Marketing sometimes involves the science of making you believe something that is not true, with the specific goal of selling you something (a product, service, or even ideology). The organic lobby, for example, has done a great job of creating a health halo and environmentally friendly halo for organic produce, while simultaneously demonizing their competition (recently focusing on GMOs).
These claims are all demonstrably wrong, however. Organic food is no more healthful or nutritious than conventional food. Further, GMO technology is safe and there are no health concerns with the GMO products currently on the market.
There is an even more stark difference, however, between beliefs about the effects of organic farming on the environment and reality. In fact organic farming is worse for the environment than conventional farming in terms of the impact vs the amount of food produced.
First, organic farming may use pesticides. They just have to be “natural” pesticides, which means the ones they use are not chosen based upon their properties. Ideally choice of pesticide and the strategy in using them would be evidence-based and optimized for best effect, minimal impact on health and the environment, cost effectiveness, and convenience. Organic farming, however, does not make evidence-based outcome choices. Their primary criterion is that the pesticides must be “natural”, even if they are worse in every material aspect. This represents ideology trumping evidence. It is based on the “appeal to nature” fallacy, an unwarranted assumption that something “natural” will be magically better than anything manufactured.
In fact my main complaint against the organic label is that it represents an ideological false dichotomy. Each farming practice should be judged on its own merits, rather than having a bunch of practices ideologically lumped under one brand. I don’t care if a practice is considered organic or not, all that matters is the outcome.
Whole Foods is like Vegas. You go there to feel good but you leave broke, disoriented, and with the newfound knowledge that you have a vaginal disease.
Unlike Vegas, Whole Foods’ clientele are all about mindfulness and compassion… until they get to the parking lot. Then it’s war. As I pull up this morning, I see a pregnant lady on the crosswalk holding a baby and groceries. This driver swerves around her and honks. As he speeds off I catch his bumper sticker, which says ‘NAMASTE’. Poor lady didn’t even hear him approaching because he was driving a Prius. He crept up on her like a panther.
As the great, sliding glass doors part I am immediately smacked in the face by a wall of cool, moist air that smells of strawberries and orchids. I leave behind the concrete jungle and enter a cornucopia of organic bliss; the land of hemp milk and honey. Seriously, think about Heaven and then think about Whole Foods; they’re basically the same.
The first thing I see is the great wall of kombucha — 42 different kinds of rotten tea. Fun fact: the word kombucha is Japanese for ‘I gizzed in your tea.’ Anyone who’s ever swallowed the glob of mucus at the end of the bottle knows exactly what I’m talking about. I believe this thing is called “The Mother,” which makes it that much creepier.
Next I see the gluten-free section filled with crackers and bread made from various wheat-substitutes such as cardboard and sawdust. I skip this aisle because I’m not rich enough to have dietary restrictions. Ever notice that you don’t meet poor people with special diet needs? A gluten intolerant house cleaner? A cab driver with Candida? Candida is what I call a rich, white person problem. You know you’ve really made it in this world when you get Candida. My personal theory is that Candida is something you get from too much hot yoga. All I’m saying is if I were a yeast, I would want to live in your yoga pants.
Next I approach the beauty aisle. There is a scary looking machine there that you put your face inside of and it tells you exactly how ugly you are.
By Henry I. Miller and Drew L. Kershen via Forbes
Organic certification is process-based. That is, certifying agents attest to the ability of organic operations to follow a set of production standards and practices which meet the requirements of the Organic Foods Production Act of 1990 and the [National Organic Program] regulations . . . If all aspects of the organic production or handling process were followed correctly, then the presence of detectable residue from a genetically modified organism alone does not constitute a violation of this regulation. [emphasis added]
Up until the visit with Monsanto scientists, Nye disapproved of the use and creation of GMOs. According to the Washington Post, Nye stated in his 2014 book, “Undeniable: Evolution and the Science of Creation” that the foods containing GMO crops are fundamentally problematic. The Post explained that Nye also said that GMOs could possibly have “environmental risks” that cannot be ruled out with any kind of certainty (1).
Yet, somehow one visit to Monsanto some 10+ years after aligning himself against GMOs, and Nye appears to be singing GMO praises. So what exactly happened during that visit? Was it the science as pro-GMO advocates claim that changed Nye’s opinion?
Bill Maher’s Interview with Nye
Backstage after his appearance on Bill Maher’s “Real Time,” Nye revealed that he’s revising the entire chapter on GMOs in his 2014 book.
I went to Monsanto,” Nye said during the backstage interview, “and I spent a lot of time with the scientists there, and I have revised my outlook, and I’m very excited about telling the world. When you’re in love, you want to tell the world.”
It’s not surprising that anti-GMO supporters are astounded by Nye’s change in his stance on GMOs. It begs the questions: Why did Nye decide to visit Monsanto after all these years? What was he shown or told that changed his long-held opinion?
To add more fuel to the conspiracy theories, Nye is being tight-lipped, citing his revised chapter will reveal all. However, Monsanto’s tweets reveal their immense pleasure in winning Nye over to their side.
By Yvette d’Entremont via gawker
Vani Hari, AKA the Food Babe, has amassed a loyal following in her Food Babe Army. The recent subject of profiles and interviews in the New York Times, the New York Post and New York Magazine, Hari implores her soldiers to petition food companies to change their formulas. She’s also written a bestselling book telling you that you can change your life in 21 days by “breaking free of the hidden toxins in your life.” She and her army are out to change the world.
She’s also utterly full of shit.
I am an analytical chemist with a background in forensics and toxicology. Before working full-time as a science writer and public speaker, I worked as a chemistry professor, a toxicology chemist, and in research analyzing pesticides for safety. I now run my own blog, Science Babe, dedicated to debunking pseudoscience that tends to proliferate in the blogosphere. Reading Hari’s site, it’s rare to come across a single scientific fact. Between her egregious abuse of the word “toxin” anytime there’s a chemical she can’t pronounce and asserting that everyone who disagrees with her is a paid shill, it’s hard to pinpoint her biggest sin.
Hari’s superhero origin story is that she came down with appendicitis and didn’t accept the explanation that appendicitis just happens sometimes. So she quit her job as a consultant, attended Google University and transformed herself into an uncredentialed expert in everything she admittedly can’t pronounce. Slap the catchy moniker “Food Babe” on top, throw in a couple of trend stories and some appearances on the Dr. Oz show, and we have the new organic media darling.
But reader beware. Here are some reasons why she’s the worst assault on science on the internet.
Natural, Organic, GMO-Free Fear
Hari’s campaign last year against the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte drove me to launch my site (don’t fuck with a Bostonian’s Pumpkin-Spice Anything). She alleged that the PSL has a “toxic” dose of sugar and two (TWO!!) doses of caramel color level IV in carcinogen class 2b.
The word “toxic” has a meaning, and that is “having the effect of a poison.” Anything can be poisonous depending on the dose. Enough water can even be poisonous in the right quantity (and can cause a condition called hyponatremia).
But then, the Food Babe has gone on record to say, ” There is just no acceptable level of any chemical to ingest, ever.” I wonder if anybody’s warned her about good old dihydrogen monoxide?
It’s a goddamn stretch to say that sugar has deleterious effects, other than making your Lululemons stretch a little farther if you don’t “namaste” your cheeks off. However, I implore you to look at the Safety Data Sheet for sugar. The average adult would need to ingest about fifty PSLs in one sitting to get a lethal dose of sugar. By that point, you would already have hyponatremia from an overdose of water in the lattes.
And almost enough caffeine for me.
Glyphosate (Monsanto’s Roundup) is a broad-spectrum systemic herbicide used to kill weeds, especially annual broadleaf weeds and grasses that are known to compete with commercial crops grown around the world. It has several advantages over many herbicides in that it breaks down in the soil into non-toxic organic molecules, reducing or eliminating contamination of groundwater and lower soils.
Monsanto has developed genetically modified (GMO) grains that are resistant to glyphosate, so that agriculture can apply the herbicide to kill the competitive weeds while not harming the crop. This allows farmers to suppress the weeds while allowing better production out of the grain crop.
Whatever the benefits of glyphosate, GMOs and the herbicide are tied together in many minds. And there has been an ongoing effort by many people to claim that glyphosate causes cancer. But let’s look at the science, because maybe we’ll get some information.
What’s this about cancer?
The famous (or is that infamous?) study from Séralini, which claimed that glyphosate and GMO corn caused cancer in rats, is quite popular with the anti-GMO forces. For many reasons, including bad statistics, improper experimental design, and bad conclusions, the article was retracted by the journal.
Because that article was retracted, it doesn’t actually count because it really doesn’t exist (but to be fair, it was eventually, re-published in a very low ranked journal). This story is frighteningly similar to the story of that cunning fraud, Mr. Andy Wakefield, who wrote a fraudulent, and ultimately retracted, article about vaccines and autism. I guess Séralini is the Wakefield of the GMO world.
