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”

A vile personal attack on GMO scientist Kevin Folta

I have oft stated that those who lack scientific evidence resort to ad hominem personal attacks as their last resort. That’s all they’ve got, so the science deniers have to go double down on their personal attacks, often in the form of putrid hate speech.

I’ve written frequently about the personal attacks from the pseudoscience side, especially in the anti-vaccination cult. They’ve attacked Paul Offit. They’ve used anti-Semitic bigotry to attack Dorit Reiss, one of the writers here. They’ve attacked Senator Richard Pan, co-sponsor of SB 277 which mandates vaccination of children in California, with horrific violent threats and Nazi imagery.

The hate speech of the antivaccine lunacy is legendary, and apparently the anti-GMO version of the anti-science world has been taught well, confirming my suspicion that all anti-science cults get together at their annual meeting in the Bermuda Triangle to share strategies. I’m kidding, of course. Mostly I’m kidding.

As I wrote previously, a PLoS blog was posted that served as an attack piece on GMO scientist Kevin Folta – a respected University of Florida plant genetics researcher. The PLoS post, written by Paul D. Thacker and Charles Seife, attacked Dr. Folta for a whole host of sins, including a claim that he was more or less directing Monsanto’s strategies for dealing with GMO labeling laws.

Within a couple of days, after withering criticism across the science community, PLoS removed the attack piece with a whimpering non-apology apology.

In the meantime, character assassinations against Dr. Folta started.  Here’s one posted in craigslist, which is truly a vile personal attack.

 

craigslist-folta-monsanto

 

This cowardly post refers to Dr. Folta’s mother. According to him, the attack was personally offensive:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]Tomorrow would be my mother’s birthday, she’d be 69 years old, if she was still alive. She died a few years ago, way too young, and we all still miss her tremendously. [/infobox]

I don’t understand the hate of this coward who, because he really has no science, no knowledge, but plenty of ignorance, decides to attack someone on craigslist, the bastion of scams and rip-offs. And that hatred is based on a retracted, gonzo journalism piece that had all of the research quality of an elementary school newspaper. Oh, sorry, I think I’m insulting all those fine kids who do their best job on elementary school newspapers.

I don’t know Dr. Folta personally, but I do know other scientists who get attacked frequently. David Gorski, using snark and mockery, laughs at the anti-science crowd, entertaining skeptics everywhere. Dorit Rubinstein Reiss tries to ignore it, and sticks to facts. Others know that they win on the science, and write popular books to describe how their science ignorance can harm people.

Of course, I personally just throw back the ad hominem attacks right in their face, because if one has all the evidence, like I do, I have no patience with those nut jobs.

If I could give one tiny piece of advice to Dr. Folta–ignore the ignorant jerks. Or mock them with all the humor you can muster. You are their targets because they think they have something on you, but they don’t. I put up with personal attacks all across the internet. I just laugh, because they are just viruses, and I’m immune.

I often refer to Ernst’s Law which states:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”] If you are researching complementary and alternative medicine (CAM) and you are not hated by the CAM world, you’re not doing it right.[/infobox]

This  Law refers to Edzard Ernst, an academic physician and researcher in the UK who specializes in analyzing and criticizing the claims of complementary and alternative medicine.

Replace “complementary and alternative medicine” with anti-GMO, and we have the Folta Corollary to Ernst’s Law:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”] If you are researching genetically modified organisms (GMO) and you are not hated by the anti-GMO world, you’re not doing it right.[/infobox]

It’s sad that hatred from the anti-science side has to be a badge of honor instead of the evidence and facts, but that’s where we are. We have become a world where science is hated, unless it fits some predetermined conclusion. Sigh.

Note. I identify Dr. Kevin Folta as a “GMO scientist,” a “label” that some people don’t like. My goals in this blog are twofold–first, to frame the discussion between those who use science and those who deny it. And second, to optimize search parameters to make certain people who  do internet searches of complex topics find my articles. People aren’t going to search “University of Florida plant geneticist Kevin Folta emails FOIA request.” They’re going to search “GMO scientist emails.” 



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Pseudoscience and science – bullshit vs. rational thought

Editor’s note: This article has been rewritten and updated. Please visit that article

Let’s start with a quote (edited for clarity and because some points aren’t germane to this article) from the just-retired Jon Stewart, in his final rant ever on the Daily Show:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]Bullshit Is everywhere. There is very little that you will encounter in life that has not been, in some ways, infused with bullshit.

Not all of it bad. Your general, day-to-day, organic free-range bullshit is often necessary. That kind of bullshit in many ways provides important social-contract fertilizer. It keeps people from making people each other cry all day.

But then there’s the more pernicious bullshit–your premeditated, institutional bullshit, designed to obscure and distract. Designed by whom? The bashitocracy.

