Sep 11 2015

How To Attack a Public Scientist

I have long held that one of the best ways to gauge the intellectual integrity of an individual or a group is to note how they deal with bad information or a bad argument that seems to support their position. You get points for rejecting an unsound argument or unreliable data even when it could be used to defend your side.

The flip side of this is acknowledging valid points that are on the other side of the argument. I will sometimes present what I feel is a rock-solid point for one side to an opponent, just to see how they will deal with it.

Of course it is far easier to point such behavior out in others, more difficult to police it in yourself. This is why constant reminders to value process, integrity, and fairness over any particular position is critical to skeptical inquiry.

Further, there is a range of bad responses to invalid points that can be exploited to support your position. In extreme cases ideologues will take the bad argument as total vindication. They will do a virtual victory dance, spike their fact in the end-zone, and turn up their self-righteousness to 11. Then you know you are dealing with someone with effectively zero intellectual integrity.

Attacks on Kevin Folta

Kevin Folta is an agricultural scientist who is publicly funded. He does not do research for agricultural companies, his work is not really relevant to “Big Ag”, and he has no research funding from business. He mostly works with strawberries – trying to uncover the genetics of their flavor molecules.

Kevin (who, full disclosure, has been on the SGU a couple of times, was a speaker at NECSS, and is someone I consider a friend in the science communication field) also does public education. He is a rare scientist who dedicates a fair amount of his time to educating the public about his field of work, and has a talent for communicating science. He makes no money from public education, and in fact often has to eat minor costs associated with his public outreach.

In January a group called US Right to Know (USRTK) filed a freedom of information act (FOIA) request to 14 scientists at 4 public universities. Executive Director Gary Ruskin is just convinced that scientists who support the technology of genetic modification (GM) must be in the pocket of Big Ag. He used the FOIA request as a fishing expedition to find any connection between scientists who support GM and Big Ag.

I find this very common. Those in the anti-GMO community have a solid conviction that they are correct, and therefore any scientist or science communicator supporting GMO must be a shill for the industry. This is so common it has become a running joke in the skeptical community – playing the “shill card.” Those who are anti-GMO, anti-vaccine, anti-mainstream medicine play the shill card at the slightest provocation, and without the slightest bit of evidence to support their accusations.

If your recall, about a year ago Mike Adams from Natural News simply concocted a list of people he claimed were evil Monsanto shills. He then compared them to Nazis and essentially argued that killing them would be morally justified. This was so outrageous that the FBI became involved, and Adams had to edit his article to tone it down a bit.

I think deep down the antis know they are on thin ice (that they don’t have any smoking gun evidence) and so they eagerly latch onto the thinnest thread of evidence to support their shill accusations.  This brings us to USRTK’s FOIA request – this was a hunt for that thinnest thread of evidence.

Kevin Folta was caught up in this request, but he dutifully complied and made all of his e-mails available. Not surprisingly (and much like the climate-gate affair) if you pore through thousands of e-mails and are willing to take whatever you find out of context, you can find things that you can make sound sinister. Well, Ruskin must feel as if he hit the mother lode.

It turns out that Kevin’s university accepted a one time unrestricted educational grant from Monsanto (gasp!) of $25,000. This money was used to pay for travel expenses, snacks, and other minor expenses associated with scientists outreach activities so that the scientists would not have to pay out-of-pocket for the privilege of educating the public. Kevin used this grant to pay for, as he says, gas money and sandwiches for some of his talks.

There you go – you have a financial connection between Kevin Folta an the evil Monsanto – the anti-GMO crowd went wild. They are now doing their virtual victory dance and exploiting this for all it is worth.

Natural news writes: “Academic GMO shills exposed: Once-secret emails reveal gross collusion with Monsanto, academic fraud at the highest levels inside U.S. universities.” Just about every word in that headline is wrong. Mike Adams himself wrote:

“ADDITIONALLY MONSANTO PAID HIM $25,000 TO WRITE THIS ARTICLE”

That is a direct lie.

Perhaps the most shrill response was from Food Babe (I know, you’re shocked). She writes:

“I’ve always said that food and chemical corporations work with public university scientists “behind closed doors” to manipulate the public—and now our movement has irrefutable PROOF. “

She promises to continue the witch hunt by submitting her own FOIA request.

There are campaigns underway to harass Kevin on Twitter and Craigslist. Kevin is being called, “Monsanto’s douchebag.”

Of course, if you look at the articles by Hari (Food Babe) and Adams you will find that they have nothing – no smoking gun. They are writing as if Kevin personally received the $25,000, which is not true. Kevin personally made no money from the grant, he simply used the money to cover incidental costs for the public outreach he was already doing. Seriously, do they think scientists can be bought for gas money?

They don’t seem to care about the reality. They have a drum and they are going go beat it.

Kevin supports GMOs because the science supports GMOs. The technology itself is safe. Individual GMO crops have to be evaluated for themselves, and the ones on the market currently are safe and useful. The potential for the technology is also tremendous.

The reality is, there has been a paid disinformation campaign going on – funded by the organic food lobby and environmental groups like Greenpeace. They have successfully demonized GMOs and Monsanto and the agricultural industry. Scientists and science communicators are just now trying to set the record straight, and they are being attacked as shills – the irony is thick.

Vani Hari and Mike Adams make substantial personal money spreading their anti-science and nonsense. Kevin doesn’t make a dime correcting their misinformation. That is the reality. Anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva gets personally paid $40,000 per lecture. Kevin gets sandwiches and gas money.

Now of course agricultural corporations are interested in correcting the misinformation that has been used to smear their industry by their rivals in the organic food industry and the fearmongers who make substantial amounts of money selling their “natural” products. To whom are these companies going to reach out to help educate the public about the real science of GMOs? To scientists. The e-mails that Adams and Hari are presenting as “PROOF” of collusion are just the typical conversations that companies have with scientists in the relevant field. Taken out of context, of course, anything can be made to sound sinister.

Kevin and the University of Florida have decided to transfer the unexpended funds to a newly-established on-campus food bank, The Field and Fork Food Pantry, to benefit students having difficulty making ends meet. So they don’t even have this paltry educational grant any more. Public scientists are now less willing to speak to the public on controversial issues, because many feel the harassment is just not worth it.

Honestly, I would never have taken the grant in the first place precisely because it could be exploited like it is. Unfortunately, perception sometimes trumps reality. It is hard to turn down corporate money to support good projects, but that is the poisoned environment we live in.

And, I have to say corporations often do try to improperly influence public opinion, and even scientific opinion. That is why I support full transparency. When a scientist is personally making hundreds of thousands of dollars, or has million dollar grants from a company, that is a conflict of interest. Gas money just isn’t.