There are better studies out there–maybe.
See if you know how many of these GMO “facts” are right.
by Brian Dunning via skeptoid
No matter how many articles are published detailing how and why genetically engineered crops are safe, misinformation always seems to reign. Anti-biotech activists persist in charging GMO crops (Genetically Modified Organisms) with just about every crime against humanity, ethics, and science. Although Monsanto is the company drawing nearly 100% of the flak from anti-biotech activists and is probably the only genetic engineering company known to most people, it’s actually only one of the six biggest companies that develop GMO crops. The others are DuPont-Pioneer, Syngenta, Dow Agrosciences, BASF, and Bayer Cropscience. Beyond the big six, about 20 other smaller companies located all around the world are also in the business. But don’t expect to go down to the local nursery and find seeds branded with these names: like most manufacturers, they all sell under a variety of more customer-friendly brands. Monsanto, the market leader among the big six, sells 15 different brands, each tailored to specific products or regions. What happens to all these brands of seeds that get bought, sown, and reaped? See if you can guess all of these “fact or fiction” choices right, starting with:
Supermarkets are full of GMO foods.
True, but mostly as ingredients in prepared food. About 85% of three major food crops grown in the US — corn, soy, and cotton — are GMO. Most of the produce you buy (corn and soybeans being the only real notable exceptions) are currently not GMO. Another exception is the papaya. Most of the papayas available in the United States come from Hawaii, where the ringspot virus decimated the species in the mid 1990s. But in 1998, a crop scientist found a way to insert a single ringspot gene into the papaya, thus conferring natural immunization; and now the Hawaiian papaya flourish.
But beyond those three examples from the produce aisle, it’s pretty hard to find a prepared food product that contains no corn, soy, or cottonseed products, so the answer is yes. If you live in the Americas, you’ve been eating a lot of GMO food from the supermarket for the past several decades.
GMO leads to monoculture.
False. Supply and demand is what leads to monoculture, and that’s got nothing to do with GMOs. Monoculture is when you plant the same crop over and over again in the same field, without rotating. Rotating crops naturally prevents the most common pathogen and pest antagonists to gain a foothold on any particular crop, and keeps the soil as healthy as practical. Farmers have understood the benefits of crop rotation since at least 6000 BCE. If there was an equal demand for corn, soy, and cotton, farmers would be able to rotate perfectly and everything would be hunky dory.
Sadly that’s not the case. In 2011, the United States had 84 million acres of corn; 74 million acres of soybeans, 56 million acres of hay, 46 million acres of wheat, but only 10 million acres of cotton. So many products, both food and industrial, come from these, but the acreage needed from each is so disparate that crop rotation is often problematic. Further complicating it is that each crop grows best in a specific climate zone and soil. It’s really, really hard to find two or more crops that are both in equal demand and that will grow well on any given farm’s ecology.
Three of these top five crops are mostly genetically engineered varieties. But as we can see, this has nothing to do with the problems of monoculture or the farmer’s ability to rotate.
GMO crops contain genes from jellyfish and other animals.
False. There have never been any GMO crops brought to market that contained any animal genes. But it’s not necessarily for lack of trying. In many parts of the world, crops can freeze and get destroyed. So one thing researchers have tried is to give them some genes that confer antifreeze abilities in the winter flounder, a fish that can survive sub-freezing temperature. These genes express a protein (found in many plants, animals, fungi, and bacteria) that binds to small ice crystals, preventing them from becoming larger ice crystals that can damage cells. Although it would be great if we could give fruit and vegetable orchards this same ability, so far it hasn’t worked. This is why genetic engineers are always going to be busy: for every one project that succeeds, a hundred fail.
There is an ideological subculture that is motivated to blame all the perceived ills of the world on environmental factors and corporate/government malfeasance. Often this serves a deeper ideological drive, which can be anti-vaccine, extreme environmentalism, or anti-GMO. The latest environmental bogeyman making the rounds is glyphosate, which is being blamed for (you guessed it) autism.
Glyphosate is the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup. It has been widely used for about 40 years, and with the introduction of GM crops that are Roundup resistant, its use has increased significantly in the last 20 years. It has therefore become a popular target for anti-GMO fearmongering.
Glyphosate is one of the least toxic herbicides used. It inhibits the enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimic acid-3-phosphate synthase which interferes with the shikimic pathway in plants, resulting in the accumulation of shikimic acid in plant tissues and ultimately plant death. The enzyme and pathway do not exist in animals, which is why toxicity is so low. Still, chemicals can have multiple effects and so toxicity needs to be directly measured and its epidemiology studied.
Experimental evidence has shown that neither glyphosate nor AMPA bioaccumulates in any animal tissue. No significant toxicity occurred in acute, subchronic, and chronic studies.
Therefore, it is concluded that the use of Roundup herbicide does not result in adverse effects on development, reproduction, or endocrine systems in humans and other mammals. For purposes of risk assessment, no-observed-adverse-effect levels (NOAELs) were identified for all subchronic, chronic, developmental, and reproduction studies with glyphosate, AMPA, and POEA.
As pesticides go, glyphosate has very low toxicity, and any dose a person is likely to get exposed to is well below the safety limits.
“It is no surprise that about half of the students who attended the speech walked out . . .”
The world may be coming closer to an end when The University of Florida paid Vani Hari, aka Food Babe, to speak on its campus as part of the “The Good Food Revolution” last Monday, October 21. Why would a prestigious university — home of the Gators — hire a self-proclaimed food “expert” to give students “a clear plan of action for making positive food choices” instead of more qualified professionals, such as one of their food science professors? The $16,000 fee that Food Babe received to speak is quite a hefty amount to spread false information. This prompted Dr. Kevin Folta, Professor and Chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department, to write his thoughts about the event on his blog. After Food Babe spoke at the university, Professor Folta may have a somewhat challenging task of undoing the damage.
“The problem is that giving non-experts a forum to spread outright lies and bad information just pollutes the discussion. There are important issues in farming, diet and food science,” explained Dr. Folta in an online interview with Guardian Liberty Voice. “We need to acknowledge them, and get students excited about participating in solutions. Hari’s tactics are to use social media as a means to essentially blackmail corporations into changes she mandates, not based on science.”
Folta’s blog highlights some of the claims Hari made, such as GMO labeling in other countries, transgenic crops linking to cancer and autism, and the increase use of pesticides in crops. “She coordinates elaborate smear campaigns against companies that [she feels] use ingredients that should not be used. Teaching students that achieving your goals by harming the reputations of others is something that should not be tolerated, let alone endorsed as part of an ‘expert’ series.”
It is no surprise that about half of the students who attended the speech walked out . . .
Myles reviews part of Gary Null’s 2012 anti-GMO documentary Seeds of Death: Unveiling the Lies of GMOs
The following transcript via mylespower.co.uk
I recently sat down and watched the 2012 anti-GMO documentary “Seeds of Death: Unveiling the Lies of GMOs“. The documentary was written, produced and published by Gary Null (an alternative medicine promoter who was once almost killed from one of his own supplements) and claims to expose the dangers of genetically modified foods. It consisted of interviews from apparently “leading” scientists, physicians, professors, attorneys. Most of which, for some unknown reason, are shot in front of a green screen with rather boring backdrops added in post-production.
Like nearly all other anti-GMO documentaries, it’s full of the same scientifically inaccurate statements that we have seen a thousand times before; Roundup ready crops produce Roundup, the bT endotoxins are harmful to humans and GM-food has been shown to produce tumours in rats. All of these ideas can be disproven by a quick Google search or by reading the source material. The documentary also included some familiar faces, like Gilles-Éric Séralini, the lead author of the highly discredited “long term toxicity of Roundup” paper and Mike Adams, a man who believes that the nerve agent sarin is used in water fluorination. However, unlike other anti-GMO documentaries I’ve watched in the past, this one turns up the anti-SCIENCE to eleven.
By far one of the more hilarious, stupid and demonstrably incorrect comments in the documentary came from a Dr Rima Laibow, MD. According to her website she is a graduate from Albert Einstein College of Medicine and for the past 35 years has been promoting drug-free, natural medicine. However, after reading some of the outrageous and potentially dangerous claims on her website (like “nano-sliver will stop HIV), I question if she even has a basic medicine or science qualification. It also seems that she is aware of her own bullshit, as her website comes with a disclaimer saying that none of the advice given is intended to “diagnose, prescribe for, treat or claim to cure, mitigate or prevent disease conditions”.
Also See Snopes.
by David Lambert via Scholars and Rogues
Contrails are the wispy white clouds of frozen water vapor that streak across the sky in the wake of jet engines. But according to 17 percent of 18 to 29-year-olds—my generation—contrails are actually “chemtrails,” poisonous chemicals sprayed by the government for sinister reasons. As the world becomes an increasingly scary and complex place with no simple answers, the temptation to create narratives explaining all of its evil will grow. And here lies the heart of the modern conspiracy theory. Yet when fantasy overtakes reality, progress suffers.
