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.” 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

Greenpeace anti-GMO beliefs – Nobel laureates say they’re wrong

I have always been fascinated with Greenpeace, especially back in the ancient times, when I had much more activist ideas about environmental issues. They tried to block nuclear missile tests and save the whales, which seemed like the right things to do. But my scientific side matured, and after observing the Greenpeace anti-GMO beliefs for a long while, I’m not sure that they are scientifically literate.

First of all, GMOs have been heavily studied, and they have been found to be safe for animals, humans and the environment.  Moreover, the world’s leading scientific groups have come to the scientific consensus that GMOs are safe.

Yet Greenpeace has anti-GMO as if GMOs were killing whales or something worse. They have been so steadfast in their opposition against GMOs that they have tried, partially successfully, to block the introduction of golden rice, a critical food to saving lives of hundreds of thousands of children.

Well, I guess a bunch of real scientists got sick of Greenpeace anti-GMO beliefs that bordered on Ludditism. So, a group of 110 Nobel laureates wrote a strongly worded letter to Greenpeace, essentially calling it a “crime against humanity.” And yes, it is.

Let’s look at this story with some science.

Continue reading Greenpeace anti-GMO beliefs – Nobel laureates say they’re wrong

GMO labeling law – Senate thinks they’re smarter than scientists

I actually thought that the GMO denier arguments were petering out. I also actually thought I could focus on the vaccine deniers, since they’re like cockroaches, hiding in the dark. But I was wrong. The United States Senate, in a rare bipartisan action, wrote a compromise GMO labeling law.

I, and many others, consider the anti-GMO movement to be made up of “climate change deniers of the left.” They both ignore high quality science and the scientific consensus, just to invent their own conclusions. It is frustrating, especially since I expect more out of progressives.

The GMO labeling law is frustrating and confusing. We need to examine it with scientific skepticism.

Continue reading GMO labeling law – Senate thinks they’re smarter than scientists

Bad vaccine statistics – real math is hard

Science deniers are an awfully frustrating lot. Statistical evidence seems so cut and dried to me. Unfortunately, the anti-science crowd prefers anecdotes to data. And the abuse of vaccine statistics are the worse.

Generally, science is based on evidence that is obtained through the scientific method. It is not magic. It is not a religion. Evidence is the fundamental basis of all sciences.

If science is evidence, then the basis of evidence is statistical reliability. I don’t want to oversimplify statistics, but this branch of mathematics identifies random events. Once again, statistics is difficult to grasp, yet every single paper I’ve ever read (except for the very worst) has fairly easy-to-understand statistics, once you know the lingo.

For example, most papers with vaccine statistics use a term called “relative risk,” or RR. Relative risk is the ratio of the probability of an event occurring in one group (say vaccinated) compared to a control group (not vaccinated).

An RR less than 1.0 implies that the the vaccinated group has a lower risk of an event than the control group. An RR=1.0 means that the risk is the same in both groups. Of course, an RR greater than 1.0 indicates that the vaccinated group has a higher risk than the control group.

And the size of the risk changes as numbers grow much larger or smaller than 1.0.

That statistical measurement seems easy. Undoubtedly, the calculations to reach the RR value are complex, but the top line number is fairly easy to grasp.

Nevertheless, vaccine statistics, despite being fairly straightforward, are often misinterpreted and ignored. Maybe there’s a reason for it? Let’s look.

Continue reading Bad vaccine statistics – real math is hard

Basic vaccine chemistry – help for science deniers

If you read almost any anti-vaccine screed, and if you have even a minimal chemistry background, you will assume that the anti-science vaccine deniers are also chemistry deniers. Therefore, I thought I would create a quick list of basic vaccine chemistry for those who have to deal with the vaccine deniers.

About a year ago, the website, The Logic of Science, published an article about five simple chemistry facts. I thought I’d take their list and apply it to an article about basic vaccine chemistry.

I know that we are oversimplifying chemistry. But I think most of us, who focus on the overwhelming evidence that vaccines are safe and effective, know that there are fundamental principles of chemistry that are the basis of biomedical science.

Without further ado, let’s look at basic vaccine chemistry.

Continue reading Basic vaccine chemistry – help for science deniers

Happy Scientific and Skeptical Fathers Day

I was going write a profound scientific skeptical topic topic. I was trying to choose a topic from amongst vaccines, GMOs or moon landings. First of all, since I am a father, I will just say that everyone have a Safe and Happy and Skeptical Fathers Day.

Maybe, that should an effective sentiment.

As fathers, we should and must teach our children well. I have three daughters, one of whom is wildly interested in science. She questions everything, and she uses here scientific mind to good use – she’s already rejected the nonsense of Donald Trump. I consider that a good start.

And she’s getting pretty adept at scientific humor and sarcasm. I will,  of course, always deny it’s that funny.

So as fathers, what can we do to make the world a little bit better for them? I don’t know. I am the wise man on the mountain who cannot tell you the meaning of life. Furthermore, I’m very certain that the meaning of life eludes me for my life.

Skeptical Fathers, here’s your duty for the next few weeks:

  • First step, I recommend that you check if your kids are full vaccinated. This is easy. You can check their records. Afterwards, you can relax if you did it all right. Or you can make an appointment to get them vaccinated. Consequently, you can then let your children go out into the world. They can be safe from diseases that should have been gone by now, such as measles and chickenpox.
  • In addition, you should encourage your children to aspire to a strong and quality education. If you compare college educated and non-college educated groups, researchers have established that the more the the more educated children will eventually lean toward more liberal and educated ideas.
  • Additionally, the in-class education can develop team-building skills, critical thinking, and competitiveness. As a result of all these factors, you child will have a leg-up in scientific research.
  • You can motivate you children to develop critical thinking skills. Consequently, they will have many of the skills that can help reject the lies and foolishness of science deniers.
  • Most of all, you should let your kids experience real science. I took my daughters to the aquarium in Baltimore, many years ago. As a result, one of my daughters fell in love with the science. Even at my advanced years, going to a natural history museum is like reading an encyclopedia – I can  choose a random topic, and then consume it all.

