Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My New Hat

Science sure is cool.  However, when your science doesn't mesh with someone's beliefs, they tend to get prickly.  Oftentimes scholarly, evidence-based discussion can bring those in disagreement to a common ground based on data and its interpretations. However, when all you have is photoshop and time on your hands, give the guy a funny hat.

Or better yet, juxtapose him next to woo-woo former scientist David Suzuki.  This gem was floating around the internet, thanks to the folks over at GMO Free USA. 

To opponents of transgenic technology, the words they agree with define their allegiance, not critical consideration of data, interpretations or scientific consensus.  And to call a publishing scientist "Anti-science" while giving a pass to the guy "ashamed by geneticists"... 

Plus they gave me a demotion to "Interim Chairman".  Geez.  Plus they fail to realize that a guy that even is an interim chairman among high-caliber scientists in crop science might know a little more about crop biotech than a guy that published science papers on fruit fly genetics in the 1970s. No hard disrespect to Suzuki-- he wrote my favorite Genetics textbook and clearly had a distinguished career.  Sometimes scientists just go batty when they get old and irrelevant.

And what do the comments say?  Well there's over 1700 Facebook 'shares' so lots of my stupid mug getting around.  Here are just a few comments:

And the bummer is that I'm blocked from GMO-USA, so I can't even respond.  Of course, nobody realizes that my lab's research is not funded by Monsanto, never was. In fact over the last five years our University received $21,000 total grant support to one faculty member.  That is distributed over three research projects!  Clueless.

I don't remember when the government told us that Agent Orange was safe.  Maybe right after they told us not to drink coke and eat pop rocks at the same time.

And what's up with Suzuki?  They best video is here. Shows his surfacy treatment of the subject.


Watch at 4 minutes and listen to him make up insane junk about strawberries, Puzstai and Mick Jagger, rambling in an argument from ignorance-- and then he gets owned.  It is fun to watch him squirm, because he's their hero. To his credit, he says he's open to be convinced-- he might just see how taking such stances harm his reputation.

Let's see what happens. 

Monday, September 29, 2014

Answering questions for #FoodMyths

Today over on Twitter there was a Q&A on transgenic crops. Some of us volunteered to help answer questions. When people are concerned about food and willing to write a question for an answer on Twitter, I feel like I short change them with 140 characters. If there's one thing we've all learned from the transgenic crop discussion, it is that it takes many characters to understand how this technology works. So I directed them here instead so I could answer this in its entirety.

Q: Does GMO production use more chemicals than non-gmo? safer?

A. Opponents of GM technology will tell you that it uses more chemicals. That's partially true, and cleverly spun. Here's what science says. There are two main traits that change the way farmers use chemicals. The "Bt" crops produce a protein that kills certain insect larvae. Use of these products in corn and cotton has cut use by 50-70%. That's less broad-spectrum insecticide. The other class of GM plants are herbicide resistant. These plants express a different form of an enzyme necessary for metabolism. This other form does not become inhibited by the herbicide glyphosate. With these plants, farmers can grow the seeds and then spray the field with glyphosate, killing the weeds, but not the plants. This means that farmers have used more herbicide overall-- you have to to make this technology work to its maximum benefit. However, not all herbicides are created equal! Glyphosate is extremely non-toxic and its fate in the environment is well tested. So yes, more herbicide, but a safer herbicide. The figure below comes from a paper where they show that glyphosate basically replaces other herbicides with a little increase.

The bottom line is that when you talk about chemicals and safety, you need to dig into the details. There are no one-size-fits-all answers like some would like you to believe.

Friday, September 26, 2014

Please Read All the Way Through. Important.

Imagine a country placing such rigid restrictions on imports that people could not get vaccines and insulin. As far-fetched as it sounds, many developing countries and some industrialized ones may do just that early next year. They are being misled into thinking that genetically modified organisms, everything from seeds to livestock, and products made from them are potential threats to the public health and the environment.
The new import proposals are being drafted under the auspices of the biodiversity treaty, an agreement signed by 168 nations at the Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro. The treaty's main goal is to protect plants and animals from extinction.
Nations ratifying the treaty asked an ad hoc team to determine whether genetically modified organisms could threaten biodiversity. Under pressure from environmentalists, and with no supporting data, the team decided that any such organism could potentially eliminate native plants and animals.
The team, whose members mainly come from environmental agencies in more than 100 different governments, should complete its work within six months and present its final recommendation to all the nations (the United States is not among them) that ratified the treaty.
But the team has exceeded its mandate. Instead of limiting the agreement to genetic modifications that might threaten biodiversity, the members are also pushing to regulate shipments of all genetically modified organisms and the products made from them.
This means that grain, fresh produce, vaccines, medicines, breakfast cereals, wine, vitamins -- the list is endless -- would require written approval by the importing nation before they could leave the dock. This approval could take months. Meanwhile, barge costs would mount and vaccines and food would spoil.
How could regulations intended to protect species and conserve their genes have gotten so far off track? The main cause is anti-biotechnology environmental groups that exaggerate the risks of genetically modified organisms and ignore their benefits.
Anti-biotechnology activists argue that genetic engineering is so new that its effects on the environment can't be predicted. This is misleading. In fact, for hundreds of years virtually all food has been improved genetically by plant breeders. Genetically altered antibiotics, vaccines and vitamins have improved our health, while enzyme-containing detergents and oil-eating bacteria have helped to protect the environment.
In the past 40 years, farmers worldwide have genetically modified crops to be more nutritious as well as resistant to insects, diseases and herbicides. Scientific techniques developed in the 1980's and commonly referred to as genetic engineering allow us to give plants additional useful genes. Genetically engineered cotton, corn and soybean seeds became available in the United States in 1996, including those planted on my family farm. 
The risks of modern genetic engineering have been studied by technical experts at the National Academy of Sciences and World Bank. They concluded that we can predict the environmental effects by reviewing past experiences with those plants and animals produced through selective breeding. None of these products of selective breeding have harmed either the environment or biodiversity.
And their benefits are legion. By increasing crop yields, genetically modified organisms reduce the constant need to clear more land for growing food. Seeds designed to resist drought and pests are especially useful in tropical countries, where crop losses are often severe. Already, scientists in industrialized nations are working with individuals in developing countries to increase yields of staple crops, to improve the quality of current exports and to diversify economies by creating exports like genetically improved palm oil, which may someday replace gasoline.
Other genetically modified organisms covered by the proposed regulations are essential research tools in medical, agricultural and environmental science.
If imports like these are regulated unnecessarily, the real losers will be the developing nations. Instead of reaping the benefits of decades of discovery and research, people from Africa and Southeast Asia will remain prisoners of outdated technology. Their countries could suffer greatly for years to come. It is crucial that they reject the propaganda of extremist groups before it is too late.


The passage above is not my work, and was selectively edited to remove the dates and the statistics to not reveal the date of its publication. I added emphasis.  Does it hold true?

The narrative above was published August 26, 1998 as an editorial to the New York Times by President Jimmy Carter, the 39th President of the USA.  

Here we are, sixteen years later.  

The technology that was solid then, is confirmed now. 

Forecast activist dangers and risks have not materialized. 

Those feared as underserved by the technology, remain underserved. 

President Carter was a great leader, a man who continues to inspire, and a perennial champion for the underprivileged.  His words from 1998 mirror our efforts now to illuminate the truth in the shadow of activist propaganda.

Unfortunately the news archive did not have a comments section. 

I was going to ask, "How much did Monsanto pay you to say that?"

Thursday, September 25, 2014

Who's the Real Sheeple?

A commenter named "Olivia" spammed the message board on one of my articles with links to junk activist drivel, complete with the phrase "WAKE UP SHEEPLE!"

