Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Never Met a "Merv" I Didn't Like

The folks over at Safe Affordable Food retweeted one of my recent articles on the cost of activism.

A guy named Merv was not very happy about that, nor very congenial. 

I was nice. 


Friday, December 12, 2014

The Value of Vani

Can she be an ally?

I’ve been extremely critical of Vani Hari, aka “The Food Babe”.   She freely demonstrates, without humility, her complete disregard for science and evidence when vilifying food, chemistry and farming. She has amassed a substantial group of venomous followers that subscribe to her leadership. 

As we attempt to illuminate products, technology and method to feed a growing population, Hari’s shameful resistance to reality needs to be met.  We've done that, and I'm proud of the push back from Steven Novella, Kavin Senapathy, John Coupland, David Gorski, The Chow Babe and the Food Hunk.  Well done. 

But when scientists take the time to show her errors, she lashes back with a string of lies and allegations that are truly curious.  She’s stated in her recent writings that I’m just a pawn doing the bidding of corporate ag, which of course, is supported by zero evidence.

It turns into two groups.  One that manufactures the trash, and another that points a finger at manufactured trash.  Do we ever change anything? 


What if the charismatic Hari could be convinced to teach the science of food and farming?
Could she be a powerful ally? 


Conflict and debate are time consuming and they don’t change true believers. Can we shift Vani Hari herself?  Instead of working against her, can we look at what she does well, and maybe help her come to science?

Let’s say some good things about her.  She’s clearly gifted at communicating a message that resonates.  She has a huge following that hangs on her every word.  She does a good presentation live, and can connect with an audience. 

What if Hari were to take a long look in the mirror and decide that while scaring people into boycotts and book buying pays the bills, the legacy associated with it is embarrassing.  Time will frown on Hari, and it already is happening.  While adored by internet fans, scientists, physicians, the food industry, farmers and science fans see her clearly as the empty information vessel she truly is. 

I’d welcome her change.  I’d be glad to help her with that change. Can we as a scientific community reach out to Vani and welcome her into our fold?  She’s got a lot of learning to do, but we’re good teachers.

Recently I’ve given a number of talks and interviews where I’ve been described as the “guy that stood up to the Food Babe”.  While standing up for science is important, I’d rather be described as the guy that changed her mind because I took the time to teach the facts.   

We know that we’re not going to change hearts and minds pounding people with the science fist.  We need to share our ideas, revise her way of thinking, and educate her about science. 

She’s wrong, but I don’t think she’s stupid.  She bought into her own mistakes and was picked up by the momentum.  Can we #reachouttovani and build trust, teach science, and motivate her to work with us to shape the future of food?


Sunday, December 7, 2014

Status of the Strategic Shampoo Reserve

I hate waste. I like clean hair.

I also travel.  A lot.

I started to think about the little bottle of shampoo that I'd get in a hotel.  I'd use a little goob of it, but then would think about where the rest of the bottle would go next. Certainly they don't have people spending time on refilling them....

My guess was that they went in the garbage, an assumption confirmed by discussions with housekeeping.  So I decided that I was going to cut my soap-suds footprint by taking the little bottles home and using them there.

Now a new first-world problem.... I accrue close to one-hundred little bottles.

So I decided to marry them into a common container, a strategic shampoo reserve.  Here the many fragrances and colors combine into a delightful mixture that feels weird, smells awful, and doesn't work well.


An addition of Citron Essence hotel shampoo to the strategic shampoo reserve.


I'm glad to report that as of 12/7/2014 the reserve stands at about 120 ml, and with a spring of dense travel will probably reach close to 500 ml soon.

I'm also thinking that conditioner, mouthwash and hand moisturizer might have occasionally found their way into the mix too. 

So if you are on a plane or in an elevator and smell citrus, hemp, basil, passion fruit, almond oil, green tea, avocado extract, saddlewood, musk and saskatoon berry mixed together in a twisted produce cocktail that's more like daiquiri vomit than an attractive essence of nature, look for me.  You might be smelling my head.


Friday, December 5, 2014

Don Huber's Mystery Organism- One Year Later


Food Democracy Now quotes Dr. Huber about sacrificing our future and children. 

He claims now for almost a decade to have an organism in his hands that contributes to a suite of human disease, illness and death.

He will not release it to the scientific community. 

How many must die before he will stop sacrificing our children and our health?   Dr Huber, when will you release information on the deadly pathogen?  What are you waiting for? 

******

One year ago on November 12, 2013, Dr. Don Huber, Emeritus Professor at Purdue University stood in front of an audience here in Gainesville, FL and told them about his research.  He claimed to have isolated an organism, a new "entity" that exudes from GMO soybeans.  It infects cows and causes abortions and causes many diseases in humans.

The audience gasped with every picture of dead calves. They were in shock about his findings.  Dr. Huber had unveiled proof that the GMO industry and Monsanto were killing us all.

So they thought.

The whole story is here.  After his talk, where I sat silently. Marty Mesh, the moderator, pointed me out in the crowd and said, "I know you disagree with everything he said, but we only have time for a question or two."

I didn't have a question, but instead an offer.  Huber claims to have cultured the organism to purity. He says it obeys Koch's postulates. Still, its identity is unknown.

I simply said, "Dr. Huber, I would be glad to help you by sequencing the DNA of your culture.  I could tell you exactly what the organism is by the New Year (it was Nov 12)".

(all of this was recorded, without his knowledge)

I continued, "You get all the credit, we solve this problem, and we end GMO agriculture-- All data will be open access-- public data.  Can I count on you to share the culture? "

He then spent 15 minutes telling us why the culture could not be DNA sequenced, and that the organism has no DNA.

This is quite a departure from his position on Genetic Roulette where he claims to have isolated DNA from the organism and it is being sequenced.


That's a screenshot from Genetic Roulette.  New Organism. 
When I ask to help sequence it, he claims no DNA!!!


My kind offer was turned away.  No DNA.  He then moved the goalpost to a "prion" or "biomatrix" in subsequent talks, both which could still be sequenced using proteomic and protein-sequencing methods.

His facade is crumbling.


Huber Tries to Get Me Fired

A few days later he objects to my request and sends a scathing letter full of lies to my boss, the Senior Vice President at the university I work at.  You can read Huber's allegations against me here. 
He made claims that were not true, that my recordings showed where not true, and were 100% legally actionable!

I chose not to go after him for libel and trying to get me fired with lies. I'm bigger than he is. It is better to let him twist in the wind of his own lies. If I sue him, I'm a bully.  If time goes by and we just remind the world that he is letting people, plants and animals die for his own gratification, then that's even better.

Such a great reputation too.  Everyone wonders what happened to him.  Many of my colleagues had him as a teacher and now wonder why he's just gone goofy.  Some have said, "He always was nuts".


What Does the CDC Say? 

The Centers for Disease Control would certainly be aware of a novel infectious agent that was killing humans, cattle and plants.  I submitted a question about it to the CDC website.  I only got a generic auto reply.

I then submitted a paper letter via certified mail.  I got this email response:



Well the CDC has no record of Huber's deadly agent either. 
Somehow he knows more than the folks that know everything about infectious diseases. 


So Huber is going around talking about this deadly infectious agent that is killing people, livestock and plants, and it is a threat to food security-- BUT he has kept it from the CDC?   He claims, on recording, to have exported it to China and other countries.  

When does this guy stop being an anti-GMO hero and start being held accountable as a terrorist, or even more, someone that is letting people and animals die, and endangering our food supply, because he has some ego issue?   He obviously does not want us to know what his organism is!  

Did he create it?   Is he going to hold the world hostage with it?  When will others start to get upset?  

People scream for justice against Monsanto for no confirmed deaths.  Huber claims an organism that is killing people and animals daily, and jeopardizes our food supply.... for the last ten years!   When can we decide that he needs to seek additional scientific assistance to end this problem?

Or maybe, when will his supporters and the anti-GMO community decide to hold him accountable for his charade?

I'm not holding my breath.  As long as he says something they find palatable, they won't ask for evidence. Sad that a credentialed academic went this direction.

My hope is that he'll come clean.  It never is too late to grow, and his legacy as a decent scientist has been overstepped by him being a footnote in a joke book, claiming harm from a fictional being, and trying to punish the scientists that only ask for him to show evidence.  Shame.

Shame. 










Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thank God It's On the Internet FOREVER.

I was really excited to watch the Intelligence Squared debate. I've been looking forward to it for seemingly ages.

Bottom line-- it was as predicted.  Fear, questions, and magical thinking against science, reason and evidence.  And science won.  Not only did science win, the fear-based empty fact-free claims from the other side are permanently stored online for everyone to enjoy forever.

I'm not going into too much post-event analysis, but I will take the time to point out some of the major things we all need to take note of.

Mellon has no clue.  Here's someone that is so out of her league.  Her antiquated talking points are no match for reality.  She did a nice slam on conventional breeders, people that are working very hard to improve crops using cross breeding-- and she seems to believe they are not doing a very good job.

She also seems to think that Europe is this wonderful place that has ag all figured out.  Of course, they import massive amounts of food from the USA, Brazil and Argentina because they are not self sustaining!  Here's a nice article by Steve Savage on those not-European-food eaters.

And she keeps saying how the technology has not lived up to its promise.  No kidding. If people like her were not standing in the way of every innovation, blocking every life-saving potential breakthrough, and tarnishing the reputation of every scientific technique-- maybe the technology would exceed expectations!  


The card got a good beating!  I think I did hear Benbrook say "antibiotic resistance" and we came close on Starlink! 

Chuck Benbrook really started to unwind in his final statement.  Defeated and called on his own errors, he spent the last 2 minute conclusion time on glyphosate. Not GM crops, not technology, but the herbicide.  He made the claim that "its in our blood and in our hair", and I think we need to demand some evidence for that.  Earlier we exchanged a pointy tweet about umbilical cords, or else he might have rolled that out too.

As usual, he combines pesticides as herbcides and insecticides. It is the only way to massage the statistics to get the conclusion he wants.  Clearly these products cut insecticides, and yes, herbicide use is up, but glyphosate has much lower impact on health and environment. Shame.

Most importantly the results show what we know.  Most people that are undecided will gravitate toward science when they are offered facts over fear.

I also hope they do this again, only next time it should be Alison and Robb against Jeffrey Smith and Stephanie Seneff.

That would be worth watching! 




Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Investing in Postdocs and Giving Thanks


I received an email yesterday from someone I had not spoken two in probably six months.

Back in April I gave a presentation to the postdocs at the University of Florida.  It was advice about communicating their science, sharing their science, and thoughts on job interviews.

Such things are sorely needed.  We produce way more Ph.D.s than the number of jobs to support them, so we end up with a large number of postdocs in circulation. These folks are professional scientists, as good as they get.

We just don't have enough jobs for all of them, so it is not unusual for a Ph.D. scientist to be making $35,000 a year, six years after the degree is over, with no hard promise of a job.  Interviews are ultra competitive and skilled scientists often fail at that last critical moment-- impress the committee on paper and get the interview, but fall short in person and don't land the job.

After the seminar I was approached by a 5th year postdoc.  We can call him Dr. S, since he has a very distinct name and I don't want to embarrass him.  He said that he has a great record on paper, that he gets interviewed for every job he applies to, but never gets selected for the position.

Clearly, Dr. S has some academic firepower but was lacking tools and coaching on how to communicate his science.

We spent three sessions going through his job talk.  The first one revealed why he was never chosen.  He talked over my head, lost me in the first slide, and his entire presentation was good, but didn't connect.  I didn't fall in love with his science and didn't imagine him as a good colleague.

Over two more sessions we adjusted the talk.  We changed his approach to the talk, developed a sense of audience, helped him connect as a person, built a new philosophy toward the interview, and talked about how to answer questions.

I received this yesterday:


One of the many days lately where I need a science kleenex.



This is just a reminder that science needs to flow in order to work.  How many talented scientists are trapped in jobs they don't want because they simply lack the courage and training to tell others about their passions and ideas in a human way?   How many could land the job if they realized that a job seminar is not about beating scientists to death with data-- they want a clever colleague, a friend, a solution maker, someone to complement their department's expertise. 

It is a classic case of forgetting why you are doing a job talk and who the audience is.  They want you to succeed, they want a new colleague, they asked you to try out for that part!  Rather than blinding them with brilliance and science-- simply share the work you care about.  

Don't be the unreachable scientist on a stage. Be the clever friend down the hall. 

It worked for Dr. S, and maybe it was just his time and had nothing to do with my help.  However, I was grateful for the letter.  It turns out to be probably the best three hours I invested in 2014. 




Tuesday, November 25, 2014

De-Nye-Al.

A few weeks ago I wrote a note to Bill Nye about his incorrect opinions on transgenic technology.  No response.  Sort of.

I got an email and was told I could share the content, but not the name, and no screen shots or direct quotes.  Apparently this is someone that knows about Bill Nye, his production group and his handlers.  The feeling is that it is from someone close to him, or someone on his team. It could be completely false too.  I'm about 50/50 on authenticity.

I would just post the whole thing. But, he said I could use only paraphrased information in a blog, and asked me to not use his name, so I won't.  The note says that if I play by these rules maybe I'll get more info, and that as a science fan he's hoping for the debate.  Weird.

The note said that Nye's associates seek to use him as a political wedge, and that Nye himself is right on board. It is apparently a transition of Nye from a media science communicator to a political figure to work against right-leaning causes like creationism and climate change denial.  Those are his new political issues.

This note also told me that his group is a cluster of Hollywood advisors that have strong feelings about GMOs and actually have encouraged him to speak out for labeling and against the technology.

According to the short note, Nye does what his people tell him to do, and that is defusing climate and creationism.  They want the GMO issue to go away fast. Apparently he will not make public comments on this going forward, even though a complete ban is what his handlers want.

So there you go.  It may be complete crap, but let's see what the next communication looks like.  No news from Nye's camp, so the thoughts in the email are consistent with what is unfolding.

Stay tuned.



Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Deadly Aviation Pretzel Gas: Foodbabeliness in Action

Today while flying home from a scientific conference I could not help but remember the Food Babe’s warnings about commercial aviation.  Her recent post warns of recirculated filth and high amounts of nitrogen, somewhere like 50%.  Of course, that’s about 30% less than ambient air.   Her claims were widely, and appropriately criticized.

Today I took a good look at the inside of that cylinder in the sky and noticed hazards that Vani didn’t catch. She failed to account for other airborne dangers on the plane, problems that likely contribute to the deadly quality of cabin air more than anything she may ever fear.

But before I start, we all know that commercial aviation is plagued with funny odors.  While we sit in a chair in the sky the nose is treated to a parade of organic funk, wafting through the cabin.  Whether it is the chronically unshowered and unsleeved, the woman that insists on taking off her shoes and putting her feet all over everything, or the folks that secrete gaseous effluvia, the plane's atmosphere is a sea of tasty gases.

To combat plane stink I get into my seat and build the “Odor Free Cone”.  I direct the air jet directly on me at full blast, constructing an impenetrable current of air that no random air biscuit can cross.


My air travel strategy- careful positioning of the overhead air nozzle provides an
 invisible cone free of olfactory insults. 


It occurred to me that I need to alert Vani to a threat she had not anticipated.  Pretzel Gas.

From here I’m going to really exercise Food Babe Logic here so bear with me.

Every bag of pretzels contains about eleven pretzels in a slightly puffed, airtight package.  There is no reason for a company to actively inject some pretzel preservative gas into the package, so it must be composed of gases emitted from the pretzels themselves.  A quick read of the package say that they have been fortified with Folic Acid, so it could be a gas containing acid.

The tiny pillow's puffiness should remind you that there is a colorless, odorless substance inside that bag-- and it has not been proven safe in long term studies.  


When released into the cabin atmosphere, the salty air may be linked to many health problems.
Since the advent of commercial aviation pretzel service we have seen a rise in autism, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Disease. 


When the package is opened and the gas escapes, the air of the cabin is skewed toward higher pretzel gas concentrations, concentrations that have never been proven safe!

And lest we forget, if you actually eat the pretzels your insulin levels will rise, showing clear evidence of hormone disruption. 

The vast airline-snack food conspiracy knows this.  It is why you are not given pretzels while boarding (or pre-boarding) the plane. Everyone would sit and open them at the same time.  Instead a flight attendant, moving at the speed of a tree sloth, pushes her Cart of Death down the aisle, handing out packets of doom to the unsuspecting passengers.

To make this worse, the carbonation in soda raises the CO2 levels in the cabin, and carbon dioxide is almost the same thing as carbon monoxide, and we all know how dangerous that is.


The tiny bubbles in your soda raise cabin carbon dioxide levels potentially leading to exogenous semiotic entropy.  If you are getting sleepy, it is because carbon dioxide in your beverages is displacing air in the cabin and causing a micro-greenhouse effect.


So when Vani flies she must be a wreck, and hopefully she’ll read this and start to think of more things to complain about.  Maybe she’ll get the Food Babe Army to boycott Big Pretzel.


The most frightening part is, I can almost be a better Food Babe than the Food Babe. 

Friday, November 14, 2014

Science Center : Opinion and Activism are the New Science?

I am not happy. 

Opinion is the new science. 

Activism is the new science.

Undocumented claims are the new science.

Arguments from ignorance are the new science. 

That is, if you are a speaker at an event held by the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium.  You can watch the video here.  I'll wait. 

Or I can save you 1:21 of your life you'll never get back. 

First of all I can say that I totally predicted this.  I predicted exactly what this would be, that it would start out with some neutral and credible (well, undeniable) science and then degenerate into a scientific abortion ending in a rallying cry for food labeling and a "right to know". 

I'm like a damn psychic. It is pretty amazing.  Not really.  These things are incredibly predictable, and while I warned them, they suggested that 'teaching all sides' is a good move.  Ugh. 


Hey dude, science is whatever you think it is, your opinion is as good as evidence! 
After all, science is about hearing all viewpoints. 


The part that just makes me so mad is that a "Science Center" supported this.  It is an appeal to fear, ignorance and the typical trash.  Some of the quotes are priceless, and make me wonder what kind of half-cocked science you have to poop out on a test to be an RD in Florida.  

Really?  ""If some of the bigger chunks of protein are still left over chances are they could be an allergen."

Really?  

REEEEEALLY? 

Science Center, don't we turn off a microphone at this point?



Read Anna's comments... You guys are doing great work.  Keep fueling misinformation!



From 29 min to 39 min of her 25 min allotted time she goes off on labeling.  No evidence, no science, just her political, activist rant.  

When she finally provides references, not one is peer reviewed, and GMO Myths and Truths is her major source, and activist rag that has been completely discredited by mainstream science. 

Another major reference for evidence was, well, JURASSIC PARK!  The movie.  Yes, everything we know about science can be discounted by a campy horror flick. 

Then if you watch the question and answer section you'll see an activist grab the microphone and spew on without moderation about Monsanto, Monsanto, Monsanto.  Nobody stops her. She goes on about the well discounted claims about Indian suicides and other myths. 

I'm blown away.  Can we please remove "Science" from your name?  

There is a fine line between a Science Center and Junk Science Center.  You just crossed it.

If it seems like I'm being too harsh it is only because I see how these solutions have helped farmers and the environment, and see what we can do going forward.  When a Science Center promotes an event where a non-scientist is allowed to make false statements and force a political agenda (as predicted), it destroys their credibility.  We need Science Centers.  Unfortunately this one has a lax idea about what science actually is. 





Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Science Schmience. A Science Center Update

Today was interesting in that the angry emails and a few phone calls have come in to me and the hire-ups where I work.  Seems some folks are not happy that I've recommended, as a scientist, that a Science Center might best serve its reputation and credibility by endorsing events that have a basis in science-based evidence.

They still are moving forward with the Science on Tap event, where a local dietitian with apparent intentions will grace the audience with her interpretations of transgenic crop science.

To review, last week I was alerted by a South Florida farmer that the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium  (SFSC) was hosting a “Science on Tap” talk, held at a local bar.  The topic was entitled, “GMO’s (sic) Exposed” and was to be delivered by Michelle Parenti Lewis, a local dietitian.  I wondered what she might be exposing.

The original story was posted on my blog, Illumination.  After I was notified of this event, a little google search revealed that the event was being billed to show  “potentially harmful effects”, and likely would be an anti-GMO fear fest.  Which is fine.  Anyone that wants to make crazy claims is welcome to do so, and do it with a bullhorn and on a high mountaintop. 

The problem here is that what appears to be a veiled political endorsement of food labeling is being billed as a scientific event.   Worse, it is being endorsed by SFSC.   Hitching their wagon to a presentation not backed by science is a dangerous place for a scientific venue to go.   My blog detailed the problem with a science center sponsoring a political event masquerading as a scientific talk.

Within hours social media carried the story and several folks from the SFSC reached out.  They noted how important it was to “hear all sides”, in essence, let someone provide a non-scientific viewpoint because it is important to the debate (that those of us in science know does not exist).   You know, “Teach the Controversy”. Creationists must be salivating.

I recommended it be cancelled until they were sure it was a scientific event.  After a few polite exchanges and some good dialog they did not cancel the event, but agreed to change the name.  Yes, the SFSC will still allow what likely will be a biased talk that uses fear and uncertainty to promote an agenda to label foods.  That’s just my guess from her previous talks and posts.

The science center did reach out and asked me to join, but I’m busy with a visiting speaker in Gainesville and “Science on Tap is four hours away.

Luckily others have been identified to step in.  Chris Miller, an outstanding extension agent from Palm Beach County will be in attendance.  Chris has seen my recent presentations and he knows farming.  While molecular biology and transgenic crops are not his specialty, he’ll keep it real.   A number of faculty from the Biotechnology Program at Palm Beach State University will be in attendance also, and they have been excellent communicators of the technology.

The presentation will be posted online, and I’m going to make a prediction here.  Her talk will mirror those from Michael Hanson of the Consumer’s Union.  She’ll talk about the technology with some accuracy and then key on the vague language that can be twisted to satisfy agenda. 
Watch for :

"Monsanto owns all the scientists and regulates all the research"-- which is complete garbage, but the refuge of those that like to make statements without seeking evidence. 

“voluntary consultation”  -  Opponents of biotech key off of this statement, suggesting that approval is a rubber stamp, not noting that this is a lengthy and expensive process.

Arguments from Ignorance, like “we just don’t know…” = We see these every time. Of course, they don’t acknowledge safe use for almost 20 years and no evidence of harm.

“There have been no long-term tests on humans.” – Not noting that we don’t do any tests on humans unless there is substantial reason suggesting potential for harm.

“Don’t you want to know what your children are eating?” – The appeal to the Middle Moms that are manipulated with fear and uncertainty. 

“These foods have not been proven safe”  -- Of course, nothing in the history of the world has been proven safe.  We can only demonstrate evidence of harm.

The whole thing will conclude with a call for labels and this will somehow be called science.

My interaction with SFSC has been pleasant and I’m grateful that they’ve attempted some corrective action.  Maybe Ms. Parenti-Lewis will nail the science and give an evidence-based presentation on transgenic plant technology, why farmers use it, and a complete coverage of benefits and limitations.   That would be great.

On the other hand, if she uses the credibility of SFSC to make sweeping generalizations to build fear of sound science, it will be a major fail for SFSC.  My prediction- they've been duped, and are now attached to an Earth and Water Watch surrogate using this opportunity to misrepresent agriculture, twist science, and trivialize a rigorous approval process.  She’ll promote a position of denigrating transgenic science and push for food labeling that is not supported by science and reason.

I would love to be proven wrong.


Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Protecting Bill Nye from De-nye-al

Yesterday's letter on Keith Kloor's Collide-a-Scape Blog was intended to illuminate inconsistency in Bill Nye's application of science.   While many critics hammered at his credentials and trashed him as a kid's entertainer, I defended him.  I respect Bill Nye and his ability to connect science to people.  It is something I wish I did better and something I am learning by watching experts like Nye.

This is why I challenged him.  I need him to survive.  I need the Bill Nye brand to be successful.  We need him to be the friendly and approachable stuff in the interface between the public and the science.


My letter to Nye was out of respect -- to help sharpen
his impacts and protect his brand. 

Right now there are many not happy with Nye, and they come from positions in climate denial and creationism.  They need Bill Nye to fail.  They seek to erode his credibility.

What better way to harm his reputation as an objective science steward than to show that he has taken a position that is not backed by data or the scientific consensus?  What better way to harm his brand than to show that it is not consistent with the world's leading scientific organizations?


Nye's Next Steps

In a perfect world Bill Nye might seek some experts out in LA to sit down and help him understand why his comments were incorrect, and maybe how they have damaging effects. Maybe he'll come out and clarify his remarks and change his position, or else succumb to exogenous semiotic entropy.

That would be the best move.  He could show the world that scientists are humans that make mistakes, stand up when challenged, and accept evidence to adjust their views.

Let's hope it goes that way.

Sunday, November 9, 2014

Women in Science, Revisited

This post is here because earlier today someone asked me to think of a reason to build a scholarship. I thought of Jessie.

Jessica Justice was a dishwasher that became a scientist.  This is what I wrote about her, and it was published on April 7, 2010 on Skepchick.  Make sure you read the next post tomorrow.  If this moves you at all, tomorrow will bring tears.

The topic is important today as it was then, and your note is still priceless Jessie.


Science Needs Women
Kevin M. Folta
In three weeks I will put on the cap-and-gown professor outfit I bought on Ebay and witness something that probably never should have happened: the graduation of a self-described dumb blonde. Jessie came to my laboratory looking to make some extra cash as a dishwasher. Little did she know that she would be remolded, repackaged and refocused by a cadre of women that identified a change that needed to happen, then took the initiative to make it so.
In my laboratory the ratio of X to Y chromosomes is traditionally skewed to about twelve to one. The reason is not clear, but the majority of the technicians, postdocs, grad students and undergraduates in my program are female, and it has always been that way. One residue of the phenomenon has been that I get to observe the powerful influence that strong women have in shaping the career, and sometimes personal, choices of young women entering science.
It happens every semester, but Jessie was the most stunning example. She would take on simple tasks like dishwashing and lab maintenance with a certain care and precision not seen in most twenty year olds. But when I asked her if she’d like to take on a laboratory project all she would say is, “I probably can’t do it, I’m not smart enough.”
That sentiment was echoed every time she was assigned a task. She had self esteem that was so low it defied accurate analogy. Yet every time I would show her a technique, computer program or protocol she would execute it flawlessly after a flurry of “I probably can’t do it” and “I’m not smart enough.” I don’t know why she was so eternally self-deprecating, but it was sad to see her downplay, if not completely discount, her inherent talents and abilities.
The women in my lab took special notice of this situation. At the time there was a technician and three graduate students, all balanced, opinionated and strong. Most of all they were complete, with good relationships overlaid with conspicuous hint of glamour. They were maybe four years older than Jess, making their influence especially strong. They dug one layer deeper into Jessie than I would want to; discovering her dysfunctional relationships with males, her horrendous daily decisions and the penetrance of her miserable self perception that negatively impacted many facets of her life.
Leading by example, they showed her that women could drive science and lead a high-powered research team. They cultured her talents, supported her good decisions and taught her flawless execution of advanced scientific tests. Their influence would escape the walls of the lab, as they’d reprimand her when she’d talk about the dopes she’d date and the poor decisions she’d make at home. Soon, the growth was visible and rapid. The self-described ugly duckling was changing.
After a year in my lab with Dawn, Stef, Denise and Thelma, Jessie left to pursue advanced training within her major. She wrote up her work, turning in a graduate-level synopsis of the literature and her results. She had a visible sense of confidence, a new maturity and poise that contrasted so starkly against that of the “dumb blonde” that started in my lab only a year before.
Last week, years after she left my lab, I received a tiny card in my university mailbox buried amongst the junk mail. Inside was an invitation to a graduation. From Jessie. Adjacent to the time, date and event details was a handwritten note. “Thank you for teaching me how to think critically.”

One of the most important messages I ever received.

Sure, maybe I had a hand in it, but the best thing I did was mentor four stellar women scientists that took the initiative to guide her.
The rare success of a grant funded, a scholarly paper accepted, or putting the hood on a new Ph.D. are all wonderful, memorable moments in the life of an academic scientist. However, this victory was especially sweet. I folded that card inside-out, permanently wedged it into the frame of my office bulletin board, and then sent congratulatory emails to the four women that changed Jess’s thinking, influenced her decisions, and maybe even saved her life.
****  This post was first online in April of 2010.  In January 2012 we would suffer a tremendous loss. The next post details that tragedy ***

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Event Renamed, Maybe Postponed. Needs to be Cancelled.

I was blown away to see that the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium was sponsoring "Science on Tap" an event at a local bar that featured a speaker on a scientific topic. However, the speaker for November 13th was a local dietitian with clear activist leanings, planning what appeared to be a baseless criticism of transgenic crop technology in her talk "GMO's (sic) Exposed". 

My analysis of the speaker and the situation here.

A few emails and notes on social media brought a first wave of responses that suggested bringing in "all views" was the job of science and that her talk was appropriate. 


My head almost exploded.  Since when is a "science center" promoting "teach the controversy"? 




Science Center endorses a local dietitian to speak on the dangers of GMO foods. 
Zero illnesses or deaths in 18 years.  88,000 deaths a year from alcohol.


Finally tonight I received word from their CEO that they'd be "pushing  back the start date of the event until we have secured an appropriate speaker who can represent the other side of the issue."

The other side (head hits desk).  They still don't get it, but we're moving in the right direction. Creationists everywhere got excited that the science center is now accepting talks for scientifically defunct ideas in an effort to hear all sides. 



From their website, a changed title, no notice that the event has been postponed. 


I advised to simply uncouple the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium from the event.  That's the best move.  They'd never bring in a psychic, a UFO expert, or a moon-landing hoaxer, or a Holocaust Denier, and then bring in a real  expert to show "both sides".  It falls directly into the creationist scheme of teach the controversy, when science clearly shows there's no controversy to teach.  

We'll see what happens next.  

It is hard to believe that a Science Center needs to be reminded about how science works.  It is not about presenting opinions of anyone that has one.  It is about hypothesis-driven data, good experiments, solid statistics and hard data.  It is not what a dietitian thinks and how she'll advance an activist agenda. 

That's the stuff for the Whole Foods Community Room. Go there and spew nonsense. However, the endorsement of a Science Center must only be used to endorse science backed by the scholarly literature and the scientific consensus. 

As it is said, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts.  Period. 



Friday, November 7, 2014

You've Been Fooled, Science Center!

If you are planning to visit the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, you might not see Jesus riding a T. rex,  or a model of the earth with expanding glaciers.  These are the things that crackpot pseudo-science museums might promote.  Nothing like that could happen here... or could it?

An event next week was brought to my attention.  The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium is sponsoring Science on Tap- GMOs Exposed!  

November 13th you can go hear about how GMOs are 'exposed', whatever that means... Maybe we should dig a little deeper...

The presenter is Michelle Parenti Lewis, a local RD.  So what can an apparently trained RD "expose"? 

A quick google search shows that the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium has been duped.  They have scheduled what will likely not be a scientific talk, but an activist parasite posing as science.  This is the most disgusting of all scams. And they fell for it.

A little poking around shows that Ms. Lewis is an anti-GMO advocate.  In a local promotion for the same event on SouthFlorida.com they show the event's true colors: 

Blinded by Science?  But the $3 Irish Car Bombs will "kill any GMO in a radius of 17 feet from the food on your plate."  Science is awesome?  Sounds like something a Science Center might endorse? 

The promotion claims that Lewis will describe "their potentially harmful effects", which is code for "these have no documented health effects over 17 years, but that's not scary so we'll talk about potential effects". This sure looks like an activist rant posing as a scientific presentation. 

*** and alcohol kills 88,000 in the USA every year. That's exactly 88,000 more than GMOs in 17 years ***

There still is no hard evidence that this is a credulous activist talk posing as science.  It could be a typo, or the work of some intern that has been since fired for besmirching science. Or not.

It does not take too long to see that Ms. Lewis is steeped in naturalistic fallacy, and uses that platform to raise activist issues.  The website dietbalance.net  cites the November 13th event and provides a brief dossier.  It seems reasonable at first, but then gets to "She is an advocate for locally sourced organic food production and the labeling of genetically engineered foods and cloned foods".  

Cloned foods?  I guess those organic bananas, strawberries, citrus, and dozens of other crops are off the table. 

A little more digging and it's clear that she's in cahoots with Food and Water Watch, an activist hive that spends a lot of time trashing sound transgenic technology.  She has spoken at several events in support of food labeling.  Read this and weep, science lovers:

Wow, same old junk.


And if you poke around more you can find even more evidence that the proposed speaker adheres to the naturalist fallacy, and therefore has to deny, and fight, the science of biotechnology. 

So congratulations South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, you've been bamboozled by activists posing as scientists.  You've been tricked by someone with a lot of letters after her name that chooses to ignore the scientific literature, and that should be frightening.  

I would strongly recommend canceling the event, or at least taking away your endorsement and leave that to the crystal rubbers and ear candlers. This is not science and you are being used. 

Of course, if you like this kind of thing I can get a Jesus on a T. rex stature for your foyer... 


Wednesday, November 5, 2014

This is No Victory.

Hearts fluttered and hearts sank.  Election returns brought some to ballrooms and others to bathrooms. Others remained too close to call.

It appears that the ballot initiatives mandating labels on foods containing ingredients derived from transgenic crops did not pass. But it is no victory.

Many will disagree.  Grocery manufacturers, seed companies and farmers will claim victory because voters will not mandate what seed they use, or force unneeded hassles of separating products depending on if they contain a single gene or not.

However, the anti-farmer, anti-scientific voters that use a ballot box to vote on if science is true will return to the drawing board for two more years.  That's a temporary victory to those that spent (wasted) millions to push them back.  It should never have gotten that far.


Once again a comma defines the sentiment. 

Worse in watching the persuasive ads for YES and NO, both camps manipulated fear and emotion to influence voters.  There was no education, no reason.  Voting decisions were driven by an appeal to the lesser of two non-existent evils.

No matter how these results fall, it is not a victory for science and reason.  It reminds us that those of us that work in education have a long way to go.

It also deteriorates my faith in the wisdom of our nation's citizens. When they fall for the lies of activists over the evidence of science, it says we don't deserve a democracy. These votes should have been 100% NO, 0% YES, if we were listening to science.

The fact that it is 50-50 is tremendously disheartening.

How can we trust our fellow citizens to make good choices on complex issues like healthcare, taxes, foreign policy and other intricate issues when we half of people think their food is poison and that farmers are killing them-- and there's not a shred of science to support that claim?

And I'm not letting the other 50% off of the hook, as a large portion of that group voted based on a commercial that scared them about what would happen if "YES" passed.

Can we please have a national science-based dialog?  Can politicians have the backbone to bring science and scientists into this conversation in a big bold way?  Can we make some hard federal law that just puts this nonsense to bed?

The amount spent on defeating these measures would pay for a lot of research.  It is a shame it is spent on television ads to scare someone into voting a certain way.  This needs to change, and change now.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

The Right to Know Begins with Learning

I just get sick when I hear proponents of Oregon 92 and Colorado 105 claim that they demand food labeling because they deserve a right to know.

In reality, there is no need for a right to know, at least as imparted by a clunky, expensive, and scientifically invalid law or amendment.  The right to know begins with a desire to learn.  A right to know begins with a willingness to listen to, and understand science.

As it stands, proponents of the ballot initiatives hope the right to know is a punitive tool.  It does not teach, it does not inform. It simply provides a means to distinguish food produced from certain farmers that chose specific seeds. It will be a way for them to conjure fear around perfectly safe foods, based on no real information. That's some powerful right to know.  What good is a right to know, if you know nothing, or worse, know false information?

What good is a right to know if you use it to harm farmers, consumers and the environment, let alone the needy that could benefit from advances in biotechnology?



Is it was really about a right to know?  
It if was, one could simply pick up a book and learn. 


The problem with demanding a right to know is that there is no "know".  There's no knowledge. There's no education.  It is plunging into idocracy where loud mobs of the uninformed shun independent, reproducible science, clinging tightly to the flimsy claims of one-off reports and activist fear tactics. But the TV doctor and the guy selling the book say these foods are dangerous.  Why are they dangerous?   Doesn't matter. It fits the construct they want to believe, so that's good enough.

Nobody really wants to know. They want to hear what reinforces their beliefs. 

So it is not about a right to know.  It is about a right to not know, to retain ignorance, to continue in darkness of fear and distrust. It is about a desire to shield from science, a hard choice to shun facts and trust beliefs of charlatans that profit from manufactured fear.

The beauty of the internet is that these reports should be rather durable and history will write itself around these events.  My hope is that we'll use these corny social demands for non-scientific changes as benchmarks of our primitive ineptitude.  We'll remember that we had many among us that voted if science was true or not.  We can see who is behind the stigmatization of good science as evil, and maybe quantify the body count and suffering they caused by fighting science.

It is not about a right to know.  It is about a want    to     not    know.  It is about sticking fingers in the ears and shutting out science.  The well fed and the affluent want a right to know, which is ironic, because they think they know everything already.

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.


Overall. 

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. 


   





Sunday, August 17, 2014

This is What I Get For Offering to Help...

In the last blog I wrote about correspondence from a young woman that apparently was not interested in scientific interaction.  To review, she posted a note on the Stop Neil deGrasse Tyson from Talking about Science petition, requesting he contact her so that she could give his dim self some book learnin'.  She provided an email address in this public forum.

Dr. Tyson is a busy guy.  He's trying to disentangle fundamental questions about our universe, and may not be surfing crackpot websites, especially those trying to censor him.

To be of service, I wrote a short and punchy note to (we'll call her RK) only to earn a semi-psychopathic retort.

I get it.  Asking Neil deGrasse Tyson to contact you and then getting a note from Kevin Folta is a lot like ordering a pizza and having the delivery guy show up with a used tube sock filled with guacamole. I'm sure she was disappointed, but when life hands you a tube sock of guacamole, get the chips!

I took the time to write back a little softer note explaining the situation.

On the surface my note seems soft and helpful-- but the words within conjured a rhetorical shitstorm like I've never seen. The "ego" comment comes from her last note where she tells me, "Drop your ego little man!"  She's giving Valerie some competition in the zany department! 


My message disappeared into cyberspace, hoping to mend a misunderstanding or somehow illuminating that she just might be wrong.  However, my desire to initiate a healthy and useful conversation was dead on arrival.  My offer to assist was met with an interesting reply-- and I have no idea what she is talking about! 


Yikes!  I never visited her facebook page-- Ever. YouTube channel?  I guess I have no publications or even a B.S. degree...  Don't like that I offer to help a woman?  I offer to help everyone...

BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE... 



I do kind of hope she calls my department and asks to talk to the Chair... He'd be happy to hear her complaint. I think he already has, and he knows all sides of this fiasco. 


Today's blog has two major conclusions:

1.  This is why scientists don't engage.  The abuse and threats from wackos are a turn off and make you feel like you are wasting your time.

2.  This is why Mike Adams and Vandana Shiva are actually dangerous.  When they encourage violence against journalists and scientists, there are a number of unstable persons out there like RK that could easily be inspired to carry out their bidding.  





Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Kind Scholarly Note from a Sweet Soul

Last weekend when skimming the petition to silence Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson I stumbled upon one that seemed really odd.  The author, I'm guessing a female, said, "End the Bt (Agent Orange) Toxic Corn", as part of her rant.  She offered her email address an suggested that Dr. Tyson contact her, of course, perhaps in more crunchy tones.

Seeing as though Dr. Tyson was probably busy solving problems of the cosmos and not likely to respond to this request, I kindly took it upon myself to send her a quick note and clarify her Bt/Agent Orange foible.

Shortly thereafter I received her gentle retort.



Reaching out to touch the lives of others with the gift of science.  My she is one feisty space bat.  I'd recommend Occupy a Padded Cell. I'm guessing her trusted and accredited news sources is probably Natural News.

My first note to her was honest and well intended, and I'd be glad to talk to her about transgenics, Bt, 2,4-D, agent orange, whatever.  I don't think she's much interested in what science has to offer, as she seems like an angry nutcase that is probably flipping kittens into a wood chipper and not partaking in critical analysis of the scholarly literature. 

Oh well.  I tried. Next time I'll take a whiz on a killer bee colony instead. 

Tomorrow I'll post our next correspondence... 







Saturday, August 9, 2014

DeGrasse Is Not Always Greener in the Other Science

I was grateful when Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson accidentally stepped in science's ripest dookie- anti-GMO pseudoscience.  He's getting to experience first hand what it is like to be a scientist trying to communicate sound science with the most rabid bunch of clueless know-it-alls ever amassed under a single banner.

When asked last week about transgenic crops, he said that humans have been manipulating genes for thousands of years, so "chill out".  He's exactly right.  Humans have been taking the trash that nature gave us and folding it into useful crops for certainly the last 10,000 years. The process is random and wild, and only since the dawn of biotechnology do we have any handle on what genes we are moving and how we do it.

However, far be it from the anti-GMO movement to accept scientific facts.  To them, Tyson is a sellout to corporate seed greed, a Monsanto Collaborator, and probably someone that Mike Adams wants dead.

I wrapped up my Saturday science day and opened the browser only to find this gem:


20,000 people capable of logging on to the internet are clearly smarter than one goofy Monsanto-owned astrophysicist.  


It is a petition-- that's right, a petition, to tell Dr. Tyson to not tell people to "chill out" about GM foods. 

A petition.  A device usually used to invite a change in policy, here it is being used to coerce a scientist out of speaking, well, scientifically.  

The good news is that some of the petitioners take the time to provide rationale for why they want Dr. Tyson to not tell them to chill out.  It is tragic comic gold.  In no place have I recently read such a public display of mass ignorance, criticizing our generation's greatest voice in science. 

Let's look at some of the gems:


Mrs. Sandy Pidgeon from Montana expresses her concerns about that roundup-ready wheat.  She apparently suffers from MS, so she's sensitive to the food she eats.  Unfortunately, she is ready to voice out against the GMO wheat-- when there is no GMO wheat.  It was never commercialized. 


Ms. Cheryl Berdahl from Nevada notes that "All of Europe can't be wrong".   

I have two words.  Soccer.  Hasselhoff. 


Ms. Jessica Kraskian from New Jersey clearly wants Tyson replaced.  He doesn't verify her biases the way Sagan did, like when he said the earth was a pale blue dot in the vastness of space and that we need science more than ever.  Sagan would agree 100% with Tyson, and would call the anti-GMO movement another facet of the Demon Haunted World.  Maybe a scientist like Jeffery Smith could tell everyone about how to cure cancer by burning a smudge stick and breathing in the vapors through an eagle feather.  


Mr. Kevin Klasman swings and misses with his exposition of scientific illiteracy.  He buys into the bogus "infertile crops" narrative and talks of "more aggressive" pesticides, which is exactly not the case. But hey, Tyson is the bonehead, right? 


Rocket surgeon turned internet police guy Mark Crossland peels himself away from the Bararck Hussein Obama Birth Certificate site long enough to give Tyson a pretty firm spanking.  GMOs "change genetic structures" according to this guy, which I guess is true, but it happens at a much lower rate than what happens in traditional breeding, and we understand the genes that are being affected. I'll remember when I teach molecular biology class next year, "Anytime you modify something DNA you F it up".


Mr. Garry M. Doll of Pennsylvania chimes in with some surprising news-- GM technology is not science. At times I've thought of it more of an art form, but in general it is pretty sciencey.  I'm also guessing that science dudes like me know about epigenetics (actually, they discovered it) and maybe we do know something about genetics.  My guess is that Mr. Doll is plagued with recessive genes that block the distinction of reality versus fiction. 


Lee Beffort in Nevada recounts a common allegation-- Dr. Tyson is now sold out to Corporate Masters, many others site that he's a shill for Fox News. You know, the corporation that tells scientists to talk about how the world is being threatened by antropogenic climate change.  They can't have it both ways, can they?


Dr. George DeForest of Texas, a state known for its high scientific resolution, suggests that Tyson is not qualified to speak on transgenic crops because his scientific training in astrophysics.  I'm guessing Dr. Deforest is a podiatrist. 

WAIT WE"RE NOT DONE!  

This is the very tippy tip of the iceberg and I'm going to use this platform to generate lots of responses and even some video.  

Thanks Dr. Tyson for getting involved in this topic.  You've stirred a pot that needed to be stirred, so let's get all of the public advocates for science on board to stand up for science, and stand up for biotechnology!