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. 




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... 


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 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!






Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Health Ranger'"-like Science Cleansing in Stalin's Russia

Sometimes history repeats itself.  Sometimes history repeats itself in remarkable irony.

Last week Mike Adams (the Natural News ‘Health Ranger’), a highly public figure in natural foods and magical thinking,  made a less than veiled call to arms.  Citing references to Nazi propaganda, he almost directly instructed the assassination of scientists and journalists that exhibited favorable viewpoints on transgenic (GMO) technology.   Much has been written about his rants onsocial media, along with his tenuous claims that scientists and journalists are dangerous corporate pawns with a mission to poison the planet.

Adams’ deplorable viewpoints caused quite a hiccup, followed by a backpedal.  Even anti-GMO's darling Vandana Shiva lovingly posted Adams' science-Nazi rants, until even she realized that he is insane and probably bad for $40,000 speaker engagements.  They have since been pulled from her website and live on only in screenshots for use another day.

Inciting harm to scientists that fail to comply with a popular social myth is nothing new.  We can point to The Inquisition, to Pope Urban IV and Galileo, and many others. 

Adams’ call for the murder of scientists and reference to Nazi imagery brings to mind the story of Nikolai Vavilov.  Vavilov was a brilliant scientist and gifted geneticist, years before genetics was even a discipline.  His tireless collections of plant species, incredible observations and excellent science were decades before his time.  His collections of seeds are among the world’s greatest and his botanical tenets remain underpinnings of modern crop biology.

Nikolai Vavilov, brilliant botanist and plant collector.  He was murdered for his science that was not accepted by those that held "alternative" views in science. 


Here’s the punch line.  Vavilov would be arrested and tried by the Stalin regime for his views on science.  He would die in prison for his science.  He remains to this day a hero among academics in plant breeding, and a martyr of science.

Nikolai Vavilov was born in 1874.  He attended fine academies and quickly found himself among Russian luminaries of science.  In 1917 he became a professor at Saratov University, and quickly gained attention as one of the world’s foremost experts in plant biology. 

He attained this distinction because of his expeditions and collections.  He traveled the globe, identifying new species and trends of diversification within plant populations.  He traveled into uncharted areas of the world to better understand plant biology and plant diversity. During his travels he documented skirmishes with bandits, and bouts with malaria and typhus.  Throughout his career he traveled to 64 countries understanding plants, taking massive collections (160,000 cataloged under his direction), careful documentation and generating huge amounts of data.  He wrote many books and scholarly papers, spoke fifteen languages, and introduced ideas that were revolutionary in a time where the concepts of the gene were just bubbling to the fore. 

He would rise to the position of Deputy Director of the Soviet Bureau of Applied Botany.  At the peak, the institute was home to over 20,000 scientists and 400 research laboratories.  Some concepts, such as the Law of Homologous Series of Variation (1920) are still taught in contemporary breeding and evolution classes, and as far as traits go, typically hold up to modern molecular scrutiny.

Vavilov lived during the transition to Stalinist Russia.  Lenin died in 1924, and Stalin took charge of the country.  With this change came a frank denial of Darwin and his fundamental principles.  Vavilov, being a scientist and witnessing living examples consistent with Darwin’s ideals, held views consistent with the emerging concepts of genetics.

T.D. Lysenko claimed that species changed because the environment "trained" next generations. His data were limited, he was criticized by scientists worldwide, but those in charge in his country accepted and lauded Lysenko and his "science" because it fit communist ideology better than Darwinian ideas. 

Coincident with as Vavilov’s ascendance, a young scientist named T.D. Lysenko began working under his direction.  Lysenko examined vernalization, the process of inducing flowering by subjecting plants to cooler temperatures.  This is an important agricultural trait to understand, as it governs when food will be produced.  Lysenko became a prominent voice in plant science, and was appreciated by the Soviet government because his ideas of Lamarckian evolution fit the government’s preferences over Vavilov’s Darwinian slant.

Lysenko had narrow training and rejected Mendelian genetics and Darwinian evolution. He was opposed to the use of hybrid maize, a concept that was gaining acceptance at the time.

The contrast was becoming more clear.  Lysenko pushed a concept that conditioned changes could be inherited.  His hypotheses were based on a single plant, and he was seriously criticized by the wider scientific community.   On the other hand, Vavilov adhered to Darwinian concepts, indicating that traits were inherited and predictable in populations.  (Sound familiar in the modern context?)