Whenever anything bad happens in the world today, from September 11th to the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami, there is a growing gaggle quick to cry, “wake up sheeple!” Tragedies like the Boston Marathon bombing and September 11th are of course “false flag” operations by a sinister cabal—the CIA, New World Order, Neocons, Illuminati, Jews, and Rothchilds are the usual suspects—but so are natural disasters. Twisters in the Midwest: Weather weapons being tested by the Pentagon. The Indian Ocean Tsunami: Caused by a nuclear weapon detonated in a deep ocean trench. Even the Earthquake in Haiti was the result of malicious meddling. As one blogger alerts us, “If you just assume it was a natural disaster, you are probably not current with what technology is capable of.” Omitted were any credentials explaining how the writer is more knowledgeable on technology than the rest of us.
But who cares? Isn’t questioning big government and corporate dominance over our lives a good thing? Sure it is. But losing the ability to distinguish between the reality and paranoia won’t do us any good.
Let’s look at three hot topics on conspiracy websites: vaccines, genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and fluoride—or as one website put it, the three biggest human rights tragedies of our time.
Far from a tragedy, vaccines have saved millions of lives. We are currently living in what UNICEF calls the Child Survival Revolution. Children no longer perish from dreadful, agonizing diseases as they have throughout most of history. Vaccinations are a major reason why. But good news is usually no news, which is why headlines such as “Plane Lands Safely” or “Swimmer Not Attacked by Shark” don’t exist, yet their opposites certainly do. As a result, society tends to underappreciate progress. Perhaps this explains why the loud voices behind the anti-vaccine movement . . .
Later this year, the U.S. Department of Agriculture may approve the Arctic Granny and Arctic Golden, the first genetically modified apples to hit the market. Although it will probably be another two years before the non-browning fruits appears in stores, at least one producer is already scrambling to label its apples GMO-free.
The looming apple campaign is just the latest salvo in the ongoing war over genetically modified organisms (GMOs)—one that’s grown increasingly contentious.
[ . . . ]
But the truth is, GMOs have been studied intensively, and they look a lot more prosaic than the hype contends.
[ . . . ]
So what, exactly, do consumers have to fear? To find out, Popular Science chose 10 of the most common claims about GMOs and interviewed nearly a dozen scientists. Their collective answer: not much at all.
Continue reading: the 10 Common GMO Claims Debunked
Yesterday I saw something on Facebook that really p*ssed me off!
Granted I see lots of things on Facebook that p*ss me off (sometimes on an hourly bases) but the things that usually get my teeth grinding are just rude, or offensive, or ignorant, or all of the above. What I saw wasn’t neither rude nor offensive, but it sure was ignorant, and it was definitely dangerous.
What ticked me off was an infograph posted on Green Med Info’s Facebook page concerning a “study” about “GMO” insulin (which all insulin is) that claimed that certain people with type 2 diabetes can develop type 1 diabetes from injecting insulin. (Link to original post here)
While people with type 2 diabetes can develop type 1 diabetes over time there are usually several factors that can cause this, such as a person’s diet, or whether they exercise, or if they take the medication that has been prescribed to them, or genetics. Insulin is not one of the causes. Infact it could prevent a person with type 2 diabetes from developing type 1 diabetes.
What gets me so angry about that post isn’t just the sheer ignorance of it, or how outright dangerous it is for the people at Green Med Info to promote something like this (because despite the fact that it promotes quackery and fraud medicine, better known as alternative medicine, people do listen to and take “advice” from that page) this type of “info” could kill a person with type 2 diabetes if they take it to seriously and decide to stop taking insulin. Either that or result in a person developing type 1 diabetes, or slipping into a diabetic coma, or losing a body part. The very worst thing that could happen is that the parent of a child with type 2 diabetes reads that and decides not to give their child insulin and what I listed above happens to that child, and there is little they can do about because they are at the mercy of their parent (unless they tell a teacher or family member about what their parent is doing and that person gets the authorities involved).
Now, back to the original reason why I’m writing this.
I, along with many other people reported this post to Facebook hoping that the social media website would take down the post due to the fact that it could cause some people to do something that was dangerous and hazardous to their health, and warn Green Med Info not to post something like that again.
Facebook has done nothing.
about what makes a person a terrorist
Recently in one of skeptics groups that I belong to on Facebook someone posted this picture they found on a conspiracy theorist group:
Apparently conspiracy theorists believe that because some people believe or do certain then that makes them a “terrorist”.
This picture is one of the most blatant examples of persecution complex that I have seen in a while and kind of shows the mindset of a conspiracy theorist.
I’m going to go through all of these claims and explain why believing in these things does not make you a domestic terrorist:
You raise/grow your own food
Why would this make you a domestic terrorist? The answer is it doesn’t.
Millions of people across the country grow their own food in one way or another, be it either in small plots as a hobby (as my dad does) and as a way to have fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables, or in greenhouses, or in large fields that provide enough food to feed their entire family. Heck, even the White House has it’s own vegetable garden.
If growing your own food made you a domestic terrorist, then why wouldn’t the government just go around to everyones’ houses and destroy their gardens and green houses? Or pass laws that make it illegal to grow your own food? They wouldn’t because growing your own food is harmless and effects no one.
Opposing GMO foods does not make you a terrorist. It might make you someone who doesn’t understand the science behind GMO foods, or someone who has embraced anti-GMO propaganda, but not understanding science or embracing some group’s claims without questioning them doesn’t make you a terrorist.
If opposing GMO foods made you a terrorist then there would be no organic foods in any grocery store or farmers market anywhere, and no laws meant to either label GMO foods or prevent them from being grown or sold would ever be proposed, much less passed.
Prefer natural medicines
If this was true then how come the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, a official United States government agency that researches and promotes things like natural medicines, even exists?
While the government does restrict multiple types of alternative and natural medicines, this is only because some of them are dangerous, or the manufactures claim it can do something when infact it cannot.
If natural medicines made a person a terrorist then all forms of alternative medicine would be illegal and people who sale it or even promote it would be going to prison.
Refusing vaccines does not make you a terrorist as there no laws that say that you have to get vaccinated. However, it does make you dangerous to others, as well as your own self as it puts you at greater risk for getting infected with a disease that could kill you, as well as spreading said disease to others who either weren’t vaccinate because they also choose not to (or their parents choose not to have them vaccinated) or a person whom couldn’t get vaccinate for various medical reasons, or someone whom did get vaccinated but the vaccine did not take affect for some reason.
Have a Ron Paul bumper sticker
This does not make you a terrorist, it just makes you someone who likes Ron Paul and refuses to accept the reality that he’ll never be President, and someone who doesn’t know when to take a bumper sticker off of their car.
Science Denial Is Not Exclusive To Right Wing Fundamentalists
By David Jerale via The Libertarian Republic
In a column for Scientific American January of last year, Michael Shermer, the founder of The Skeptics Society, exposed what he calls “The Liberals’ War on Science.” Shermer observes that, while it is true that Republicans are more overwhelmingly opposed to well-established scientific consensus like anthropogenic climate change theory and evolution, the problem of science denial also reaches epidemic proportions on the left.
“Try having a conversation with a liberal progressive about GMOs—genetically modified organisms—,” Shermer writes, “in which the words “Monsanto” and “profit” are not dropped like syllogistic bombs.”
Taken only at face value, this seems fairly innocuous– and critics like Chris Mooney were quick to point out, correctly, that science denial is predominantly right-wing.
Fair enough, but I offer this riposte: Rick Santorum and his ilk don’t teach science.
Discovery News, on the other hand, does– and in June, they posted a YouTube video by Laci Green, a popular online social justice advocate, feminist and peer sex educator, about genetically modified organisms. In this video, Laci doesn’t explicitly state her own opinion with regard to whether or not genetically modified foods are safe, choosing instead to present arguments for and against, with a heavy bias against, ending by asking viewers to post their thoughts on the matter in the comments section below the video.
This is a clear example of “false balance,” a tendency for media to overstate controversy in scientific matters. Fox News has been criticized for this because their coverage of climate science greatly over-represents those who disagree with anthropogenic global warming theory while there is a strong consensus among climate scientists that the theory is correct. As it happens, there is a similarly strong scientific consensus on the safety of genetically modified foods, but Laci conveniently ignores it for the sake of manufactured controversy– and she’s not alone.
SciShow, hosted by Hank Green, is a YouTube channel with over 1.5 million subscribers devoted to discussing scientific topics. Last year, Hank posted a video wherein he discusses genetically modified organisms– what they are, why they exist, how they’re made, etcetera– which included some cherry-picked information and outright fabrications about the supposed dangers of genetic modification, in spite of the existing scientific consensus to the contrary. It was later removed, and re-uploaded by another YouTube user– in the comments section there, Hank explains “We dropped it because we cited studies that have since been discredited.”
