Category Archives: Science

Vaccines saved lives – scientific evidence

There are many canards propagated by the vaccine deniers to support their personal beliefs (really, denialism) about the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. One of their more popular beliefs is that vaccines didn’t end many of the deadly diseases, but improved sanitation, healthcare, nutrition or magical fairies (also known as homeopathy) ended these diseases.

There is even a subgroup of these believers who think that the CDC, historians, and everyone else is lying about the epidemics that existed prior to vaccinations–let’s call this group history deniers. They reject the scientific and historical evidence that vaccines saved lives – amazing.

So, is there scientific evidence that vaccines actually ended these epidemics? Yes there is, and it’s unequivocal. Unless you want to embrace historical revisionism, and somehow all of the health care records and epidemiological information was faked, vaccines saved lives – lots of lives. Continue reading Vaccines saved lives – scientific evidence

Opinion – science denial harms humanity

This is part of my series of opinion pieces. As I’ve written, it is not meant to be supported by evidence or data – unless I link to evidence. Then it is. On the other hand, my opinions are based on tons of reading and data, so there’s that.

Recently, I read an article where Alabama, a US state with either the worst or second worst educational system in the country, had decided to enter the 21st Century – The Alabama state board of education voted unanimously to approve a new set of science standards on September 10, 2015, according to National Center for Science Education.

Surprisingly, the Alabama board stated that evolution is described as “substantiated with much direct and indirect evidence.” Is it possible that pigs are flying? Let me check.

But like all stories when it comes to science denial, the story isn’t perfect.

According to a story in the Washington Post, “state officials will have to decide what to do about the adhesive label that every high school biology textbook has been required to carry since 2001, a warning emphasizing that evolution is a ‘controversial theory’ that students should question.”

Let me remind the reader. There is absolutely no controversy about evolution, it is considered a scientific fact. The only controversy is amongst ignorant Republican presidential candidates, lead by someone who is ostensibly educated in science, Ben Carson.

Of course, as Theodosius Dobzhansky stated,  “Nothing in Biology Makes Sense Except in the Light of Evolution.” And as medicine is a branch of biology, it’s clear that our knowledge of evolution helped Ben Carson – not just generally, but in very specific ways that were part of his medical career.

Whatever Dr. Carson says to pander to his ignorant, science denying Republicans, his medical career was filled with evolution of all types.

Science denialism is more than just a cultural discussion between two political groups. It’s dangerous. Science denial harms humanity – we should do all we can to end this absurd belief.
Continue reading Opinion – science denial harms humanity

Benefits of omega 3 fish oil – something’s fishy

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in July 2015. It has been revised and updated to include some information about two retracted studies regarding omega-3 fish oils.

I have been skeptical of supplements for a long period of time. The supplements are generally of low quality, they don’t prevent or cure cancer, they don’t prevent colds, they can’t boost the immune system, and they don’t prevent heart disease.

Unless one has a chronic disease or is chronically malnourished, there are precious few instances where supplements are necessary. A couple of cases where supplements may be critical include prenatal folic acid supplements to prevent neurological defects in the developing fetus and vitamin D supplements for individuals who do not produce enough endogenous vitamin D. However, just to keep this in perspective, excess folic acid for a long period of time may be correlated with increased rates of certain cancers.

The benefits of omega 3 fish oil has always been intriguing to me, because it is a supplement that I thought might be useful to improving health, especially cardiovascular health. Omega 3 fatty acids are generally found in fish, as it is produced by the phytoplankton that is the primary food source of much of the prey for larger fish and bio-accumulates up the food chain. However, for humans, there are other sources of omega 3 oils including walnuts and edible seeds, eggs, and other non-fish foods.

Epidemiological studies done in the late 1980s seem to indicate relatively low death rates due to cardiovascular disease in Inuit populations with high seafood consumption. These results began the rush to consume omega 3 supplements, and created a booming supplement industry.