The fact is, Kevin’s opinions are his genuine scientific opinions. The science genuinely supports the safety and effectiveness of GMOs. The anti-GMO campaign is largely pseudoscientific. There is as strong a scientific consensus around the safety of GMOs as there is for the safety of vaccines, or the fact of anthropogenic global warming. If you reject the science, then you also have to reject the scientists.

Conclusion

We have not seen the end of this. The shill witch hunt is just getting started, and now they are emboldened by the PR bonanza they have found in FOIA requests for e-mails. All of this is likely to have a chilling effect on scientists speaking out in the public square on controversial issues. The nutcases have scored a body blow.

However, the community of scientific skeptics will not back down. We have already decided to engage with the dark underbelly of pseudoscience, to promote science even in the face of threats and slander. We will stick together, to expose the charlatans, and persistently educate the public about science and pseudoscience.

#IAmKevinFolta

74 responses so far

74 Responses to “How To Attack a Public Scientist”

  1. Craig Payneon 11 Sep 2015 at 8:23 am

    Given that Natural News and FoodBabe lied about the actual relationship between Monsanto and Kevin Folta, does he have legal options open to him against them? I hope so.

  2. Bill Openthalton 11 Sep 2015 at 9:49 am

    Craig Payne —

    One needs money to consider legal action, and Universities (like most public bodies) shy away from starting legal proceedings, so I don’t think it likely the University of Florida will sue (in addition, they haven’t been slandered). That leaves Kevin Folta having to fund everything out of his own pocket. Maybe we should launch a crowd-funding operation — but Kevin’s time is probably better spent doing public outreach.

  3. DrNickon 11 Sep 2015 at 9:54 am

    As a fellow academic and a professor at a state university in Florida, I’ve been absolutely disgusted by the treatment Dr. Folta has received. Fortunately, the state university system here is extremely supportive of academic freedom, but this kind of intimidation from outside groups has a chilling effect on those who might want to speak out and attempt to educate the public on controversial issues within their field of expertise.

    If there’s anything to be learned from this it’s that there are no depths to which the anti-GMO zealots will not stoop if it suits their agenda. At least the anti-vaxers and the conspiracy nuts are fairly marginalized, whereas anti-GMO sentiment is unfortunately entirely mainstream.

  4. mlegoweron 11 Sep 2015 at 10:06 am

    “Well, Ruskin must feel as if he hit the mother load.”

    It’s “mother lode”. Somewhat surprising typo, since this was actually mentioned on SGU not so long ago.

  5. Steven Novellaon 11 Sep 2015 at 10:22 am

    Fixed, thanks. But – you should not be surprised by any typos 🙂

  6. MikeBon 11 Sep 2015 at 11:50 am

    “Anti-GMO activist Vandana Shiva gets personally paid $40,000 per lecture. Kevin gets sandwiches and gas money.”

    Hate her, love him.

    I could weep.

  7. Lane Simonianon 11 Sep 2015 at 12:48 pm

    I have been reading about the “skeptical” scientific movement recently and it seems to me that it is nearly a reverse image of those whom they criticize. Each side has its pantheon of heroes, and its villains, each has its own set of buzz words, each is certain of its own truth. I have seen many accusations made against skeptics–some of which bordered on slander. But character assassination does not seem to be the monopoly of the “anti-skeptics.”

    Historically the word skeptic is not being used correctly in this case. A skeptic was someone who doubted that anything could be known as true for certain. But in some cases scientific “skeptics” are assuming that certain things are true or not true based on insufficient evidence or on substantial evidence that conflicts with their beliefs.

    So just to quote from the “anti-skeptics”:

    Skeptic: one who doubts what he does not want to believe and believes what he does not want to doubt.

    The greatest impediment to scientific progress is not ignorance, but the illusion of knowledge, the belief that something is known.

  8. banyanon 11 Sep 2015 at 1:17 pm

    Arguably, Folta could win a libel case, but I’d recommend against bringing one. The other side would cry censorship and probably raise a bunch of money using the lawsuit as motivation for their supporters. This is a clear case where folks like Steve (and the rest of us) speaking out in the harshest possible terms is the right response.

  9. Kieselguhr Kidon 11 Sep 2015 at 2:17 pm

    Wait, hold up. I am pro-GMO research. I don’t really care if I’m eating GMOs. I have read a lot of wise stuff Folta has written. I’m pretty sure he’d feel the same way about GMOs with or without the funding from Monsanto. The Food Babe and her allies in this are nuts and charlatans and engage in every kind of dishonesty to promote their views.

    But, but, but: man, Folta should’ve disclosed and declared that funding source on his stuff early and often. I don’t think he’s been intentionally evil or anything but it’s a bad screw-up, and, let it be a lesson.

  10. lagaya1on 11 Sep 2015 at 2:22 pm

    the real evil here should be pointed out. It’s fine for people who have enough food on their tables to choose non-gmo if they so desire, but to restrict the rest of the world? What, let them eat cake? How do they propose to feed the masses without gmo?

  11. Karl Withakayon 11 Sep 2015 at 3:30 pm

    “How do they propose to feed the masses without gmo?”

    Unicorn meat and magic beans.

  12. Kawarthajonon 11 Sep 2015 at 4:30 pm

    So strange that Vani Hari and Mike Adams would make false allegations against someone who is trying to promote science. Their opinions are usually so reasonable and balanced. 😛

  13. RickKon 11 Sep 2015 at 4:52 pm

    I think the only response is to keep turning the narrative. As I understand it, anti-GMO advocates like Seralini get MILLIONS from the organic food industry. Does anyone have a good, reputable site that outlines this connection? Every time someone raises Folta’s paltry $25k, we should respond with constant repetition of massive organic food funding of anti-GMO “researchers”.

    Also, Folta has constantly offered to use his labs to do open, transparent testing of GMO claims (like the formaldehyde claim discussed on SGU). Folta’s offer to test and their refusal to participate is here:
    http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2015/07/27/gmos-contain-formaldehyde-kevin-folta-challenge-lets-cooperate-on-lab-analysis-crickets/

    Every time anti-GMO people say Monsanto, we need to respond with “why are you so afraid of testing?”.

  14. mumadaddon 11 Sep 2015 at 5:52 pm

    Lane S,

    “Each side has its pantheon of heroes, and its villains, each has its own set of buzz words, each is certain of its own truth.”

    Everyone does this, it’s just human psychology. People, whether they are right or wrong on any given question, whether the process by which they got to their position is generally reliable or not, will have ideologies, an in-group mentality, their own shared vocabulary and their own set of authority figures and enemies.