But Hank and Laci Green are just a couple of online personalities– No real harm, right?
Enter Bill Nye “The Science Guy.” Bill has been, for the most part, strongly against science denial– he has spoken against teaching creationism to children as well as climate change denial, but oddly, he breaks form when the topic is genetically modified organisms.
Let that sink in for a moment– perhaps the most well-known science popularizer alive, Bill Nye, trying to scare people into thinking GMOs are harmful.
That’s a far cry from some preacher doing the same thing because it conflicts with his religious dogma. It’s science education programming being used to spread pseudoscience, and the consequences could be devastating.
Anyone publicly writing about issues of science and medicine from a pro-science perspective likely gets many e-mails similar to the ones I see every week. Here’s just one recent example:
Im sorry the medical community has become decadent and lazy as most that follow your stance could care less to study the real truth. I have also seen it much more deviant as many professionals know the risks and harm vaccination cause but continue to push it through there practices because of pure greed. Many are also scared of loosing there practices for not following the corrupt industry. Im sorry but the medical industry has become drug pushing decadent slobs that only care about there bottom line.
The e-mailer clearly has a particular narrative that he is following (in addition to the amusingly common poor grammar and spelling). He even writes at one point in our exchange, “the details really don’t matter at this point what matters is what the bigger picture…” He is certain of his big picture conspiracy narrative. The details are unimportant.
Being on the receiving end of an almost constant barrage of such medical conspiracy theories it might seem that such beliefs are extremely common. Of course, such e-mails are self-selective and therefore not representative of the general population. I was therefore interested to see a published survey polling the general population about such beliefs. The survey is published in JAMA Internal Medicine, authored by Eric Oliver and Thomas Wood.
Here are the six survey questions and the percentage who agree or disagree (the rest indicating that they do not know).
The Food and Drug Administration is deliberately preventing the public from getting natural cures for cancer and other diseases because of pressure from drug companies. (37% agree, 32% disagree)
Health officials know that cell phones cause cancer but are doing nothing to stop it because large corporations won’t let them. (20% agree, 40% disagree)
The CIA deliberately infected large numbers of African Americans with HIV under the guise of a hepatitis inoculation program. (12% agree, 51% disagree)
The global dissemination of genetically modified foods by Monsanto Inc is part of a secret program, called Agenda 21, launched by the Rockefeller and Ford foundations to shrink the world’s population. (12% agree, 42% disagree)
Doctors and the government still want to vaccinate children even though they know these vaccines cause autism and other psychological disorders. (20% agree, 44% disagree)
Public water fluoridation is really just a secret way for chemical companies to dump the dangerous byproducts of phosphate mines into the environment. (12% agree, 46% disagree)
The numbers are not surprising, in fact I would have guessed they were a bit higher, but again that perception is likely distorted by my e-mail inbox. They found that 49% of Americans agreed with at least one conspiracy, and 18% agreed with three or more. This is in line with the level of belief in non-medical conspiracies. They did not publish, but I would be interested, in the percentage of people who said they disagreed with all of the conspiracies. Many of the respondents indicated that they did not know if a particular conspiracy were true, likely because they had not heard of it before, but were unwilling to disagree on plausibility grounds alone.
Here we go again. A pseudoscience pushing website (which occasionally tosses in stories about real science) is trumpeting a primary research study (published 6 months ago) that may, or may not, indicate that plant DNA may survive intact in the digestive tract and show up in the bloodstream. You just know what they’re going to say next.
This will now be all about genetically modified foods.
In case you’ve ignored this area of pseudoscience, genetically modified crops are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs); of course, all types of agricultural breeding induces genetic modification, but in general, GMO usually implies actual manipulation of the genes. Based on some of the worst science available, anti-GMO cultists have condemned GMO foods as being dangerous. Of course, there is actually no science supporting the anti-GMO claim, and the vast scientific consensus says that GMO foods are safe to humans, animals and the environment.
A paper published in the online journal, PLoS One, seems to indicate that possible DNA fragments pass from the digestive tract into the blood. The authors, Spisak et al., concluded:
…based on the analysis of over 1000 human samples from four independent studies, we report evidence that meal-derived DNA fragments which are large enough to carry complete genes can avoid degradation and through an unknown mechanism enter the human circulation system.
Based on our knowledge of the digestive process, fats, DNA, carbohydrates, and proteins are broken down into their simplest components, and specialized transport systems move these simple components across the barrier between the digestive tract and blood. They have evolved to not transport full size molecules, partially because the blood is incapable of carrying large foreign molecules (and could induce an immune response). Moreover, small constituent molecules, like amino acids instead of the whole protein, or glucose instead of a long-chain carbohydrate, are more easily transported to locations in the body to be then used as fuel or building blocks for new proteins and DNA. We just have not seen a mechanism in the digestive tract that can move large molecules, like gene-length DNA fragments, into the bloodstream.
In fact, the authors admit that the mechanism is unknown . . .
The controversy surrounding genetically modified organisms (GMO) has intrigued me for some time, and recently I have been reading everything I can on the topic. It is an excellent topic for skeptics – it is mainstream (not a fringe topic), it has real importance for society, there are complex scientific and logical issues to sort through, and the topic is rife with misinformation and motivated reasoning.
I wrote recently about the fact that beliefs concerning GMO tend to be dominated by two opposing narratives: GMO critics despise corporate control and greed, and fear the unnatural, while GMO advocates see this technology as an example of the triumph of human ingenuity and science. I admit that with regard to this issue my bias is toward the latter narrative, however, I can understand caution regarding huge corporations (the tobacco industry comes to mind).
But, as a skeptic I have really tried to follow a critical thinking process and pull back from my initial gut reactions. Here, then, is my overview of the issues regarding GMO.
A Brief History of GMO
GMO advocates are quick to point out that pretty much all the food consumed by humans have already been extensively modified by human activity. Corn, for example, was cultivated from teosinte, which looks nothing like modern corn. In fact, it took some detective work to figure out that they are essentially the same species.
Cultivation is mostly about artificial selection – saving the best plants from one year’s crop to provide the seeds for the following year. Repeat that a few thousand times, and you have the development of agriculture and all the food you recognize today.
Cultivation can also involve cross-pollination, creating a hybrid species in an attempt to get the best traits from closely related species. Using a combination of cross-pollination and artificial selection, breeders have created countless varieties of common plants. The black or purple tomato, for example, of which there are about 50 varieties, is high in flavanoids, which give them their color. Orange carrots were developed by a fortuitous mutation resulting in high levels of beta-carotine. This turned carrots into an important staple crop as a source of vitamin A.
Breeders who are impatient to wait for a fortuitous mutation to occur developed what is called mutation breeding – exposing plants to chemicals or to radiation that increases the mutation rate. Between 1930 and 2007, 2540 mutagenic plant varietals have been released.
Genetic modification is the latest technique for changing organisms to suit our wants and needs. The technology involves various techniques for inserting one or more specific genes directly into a target organism. There are two basic types of GMO – transgenic and cisgenic. Cisgenic involves inserting genes from closely related species, ones that could potentially cross breed with the target species. Transgenic refers to inserting genes from distant species – even from different kingdoms of life, such as putting a gene from a bacterium into a plant.
There are four types of GM plants currently approved for use: herbicide tolerance, pesticide production, altered fatty acid composition (for canola oil), and virus resistance. Many other potential applications are in various stages of development.
GMO advocates are quick to point out that GM technology is nothing new, and that it is simply an extension of the various technologies we have used for thousands of years to alter organisms. This is overstating the case, however – transgenic GMO is not just a new technique, it also opens up new possibilities, like putting a gene from a bacterium into corn. But it is legitimate to put GMO in its proper historical context. It is not entirely new. Contamination of genes from other kingdoms even occurs in nature through horizontal gene transfer.
In any case, the “it’s not natural” argument is fallacious. Meanwhile, GMO should be looked upon as a powerful technology, and such technologies can have both powerfully good and powerfully bad consequences depending on how they are used.
If you care about what is in your food, you have no greater sympathetic intellect than me.
But if you are an anti-science activist, you may not understand the distinction between what is in your food and what it simply is – and there we part company. A genetic modification (GMO) is your food, for example, it is no different than any other food from a health perspective. Cataloging the numerous ways agriculture has genetically engineered food for as long as food has been grown is outside the scope of this piece, but GMOs don’t bother me and that science shouldn’t bother you either. (1)
Pesticides do bother me, and you have a reason to be concerned about those. If you think you don’t need to wash organic food before you eat it, I think you need a sanity test. An organic pesticide is not superior to a synthetic one nor is eating animal feces on vegetables any smarter than eating man-made fertilizer.