Meanwhile, Vavilov invited American-resident Russian scientist Georgi Karpechenko to return to his home country.  Karpechenko was well known for his studies of speciation in plants, particularly in examination of polyploids (plants that possess too many sets of chromosomes). In 1940 Karpechenko eventually returned to Russia.  

Science of inheritance and chromosomes discussed by Vavilov and Karpechenko did not resonate well with Stalin-regime leaders. They were described as "Mendelist-Morganist enemies of the people".  Lysenko’s ideas of nurture being more powerful than nature matched well with the communist doctrine, as they found the idea that change could be installed to be consistent with their philosophy.  Stalin’s government then would dictate the rules of biology, and how they were applied.

During the late 1930's, on a Mike Adams-like roundup, geneticists were arrested and tried.  Many of them were murdered for their acceptance of Darwinian evolution.

Among them would be Vavilov and Karpechenko.


Vavilov was the director of a prestigious scientific institution, so his arrest would bring great public attention.  He was invited to an excursion in what is today western Ukraine, and in 1940 he was arrested.   The collecting excursion was designed to get him into a place where there would be little news, little controversy when arrested.  Vavilov was returned to Seratov where he was tried and convicted.  He was supposed to have been executed by firing squad, but he was spared to twenty years in prison.

Arguably the greatest scientist of the time and one of the best plant scientists ever was then incarcerated in the Seratov Prison, a hideous gulag where he suffered in horrendous conditions, sustaining himself on moldy flour and cabbage.  

He died 2.5 years later in 1943 of cardiac failure at the age of 55, malnourished and wasting in solitary confinement.

Fellow scientist Kapechenko, along with some of his colleagues, were arrested and executed by firing squad in 1941 for practicing forbidden sciences of genetics

*****

During his confinement, Vavilov stood by his science, stood by his understanding,  eventually to his demise. He wrote, with reference to The Inquisition, "We shall go to the pyre, we shall burn; but we shall not retreat for our convictions."

To stand in the cross hairs of Adams' violent motivations is not to compare to Nikolai Vavilov.  He sits aside Borlaug and few others in his scientific stature and in his impacts on modern plant science.  

The point is to compare where ideology violently over-rules science.  It is relevant again as we witness a new war of anti-scientific ideas, along with an orchestrated call for harm to scientists and the journalists that support science.  Adams creates an insidious parallel between scientists and Nazi criminals, and parallels between the death of over six million innocent people and modern agricultural practice.

In times of such faulty rhetoric, it is reasonable to review the instances in history where ideology made irreversible errors that harmed innocent stewards of science, and without question slowed progress in the future of food. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Do You Stand with Adams and Shiva?

Dear Biotech Critics,

Mike Adams has issued a rather unveiled threat against journalists and scientists that favorably view crop biotechnology.  His position has since been implicitly backed by Vandana Shiva on her website.

it is the moral right — and even the obligation — of human beings everywhere to actively plan and carry out the killing of those engaged in heinous crimes against humanity.


This is a call to publicly denounce the terrorist tactics by Adams and Shiva.  It is important to your own movement that you distance yourself from them, and condemn their statements.

Or, if you think their positions are good, don't I have a right to know?

Thanks!

Kevin

Friday, July 25, 2014

Vandana Shiva Endorses Murder of Biotech Supporters

Mike Adams has called for the assassination of journalists and scientists that stand behind the use of modern biotechnology in crops.  Not to be outdone, this warm message of love and tolerance was quickly posted by Vandana Shiva, you know, the one that received the Sydney Peace Prize in 2010.  Sydney must be a relatively violent place.

Today her website featured a reprint of Adams' article, reminding her followers that science is not to be tolerated and that those that support science must be stopped.   Her website, Seed Freedom, reminds her throngs of followers of Adams' vicious message- that those supporting biotechnology are all simply "Monsanto Collaborators" and akin to Nazi supporters that generated propaganda and took action to advance the influence of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement.  The content squares nicely with her claims of modern biotech as being a new genocide, responsible for the deaths of millions.

Shiva's website proudly displays Adams' vicious call to action for violence against scientists and journalists.

My gut tells me that this was the work of one of her minions and not the work of Shiva herself.  You'd have to be relatively dim to endorse Adams and his rhetoric.  While potentially in concordance with his views, Shiva is an adept politician, and will know that this call to action will backfire.  Equating good science to one of histories most heinous atrocities is so blatantly flawed that even she won't let it stand, as this rhetorical flourish will come back to harm her someday.  Don't expect it to remain on her website very long.

UPDATE. 