It comes in three basic flavors. One, making bad things sound like good things. “Organic, all-natural.” Because factory-made sugar oatmeal balls doesn’t sell. Patriot Act, because the “are you scared enough to let me look at all your phone records” Act doesn’t sell. So whenever something’s been titled Freedom Family Fairness Health America, take a good long sniff. Chances are it’s been manufactured in a facility that may contain traces of bullshit

Number two. Hiding the bad things under mountains of bullshit Complexity. You know, I would love to download Drizzy’s latest Meek Mill diss. But I’m not really interested right now in reading Tolstoy’s iTunes agreement. So I’ll just click agree, even if it grants Apple prima note with my spouse.

And finally, finally, it’s the bullshit of infinite possibility. These bullshitters cover their unwillingness to act under the guise of unending inquiry. We can’t do anything because we don’t yet Imow everything. We cannot take action on climate change, until everyone in the world agrees gay-marriage vaccines won’t cause our children to marry goats, who are going to come for our guns. Until then, I say it leads to controversy.

Now, the good news is this. Bullshitters have gotten pretty lazy. And their work is easily detected. And looking for it is kind of a pleasant way to pass the time.

The best defense against bullshit is vigilance. So if you smell something, say something. [/infobox]

Continue reading “Pseudoscience and science – bullshit vs. rational thought”

Multiple vaccinations weakens the immune system – a myth

If you explore the dark and myth filled back alleys of the antivaccination movement, you will find a wide variety of myths that try to convince people that vaccinating children is dangerous. I’ve covered and refuted many of the myths, although the vaccine deniers tend to rely on zombie myths that keep returning over and over again, never quite dying.

These myths range from outrageous, such as it’s a conspiracy of the government to control population (which I find odd, since the government is barely competent enough to build a post office), to scientific sounding, but ultimately pseudoscientific claims. There are a lot of great websites that debunk many of the myths, and they’re easy to find.

One of the most annoying legends of the antivaccination cult is that multiple vaccinations weakens the immune system of the poor baby’s tender physiology. About that immune system? It’s comparatively strong relative to almost every other organ system in the body.

Continue reading “Multiple vaccinations weakens the immune system – a myth”

Evidence supports rotavirus vaccine effectiveness – vaccines save lives

The CDC recently published robust evidence that supports rotavirus vaccine effectiveness. There is nothing more powerful than epidemiological studies that show a correlation (and causality) between the drop in the incidence of a vaccine preventable disease immediately after wide introduction of a the vaccine itself in a relatively closed population.

Continue reading “Evidence supports rotavirus vaccine effectiveness – vaccines save lives”

Logical fallacies – debunking pseudoscience

Logical fallacies are essentially errors of reasoning in making an argument – identifying them is an excellent tool in debunking pseudoscience and other junk science. When logically fallacious arguments are used, usually based on bad reasoning to support a position (or to try to convince someone to adopt the same position), it is considered a fallacy.

Most of you didn’t know, because I didn’t promote it much, but I had a link in the menu for a list of logical fallacies. It lay fallow, barely read by me or, apparently, anyone else.

However, I decided to update and improve my list of favorite logical fallacies used by all of the pseudoscience crowd. There are many more logical fallacies than what I list, but this blog is focused on providing evidence, in a snarky way, against anti-science claims made by everyone from the vaccine deniers to creationists. Continue reading “Logical fallacies – debunking pseudoscience”

Sharyl Attkisson astroturfer accusations – appreciating it

A few days ago, prior to the challenges of updating and moving this website, I was told of an article published on a “journalist’s” website that accused a lot of people of being astroturfers, the Skeptical Raptor included. Now I admit to not being up-to-date on every cultural term that flows through the internet every day (who could?), but I had to find out more.

First, what is an astroturfer? Supposedly, it’s a pejorative term that describes a fake grassroots effort. Astroturf is fake grass, so that’s its roots (pun intended).

It’s used usually to point out individuals or groups that are well-funded by corporations or political groups to look like some sort of movement. The anti-Obamacare groups, like Americans for Prosperity who claimed that grandma was going to be put before a death panel, is a perfect example.

Continue reading “Sharyl Attkisson astroturfer accusations – appreciating it”

Pro-vaccination websites that I love

immunize-for-goodBased on what I write, you’d think I was all about vaccines and thoroughly mocking the ignorance of the antivaccination world. And, apparently, I’m paid to do that. Sadly, I do not have a new BMW M5 in my driveway. I’d rather write about evolution, but there’s a direct correlation between not vaccinating and harm to children from vaccine preventable diseases, so it seems more important to me than arguing about the stupidity of creationism.

I tend to be the cranky one on the interwebs with respect to vaccines. I’m the mean, angry uncle who turns on the sprinklers when the antivaccine parents walk their dogs in front of my house. Extra benefit–their dogs don’t poop on my lawn. See, I’m the curmudgeonly neighbor of the pro-science/pro-vaccine world.

I realize my tone, filled with sarcasm and mockery, may blur my message, which is always based on real science, anti-cherry picking, and appropriately weighing evidence from experts vs. invented data from non-experts. But there are websites, which are important to my own personal mission of understanding vaccines and infectious diseases, that provide the same high value information but without the snark. I know, some of you like snark, as do I.

