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Showing posts from 2016

I'll Turn 50, Where's My Free Stuff?

On January 11, 2017 I will turn 50.  To many this chronological milestone represents a harsh reminder of beer-soaked sand clumping through life's hourglass, a grim reminder of aging and the unpleasantries of human senescence. 

I look at it as a way to start cashing in my chips for free stuff and early bird discounts. 


Frankly, I think it is all crap. It doesn't phase me a bit, but I'll take the bonus goods for eclipsing an arbitrary chronological metric.

I spent my first 35 years in school and postdoc time, scrounging for change, and taking any job that would give me five bucks or a sandwich. I could never figure out why the elderly got the discounts. Not only did they have all of the money, they also had social security. 

Senior discounts seemed wasted on the old.  I was the one that really needed the free bagel. 

I was taken back to January 10th, 1988, the day before my 21st birthday, and how the next day I'd be magically responsible enough to buy the alcohol I had been e…

Talking Biotech 062 -- DNA Evidence of Dog Domestication

Comment on Natural News

I needed a picture of myself to send to organizers of an upcoming conference. I found this in Google images and was curious what it was:



So I clicked the link and it took me to a Natural News story that talked about how I "receive bribes", "run scams", engage in "corruption".  It says that Monsanto provides me with money to take luxury vacations in Hawaii.  It was all assembled from cherry-picked comments in my personal emails that I willingly handed over to USRTK.
Of course, none of that is true. 
it is simply an opportunity to hurt someone, so Mike Adams used his reaching website to produce a (well, one of many) story that was false and potentially very damaging.  


When you read the comments section you see how this hateful rhetoric whips people into a frenzy.  This is just one example.  Five likes! 
I thought that since it has been a year I could provide a factual synthesis of the situation and maybe at least have the proper story out there in space. So I …

Mythbusting "Terminator Genes"

The discussion of the concept of Terminator Genes is important.  Many people feel that this technology is a reason to not adopt genetically-engineered crops.  Vandana Shiva speaks of the technology as though it is present in every plant. 



However, the story is much more interesting and is the subject of today's podcast.  The technology only existed in concept, maybe in a few plants that never left a greenhouse.  It was originally devised to limit gene flow, one of the issues that critics raise today.  However, it was never even close to commercialization. The story is told by Dr. Mel Oliver, the USDA scientist that developed the idea. 

The story is important to know.  Why do people claim that this technology is widespread?  The answer is that it is a way to create fear.  Why does anyone them, when their claims are not true? 




More USRTK Harassment - My Correspondence with Journalists

It has been a couple of months now since I received a public records requests from USRTK or The Food Babe Vani Hari.  They love reading the boring emails of a lifelong public scientist, hoping that they can funnel off specific statements and feed them to writers that can fabricate bogus accusations. 

After turning over about 27,000 pages of email under records requests in the last two years without any resistance, they found no smoking gun.  Gary Ruskin originally said that he wanted to know why a scientist would possibly provide science-based answers on a website where the public asks questions. That was the original probe.

After 27,000 pages of email, they can see that I've done nothing wrong, nothing unethical, and that I'm pretty happy to enjoy a casual conversation with others. 

But now they want more.  After they've retrieved all correspondences between me and every company you can think of, every other scientist in my discipline, and even entities I've never heard …

GE Crops in Organic Production?

Dr. Mark Williams has extensive training in molecular biology.  He also is interested in sustainable crop production, and leads training in organic production at University of Kentucky.  In this interview he speaks about the intersection of these areas, touching on how what have been treated as disparate approaches really fit well together.  Dr. Williams touches on  gene editing, food labeling, environmental impact, and how education efforts need to focus on sustainable agriculture using the best tools going forward.  Hosted by Dr. Paul Vincelli

Post-Truth and Ag Policy: Boulder County Colorado

I've known of the stewing agricultural pressure cooker known as Boulder County, Colorado for several years, and this week the inevitable happened.  Affluent city dwellers have used post-truth emotional arguments to denounce scientific and agricultural experts, placing their Whole-Foods-informed truthiness above evidence. 

The county harbors 25,000 acres of farmland, most of it under needed irrigation.  The space has been greened by annual plantings dominated by corn and sugar beets.  Over the last two decades these crops have transitioned to genetically engineered (familiarly "GMO") seeds that bear traits to limit farmer costs and reduce environmental impacts. 



Boulder County plans to restrict farmer seed choice based on politically-motivated, emotionally driven rhetoric that denies basic scientific facts.
But last week a county council voted 2 to 1 to 'phase out' the use of genetically engineered seeds, putting restrictions on farmers about the plants they choose t…

"Monsanto Supporters" - A Desperate Move?

The enemies of science and reason must take unethical steps in attempts to tarnish and discredit the legitimate scientists who retard penetration of their fear mongering campaigns. 

Last week's fear brochure claiming "alarming" levels of herbicides in familiar processed foods was a joke to scientists that understand analytical chemistry, agricultural chemistry, and their relative risks. 
When Dr. Shelly McGuire and I correctly commented that the analysis presented was wholly insufficient to support a claim of alarm, we immediately became targets for those that manufacture risk and wish to erode trust in food, farming and science.  We were immediately chastised by those that promote pseudoscientific claims, and those paid to obfuscate science and ablate the trust of public scientists. 
USRTK employee and paid content producer Carey Gillam cites article where Dr. McGuire and I were referred to as "Monsanto Supporters".  Wow. Sticks and stones... 

