GMO science facts – your one stop shop

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.

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GMO vs non-GMO foods – genetic modification techniques

GMO vs non-GMO foods

There are so many myths and tropes about genetically modified (GMO) foods, much like the vaccine world, it’s sometimes difficult to find out what is based in science, and what is not. Thus, I thought it would be the time to examine the crop modification techniques for GMO vs non-GMO foods.

Not to give away the conclusions early on, but all crops that end up being our food sources are genetically engineered. And have been for 10,000 years, since the dawn of human agriculture. If we hadn’t been genetically engineering our foods from day 1, we’d be eating corn that provided little nutritional value.

 

GMO vs non-GMO foods

Take a look at the evolution of corn from the wild ancestor, teosinte, to the delicious cobs of corn we eat during a summer BBQ – it’s closely tied to human advances in genetic engineering of food crops over the past 10,000 years. Teosinte is barely edible, and the amount of nutrition per plant pales compared to modern corn.

If you want corn that’s never been genetic engineered, then you’ll have to travel through some wild fields in Mexico to find yourself some teosinte. Then harvest a small warehouse of it to feed yourself for a couple of days. But 10,000 years of genetic modification, using a variety of techniques, gave us modern corn.

I know what you’re going to say. No, ancient farmers did not practice genetic modification. They didn’t stick a gene from a walrus into the corn plant – but then again modern genetic modification doesn’t do that either. Time to take a look at various genetic modification techniques used since the dawn of agriculture – let’s see what is the difference between GMO vs non-GMO foods. Continue reading “GMO vs non-GMO foods – genetic modification techniques”

GMO sugar vs natural sugar – can you tell the difference?

GMO sugar

Chemistry is important. If you’re going to make negative claims about GMO sugar or high fructose corn syrup, we ought to be able to look at these different sugar molecules and confirm a difference between them. So let’s take a look at sugar from three different sources that capture our attention. Sorry, but there will be a quiz afterwards, so please pay attention.

 

A. GMO sugar after consuming it

GMO sugar

 

B. Natural sugar after consuming it

GMO sugar

 

C. High fructose corn syrup GMO sugar after consuming it

GMO sugar

 

The Quiz about all of this chemistry

 

Editor’s note – this was ruthlessly and unapologetically stolen from a meme from Kevin Folta, who spends a lot of time dealing with GMOs. I hope he doesn’t mind.

 

Marijuana cures cancer? Scientific research says probably not

marijuana cures cancer

Subjectively, one the wilder claims one can find on social media is that marijuana cures cancer. Or cannabis prevents cancer. It doesn’t matter what form – smoked, eaten, hemp oil (which is manufactured from the seeds of cannabis plants that don’t contain much THC, or tetrahydrocannabinol, the active hallucinogenic agent of cannabis) – some advocates for cannabis will try to make the argument that it is some miracle drug for cancer.

But is it? Yes, there are systematic reviews that indicate that cannabis may be effective in reducing nausea and vomiting in chemotherapy. But research has generated negative results in some well done clinical trials and some positive results in others. But that has nothing to do with actually curing or preventing the cancer itself, just dealing with the effects of the treatment.

So what has real research said about “marijuana cures cancer?” Well, not to give away the conclusion, but not very much. Let’s take a look.

 

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Marijuana medical benefits – large review finds very few

Marijuana medical benefits

Most states in the USA, and many countries across the world, have passed legislation that allow the use of marijuana for medical purposes. Some of this legislation is dependent on various claims, many of which appear to be based on weak or nonexistent scientific evidence. Of all of the purported marijuana medical benefits, only a handful are supported by real evidence.

This review, Committee on the Health Effects of Marijuana: An Evidence Review and Research Agenda, published by the influential and prestigious National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, examined more than ten thousand scientific studies that involved cannabis and various medical conditions. The value of such a review is that it examines not only the quantity of evidence supporting a claim but also the quality of such evidence. In the end, it gives much more weight to high quality evidence.

To save you time from reading the 400+ page opus, I divided up the medical evidence from strong to none for the evidence in support of benefits and of risks from smoking cannabis. Not to bury the lede, but there are only three conditions for which there is strong, overwhelming evidence benefits of marijuana. Just three.

 

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Electronic cigarettes – what is science saying as of today?

electronic cigarettes

Over the past few years, electronic cigarettes (often called a personal vaporizer, e-cigarette, or many other trendy descriptions–I’ll abbreviate them as EC, just to save space) have become a popular alternative to tobacco cigarettes. They originally were developed as a tool to quit cigarette smoking, which is factually linked to lung cancer and other respiratory diseases.

