Jan 22 2016

Answering Questions About GMOs

CitrusGreening1I hadn’t planned on writing about GMOs again today, but I received an e-mail from a listener of the SGU which nicely represents common misconceptions that many people have about genetically modified organisms and farming in general. These are common anti-GMO talking points, which is why they are so widespread.

That even thoughtful skeptics have these concerns is testimony to the successful misinformation campaign waged by the anti-GMO movement, which is largely the organic lobby and some in the environmental movement, such as Greenpeace.

The strategy here is also clear – whenever you deal with one misconception about GMOs, opponents just slide over to another point which becomes the “real” reason they are against GMOs. The experience is identical to arguing with those who reject the claims of anthropogenic global warming, when forced to give ground on one factual claim (OK, maybe the Earth is warming), they just retreat to another (but do we know that this is bad?).

For some being anti-GMO is an unshakable ideology. The ideology comes first, and the arguments are only used to justify the ideology (Vandana Shiva comes to mind). For many, however, they are anti-GMO or are concerned about GMOs because they have heard the arguments, which give them reason for concern. It is for those people I write, to correct the misinformation so they can better assess the real issues.

Here are the questions I was recently sent with my answers:

1. Allergies. If I am allergic to, for example, corn, and a corn gene is used to modify strawberries which I dearly love does this not put me at risk for an allergic reaction if I eat them?

Allergies is a common concern in the public regarding GMOs. However, there has never been an allergic reaction to an approved GMO. As part of the approval process, they screen for proteins that are potentially allergenic and toxic. Most food allergens are proteins, and proteins that can cause allergies tend to have amino acid sequences in common. These sequences may allow the protein to survive digestion in the stomach, for example, so that it is intact enough to cause an allergy.

There have been allergic reactions to hybrids, however. If anything, GMOs are safer because they are so carefully screened. Scientists are also working on using GM technology to make food that are allergenic, like peanuts, less so.

2. Have interactions between different genes been studied at all?

Yes, but of course with thousands of genes the potential interactions are astronomical. Resulting organisms are tested for their net properties. Imagine, now, not just inserting one gene but mixing in hundreds of genes through hybridization, or subjecting plants to stimulated mutations hoping to get lucky.

This is a common tactic to “just ask questions” that seem superficially reasonable. Our scientific knowledge can never be 100% complete, so there will always be some unknown to point to as a source of fear or uncertainty.

3. Related to no. 1 above, but also in general, the resistance on the part of the food industry to labeling of GMO foods is baffling and troubling. Apart from the fact that it may put people with allergies at risk for an unpleasant or maybe even hazardous reaction, it seems to suggest the existence of something the industry does not want us to know. Otherwise, why NOT label it?

Two main reasons – the anti-GMO lobby has already demonized GMOs. Labeling is part of their plan to destroy support for the technology. It may not work, but that’s their plan. Second, it means having to track the source of all ingredients, which can be burdensome.

There is also the point that there is absolutely no scientific reason for doing so, and therefore a mandate is not justified. Voluntary labeling is just fine.

I write about this issue more extensively here.

4. How were the studies conducted by that 88% of scientists funded?

That’s a good question. You should also ask that question about studies of organic farming, or any scientific study.

GMO studies are about half and half industry funded and independently funded. There are over 2000 published studies of GMO safety and nutritional equivalency.

5. How does the industry contain its GM organisms to prevent contamination of non-GMO varieties?

The same way they contain hybrid or mutated organisms. Farmers have a number of strategies – wind walls, barrier crops, planting crops that fertilize at different times. Also, some GMOs do not spread pollen by the wind and there is no cross-contamination issue.

This issue is not unique to GMOs and not present in all GMOs. It is an excellent example of how anti-GMO propaganda takes an issue that is incidental to GM technology and then reframes it to make it seem like it is an issue with GM technology.

This is also an example of anti-GMO propaganda feeding on itself with circular reasoning. Why are people anti-GMO? Partly because of the possibility of contamination. Why is contamination a problem (more of a problem than with hybrid or mutation farming species, both of which are allowed in organic farming)? Because people are anti-GMO.