That is where anti-science activists miss the mark. Caring about one thing we know is harmless while pretending something we know is harmful is not, if it carries an organic label, is a real mistake for their credibility. I care about food but putting a label on every food that has a GMO (yet exempting mutagenesis, which is all the rage in Europe now, precisely because it is genetic optimization, but not the legally vilified kind) and not putting a label on pesticide-laden organic food would be silly.(2)
The Anti-GMO movements and Anti-vaccination movements are probably two of the biggest and most well known pseudoscience movements out there, with millions of people that adhere to their claims.
Besides the fact that both groups do have millions of proponents world wide and promote pseudoscience, both groups are a lot alike in other ways as well. Infact I’ve come up with about ten different reasons why they are so much alike, starting with the fact that…
• Proponents of both get very emotional when you criticize and/or debunk them.
Ever get into an online discussion with someone whom either promotes Anti-vaccination or Anti-GMO nonsense, and you start to tell them what they claim is BS, and tell them why what they are claiming is BS? If you’ve answered yes then you know what usually ends up happening, and that is that they tend to go off the deep end and use all of these made up “facts” and logical fallacies and conspiracy theories, and in the end threats and accusations of being a shill are often made.
• A proponent of one tends to be a proponent of the other.
It shouldn’t be to surprising, but usually if someone is an Anti-GMO proponent, they usually tend to be an Anti-vaccination proponent as well, and vice-verse.
While this isn’t necessarily true many websites that promote Anti-vaccination nonsense also tend to promote Anti-GMO nonsense as well. Infact some websites that claim to be “natural health” websites promote both equally instead of one overshadowing the other. Also, another thing about proponents of both are…
• They tend to promote alternative medicine.
It shouldn’t be to surprising that people in the Anti-vaccination movement are big proponents of alternative medicine, but it shouldn’t also be to surprising that people in the Anti-GMO movement are also big proponents of alternative medicine as well.
Infact many people in the Anti-GMO movement will, besides just promote the usual alternative medicine nonsense, claim that organic foods can heal you of just about anything and everything as well (including stuff that doesn’t even exist).
• The only papers they’ve ever had published in creditable scientific journals have been debunked and retracted.
There are lots of studies that have been published over the years about the “dangers” of vaccines and GMO foods, and while the number of papers published may look impressive to some the reality is that it isn’t, especially when you consider the fact almost all of these papers are published in “scientific journals” that a person pays to be published in.
Infact the only Anti-vaccination and Anti-GMO papers that I know of that have ever been published in credible scientific journals are the Wakefield study (published in the Lancet) and the Séralini study (published in Food and Chemical Toxicology) both of which have been formally retracted by the respective journals that they were published in after it was found that both studies data was founded off of both unethical experiments and fraudulent data, and they were only retracted long after both studies had been thoroughly debunked.
• They both claim the same things about the products in terms of health effects.
Both the Anti-GMO and Anti-vaccination movements not only claim that both GMO foods and vaccines are bad for you and cause a large amount of health problems (all of which have been proven to be untrue), but they also claim that they cause the same health problems!
Both most notably are claimed to cause autism, but both are also claimed to cause the spreading of diseases, and increases in infant mortality, and sterility, and cancer, and who knows what else. It almost seems like Anti-GMO and Anti-vaccination movements are claiming that GMO foods and vaccines causes something new every week.
Elsevier has announced that they are retracting the infamous Seralini study which claimed to show that GMO corn causes cancer in laboratory rats. The retraction comes one year after the paper was published, and seems to be a response to the avalanche of criticism the study has faced. This retraction is to the anti-GMO world what the retraction of the infamous Wakefield Lancet paper was to the anti-vaccine world.
The Seralini paper was published in November 2012 in Food and Chemical Toxicology. It was immediately embraced by anti-GMO activists, and continues to be often cited as evidence that GMO foods are unhealthy. It was also immediately skewered by skeptics and more objective scientists as a fatally flawed study.
The study looked at male and female rats of the Sprague-Dawley strain of rat – a strain with a known high baseline incidence of tumors. These rats were fed regular corn mixed with various percentages of GMO corn: zero (the control groups), 11, 22, and 33%. Another group was fed GMO corn plus glyphosate (Round-Up) in their water, and a third was given just glyphosate. The authors concluded:
The results of the study presented here clearly demonstrate that lower levels of complete agricultural glyphosate herbicide formulations, at concentrations well below officially set safety limits, induce severe hormone-dependent mammary, hepatic and kidney disturbances. Similarly, disruption of biosynthetic pathways that may result from overexpression of the EPSPS transgene in the GM NK603 maize can give rise to comparable pathologies that may be linked to abnormal or unbalanced phenolic acids metabolites, or related compounds. Other mutagenic and metabolic effects of the edible GMO cannot be excluded.
Sounds pretty scary. Now let’s look at the multiple criticisms:
The biggest criticism of the study is the combination of two features – the small sample size and lack of statistical analysis. The entire study is premised on comparing various dose groups with control groups that were not exposed to GMO or glyphosate. And yet, the authors provide no statistical analysis of this comparison. Given the small number of rats in each group, it is likely that this lack of statistical analysis is due to the fact that statistical significance could not be reached.
In other words – the results of the study are uninterpretable. In the retraction statement Elsevier wrote:
Ultimately, the results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive, and therefore do not reach the threshold of publication for Food and Chemical Toxicology.
The retraction reads like a long excuse for the editorial failure of the journal, and is disappointing. But at least they ultimately reached the correct conclusion – this paper should never have been published. It slipped through the cracks of peer review.
- Scientific Journal Retracts Anti-GMO Junk Science Study (illuminutti.com)
- The Seralini GMO Study – Retraction and Response to Critics (sciencebasedmedicine.org)
- Seralini GMO Study Retracted (theness.com)
- Study Linking Genetically Modified Corn to Rat Tumors Is Retracted (scientificamerican.com)
Throughout this year there were a lot of new conspiracy theories going around. Some of them were scary. Some of them were weird. And some of them were just bizarre, absurd, and dumb to the point where one would either have to laugh at them, or pull their hair out in frustration.
The following list are ten of what I feel are the strangest and most bizarre and/or absurd conspiracy theories of 2013:
10. Robert Sarvis was a Democratic plant to help Terry McAuliffe win the Virginia gubernatorial election.
(Author’s note: being that I am from Virginia, I just felt that I had to mention this one)
In the 2013 Virginia gubernatorial election there were a lot of accusations that went back and forth (some true, some not) but one of the biggest accusation didn’t come during the election, but afterwards. The accusation that I’m talking about is the one that claims that Libertarian candidate Robert Sarvis was actually a shill or plant by the Democrats inorder to steal votes away from Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli and to help guarantee victory for Terry McAuliffe.
Now as plausible as this may sound, there are just two problems with this: First there is no guarantee that the people who voted for Sarvis would have voted for Cuccinelli, and second most of the polls before the election showed that McAuliffe had an over 50% lead, and thus a spoiler candidate would not have been needed inorder to win. Also, besides those facts and the fact that there is no actual evidence that Sarvis was a Democratic plant, it’s just as likely that Sarvis actually took away votes from McAuliffe as it is from Cuccinelli.
While conspiracy theories against GMO foods are nothing new, what is new is that the Anti-GMO movement now seems to be focusing their claims on one company: Monsanto.
From what I can tell from their claims Monsanto pretty much controls the FDA, the farming industry, the food industry, Obama, the media, the U.S. Supreme Court, law enforcement, any blog that debunks the anti-GMO movement’s claims, all the science organizations, and that Monsanto is responsible for every atrocity committed in the world since World War Two.
According to many in the anti-GMO movement Monsanto does all of this inorder to sell you a product that (insert the anti-GMO claim of your choice).
8. The Boston Marathon bombing was a false flag attack.
On April 15 one of the worst terrorist attacks in the U.S. since the 9/11 attacks occurred at one of the largest sporting events in the U.S., the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed, and 264 people were injured, many of who also lost limbs, or were otherwise permanently maimed in some way. Also, like clock work, conspiracy theories about the bombing started to be posted all over the internet within minutes of the attack.
The most common of the claims were that it was a false flag attack, and then later de-evolved into stranger conspiracy theories in that both the suspects, Dzhokhar and Tamerlan Tsarnaev, were under some kind of government mind control, right on down to the most absurd claim of there being no attack at all and that the whole thing was staged and that no one was actually hurt or killed.
Besides the fact that all of these claims were absurd on face value alone and were quickly debunked, they were also very disrespectful and just plain disgusting.
Over the summer actress Amanda Bynes began engaging in behavior that ranged from bizarre to down right dangerous. This behavior of her’s eventually lead to her being involuntarily committed into psychiatric care.
Now to most people this looks like a simple enough case of a young woman whom is mentally ill and whom’s mental illness has caused her to act out in bizarre and dangerous ways. To a conspiracy theorist on the other hand it’s a clear case of Illuminati mind control.