Here are some of the best websites on the internet that engage in the debate (there’s no debate, vaccination is safe and effective, as shown by a couple of mountains worth of evidence) about vaccines. But are on a different planet of niceness compared to me.

Voices for Vaccines. This blog (with lots of supporting information) tells personal stories through the voices of those who vaccinate. You cannot helped but be touched by the stories. VacLiars (see, I cannot resist) hates Voices for Vaccines, so there’s that. But it’s a good place if you’re looking for a calm voice in the screaming about vaccines. One of the managers of this website, Karen Ernst, has written a very popular post here. And she was nice. One of the scientific advisory board members (all of whom have impressive credentials in pediatrics and/or infectious diseases) is Paul Offit, who invented a vaccine that saves hundreds of thousands of lives every year. I don’t have to say anything more.

Shot of Prevention. One of the older websites that is pro-vaccine (by old, I mean 4 or 5 years), Shot of Prevention focuses on practical parenting issues with regards to vaccinating and diseases. What I love about Shot of Prevention is that its writers come from all walks of life, and really gives the reader a broad perspective on immunization.

Red Wine and Apple Sauce. This website has a different appeal, but it’s an outstanding resource for a thoughtful analysis of immunizations. Tara Haelle, who is a science journalist and writes nearly all of the articles, discusses more than just vaccines, but numerous current topics  that are important to parents. She writes long detailed articles, filled with links that support her points, and she should be on anyone’s list for getting information about vaccines.

The Value of Vaccination–A Conversation. A relatively new entrant into the conversation about vaccines, Value of Vaccination focuses in a different way–the stories are more personal, with the perspective almost exclusively from the viewpoint of a parent or individual. It features conversations that show us what the value of vaccination is and how it makes our lives better.

vaccines-save-livesPKIDs Online. PKIDs, officially Parents of Kids with Infectious Diseases, probably would not describe themselves as a “pro-vaccine” website, but they really are pro-vaccine. They tell the personal stories of parents of children who have chronic infectious diseases, most of which are vaccine preventable.

Vaccine Education Center. Run by the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (known by almost everyone as CHOP), it is one of the top websites for information about vaccines. Yes, Paul Offit is involved again. Well, when you’re one of the leading experts in immunization of children, and you’re on the faculty of CHOP, that’s what happens.

Vaccine News Daily. This website, more or less, aggregates news articles about vaccines, while giving a brief, but useful, summary of the information. It’s a good way to keep up with what’s going on in the vaccine world.

I Speak of Dreams. Although not necessarily about vaccines, I Speak of Dreams is an important resource in myths (and debunking of said myths) about autism. And because vaccines and autism has been a manufactured issue since the late 1990’s, anyone who discusses myths about autism has to spend an inordinate amount of time debunking the myths of vaccines and autism. If I might remind everyone, there is no correlation between vaccines and autism.

All of these websites have non-cranky writers. Well mostly. And most of them are much more patient with comments than I am, because I have no patience when it’s clear that a commenter doesn’t get what constitutes evidence and what doesn’t.

I’m sure I missed an important website or two. This article isn’t static, I can make changes whenever I want, so drop me a comment. Besides, I’d want to know about your website!

Use the Science-Based Vaccine Search Engine.

The false ideology of science deniers–research is easy

tyson-science-trueA few days ago, a fellow pro-science person was concerned about a tweet she received. Her antagonist was claiming that if my friend had all that time to tweet, then she obviously wasn’t working in academics as she claimed.

I have a Twitter feed that flies across the top right corner of my screen. I have over 1200 followers, and I follow the tweets well over that number. I have varied interests, but to be honest, there are too many tweets. I only respond or retweet things I happen to see when I look up to that upper right corner of my computer’s screen. I know I miss some good stuff. But I think I find a few dozen every day that lead me to read news articles or peer-reviewed journals. Occasionally, I run across a Tweet that makes me laugh or think.

Yes it takes time, but from the moment I wake up until I go to bed, I’m reading, writing, texting/messaging other scientists for ideas. We discuss books we’ve read. All of us in science writing work very hard to get where we are, which cause an epiphany bout the science deniers. I have a theory about their behavior and dismissal of science. I cannot be sure it applies to everyone; for example, there are some seriously deranged people who blame everything in science on Reptilians, Illuminati, Jews, and the US Government (run by Jews I suppose). There’s no logic with those types. Continue reading “The false ideology of science deniers–research is easy”

Religious exemptions for vaccination – abuse and reform

In November 2013, the New Mexico Department of Health published the results of a survey examining people getting an exemption from school immunization requirementsThe survey found that most people getting an exemption – 54.9% – explained their reasons to be “philosophical” or personal belief, including concerns about vaccine harms, a preference for natural immunity, and a belief they could protect their children in other ways. 

The problem is that New Mexico does not offer a personal belief exemption. It offers medical exemptions and religious exemptions for vaccination only. In other words, these people got their vaccine exemption using an exemption that did not reflect their real reasons.

Our host, the Skeptical Raptor, invited me to describe an article I wrote on this that is forthcoming in the Hastings Law Journal. The article argues that: