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Neil deGrasse Tyson tells GMO haters to chill out–liberals get angry

Credit to Wikimedia.
Credit to Wikimedia.

Neil deGrasse Tyson, probably the most popular astrophysicist, if not scientist, of this generation, replaced Carl Sagan as the spokesman of all things science for the country. While not ignoring Bill Nye‘s impact on making science education fun and approachable (and who took classes from Carl Sagan at Cornell University), Sagan literally passed the baton of being the country’s science teacher to Tyson.

For those of us on the left side of the political spectrum, Tyson is like the hero of the pro-science crowd. This past spring, Tyson hosted a program, Cosmos: A Spacetime Odyssey, which described and supported some of the great science ideas of our time–evolution, age of the universe, human caused climate change, and other major scientific principles. Ironically, the show was broadcast in the USA on the Fox TV network, whose news division can be charitably described as ultraconservative. Right wing Christian fundamentalist groups, one of the main key demographic groups who watch Fox News, loathed Cosmos for trumpeting scientific knowledge over religious interpretations in just about every one of the the 13 episodes.

Of course, for every reason that Fox News hated Cosmos (even though it was a huge ratings success for Fox, and has garnered a significant number of TV awards and nominations), those of us on the pro-science side loved it. Now, I’m a rarity in the science community in that I did not enjoy the show (the animations offended me on so many levels, but apparently kids loved it), I did watch every episode and would have to rank the episodes on evolution and global warming as some of the best science TV I’d ever seen–despite the lame graphics.Read More »Neil deGrasse Tyson tells GMO haters to chill out–liberals get angry

Trying to save lives with the Frankensquito

giant-mosquitoFour hundred years ago, the world was so afraid of Galileo’s scientific ideas that the Catholic Church put him under house arrest for the rest of his life. And he was just describing heliocentrism, the astronomical model where the earth revolves around the sun. Very important to our understanding of the universe, but it was not a life or death matter. You would assume that if a new scientific idea that would help people live longer and healthier, then there would be no fear. However, that assumption is disproven again and again with the antivaccine gang and the Big Pharma ad hominems that we hear frequently.

Over the past couple of years, I’ve written about an innovative an small UK based biotech firm, Oxitec, which has developed genetically modified male mosquitos, sometimes referred to as  Frankensquitos (at term I fully embrace as being both ironic and descriptive) that would mate with wild females. Those females would produce offspring that would not survive to adults, because they require an antibiotic, tetracycline, in their diet, something that isn’t usually available in the the wild. Over time, with multiple releases of males, the population of the Aedes aegypti mosquito, which is the vector for transmitting Dengue fever. would fall to such a level that transmission of the the disease would be significantly reduced, if not completely stopped.Read More »Trying to save lives with the Frankensquito

One hour of research on Google–obviously all science is wrong

I’ve been told that I need to quit relying on the peer-reviewed journals for my scientific knowledge, because they are paid for by Big Government, Big Pharma, Big Agra, Big Hebrew and Big Whatever. They’re all just big with every single person involved dedicated to providing information to fool the people of earth. 

Science is obviously wrong about everything. Including unicorns. Obviously wrong about unicorns.
Science is obviously wrong about everything. Including unicorns. Obviously wrong about unicorns.

Apparently, the only acceptable type of research is doing it yourself using Google. Or in a pinch, Bing. 

Because I wanted to be more open-minded and to learn the Truth™ about everything. And here’s what I found.Read More »One hour of research on Google–obviously all science is wrong

Anti-GMO cult trumpets GMO genes transfer to wild rice–update

GMO_riceIt is well accepted observation that when the pseudoscience or anti-science crowd runs out of supporting evidence (usually when it’s thoroughly debunked by scientific skeptics), it has to rely upon the whole range of logical fallacies, which are errors in reasoning to support a position in an argument or debate. Because scientific skeptics (or if we’re talking about medicine, science based medicine) always demand high quality evidence to support their own claims, or alternatively demanding evidence from other making suspicious claims, the anti-science and pseudoscience pushing troupes frequently cherry pick “peer-reviewed” research to use as their “proof” for their claims. 