The main theory that is going around is that Amanda was being groomed by the Illuminati as part of a youth indoctrination program, and that she had decided to break away from them. When Amanda did allegedly break away from them one of two things happen: Either that the indoctrination was so intense that she could not function on her own and her mind snapped, or she was driven insane via remote mind control.
While this explanation kind of makes sense in a weird way, the one theory behind her behavior that makes even more sense is that she is either schizophrenic or bi-polar. Combined with her age, and her escalating erratic behavior over the past few years, this makes a lot more sense than a couple of conspiracy theories that range from being far fetched to pretty much impossible.
6. The Xbox One can see you naked.
When the Xbox One and all of it’s feature were announced there were many concerns (some legit, some not) but one of the biggest concerns that in itself became a conspiracy theory is that the new gaming counsel (through it’s inbuilt motion sensing Kinect system) can see you naked, even with your clothes on. The reason behind this claim is due to a photo of a test subject seen through the view of the Kinect that allegedly shows his ding-dong, despite the fact that he is wearing clothes.
As it turns out that wasn’t the man’s private parts, but was actually a fold in his pants that people mistook for his you-know-what. Although it should be noted that the Xbox One can see you naked… if you’re actually playing a video game infront of it while naked (and if that’s your thing then have fun playing with it… the Xbox One I mean).
- Eleven Dumb Conspiracy Theories (illuminutti.com)
- 5 Things I’ve noticed about… Conspiracy Theorists on Youtube (illuminutti.com)
- When Noam Chomsky says that’s an idiotic idea, he’s probably right (illuminutti.com)
- Why I Love GMOs (thelibertarianrepublic.com)
- The Only Study to Link GMO Foods to Cancer Retracted (depletedcranium.com)
Want to completely torque the Anti-GMO people in your life? Send them the following article. Then grab some popcorn and enjoy the show.
Mason I. Bilderberg (MIB)
Scientific Journal Retracts Anti-GMO Junk Science Study
A study last year by the French anti-GMO campaigner who sometimes masquerades as a scientist, Gilles-Eric Séralini, has been retracted by the journal in which it was published. Seralini claimed that rats that he fed a diet of GMO corn developed mammary tumors and liver disease. The study was widely hailed by anti-GMO activists and soundly denounced by actual scientists.
In my article, “The Top 5 Lies About Biotech Crops,” I reported:
One widely publicized specious study (also cited by the IRT) was done by the French researcher Gilles-Eric Seralini and his colleagues. They reported that rats fed pesticide resistant corn died of mammary tumors and liver diseases. Seralini is the president of the scientific council of the Committee for Research and Independent Information on Genetic Engineering, which describes itself as an “independent non-profit organization of scientific counter-expertise to study GMOs, pesticides and impacts of pollutants on health and environment, and to develop non polluting alternatives.” The Committee clearly knows in advance what its researchers will find with regard to the health risks of biotech crops. But when truly independent groups, such as the European Society of Toxicologic Pathology and theFrench Society of Toxicologic Pathology, reviewed Seralini’s study, they found it essentially to be meretricious rubbish. Six French academies of science issued a statement declaring that the journal should never have published such a low-quality study and excoriating Seralini for orchestrating a media campaign in advance of publication. The European Food Safety Agency’s review of the Seralini study “found to be inadequately designed, analysed and reported.” Sadly, such junk science has real-world consequences, since Seralini’s article was apparently cited when Kenya made the decision to ban the importation of foods made with biotech crops.
The journal Food and Chemical Toxicity has now retracted Seralini’s article, noting:
Unequivocally, the Editor-in-Chief found no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data. However, there is a legitimate cause for concern regarding both the number of animals in each study group and the particular strain selected. The low number of animals had been identified as a cause for concern during the initial review process, but the peer-review decision ultimately weighed that the work still had merit despite this limitation. A more in-depth look at the raw data revealed that no definitive conclusions can be reached with this small sample size regarding the role of either NK603 or glyphosate in regards to overall mortality or tumor incidence. Given the known high incidence of tumors in the Sprague-Dawley rat, normal variability cannot be excluded as the cause of the higher mortality and incidence observed in the treated groups.
Discussion is important in science, but this publication stirred vigorous criticism by several scientists around the world. It has risen up great attention by the media that had no chance of getting an external expert opinion due to unusual non-disclosure clauses. The initial unbalanced media coverage is causing damage to an important tool for global food security. It is also important to avoid unnecessary distress and pain of the animals (e.g. Directive 2010/63/EU), the experiment should not go beyond the point required to meet the scientific objectives. I urge you to take adequate measures to keep the high standard quality of publications that come to your journal. This paper as it is now, presents poor quality science and dubious ethics.
It’s good that the journal has gotten around to retracting the study, but unfortunately it will become just another cause celebre among conspircy minded anti-biotech activists.
- Scientific Journal Retracts Anti-GMO Junk Science Study (reason.com)
- Journal retracts anti-GMO study (americanthinker.com)
- Scientific Journal Retracts Anti-GMO Junk Science Study (ivoter.com)
- Controversial French Study on GMOs and Glyphosate Retracted by Publication (organicauthority.com)
- Notorious Séralini GMO Cancer Rat Study Retracted, Ugly Legal Battle Looms (aconservativeedge.wordpress.com)
- Widely discredited study that fuelled fear of genetically modified ‘Frankenfoods’ finally retracted (news.nationalpost.com)
One of the tactics of the GMO (genetically modified organisms, usually crops–some people use the term GM instead) refusers is that “there’s no proof that GMO’s are safe.” Typically, in a debate, the side making the assertion (those that say GMO’s are unsafe) are responsible for the evidence that supports their contention. But, the anti-GMO gang relies upon the Argument from Ignorance, trying to force the argument to “if you can’t prove that they’re safe, they must be unsafe.”
Even though I don’t necessarily like arguing with logical fallacies, I did provide an exhaustive list of high-quality peer-reviewed articles that clearly stated that genetically modified crops are safe. But that’s never enough.
Updated 12 November 2013.
In the world of scientific research, the absolute highest quality evidence are meta reviews, which are methods to contrast and combine results from a wide swath of peer-reviewed studies which may be useful in identifying patterns, sources of disagreement and other relationships. Since meta reviews combine the results from a larger number of studies, they can be more statistically significant. So, if there only was a high quality, peer-reviewed meta review about the safety of GMO foods!?!?
Well, there is one. In a meta-review recently published in a peer-reviewed, high impact factor journal, Critical Review of Biotechnology, where the authors collected and evaluated 1,783 research papers, reviews, relevant opinions, and reports published between 2002 and 2012, a comprehensive process that took over 12 months to complete. The review covered all aspects of GM crop safety, from how the crops interact with the environment to how they could potentially affect the humans and animals who consume them.
And their conclusion?
The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.
According to an interview with the lead author, Alessandro Nicolia, an applied biologist at the University of Perugia in Italy, ”Our goal was to create a single document where interested people of all levels of expertise can get an overview on what has been done by scientists regarding GE crop safety. We tried to give a balanced view informing about what has been debated, the conclusions reached so far, and emerging issues.”
The article provided other important results:
- Massive Review Reveals Consensus on GMO Safety (realclearscience.com)
A deceptive test to make people believe they are a conspiracy theorist.
A few months ago I came across the “You Know You Are a Conspiracy Theorist If…“ test (which I found to be laughable when I saw it) to help a person tell if they are a conspiracy theorist or not (view the test here).
I have some things to say about this “test” and some comments about “questions” that were asked (well, they’re not really questions) as well as a few questions of my own:
• You are capable of critical thinking.
This is a paradox. If a conspiracy theorist was capable of critical thinking, then they wouldn’t be a conspiracy theorist because people who are capable of critical thinking would figure out that a conspiracy theory was BS.
• You distrust mainstream media.
So do most skeptics, although for entirely different reasons than conspiracy theorists do.
• You like nature.
Lots of people do. What does this have to do with being a conspiracy theorist?
• You think it’s a good idea to spend the Friday after Thanksgiving with your family rather than camping outside Best Buy to get a cheap plasma television made in China.
That doesn’t make you a conspiracy theorist. That makes you someone who is smart enough not to waste their time in the cold waiting for some store to open in the hope of finding bargains.
• You think it’s a little strange that WTC building 7 came down at free fall speed on 9/11 yet it was never hit by a plane.
This might make you a conspiracy theorist, as well as someone who has conveniently forgotten that WTC7 was hit by something… a skyscraper.
• You think that drones in America might not be for Al Qaeda.
This might also make you a conspiracy theorist… or it might make you someone who knows drones that fly over America are also used for multiple benign purposes.
• You would like to be able to get on a plane without having to engage in a mandatory radiation bath and digital strip search.
As do many Americans, especially those who have gone through that process.
• You have read a book in the past year.
What does reading a book have to do with being a conspiracy theorist?
• You think you have the right to protest.
According to the first Amendment I don’t think I have the right, I have the right, period!
• You think the War on Terror is a scam.
That depends on what your definition of “scam” is.