This is the same with labeling. Why not label food derived from plants that were produced through forced mutations with radiation or chemicals?

6. This last question may be the most important, to my mind. The SGU, media in general, and almost everyone else seem to focus exclusively on the personal-safety aspect. Thus, once that is settled, there appears to be nothing left to discuss. But using GMO seeds locks many farmers in developing countries into long-term debt cycles as they are not allowed to save or re-use the seeds as they had done in the past but must buy them anew each year. Farming becomes an industrial process, the farmers lose their land, they are forced to migrate to the cities where they become part of the masses of impoverished people there. Even though I feel more confident now about my personal safety vis-a-vis GMO foods. I am still reluctant to support the industry under those circumstances. There are things more important than my own personal safety.

Most seeds used in large scale farming have been hybrid seeds for many decades. “Today, somewhere around 99 percent of U.S. corn is grown from hybrid seed. The same is true for wheat, soybeans, grain sorghum, cotton, peanuts, and many other crops.” Hybrid seeds cannot be reused (the traits don’t breed through) and also are patented. So farmers have been buying their seeds every year for decades before GMOs came on the market. (Again, this is not a GMO issue.)

Further, saving and storing seeds are labor intensive and expensive. Buying seeds may be economical. Keep in mind, farmers choose what seeds they want to buy. They buy GMOs when they make economic sense. The introduction of GMOs has, in fact, increased the profit for developing farmers. They are not driving farmers into debt or suicide. That is made up propaganda. It’s just not true.

From the Genetic Literacy Project:

Shortly put, GMO crops have been found to increase farming efficiency: higher yields, reduced pesticide use, increased profits, and reduced farm labour.

The final question:

7. GMOs are usually promoted as “the only way to feed a hungry world” and this includes the SGU. But there is already enough food produced in the world to feed the entire world population. The problem is not one of production, but of distribution. The majority of people simply can’t afford to buy enough food for their needs, and have little or no access to land to raise it themselves. I fail to see how GMOs will solve this problem; rather they will most likely perpetuate it as the “Green Revolution” did (which, BTW was similarly promoted as the solution for a hungry world).

I don’t think anyone argues that GMOs are the “only” solution or that they will solve problems of distribution, waste, or problems in the food stream other than production. That’s a strawman. The argument is that GMOs are one additional tool among many. It is not the only solution, not always the best solution, but it can be. There is no reason to oppose this technology.

The argument is also a false choice. Go ahead and fix the world’s problems with food distribution. While you are doing that, scientists will make food production more efficient.

Also, think of it this way – farming is a massive stress on the environment. It has a huge footprint. The more food we can grow on the same land, the smaller that footprint.

And keep in mind the world’s population is growing, and fast. This is therefore making the wrong comparison. We are not saying we need GMOs to feed the world today. We do produce enough food for that. We need GMOs to feed the world in 50 and 100 years.

The alternative is to wait until we cannot feed the world, but then it will be too late. It’s like fixing carbon emissions after global warming has already caused problems. We need to be developing our technology today so that we can feed the world in the future without having to cut down forests for additional farmland.

We are also in a race against pests. Entire species of crops have been wiped out by pests. Traditional methods like hybrids may not be fast enough to combat them. GM technology provides another tool for keeping one step ahead of evolving pests. It has already been used to bring back the American Chestnut. It is out best hope for saving the Florida citrus industry, and for saving or replacing the Cavendish banana.


There are other questions that are typically raised, but the ones covered here are very common. Most likely someone who is anti-GMO reading this will argue, “The real reason to oppose GMO is that they are patented. I don’t think we should patent life.”

Again, this is a point that is not unique to GMOs. Hybrid seeds and seeds that are produced by a variety of methods not considered GM are also patented. Also, not all GMOs are patented (like golden rice, which is open source). If you think the patent system needs to be revised, then address the patent system. It is not a GMO issue.