    Believe me, I do empathise with your point here – I most definitely self-identify as a skeptic, but there are many moments when I question the validity of my own conclusions precisely because I realise that all the psychological mechanisms that make me so sure that I’m right are pretty much exactly equivalent to those used by whoever it is I might be disagreeing with. I have to conclude that skeptics aren’t vulcans, somehow above human psychology, though sometimes I feel like we should be because we are right.

    All that said though, the fact remains that there are processes and methods of evaluating and testing factual claims/beliefs with a demonstrably more reliable track record of accuracy than others. It’s also true that we can gain an understanding of our own psychology and how it might lead us astray, and at least try to neutralise our own biases. Employing these tactics increases your chances of landing on the correct side of any given question, despite the fact that you will remain a tribalistic ape.

  15. mumadaddon 11 Sep 2015 at 5:59 pm

    Lane S,

    “Skeptic: one who doubts what he does not want to believe and believes what he does not want to doubt.”

    What do you think of this sentiment? Apply this to your own claim that essential oils can mitigate symptoms of Alzheimer’s – do you think it’s factually accurate to say that Steve Novella doubts this because he doesn’t want to believe it? That he believes the current consensus prognosis for AD sufferers because he doesn’t want to doubt it?

    Or do you think that the statement more accurately reflects your own position on the issue?

  16. hammyrexon 11 Sep 2015 at 6:35 pm

    “All that said though, the fact remains that there are processes and methods of evaluating and testing factual claims/beliefs with a demonstrably more reliable track record of accuracy than others.”

    I think this is the source of a lot of fundamental misunderstanding. Lane’s position is essentially that “both sides are extreme, so the correct position must be in the middle”, but he’s not realizing this is apples and oranges because one side is certain of a conclusion and one side is certain of a methodology. It’s a relatively simple process: Show me good toxicological studies – multiple independent groups, different methodological approaches converging on similar conclusion, reproducible results, good effect sizes with minimal vulnerability to statistical fiddling, etc. – and I will change my mind and admit we need to cautious about a GMO product or technology. I would like Lane to do some investigating about what type of information would change “the anti-skeptiks” mind and analyze it for feasibility and consistency. Until he can demonstrate that to me, I simply don’t accept his premise that both sides are mirror-images.

    Lane drives me nuts, but to his credit he does at least bring studies to the table when he’s trying to show something – they don’t always say what he thinks they say, but that’s understandable given he’s not familiar with the medical sciences as a whole and thus lacks context. So, I’m surprised the hill he’s willing to die on is for things like Food Babe, Mike Adams, and the Bolen report – the kind of people who just type and type and type and don’t actually engage with the research at all, ever.

  17. Lane Simonianon 11 Sep 2015 at 6:40 pm

    I liked both of these responses. I am not asking skeptics to suspend belief, I am asking them to keep an open mind until there are clearer answers.

    The reason why I believe essentials oils (and other natural products with similar chemical composition) can effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease is based partly on biology, partly on chemistry, and partly on clinical trials (I understand the limitations of the trials–but here is the difference: skeptics are sure that aromatherapy does not work therefore they take the flaws of the trial as proof that the results were false; whereas I argue for larger-scale, better run trials to try to arrive at a more certain truth).

    To the people who say aromatherapy is pseudoscience, my response is look at the chemistry. The principal oxidant in Alzheimer’s disease is likely peroxynitrite. Peroxynitrites through oxidation, nitration, lipid peroxidation, and DNA damage inhibit the synthesis and release of neurotansmiiters involved in short-term memory, sleep, mood, social recognition, and alertness, inhibit the transport of nutrients, decrease blood flow and glucose transport in the brain which can contribute to apathy, wandering, and delusions, prevent the regeneration of neurons in the hippocampus, and lead to the death of neurons. Methoxyphenols such as eugenol in some essential oils and ferulic acid and syringic acid in panax ginseng scavenge peroxynitrites (ONOO- + 2H+ 2e-=NO2- + H20). Hydrogen also partially reverses oxidation and water de-nitrates proteins. So how is that pseudoscience?

    On the other hand, the so-called rock stars of Alzheimer’s disease continue to insist that amyloid (plaques and/or oligomers) are the cause of Alzheimer’s disease despite one failed clinical trial after another and without being able to link amyloid to any of the features of the disease. They don’t doubt however that they are right.

    There are a lot of things I don’t know. I don’t know exactly how plants are being modified, I don’t know how many scientists have direct connections to the chemical/agri-business industry, I don’t know exactly how various pesticides and heavy metals affect the brain. I don’t even know for sure whether certain natural products can effectively treat Alzheimer’s disease. But in regards to the latter, I know most of the pathways involved in Alzheimer’s disease and how they relate to the risk factors and I know which compounds best reduce the damage done by peroxynitrites. This does not make me certain and it does not make me over confident (I look for more evidence pro and con every day), but at least I have a scientific bases for my claims; not like the people who say aromatherapy does not work because it is some new age, pseudoscience.

  18. mumadaddon 11 Sep 2015 at 6:56 pm

    hammyrex,

    I would love to have the level of expertise to write a comment like yours, to know specifically and in detail what would be required to have some reasonably founded opposition to GMOs. I don’t though, and it’s obviously far more difficult for lay-people to navigate their way through these sorts of claims – we don’t know; and we often don’t really even know how to filter the mainstream media reports we get our info from, what the scientific consensus is on a particular issue or how to even find out what it is.

    As a lay-person, my own best attempt at this has to be to try to understand what the scientific consensus is. If somebody wants to convince me that GMOs are in fact dangerous, they’ll basically need to convince me that I’ve misunderstood the scientific consensus, or that it is being misrepresented somehow.

    Lane’s position is essentially that “both sides are extreme, so the correct position must be in the middle”

    I disagree – I don’t think he’s necessarily shooting for the golden mean, just making a false equivalence on grounds that are irrelevant to the truth or otherwise of the conclusions either side have reached. I would say he’s “poisoning the well”.

  19. mumadaddon 11 Sep 2015 at 7:01 pm

    Lane,

    “skeptics are sure that aromatherapy does not work therefore they take the flaws of the trial as proof that the results were false;”

    Sincerely, no. I’m not at all sure that aromatherapy does not work, and I would bet my bottom dollar that Steve Novella isn’t either. It’s simply the case that you don’t have sufficient evidence to justify concluding that they do work. There are processes in place for getting treatments to market – you are way short or meeting your burden of proof – it’s not personal, and it’s nothing against essential oils.

  20. Lane Simonianon 11 Sep 2015 at 7:01 pm

    I should add that I only have passing familiarity with some of the people routinely brought up for criticism on popular scientific blogs. I have only watched about ten minutes of one episode of Doctor Oz, for instance. I am not interested in trying to defend everything they say–I know that they have made some mistakes. But because they are wrong on one thing, does not automatically mean they are wrong on everything.

