has been known for a very long time. It’s mentioned by ancient writers.
Nowadays, you may view drunken monkeys, elephants, and other animals staggering about on YouTube to your heart’s content, if that’s your idea of yucks. So, it’s not exactly front-page news.
What does all this imply?

Barham observes, “Clearly, the culture wars are lurking in the background, here.” The equation of people with animals is the whole point. It’s the major premise of the syllogism that proves, as Jerry Coyne puts it, “Why Evolution Is True.”

David Klinghoffer

Senior Fellow and Editor, Evolution News
David Klinghoffer is a Senior Fellow at Discovery Institute and the editor of Evolution News & Science Today, the daily voice of Discovery Institute’s Center for Science & Culture, reporting on intelligent design, evolution, and the intersection of science and culture. Klinghoffer is also the author of six books, a former senior editor and literary editor at National Review magazine, and has written for the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, Wall Street Journal, Washington Post, Seattle Times, Commentary, and other publications. Born in Santa Monica, California, he graduated from Brown University in 1987 with an A.B. magna cum laude in comparative literature and religious studies. David lives near Seattle, Washington, with his wife and children.



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