However, since publication of those initial studies, much research has been done on seafood and heart disease. And the results don’t give much credence to the cardiovascular benefits of omega 3 fish oils as a useful supplement.

Continue reading Benefits of omega 3 fish oil – something’s fishy

Honey and high fructose corn syrup – no health differences

One of the enduring myths of the “natural food” crowd is that somehow nature does things better. That’s actually considered a logical fallacy.

I am convinced that part of the anti-GMO beliefs center on some ridiculous “natural genetic selection is inherently better than man-made genetic selection.” Well, the evidence doesn’t support that nonsense, but that rarely matters to those who rely upon their misinformed opinion rather than scientific evidence.

One of the tropes that have been passed around is about honey and high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) – honey is good, HFCS is bad. Scientifically, this is ridiculous, but the honey industry, disregarding the potential that science may actually refute that trope, funded a real scientific study about honey and high fructose corn syrup – well, let’s just say that the results confirm that honey is not the “nectar of the gods.”

Continue reading Honey and high fructose corn syrup – no health differences

Opinions vs scientific facts – telling it like I think it is

I’ve decided to try something new on this blog. I want to express my opinions about various topics that interest me.

When I write, I usually stick to scientific fact. Because I can be rather blunt about a scientific topic, for example, stating that evolution is a fact, it may sound like I’m saying “my opinion is that evolution is a fact.”

No. The fact of evolution is supported by over a century’s worth of evidence. It’s not subject to debate. It’s not subject to an opinion. It is what it is, a fact.

On the other hand, an opinion is a preference for or judgment of something.

My favorite color is blue or green, depends on the day. I think that mint and mushrooms taste horrible, and I can’t imagine what they’d taste like together. Doctor Who is boring. Soccer is even more boring to the point of inducing depression. These are all opinions, meaning that evidence, especially the scientific kind, probably could not be found to support them. Except for soccer. I know there’s evidence somewhere that supports my beliefs.

Opinions may be unique to me alone or massively shared across the general populations but they all have one thing in common – they cannot be verified by evidence, except that I believe them. Continue reading Opinions vs scientific facts – telling it like I think it is

How science deniers use false equivalence to pretend there’s a debate

If you read a news article, Google a scientific topic, or watch TV, you’d think that some scientific principles were actually being debated by scientists. The unfiltered information about important scientific subjects allows the science deniers to use a false equivalence to make it appear that the often minority, and scientifically unsupported viewpoint is equivalent to the scientific consensus which is based on huge amounts of published evidence.

From listening to the screaming and yelling, you would think that scientists aren’t sure about evolution, vaccines, global warming, and the age of the earth (or even the age of the universe). There are even those who think there’s a debate that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS. It’s because some news sources think there’s a debate, so bring one person to represent one side, and one for the other, and the person screams the loudest often wins.

Continue reading How science deniers use false equivalence to pretend there’s a debate

Your one stop shop for GMO science facts

Genetically modified organisms (GMOs or GMs) are one of the most well studied areas of biological and agricultural research. However, one of the tactics of the GMO refusers is that “there’s no proof that GMOs are safe.”

Typically, in a debate, the side making the assertion (those that say GMOs 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.”

The anti-GMO forces also like to invoke the precautionary principle, which attempts to shift the burden of proof to those who are advocating GMOs (or any new technology) until the advocates “prove” that there are absolutely no negative consequences of using GMOs.

The principle is often cited by anti-science and/or environmental activists when there is a perceived lack of evidence showing that a technology is absolutely safe.

I’ve written numerous articles about GMOs, focusing on scientific evidence supported by high quality research. And more than a few articles debunked myths and bad research from the anti-GMO crowd. To assist those who are doing research on the topic, this article was created to be a one-stop shop for GMO science facts – and fiction.

Continue reading Your one stop shop for GMO science facts

Retracted PLoS article fallout – GMO scientist Kevin Folta

As I have written previously, a PLoS blog was posted that served as an attack piece on GMO scientist Kevin Folta – a respected University of Florida plant genetics researcher. The PLoS post, written by Paul D. Thacker and Charles Seife, attacked Dr. Folta for a whole host of sins, including a claim that he was more or less directing Monsanto’s strategies for dealing with GMO labeling laws.