Cherry picking makes it appear that there a nothing but ripe beautiful cherries of evidence supporting your position. The problem is when you look at the whole basket of cherry’s you see all sorts quality. Same with peer-reviewed evidence. You may find one article that says “Point A is correct.” But what is the quality of that article? How does it fit with all the other articles that say “Point A is not only incorrect, but Conclusion B is the scientific consensus.” You can’t cherry pick one article, without understanding and analyzing the vast breadth of research in a field.

Moreover, because the pseudoscience promoters are resort to confirmation bias, always looking for evidence to support their beliefs rather than seeing what the evidence supports, they ignore the vast majority of evidence or tend to misinterpret the evidence. So, when you read some blog post or pseudo-news article about a published scientific article that says GMO’s are dangerous, you need to dig beyond the headlines, and head right to the scientific source to determine what is really being said. And this happened recently.Read More »Anti-GMO cult trumpets GMO genes transfer to wild rice–update

Cheerios now GMO free–it’s not what it appears to be

anti-GMO-antiscienceAs we entered 2014, General Mills, the Minnesota-based food processing giant, announced that the breakfast cereal, Cheerios, probably its most popular brand, will be labelled as GMO free. And the anti-science GMO refusers were partying across the land, with the anti-science Huffington Post adding to the Cheerios cheers:

Green America Corporate Responsibility Director Todd Larsen highlighted what General Mills’ decision means in a press release. “Original Cheerios in its famous yellow box will now be non-GMO and this victory sends a message to all food companies that consumers are increasingly looking for non-GMO products and companies need to meet that demand,” he said.

Of course, this was a pretty simple move for General Mills. About all it’s really going to cost them is a new box design to promote “GMO-Free”. It’s inexpensive and simple for General Mills because there are no genetically modified oats as of today. So, they don’t have to find new sources for the grain or most of the other components of the cereal. Actually, the only thing they had to do was switch the tiny amount of beet sugar used to sweeten the cereal to another type, something that is ostensibly an easy step in manufacturing. 

Despite General Mills taking a tiny, inexpensive and risk-free step over the line to label GM-free, and going against what the industry has wanted, no labeling whatsoever, really nothing much has  changed. General Mills is still opposed to all state initiatives demanding GMO labeling, which have mostly failed, probably as a result of corporate expenditures opposing these initiatives. General Mills still thinks genetically modified foods are safe and should not removed from the market. But with over 90% of Americans buying into the anti-science activism and believing that GMO’s are dangerous, and 59 percent of Americans now getting their nutritional advice from the internet, it becomes a brilliant marketing move for an aging brand. Instantly, Cheerios stands out in the supermarket aisle as one of the few major brand cereals that is GMO-free. It was a low-risk move that probably had no material impact on either General Mill’s strategies with genetically modified foods or the cost of manufacturing the cereal.

Although I have no evidence confirming my cynicism, eventually General Mills can increase the price of its GMO-free cereal, because demand will be higher for it. Then other oat cereal manufacturers will do the same, and eventually we’ll have more expensive cereal. I’m sure the anti-science GMO-radicals are happy that companies can make more profits for really not doing much. But that’s capitalism for you.

Read More »Cheerios now GMO free–it’s not what it appears to be

“Natural” supplements are filled with dangerous junk

When Big Pharma develops a new prescription medication, the regulatory authorities, such as the US FDA, set regulatory guidelines for not only the claims made by the company but also for the manufacturing standards. Every ingredient used to manufacture a pill or injectable must be listed in the package insert and must be tested during the three or phases of clinical trials.

©Daily Mail UK, 2013
©Daily Mail UK, 2013

 

In general, if a pharmaceutical company makes any changes to the ingredients, even something as simple as a binder in the pill, it must re-file with the regulatory authorities for clearance to do so. Even if a manufacturer changes equipment or a process, without changing the the ingredients, it is required to file those changes with the FDA, and they may not proceed with the change. 

