Something’s fishy – GMO salmon is on its way

AquAdvantage GMO salmon

On 19 November 2015, the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)  announced that a new GMO salmon, called AquAdvantage, is just as safe as any other salmon for consumption. The FDA based their decision on boatloads of data submitted by the company that developed the GMO salmon, Aqua Bounty Technologies, along with independent peer-reviewed data.

The approval process, taking nearly 20 years, for this transgenic salmon far exceeded the process required for pharmaceutical drug approval. The original application was filed in 1996, and data from 10 generations of the salmon had to be submitted to the FDA. It would be a ridiculous myth to claim that the FDA just bowed to the GMO salmon industry.

Of course, just like every other genetically-modified food ever developed, fear and loathing takes precedence over logic and scientific evidence. A major grocery store chain in the USA, Costco, has refused to market the fish, followed by other expensive grocery chains like Whole Foods, a promoter of pseudoscience in foods. A few countries have even written new regulations to block its import.

As can be expected, any group that doesn’t agree with the scientific evidence, turns to courts to help them out. Anti-vaccine and anti-climate change radicals love to do this, though they usually fail. In the case of the GMO salmon, the radical anti-GMO group, Center for Food Safety, has announced that they will proceed with a lawsuit to block introduction of this fish.  Once again, scientific evidence is ignored or cherry-picked in lieu of the pre-existing conclusion that GMO salmon is unsafe.

Time to look at this story with a bit more of a critical, skeptical analysis.

Continue reading “Something’s fishy – GMO salmon is on its way”

Bad for science and academic freedom: harassing Kevin Folta

If you don’t know about the case of anti-GMO activists harassing Dr. Kevin Folta, Professor and Chairman in the Department of Horticultural Sciences at the University of Florida, I’ve written about it extensively over the past few months.

Dr. Folta  is considered to be an expert in plant genetics including genetic modification of plants. He has been studying this field for nearly three decades, published extensively in real peer-reviewed journals, and has trained legions of graduate students. He should be considered a real authority figure in GMO research.

In 2012, Dr. Folta was “targeted” by a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request from an activist to get all of Dr. Folta’s emails about GMOs. If you are unfamiliar with this particular tactic, it is used frequently by climate change deniers to harass and bully climate change scientists.

This will be a repeating theme of this article – the science deniers who are harassing Kevin Folta are almost exactly the same as the science deniers who attack climate change scientists. They must be proud of this.

Continue reading “Bad for science and academic freedom: harassing Kevin Folta”

Another myth – labeling GMO foods is not expensive

One of the goals of the anti-GMO gangs is to push labeling of food products that contain anything that is considered to be genetically modified. They have sought out laws for food labeling in various ways, including propositions and legislation.

Generally, these efforts have been a failure in the USA, except in Vermont, Maine and Connecticut, although each may be or has been subject to judicial review. And there is a strong possibility that these labeling laws will probably be found unconstitutional.

Even California, one of the most liberal states in the USA, rejected GMO labeling in a popular vote on Proposition 37 in 2012. Ironically, Proposition 37 received strong financial and person support from noted pseudoscience-pushing, anti-vaccination shill, Joe Mercola.

Even recently, Gary Hirshberg, one of the most loud-mouthed anti-GMO activists, repeated the myth  in an August 2015 op-ed: “adding a few words to the ingredient panel. . . would have no impact on the price of food.”

Given that there is little evidence that GMOs are dangerous, given that that there is a strong scientific consensus on the safety and usefulness of GMOs, and given that GMOs are an important technology for the future of humanity, it’s an odd argument that we need to label foods as to their GMO content.

Let me be clear. Food labeling is critical, and it must get better. Diabetics need accurate information about food content to adjust their diet and insulin use. Ironically, people with real gluten sensitivities (extremely rare) have benefited mightily from “gluten free” product labeling, which resulted from the myth of gluten sensitivities pushed by pseudoscience.

Given the scientific facts regarding the safety of GMOs, labeling is ridiculous.

Because the anti-GMO forces know they can’t win on the science, they have begun pushing labeling because they say that it does not add costs to food. Some of them claim that, in the USA, the cost of labeling is less than a penny a day.

Gary Hirshberg, one of the most loud-mouthed anti-GMO activists, repeated the myth  in an August 2015 op-ed: “adding a few words to the ingredient panel. . . would have no impact on the price of food.”