    As for me my interest is in environmental history which includes environmental science. I have seen too many times where experts claimed something to be safe when it was not and too many times where people argued we either have to follow this path or millions of people will starve and die (not taking into consideration alternative approaches which while not as easy to implement may actually do less damage to human health).

    I liked this quote from a young scientist studying Alzheimer’s disease:

    For the past two years, biological sciences major Rollie Hampton ’15 has studied how the local plant Melissa officinalis — also known as lemon balm — may counteract some of the symptoms of Alzheimer’s Disease.

    “Before this, I did not realize the potential that plants had [to treat disease]. I realized that many plant-based drugs are adapted to become more potent or to target a specific mechanism,” Hampton said. “That was really cool.”

  21. Lane Simonianon 11 Sep 2015 at 7:07 pm

    Again, I like your answer, but my experience is that it is a minority one among many scientists.

    I am working on a better trial to test the hypothesis, but it requires raising lots of money from non-conventional sources and in the end only a phase three clinical trials will provide sufficient proof one way or another. At this point, I don’t see anyway of getting there.

  22. hammyrexon 11 Sep 2015 at 7:10 pm

    “skeptics are sure that aromatherapy does not work therefore they take the flaws of the trial as proof that the results were false; whereas I argue for larger-scale, better run trials to try to arrive at a more certain truth).”

    Ah, see, *this* conversation is actually a reasonable exchange of ideas. It’s not one about “is evidence useful or not?” which is tiring and inherently ideological in nature. Instead, it’s a conversation about where and how should we allocate research funding, a finite and limited resources, among several preliminary clinical concepts with varying degrees of plausibility and potential utility. That’s something people can disagree about even when the data is interpreted appropriately by both parties.

    “I disagree – I don’t think he’s necessarily shooting for the golden mean, just making a false equivalence on grounds that are irrelevant to the truth or otherwise of the conclusions either side have reached.”

    I agree, I think that’s a more appropriate interpretation.

    ““Before this, I did not realize the potential that plants had [to treat disease]. I realized that many plant-based drugs are adapted to become more potent or to target a specific mechanism,” Hampton said. “That was really cool.””

    I can certainly sympathize with this. I’ve lived through pharmacognosy changing from a backbone of pharmacy education to more of a survey course for historical perspectives. I do wish plant-based medicinal chemistry was more represented in a lot of pharmacology departments, both in terms of education and research.

  23. Lane Simonianon 11 Sep 2015 at 7:22 pm

    I am neither shooting for the golden mean nor trying to poison the well. On certain subjects I agree more with some of the skeptics (evolution, human contributions to global warming, etc.) and on other issues I side more with the “anti-skeptics” (for lack of a better word): certain natural products may be used to treat certain disease; heavy metals can damage the brain; pesticides and/or their adjuvants can harm human health (I am working on the adjuvants for glyphosphates but there is not much evidence either way so far; the following article is suggestive but far from conclusive).

    http://www.gmoseralini.org/wp-content/uploads/2012/11/2012.-Mesnage-et-al.-Ethoxylated-adjuvants-of-glyphosate-based-herbicides-are-active-principles-of-human-cell-toxicity.pdf

    I am mainly just cautioning–the truth often take a long time to determine if it can be determined at all. Determining it too soon is just as dangerous whether one side does it or the other.

  24. mumadaddon 11 Sep 2015 at 7:22 pm

    Lane,

    “I should add that I only have passing familiarity with some of the people routinely brought up for criticism on popular scientific blogs. I have only watched about ten minutes of one episode of Doctor Oz, for instance. I am not interested in trying to defend everything they say–I know that they have made some mistakes. But because they are wrong on one thing, does not automatically mean they are wrong on everything.

    You’re really overreaching here. The biggest “skeptical” critic of Dr. Oz I’ve ever encountered is Orac, by a long shot, and he never says anything of the sort – every bogus claim is critiqued on its own merits. Orac has pointed out on many occasions that Oz is an accomplished cardiothoracic surgeon, who has achieved honours way beyond what he (Orac, who is also a surgeon) could hope to achieve in his own career. The point is never to say that because somebody is wrong about one thing, or ever most things, that this somehow makes them automatically wrong about everything. If you understood the skeptical viewpoint you so readily criticize a little better you would realise that this would amount to poisoning the well (again), and would be something we’d actively work against doing and be readily shot down by our own for doing so.

  25. mumadaddon 11 Sep 2015 at 7:28 pm

    Lane,

    “and on other issues I side more with the “anti-skeptics” (for lack of a better word): certain natural products may be used to treat certain disease; heavy metals can damage the brain; pesticides and/or their adjuvants can harm human health (I am working on the adjuvants for glyphosphates but there is not much evidence either way so far; the following article is suggestive but far from conclusive).”

    Skeptics absolutely buy all of the above. There may be a disagreement over specifics and degree, but if you can meet their/our standard of evidence, we will buy your conclusion. That’s it, really – there are no sacred beliefs or conclusions that are magically insulated from being overturned by better evidence.

  26. Lane Simonianon 11 Sep 2015 at 7:35 pm

    I have not seen every effort to refute Dr. Oz. I just saw the diet pill controversy and it seemed like some were using it as a broad brush to try to permanently discredit Dr. Oz.

  27. hammyrexon 11 Sep 2015 at 7:38 pm

    “heavy metals can damage the brain”

    You need to be more careful with your wording here, Lane. The idea that heavy metal toxicity occurs is not at all controversial and is not a psuedoscientific position. I have an entire textbook near my desk about environmental toxicology with individual chapters on mercury, cadmium, lead, etc. – their epidemiology, pathophyisology, and syndromes (particularly neurological) – and another textbook that talks about their clinical management. To say that skeptics don’t accept heavy metals as a health risk, just because we understand the evidence about the non-association of autism with thimerosal, is disingenuous at best. I hope it was just a slip, otherwise it demonstrates you fundamentally misunderstand quite a few things about what we “believe”

  28. Lane Simonianon 11 Sep 2015 at 7:43 pm

    “Skeptics absolutely buy all of the above. There may be a disagreement over specifics and degree, but if you can meet their/our standard of evidence, we will buy your conclusion. That’s it, really – there are no sacred beliefs or conclusions that are magically insulated from being overturned by better evidence.”

    The perfect modern scientific skeptic would do just that, but with the caveat that the evaluation of evidence is partly an objective and partly a subjective process.

