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Developing and supporting a scientific consensus

In my writing, I often refer to the scientific consensus, which is the collective opinion and judgement of scientists in a particular field of study. This consensus implies general agreement, though disagreement is limited and generally insignificant.

The major difference between a scientific theory and a scientific consensus is that the theory is essentially fact. It is so predictive, it is supported by so much evidence, and it is so well accepted, it takes an almost ridiculous amount of data to refute it, though it is possible.

In the hierarchy of scientific principles, we often mention 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.

We want to focus on the scientific consensus, describing what it is. Take a deep breath, because this is a complicated one.

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GMO scientific consensus

GMO scientific consensus – it’s broad and unequivocal, they’re safe

I have been writing about the GMO scientific consensus for quite some time, because this scientific consensus for the safety of GMO crops is so overwhelming that it’s almost impossible to ignore. Let me put it this way – if you accept the enormous evidence that supports the scientific theory of climate change, then you should know that there is almost the same volume of evidence that supports the safety of genetically modified foods.

If you accept the science of climate change, but deny the science of GMOs, then you are a science denier. It’s pretty simple. In fact, many of us think that GMO deniers are the left’s version of climate change deniers.

The scientific consensus is based only on evidence. Not politics. Not your snowflake opinion. And certainly not on your cherry picked junk science.  The scientific consensus is the collective opinion and judgement of scientists in a particular field of study. This consensus implies general agreement, and if there is disagreement, it is limited and generally insignificant.

Moreover, a consensus is not permanent, because, as I’ve said a number of times, science is not a dogma. If contradictory evidence arises, of the same quality that formed the original consensus, then the established concord could fall apart, or move to a different one. Remember, all science is provisional – if the evidence changes, the consensus changes.

So, the GMO scientific consensus is based on mountains and mountains of evidence, reviewed by the best scientific bodies in the world. These are the world’s leading scientists, individuals with expertise in agriculture, genetics, biotechnology, and other related fields, who have come together to review that data, and, eventually come to a consensus that appeals to the broadest swath of scientists.

Of course, I’ve written about the GMO scientific consensus many times. Reading comments to those articles are always amusing. In the past, I generally relied on a couple of august scientific bodies for this consensus, but I always get the comment, “yeah but they’re bought off by Monsanto, it only represents a couple of countries,” or any number of other logical fallacies. Thanks to an exhaustive list produced by the Credible Hulk, it’s time to review all of the world’s science organizations’ statements on the GMO scientific consensus. Spoiler alert – there is no consensus that will state GMOs are evil, dangerous, or cause us to fall over dead because corn is growing out of our brain.

Just to be perfectly clear, the term GMO also encompasses other terms like genetically engineered or genetically modified foods. There are no differences between these various terms for these foods. Furthermore, the scientific consensus includes two separate, but related claims:

  1. All GMO crops, that were developed using modern genetic engineering processes and that are approved for commercial use by national regulatory bodies, are as safe to consume and as safe for the environment as the corresponding non-GMO counterparts.
  2. Modern genetic engineering would be no more likely to cause unpredicted dangers than would other methods of changing an organism’s genome (for example, selective breeding, radiation mutagenesis, polyploidy or wide cross hybridization) which have been employed in agriculture for over 10,000 years. And we simply reject the naturalistic fallacy, which some use to claim that “natural” changes to the genome are inherently “better” than genetic engineering.

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Alternative facts

Alternative facts – skeptics have been dealing with this for years

Alternative facts, what most of us would call outright lies or misinformation, are the new standard of truthfulness coming out of the Donald Trump administration. It started when Kellyanne Conway, one of the numerous Trump talking heads who think Americans are stupid, said, “You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving … alternative facts.”

Alternative facts seem to be pretty close to the Nazi propaganda technique, called the Big Lie. It is about the use of a lie so colossal that the public would not believe that someone would have the audacity to distort the truth so impressively. Except, I’m going to reiterate most Americans (an non-Americans) aren’t that stupid. And sorry for going Godwin so early in the article, but sometimes, it is necessary to point out the obvious.