It is also completely hypocritical to raise this concern about GMOs but not hybrids. Like many of the issues raised, they are incidental to whether or not a particular cultivar is GMO. The concerns are therefore misdirected.

I also think the concerns are overblown, because they can be exploited as a point against GMOs. However, the pluses and minuses of allowing companies to patent their technology is a complex and separate discussion.

I hope that readers here will see the bigger issue. The fact that so many people have these same concerns about GMOs is the direct product of a deliberate campaign of misinformation, largely by a competitor (the organic lobby) for competitive advantage, but also by ideologues. The issue is an amazingly close parallel to global warming denial.

Pick any one issue with GMOs, dig as deep as you can, I think you will find that the anti-GMO talking points eventually evaporate. This was the experience of journalist Mark Lynas.

If you have concerns about GMOs keep asking questions. The real answers are out there.

39 responses so far

39 Responses to “Answering Questions About GMOs”

  1. praktikon 22 Jan 2016 at 9:54 am

    I’ve discussed the patent issue a few times – which seems to have stuck in the minds of friends and family members as an important issue and demonstrative of “Monsanto’s Business Practises”, which is a slightly more reasonable position some people go for (“I am not worried about the health risks of GMOs, I am just opposed to Monsanto’s business practises”).

    Actually as someone who grew up under the wings of the anti-Establishment left (and have only moderated a little bit as I age!) I am happy to hear concern about regulatory capture and criticism of the patent system, which I think we all know – has plenty of issues along with the benefits patents bring. But most people just don’t understand what – in effect – they are saying if patents were the real issue.

    It’s like they glom onto one tiny element in this issue “Monsanto has patents on LIFE”/”this drives cost for farmers” and don’t think about things like:

    – the 12-15 years of development and the tens of millions of dollars of investment needed to make a genetically modified organism
    – what would incentivize a company to invest this if they could not enjoy a profit from it?
    – There are significant benefits to GMO organisms, from the saving of threatened crops, the reduction of the toxic load of pesticides/herbicides, the potential of adding flavour back to produce that has lost it over the years (like tomatoes!) – the list goes on. Should society forgo these benefits because “patents are wrong”?

    I think people throw the patent issue into the air because in many cases being opposed to GMOs means throwing every potential bit of mud they can on the tech and the companies behind it – but what these people are really doing, when they discuss patent law and their opposition to it, is making an *anti-capitalist* critique – and then offering NO alternative.

    I would be more in-line with these critiques actually if they said something like “Monsanto shouldn’t patent life, our patent system is a mess – not only do we need serious reform to the patent system, some products are going to become objects of public investment – and instead of having private companies invest the 12-15 years and the 10s of millions of dollars to create new GMOs we will start a major public initiative with taxpayer dollars and we will divert hundreds of millions of dollars of the public treasury over decades into the public creation of patent-free GMOs so we can have all the benefits of them without the yuckiness of capitalist patents”

    Then they would be making a more cogent, holisitic critique. And once they make that one – you wonder why stop at GMOs, what else “shouldn’t be patented” and should be done through a heroic public investment strategy on taxpayer dollars? Drugs?

    And while the capitalists would be sure to remind us all of the grave danger to “innovation” that would happen (since this can, according to the Principles of Capitalist Lore, only be safely realized in the private markets) – at least the critics of the patent system would be cognizant of the fact their critique is actually an anti-capitalist critique, and at least they would be offering a way for society to realize the potential benefits of GMO technology.

    But when all they do is whine about patents WITHOUT connecting it to these larger issues – then all they’re really doing is throwing up dirt and not really engaging with what their critique really would mean in practise. And certainly, most if not all of these people fail to recognize the potential benefits of transgenic techniques.

  2. tai_fungon 22 Jan 2016 at 9:56 am

    Minor point, but I wonder about a line in point #7 written by the listener, “But there is already enough food produced in the world to feed the entire world population.” Is that even correct? I thought for sure I’d read that without using GMOs to produce crops, there would not be. I think it was said by Norman Borlaug. I’m just curious how much food organic, or “non-GMO” crops would produce (if there were even a way to measure, that, and I’m not sure there is).