The tactic is simple…

Translating Activist Spin: How They Lie to the Public

Two weeks ago now an activist brochure was distributed through the internet, promoted as exposing "alarming" levels of glyphosate in common grocery store items.  The report did not provide adequate methods, statistics, or evidence of replication, and therefore does not qualify as work that can be trusted.  I have spoken with the laboratory that did the work.  They claim to have done the test correctly, but did not provide evidence of that or any statement of the numbers of replicates.  They won't do that because the data belong to a paying client. 

And of course, the paying client has no interest in transparency, as that would let the air out of the fear balloon. 

My comments and criticisms were all correct and within the bounds of conventions of analytical chemistry.  Others have been much more critical and feel that there's no way these results should ever be trusted. 

Bottom line-- it is unacceptable to scare the public with false statements about un-trustable data. 

Important Follow Up to Glyphosate/Groceries- Please Read!

Science is not about entrenching into a position based on ideology. It is about making interpretations based on the evidence provided, and that evidence can, and does change. 

This is a critical follow up to the discussion of the Food Democracy Now brochure that claims dangerous levels of herbicide in common grocery items.
I was contacted by the laboratory that did the analysis for them and I am comfortable that they did the detection 100% correctly. No question. There was no way that I could have known this from the information presented by FDN or by the company's analytical documents.
This tells us two things: 1. Peer review and complete disclosure of methods is important.
2. The levels are still of absolutely no biological consequence.

If anything, this reputable laboratory's analysis and document tells consumers that their food is safe, because an herbicide aggressive food activists find controversial is detectable at the edge of nothing.

You can see how Food Democracy Now and V…

Standing By for Retaliation

As a public scientist I'm deeply committed to providing research, teaching, and outreach to help broaden our understanding of farming and food.  One leg of that stool is to connect with the public and help them understand the current scientific literature, and help them make evidence-based decisions. 

Last week a glossy brochure was published by the fear factory called Food Democracy Now.  Despite the name, it is much less democracy as it is a cult. Their deceptive self-published report featured hyperbolic images of babies juxtaposed with herbicide bottles and Cheerios.  The meat of the report was a table that claims to find parts-per-billion levels of the herbicide glyphosate in an array of common grocery products. Even if it was true, such levels would be biologically meaningless. 

I've discussed the technical limitations of their analysis here and on my podcast.  The bottom line is that this is statistically underpowered, they are likely reading noise, and the work has not be…

Thanks Snopes- A Big Win for Science and Reason

I'm up on a Saturday enjoying a big cup of coffee and working on the podcast. I'm also standing by for the next round of requests for my emails from Vani Hari. What happened?

Yesterday's blog was in response to an article on Snopes.  The article on Snopes was in response to a flashy brochure that claimed to find herbicide residues, in parts per billion (seconds in decades) in familiar foods.  The well-circulated activist rhetoric was intended to scare, and it worked.  My inbox was flooded with inquiries from friends, relatives and dozens of strangers. 

When Snopes talks, people listen, and their analysis was a bit confusing, sort of lending credence to the claim, as well as stating that glyphosate herbicides were carcinogenic. 



This is on the cover of the report. It should be an immediate tip-off to the reader that this is highly suspect and intended to tell a manufactured story, not communicate scientific results. 
 I reached out to the author and participated in the online d…

Snopes Claims About Glyphosate in Food

I like Snopes. 

So many times I've been rescued from a critical debunking excursion because someone had provided excellent analysis that I could use as a starting point. 

It is really disappointing to see them go soft and conflate unrelated issues that just confuse the reader.

The article about the Food Babe's claims about Monsanto covering up glyphosate in food items seemed like it would follow the science and once again foist her on her own critically underpowered petard. 

But instead the article by Alex Kasprak just creates confusion.  Even the subhead says, "Monsanto suppressing evidence of cancerous herbicide in food?"

(and to be fair, Alex did reach out and we're discussing this. I do think he wants to get it right)


What "cancerous herbicide?"
Instead of simply letting the air out of a conspiratorial claim, he conflates three issues at once, an in the process lends credence to the crazy claim, while not critically evaluating the others.  Here's the p…

Glyphosate Detection- Making Claims from Noise

There is a central rule in the anti-GMO world--  scare them at any cost.  

It is amazing how ethics are disregarded in the interest of peddling a fearful message.  It has long been part of the anti-GMO industry and a weapon of its foot soldiers.  If something sounds scary and supports your beliefs, then promote it, run with it.  No matter how weak the evidence is, claim it is real. 

Such was the case with the "Stunning Corn Comparison" where fake data in a soil test table were claimed to represent biological samples-- that were not remotely biological.  Still the authors and pundits stood by it as a legitimate test. 

They also claimed to find glyphosate in breast milk.  However, an actual study by a real scientist with properly reported methods did not show any evidence of detection. Of course, anti-GM folks shouted down this legitimate report as unreliable.  

Fake data, finding positive signals in noise, and wrongful interpretation of good data are cornerstones of their strateg…