I’ve been fighting alternative facts as skeptic for nearly three decades. It started when I got into an argument with a school board candidate in California who said that “evolution is just a theory.” Now, those of you with scientific understanding accept that a theory, at least in science, is approximately equal to a fact. What he should have said is, “evolution is just a fact,” but instead he was making “theory” a pejorative which implied evolution wasn’t a fact.

He and I must have argued for 20 minutes, when he finally claimed that science was a religion that required faith, which, of course, is the exact opposite of what science represents. I told him that he apparently lacked any education in science, so why should he be on the school board. He lost, though I take no credit for it.

Over the years, I have evolved (pun intended) into other areas of scientific skepticism, like GMOs, vaccines, and alternative medicine. See, even the junk medicine quacks grasped that “alternative” label long before Donald Trump walked into the national spotlight.

Let’s look at my favorite alternative facts of science.

Read More »Alternative facts – skeptics have been dealing with this for years

Girl Scout cookies and GMO

Girl Scout cookies and GMO – subtly pushing an anti-science agenda

Of all the icons of American life, buying Girl Scout cookies is one of the annual obligations of life. Americans buy these cookies from parents selling for their daughters, from uniformed Girl Scouts in front of the grocery store, or from a family member. I can’t wait for my annual infusion of Samoas, the Girl Scout’s take on the macaroon. Caramel and coconut – how could we go wrong? Well, apparently, I need to spend more time to consider the issue of Girl Scout cookies and GMO ingredients.

To be honest, I’m more concerned about the calories in each. But here we are.

Late last year, The Girl Scouts of the USA made an announcement in regarding Girl Scout cookies and GMO products:

At the current time, there are genetically modified agricultural crops (GMOs) in some Girl Scout Cookies based on a range of market-related factors and depending on specific cookie recipes. In some markets, the specialty-ingredient Girl Scout S’mores sandwich cookie baked by Little Brownie Bakers is made with ingredients that are verified as not containing genetically modified organisms. Girl Scouts recognizes that many people have concerns regarding GMO ingredients, and we monitor member and consumer opinion on this matter while simultaneously addressing industry trends, scientific trends, and, of course, consumer preference.

Sadly, the Girl Scouts have decided to cave in to the demands of certain groups that GMOs bring some sort of harm to consumers. Of course, the usual anti-science groups jumped into the fray. March Against Monsanto, a group that ticks off the most of the junk science checklist with their anti-GMO, anti-vaccine, and anti-fluoridated water arguments, were ecstatic with the announcement. They chimed in that,

There was a time recently in the United States when Non-GMO and organic packaged foods were surprisingly rare, so much so that choice was a virtual non-entity and entire communities of people have no access to non-GMO options.

But now, non-GMO has officially gone mainstream: one of the country’s most recognized institutions, the Girl Scouts of the USA (formerly known as America) has announced its first-ever (officially speaking, anyway) non-GMO cookie.

You can almost see the glee dripping from the announcement. Once again, let’s take a look at Girl Scout cookies and GMO safety. This change happened because of a lot of noise that signified nothing. Time to examine it again.

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GMO crop pesticide

GMO crop pesticide use in USA soybeans and corn – just the facts

The safety of GMO crops to humans, animals and the environment has been well established. The scientific consensus clearly states that consuming bioengineered foods has no effect on your health. Clearly, you can grab an ear of GMO corn, put some butter and a sprinkle of salt on it, and you will eat it with no negative health effects. And you’ll have a giant smile across your face.

But the anti-GMO forces have attempted to move the target. They have tried to claim that GMO crops are less productive and cost more to produce. That’s beyond the scope of this article, though there is some pretty good evidence that there is higher yield for bioengineered crops.

One of the more annoying aspects of the anti-GMO complains is conflating the genetically modified crop with the GMO crop pesticide. Invariably, some someone will post a meme or discuss a trope that evolves from GMO food to glyphosate, the herbicide known as RoundUp. the conversation will lead to ridiculous conclusions that Monsanto (who manufactures glyphosate) is killing everyone by forcing farmers to use RoundUp with Monsanto’s own GMO crops which are resistant to glyphosate. It’s all Monsanto all the time when discussing GMO crop pesticide use.

A new paper was published last month that may or may not give us more information about pesticide use with GMO crops.

Read More »GMO crop pesticide use in USA soybeans and corn – just the facts

Greenpeace anti-GMO beliefs

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.

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GMO dangers

GMO dangers – another published paper retracted UPDATE

The science of GMO dangers has been seriously overblown by activists that really have no science behind their beliefs. The safety of GMOs has really reached the point that almost all of the scientific evidence is firmly on the side of the safety of GMO crops and, by extension, foods. Beyond that, the scientific consensus of respected scientific organizations across the world have come to the conclusion that the body of evidence supports the safety of GMO foods. And that GMO crops, which have been around for 10,000 years, are necessary to feed the people of this planet.

Nevertheless, the activists who continue to push the GMO dangers trope continue with their bad science. A few years ago, an article by Gilles-Eric Séralini was published which trumpeted the belief that GMOs cause cancerThat article was widely ridiculed and criticized by scientists across the world. Eventually, because of bad study design, terrible statistics, and harsh criticism of the conclusions, the journal that published the article retracted it.

It’s clear, at least to me, that when a side of a sociopolitical debate lacks scientific evidence, such as the anti-GMO side, they grab at anything, including Séralini’s retracted study, in an attempt to cherry-pick themselves into scientific legitimacy.  And it’s happened again.

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Prevent Zika virus – female

Prevent Zika virus with GMO mosquitoes – Frankensquito returns

Over the past few months, the Zika virus, a mosquito borne disease that is passed from the mother to the developing fetus, has become the focus of a lot of attention because of the danger it poses to the fetus. There are no vaccines or treatments for the virus, so the best we can do is stop the carrier, two species of the Aedes mosquito. Probably the best way to prevent Zika virus spread is with genetically modified mosquitoes, the Frankensquito.

Even though mosquitoes are the main way to be stricken with the Zika virus, it is even crazier than that. Men and women who contract the disease can then transmit it sexually to their partners. So even those who are nowhere near the Zika carrying mosquitoes may be at risk of getting the virus.

Recently, there have been numerous cases of Zika virus infection in  south Florida, and, because of the lack of effective preventative vaccines and treatments, public health officials have looked at other methods to prevent Zika virus. The most effective way is to eliminate the carriers of this virus, mosquitoes.

I have written several articles about these GMO mosquitoes, but that had been with regards to preventing Dengue fever, also a dangerous mosquito carried disease. But just like the “outcry” with the Frankensquito and Dengue fever, we’re hearing almost the same nonsense with respect to Zika virus. Let’s look at the scientific facts, with the hope that some will see the importance of prevention.

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GMO labeling law

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.

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genetically engineered crops

Genetically engineered crops – safe for humans and animals

For the past few years, I’ve posted nearly 50 articles here discussing the relative safety of genetically engineered crops. I’ve debunked myths. I’ve written about massive studies that show that they are safe for humans and animals, and, frankly, also for the environment.

I’ve also discussed the broad scientific consensus that supports the safety and usefulness of genetically engineered crops. This consensus derives from the best scientific minds in genetics, agriculture, botany, biomedical sciences, and many other areas of science germane to this topic.

And no different than the climate change deniers, who reject the broad scientific consensus on anthropogenic climate change, the anti-GMO activists reject science for any number of logical fallacies, and cherry picking of the science that supports their preordained beliefs. Many of us believe that the anti-GMO crowd are the left’s version of climate change deniers.

A new report has reviewed 900 studies and data since genetically modified crops were first introduced. And what did they find? Genetically engineered crops are safe.

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