Category Archives: Science

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.

 

craigslist-folta-monsanto

 

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.” 

The hierarchy of scientific evidence – keys to skepticism

I am  a scientific skeptic. It means that I pursue published scientific evidence to support or refute a scientific or medical principle. I am not a cynic, often conflated with skepticism. I don’t have an opinion about these ideas. I gather the evidence, published worldwide, and try to see where that evidence takes me. That’s how science is done.

I am generally offended by those who push pseudoscience–they generally try to find evidence that supports their predetermined beliefs. That’s not science, not even close.

Unfortunately, today’s world of instant news, with memes and 140 character analyses flying across social media, can be overwhelming. Sometimes we create an internal false balance,  assuming that headlines (often written to be clickbait) on one side are somehow equivalent to another side. So, we think there’s a scientific debate, when there isn’t one.

I attempt to write detailed, thoughtful and nuanced articles about scientific ideas. I know they can be complex and long-winded, but I know science is hard. It’s difficult. Sorry about that, but if it were so easy, everyone on the internet would be doing science. Wait! What?

But there is a way to make this easier. Not easy, just easier. Scientific skepticism depends on the quality and quantity of evidence that supports a scientific idea. And examining the hierarchy of scientific evidence can be helpful in deciding what is good data and what is bad. What can be used to form a conclusion, and what is useless.

This is my guide to amateur (and if I do a good job, professional) method to evaluating scientific research quality across the internet.

Continue reading The hierarchy of scientific evidence – keys to skepticism

GMO scientist Kevin Folta receives apologies from PLoS

Recently, I wrote an extensive article about the hatchet job written by some hack anti-GMO activists against renowned plant geneticist, and pro GMO scientist Kevin Folta that used misquoted and out-of-context emails in an attempt to discredit him. Obviously, shades of the loathsome “Climategate” email hack which was trying to do the same to top climate scientists.

In an entry at PLoS* Biology Blogs, 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.

These gonzo “journalists” (and I use that term very loosely with these at PLoSONE) lacked the college freshmen level of investigative journalism to spend 30 seconds clicking on a couple of Google hits to determine that GMO scientist Kevin Folta has been a strong advocate of GMO labeling laws (something that I personally oppose).

Doesn’t journalism 101 demand that investigative writers confirm their sources at least twice? An episode of The Newsroom has several teachable moments in basic journalism ethics.

Well, I guess that PLoSONE decided that their marginal image was taking a beating, and decided to delete the article (although, to their credit, they kept the comments up, which appeared to be about half pingbacks from critical blogs). PLoSONE left this statement on the deleted page:

PLOS Blogs is, and will continue to be, a forum that allows scientists to debate controversial topics. However, given additional information for further inquiry and analysis, PLOS has determined that the Biologue post that had occupied this page, “The Fight over Transparency: Round Two,” was not consistent with at least the spirit and intent of our community guidelines. PLOS has therefore decided to remove the post, while leaving the comments on it intact. We believe that this topic is important and that it should continue to be discussed and debated, including on PLOS blogs and in PLOS research articles.

We sincerely apologize for any distress that the content of this post caused any individual.

Dr. Folta had demanded an apology from PLoSONE. I guess this is the best PLoSONE is going to give–a non-apology apology. They weren’t even willing to mention his name. I’ll call that somewhat cowardly. And they didn’t take any responsibility for their actions.

I haven’t been a fan of PLoS for many years. I’m even less so today.

Follow up–it doesn’t appear that Dr. Folta believes that there has been a real apology from PLoS, according to a Tweet from him:

Anti-GMO activists and climate change deniers – no science

There is an evolving feeling that anti-GMO activists and climate change deniers are nearly the same. They both rely upon  denialism (also known as pseudoskepticism), which is the culture of denying the established scientific consensus despite overwhelming evidence.

Admittedly, some of the denialism is based on political expediency. Climate change denialism is a fundamental aspect of many politically conservative voters across the world, but especially in the United States, where Republican legislatures in the United States have passed anti-anthropogenic global warming legislation. 

But not to be outdone, the left-wing parties across the world have their own particular brand of science denialism–GMOs. Some may argue that vaccine denialism has a political component which is supported by some liberals, there’s also a lot of evidence that Republicans in the US have the same anti-vaccine belief. Setting aside the politically nuanced anti-vaccine groups, GMOs are the left’s version of climate change denial.

Anti-GMO activists and climate change deniers share some of the same tactics and strategies, even if they are, for all intents and purposes, at the opposite ends of the political spectrum.

They both tend to reject science. They both use the same character attacks on supporters. And they both are awfully good at cherry-picking data that buttresses their a priori conclusions. In other words, they look for the data to support their beliefs, rather than the scientific method which is to find what conclusions can be supported by the evidence.

Let’s look at something that just happened which should remove any doubt that anti-science believers use the same tactics, probably because they lack any evidence. It’s apparent that they all meet at some anti-science convention to receive training on how to do this best.

Continue reading Anti-GMO activists and climate change deniers – no science

GMO opponents – left’s version of global warming deniers

Scientific denialism (also known as pseudoskepticism) is the culture of denying an established scientific theory, law or fact despite overwhelming evidence, and usually for motives of convenience. Sometimes those motives are to create political gain for their supporters.

Two of the most annoying denier viewpoints are the darlings of the right wing: evolution denialism and global warming denialism. The former is more commonly known as creationism and is mostly an American phenomenon, though it is known in other countries. In the USA, creationism is a fundamental part of the Republican Party strategy across the country. In fact, much of the anti-evolution legislation pushed by Republican legislatures in the United States has an anti-global warming component.

Although denial of anthropogenic global warming and evolution tend to be the domain of the right wing, the left-wing have their own particular brand of science denialism–GMOs (though some think I should include vaccine denialism too).  Global warming deniers and GMO opponents share some of the same tactics and beliefs, even if they are the opposite ends of the political spectrum.

Continue reading GMO opponents – left’s version of global warming deniers

The myth that GMO genes transfer to humans

A pseudoscience pushing website (which occasionally tosses in stories about real science) is trumpeting a primary research study (published several months ago) that may, or really may not, indicate that plant DNA may survive intact in the digestive tract and show up in the bloodstream.

And then, people will begin claiming that GMO genes transfer to humans in some magical way.

In case you’ve ignored this area of false controversy, 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, the anti-GMO activists have condemned GMO foods as being dangerous. Unfortunately for the anti-science side, there is actually no science supporting these anti-GMO claims, and the vast scientific consensus says that GMO foods are safe to humans, animals and the environment. Continue reading The myth that GMO genes transfer to humans

Science of organic food – are they healthier?

Organic foods have been increasingly popular these days moving from local co-ops and farmer’s markets to large retail chains that specialize in organic foods (such as Whole Foods) to general large retail chains who dedicate portions of their produce sections to organic produce. Even dairy and meat sections of most supermarket chains have sections that contain organic products.

But what is the underlying science of organic food whatever the source? Is it healthier? Is it worth the additional cost? Is there some indication that farm productivity is higher in organic farms?

It’s time for a skeptical look at the cost and benefits of organic foods.

Continue reading Science of organic food – are they healthier?