Even though the science says they are wrong, many ask “why not allow labeling, especially if it’s not that expensive.”

Because that claim – that labeling GMO foods is not expensive  – only accounts for the direct cost of labeling, not anything else. And it’s wrong, economically.

The anti-GMO gang exclusively focuses on only two points with regards to labeling – that the cost of changing the labels is small, and that consumer behavior probably won’t change. Most of their beliefs about costs are based on cherry picked studies (pdf), which are worth approximately nothing to a real scientific skeptic

I call it as I see it–a denier is not a skeptic

Editor’s note: This article was originally published in December 2014. It has been revised and updated to include more comprehensive information, to improve readability, or to add current research.

The name of this blog, of course, is the Skeptical Raptor. I’m not sure how I invented that name, but I like raptors, either the fossil dinosaur version, or the living dinosaur versions, birds of prey. They both actually work as a metaphor of what I try to do–provide scientific and knowledgeable analyses of the scientific consensus or critiques of beliefs and pseudoscience. Usually one leads to another.

Of course, I don’t pretend to be very nice about my critiques, probably another reason why I chose to put “Raptor” in the blog’s name.

So, you know I’d get super annoyed by those who reject science, then misappropriate the word “skeptic” (or for those of you who prefer the Queen’s English, sceptic). A denier is not a skeptic – the former actually reject the rationality and open-mindedness of real skepticism (and science), but they pretend they are the real skeptics. Oh really? Continue reading “I call it as I see it–a denier is not a skeptic”

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”

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?”

California drought myths and science

If you pay attention to anything about the weather, especially climate change, you know that California is experiencing an epic drought. The causes are complex (always be skeptical of “simple” explanations), and the fixes may not even be possible.

So instead of talking about California’s new mandatory vaccine law (or anything else about vaccines), maybe it was time to talk about California drought myths –then refute them with science, which is always fun.

Stating the obvious, water is necessary for the residents, industry and agriculture of California. The Los Angeles metro area, with about 10 million people, and other Southern California cities, like San Diego, have few natural water sources, so they must rely upon water that arises far away from the residents.

The mountains, especially the Sierra Nevada range, of California are the water “bank” for the state. The winter snowfall ends up being the spring runoff, which is stored in reservoirs, and used, until the next season. Los Angeles takes (or steals if you saw the Jack Nicholson movie, Chinatown) water from the eastern slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains, a sparsely populated (and rarely visited) part of California.

The fact that the 2015 snowpack on April 1 was a pathetic 5% of normal, while the snowpack on June 1 was 0% of normal, is frightening. In other words, snowmelt, that in some years can last well into summer, was gone before summer started, so California essentially has no water in the bank. And because this drought is nearly 4 years old, the reservoirs are mostly dry, and there’s little water left.

Continue reading “California drought myths and science”

Stopping dengue fever with genetically modified mosquitoes

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 antivaccine gang and the Big Pharma ad hominems that we hear frequently.

As I’ve discussed on a number of occasions, genetically modified organisms, whether they be crops or animals or other organisms, seem to cause an irrational and unscientific concern. GMOs are generally safe, and we have lots of scientific evidence to back that up. But still, people get scared.

Continue reading “Stopping dengue fever with genetically modified mosquitoes”

Water fluoridation myths – just another blog article

When I was a kid (probably 6 or 7), there was a big controversy in our community whether the water would be fluoridated or not. Now, I was just becoming fascinated by science, medicine, health, and sports at that time, so I tried to figure out what was happening.

To my ears and adolescent brain, the argument boiled down to no fluoridation (which meant cavities and visits to the dentist) vs. fluoridation (which was a communist conspiracy). Scary choices. Though Nazi dentists were also plenty scary.

But I grew up, and fluoridation became more common, as communities accepted the evidence that fluoridate water was safe, and improved the health of the community’s teeth. Water systems are mostly fluoridated (unless you drink bottled water).

And fluoride is in toothpaste and various mouthwashes. I thought the fluoridation controversy had passed into history with rotary phones, the Soviet Union, and the slide rule. My younger readers probably have never seen any of those three in their native states.

Now it’s time to look at those water fluoridation myths that can be found in many corners of the internet. Continue reading “Water fluoridation myths – just another blog article”