The same is not true of so called “natural health products.” In fact, according to a study published in BMC Medicinethe majority of herbal products on the market contain ingredients that are not listed on the product’s label. Furthermore, these companies (let’s call them Big Herbal) often substitute some of the ingredients with cheaper, untested alternatives and fillers.Read More »“Natural” supplements are filled with dangerous junk

The “Frankensquito”–trying to save lives in the Florida Keys

Update to an article from last year.

Four hundred years ago, the world was so afraid of Galileo’s scientific ideas that the Catholic Church put him under house arrest for the rest of his life. And he was just describing heliocentrism, the astronomical model where the earth revolves around the sun. Very important to our understanding of the universe, but it was not a life or death matter. You would assume that if a new scientific idea that would help people live longer and healthier, then there would be no fear. However, that assumption is disproven again and again with the anti-vaccine gang and the Big Pharma ad hominems that we hear frequently.

The British newspaper, the Guardian, last year reported that a small UK based biotech firm, Oxitec, is running into public resistance to testing a genetically modified mosquito that may stop the spread of the species of mosquito that spreads dengue fever in the Florida Keys. Earlier this year, the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (yes, there are governmental entities in Florida that are entirely responsible for mosquito control and abatement) encouraged public comment about the program.

One of the largest concerns for the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District (FKMCD) is Dengue fever, a disease caused by any one of four closely related dengue viruses (DENV 1, DENV 2, DENV 3, or DENV 4) that are transmitted by the bite of an infected Aedes aegypti mosquito, the most important transmitter or vector of dengue viruses in North America.Read More »The “Frankensquito”–trying to save lives in the Florida Keys

Where’s the common sense in the GMO discussion?

gmo_protestMy job here is to push science, and push it hard.  And I’m not pushing “science” as some esoteric philosophy of academia, but as a relatively easy system of gathering evidence in support of (or alternatively, in refutation of) what people believe. There isn’t some button you push to get “science”, even though way too many people think that click on a Google search qualifies as science (and evidence supporting their “science”). I try to call out false equivalences, that is, that all evidence is equal, even if one side of the “debate” has low quality or even no evidence. I try to provide methods to rank evidence, so that an average reader can get an indication of the quality of evidence supporting a pseudoscientific or anti-science belief, which allows anyone to make a better critical analysis of what is written.

But sometimes, you don’t even need science. Just common sense, something woefully lacking in many of the anti-science memes that seem to easily circulate across social media these days.

When I wrote an article about Richard Dawkin’s comments on genetically modified organisms (GMO) agriculture, I got a lot of comments on Reddit, Facebook, Twitter, and comments here. One of those sources lead me to an article by one of the world’s top scientists, Nina Fedoroff, a Penn State University faculty member, who actually studies biotechnology, and, more specifically, in the field of transposable elements or “jumping genes,” one of the major beliefs of GMO refusers. Her scientific bonafides are public, including being past President of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) and a member of the National Academy of Sciences, probably one of the most prestigious institutions in science. That she is also an alumna of Syracuse University is just a bonus. Read More »Where’s the common sense in the GMO discussion?

Reblog: “10 ‘scientific’ responses” to “10 reasons we don’t need GMOs”

gmo-cornI don’t generally re-blog articles I’ve read. Sometimes, I might read an article and then do my own take on it. But mostly, I just assume that blog posts should stand on their own merits. But today, I want to make an exception. I ran across an article, “10 ‘reasoned’ responses” to “10 reasons we don’t need #GMOs” by Dr. Cami Ryan, “a researcher with the College of Agriculture and Bioresources at the University of Saskatchewan (Canada) and an outspoken advocate for agriculture and science.” She does a point-by-point critique of an article, 10 reasons why we don’t need GM foods. The article has been flying across Facebook and Twitter, and before I had a chance to take it down, Dr. Ryan did a much better job. Probably because she’s a shill for Big Agra, and I’m just a stooge for Big Pharma. Anyways, let her clobber the inaccuracies of that article, point by scientific point (since I think GMO refusers are anti-science people, no different than global warming deniers, I changed the title of the blog to include the word “scientific.”:

 

Read More »Reblog: “10 ‘scientific’ responses” to “10 reasons we don’t need GMOs”