  3. RickKon 22 Jan 2016 at 10:20 am

    Good summary. Will bookmark and reference in future GMO comment battles.

    Minor typo in the second word.

  4. ccbowerson 22 Jan 2016 at 11:03 am

    “Why not label food derived from plants that were produced through forced mutations with radiation or chemicals?”

    I suspect that there will be many who respond to this question by then suggesting that we should label these as well. We then can probe to see how far down the slippery slope we go. This may not make a convincing point if the perception of the person is the thought that ‘more information is better.’

    I think the point often missed is that there are consequences of requiring labeling that does not give meaningful or helpful information. There is a fine line between adequate information and overwhelming consumers with essentially data noise. OTC medications are a good example of this issue: they are compelled to provide warnings about possible reactions, yet it is impossible to meaningfully warn for every possible reaction. Yet if they don’t, they risk lawsuits for the very rare yet serious adverse effects. (E.g., the Motrin lawsuit in which the child nearly died from toxic epidermal necrolysis) The FDA has attempted to both simplify and clarify product labeling so that it has the most necessary information in a way that is easily read and understood by the consumer.

    I think most people can understand that having external packaging that reads like a package insert or a section of a pharmacology book is not the most effective way to inform the average consumer.

    Food labels are a bit different, in that the requirements for labeling vary by the type of product in the US. Some required the product to be identified and the country of origin, while others require nutrition facts to be on the packaging of processed food, among other things. The use of some terms are regulated (e.g., organic, free range, etc), some are certified by third parties (e.g., Fair trade certified, Rainforest Alliance Certified, etc), while other are essentially meaningless (e.g., natural, sustainable, etc.)

    A problem arises when we take an essentially meaningless term, and make it a regulated term. It gives the consumer the impression that the meaningless is valuable and meaningful. This is what occurred with the term organic, in that a somewhat arbitrary standard was propped up as being something that it isn’t. To this day the average person does not know what the term means. A common perception is that it means that there are no pesticides. The GMO issue is worse in that the term has a pejorative implication, due to misinformation and public perception, rather than any basis in fact. Requiring its labeling will do nothing to meaningfully inform the consumer, and will amplify misconceptions about GM technology.

    What we have now, essentially voluntary labeling, works just fine, and I don’t understand the compelling reason for a change. The explanation of “people want to know what is in their food” does not hold water as a GMO label indicates nothing about what is in the food.

  5. Willyon 22 Jan 2016 at 12:10 pm

    One of my pet peeves with the anti-GMO crowd, and the organic purist crowd as well, is their sometimes stated, sometimes implied accusation that farmers are just dumb yahoos being led around by the nose by “Big Ag” and “Monsatan”. Farmers are not dumb, nor ignorant; their livelihoods are at stake and they make decisions based on rational thoughts. They do understand the ecological ramifications as well, far, far better than average Whole Foods shopper. More than once, I’ve been told that the “real” solution to creating a “natural food supply” is to “educate” farmers. What simplistic pap! The Internet is a huge boon and a marvelous tool, but it also creates easy access to such founts of nonsense as “Natural News”, the “Environmental Working Group” (Horrors! the EWG’s “dirty Dozen”), and Jeffery Smith.

    Speaking of “organic”, an article in our local paper yesterday assured readers that buying something certified as organic meant the creature in question lived a healthy life outdoors, which is a flat out falsehood with respect to chickens for one. The misinformation and deceptions are everywhere and, alas, are widely believed.

  6. Karl Withakayon 22 Jan 2016 at 2:43 pm

    Educate farmers, really? Most of the farmers I have known had bachelor degrees in agriculture.

  7. BBBlueon 22 Jan 2016 at 3:13 pm

    As you said, there are other questions that are typically raised. Here’s one:

    The more one approaches farming and soil health in a natural, holistic way (not talking about biodynamics and all that woo), the more sustainable the production system. The more one needs to add inputs like Haber-process nitrogen to realize the potential of high-yielding GMOs, the less sustainable the production system.

