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The first of the 2008 presidential debates between Senator John McCain and the now-president, Barack Obama, was held at the University of Mississippi on September 26, 2008. It was primarily about foreign policy and national security, which, by definition, included the global financial crisis for which the Government had just allocated $700 billion to solve. Added to that, another unnecessary expense - the war in Iraq, had eaten through $600 billion. When asked what he would do as president to lead his country out of the financial crisis, John McCain stated:

“Well, the first thing we have to do is get spending under control in Washington. It's completely out of control.”

One would imagine that he would then suggest avoiding wars and pulling the financial industry into line. But, instead, he said something with chilling implications for science:

“You know, we spent $3 million to study the DNA of bears in Montana. I don't know if that was a criminal issue or a paternal issue, but the fact is that it was $3 million of our taxpayers' money. And it has got to be brought under control.”

How do we equate hundreds of billions of dollars with a few millions of dollars? Let's think about it as a jigsaw puzzle: a scientific jigsaw puzzle where we divide $1300 billion into pieces worth $3 million would have 433,333 pieces. On the 28th of November 2008 the number of pieces increased to 700,000 when the US Government contributed another $800 billion towards solving the financial crisis. By contrast, the largest conventional jigsaw puzzle - the 4 × 2 m monster with 24,000 pieces that Eric Smith conquered in 179 days in 2008, is a fragment!

The challenge for scientists is to convince those at the top and the rest of society that genotyping the bears in Montana is money well spent.

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Boulanger, J., Kendall, K. C., Stetz, J. B., Roon, D. A., Waits, L. P. and Paetkau, D. 2008. Multiple data sources improve DNA-based mark-recapture population estimates of grizzly bears. Ecological Applications 18: 577-589.
Greenberg, D. 2004. Bush accused of financially neglecting research. The Lancet 363: 1618.
Kendall, K. C., Stetz, J. B., Boulanger, J., Macleod, A. C., Paetkau, D. and White, G. C. 2009. Demography and genetic structure of a recovering grizzly bear population. Journal of Wildlife Management 73: 3-17.
Kendall, K. C., Stetz, J. B., Roon, D. A., Waits, L. P., Boulanger, J. B. and Paetkau, D. 2008. Grizzly bear density in Glacier National Park, Montana. Journal of Wildlife Management 72: 1693-1705.
Max Planck Multimedia. 2008. Max Planck Society outstanding achievements. http://www.mpg.de/english/aboutTheSociety/missionStatement/achievements/index.html (accessed 01/02/09).
New York Times. 2008. The first presidential debate. http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/president/debates/transcripts/firstpresidential-debate.html (accessed 01/12/2008).
Schiermeier, Q. 2002. Funding freeze leaves eastern Germany out in the cold. Nature 420: 452.
Simpson, S. J., Raubenheimer, D., Charleston, M. A., Clissold, F. J. and the ARC-NZ Vegetation Function Network Herbivory Working Group. 2010. Modelling nutritional interactions: from individuals to communities. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25: 53-60.
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References

Asimov, I. 1974. The future of humanity. A lecture presented at Newark College of Engineering on November 8, 1974. http://www.asimovonline.com/oldsite/future_of_humanity.html (accessed 01/02/09).
Ballantyne, C. 2008. McCain's beef with bears?—pork. http://www.sciam.com/article.cfm?id=mccains-beef-with-bears (accessed 24/01/2009).
BBC News Magazine. 2008. How do you piece together £10,000 in cut-up notes? http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/magazine/7765701.stm (accessed 24/02/2009).
Bergstrom, D., Lucieer, A., Kiefer, K., Wasley, J., Belbin, L., Pedersen, T. and Chown, S. 2009. Indirect effects of invasive species removal devastate World Heritage Island. Journal of Applied Ecology 46: 73-81.
Boulanger, J., Kendall, K. C., Stetz, J. B., Roon, D. A., Waits, L. P. and Paetkau, D. 2008. Multiple data sources improve DNA-based mark-recapture population estimates of grizzly bears. Ecological Applications 18: 577-589.
Greenberg, D. 2004. Bush accused of financially neglecting research. The Lancet 363: 1618.
Kendall, K. C., Stetz, J. B., Boulanger, J., Macleod, A. C., Paetkau, D. and White, G. C. 2009. Demography and genetic structure of a recovering grizzly bear population. Journal of Wildlife Management 73: 3-17.
Kendall, K. C., Stetz, J. B., Roon, D. A., Waits, L. P., Boulanger, J. B. and Paetkau, D. 2008. Grizzly bear density in Glacier National Park, Montana. Journal of Wildlife Management 72: 1693-1705.
Max Planck Multimedia. 2008. Max Planck Society outstanding achievements. http://www.mpg.de/english/aboutTheSociety/missionStatement/achievements/index.html (accessed 01/02/09).
New York Times. 2008. The first presidential debate. http://elections.nytimes.com/2008/president/debates/transcripts/firstpresidential-debate.html (accessed 01/12/2008).
Schiermeier, Q. 2002. Funding freeze leaves eastern Germany out in the cold. Nature 420: 452.
Simpson, S. J., Raubenheimer, D., Charleston, M. A., Clissold, F. J. and the ARC-NZ Vegetation Function Network Herbivory Working Group. 2010. Modelling nutritional interactions: from individuals to communities. Trends in Ecology and Evolution 25: 53-60.
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