Category Archives: Science

Mashing up the Walking Dead and science denialism

I am really impatient with science deniers, so I saw something that will allow me to mash up two of my favorite subjects – the Walking Dead and science denialism – and it makes me happy. I know, you want to know how I can possibly combine the Walking Dead and science denialism – you’re just going to have to read on!

I know it’s shocking, but I find it difficult to be really civil towards science deniers. Partially, it’s because no matter how much evidence you present, science deniers rely on logical fallacies like strawman arguments, arguments from ignorance, post hoc ergo propter hoc fallacies, and so many others.

Or they rely upon all of their biases. Confirmation bias, yes. Selection bias, yes. Cognitive biases, yes. And that logical fallacy that’s also a form of bias – cherry picking. The denialist’s favorite fruit has got to be cherries, because they’re picking them all day long.

Then toss in a big dollop of Dunning-Kruger effect, and it’s really difficult to take any science deniers very seriously. They take themselves seriously, despite their total lack of affirmative or negative evidence.

The only thing that matters in science is evidence. That’s it, that’s the beginning and the end of the story. I don’t care if you’re a man, woman, alien, immigrant, liberal, conservative, a janitor, a professor, black, white, or a Nobel Prize winner. If you lack evidence, you have nothing.

If you think there are debates to be made in settled science, that means you get the denialism card, no matter who you are. If you are an MD, and think that vaccines don’t work, then why should I consider your opinion on anything in medicine to be valid, when you’re denying some of the basic principles of medicine – the Germ Theory, for example.  Continue reading Mashing up the Walking Dead and science denialism

Solid GMO scientific consensus – based on real science

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in May 2015. It has been completely revised and updated to include more comprehensive information, to improve readability and to add current research.

Over and over, I’ve read comments on the internet (obviously, my first mistake) that there is no scientific consensus about GMOs, or genetically modified organisms (generally crops or food), and their safety to humans and the environment.

There are even claims that GMOs are not necessarily productive or provide higher yields, and so called organic foods are healthier (they aren’t) and can lead to higher productivity.

Let’s look at anthropogenic (human-caused) climate change, since it also has this huge controversy over whether there’s a scientific consensus. Over 97% of published articles that expressed a conclusion about anthropogenic climate change endorsed human caused global warming. If that were a vote, it would be a landslide that would make dictators jealous.

According to Skeptical Science, it’s even more than that:

We should also consider official scientific bodies and what they think about climate change. There are no national or major scientific institutions anywhere in the world that dispute the theory of anthropogenic climate change. Not one.

The consensus is so clear, outside of vocal, loud and junk science pushing individuals and organizations, that many scientists call it the “Theory of anthropogenic climate change,” which would mean it’s at the pinnacle of scientific principles, essentially an unassailable fact. Continue reading Solid GMO scientific consensus – based on real science

Gardasil DNA and aluminum – myth debunking time

Here we go again. Anti-Gardasil activists and other vaccine deniers are attempting, once again, to make specious claims about the HPV anti-cancer vaccine. This time claiming that Gardasil DNA and aluminum somehow interacted to kill a young child.

This time, it’s a claim filed in United States Court of Federal Claims Office of Special Masters, as a part of the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program (NVICP), that an injection of the Gardasil vaccine lead to the death of a young male the next day.

As tragic as that death is, and all children’s deaths are tragic, let’s take a look at the evidence being used here. Of course, I’m not a Special Master in the Federal Court System (admittedly, I want that title), I’m not an attorney (nor do I pretend to be one on the internet), and the NVICP has some complex rules and decisions processes. It’s never simple, and remember, the NVICP, or any court for that matter,  lacks the privilege of deciding what is good science.  Continue reading Gardasil DNA and aluminum – myth debunking time

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.” It’s time to look at the GMO science facts – examining myth from science.

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

Something’s fishy – GMO salmon is on its way

On 19 November 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  announced that a new GMO salmon, called AquAdvantage, is just as safe as any other salmon for consumption. The FDA based their decision on boatloads of data submitted by the company that developed the GMO salmon, Aqua Bounty Technologies, along with independent peer-reviewed data.

The approval process, taking nearly 20 years, for this transgenic salmon far exceeded the process required for pharmaceutical drug approval. The original application was filed in 1996, and data from 10 generations of the salmon had to be submitted to the FDA. It would be a ridiculous myth to claim that the FDA just bowed to the GMO salmon industry.

Of course, just like every other genetically-modified food ever developed, fear and loathing takes precedence over logic and scientific evidence. A major grocery store chain in the USA, Costco, has refused to market the fish, followed by other expensive grocery chains like Whole Foods, a promoter of pseudoscience in foods. A few countries have even written new regulations to block its import.