    In my experience, the people making such statements are unable to provide relevant evidence to back their claim and completely ignore factors like the offsetting effects of less land devoted to agriculture and a more efficient process. Their overarching ideology is that agriculture succeeds to the extent it can emulate a natural system.

  8. petrucioon 22 Jan 2016 at 5:39 pm

    On a technical note, golden rice is public domain, not open source. This might seem like a lexical nitpick, but these two are semantically different. In fact, public domain is less restrictive than open source, so it’s a win for this argument.

  9. Lane Simonianon 22 Jan 2016 at 6:13 pm

    I am not sure if the pivot analogy works as well for GMOs as for global warming. For global warming opponents the pivot is most often the earth may be warming, but how do we know this is caused by humans (although some at least don’t even accept the climate change data). The data linking human caused increases in greenhouse gases to climate change is then denied. I am not sure what the analogous pivot is for GMOs.

    I am not concerned with all GMO, but the ones that allow greater herbicide use are of concern to me. Wheat (despite some seemingly isolated incidences) is not a GMO crop. Yet, the use of herbicides on wheat crops has increased in the past decade, along with the increase in Celiac disease. This is only correlation not causation.

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3945755/ (especially Figure One).

    Glyphosate and the adjuvant polyethoxylated tallow amine in Roundup both work through receptors that increase peorxynitrite and among other things peroxynitrite damages tissue in the intestines (“leaky gut”) and in the brain.


    Roundup has also been tentatively linked to non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.


    Technically this is not a GMO issue in that the increased use of Roundup for wheat crops has apparently occurred without the help of genetic modifications, as opposed to corn and soy.

    http://responsibletechnology.org/glutenintroduction/ (I wouldn’t have used the word soaked).

    I cannot eat wheat at all, and corn and soy both present problems. The total use of herbicides for all crops might be helpful to know, but any GMO past or present that allows for increased herbicide use has to be given very careful scrutiny.

  10. Willyon 22 Jan 2016 at 6:51 pm

    BBBlue: Good point. I think people do not understand how actually very “unfriendly” agriculture of any kind, even the organic purist’s ideal, is with respect the environment. The less land used, the better for all. Technology is necessary to reduce land use–aka increase yields. I’ve seen data on historical corn yields which were once roughly 25 bushels per acre (1920s-ish) and are now approaching, and sometimes exceeding, 200 bpa.

  11. BBBlueon 23 Jan 2016 at 3:01 am


    I think a company like Cargill has the right idea in their efforts to invest in Africa and help develop efficient and highly productive systems that can end the cycle of subsistence farming and poverty in rural areas. Such efforts have the potential to decrease encroachment by agriculture and increase opportunities for families to move off the farm and seek educational opportunities for their children in cities. http://bit.ly/1SaFxnF

    Of course, no matter how good the intentions or transparent the process, there are those who consider such business interests to be no better than the colonials who subjugated Africans. We’re lucky that such attitudes have gained significant influence rather recently or else our own highly productive agricultural systems may have been strangled in their cradles.

  12. MikeBon 23 Jan 2016 at 8:24 am

    Man, some of those questions are so tired they sound cut-and-pasted from an “organics” website.

    About nine years ago, I began working at an organic farm and informally identified as part of the “organic” movement, so I took in the anti-GMO stuff like mother’s milk. It never occurred to me at the time to dig into the scholarship because, after all, there is a rigorous “certification” process that is backed by the USDA’s NOP (National Organic Program), so it can’t be wrong….

    About the time I started my own little farm with several others, I began readings about organics because some stuff just bugged me–the Appeal to Nature, the “woo magnetism” whereby hokey stuff like biodynamics and homeopathy sneak into the organic picture, and, yes, the over-the-top conspiratorial thinking about “GeeMoes”!

    First, I realized that my spouse is dependent on GMO insulin for his life. We also have GMO glucagon at hand in case of a diabetic emergency. Never before have I thrown out a faulty point-of-view so quickly and with such gusto!