Within a couple of days, after withering criticism across the science community, PLoS removed the attack piece with a whimpering non-apology apology. Dr. Folta didn’t accept it as a real apology, and his points are valid – a real retraction with honest and open responses from PLoS are necessary.

Then this lead to some nasty ad hominem personal attacks on Dr. Folta. This is just ridiculous.

But the fallout continues. According to a news article posted online by the university,

The University of Florida will re-allocate a donation intended to improve the public’s understanding of science after public threats to the researcher. The Monsanto Company donated $25,000 to support the Talking Biotech program, a science communication effort that provided on-campus workshops to train scientists about how to engage the public on agricultural biotechnology. The university will reallocate the funds to the campus food pantry.

In other words, because of attacks and threats, an unrestricted donation from Monsanto, used to teach scientists to communicate ideas better has been transferred to a food pantry (which is a pretty good second choice).

Science communication is important. I think sometimes we scientists can get incredibly obtuse and complicated in communicating ideas. Well, science is obtuse and complex, but if there are better ways to say it, maybe we can help the public grasp that evolution is a fact, or anthropogenic climate change is a fact, or that, yes, the safety of GMOs is a fact.

There isn’t one stitch of evidence (unless you think that the bad journalism from PLoS constitutes evidence) that Dr. Folta was influenced by Monsanto. These personal attacks assume that Dr. Folta can be bought for $25,000. So, the attackers must have such a limited view of themselves, that they would sell out for $25,000, then applying their own ethics to others.

It’s ridiculous to believe that scientists could be bought (especially at that price, which wouldn’t even get you a good used car these days). But more than that, Dr. Folta has evidence backing his science. And it’s not Monsanto money.

Remember, the scientific consensus, based on evidence from thousands of researchers, is that GMOs are safe for humans, animals and the environment. So, were these thousands all bought off for $25,000? And if they were, in today’s world, wouldn’t someone already become a whistleblower on Twitter by now?

Notice how stupid conspiracies fall apart with nary an effort from an amateur writer like me?

You know what’s ironic? That we have accused the right wing political groups (especially in the USA) of wanting to suppress science, and showing no respect for it. The left wing, generally the political groups that hate GMOs, has shown the same disregard of good science. I don’t like any science denier, whatever side of the political spectrum on which they exist.

And now they’re practicing an anti-science terrorism, hardly different than what the right wing has been doing with climate change scientists. As a progressive, I am so embarrassed by the anti-science attitudes of many progressives, who make up junk science to criticize vaccines and GMOs. It’s sad.

Nevertheless, I hope these things will pass with regards to Dr. Folta. And he can get back to doing real science, something his haters wouldn’t understand, given their sniping from the pseudoscience sidelines.

High fructose corn syrup – it’s just sugar

One of the most frustrating things I’ve observed in nearly six years of writing (here and in other locations), is that those who want to create a negative myth about a new technology (especially in food or medicine), one of the best ways to do it is mention “chemicals.”

And if the chemical sounds unnatural, the assumption is that it is unsafe. The so-called Food Babe has made a lot of money endorsing a belief that all chemicals are evil, ignoring the fact that all life, the air, and water are made of chemicals.

People have demonized monosodium glutamate (MSG), a food additive that makes people run away in terror if a Chinese restaurant doesn’t have a huge flashing sign in neon that says “NO MSG.” Of course, in just about every randomized study about MSG, researchers find no difference in the effects of MSG and non-MSG foods on a random population.

Another current satanic chemical is high fructose corn syrup (HFCS), which has evolved into one of the the most “chemicals” of the food industry. Even the name sounds a bit chemical, unnatural, dangerous. But is it?

That’s where we need to look at the science, because the answers to the questions are quite complicated and quite simple.