  29. Lane Simonianon 11 Sep 2015 at 7:50 pm

    I should have put it differently: skeptics don’t seem to believe that mercury from any source can contribute to autism. That the concentrations in thimerosal are not likely high enough to cause autism and that autism is not the same as mercury poisoning is insufficient evidence to conclude that mercury does not contribute to autism.

  30. mumadaddon 11 Sep 2015 at 7:52 pm

    Lane,

    Again, I like your answer, but my experience is that it is a minority one among many scientists.

    I am working on a better trial to test the hypothesis, but it requires raising lots of money from non-conventional sources and in the end only a phase three clinical trials will provide sufficient proof one way or another. At this point, I don’t see anyway of getting there.

    Many times I have noticed that people pontificate about things they know nothing about, but I continue to do it anyway. I’ve had no personal involvement in the pharmaceutical industry or bringing drugs to market, so I really can’t/shouldn’t comment – but I already have so let me double down. If you really have something, it would be a shame if it got killed because you’re the little-guy, and I’m sure that there are medical interventions that wouldn’t have happened if it weren’t for a stubbornly dedicated person fighting the establishment. But, for every one of those, how many stubbornly dedicated people who fought the establishment turned out to have nothing? Sometimes with strict quality control you run the risk of missing a fluke, but you also get to focus expensive resources where they are justified.

  31. mumadaddon 11 Sep 2015 at 7:56 pm

    Lane,

    “The perfect modern scientific skeptic would do just that, but with the caveat that the evaluation of evidence is partly an objective and partly a subjective process.”

    I accept that totally – I actually don’t see how any human endeavour can avoid a subjective element, but I think what you mean is, where the evidence favours your position it’s objective, but where it doesn’t we’ll leave a little escape hatch open..

  32. Lane Simonianon 11 Sep 2015 at 8:01 pm

    These are good points, but I have to move forward–otherwise I am stuck in limbo. If the trial is successful, it may finally give the impetus for a larger trial; if it does not work I have to determine whether the compounds or the hypothesis needs to be changed.

    Thank mummadadd and hammyrex for helping me understand part of the skeptic’s viewpoint. Like any movement, there are many variations some of which I can partially relate to.

  33. mumadaddon 11 Sep 2015 at 8:03 pm

    Lane,

    Good luck – I hope it works out.

  34. Lane Simonianon 11 Sep 2015 at 8:10 pm

    Thank you. It is a lot of work for something that may not work, but I won’t know unless I try.

  35. mumadaddon 11 Sep 2015 at 8:17 pm

    Lane,

    Last parting shot, don’t know if you’ll read this — you seem to have already lumped yourself in with “alternative” treatments and their practitioners (e.g. Dr. Oz), and getting bleed-over defensive when people criticize them. Don’t do this, stick to process, understand why that process is important and don’t go down that rabbit hole.

  36. Lane Simonianon 11 Sep 2015 at 8:37 pm

    Great advice.

  37. mumadaddon 11 Sep 2015 at 8:47 pm

    If you can produce results, Lane — consistently, reliably, repeatably — I would think the floor will be yours.

  38. Khym Chanuron 12 Sep 2015 at 1:20 am

    I think deep down the antis know they are on thin ice (that they don’t have any smoking gun evidence) and so they eagerly latch onto the thinnest thread of evidence to support their shill accusations.

    I think that, to them, it’s so blatantly obvious that GMOs are bad that they can’t conceive of any reason to support GMOs besides getting paid to support it.

  39. MikeLewinskion 12 Sep 2015 at 8:35 am

    I have to question the narrative about Vandana Shiva’s $40k speaking fee. I’ve touted this as evidence before, and read the links in question. I note that her website contains the following disclaimer in the sidebar of every page:

    Dr. Shiva is not represented by APB Speakers International. Please contact us directly for any inquiries at contact[at]vandanashiva[dot]com

    That doesn’t disprove the $40k fee that APB apparently charged or charges for her appearances, though they apparently take a cut of it for themselves.

    I note that she visited the University of Iowa and gave a speech there this past spring. This would be an excellent FOIA, narrowly targeted to answer just one question: what was she paid for this appearance?

    Certainly her travel expenses from India are substantial. The question here is, if it turns out she was paid travel expenses and lodging only, will pro-GMO activists retract the $40k claim?

    I really want to know. I have no interest in defending her. I can believe it is true, but I’d like a little more evidence before I rely on the claim in my own arguments.

    I bet we can answer this without a FOIA. The responsible first step in this process is to contact the organization that hosted the talk and ask them directly.

    http://seedfreedom.info/vandana-shiva-visits-iowa-state-university/

  40. MaryMon 12 Sep 2015 at 1:17 pm

    @MikeLewinski: It’s possible that she was with them, and that the new notice is damage control. It’s not hard to find her associated with them for years: http://apbspeakers.blogspot.com/2011/04/every-day-is-earth-day-for-apbs.html That was 2011.

    That said, go ahead and ask the organizers. I’d look at the data.

  41. hardnoseon 12 Sep 2015 at 6:25 pm

    There is hysteria on both sides. I think most GMO scientists sincerely believe they are providing something that is safe and beneficial. And I think the big agricultural companies probably feel that way also. No one, or almost no one, is trying be deceptive or unethical. No one is trying make the world sick.

    Extremists like Food Babe and Steve N perceive each other as malicious and motivated by greed.

    There is also a sane middle ground of scientists and physicians who are concerned about GMOs.

    The immune system is not at all well understood, and neither is DNA. It is not possible to know how safe GMOs are. Allergies and autoimmune disorders have increased dramatically and no one knows why. It is reckless to assume that GMOs have nothing to do with it.

  42. mumadaddon 12 Sep 2015 at 7:56 pm

    The fool and his lover — attention.

  43. mumadaddon 12 Sep 2015 at 8:06 pm

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DLrlIpoQfQg&t=1m41s

  44. Willyon 12 Sep 2015 at 11:42 pm

    Hardnose: What do you think is potentially, and apparently inherently, unsafe about GMOs? What is the inherent danger in them vs traditional breeding or chemical or nuclear mutagenesis? Why are people who are “concerned” “sane”?

    Are you familiar with the ‘Lenape” potato? Do you enjoy triticale? Do you eat teosinte regularly?Did you know that broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale, and cauliflower are all classified as the same species? Do you know WHY these variations exist?

    Are you just trying to be a contrarian prick?

  45. BillyJoe7on 13 Sep 2015 at 1:15 am

    The immune system is not at all well understood, and neither is DNA. It is not possible to know how safe bananas are. Allergies and autoimmune disorders have increased dramatically and no one knows why. It is reckless to assume that bananas have nothing to do with it.