    So now we farm, and by goodness I am now pro-GMO, even though there are as yet no GMOs available to small market farmers. It would be nice to be able to grow potatoes and not have to spray them for beetles and fungi.

    And this is Why I’m Through With Organic Farming.

  13. Willyon 23 Jan 2016 at 12:18 pm

    MikeB: Fantastic article at the end of the link you provided. Your experience mirrors mine, though my involvement in agriculture is not nearly as deep as yours. I became a Master Gardener in 2009 (MG isn’t nearly as impressive as it might sound, the term “master” is a way to blow smoke up the arses of unpaid volunteers, IMHO. 40 hours of classes, pass a test, and you are a “Master” LOL.

    While the University Extension programs are definitely science based, many MGs themselves tend toward the “natural” side. It is easy, as you noted, to drift to the organic viewpoint. The organic claims bothered me though and I am fortunate to be a skeptic by nature. I did a lot, a whole lot, of reading and now I tend to view the average purist with scorn.

    I garden and I try to be as “organic” as I can. Pesticides, organic or not, cost $$$ and I can control MOST pests easily with a little elbow grease and maybe insecticidal soap. I use “synthetic” fertilizers for my 20 fruit trees as no other method makes sense. I use manures and compost in the garden itself (plus some Miracle Gro)–the organic matter helps enormously in improving water retention in my otherwise sandy (high desert and arid)soil. Comically, one load of manure apparently came with a free “gift”–Bermuda grass. So now, and forever more, it’s Roundup time as NOTHING defeats (well, helps limit) Bermuda except Roundup.

    I am thankful that I am not a real farmer who depends on his/her crop for paying the mortgage, etc. I dislike people who look down on farmers as ignorant rubes. I laugh when I visit nurseries that advertise their seed and/or plants as “non-GMO”, since, as you pointed out, ordinary folk can’t buy GMO seed and essentially no garden varieties even have a GMO version anyway. The purists are very deceitful in their methods. I discontinued my subscription to “Organic Gardening” mag when they came out in support of homeopathy.

    BTW, any info you have on the Environmental Working Group would be appreciated.

  14. BBBlueon 23 Jan 2016 at 1:59 pm

    Willy: From Activist Facts on the Environmental Worry Group http://bit.ly/1KwE2cY

    I know them mostly from their Dirty Dozen List which seeks to inform consumers about which produce items have the “most” pesticides. Their methods are decidedly unscientific and as is often the case for fear-mongering environmental activist groups, makes no distinction between hazard and risk.

  15. Willyon 23 Jan 2016 at 3:28 pm

    BBBlue: Yeah, their “Dirty Dozen”, which I have seen deconstructed in some detail, is widely quoted and mentioned as pretty much gospel by “everyone”.

    Thanks for the link!

  16. MaryMon 23 Jan 2016 at 4:53 pm

    Be sure to point out that the Univ. of Arkansas has off-patent GMO soybeans now: http://arkansasagnews.uark.edu/8273.htm

    And then you can watch the goalposts move with your JAQing jousters. Well, no, it’s the herbicides…. Mm hmm. Also not unique to GMOs.

    I know, though, it won’t matter. No matter how many times the facts are patiently explained as Steve has done once again, the zombie claims will return.

  17. Pete Aon 23 Jan 2016 at 6:21 pm

    Mary, I had to lookup the term “JAQing”. I think RationalWiki has described it well enough to explain many of the comments from the resident troll on this blog whom uses the ‘nym “hardnose”:

  18. MaryMon 23 Jan 2016 at 6:41 pm

    @Pete A: Yeah, that’s someone I had in mind as I was thinking about it. But it’s really common. Still, no matter how much evidence you answer with, it’s never enough. Or never the right source. Or never quite what they meant. Or…or…or….

    After I wrote I also thought of another reference folks interested in this topic would like. A biologist wrote this piece about a GMO ban law a couple of years back. But it perfectly illustrates how terrible the “GMO” definitions are. http://lostcoastoutpost.com/2014/oct/14/heres-why-you-should-vote-against-measure-p-even-i/

    I think the measure passed. I wonder if it’s time to start asking organic farmers in that county about their plant pedigrees.

