Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Interview with RealAgriculture

While in Winnipeg last week I was grateful to meet with Kelvin Heppler from RealAgriculture. Here's a little interview we did...

Monday, October 27, 2014

What Do Medical Organizations "Not Supporting GMO" Really Say?

The Argumentum ab Auctoritate or Argument from Authority is a frequently used logical fallacy.  Rather than rely on evidence to support a point, an authority is cited instead, suggesting that the authority's position of influence supersedes the need to produce actual data.  This tactic is a mainstay of the anti-GMO movement, as they rely endlessly on the former glow of Dr. David Suzuki and all kinds of important-sounding organizations (like Jeff Smith's Institute for Responsible Technology) to add some desperately needed weight to already fallacious arguments.

My last post shows this list being used over and over again as some sort of validation of organizational support against transgenic crop technology or the need for labels.


The same list pops up over and over again as organizations standing for labeling... what do the organizations really say? 

So I did what everyone should do when confronted with this information-- looked at it deeper.  Two mechanisms of website interrogation were used.

1. The websites of these organizations were queried with the search terms "GMO", "genetically modified" or "transgenic".  In cases where no results were returned a high-probability control term, "obesity", "tobacco" or "alcohol" was used to verify fidelity of the search engine.

2.  Visual screening.  The sections (if present) concerning ethics, health, food, or diet were examined for evidence germane to transgenic crops. Position Statements (if present) were carefully examined.

What did I find?

American College of Physicians

Their website shows no position or policy on transgenic food.  A deep googling finds a series of resolutions to adopt by their board of governors regarding adopting labels, which passed.

American Nursing Association

A quick trip to their website reveals no policy statements under the search terms .  There is nothing listed in their Position Statements.  To their credit their website does a beautiful job with genetics and genomics and has some great resources for nurses to get up to speed in these technologies, as well as their ethical considerations.

British Medical Association

The BMA website reveals no content when searched with the terms "GMO" or "transgenic".  When "genetically modified" is used 13 topics come back, none related to food or transgenic crops.

Australian Medical Association

A search reveals one match with GMO, found here.  However, it was a typographical error that should have read "HMO". "Transgenic" leads to an article on transgenic mosquitoes.

German Medical Association

A search there (in both English and German, finally three years of high school language paid off!) shows one mention of a relevant term, and that is in the curriculum of a nutrition course. It just says that it discusses the topic.

So why does this list consistently appear as a set of medical associations squarely standing against transgenic technology?  

1.  They may have at one time held positions that way but since have retracted them due to a lack of actual evidence of harm.

2.  They never held those positions but activists felt that nobody would ever check, especially those whose biases are confirmed by such endorsements.

3.  Someone just made it up.

Even if they did make such statements, does that override 30 years of hard science that shows no evidence of harm?  Not at all!  It says the organization has some influential members that put their beliefs over evidence.

There you go, another instance of illumination.  Taking 15 minutes to dig beyond the claims, finding that they truly are not supported.

And finally, the world's best scientific organizations make very clear statements about transgenic crop technology, and they are consistent with the evidence and the scientific consensus.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Will Sock Puppet Deception Sway Your Vote?

As the discussions of ballot propositions heat up, it is fun to read the comments sections of news articles. It is a way to explore the rationale for decision making and a gauge of public perception.  It is a way to learn new arguments that may be compelling for or against the initiatives.  It is interesting to see how others attempt to persuade voters to make a decision, one way or another.

But are there deliberate efforts to blanket comments sections and social media with the same cut-and-paste messages?  Is there an effort to do so under different usernames to build the deceptive appearance of swelling support?

A quick Google search suggests this is the case.

For example the comments section of the Stateman article that deliberately deceives readers by making detection of the DNA encoding herbicide resistance to "pesticides", you'll find a comment from "Noah Dazinger" a name attached to someone that shows up frequently in comments sections arguing against transgenic technology.

If you take the content of this post and google it, you can see that it appears on many sites across the web, oftentimes with different usernames.  What you find is that the same sock puppetry is placing the same information in multiple places.

This one is from this site 

Here's one from this site, same cut-n-paste information under a different username.


And this one from this site.

And this one from this site.

And this one from this site.

And the same thing on this site, under the name "Farmy"

And on this website she (I'm pretty sure I know who it is) cuts the pasted post into two separate posts.

And there are many, many more.

The work appears to be from the same person that runs GMO Free USA.  A quick check of the usernames reveals many other cases of redundant cut-and-paste web pollution, a single user attempting to create a sense of agreement and consensus where there is none.

My advice.
  • Don't take advice from anyone hiding behind a username.
  • Check what appear to be actual names. 
  • They are often people that do not exist.If they have what appears to be a legitimate identity, check when they started the account.  It usually is within days of posting.

Again, classic activist deception about science.  Will they win your vote this way? 

Saturday, October 25, 2014

That Is a Wonderful Compliment.

I was flying home from my talk in Winnepeg, exhausted and jammed in a airplane seat.  I was listening to the Talk Nerdy podcast and could not believe my ears....

This really made me smile.  Maybe we can change things a little.

Catch the whole podcast here!

"Yes On 92" - Deceiving You, and I'm Not Happy

Some recognize me for unending patience and softness, even in the presence of insults and idiocy.  However, I'm going to depart from my typical demeanor tonight.  I'm really angry because I still have a Food Babe hangover.

I'm sick of people being deceived about science. And Yes on 92 is lying through their teeth.  These losers are now suggesting that caring parents are killing their babies with products generated by American farmers.  A-holes.

Their most recent editorial froths with pathos, emotional heartstrings of poisoned babies, yet steeped in careful language that confounds terminology and outright misrepresents science.  Let's take a tour of their scumbag deception.

Fear mongering, misrepresentation, hyperbole and outright lies. 
Are you that stupid Oregon?  

Let's not kid around.  Dead babies are persuasive, they know that, so they roll them out.  They purposefully do not use the word "herbicide" for glyphosate, they call it a "pesticide", you know, the stuff that kills bugs. Herbicides aren't so scary.

They talk about high levels, when glyphosate is of low toxicity and almost none is used!

They cite Consumer Reports, which is an arm of the Consumer's Union, an organization dedicated to stopping transgenic plants that farmers choose!

It is indeed ironic that an initiative that wants labels, skillfully and deceptively uses the label "pesticide", and uses it liberally, even when no pesticides were detected.  Again, no herbicides or insecticides were detected. Only the GENE encoding the resistance was found. That's DNA. Big deal. 

If they are going to be this cleverly deceptive in their labels now, can you just imagine what will happen when they are allowed to use their loose standards and poor scientific precision to affix a label directly to the safe food they don't want farmers to grow, or you to buy?

Bottom line-- this letter shows the agenda, shows the deception.  Don't buy it.  Get angry. These people have one agenda-- to use pseudoscientific statements to fool the public into voting for their activist scam.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Let's Clarify: What Constitutes Q&A?

Yesterday I posted about witnessing Vani Hari's talk at University of Florida.  I posted about the broken science and false information she uses to mobilize legions of social media zombies that threaten and coerce companies into changing (safe and reliable) food formulations.

At one point I stated that she did not stay for questions.  Across social media she insists that she did stay to answer questions.  As usual, more clever spin that insulates a scienceless celeb from a science scholar.

u b
A Question and Answer session means different things to different people.
To scientists it is a time to challenge claims, not tell fans where you bought the heels

If Hari was familiar with scientific etiquette (ugh), she might know that you can't be paid more than my lab's annual supply budget and mislead and outright lie to an audience of university students and not have faculty in attendance challenge your claims.  These students are our responsibility.

When I walked in I sat right by the floor microphone.  I was going to get in line and ask as many critical questions as I could so students could see that she was an empty vessel in heels, making a buck through misinformation.

The session ended, everyone left, and there was no public Q&A.

I was disappointed and stood for a few minutes at the back of the auditorium until I ran into a faculty friend of mine.  She could tell I was pissed.  We talked for a few minutes and I looked back in, and Hari was talking to a group of maybe twelve students, taking pictures, etc.

This is her version of answering questions, independently confirmed by the following notes on social media:

She answered many questions?

One of her supporters didn't notice Q&A either. 

Always Address Public Questions

In any of the thousand talks I've given in my career, the last line is "Thank you for listening, and I'd be happy to take any questions".

It is a time for the audience to dig deeper, to challenge my assertions, to talk about further evidence and set me right where I might be wrong.  It is an important function of science communication.

I stay until the questions are answered.  Last year in Colorado College the talk was from 7-8pm, but I stayed until almost midnight. At Vegan Chicago I lived through last call with some people skeptical about transgenic crop science.  At the Orlando screening of GMO-OMG last year I answered questions until they kicked us out of the venue, then we went and got beers and kept on talking-- even though I had to leave Gainesville on a flight at 6 AM.  If people have questions, you answer them. If they tell you that you are wrong, you learn and grow.

So did she answer questions from a handful of adoring fans?   Probably.

Did she engage public defense of her claims?   No.

