The bad science checklist of GMO opponents

One of my favorite science websites is at Science or Not, the author of which, Graham Coghill, claims that “this website will help you separate real science from nonsense that’s masquerading as science.” Most real scientific skeptics have that goal, but Coghill does a great job in formalizing science into a readable, logical format.

Coghill has been doing a couple of series of blog posts, both of which are some of my favorites for science. One is the “Hallmarks of Science,” which endeavors to describe what makes good science.

Then there is its evil twin, the “Red Flags of Science,” which points out the indicators of bad science, pseudoscience or plain nonsense.

So with all due respect to Graham Coghill, I’m going to abscond with his Red Flags of Science series, and show how the GMO opponents use bad science to make their case. (Please note, I deleted some Red Flags that didn’t apply to GMO refusers, like magical powers).

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What does science say about GMO’s–they’re safe

The science deniers of the world, whether they deny evolution, global warming, vaccines, or GMO safety, spend their time inventing pseudoscience to support their beliefs and claims. As I have written previously, “Pseudoscience is easy. It doesn’t take work. It’s the lazy man’s (or woman’s) “science.” But it has no value, and because it lacks high quality evidence in support of it, it should be dismissed, and it should not be a part of the conversation.”

Alternatively, real science is really hard. And it takes time. And it’s based on high quality evidence. And it is repeated. And it is almost always published in high quality journals. As I’ve said a thousand times, real science takes hard work and is intellectually challenging. You just don’t wake up one day and say “I’m a scientist.” No, it requires college, graduate school, teaching, working in world class laboratories, publishing, defending your ideas to your peers, and one day, if you don’t stop, you will be an authority in your little field of science.

The anti-GMO crowd is mostly lazy. They have this luddite belief that all technology is bad, but have absolutely no evidence to support it. Sure, they pick out one or two poorly done articles and then shout for all the world to hear “GMO’s are dangerous to…bees, humans, babies, whales, trees” over and over and over again.  Yet what do the GMO refusers really bring to the table?  Continue reading “What does science say about GMO’s–they’re safe”

The anti-GMO bad science checklist

gmo-grenadeThis article is a substantial update of the original one published last year. 

One of my favorite science websites is at Science or Not, the author of which, Graham Coghill, claims that “this website will help you separate real science from nonsense that’s masquerading as science.” Most real scientific skeptics have that goal, but Coghill does a great job in formalizing science into a readable, logical format. If I had to only read one science blog, it would be his, since his logical methodology to critically evaluate scientific claims would help me evaluate anything I read.

Coghill has two ongoing series of articles, one, the “Hallmarks of Science,” which endeavors to describe what makes good science, and it’s evil twin, the “Red Flags of Science,” which establishes the key indicators of bad science, pseudoscience or plain nonsense. With these two powerful tools, one could, through an openminded analysis, determine the the strength of evidence supporting a claim.

Continue reading “The anti-GMO bad science checklist”

No more “debates” about GMO safety–thanks to trillions of data points

GMO-protestAs I’ve written a few hundred times before, there’s really no such thing as a “debate” in science, at least in the sense that two sides argue in front of the public, and then there is vote on who is “right” or “wrong.” All that matters in science is the quantity and quality of evidence, that’s it. Yes, sometimes scientists do argue about evidence, but that’s usually done in peer reviewed articles, notes, and other forms of communication. It is mostly civil. And eventually, the evidence drives to a consensus.

Only to the public is there a delusion that there are debates on science. You might think there are debates about anthropogenic global warming, evolution, vaccines, HIV/AIDS, and GMO/biotechnology, but there really isn’t. Scientists aren’t sitting in bars across the world throwing bottles of beer at each other because everyone is divided between pro and anti-GMO. Because that’s just plainly not happening.

When I read that 97% of climate scientists support the fact of global warming or that 99.4% of natural scientists agree with the fact of evolution, it implies that there’s some sort of vote. But if there were, it would be, what we call in US elections, a landslide. But in reality, scientists come to a consensus about broad principles over time, and that is based on published evidence, not logical fallacies or bad data.

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GMO foods cause cancer–pseudoscience says it’s so

Let’s make something clear right here, at the beginning of the article–there is a vast amount of legitimate scientific literature that describes evidence that GMO crops are safe to both human health and the environment.

In the world of scientific research, the absolute highest quality evidence are meta reviews, which are methods to contrast and combine results from a wide swath of peer-reviewed studies which may be useful in identifying patterns, sources of disagreement and other relationships. Since meta reviews combine the results from a larger number of studies, they can be more statistically significant.

Last year, a team of Italian researchers published one such meta review of GMO studies in a peer-reviewed, high impact factor journal, Critical Review of Biotechnology (pdf). The authors collected and evaluated 1,783 research papers, reviews, relevant opinions, and reports published between 2002 and 2012, a comprehensive process that took over 12 months to complete. The review covered all aspects of GM crop safety, from how the crops interact with the environment to how they could potentially affect the humans and animals who consume them. Their conclusion, even in science-speak, could not be clearer:

The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of GE crops.

cancer-gmo-flakes-kellogs

The EU, which has shown some resistance to GMO crops, has spent over €300 million on GMO research over the last 20 years. Their 2010 report on GMO, which summarized the previous decade of research (pdf), concluded that:

It follows up previous publications on EU-funded research on GMO safety. Over the last 25 years, more than 500 independent research groups have been involved in such research.

According to the projects’ results, there is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms.

Remember, scientific consensus is not based on debate or arguing. Yes, the lone voice pushing new ideas or fighting a dogma should be given a pulpit to share their evidence. And that’s the key point, evidence matters, dramatic beliefs do not. If someone is going to state that GMO’s are unsafe, then they need to bring evidence, published in real journals, that carry the same weight as the thousands of articles that say “GMO’s are safe.” Just like the climate change deniers, who claim there’s a scientific debate, but have never brought the quality and quantity of evidence of the climate change supporters, the anti-GMO crowd uses the same exact tactics–screaming and yelling about the dangers of GMOs using very bad science.

And right now, the scientific consensus regarding GMO’s is solid–they are safe.

Continue reading “GMO foods cause cancer–pseudoscience says it’s so”

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.

Continue reading “Cheerios now GMO free–it’s not what it appears to be”

Overhyped GMO corn study gets more scrutiny

Over the past couple of weeks, I have discussed a study by Gilles-Eric Séralini et al. published in Food and Chemical Toxicology that concluded that glyphosate-resistant NK603 GMO corn developed by Monsanto causes severe diseases such as tumors in rats. Of course, the study was picked up by many anti-science groups and broadcast widely as “GMO foods cause cancer.”

Except, the study really was badly done. Read about my deconstruction of the study here. And read how GMO’s have become the “global warming denialism” of the left. The study was ridiculed widely in science and skeptics blogs. A new article in Nature News summarized the criticism of Séralini et al.:

The biggest criticism from both reviews is that Séralini and his team used only ten rats of each sex in their treatment groups. That is a similar number of rats per group to that used in most previous toxicity tests of GM foods, including Missouri-based Monsanto’s own tests of NK603 maize. Such regulatory tests monitor rats for 90 days, and guidelines from the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) state that ten rats of each sex per group over that time span is sufficient because the rats are relatively young. But Séralini’s study was over two years — almost a rat’s lifespan — and for tests of this duration, the OECD recommends at least 20 rats of each sex per group for chemical-toxicity studies, and at least 50 for carcinogenicity studies.

Moreover, the study used Sprague-Dawley rats, which both reviews note are prone to developing spontaneous tumours. Data provided to Nature by Harlan Laboratories, which supplied the rats in the study, show that only one-third of males, and less than one-half of females, live to 104 weeks. By comparison, its Han Wistar rats have greater than 70% survival at 104 weeks, and fewer tumours. OECD guidelines state that for two-year experiments, rats should have a survival rate of at least 50% at 104 weeks. If they do not, each treatment group should include even more animals — 65 or more of each sex.

“There is a high probability that the findings in relation to the tumour incidence are due to chance, given the low number of animals and the spontaneous occurrence of tumours in Sprague-Dawley rats,” concludes the EFSA report. In response to the EFSA’s assessment, the European Federation of Biotechnology — an umbrella body in Barcelona, Spain, that represents biotech researchers, institutes and companies across Europe — called for the study to be retracted, describing its publication as a “dangerous case of failure of the peer-review system”.

Because of the low quality of the research, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) in Parma, Italy, issued its initial assessment of Séralini’s paper, which slammed the conclusions.

The numerous issues relating to the design and methodology of the study as described in the paper mean that no conclusions can be made about the occurrence of tumours in the rats tested.

Therefore, based on the information published by the authors, EFSA does not see a need to re-examine its previous safety evaluation of maize NK603 nor to consider these findings in the ongoing assessment of glyphosate.

“The design, reporting and analysis of the study, as outlined in the paper, are inadequate,” said the EFSA in a press release, and added that the paper is “of insufficient scientific quality to be considered as valid for risk assessment”.
 
On the basis of the publication, the BfR has come to the conclusion that the authors’ main statements are not sufficiently corroborated by experimental evidence. In addition, due to deficiencies in the study design and in the presentation and interpretation of the study results, the main conclusions of the authors are not supported by the data.
Séralini refuses to release any of his data for public scrutiny, which is highly unusual for peer-reviewed research. One of the most important features of science is being open to the bright lights of criticism, which means review of data. I guess Séralini isn’t really happy that his research is being blasted by scientists worldwide, since the design, analysis, statistics, and conclusions barely met the standards of a high school science fair.
 
Key citations:

GMO opponents are the global warming denialists of the left

This article has been updated, revised, modernized, and zombified. Read that one instead.

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 US, creationism is a fundamental part of the Republican Party strategy across the country. The latter is sometimes mistakenly called global warming skepticism, because “skeptic” was stolen by the pseudoskeptics, but plainly is a right-wing belief across the world, often intersecting closely with the evolution deniers. In fact, much of the anti-evolution legislation pushed by Republican legislatures in the United States has an anti-global warming component.

Global warming or evolution is supported by a massive mountain of scientific evidence. Both are theories that are ” well-substantiated explanations of some aspect of the natural world, based on a body of facts that have been repeatedly confirmed through observation and experiment.” As I have stated before, rhetoric and debate are not going to refute these theories. We demand scientific data, produced in world class laboratories that have been published in top tier, high quality journals, subject to withering criticism. After time, they will either be accepted into the body of evidence or rejected. That’s how science works. It’s not a political debate where the person with the loudest voice wins. Continue reading “GMO opponents are the global warming denialists of the left”

GMO corn causes cancer–Myth vs. Science (recent news)

Background

Genetically modified crops are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs), and all types of agricultural breeding induces genetic modification, but in general, GMO usually implies actual manipulation of the genes. The major controversy surrounds the use of DNA recombination-introducing genes from one species into another. Despite all of this controversy, there is an amazing lack of data that shows that GMO foods are unsafe. In fact, there are secondary reviews that show it is safeContinue reading “GMO corn causes cancer–Myth vs. Science (recent news)”