However, ECs have become much more than a tool to end smoking, but they have evolved into popular subculture phenomenon known as the “vaping community” that, in many respects, seem to mimic the marijuana advocates. The vaping community continues to push a belief that ECs are safer than traditional cigarettes, have little health risk to the vaper (electronic cigarette smoker), and is much more socially acceptable than smoking cigarettes or cigars.

One of the most ironic and amusing stories about ECs is that Jenny McCarthy, the antivaccination expert who thinks that all ingredients in vaccines are dangerous, has become an advocate for vaping. I bought a brand new, upgraded version 4.7, nuclear powered irony meter, and it just broke. It’s possible Jenny caused a nuclear accident in my house.

What are the dangers of electronic cigarettes? Are there any at all?

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Peter Doshi, vaccine denier, sees a conspiracy about VAERS

Peter Doshi

I am not a fan of Peter Doshi, one of the go-to “authorities” for the anti-vaccine crowd. He has no credentials that would indicate that he is an expert in vaccines, yet one of his opinion pieces (not real science lacking data and evidence) is used as “proof” that flu vaccines don’t work. And of course, like all zombie memes of the anti-vaccine universe, it comes around every year or so, requiring a new debunking.

So what is he going on about now? The Poxes Blog reports that Doshi seems to think that something foul and evil is going on with the VAERS database. Sigh.

Let’s talk about Peter Doshi and his latest conspiracy theory. It’s always fun.

 

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Scientific consensus – collective opinion of scientists

Scientific consensus collective opinion

In the hierarchy of scientific principles, the scientific consensus – that is, the collective opinion and judgement of scientific experts in a particular field – is an important method to separate real scientific thought from junk science, pseudoscience, cargo cult science, and other fake beliefs.

I often discuss scientific theories which “are large bodies of work that are a culmination or a composite of the products of many contributors over time and are substantiated by vast bodies of converging evidence. They unify and synchronize the scientific community’s view and approach to a particular scientific field.”

A scientific theory is not a wild and arbitrary guess, but it is built upon a foundation of scientific knowledge that itself is based on evidence accumulated from data that resulted from scientific experimentation. Generally, a scientific consensus eventually leads to a scientific theory.

I have written frequently about the scientific consensus, because it is one of the most powerful pieces of evidence in a discussion about critical issues of our day – evolution, climate change, vaccines, GMOs, and many other scientific fields.  Continue reading “Scientific consensus – collective opinion of scientists”

Gardasil prevents cancer – evidence for oral cancer protection

Gardasil prevents cancer

According to recent studies from the CDC, only about 63% of teen girls and 50% of teen boys have started the HPV vaccination series. The relatively low vaccine uptake, despite the evidence that Gardasil prevents cancer, one of the few ways to actually prevent cancer, is especially frustrating to those of us who are supporters of the vaccine. However, new data that Gardasil prevents cancer may drive acceptance for the vaccine – new research appears to show that the HPV vaccine may protect against head and neck cancers.

Gardasil 9, the most current version of the vaccine, was approved to protect against cervical, vulvar, vaginal, and anal cancers in females along with anal cancers in males – if it is also shown to prevent oropharyngeal cancers (and eventually gets new indications after FDA review), maybe that can increase the lagging HPV vaccination rates.

 

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Cancer mortality rate – good news, it’s the lowest in 25 years

cancer mortality rate

There are two tropes about cancer that seem to be accepted as facts. First, cancer is a modern disease, unknown to previous generations. And second, the cancer mortality rate is increasing because of the usual suspects, from GMOs to whatever. This is a good thing about science, there’s actually evidence that gives us a different image.

If you use Google as your source for cancer facts, you’d think that we have a raging epidemic of the disease, killing more people today than just a few years ago. But the facts say something else – the cancer mortality rate declined from 1975 to 2012 in the USA in one study, and that it was the lowest since 1991 in another study. By any reasonable examination of data, we are actually winning the war on cancer in the USA.

The myth that the cancer mortality rate is increasing, along with the trope that Big Pharma and oncologists make more money by not providing real treatments for cancer are completely debunked by this data. The cancer-woo pushers probably are saddened by what we’re learning about cancer, but it certainly provides us with excellent data that science is beating cancer. Sure, we aren’t at the point of curing all 200 or so cancers that afflict humans, but we’re doing better than we were 10, 20, 30 or 40 years ago.

Except for liver cancer bucking the trend. We’ll look into that too.

I’m certain that the reason for the lower cancer incidence and mortality rates are complicated. It’s possible that people are starting to embrace the handful of science-based preventions to cancer – like reducing smoking. It’s also better medications from Big Pharma. And better science-based treatment options for cancer. Cancer treatment has evolved massively in just 3-4 decades. I’m sure if you spoke to an oncologist today, and queried him about techniques from the 1970s, he or she would just cringe.

Let’s look at these studies that gave us this data. And maybe we can put to rest some of the memes about cancer ravishing modern humans.

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