  19. BillyJoe7on 24 Jan 2016 at 2:30 am


    I don’t remember you ever engaging that troll. If you haven’t, kudos. The rest of us (myself included) can’t seem to resist.

    I think you are correct about him never being satisfied with the evidence no matter how strong. But his motivation is that he simply dislikes the mainstream or consensus (because they excluded him…because they found someone they liked better…not because his skills were lacking – as he’s amply illustrated here – or that the person they picked was actually qualified for the job). So he’s convinced himself that a “peasant”, if he just reads enough about any field of science, can expose the ineptitude of the world’s experts in their area of expertise. By simply reading about them, he has become a world authority in just about any field you can name in which “controversy” exists, and his opinion is always opposed to that of the experts in the field.

    We at least have a case study, but it’s getting really predictable and boring.

  20. MikeBon 24 Jan 2016 at 3:30 am

    MaryM: How I love seeing your comments all over the Net!

    Willy: I, too, got my master gardener’s certificate, just last year! The U. where I teach cut a class of mine so I took the MG course to do something with my extra time. Your description about blowing smoke up arses of unpaid volunteers is pretty spot-on.

    I did enjoy the class. Nice to visit other farms, even if I did have to thin beets and carrots.

    Most MG folks are deep, deep into the organic delusion, though. Too bad.

  21. MikeBon 24 Jan 2016 at 3:32 am

    Oh–and about the Environmental Working Group: the chief thing to know about them is that they are on Quackwatch’s list of Questionable Organizations:


  22. mumadaddon 24 Jan 2016 at 6:36 am

    You could take some of hn”s comments in isolation, and if you were unfamiliar with his general output, come away with the impression that he advocates a very strict form of skepticism, and has an extremely high bar for evidence sufficient to accept any claim.

    But then you see that he’s willing to accept ESP based on week effects from unreplicated studies. Withhold ascent on HIS and AIDS because the evidence is insufficient, but postulate new physics to explain magic powers. Got it.

  23. mumadaddon 24 Jan 2016 at 6:38 am

    HIV and AIDS. Bloody autocorrect!

  24. Willyon 24 Jan 2016 at 11:50 am

    I think hn’s chosen “name” speaks volumes about his intent. Your second paragraph summed him up pretty well, mumadadd.

    MikeB: I did enjoy being a Master Gardener (despite the lack of pay–LOL) and I think the program is very worthwhile. After about five years of volunteering, I have backed off a bit. I find it hard to say “no” when help is needed–something I need to work on.

  25. BBBlueon 24 Jan 2016 at 1:25 pm

    Seriously folks? Even when he is not here he is here. No wonder cranks and charlatans get so much attention; even skeptics dwell on them.

  26. BillyJoe7on 24 Jan 2016 at 3:16 pm

    BBBlue, I think it’s okay to talk about him, but I think we should stop addressing him.

    Mumadadd, yes, an impossibly high bar for mainstream science – conclude nothing and do nothing until 100% certain – and an almost free pass for fringe/pseudo/non/anti science – because, you know, it is anti-mainstream and that makes him feel good, and that’s all that matters.

  27. Pete Aon 24 Jan 2016 at 4:57 pm

    Hardnose is, perhaps, an exemplar of ideologically-driven anti-science propaganda. His/her highly limited rhetorical styles serve as a constant reminder of the limited styles, and the pathetic special pleadings, deployed by all apologists for belief-based rather than evidence-based accumulation of knowledge.

    I guess that such depths of ineptitude are still acceptable (even praiseworthy) within the USA, but in Australia and in many regions of Europe it is becoming increasingly pointed out for both its abject bullshit and for the damage that it is causing to societies, and to the whole ecosystem of planet Earth. Continued science denialism will not bring about the second coming of the Lord, it will ruin the quality of life for our future generations.

  28. Willyon 24 Jan 2016 at 5:00 pm

    Pete A: WHAT!!!!!!!!!!! The Lord isn’t coming?????????????