• You think the War on Drugs is a scam.
Again, that depends on what your definition of “scam” is. Does your definition mean completely bogus and fraudulent, or wasteful and unnecessary?
• You think the anger directed at America from the Middle East could possibly be related to our foreign policy rather than hating how amazingly free we are.
This just means you’ve done more than five minutes worth of research about the Middle East.
• You think the Republicans and Democrats are exactly the same on the important issues affecting our country.
This could mean you’re a conspiracy theorist… it could also mean that you’re a Libertarian, or you’re just ticked off at both political parties.
• You think believing in The Constitution does not constitute a terrorist act.
Who the Hell believes that believing in the constitution is a terrorist act? The only people who believe that are idiots!
• You have heard of the Bill of Rights and can even name what some of them are.
As most Americans have and can…
• You question whether the government loves you.
The government is not a living entity. It neither loves nor hates, therefore it is pointless to ask if it loves you or not.
• You think the right to bear arms is not for hunting, rather so citizens can fight back should the government become a bunch of tyrannical thugs.
Yeah, this could mean that you’re a conspiracy theorist… it could also mean that you just don’t like the government, or you’re afraid that the United States “could” become a tyrannical dictatorship.
• You don’t own a television, and if you do, all you watch is RT, especially the Keiser Report and Capital Account.
(Reading that alone makes me wonder if this is satire) If all you watch on television is RT (Russia Today) then there is no need to finish this test. You are a conspiracy theorist.
- 5 Things I’ve noticed about… Conspiracy Theorists on Youtube (illuminutti.com)
- How “The Matrix” inspired Conspiracy Theorists (and Vice-Verse) (illuminutti.com)
- If the Government is shut down, then who is paying the shills? (illuminutti.com)
- 5 Things I’ve noticed about… Bizarre Conspiracy Theories (illuminutti.com)
- Has someone got to this conspiracy theorist? (thetimes.co.uk)
- Conspiracies – not “conspiracy theories” – are destroying democracy (veteranstoday.com)
Via The Soap Box
There are lots and lots of conspiracy theory videos on Youtube (and I mean a lot of them). These videos can range from being interesting to disturbing on multiple levels (being either because of the content in it, or the kind of conspiracy theory that is being talked about, or the fact that people can believe something so utterly ridiculous) and sometimes these videos end up getting deleted (and even whole pages).
Usually when a conspiracy theorist’s video or page gets deleted they’ll claim that (insert group here) are the ones whom either deleted the video or their page.
The reality is that this is never really the case, and that in fact there is usually some real, legitimate reasons why conspiracy theorists actually get their videos and pages removed from Youtube:
7. It contains copyrighted materials.
Probably one of the most common reasons why a video (or an entire page) gets removed from Youtube (and not just for conspiracy theorists, but anyone really, including skeptics) is because it contains a certain amount, or a certain type of copyrighted material that does not fall under the fair use laws, and thus is subjected to a DMCA complaint by either a single individual, or an entire group or business.
The recipient of the DMCA complaint does have a chance to get whatever material that was removed restored [example], but more often times then not they won’t do this, either because it makes them look like the victim of some dark forces trying to hide the “truth”, or out real of fear that if they do so then they might “disappear” after they give out the contact information that Youtube requires to begin the process of whether or not the video or page gets restored.
Of course there are those that say “screw these people, I’m putting that video back up.”
6. The video contains hate speech.
Because many conspiracy theories have antisemitic undertones to them (or are blatantly antisemitic) it should be no surprise that some conspiracy theorists are antisemitic themselves, and are bigoted towards other groups as well. It should also come as no surprise that sometimes conspiracy theorists post videos that are blatantly bigoted and targets specific groups of people as well (Jewish people mainly, but other groups such as African Americans and Homosexuals as well) and contains language that can be best described as hate speech.
While hate speech is not actually illegal in the United States (although some kinds is legally questionable) Youtube does have a anti-hate speech policy, and will remove a video if enough complaints are launched (although sometimes this doesn’t always happen).
5. The video encourages violence and/or other illegal activity.
Because certain conspiracy theorists believe that the government is preparing to throw certain citizens into concentration camps (or kill them) some conspiracy theorists may create videos encouraging their viewers to violently resist anyone who tries to arrest them. Other times these videos might even encourage the viewers to go out and commit acts of anti-government violence, or show you how to make something illegal, like a bomb.
Other videos might also encourage other types of destructive crimes as well, like vandalism. An example of this would be someone in the anti-GMO movement encouraging people to burn farm fields containing GMO crops.
- 8 clues your friend is becoming a crazy conspiracy theorist (illuminutti.com)
- The Anatomy of a Conspiracy Theorist (clonefive.wordpress.com)
- Five Stupid Things About Moon Landing Conspiracy Theories (illuminutti.com)
- Not all Conspiracy Theorists are Conspiracy Theorists (illuminutti.com)
- How to tell a Conspiracy Theorist from a Conspiracy Believer (illuminutti.com)
- 5 Things I’ve noticed about… Conspiracy Theorists on the Internet (illuminutti.com)
- 5 Things I’ve noticed about… False Flag Conspiracy Theorists (illuminutti.com)
- Conspiracy theorists’ sane: government dupes crazy, hostile. (illuminutti.com)
- Revenge of the Conspiracy Theorists (illuminutti.com)
I never used to write much about genetically modified organisms (GMOs) before. I still don’t do it that often. For whatever reason, it just hasn’t been on my radar very much. That seems to be changing, however. It’s not because I went seeking this issue out (although I must admit that I first became interested in genetic engineering when I was in junior high and read a TIME Magazine cover article about it back in the 1970s), but rather because in my reading I keep seeing it more and more in the context of anti-GMO activists using bad science and bad reasoning to justify a campaign to demonize GMOs. Now, I don’t have a dog in this hunt, (Forgive me, I have no idea why I like that expression, given that I don’t hunt.) I really don’t. I was, not too long ago, fairly agnostic on the issue of GMOs and their safety, although, truth be told, because I have PhD in a biomedical science and because my lab work has involved molecular biology and genetics since I was a graduate student in the early 1990s, I found the claims of horrific harm attributable to GMOs not particularly convincing, but hadn’t bothered to take that deep a look into them. It was not unlike my attitude towards the the claims that cell phones cause cancer a few years ago, before I looked into them and noted the utter lack of a remotely-plausible mechanism and uniformly negative studies except for a group in Sweden with a definite ax to grind on the issue. Back then, I realized that there wasn’t really a plausible mechanism by which radio waves from cell phones could cause cancer in that the classic mechanisms by which ionizing radiation can break DNA molecular bonds and cause mutations don’t apply, but I didn’t rule out a tiny possibility that there might be an as-yet unappreciated mechanism by which long term exposure to radio waves might contribute to cancer. I still don’t, by the way, which has gotten me into the odd kerfuffle with some skeptics and one physicist, but I still view the likelihood that cell phone radiation can cause cancer as being just a bit more plausible than homeopathy.
As was the case for the nonexistent cell phone-cancer link, there has now been a steady drip-drip-drip of bad studies touted by anti-GMO activists as “evidence” that GMOs are the work of Satan that will corrupt or kill us all (and make us fat, to boot). Not too long ago, I came across one such study, a truly execrable excuse for science by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen purporting to demonstrate that Roundup-resistant genetically modified maize can cause horrific tumors in rats. I looked at the methods and conclusions and what I found was . . .
Via The Soap Box
There has been a lot of debate recently over whether or not food companies should legally be required to label their foods as being either GMOs (Genetically Modified Organism) or not if they happen to actually be GMOs.
Supporters of these laws claim that this would give consumers the ability to know what they are buying, and whether or not they are actually buying something that is organic or not.
Critics on the other hand claim that such laws are unnecessary and even excessive, since it is well established that most foods are in fact either considered GMOs (technically speaking all foods are actually GMOs in one way or another) or at least would not be considered organic by many people in the organic food community, and that many people who do produce organic foods already label their products as being organic.
While this labeling law debate is sure to not go away any time soon, I do wonder if perhaps the anti-GMO crowd is going about this the wrong way. Perhaps instead of there being GMO labeling laws, there should be organic food labeling laws instead.
While the GMO food industry is heavily regulated by the Food & Drug Administration (despite what many people in the anti-GMO crowd believes) there is actually very little regulation for the organic food industry.
In the United States there are no laws that says what foods are considered organic, and what foods are not considered organic. In fact anyone can actually claim that the food that they are producing is organic, when in fact what the food that is being produced is not considered organic by anyone’s standards…
- Chipotle Becomes First U.S. Restaurant Chain to Voluntarily Label GMOs (cryptogon.com)
- The War on GMOs (libertylobster.wordpress.com)
- Landslide Vote for GMO Labeling in Maine (prn.fm)
When I saw on Twitter that a ‘major new peer-reviewed study’ was about to reveal serious health impacts from GMO corn and soya, I was intrigued to say the least. Would this be Seralini 2.0, a propaganda effort by anti-biotech campaigners masquerading as proper science, or something truly new and ground-breaking?
Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence – and it would take a lot of extraordinary evidence to confound the hundreds of studies showing that GMO foods are just as safe as conventional, as summarised in this recent AAAS statement:
“The science is quite clear: crop improvement by the modern molecular techniques of biotechnology is safe. The World Health Organization, the American Medical Association, the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, the British Royal Society, and every other respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion: consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.”
So when I found the paper, again via Twitter, I determined to read it as I would a climate ‘denier’ paper which aimed to overturn the scientific consensus in that area – with an open mind, but a sceptical one. I could see that it was already generating news, and the anti-GMO crowd on Twitter were also getting excited about some new grist to their ideological mill. Here’s what Reuters wrote:
“Pigs fed a diet of only genetically modified grain showed markedly higher stomach inflammation than pigs who dined on conventional feed, according to a new study by a team of Australian scientists and U.S. researchers.”
- The Top 5 Lies About Biotech Crops (illuminutti.com)
- Mark Lynas, environmentalist who opposed GMOs, admits he was wrong. (illuminutti.com)
- Former anti-GMO crusader speaks at Donald Danforth Plant Science Center (stltoday.com)
- Why Exactly Do People Care About GMO Foods? (minus the hysteria) (jessicagottlieb.com)
- Chuck Norris puts the hurt on GMO foods (wnd.com)
If you fear genetically modified food, you may have Mark Lynas to thank.
Recently i was having another one of my online debates with some conspiracists regarding genetically modified foods. In the course of my discussion i remembered the story of Mark Lynas, a former anti-GMO environmentalist who recently reversed his position and is now on a mission to expose the anti-GMO conspiracists.
March 9, 2013 – Mark Lynas spent years destroying genetically modified crops in the name of the environment. Now he’s told the world – and his fellow activists – that he was wrong.[. . .]
Back in the mid-90s he’d belonged to a “radical cell” of the anarchist, anti-capitalist environmental movement. He was influential – a co-founder of the magazine Corporate Watch who’d written the first article about the evils of Genetically Modified Organisms [GMOs] and Monsanto, the multinational biotech company whose work with GMOs was to become notorious. He was a law breaker. He’d pile into vans with gangs of up to 30 people and spend nights slashing GM crops with machetes. (source)
What makes this story so compelling is, Mark Lynas is by no means a lightweight in the arena of environmental activism. As the following article states, “Thanks to the efforts of Lynas and people like him, governments around the world—especially in Western Europe, Asia, and Africa—have hobbled GM research . . .”
So, I wanted to highlight the Mark Lynas story in my online debate and ask the conspiracists “what about Mark Lynas?”
But when i did a search here on my own blog, i couldn’t find the story! Apparently, i forgot to post this story back in January (2013) when it first came to my attention. Whoops.
Believe me, if you want to see anti-GMO conspiracists frothing at the mouth, ask them about Mark Lynas.
If you fear genetically modified food, you may have Mark Lynas to thank. By his own reckoning, British environmentalist helped spur the anti-GMO movement in the mid-‘90s, arguing as recently at 2008 that big corporations’ selfish greed would threaten the health of both people and the Earth. Thanks to the efforts of Lynas and people like him, governments around the world—especially in Western Europe, Asia, and Africa—have hobbled GM research, and NGOs like Greenpeace have spurned donations of genetically modified foods.
But Lynas has changed his mind—and he’s not being quiet about it. On [January 3, 2013] at the Oxford Farming Conference, Lynas delivered a blunt address: He got GMOs wrong.
His honest assessment of his heretofore poor understanding of the issue continues for almost 5,000 words—and it’s a must-[listen] for anyone who has ever hesitated over conventional produce. To vilify GMOs is to be as anti-science as climate-change deniers, he says. To feed a growing world population (with an exploding middle class demanding more and better-quality food), we must take advantage of all the technology available to us, including GMOs. To insist on “natural” agriculture and livestock is to doom people to starvation, and there’s no logical reason to prefer the old ways, either. Moreover, the reason why big companies dominate the industry is that anti-GMO activists and policymakers have made it too difficult for small startups to enter the field.
“In the history of #environmentalism, has there ever been a bigger mea culpa than that given here?” Discover blogger Keith Kloor tweeted. (Kloor recently called GMO foes “the climate skeptics of the left” in Slate.)
I can’t think of another environmentalist.
Mark Lynas speech hosted by the International Programs – College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (50th Anniversary Celebration) , and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Cornell University
MORE . . .
- Mark Lynas (Wikipedia)
- Mark Lynas: truth, treachery and GM food (The Observer)
- Mark Lynas, environmentalist who opposed GMOs, admits he was wrong. (cuene.com)
- Nature’s Must-Read Special Issue on GMOs (blogs.discovermagazine.com)
- The Positive Impact of Biotechnology on the Sustainability of the Agricultural and Food Industry (catalyzingillinois.com)
via The Soap Box
On May 25, a local group held a protest near where I live to protest Monsanto and GMO foods.
The protest itself, while larger than what I actually expected, wasn’t as large as what it could have been, with maybe only about 50 to 60 people attending.
Now about a week before this protest occurred someone was going the area and putting up some posters on lamp post and electric post not only advertising the protest, but also making several claims against both Monsanto and GMO foods.
I’ve looked into these claims that were made, and this is what I have found:
1. Monsanto fights labeling laws.
This is true [read here] but only to a certain extent, and there are a lot of other companies and groups (including scientists) that oppose these laws because many of them consider them to be unfair, and/or leaves to many loop holes, and many opponents also claim that these laws are really attempts to out right ban GMO foods.
Also, when the people of California were given a chance to vote into law Proposition 37, which would have required labeling of GMO foods, the voters rejected it, so really you can’t actually blame Monsanto about that, because when given the chance, the people rejected such laws.
2. Monsanto’s propriety and legal actions harm small farmers.
Monsanto has, since the mid-1990’s, filled 145 suits against individual US farmers for patent infringement and/or breach of contract in connection with its genetically engineered seed, and while this may sound like a lot, this is actually a very small number in comparison to thousands of individual, independent farmers in the US.
Also, only 11 of these suits actually went to trial, all of which Monsanto won.
3. Scientists’ studies show severe damage to GMO-feed animals.
There was a study in 2012 by Gilles-Eric Seralini that claimed to show that rats feed GMO corn increased cancer rates in these rats compared to rats that were not feed GMO corn. This study has been highly criticized for certain unscientific methods (such as the failure to record the amounts of food the rats were feed and their growth rates) and has pretty much been debunked. [read here, here, and here]
Agent Orange was only used between 1965 to 1970 by the US military in Vietnam (before then they used a herbicide called Agent Blue). Even though this was true, you really can’t blame Monsanto because they are not the ones who actually used it. It was various governments around the world who used it. Monsanto (along with Dow Chemical) just made the stuff.
As for DDT, most countries have been banning the stuff since the 1960’s for agricultural use, and again, Monsanto is not the only company that made DDT, and it doesn’t even make it anymore because of the 1972 US ban.
5. Monsanto falsely advertised it’s Roundup as “biodegradable.”
In 2007 Monsanto was convicted in France for false advertisement of it’s product Roundup as being biodegradable. France is of course the only country that has done this, and some people might even claim that this is the result of France’s environmental laws, rather than reality as Glyphosate (the technical name for Roundup) does not bioaccumulate and breaks down rapidly in the environment.
Whether or Roundup should be considered biodegradable or not seems to be more of a matter of opinion then fact.
6. Monsanto blocks regulations. It’s CEOs are in a revolving door from Monsanto to FDA (ex: Micheal Taylor, current Food Safety Czar).
This is completely false. Micheal Taylor (whomever he is) was never the Food Safety Czar. There has only been one Food Safety Czar, and that was Dr. David Acheson, and he only had that position from 2007 to 2008.
Monsanto can not actually block regulations, all it can do is lobby against laws and regulations that could affect it’s business, and there is no “revolving door”, so to speak, between Monsanto and the FDA.
- European Agency’s Final Verdict on Controversial GM Study: Not Scientifically Sound (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
- Why the big fuss about GMO crops? (iLLumiNuTTi.com)
WARNING: ADULT LANGUAGE
- New Yorkers protest to have GMO foods labeled (pix11.com)
- Pissed-Off Activists in Butterfly Suits Rally Against Monsanto (foodbeast.com)
- Protestors rally against Monsanto (stltoday.com)
Are they indeed as terrible as some people say?
- Whole Foods, others to shun genetically modified seafood (reuters.com)
- Growing concerns: Rise of modified plants raise questions (poststar.com)
- Poll Shows What Americans Think Of GMOs (huffingtonpost.com)
- A founder of the anti-GM food movement on how he got it wrong (macleans.ca)