Continue reading High fructose corn syrup – it’s just sugar

A vile personal attack on GMO scientist Kevin Folta

I have oft stated that those who lack scientific evidence resort to ad hominem personal attacks as their last resort. That’s all they’ve got, so the science deniers have to go double down on their personal attacks, often in the form of putrid hate speech.

I’ve written frequently about the personal attacks from the pseudoscience side, especially in the anti-vaccination cult. They’ve attacked Paul Offit. They’ve used anti-Semitic bigotry to attack Dorit Reiss, one of the writers here. They’ve attacked Senator Richard Pan, co-sponsor of SB 277 which mandates vaccination of children in California, with horrific violent threats and Nazi imagery.

The hate speech of the antivaccine lunacy is legendary, and apparently the anti-GMO version of the anti-science world has been taught well, confirming my suspicion that all anti-science cults get together at their annual meeting in the Bermuda Triangle to share strategies. I’m kidding, of course. Mostly I’m kidding.

As I wrote previously, a PLoS blog was posted that served as an attack piece on GMO scientist Kevin Folta – a respected University of Florida plant genetics researcher. The PLoS post, written by Paul D. Thacker and Charles Seife, attacked Dr. Folta for a whole host of sins, including a claim that he was more or less directing Monsanto’s strategies for dealing with GMO labeling laws.

Within a couple of days, after withering criticism across the science community, PLoS removed the attack piece with a whimpering non-apology apology.

In the meantime, character assassinations against Dr. Folta started.  Here’s one posted in craigslist, which is truly a vile personal attack.




This cowardly post refers to Dr. Folta’s mother. According to him, the attack was personally offensive:

Tomorrow would be my mother’s birthday, she’d be 69 years old, if she was still alive. She died a few years ago, way too young, and we all still miss her tremendously.

I don’t understand the hate of this coward who, because he really has no science, no knowledge, but plenty of ignorance, decides to attack someone on craigslist, the bastion of scams and rip-offs. And that hatred is based on a retracted, gonzo journalism piece that had all of the research quality of an elementary school newspaper. Oh, sorry, I think I’m insulting all those fine kids who do their best job on elementary school newspapers.

I don’t know Dr. Folta personally, but I do know other scientists who get attacked frequently. David Gorski, using snark and mockery, laughs at the anti-science crowd, entertaining skeptics everywhere. Dorit Rubinstein Reiss tries to ignore it, and sticks to facts. Others know that they win on the science, and write popular books to describe how their science ignorance can harm people.

Of course, I personally just throw back the ad hominem attacks right in their face, because if one has all the evidence, like I do, I have no patience with those nut jobs.

If I could give one tiny piece of advice to Dr. Folta–ignore the ignorant jerks. Or mock them with all the humor you can muster. You are their targets because they think they have something on you, but they don’t. I put up with personal attacks all across the internet. I just laugh, because they are just viruses, and I’m immune.

I often refer to Ernst’s Law which states:

If you are researching complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and you are not hated by the CAM world, you’re not doing it right.

This  Law refers to Edzard Ernst, an academic physician and researcher in the UK who specializes in analyzing and criticizing the claims of complementary and alternative medicine.

Replace “complementary and alternative medicine” with anti-GMO, and we have the Folta Corollary to Ernst’s Law:

If you are researching genetically modified organisms (GMO) and you are not hated by the anti-GMO world, you’re not doing it right.

It’s sad that hatred from the anti-science side has to be a badge of honor instead of the evidence and facts, but that’s where we are. We have become a world where science is hated, unless it fits some predetermined conclusion. Sigh.

Note. I identify Dr. Kevin Folta as a “GMO scientist,” a “label” that some people don’t like. My goals in this blog are twofold–first, to frame the discussion between those who use science and those who deny it. And second, to optimize search parameters to make certain people who  do internet searches of complex topics find my articles. People aren’t going to search “University of Florida plant geneticist Kevin Folta emails FOIA request.” They’re going to search “GMO scientist emails.”