  29. Pete Aon 24 Jan 2016 at 6:12 pm

    Allah, Yahweh, Zeus et al. still haven’t managed to resolve their conflicts with ISIS, yet another Pope, Ken Ham, the Discovery Institute, and many others. It isn’t science that is standing in their way, it is their petty fighting over who *is* the Lord that keeps their panties in a bunch, aka: knickers in a twist; panties in a wad; undies in a bundle.

  30. Willyon 24 Jan 2016 at 7:13 pm

    Pete A: I’m pretty sure the devout don’t even need panties…

  31. DevoutCatalyston 24 Jan 2016 at 7:39 pm

    Only one way to find out, Willy.

  32. Willyon 24 Jan 2016 at 8:03 pm

    DevoutCatalyst: Ouch. I just ain’t up to it!

  33. Pete Aon 25 Jan 2016 at 8:48 am

    Which study design should we use: observational or double-blind?

  34. DevoutCatalyston 25 Jan 2016 at 8:59 am

    “So now we farm, and by goodness I am now pro-GMO, even though there are as yet no GMOs available to small market farmers.”

    MikeB, I wish some of the early applications had been for traits beneficial to the home grower/small farmer. As one example, increased hardiness would add a desirable improvement to many fruits — mango trees that thrive in Zone 4 would be mind blowing and if that’s too extreme for the timid at least give us demonstrably better apricot varieties for the north. As costs are lowered for genetic engineering perhaps enough mouth watering benefits for the average gardening enthusiast will be realized to drown out the sky-is-falling little chickens who can then retreat to their private paradises and leave the rest of society alone to live long and prosper.

  35. BBBlueon 25 Jan 2016 at 12:06 pm

    DC- GM tech is expensive and getting even more expensive due to anti-GMO pressure. With few exceptions–Arctic Apple, for instance–companies doing GM target major crops first because that is their best chance for a return on their investment. If GM in ag survives, it will eventually reach more specialty crops, and perhaps one day, we will even have GM kits for home gardeners to tinker with.

  36. DevoutCatalyston 25 Jan 2016 at 1:10 pm

    BBBlue, you are right about expense.

    I am encouraged by the prospects of Arctic Apples. If these engineered varieties are successful in the marketplace they can provide some pushback against irrationality. The transgenic American chestnut is also on my shopping list, I eagerly await its availability to the public (as saplings as well as harvested nuts later). I actually wrote Monsanto back in the 1980s, when they were already being demonized, suggesting they direct some of their research towards a blight resistant Castanea dentata, suggesting that being seen as saving the American chestnut would generate goodwill for the company. Glad that SUNY ESF took on this particular challenge.

  37. ttguyon 25 Jan 2016 at 7:03 pm

    It says “Today, somewhere around 99 percent of U.S. corn is grown from hybrid seed. The same is true for wheat, soybeans, grain sorghum, cotton, peanuts, and many other crops.”
    But this is almost certainly incorrect I see that this info is sources from else where. They need to check the facts on this. I know for sure that there is essentially no hybrid wheat planted around the world. It is all most exclusively inbred lines. New wheat varieties are created by hybridizing other varieties but then the progeny are carried forward as inbred lines. Maybe this where the confusion comes in.
    You are correct on corn but I think you should check the facts on the other crops mentioned too.

  38. BBBlueon 25 Jan 2016 at 8:50 pm

    ttguy- You are right in that the 99% figure does not describe all of those other crops. I do not know the actual breakdown for all, but in the case of wheat, at least, we may be approaching the point where we were with corn in the 1930s’. Easy to emasculate a plant like corn with separate male and female flowers (monoecious with imperfect flowers) to control cross pollination, much harder to do on a plant with perfect flowers, especially one like wheat that self pollinates before the perfect flower even opens. http://bit.ly/1Pyg2h4

  39. ttguyon 26 Jan 2016 at 8:39 am

    The claim that GMOs can not help with improved food distribution is not true. There is no reason why some GMO could not be developed that could improve the storage life of produce. And this would improve food distribution.

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