As of 7/29/14 there is no more website at this URL.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Do Not Stop Adams and Intimidation - Exploit It.

This week, Health Ranger Mike Adams made a thinly-veiled call to recruit anti-GMO activists and the general public to arms.  His goal, mobilize interest to threaten or harm scientists, journalists and others that dare to interpret the scientific literature on transgenic crops and/or communicate it to the public.  The article appeared on Natural News, a page with a readership of over 200,000 a day.  The page was steeped in Nazi imagery, calling supporters of transgenic technology part of the Agricultural Holocaust.

The title of the article is : Biotech genocide, Monsanto collaborators and the Nazi legacy of ‘science’ as justification for murder

I hear that the Nazis have contacted Adams and the owners of the "Monsanto Collaborators" website.  The Nazis feel that Adams and anti-GMO are negative weight on their reputation.


Stay hot, Dork Ranger.  Of course, he now has shown that he's seriously off his rocker and willing to command his army of the brain dead to harm those that don't capitulate to their level of stupid. 

TODAY!!!!  Imagine my joy when I find this!  A new page constructed that follows Adam's direction to establish a page of "Monsanto Collaborators", people with no formal collaboration to Monsanto, but people that communicate and/or do research on transgenic technology.  
Right now the "scientist" section is not populated, but I'm hoping to be on that list!


Now they have moved to intimidation phase.  When you don't have facts, evidence or data, use a swastika. This will backfire.  Let him leave it up there as long as possible. 

Keith Kloor addresses this whole thing quite well today, so no sense in being redundant.   The question now is, what should we do now? 

ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.   In fact, we should use this as a badge of honor, put this in every website, public talk, twitter article, whatever it takes.  DO NOT CALL TO TAKE IT DOWN.  

It means we are making a difference. 

This journalist/scientist= Nazi angle will absolutely backfire.  Remember, the people that need communication and convincing are not the crazies on  the edge, they are the people in the fat of the bell curve.  They don't know one way or the other, so they choose based on fear rather than logic.

What's more illogical than calling for harm to the scientists and journalists that simply discuss technology that has been overwhelmingly beneficial?  What's more illogical than indicting people that have a clue, but connecting them to Nazi Germany?  Goodwin's Law usually is spot on. 

My appeal is to scientists, journalists and the public, especially those named on this list, to let it ride!   Take screen shots, use it far in wide, put it in every seminar, website and blog entry.  Adams says what most of them just think.   His stupid filter doesn't stop at just writing nonsense, he's actually spewing it like a fire hydrant.

This kind of imagery will end the labeling discussion dead in its tracks.  Adams calls for harm to scientists and journalists, but has done irreparable harm to his own cause.

I'm calling this one a victory.  






Sunday, June 29, 2014

When Liars Cross the Line - GMO Insulin

I was shocked, but not surprised, when a internet meme from GMO-Free USA popped up on my Facebook page:


GMO Free USA (and GMO Free Canada, eh) really shows their true colors with this one.  The referenced paper has nothing to do with GMO insulin, other than saying that it is better than the stuff from animals.


The rocket surgeons over at GMO Free USA really stepped in it this time.  They are using their fear-based misinformation machine to now scare people away from life-saving insulin therapy.  We all depend on insulin, a hormone synthesized in the Pancreas, to control blood sugar levels. Elevated blood sugar can lead to a variety of metabolic disorders and long-term damage to various organs. Type II diabetics produce too much at first, leading to insulin resistance, a state where the body just does not respond to the hormone and blood sugar levels remain high. Eventually type II's do not produce enough, so they need to control blood sugar with drugs, or in some cases administer insulin injections to manage their levels. 

Insulin for human use used to be purified from the pancreas of slaughtered animals.  The preparations obviously would contain other potentially reactive proteins, which presented an attractive solution for recominant DNA technology.  Recombinant insulin was first generated way back in the 1970's, and today is generated in yeast or E.coli in massive fermeneters.  The recombinant (GMO) insulin is infinitely more pure, safe and available. 

So why would the bone-heads at GMO Free USA make this claim?  They are not alone- the same claim was also shown over by the guy with minimal scholarly chops, Sayer Ji.  I'm pretty sure he read the headline and didn't even read the paper (I did).  It is not the first time, as he also reported on the title of the Glyphosate in 75% of Water Samples paper that was not even out, and I got the first copy from the authors. 

GreenMedInfo once again shows that the truth shall not stand in the way of agenda, 
even if people die in the process. 


They may be dead wrong on this one, but at least they are being intellectually consistent. If a bacterial gene in plants is magically dangerous, a human gene in yeast must be one of the most poisonous concoctions on earth. Of course, we all know that it is beyond perfectly safe when used correctly.

What did the paper really say? 

Well, that would require reading it, which I did.  Here's the scoop. First, it does not mention "GMO Insulin" or even compare recombinant insulin to non-recombinant. 

Is that what GreenMedInfo and GMO Free USA say? Absolutely not!  They should be admonished for their scare tactics.  This crosses a line. 

The gist of the paper is simple. If you give insulin to someone that is not diabetic, the body reacts to the improper presence of insulin, which is a reactive hormone.  After prolonged administration of insulin symptoms of Type 1 diabetes can be observed in some genetic backgrounds.  The study by Nishida et al., 2014, in the Journal of Clinical Endocrinology and Metabolism is a short report that expands previous observations to a set of six individuals that were being tested for this response.  The interest was to determine if there was a genetic component that could be isolated in this short pilot study. 

The report does state that the individuals that have a specific HLA Type (a collection of blood cell surface antigens) are more susceptible to the insulin-triggered development of Type I diabetes.  They link this to specific genetic markers that are present in Japanese populations.  It is much more complex than this, but in a nutshell... 

A Dangerous and Deadly Agenda
Even Health Ranger Mike Adams is not stupid enough to touch this one. Once again, anti-GMO activists like those at GreenMedInfo and GMOFreeUSA rub their crystals and align their shakras in a message that stands to strike fear in those using safe and dependable insulin therapies.  This kind of fear mongering is just an extension of their normal routine-- condemning good technology and products to fit their own agendas, even if it causes harm or death to others in the process. 



Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Day I Paid to Have My Best Friend Killed



On May 31, 2013, I planned on writing this blog but I could not do it. I figured I'd give it a year. So now it is posted on May 31, 2014.  Every time I actually sat down to do it, emotions grabbed me and stopped me.  It was one of the worst days ever- but one of the best days ever.  Two extremes at one time and a harsh ride in between. I'll explain....

My dog Xeenah was exceptional.  Humans keep dogs, or they keep us, they are beasts in our home.  But Xeenah is a dog that became one of us.  She was sweet, strong, smart, funny.  She was with us through some of the worst of times and an ever present contributor to the best of times. The whole story of how I got her and my first farewell was posted on this blog a year ago, the day she died.  I couldn't write about what I'm preparing here- no way.  here it is 365 days later.

This is a story of putting a dog to sleep.  I was not "putting her to sleep".  She was not going to sleep, as she did 10,000 times before on my leg.  I was paying someone to mercifully kill a mammal that shared a home and a part of my life with me. I can candy coat it with sleeping, putting her down, etc. She was going to be gone from my life.

I witnessed her health declining, more accurately, crashing.  I knew for years her heart was slowing down, and for years I took her outside 2-5 times a night.  It was a complete loss of sleep, but I did it for her.  I did that for years.  She was an old dog, and had to get outside a lot. She still was a sweet as a companion could be.

Sometime in the spring late in her 13th year she developed huge salivary glands. I'd pet her head like I did every day and clearly there was something different, something wrong.  For years we knew that she had a bad heart, bad liver, bad everything.  But she just kept going, alive, sweet and tender. She was my girl.


Even in her last weeks she'd get fired up for a walk.  She'd start out just as fast as ever.  She had one speed-- on!  It just didn't last very long and I'd carry her home. 


After that she went into a rapid decline that seemed so fast. The night I knew she was done was when she walked across the floor and all four legs collapsed at once.  She was helpless.  I had to proceed forward.

The doctors at West End Animal Hospital were as good as you can get.  Dr. Stevens saw where it was going- the decline.  She suggested a last shot of a steroid that might limit pain and swelling, but after that she could recommend only going to the university for chemotherapy and treatment for pain. She gave the shot and things were better for a day or two.

But then that was it.  Roxy was out of town, I was home with Xeenah, and she was crashing.  Advanced chemotherapy was prescribed.

One night we somehow decided together that it was time. 


I declined.  I didn't want her fizzle out and suffer. I knew time was limited and asked about what happens, what a guy does to euthanize his dog.

The vet hands you a paper with a choice of cremation options and an array of vessels you can buy to store the ashes.  To me she was going to be gone.  No sense in keeping her powdered remains on a shelf. I took the price list and options, folded the paper neatly and put them into my pocket.  We went home.

That week I gave Xeenah her favorite food.  She went crazy for chicken. Chicken. Each day I'd prepare a chicken breast and cut it to pieces.  I'd include it with her special food and bathe the mess in chicken soup.  She'd dig in, the best meal she ever had in all her years.  I knew that I only had a short time before she'd be gone.

I'd watch her eat, loving every second of it.  She just loved it.


 That last week she enjoyed a special breakfast of chicken and veggies over her kibbles.  



*****

The day I had to take her for that last ride it was more about me.  She didn't know what was happening.  I put on my most comfortable clothes.  It was Addias sweat pants and a soft oversized sweatshirt I bought in Zurich, Switzerland.  I had on a baseball cap and comfortable shoes.

I carried her to the truck for her last ride.  We sat together on front seat like we did thousands of times before, but I would go home without her. I petted her little head on the passenger seat, rubs behind the ears and warm massages to her read legs that she always liked.  And a belly rub.  To end her suffering, and to begin my suffering, was the best thing I could do for her. I carried her into the animal hospital.

You never know who is going to be the last vet in her life. The door opened, and to my surprise, it was Dr. Cottrell.  She was Xeenah's first vet in Gainesville, someone I really liked who rarely saw her in her annual visits.

The procedure was simple.  They would give two injections. I signed a form that said I understood the process. The first would make her comfortable, the second would stop the heart.

They delivered the first shot, suggesting that she might seem sort of, "out of it" while they left the room. It was a final time for the two of us. She sat in my arms like she always did, and the drugs crept in.. I rubbed her little neck and belly like I did a million times before.  She was tired and at rest, and obviously in retreat.

But then suddenly a surprise.  The drug was kicking in, and she must have felt some relief.  Life sprang to her eyes.  She sat up strong and certain.  She looked at me and panted, alive, alive, alive! It was my puppy again, the young dog that captured my heart 14 years before.  It was her again.  She had no pain, no problems, just a release from the shackles of age and pain and wanted to tell me she was okay.  It was my dog again, a friend I hadn't seen in years, back again to tell me it was okay.  Her mouth was breathing heavy but fast, she had a smile on her face and love in her eyes. It was my dog again. It was her.

Those moments were priceless.  Forever grateful.  She showed me that she was still there, but could not live within the broken frame.

After probably sixty seconds she slowly drifted back to sleep in my arms.  It was okay.  Minutes later Dr. Cotrell entered the room and asked if I was ready.  I was.

She laid Xeenah on a soft, olive colored blanket. The doctor looked at me, and inserted the syringe's needle into Xeenah's tiny little arm, pressed the plunger, and then placed the stethoscope on her heart. She listened for a few seconds.

"She's gone", Dr Cottrell said, her voice wavering.  She knew my little dog with the mohowak. Her voice quivered not for Xeenah, but for me.

I tried to not react, but sorrow exploded inside of me until I just did a massive exhale and burst to tears at once.

My dog, my little friend, was gone.

 I still rubbed her little head and gave her, and me, what would be the next chapter and a new time without each other.

The doctor and her assistant left the room and offered me time.  "Stay as long as you need to" they said.

I rubbed Xeenah behind the ears with no tears.  This time it was not for her, it was for me.  She was gone.  She laid there on that olive-green blanket, motionless and still.  She was really gone.

***********

Probably five years before Dr. Cottrell said that Xeenah had a heart problem and might have another year and half.  Those extra years were golden. Xeenah was always so sweet, so gentle, so loving, with everyone.

I built up to that last day, figuring it was the best thing I could do for her, not me.  The last trip to the vet was natural, like I owed my dog a soft and simple exit, painless and happy.  She got that.

Those last minutes with her were so priceless. When the drugs relaxed her to where the little pup inside sprang out and told me all was well, that she was happy and okay, that she was glad to be there with me... I'll remember that forever.

****

A year later I struggle daily with the loss.  Every night she pushed up against me, every morning she got up with me.  She greeted me at the door when I got home and sat on my lap or at my feet while I went through my day.  She was a special creature.  I'm stuck between the joy of knowing her and the pain of not having her here.

I recently put on that same Switzerland sweatshirt and found the cremation vessel choices in my pocket. Looking more carefully the sweatshirt had her little white hairs on it.  When I think of the day that I rode home alone I just need to grab on to the minute or so that I got to share with her when the first shot kicked in and the pain left her body.  Silver linings.

There's no way to end this that makes sense.  One year ago I paid someone to kill my best friend.  While it was one of the worst days of my life, it gave me a few shiny, perfect memories that will be with me forever.