Monday, April 21, 2014

What Was the Real Message in Last Night's Cosmos?

It was Sunday night and I nestled into position.  The television flickered in a darkened room and the swelling music of the Cosmos remake primed me for another trip with Neil deGrasse Tyson flying in his hybrid toe nail clipper / kazoo.

The story was about Dr. Clair Patterson, the University of Chicago (later California Institute of Tech) scientist that sought to identify the age of the earth by measuring lead levels in a meteorite fragment.  Lead is the end product of radioactive uranium decay, so if you can detect and quantify lead in a sample from the beginning of the universe, you can estimate the age of the universe. 

The problem was that his readings were crazy because there was lead everywhere. Why?

Turns out, all of the experimental noise he was detecting came from residues of leaded gasoline. Exhaust and lead dust was prevalent everywhere before the preparation was banned in the 1970's. 

The story tells of Robert Kehoe, a scientist from the auto industry who championed elaborate studies designed to diffuse fears of lead being dangerous. He clearly was promoting a bogus agenda that insulated the auto and oil industries from culpability and kept profits flowing. And THIS is what Mother Jones grabs on to.  See, scientists are all corporate-owned weenies.  EOM. 

I hope Tyson is simply dressing for the clean room and  not letting a Jerhi-Curl develop under that Doo Rag.  That died shortly after leaded gas! Ironically, Mother Jones points out the evils of corporate financial sponsorship, but then urges you to shop Best Buy on the same page.

Kehoe being a stooge for Big Oil was not the story here.  The real story was that Patterson used tools of science to identify the problem-- that lead was in the environment and that cars and humans were the cause. He warned of the problems, stood up to corporate goons and let his integrity and honesty shine.  He stood up for the truth, for science, and followed what the data said.  Period. 

That is the real message of Cosmos last night.  Science won, corporations lost, mostly because of the efforts of a scientist that saw the data, stood by it, and fought for the truth. 

I was a little disappointed with that interpretation by MJ-- then I see it was written by Chris Mooney, a guy that has his head screwed on right... 

My guess is that he was referring to the reality, that anti-climate change science is supported by those with an interest in fossil fuels.  Anti-biotech science is funded by Greenpeace and others that don't want this technology to reach those that need it.  I'm guessing that's how he intended the slant. 

Unfortunately, it will be interpreted by the masses as another key piece of evidence that deGrasse Tyson, one of our science heroes of our time, admits to corporate collusion and scientific misconduct defining the outcomes of scientific discovery.  

And of course, you know how this is going to end... 

Monday, April 14, 2014

GMO Labeling: I'll Agree When...

As a scientist, I cannot understand how anyone can think GMO labeling makes sense.  To be fair, I have identified a standard for when I'll accept GMO labeling. 

I'll fully support labeling when someone can answer the question at the end of this blog entry.

This is sucrose, table sugar.  From a conventional sugar beet.

This sucrose from an organically grown sugar beet.

This is sucrose from a glyphosate-resistant sugar beet.

You are at the store buying table sugar.  What is the difference?
Why are you afraid of the last one?

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Jenny I Got Your Number...

I have to admit, I've always been oddly intrigued with Jenny McCarthy.  She was very attractive yet an idiot, hot but raw, a booger-eating, cross-eyed, glamour model.  It was that curious mix of unsophisticated trash meets easy on the eyes...

She was from the South Side of Chicago and about my age, so it was no surprise that I made extra money in grad school tutoring her younger sister, an athlete at the place I found my Ph.D.  It only heightened my intrigue. I was getting genetically closer, an odd kind of inadvertent stalking.

Time would tell that she was a semi-talented writer and actress. More time would tell that she was an adamant anti-scientist, arguing against vaccination for children and eventually honing her argument the vaccine schedule. Her claims of toxic compounds in vaccines and their direct implications in autism didn't match the science, but her appeal to the mommy factor made her a household name.  She gained credibility in medical advice that eclipsed that of many "Big Pharma owned" pediatricians.

She's a complete paradox.  Beautiful, yet gross, clever, yet stupid.

Last night I was watching Tosh.0 and spit my Buzz Aldrin across the room.  Jenny McCarthy is on a commercial.  The champion of exposing children's exposure to 'toxins', is promoting e-cigarettes.  

