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”

GMO scientist Kevin Folta receives apologies from PLoS

Recently, I wrote an extensive article about the hatchet job written by some hack anti-GMO activists against renowned plant geneticist, and pro GMO scientist Kevin Folta that used misquoted and out-of-context emails in an attempt to discredit him. Obviously, shades of the loathsome “Climategate” email hack which was trying to do the same to top climate scientists.

In an entry at PLoS* Biology Blogs, 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.

These gonzo “journalists” (and I use that term very loosely with these at PLoSONE) lacked the college freshmen level of investigative journalism to spend 30 seconds clicking on a couple of Google hits to determine that GMO scientist Kevin Folta has been a strong advocate of GMO labeling laws (something that I personally oppose).

Doesn’t journalism 101 demand that investigative writers confirm their sources at least twice? An episode of The Newsroom has several teachable moments in basic journalism ethics.

Well, I guess that PLoSONE decided that their marginal image was taking a beating, and decided to delete the article (although, to their credit, they kept the comments up, which appeared to be about half pingbacks from critical blogs). PLoSONE left this statement on the deleted page:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]PLOS Blogs is, and will continue to be, a forum that allows scientists to debate controversial topics. However, given additional information for further inquiry and analysis, PLOS has determined that the Biologue post that had occupied this page, “The Fight over Transparency: Round Two,” was not consistent with at least the spirit and intent of our community guidelines. PLOS has therefore decided to remove the post, while leaving the comments on it intact. We believe that this topic is important and that it should continue to be discussed and debated, including on PLOS blogs and in PLOS research articles.

We sincerely apologize for any distress that the content of this post caused any individual.[/infobox]

Dr. Folta had demanded an apology from PLoSONE. I guess this is the best PLoSONE is going to give–a non-apology apology. They weren’t even willing to mention his name. I’ll call that somewhat cowardly. And they didn’t take any responsibility for their actions.

I haven’t been a fan of PLoS for many years. I’m even less so today.

Follow up–it doesn’t appear that Dr. Folta believes that there has been a real apology from PLoS, according to a Tweet from him:

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”

Proliferation of fake peer-review journals

peer_reviewScientific skepticism is the noble pursuit and accumulation of evidence, based on the scientific method, which is used to  question and doubt claims and assertions. A scientific skeptic will hold the accumulation of evidence as fundamentally critical to the examining of claims. Moreover, a true skeptic does not accept all evidence as being equal in quality, but, in fact, will give  more weight to evidence which is derived from the scientific method and less weight to poorly obtained and poorly scrutinized evidence.

In the world of real scientific skepticism, evidence published in a peer-reviewed, high impact factor journal far outweighs evidence taken from other sources. Peer review is the evaluation of a scientific work by one or more people of similar competence (usually in the same field) to the producers of the work. Mostly, the peer review is blinded, in that the reviewers generally don’t know the authors (although it may not be difficult to uncover, especially if the paper is in an esoteric field of science). Peer review constitutes a form of self-policing of science by qualified members of a profession within the field of research. It is through this system of criticism and review that makes many journals, and the articles published within, powerful pieces of evidence in science.

In addition to peer review, there are other ways to ascertain the quality of research in a particular journal. Articles in high quality journals are cited more often because high quality journals just attract the best scientific articles. Higher quality journals employ a more meticulous and exhaustive peer-review.

Although somewhat controversial, journals are ranked using a metric called “impact factor” that essentially expresses numerically how many times an average article in a particular journal is cited by other articles in an index of all other journals in the same general field. The impact factor could range from 0 (no one ever cites it) to some huge number, but the largest is in the 50-70 range. One of the highest impact factor journals is the Annual Review of Immunology, which is traditionally has an impact factor in the 50′s–this would indicate that an average article published in that journal is cited by other medical articles an average of 50 times (an outstanding number). Continue reading “Proliferation of fake peer-review journals”

Mercury, autism and the anti-vaccination insanity

Not that it will matter to the anti-vaccination gang, but there’s more evidence that vaccines have nothing to do with autism.  PLoS ONE, an open-access, peer reviewed journal has published A Comparison of Urinary Mercury between Children with Autism Spectrum Disorders and Control Children by a group of UK and US researchers.  This article is significant because one of the moving hypotheses of the anti-vaccination lunatics is that all that mercury in vaccines (and no, there is no metallic mercury in vaccines) is causing autism in children.  There’s a lot more mercury exposure in all of us by eating too much fish, so this has been dismissed many times. Continue reading “Mercury, autism and the anti-vaccination insanity”