  46. BillyJoe7on 13 Sep 2015 at 1:20 am

    “There is also a sane middle ground of scientists and physicians who are concerned about GMOs”

    Argument to moderation also known as Argument from Middle Ground, false compromise, gray fallacy and the golden mean fallacy, is an informal fallacy which asserts that the truth can be found as a compromise between two opposite positions.

  47. BillyJoe7on 13 Sep 2015 at 1:53 am

    “I think most GMO scientists sincerely believe they are providing something that is safe and beneficial”

    Yep, and those scientists has science on their side.

  48. Hosson 13 Sep 2015 at 2:19 am

    I just wanted to put this out there, but GMOs can be weaponized for use in biological warfare. The evidence clearly indicates the safety of genetically modified food, but genetically engineered biological weapons sound to me to be one of the most potentially catastrophic weapons humans can create with current technology.

    I think it may be more accurate to say GM food is safe rather than GMOs are safe. There is a wide range of GMO applications and not all of those applications are safe. I might just be nitpicking though.

  49. Bruceon 13 Sep 2015 at 4:10 am

    HN argument in a nutshell:

    “X is not at all well understood, so let’s not do it”

    Everyone else should just move along, this is not the sane argument you are looking for.

  50. RickKon 13 Sep 2015 at 9:12 am

    Hoss: have you seen anyone on the pro-GMO side of the argument advocate for unregulated, untested, unfettered use of genetic manipulation techniques?

    Studies into the structure of atoms led to many applications, one of which was nuclear weapons. Should we have banned all atom-splitting technologies?

    In newspapers and pub conversations, there was a great deal of fear of the dangers of running this new “electricity” into people’s homes. The anti-GMO crowd of today were the anti-electrification activists of years past.

    There are anti-GMO activists today who are so anti-GMO that they are advocating against GMO-produced insulin, the clean, pure protein keeping 30 million diabetics alive around the world.

    Yes, a new technology can be used for good or ill. But we ban the bad uses, we don’t ban the technology. We ban mustard gas, we don’t ban chemistry. And we don’t feed the fears of the crazies by labeling products: “contains chemicals.”

  51. Willyon 13 Sep 2015 at 11:19 am

    Weaponized GMOs–oh my!

  52. zorrobanditoon 13 Sep 2015 at 11:21 am

    I read an interesting piece in the New York Times which I will try to dig up. The thesis went something like this:

    A few years ago novel financial instruments were introduced into the market, having to do with debt. It turned out that there were weaknesses in these instruments which no one foresaw, and which, when they became apparent caused widespread financial catastrophe. This wasn’t something that appeared or could appear in the process of small-scale testing. The defects in these instruments only became apparent when they were widely used.

    The article argued that GMO’s might operate in the same way. Natural genetic modification (which has always gone on of course, this is the mechanism of evolution after all) tends to proceed by relatively small increments. So did deliberate genetic modification, selective breeding, before very recent times. Corn, for example, in its natural state, produces a seed pod (I know it’s not a pod but I don’t have the right word) which is maybe as big as your thumb, which you chew up whole. Over centuries the inhabitants of the Americas developed this plant to produce something close to the corn we are familiar with, and of course the European immigrants also participated in the process. But it didn’t happen all at once, and “nature,” the environment, reacted to these changes also in small increments.

    GMOs, let’s take “golden rice” here just because I halfway understand it, proceed in larger steps, by laboratory manipulation. So the novel plant may be quite different from its ancestors (here, rice and I think carrots or some other supplier of the carotene).

    The article in the Times argued that this is a potentially dangerous method of proceeding, because in one fell swoop we present the environment with a radically different plant than the ones we started with. In fact the new genes need not even be from plants. All this didn’t happen gradually, with information coming in by way of little steps along the way. Also, these modified plants don’t occur one here one there, as would be the case with evolutionary processes or even selective breeding. If the new organism is approved it will immediately be planted in huge monocultures, potentially on different continents. As with the financial instruments, defects may not be apparent upon small scale testing.

    So far was we know, none of the genetically modified organisms we have produced so far carry any risks of massive environmental or other disasters. But we are meddling in systems which we understand only imperfectly, and we are taking big risks. The longer we keep doing it, and the more novel organisms we produce, the higher the chances that one day the dice will come up with snake eyes. If that happens it might be very difficult or impossible to control the resulting damages.

    I think there might be something in this argument. I do not think that anyone is going to stop doing these modifications on this basis, so all we can do is hope for the best I guess.

    Notice that this does not boil down to the idea that labeling these products would be helpful. Nor does it suggest that I shouldn’t eat a taco made with GMO corn. This argument operates on a whole different level.

    (Of some interest. Carrots did not start out orange. They were purple. The Dutch bred them orange for patriotic reasons. The beta carotene advantages only became apparent later. Another unanticipated result.)

  53. BBBlueon 13 Sep 2015 at 11:53 am

    zorrobandito,

    Other than the fact it has no scientific basis and seeks to apply a false analogy, the NYT story is spot on.

  54. zorrobanditoon 13 Sep 2015 at 11:59 am

    We all have good reasons to hope you are right BBBlue.

  55. Pete Aon 13 Sep 2015 at 1:00 pm

    “Weaponized GMOs–oh my!” That’s an excellent reason to desist from giving exotic chocolates and/or flowers to my friends and acquaintances. Next time I meet a potential partner I’ll say: I would love to take you out to dinner, but guess what, all good restaurants are now using weaponized GMOs — especially on Valentine’s Day!

  56. Willyon 13 Sep 2015 at 1:01 pm

    Ever since the dawn of man’s time on earth, we have been meddling in things we only imperfectly understand.

  57. Pete Aon 13 Sep 2015 at 1:50 pm

    “Ever since the dawn of man’s time on earth, we have been meddling in things we only imperfectly understand.”

    No disrespect intended to you, Willy, but I feel the need to counter that with:
    Ever since the dawn of man’s time on earth, we have been dreaming up things that are impossible to understand using logic, evidence, and/or science, for the sole (and soul!) purpose of justifying plus further fuelling our plethora of cognitive biases and wishful thinking, and our history of misdeeds enacted upon them. Of course, many religions exploit this fundamental naivety to the max.

  58. Willyon 13 Sep 2015 at 2:11 pm

    Pete A: My comment was intended sarcastically toward zorrobandito.

  59. GrahamHon 13 Sep 2015 at 2:14 pm

    ‘So the novel plant may be quite different from its ancestors….’
    ‘radically different plant than the ones we started with.’
    quoted from zorrobandit

    I actually see the changes as being very slight. More like a menu chage at the local restaurant.
    You’ve got a new chef in and they add something to the menu. It’s been on offer at other restaurants and is a successful meal. It’s been eaten by many people already with no adverse effects.