Don't vaccinate kids because risks are just too high.
Nicotine's risks must be mild in comparison. 

The dusting of aluminum adjuvants and other trace bits of formaldehyde and viral coat proteins were the basis of Jenny's crusade for a decade.  She claimed, with no reservation, that vaccination caused her son's autism.  She later claimed to have cured it with diet and vitamins, the typical Hollywood cure all. 

One of her claims is that there are no long-term studies on vaccines.  I wonder how long those e-cigs have been carefully studied in controlled trails?

Her scientific acumen leaves a lot to be desired, but the true irony is that she now promotes use of a nicotine delivery device.  Nicotine is one of the most plant toxins. It causes horrible addiction and is linked to many health problems. 

Furthermore, e-cigs appeal to young smokers that want all of the buzz-n-cool-factor without the smell of smoke and a place to flick the ashes.  Today they are becoming a problem, as a product designed to help smokers quit now is becoming a new drug of choice.  Today, 40 percent of poison center calls are related to e-cigs. 

As per form, Jenny McCarthy engages an opportunity for self promotion and fails to realize the irony.  Here she promotes a non-necessary product with proven health effects-- while maintaining that the safe and necessary public health activity of vaccination is harming children. 

Jenny, Jenny, who can I turn to?

Friday, April 4, 2014

D'oh! I Didn't Know He Said That!

You know that sinking feeling you have when you go to a friend's wedding and you and someone else there are wearing the same dress and shoes?  I don't, but friends of mine say it is pretty awful.  When there's an effort for clever forethought and pizzazz, it is heartbreaking to realize is is unoriginal.

My heart sank like a Malaysian jetliner the other day, on Norman Borlaug's birthday.  I was reading about him and reading his most inspiring quotations.  "Don’t tell me what can’t be done. Tell me what needs to be done – and let me do it."

Certainly inspirational, and defining well the attitude of a midwestern farmer, scientist and humanitarian. 

With all respect, I apologize to Dr. B for inadvertently stealing his concept... 
But I can explain! 

Now imagine the pukey sensation in the guts of a scientist that claims Borlaug as a hero, who has on his own signature line his (?) quotation, "Don't tell me it can't be done, tell me how you are going to help me do it!"

Yes, I said that, and it has been on my signature line for many years. It happened sporadically and organically, and when I said it, I loved it so much I wrote it down so I would not forget it. Seriously.

Okay, don't believe me?  Here's how it happened. 

I was on the phone trying desperately to find an industry match for the first USDA SCRI grant competition.  All proposals required equal matches from other sources.  Despite what anti-GM and others will tell you, it is next to impossible to get any corporate sponsorship, even for the best ideas. 

I was on the phone with a major horticultural crop company, a company known for breeding and marketing small fruits.  This is a billion-plus dollar corporation, and our work fit well with their objectives.  I was asking for 1/3 of a graduate student cost per year, for three years.  That's $11,000 per year, probably what they spend on their Purell budget.

All I got was resistance.  The amount would not even fully fund a four-year degree, but I was willing to take that chance.  They declined.  I offered for them to help shape the project.  They declined.  I offered for them to serve on committees.  They declined.   

It was not just that they told me "no".  Every proposal came back with some insane and backwards justification that made me madder and madder.  Here was an opportunity I needed to jump on and the companies that could benefit were standing in the way over literally a few big corporation bucks. 

It was literally 50 minutes into the call.  After hearing every stupid reason, excuse and deflection I said, "Don't tell me it can't be done, tell me how you are going to help me do it!"

The words flowed in a stream of crankiness from my lips.  It was pure gold.  I wrote it down.

And they didn't support our proposal. 

Now I feel like kind of a loser because my words in anger matched well with a quotation of one of my favorite scientists, and I put them on every email I've sent for the last five years. 

I must look like a complete weenie.  

It was complete coincidence, but coincidence maybe born out of my respect for the way that Dr. Borlaug got the job done.  Maybe it is that we share a similar motor and both don't like lazy approaches to critical problems.  I hope that's it. 