As can be expected, any group that doesn’t agree with the scientific evidence, turns to courts to help them out. Anti-vaccine and anti-climate change radicals love to do this, though they usually fail. In the case of the GMO salmon, the radical anti-GMO group, Center for Food Safety, has announced that they will proceed with a lawsuit to block introduction of this fish.  Once again, scientific evidence is ignored or cherry-picked in lieu of the pre-existing conclusion that GMO salmon is unsafe.

Time to look at this story with a bit more of a critical, skeptical analysis.

Continue reading Something’s fishy – GMO salmon is on its way

California eggs are more expensive – thank pseudoscience

There are lots of things that annoy scientists. Creationists. Climate change deniers. The antivaccination horde. GMO haters. The list really is quite long.

I talk about most of them quite a bit, because they are so fun to mock. And their denial can be harmful to our society and many species (including our own, humans). And these anti-science groups seem to ignore the consequences of their denialism.

One day I was grocery shopping, and I noticed that my California eggs are more expensive – why? Then I investigated it, and found out there were two reasons: first our massive drought. Not much we can do about that, except glare at the climate change deniers.

But the second reason troubled me quite a bit. And that’s the point of this article.

Continue reading California eggs are more expensive – thank pseudoscience

“Homeopaths without Borders” are not humanitarians

There is an American group called Homeopaths without Borders (HWB), who claims that it provides humanitarian aid, in the form of homeopathic “medicine” or just plain water, to devastated areas of the world. The more famous group that does real lifesaving work across the world, Doctors without Borders, are probably too busy, utilizing real evidence-based medicine with real medications, risking their own lives, and performing great service humanity, to be worried that a bunch of pseudoscientific homeopaths stole their noble trademark to push quackery.

HWB is sending their water magicians to Haiti, Guatemala, Dominican Republic, Sri Lanka, and El Salvador, all countries that have suffered so much during the past few years. During their time in Haiti, “the team will be in Port-au-Prince to complete the final session of the Fundamentals Program—a foundational curriculum in homeopathic therapeutics incorporating theoretical and clinical training.” So not only are they providing nonsense, useless, unscientific healthcare to Haiti, they are training new homeopaths there. Haiti needs to train real doctors who use science based medicine, not quack medicine.

Continue reading “Homeopaths without Borders” are not humanitarians

Bad for science and academic freedom: harassing Kevin Folta

If you don’t know about the case of anti-GMO activists harassing Dr. Kevin Folta, Professor and Chairman in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida, I’ve written about it extensively over the past few months.

Dr. Folta  is considered to be an expert in plant genetics including genetic modification of plants. He has been studying this field for nearly three decades, published extensively in real peer-reviewed journals, and has trained legions of graduate students. He should be considered a real authority figure in GMO research.

In 2012, Dr. Folta was “targeted” by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from an activist to get all of Dr. Folta’s emails about GMOs. If you are unfamiliar with this particular tactic, it is used frequently by climate change deniers to harass and bully climate change scientists.

This will be a repeating theme of this article – the science deniers who are harassing Kevin Folta are almost exactly the same as the science deniers who attack climate change scientists. They must be proud of this.

Continue reading Bad for science and academic freedom: harassing Kevin Folta

Another myth – labeling GMO foods is not expensive

One of the goals of the anti-GMO gangs is to push labeling of food products that contain anything that is considered to be genetically modified. They have sought out laws for food labeling in various ways, including propositions and legislation.

Generally, these efforts have been a failure in the USA, except in Vermont, Maine and Connecticut, although each may be or has been subject to judicial review. And there is a strong possibility that these labeling laws will probably be found unconstitutional.

Even California, one of the most liberal states in the USA, rejected GMO labeling in a popular vote on Proposition 37 in 2012. Ironically, Proposition 37 received strong financial and person support from noted pseudoscience-pushing, anti-vaccination shill, Joe Mercola.

Even recently, Gary Hirshberg, one of the most loud-mouthed anti-GMO activists, repeated the myth  in an August 2015 op-ed: “adding a few words to the ingredient panel. . . would have no impact on the price of food.”

Given that there is little evidence that GMOs are dangerous, given that that there is a strong scientific consensus on the safety and usefulness of GMOs, and given that GMOs are an important technology for the future of humanity, it’s an odd argument that we need to label foods as to their GMO content.

Let me be clear. Food labeling is critical, and it must get better. Diabetics need accurate information about food content to adjust their diet and insulin use. Ironically, people with real gluten sensitivities (extremely rare) have benefited mightily from “gluten free” product labeling, which resulted from the myth of gluten sensitivities pushed by pseudoscience.

Given the scientific facts regarding the safety of GMOs, labeling is ridiculous.

Because the anti-GMO forces know they can’t win on the science, they have begun pushing labeling because they say that it does not add costs to food. Some of them claim that, in the USA, the cost of labeling is less than a penny a day.