I want  every father to have a Happy and Skeptical Father’s Day. We can eat some BBQ, share times with family. And we can push our children towards loving science and critical thinking.

MSG myth – debunked with real science

Food additives are one of the most passionate issues amongst people who eat (which would be everyone). AspartameHigh fructose corn syrup. GMO‘s. Salt. Sugar. Trans fats. Polysorbate 80. But the MSG myth is one of the most pervasive.

Of course, these additives cause angst in people because of their scary chemical names.

Obviously there is stuff, created by the beauty of natural sunlight and goddess blessed sweet waters from the alps, that is better than these man made evil chemicals. Well, no. Everything in nature is made up of “chemistry” –  25-hydroxyergocalciferol is a scary chemical name, right? Except it’s the metabolic product of the conversion of vitamin D in the human liver. It’s natural!

But let’s get back to MSG – how many times have you seen “No MSG” in a sign Chinese restaurant? Is it because China, who has been using MSG in their cuisine for centuries, has been conspiring against Americans since the first Chinese restaurant starting serving up kung pao chicken to unaware Americans?

It’s time to look at the MSG myth – is it real, or does it need a good debunking.

Continue reading MSG myth – debunked with real science

Donald Trump and vaccines – he’s wrong

Donald Trump is technically the Republican candidate in the 2016 election for President of the United States. There’s a lot that he says that disgusts me personally, and the public generally. But there’s one area that may indicate the depth of his ignorance. Donald Trump and vaccines – his views are just plain wrong.

Trump isn’t alone on this matter – dangerous comments about vaccines were made by Republican presidential candidates during the campaign. Ben Carson (ironically, a neurosurgeon) and Rand Paul (we’ve laughed at his vaccine denial before) also pontificated about the dangers of vaccines.

I’ve written previously about Republican candidate’s views on vaccines, back before we actually thought that Donald Trump had a real chance to become the Republican nominee. Feels like eons ago.

As I wrote recently, there’s really only a slight, probably not statistically significant, difference between the acceptance of mandatory vaccination. So the views of Donald Trump and vaccines is way over on the side of crackpot. This is why we can’t have good things.

Let’s look at some the things that Trump has said about vaccines on Twitter, his preferred method of communicating.

Continue reading Donald Trump and vaccines – he’s wrong

Science denialism and pseudoscience – left vs. right politics

On a recent episode of his HBO political talk show, Real Time with Bill Maher, Maher repeated his contention that the Republican Party, more generally the right wing of the American political spectrum, is the party of science denialism.

I am no fan of Bill Maher, because, in fact, he himself is is a science denier. Maher hits some of the top 10 list of science denialism: he’s an anti-vaccine crackpot, he’s pro-alternative medicine, he’s on the verge of AIDS denialism, and, to top it off, he hates GMO foods.

In other words, Maher, a leftist by any stretch of the meaning, embraces science denialism in a way that would probably inspire your local climate change or evolution denier.

HBO’s other political news-ish program, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, features British comedian Oliver, who is pro-science on every issue I’ve heard, including scientific research and vaccines.

Neil deGrasse Tyson was a guest on Maher’s episode, and contradicted him regarding the claim that Republicans hold the monopoly on junk science:

Don’t be too high and mighty there, because there are certain aspects of science denials that are squarely in the liberal left.

I like to generalize about the politics of science denialism – I and many others have claimed that the anti-GMO crowd is nothing more than the left’s version of climate change deniers. But some people have taken umbrage with Tyson’s comments, and believe that science denialism cannot be correlated with political beliefs.

Let’s take a look at left vs. right ideas about science, and how each embrace science denialism and pseudoscience. It’s quite a bit more complicated than you can imagine.

Continue reading Science denialism and pseudoscience – left vs. right politics

The DDT facts – examining the evidence after 50 years

DDT facts and myths have been part of our shared environmental consciousness for two generations. Most of our beliefs about DDT, a powerful insecticide long-banned by most countries, came from Rachel Carson’s best selling book, Silent Spring, published over 50 years ago.

Carson was an aquatic biologist, working for the US Department of Fisheries, who became a champion of the environmental movement across the world. Her influence on environmental policy is still felt today. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that her movement lead to the creation of the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 1970.

Silent Spring was an influential book that drove pro-environmental policies and thinking of many of us who grew up in that era. Essentially, the book outlined the environmental disaster caused by the indiscriminate use of synthetic pesticides, especially on agricultural lands. She seemed to advocate for a complete ban on DDT and other pesticides based on some anecdotal and statistical correlation between DDT use and certain environmental issues.

But it was too late. The DDT myth (or facts, depending on the evidence) had started, and it was imprinted into the American consciousness. In 1972, DDT was banned for use in agriculture in the USA, which has lasted until today. It’s ironic that the Reagan administration, a notoriously anti-environmental group, refused to reconsider the ban on DDT.

Predictably, the chemical industry lashed out against the Ms. Carson and her book. But given the nature of the times, they really had no shot, and the environmental movement was born.

However, what do we make of the strength or weaknesses of DDT facts? Is it a myth? Or were some of Ms. Carson’s points valid? I think after 50 years we can answer some of that, but DDT has evolved into a word that induces fear and loathing in most people across the world. Let’s take a look at it. Continue reading The DDT facts – examining the evidence after 50 years