But in a world where perception is king, I'm going to remove my version from now on and just put his in its place.  It basically said the same thing, but means a lot more coming from one of the world's all-time greatest scientists and humanitarians. 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Uneasy Lies the Head that Holds the Brain

Biology Fortified Inc (BFI) is widely recognized as an independent, free-thinking, and accurate source of information on biotechnology.  Over the last few days they have come under assault by a factually bankrupt article posted on PR Watch, a site from the Center of Media and Democracy (CMD).  CMD's claim to fame is to act as a watchdog of corporate influence and front groups, lobbying etc. That's an important function. Cool beans.

The problem is that here they now take BFI, an independent educational science website, and claim to unveil (without evidence, of course) its numerous tentacles into invaginations of corporate collusion. It is a smear piece too long to dissect here point-by-point.  Simply, it is a shameful attack on science, a science website, and its co-creator, Karl Harl von Mogel.  Period.

The article starts out as a criticism of BFIs recent campaign to raise funds to produce clones of Frank N Foode, its plush mascot that has strangely and effectively raised the branding and recognition of BFI.  I used to think it was weird seeing a grown man walk around with a corn puppet everywhere, but Karl used Frank to become the friendly face of biotechnology education. By design or by chance, it worked.

When you can't attack the science, attack the toys.  The science-smear article is light on facts, but heavy on the PR tactics it claims to abhor. 

This is why baseless smear articles are necessary for the anti-GM movement.  The anti-biotech movement depends on fear and misinformation to thrive. This is why Biology Fortified and Karl HaroVon Mogel are smack-dab in the center of their crosshairs.  Clear information from independent experts, with no corporate influence, that reflects published scientific evidence-- is their worst nightmare.

Education and information always prevail over fear.  When fear is the basis of the anti-GMO argument, education and information must be stopped, or at least discredited. That's what author Rebecca Wilche attempt with this defamatory piece.

Throughout the article there are statements and implied associations that try to connect BFI to corporate ag. It is the old canard, false associations twisted into creating non-existent ties.  Again, ironic coming from an organization like CMD that seeks to support factual exposure of corporate influence. Incredible irony.

It is the old six degrees of Monsanto, again. 

I could go through this piece point-by-point, but it would take all day and does not change the overarching message.  When you are good at connecting science to people, someone will be gunning for you.  The flow of reputable and compelling information must be stopped if the fear campaign is to be effective.

And BFI is doing well and gaining steam.  Their visibility and credibility are now synonymous with education-based biotech education. Their influence is growing.

A closing note. Over the years I have written a few articles for BFI, only to get the request from the editors that I tone it down and maybe rethink my pointy-ness.  Karl and Anastasia need it to be a spin-free zone, and my sarcastic, biting rants sometimes often cross that line.  I'm glad that they have such control to maintain the integrity of the site and the fortitude to reign in a cranky opinionated scientist. They have taught me that you indeed can catch more bees with honey than a fist.

That is a clear testament of their mission.

BFI is a clever, edgy and scientifically precise source of clear scientific information about biotechnology. Its growing brand, ability to communicate and connect is why they are a victim of a slanderous assault.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Hey GGFC- You're Doing It Wrong!

The website GMO Free Global sure claims to look like a credible source of scientific information.  In fact, on their "Science" link they claim, "The GGFC will coordinate with ENNSER, the Union of Concerned Scientists and other independent scientific organisations in order to make sure the scientific statements made by the GGFC are factually correct."

Adjacent to that strong statement of scientific credibility, they show a groovy image.  How factually correct is it?  If they can't get the fundamental artwork correct...

How many mistakes can you find in that image?  Food color, syringe, rubber gloves-- the accessories of fake scientific expertise! 

A website and organization claiming scientific acumen doesn't seem to understand the first thing about how plants (and which plants!) are genetically engineered.  Lemons, peppers, peaches, apples-- you can't even regenerate, let alone transform peaches!  

Furthermore, the image also shows their ignorance of the scientific process.  You don't use a syringe to inject a fruit with food coloring to make a transgenic plant.  

Now there's some scientific firepower for you!

These are the people claiming to be linked to experts to advise the public on GM issues, answering questions that "draw upon the services of a group of independent scientists" that obviously don't know the first thing about the science.  If you look at their scientific advisory board you can see why this image probably snuck under their scientific radar-- because basically anything could. 

Once again, it shows that their cause is fear and rhetoric- not science. 

How can you trust them to provide "factually correct" information about a scientific consensus, when they don't even remotely understand the science?