Gary Hirshberg, one of the most loud-mouthed anti-GMO activists, repeated the myth  in an August 2015 op-ed: “adding a few words to the ingredient panel. . . would have no impact on the price of food.”

Even though the science says they are wrong, many ask “why not allow labeling, especially if it’s not that expensive.”

Because that claim – that labeling GMO foods is not expensive  – only accounts for the direct cost of labeling, not anything else. And it’s wrong, economically.

The anti-GMO gang exclusively focuses on only two points with regards to labeling – that the cost of changing the labels is small, and that consumer behavior probably won’t change. Most of their beliefs about costs are based on cherry picked studies (pdf), which are worth approximately nothing to a real scientific skeptic

Eating meat causes cancer – let’s get this right

Oh here we go again. Everything causes cancer. Time to move into a a giant bubble and eat nothing but GMO, 100% gluten wheat bread.

Unless you don’t have a Facebook and Twitter account (and who doesn’t these days), your timelines were flooded, literally, with memes, articles, and uptight vegans laughing at everyone because the World Health Organization stated that eating meat causes cancer – that’s either processed meat, like a good French sausage, or unprocessed red meat.

Back to my giant bubble.

For all of you with good scientifically skeptical minds, this story has already been parsed and dissected, and you’ve moved on. That’s what I did, as I sliced some excellent French sausage and ate it with my GMO crackers.

But then I thought, well if this is a thing, should I be worried? Should my non-vegan carnivore readers be worried?

Let’s look at this every way I can. Maybe there’s enough evidence to convince some or all of us to modify our behavior. Or not.

I’m charging ahead, brave readers – read on.

The WHO and cancer research


Let’s look at what happened and what was said. The World Health Organization has a research group, called the International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC for short. The role of IARC is an important one for cancer research.

As they say in their mission statement,

The objective of the IARC is to promote international collaboration in cancer research. The Agency is inter-disciplinary, bringing together skills in epidemiology, laboratory sciences and biostatistics to identify the causes of cancer so that preventive measures may be adopted and the burden of disease and associated suffering reduced.

This is an important function. The IARC brings together data gathered everywhere in the world, and uses the evidence to make recommendations on what is known and not known about cancer. This is good information.

But one of their most important roles is to look at what may cause cancer and what may prevent it.

Causes and prevention of cancer Emphasis is placed on elucidating the role of environmental and lifestyle risk factors and studying their interplay with genetic background in population-based studies and appropriate experimental models.

This emphasis reflects the understanding that most cancers are, directly or indirectly, linked to environmental factors and thus are preventable.

One of the more important responsibilities of the IARC is to classify cancer risks (anything that touches the body from airborne chemicals to foods to light to anything). IARC places these compounds or agents into 5 groups:

Group 1 Carcinogenic to humans 118 agents
Group 2A Probably carcinogenic to humans   75
Group 2B Possibly carcinogenic to humans 288
Group 3 Not classifiable as to its carcinogenicity to humans 503
Group 4 Probably not carcinogenic to humans     1

A side note – you all are probably wondering, like me, what’s the only compound in Group 4, “probably not carcinogenic to humans.” Well, it’s caprolactam, a component of nylon. So there you go, wear and use nylon whenever you want.

It’s important to note one major flaw to this classification system – it doesn’t address risk. It’s almost a binomial system, that is there’s evidence that something causes cancer or it doesn’t. Groups 2A, 2B, and 3 exist because data isn’t sufficient to move it to group 1 or group 4.

Moreover, the grouping doesn’t give you any information about relative or absolute risk. The Group 1 classification, “carcinogenic to humans,” is only partially useful to a person. Those 118 agents in Group 1 have widely varied risk profiles. Cancer really isn’t a binomial disease – risk for each different agent increases over time and hazard amount. And sometimes, certain cancers result from random mutations, genetic abnormalities or infectious diseases.

As Cancer Research UK explains,

As Professor Phillips explains, “IARC does ‘hazard identification’, not ‘risk assessment’. “

That sounds quite technical, but what it means is that IARC isn’t in the business of telling us how potent something is in causing cancer – only whether it does so or not”, he says.

To take an analogy, think of banana skins. They definitely can cause accidents, explains Phillips, but in practice this doesn’t happen very often (unless you work in a banana factory). And the sort of harm you can come to from slipping on a banana skin isn’t generally as severe as, say, being in a car accident.

But under a hazard identification system like IARC’s, ‘banana skins’ and ‘cars’ would come under the same category – they both definitely do cause accidents.

Remember, all the IARC has stated is that meat is a carcinogen in a broad group – that classification doesn’t tell us whether 1 steak per year will give us cancer or 1 steak every day.

Given all of this information or lack thereof, let’s look at IARC’s research and conclusions about red meat.