It 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. Continue reading “Anti-GMO cult trumpets GMO genes transfer to wild rice–update”
I 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.”:
The Union of Concerned Scientists (UCS) is an American environmental organization founded in 1969 at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, which claims 400,000 members. They focus, generally, on environmental issues like nuclear power, global warming and a few other issues. Many of these issues are critically important, and a science advocacy group like UCS helps keep the scientific facts about global warming and other environmental issues at the forefront of the discussion.
Every once in a while, there’s a story that’s so unbelievable, it almost sounds like a myth of legendary proportions. Let me try to write this without laughing.
Each day, I receive news feeds from Google with articles from all over the web regarding my favorite issues. Vaccines, vaccinations, politics, sports, and whatever interests me. The feeds are very specific, so sometimes there are just a couple of articles, sometimes, especially with vaccinations, there are literally several dozen. I scan the headlines, and some become articles here.
One of my feeds is simply “GMO,” or genetically modified crops, which are foods derived from genetically modified organisms (GMOs). All types of agricultural breeding induces genetic modification, but in general, GMO usually implies actual manipulation of the genes. GMO’s are a major controversy because of the use of DNA recombination-introducing genes from one species into another, which usually provides crops with added advantages, such as resistance to pests. A few weeks ago, when the thoroughly debunked “GMO corn causes cancer” story hit the interwebs, and my GMO news feed was filled with articles. Lately, it’s dropped down to a handful. Continue reading “GMO opponents fall for a hoax”
This is a story about clinical research, misinterpreting said clinical research, an overaggressive Public Relations department, honest scientists, and good scientific journalism. Let’s start at the beginning.
Men who had greater than 1 daily serving of diet soda had increased risks of NHLs and multiple myeloma. Women had no observed increased risks.
They also observed an unexpected elevated risk of NHL with a higher consumption of regular, sugar-sweetened soda in men but not in women.
Neither regular nor diet soda increased risk of leukemia but were associated with increased leukemia risk when data for men and women were combined.
Based on these results, you might think that diet sodas are dangerous, at least for men. Or maybe just sodas (or pop), whether sweetened with sugar or artificial sweeteners, are dangerous. Or maybe not. The authors themselves conclude:
Although our findings preserve the possibility of a detrimental effect of a constituent of diet soda, such as aspartame, on select cancers, the inconsistent sex effects and occurrence of an apparent cancer risk in individuals who consume regular soda do not permit the ruling out of chance as an explanation.
In other words, there’s really not much there. And that’s not bad in science. They tried to look for something, and they didn’t find anything. Maybe those men who drank sodas heavily had other confounding risk factors like obesity, diet, or other environmental factors. Or it may just be random.
At this point in the story, it’s just one of those published articles that really isn’t much of anything. No one would make much of it, because it really doesn’t provide much evidence that aspartame or sodas are that dangerous.
Then Brigham and Women’s Hospital puts out a press release with an attention grabbing headline of “The truth isn’t sweet when it comes to artificial sweeteners.” Now, if you saw that headline, you would have assumed that the article provided a solid conclusion that there was a direct causal link between artificial sweeteners and certain cancers. But the article said no such thing, it showed a very weak link, if one at all.
I guess the real scientists at Harvard saw the press release and decided their reputations mattered more than marketing the hospital in an unethical way. But whatever the real story, the hospital issued an “apology”:
It has come to our attention that the scientific leaders at Brigham and Women’s Hospital did not have an opportunity, prior to today, to review the findings of the paper entitled “Consumption of Artificial Sweetener and Sugar Containing Soda and the Risk of Lymphoma and Leukemia in Men and Women”, to be published in today’s Journal of Clinical Nutrition (sic). Upon review of the findings, the consensus of our scientific leaders is that the data is weak, and that BWH Media Relations was premature in the promotion of this work. We apologize for the time you have invested in this story.
Uh, it’s actually the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, shocking they can’t get that right. Maybe I’m just being picky, but Public Relations should represent the organization better than that.
Robert Bazell, NBC News reported that “the situation is a great example of why the public often finds science confusing and frustrating. After being asked some hard questions – and just before the report was to be released — the hospital changed its tune.”
Bazell further reports that “the conclusion was so weak that the researchers had to submit it to six journals before they found a seventh, the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition, that would publish it. Few reporters read that journal. If it was not for the frightening headline no one would have known about this study.”
This study was a well-intended one that could have found a causal link if there was one, because of the way it sought out information. But it did not find the link, and that is how research is done. Sometimes, you find evidence of the null hypothesis, that artificial sweeteners don’t do anything.
And just in case there’s any confusion, Bazell reported that the lead author Schernhammer, when asked whether the published “research proves that aspartame is dangerous, she answered emphatically, ‘No, it does not.'”
Over the past couple of weeks, I have discussed a study by Gilles-Eric Séraliniet 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.”
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”.
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.
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”