I like my reply:

Tuesday, September 23, 2014

If I Only Had a Brain: A Journey to Oz

Primum non nocere

From Oz's facebook page. The facts are wrong, it is not a "highly toxic chemical", it is two herbicides that have been used for a total of over 100 years. Nice job "exposing" something under public comment and scrutiny. You're a super sleuth! 

Dr. Oz depends on ratings, and knows very well that if you can scare a population of daytime television watchers, they are more likely to tune in.  After all, this is why daytime TV isn't plagued with base media like NOVA or Mythbusters.  The eyes feasting on Oprah's creepy broadcast residues are bombarded with nonsense, all led by Dr. Mehmet Oz.

It says right in the graphic-- "your brain could be in trouble".  Hmm.  There is zero evidence of any brain issues when these products are used as labeled. Oz gives patently false information -- just in this short teaser.  I can't imagine what brilliance transpired while on air with Zen Honeycutt (the one that stands by the Stunning Corn data, when she knows they're false).

(Actually they asked me and many other scientists to be on the show but we declined, glad we did. To sit in that panel of ineptitude is an automatic FAIL.  It is important that we all decline lending our cred to their anti-science crusades.  Let them talk to each other.)

Let's see, lettuce, peppers, cucumbers... scary!  Three vegetables NOT using the herbicide he's scaring audiences about! 

Wait, I thought those were due to thimerisal. No wait, aspartame. No wait, fluoride. Oh, I get it, it is the herbicide combination that nobody has ever used yet. That's some gnarly stuff if it can conjure degenerative neurological disease from the future.  

"This toxic new pesticide could be coming to a farm near you"
Because Oz's urban elite flat screen owners are so one with farms. 

Basically Oz reveals that he has no idea what this product is, how it will be used, the safety record it has shown and how it works. But that doesn't stop him from scaring people about it. That's one awesome doctor committed to public well being.  Treat them like idiots and misinform them.  

...And over on the Oz Facebook page, I take the time to check in and share some science. 

That's nice.  72 thumbs up too!  Is the tide turning? 

Holy cats! That's nice.  How long can it last!

Yup, just like it says on my business cards, "GMO pesticide industry propagandist".  I'm not listed at propagandist.org... bummer. 

In the first paragraph I cleverly use broken sentence fragments to make him feel more comfortable, then I lay on the truth. 

And of course, Ted (I'm sure brimming with toxicology credentials) calls me out on my lack of training in that discipline.  Maybe he'll post his record.  Maybe not... 

Hmmm.  Explaining science to broad audience knows no state boundaries.  And the connection to propagandists.org again! 

And of course, no internet conversation is complete without the accusation of talking about science to appease corporate desires.  The lamest argument, ever. 

The first rule of medicine is "First, do no harm".  It was part of this oath Oz probably took back in the day, long before Oprah had anointed him as the new marshal of TV fear mongering.  Most medical practitioners would hold that oath rather sacred.  Sure, do no harm to patients.  That's easy.  But should individuals with the title "doctor", apparently exposed to some level of scientific training, be allowed to bamboozle a credulous daytime TV audience with false associations and factual distortions?

This is harm.  Harm to those that trust a television doctor, harming their minds and families with information that flies contrary to science.  That's a doctor-caused disease.  Watch it spread.  

Monday, September 22, 2014

Argumentum ad Sumptu

It is really bad lately.  As a guy that likes to talk about science with public audiences, and is a gooey lefty greenie, they don't understand how I can be so progressive yet find transgenic crop technology to have more benefits than limitations.  Clearly, I must be bought off, a dupe of Monsanto nonetheless.

As a guy that has spent his whole life knee deep in science, I can think of nothing more boring than entertaining the credulous souls dotted across the interwebs in exchange for a check from some damn company.  That might be the worst job ever- if it were to exist.

I remember the day I saw the ad in the paper,  it was an invitation to abandon everything I ever worked for so I could have people with no idea what they are talking about tell me I have no idea what I'm talking about.

Everyone says, "You must work for Monsanto".  Those investing ten seconds on a google search can find a few places where labs at my school have had minor sponsorship from Monsanto, which automatically disqualifies all research from it's 2500 faculty, except for the faculty that study organic production. 

I've said it a million times.  I never had research sponsored by Monsanto, and even if I did, I would do my best to get great data and report the findings-- whatever they are.  If I could use Monsanto money to show GM crops produce toxic compounds and change the face of farming, I'd do that in a heartbeat.  They'd be the first ones who'd want to know. 

Can we please invent a new logical fallacy?  How about Argumentum ad Sumptu-- argument based on funding.  It is completely pervasive these days.  Anyone's arguments are immediately disqualified because they can be somehow connected to a biotech company through some circuitous route.

However, it does not work the other way. Guys like Jeffrey Smith, the Frugal Gourmet, profit directly from their positions, and those funds keep their little empires afloat.  Shiva too.  These folks make money from their science-free positions, yet nobody questions that.  

I don't make a dime from my positions, I teach from the scientific consensus and peer-reviewed literature.  It costs me time and money to defend science.  Somehow I'm the one that can't be trusted. 

To argue that one's funding source influences the outcome of experimental trials or data interpretations is perhaps the greatest insult you can pose to a legitimate scientist.  We play in a place where the end goal is the truth, and endure rigorous training and demanding experimentation to get there.  It also is not in my fiber.  Nobody could ever pay or coerce me to do or say anything.

But to those that fight scientific reality, living in denial and deception is normal. They are the kind of folks that could be bought.  They are comfortable with the idea of bribery and lying to support a belief over evidence.

I just can't play in that space.

I'm going to take a break from discussions with the recalcitrant for a few days.  It just is wearing me out. 

Sunday, September 21, 2014

Evil and Ignorant Comments to a Scientist Trying to Teach

On Thursday I was asked to be a guest on Russia Today's Breaking the Set with Abby Martin.  It was the usual scientist and anti-Monsanto activist, one talking from reality and evidence and the other frothing forward silly and discredited talking points. False equivalence 101.

It started to feel a bit like an ambush when the feed died.  They knew I was on until 6:25 (there was limited satellite time purchased by them) and when I dropped at 6:25 the anti-GMO activist had free run to talk about "Bt in the blood", etc.  They later apologized, said it was a mistake and read my closing statement live.

However, right after the disconnection I felt like I had been swindled. I did check in on the message boards on the corresponding YouTube site, as I could at least get the word out there.

It was a wretched hive of tweaked-out nonsense. Still is.  I tried to add to the conversation.  Here are a few choice tid-bits of comments on the corresponding You-Tube site.

I'm not sure if I've ever seen the "shill" accusation by so many people at one time!  It is a great display of how beliefs are stated as facts with a complete absence of evidence!  It frames the entire movement in a nutshell.   And ckdoll spelled "douche" wrong, while boeingdriver29 wants me "6 feet under". 

I received two nice emails about the RT appearance. Another guy put up a huge post about my dog and a video I have posted online.  I did get a rather evil email from a certainly deranged nutcase, and maybe I'll share that another time.  It was from someone making a latent threat about someone in my family, obviously figured out from checking out Facebook or something else.  Pretty gross. 

Once again, it is why scientists don't engage a sector of the public that wants a right to know, but refuses to learn.  When we do, we are not met with the deserved gratitude.  We are met with false accusations, heinous insinuations, bogus corporate associations, and even hints of violence.  

I guess I'm grateful to participate and install this level of dialog permanently in the public domain. My hope is that those seeking information will be motivated by what they read on these sites, as a public scientist reaching out to educate is attacked and criticized by internet sock puppets hiding behind usernames, pumping out baseless accusations.  

I hope someone finds that compelling enough to reach out to us, as we try to correct a deficit in science understanding.