    In Golden Rice, the ‘menu’ now offers carotene. The DNA that makes carotene only makes carotene be it in the original plant or in the modified plant.

  60. RickKon 13 Sep 2015 at 2:23 pm

    zorrobandito

    We have been using mutagenic breeding for decades. Are you familiar with it? It is a process of exposing seeds to damaging chemicals or radiation to cause high rates of random genetic mutation. Some of these mutations are generating alleles we haven’t seen in the species before. And the rate of “unintended” genetic mutation is much higher in mutagenic breeding than in the highly specific GM techniques. Yet nobody is up in arms about the mutagenic process. Oh, and this mutagenic breeding process is not regulated.

    This just highlights that the GMO/anti-GMO fracas is not a substantive debate – it’s entirely about GMOs being an easy target for the “unnatural” label.

    Background material on the scope and practices of mutagenesis.

  61. RickKon 13 Sep 2015 at 2:24 pm

    Grrr… – bumped the submit button before pasting the link:

    http://www.fao.org/docrep/012/i0956e/I0956e.pdf

  62. Pete Aon 13 Sep 2015 at 2:49 pm

    Willy, The vitally important concept to understand is that the risks of a new thing, and of old things, are irrelevant; the risk-benefit ratio and the cost-benefit ratio are vitally important. E.g. each and every time we swallow, it carries the risk of choking to death and, very sadly, this very simple unavoidable act does result in many thousands of deaths each year due to the ‘design’ of our throat that gives humans the unique ability to exchange our thoughts and ideas in multiple languages.

    I’ve listened carefully to zorrobandito’s long comment using the text-to-speech converter that I have to rely on for writing my own comments: I’m unable to understand why it deserved a sarcastic reply rather than an informed reply. Hopefully, you will enlighten me.

  63. cloudskimmeron 13 Sep 2015 at 3:17 pm

    Mike Lewinski: Vani Hari, despite her Indian name was born in the far-off Indian colony (sarcasm) of Charlotte, North Carolina, according to Wikipedia, and lives there still, so I doubt that travel from there to Iowa would break the bank.

  64. Willyon 13 Sep 2015 at 3:47 pm

    Pete A: ZB noted that plant breeding had been very slow and incremental until the advent of GMOs. First, this is not true, we have been using chemical and nuclear mutagenesis for a century or so. One paragon of nutrition, Bob’s Red Mill triticale is the result of such breeding practices. Triticale is a cross between wheat and rye that is not possible “naturally”.

    More to the point; however, it is getting very tiring hearing the “we must be cautious” argument so often. While it sounds “wise”, it really isn’t. GE crops are typically subjected to testing programs that span years and cost hundreds of millions of dollars in many cases. We ARE being cautious!

    A few years ago, I was mildly into the whole organic thing (I became a Master Garden upon retirement and became exposed to a large group of agricultural purists). As I read and asked question, though, the more I discovered how often the anti-GMO/pro-organic movement is dishonest and naive as a whole. I cancelled my subscription to Organic Gardening when they began promoting homeopathy. Nothing they publish is trustworthy if they can tout homeopathy as valid “medicine”.

    If someone could give a logical reason why GMOs MIGHT pose a threat, I’d listen. I haven’t heard a truly plausible argument yet. Even the idea of “Superweeds” falls apart for the most part. There are no wild counterparts for GMO corn, soy, cotton, and papaya to contaminate. Canola presents a real possibility for transfer to the wild, but then, what are wild Bt-resistant canola plants a threat to? It’s comical that people who totally oppose the use of glyphosate pretend to care that a wild Bt-tolerant plant is “super” because we can’t use glyphosate on it. The use of the term “Superweed” shows the fundamental dishonesty of the anti-GMO movement. The fact that the face of anti-GMO is Jeffery Smith, a one-time “Yoga-flier/teacher” provides a clue as to the nature of the opposition. Zen Honeycutt’s “stunning” comparison chart is another example of the dishonesty–or stupidity–of the movement. Then we’ve got the Food Babe worried that airliners have nitrogen pumped into the cabin and recommending chewing on willow bark instead of taking a pure “chemical” (aspirin). Their ignorance is unsurpassed.

    The world is potentially facing a risk that AGW MIGHT be catastrophic, yet the same anti-GMO crowd types oppose the use of the one technology that could make a significant and timely dent in fossil fuel usage–nuclear energy. We get 80%-85% of the world’s energy from fossil fuels. Driving a Prius and using CFC bulbs ain’t gonna solve the problem. Imagine how life would be if we had to survive on 80% of the energy we normally use. I read somewhere that a cell phone consumes energy at a yearly rate equivalent to a refrigerator once the infrastructure is accounted for.

    I am tired of cautious Luddites.

    On a personal level, what drives you to use text to speech? Are you blind? Is the text to speech technology of high quality? I am thrilled that, whatever the reason, there is technology available to help.

    My best wishes!

  65. Hosson 13 Sep 2015 at 3:48 pm

    RickK
    “have you seen anyone on the pro-GMO side of the argument advocate for unregulated, untested, unfettered use of genetic manipulation techniques?”

    Not that I’m aware of.

    “Studies into the structure of atoms led to many applications, one of which was nuclear weapons. Should we have banned all atom-splitting technologies?”

    No.

    “In newspapers and pub conversations, there was a great deal of fear of the dangers of running this new “electricity” into people’s homes. The anti-GMO crowd of today were the anti-electrification activists of years past.”

    When you said this, I was going to say that it reminded me of Edison electrocuting an elephant, Topsy, but after doing research, Edison didn’t have anything to do with the elephants euthanasia. The event took place 10 years after the end of the “War of Currents”. The event was filmed Edison Manufacturing Company and put on display in coin-operated kinetoscopes, but did not include the poisoning and strangulation of the elephant. The people responsible where Frederick Thompson and Elmer Dundy, who were stopped in their previous attempt in hanging the elephant by the ASPCA.

    “There are anti-GMO activists today who are so anti-GMO that they are advocating against GMO-produced insulin, the clean, pure protein keeping 30 million diabetics alive around the world.”

    It’d be nice if the anti-GMO people would stop their anti-science BS crusade. I actually find the production of pharmaceuticals through GMO to be highly fascinating field with lots of potential.

    “Yes, a new technology can be used for good or ill. But we ban the bad uses, we don’t ban the technology. We ban mustard gas, we don’t ban chemistry. And we don’t feed the fears of the crazies by labeling products: ‘contains chemicals.'”