And don't hold your breath waiting for it.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Food Babe Visits My University

It was 6:30 pm in the lab and I was just thinking about the last things I'd need to get done before I could go home.  Typical night.  Usually I'm riding home about 7 pm, but an email popped up asking me if I was going to go watch the Food Babe.  A click on a link would take me to the note on a UF Dean for Students Good Food Revolution Events website.  Vani Hari would be spreading her corrupt message of bogus science and abject food terrorism here at the University of Florida. Oh joy.

There's something that dies inside when you are a faculty member that works hard to teach about food, farming and science, and your own university brings in a crackpot to unravel all of the information you have brought to students.

She might have started from honest roots.  Her story says she was duped by an organic yogurt stand (join the club) into buying taro toppings that were filled with artificial, non-organic colors.  She realized that she could use social media to coalesce affluent consumers in a formation to cyber-slander change from businesses. Shove this dookie through a conduit of the science illiterate and...

An entrepreneur was born!

She found that a popular social media site was more powerful than science itself, more powerful than reason, more powerful than actually knowing what you're talking about.  Her discussion was a narcissistic, self-appointed attack on food science and human nutrition. There is a vein in my head that pulses when I hear someone deliberately misrepresent science for personal celebrity, and it was pounding. 

She went on about her exploits against Chik-fil-A, forcing them to change their formulation. She spoke about how she and her army of online vandals slammed Subway into removing a safe and useful food chemical from their bread.  She spoke of her "5 million person army" with a sly and knowing smile.  Vani likes Vani.

Who do you trust for real scientific information? 
This is why scientists go nutso.

Fallacy and deception. 

She went on about labeling GMO, making the argument ad populum that '64 countries label them so why don't we get the same rights?"  

She explained transgenic crops (of course not using that language) as dangerous, and untested.  There were claims about how the crops were linked to cancer and autism.  She also claimed that "GMO crops cause an increase in pesticides" which is completely false-- and she knows it.  Her words were cleverly chosen, carefully stated, so if someone holds her accountable she can weasel out.  

Food Terrorism. 

Hari then went on to talk about her successes in strong-arming Chick-fil-A, Budweiser and Subway into reformulating their foods and beverages.  She's proud that she was invited to corporate headquarters to force change, proud that a know-nothing with a following can affect change simply by propagating false information via the internet.  

That's not healthy activism or change based on science.  That's coercion, fear mongering and (yes) terrorism to achieve short-sighted political non-victories in the name of profit and self-promotion, ironically the same thing she accuses the companies of.  

Luckily, Starbucks didn't fold.  They refused her assault on Pumpkin Spiced Lattes and the demand for organic milk.  Unfortunately it was not corporate cojones it was likely simple economics. There's no way that they could source that much organic milk. Otherwise, Hari would have blackmailed them too. 

The UF Audience Reaction

There was a silver lining on that cloud.  I was really proud to see that the student audience was not buying it.  Throughout her presentation that was about Hari in the spotlight and "me-me-me", students got up and left.  She left gaping pregnant pauses where previous performances got applause-- only to hear nothing. Not even crickets.  This audience was not buying it, at least as a whole it was not excited by it.  Maybe they just wanted a Chick-fil-A and Starbucks.

No Question and Answer Session

While microphones stood ready in the audience to answer questions, there was no public Q&A period where a scientist that knows the research could publicly challenge her false assertions.  The audience filed out of the building, and apparently she may have stuck around to meet with individuals. However, I wanted her answers in a way students could hear, helping them to critically assess the arguments of scholars vs. self-appointed celebrities.  Questions like:
  • Why am I blocked for posting hard science facts to your websites?
  • How do you feel about transgenic solutions to citrus greening?
  • What is your evidence for higher pesticide rates?
... and a dozen others.


It was disappointing.  If this is a charismatic leader of a new food movement it is quite a disaster.  She's uninformed, uneducated, trite and illogical.  She's afraid of science and intellectual engagement. She's Oz candy at best.

I guess I'm just angry because I didn't get to lock science horns with The Food Babe. I would have liked to have asked a few questions that she could never answer. Moreover, the funds my university spent to bring her here would have bought a lot of seeds for school gardens county wide, field trips to real farms, and the opportunity to visit functioning labs and ask questions of actual scientists.

But who needs actual scientists in lab coats with lifetime dedication to science, when you can have a fly-by-night activist profiting from ignorance?  After all, she is a (self described) babe... 

I have to put a lid on this post.  I have an undergrad spending her first morning in the lab tomorrow and I need to meet her at 7 AM.  If I teach her well, maybe she'll get to stand up and hold the Food Babe accountable for her junk science someday.  That would make me remarkably happy.