    You seem to be under the mistaken impression that I’m advocating for a ban on GMO related technology. I’m not. I think GMOs have a huge potential to change our lives in a beneficial way. It already has in some ways, but I think there are some truly amazing things to come as a result of GMO research and related technologies.

    With that said, weaponized GMOs can be used as biological weapons and are extremely unsafe with the potential to cause catastrophic disasters. There are some major ethical issues here with R&D and use of weaponized GMOs. Personally, I think the US government should do this type of R&D, but such development is illegal under the Biological Weapons Convention. Using such a weapon would be extremely difficult to ethically justify.

  66. Willyon 13 Sep 2015 at 3:50 pm

    cloudskimmer–I have no love for Hari, but you are confusing her with Vandana Shiva, for whom I have no love, either. :«).

  67. cloudskimmeron 13 Sep 2015 at 4:06 pm

    How emabarrasing. Thanks for the correction!

  68. Willyon 13 Sep 2015 at 4:47 pm

    Not embarrassing at all–quite human. I tell myself this after every f-up I make and, alas, they are becoming more and more frequent.

  69. Pete Aon 13 Sep 2015 at 4:49 pm

    Willy, Thank you very much indeed for taking the time to write your detailed and easy-to-understand explanation — I really appreciate it.

    I am also “tired of cautious Luddites” because they seem to be promoting their ideology instead of promoting a well-reasoned risk-benefit and cost-benefit analysis that is fully open to peer review and scientific scrutiny.

    On a personal level, I’m neither blind nor deaf, but I need to rely on good text-to-speech technology for reasons that I shall never reveal because Egnor/hardnose and his ilk prey heavily on the vulnerable members of society in order to raise income for the Catholic Church, the Discovery Institute, etc. etc.

    Your comments on Dr Novella’s articles inspire me to carry on, more than words can say.
    Very best wishes,
    Pete

  70. Willyon 13 Sep 2015 at 5:16 pm

    Pete A: Thanks.

    Actually, my comments are probably a bit misleading with regard to seeming to be specifically aimed at zorrobandito. I was initially reacting to the thrust of the NYT article regarding “but we are meddling in systems which we understand only imperfectly…” and ZB kind of got caught in the middle.

  71. RickKon 13 Sep 2015 at 5:40 pm

    Willy mentioned the “superweed” anti-GMO gambit.

    As I recover from a day spent hacking and pulling Japanese Barberry and Asiatic Bittersweet out of our woodlands,and as I contemplate what effort (and chemicals) it is going to take to rid our local swamp of encroaching Fragmities and Purple Loostrife, I think ho nice it would be to have a little GM assistance in fighting REAL superweeds. I can only imagine that folks battling Knotweed, Water Hyacinth and Kudzu feel the same way.

    Superweeds exist, and neither physical effort nor chemicals can stop these “all natural” invaders from wiping out huge swaths of our biodiversity. GM techniques could offer solutions that could save our wild spaces unless the technology is stopped by this decade’s version of Luddites.

  72. BillyJoe7on 13 Sep 2015 at 5:42 pm

    zb,

    The NYT article was simply scaremongering.

    “The article in the Times argued that this is a potentially dangerous method of proceeding, because in one fell swoop we present the environment with a radically different plant than the ones we started with”

    Radically different?
    Golden corn has acquires a gene that produces B carotene.
    What’s the big deal – except for its potential to prevent blindness and death!

    “In fact the new genes need not even be from plants”

    This statement simply displays scientifically ignorance.
    A gene is a gene is a gene. It matters not one iota where it comes from.

    “If the new organism is approved it will immediately be planted in huge monocultures”

    This is not an argument against GMO.
    It is an argument against monoculture. Fight that battle.

    “But we are meddling in systems which we understand only imperfectly, and we are taking big risks. The longer we keep doing it, and the more novel organisms we produce, the higher the chances that one day the dice will come up with snake eyes. If that happens it might be very difficult or impossible to control the resulting damages”

    Nothing but scaremongering.
    Everything humans do is “meddling in systems”.
    Perhaps we should go back to the stone age – but even then!
    The solution is rigourous testing for safety and this is being done, so the argument has no force. It is simply scaremongering by the philosophically motivated, science illiterate, anti GMO crowd

  73. BBBlueon 13 Sep 2015 at 6:58 pm

    zorrobandito,

    Right about what, that the causes of the financial crisis in 2009 are not analogous to the risks associated with GM tech? I know there are those who are paralyzed by fear because they believe all scientific advancements, particularly those they deem to be “unnatural”, create the potential for catastrophic unintended consequences, but I don’t count myself among them.

    Is this what you were talking about?

    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/14/business/dealbook/another-too-big-to-fail-system-in-gmos.html

  74. BillyJoe7on 14 Sep 2015 at 8:16 am

    “Is this what you were talking about?
    http://www.nytimes.com/2015/07/14/business/dealbook/another-too-big-to-fail-system-in-gmos.html

    The authors know nothing about how science works and therefore could not possibly launch a valid argument against GMO

    “there has been a tendency to label anyone who dislikes G.M.O.s as anti-science”

    If the shoe fits…
    The procedures that presently bring GMOs to the market are science based.
    If you are anti-GMO, you are anti-science.

    “Nor is the scholastic invocation of a “consensus” a valid scientific argument”

    The scientific consensus is the result of scientific experts in a particular field summarising what the evidence so far accumulated by science says about certain topics.
    If you argue against the consensus, you’d better have a vast body of evidence to contradict the vast body of evidence that led to that consensus.
    That consensus is indeed a valid scientific argument.

    “there are similarities between arguments that are pro-G.M.O. and snake oil..The charge of “therapeutic nihilism” was leveled at people who contested snake oil medicine”

    WTF?

    “Second, we are told that a modified tomato is not different from a naturally occurring tomato. That is wrong: The statistical mechanism by which a tomato was built by nature is bottom-up, by tinkering in small steps”

    That makes no sense.
    Tomatoes evolve by natural selection of mutations of genes within the tomato.
    How is that a bottom up process?
    And has he not heard of horiziontal gene transfer (admittedly mostly occurring in bacteria).

    “G.M.O.s, which are intended to “save children by providing them with vitamin-enriched rice.” The argument’s flaw is obvious: In a complex system, we do not know the causal chain”

    Which is why GMOs are extensively tested for safety before being released onto the market.

    “by leading to monoculture — which is the same in finance, where all risks became systemic — G.M.O.s threaten more than they can potentially help”

    Monoculture is not exclusive to GMOs.
    If you want to argue against monoculture argue against monoculture, not GMOs.

    “They can lead to complex chains of unpredictable changes in the ecosystem”

    Which is why they are extensively tested for safety.
    In traditional agriculture, seeds are irradiated and there are no tests for safety.

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