Friday, September 28, 2018

The Mechanism of Thalidomide Action

How thalidomide created birth defects was a 60-year mystery.  Until now. New insight into its use in cancer therapies also. This week's podcast is a great interview with Dr. Kathleen Donovan from the Dana Farber Cancer Institute. 


Tuesday, September 25, 2018

Fence Causes Cancer (only in California)

It is almost October in Florida, which means the brutal summer heat is almost over and we can plant the damn garden. Over my whole life I’ve found great solace in growing my own food, and in North-Central Florida you get two seasons to do it — fall and spring, two seasons separated by a freeze event or two that represents our tiny little microwinter.
This year the garden is expanded to epic proportions and features a lot of climbing vegetables. Others, like tomatoes, grow better if tethered rather than using the flimsy tomato cages home improvement stores.
This year I actually sprung for some new fencing — but the warning tag had me concerned.

I historically have used welded wire fence, the stuff with big 10 cm squares that allow me to reach through to pick fruit.  One year in Chicago I found a roll of road mesh (same concept used in reinforcing concrete) in front of a Mexican bakery.  It was there for a few days and then I brought it home in my 1984 Chevy Caprice decommissioned police car I bought for $500. 


This year I actually bought some new fencing-- but the warning tag had me concerned. 



Thank goodness I'm using it far away from California, this stuff is deadly there! 




What? My fence contains chemicals? Technically metal is a chemical, so they have it right there. The warning must be referring to some component in the alloy that was shown somewhere to affect cells in a dish, or some other circuitous connection to human disease.
I just don’t understand where the risk is. If it is fencing in my home, my veggies or my dog… will I get cancer? Will I develop birth defects a half century after I was born? Will the fence imperil future generations?
When we hear about coffee, pumpkin puree and tiffany lamps causing cancer in California, it frames an important issue. Regulators don’t understand risk or public health.
The consequence? A society of individuals freaked out about their morning Joe, the safe stuff the farmer sprays, or the fence around their house.
And imagine if someone fences their property on the border of California and Nevada. They’d be wise to do their major sitting time on the Nevada side, just be to safe. Over in Cali you’re literally surrounded by a carcinogen.
This silly tale frames a current debate. Why are non-scientists defining risk — especially when they deceive the public by not telling the truth about risk? It is the ultimate cry wolf. When everything is reported to cause health problems it makes us less able to recognize actual threats, which ultimately is a much greater risk to human health.


Monday, September 24, 2018

Banned By Biofortified.

You may be familiar with the issues with Biofortified.  Using anonymous public records requests they obtained internal, outside work documents from the University of Florida.  I was asked to lend my expertise as a subject matter expert (sort of like an Expert Witness, but it was not a trial) in mediating an issue between two organizations. I had to get approval to do this from University Administration, so I filled in the forms with details needed for them to make decisions on legality and appropriateness. 

They approved. I then signed a contract with the law firm representing one organization, stating that I'd keep all information confidential. I posted that I was retained by a law firm as a compensated subject matter expert in a private matter on vacation time, in full compliance with my university's disclosure guidance.

Biofortified obtained my private correspondence, and in a blindsided hit-- made all of the information public, and destroying the confidentiality I was sworn to abide. 

The worst part is, they misinterpreted internal docs that didn't reflect the actual nature of the work.  In the beginning I didn't know exactly what I'd be doing, what you'd call it, or how it should be reflected in documents. 

I felt that their interests in my private, outside of work contributions to a private mediation could have been handled in a much different fashion. 

A spirited discussion took place in the comments section of the story, and I was glad to be able to join in. 

That ended today.  Someone posted a nasty, mean, false statement and I went to correct it-- but found myself banned. 

Banned from commenting in my own defense.  I'll interpret this as Biofortified's surrender flag.   


It says a lot about the integrity of Karl and Anastasia and the ethics of Biofortified.  They can dish it out... you know the rest. This is a topic that needs more conversation, not less, and much more nuanced than blindsiding, errant articles. 


Instead of a public, open discussion Karl takes it private.  This way he can spin it any way he wants without having to be accountable. Ironic that the Transparency Police want conversations hidden and privacy respected. 

The good news is that this needed conversation is happening.  I've had a few doors open because of his instance, and will be writing and speaking at a number of venues on the important balance of transparency and confidentiality. 

And I'm done with Biofortified.  Forward. 

Saturday, September 15, 2018

UCSF's War Against Scientists

The University of California at San Francisco is sponsoring, with taxpayer dollars, an assault on taxpayer funded scientists.  Not only have they created slanderous databases, they now are hosting public lectures where industry-sponsored activists are allowed to impeach established evidence and smear the reputations of actual public scientists.

Like me.

US-Right to Know has a clear agenda, and scientists that teach information that is counter to that agenda are systematically dismantled using a series of well-established techniques, which include selective publication and interpretation of public records requests, defamatory websites, and manipulation of journalists to tell their crooked story. 

Now they have a patsy on the inside of UCSF, someone that is complicit in furthering their smear campaign.  I've already written about the Chemical Industry Documents library, where my conversations with other academics about lavaliere microphones and  private conversations with newly arrived lab staff. 



 Here's one from the "Chemical Industry Documents" section of the UCSF website.  It was my new postdoc landing in Gainesville and seeking to arrange a meeting. This is what they call the illicit interworkings of the Chemical industry. 

The goal is to use the gravitas of a legitimate university to discredit, as much as possible, other academics.  They can report that I have thousands of pages of "chemical industry correspondence"-- when these are just day-to-day discussions and me doing my job. 

On September 13 UCSF sponsored a group of speakers called, Unsealing the Science:  What the Public Can Learn from Chemical Industry Documents


Wow.  My personal correspondences with the lab and the GMO Answers website are chemical industry documents that put Gary Ruskin in "peril" by exposing them?  


Breaks my heart.  A lecture hall of students gets to hear two non-scientists present their industry-paid opinions on why actual scientists are all chemical-industry crooks that want to poison them. 


The session features two people that have personally targeted me, Gary Ruskin and Jonathan Latham.  Latham is the stooge that runs Independent Science News.  He's a relatively benign former scientist that publishes patently false information and calls it news.  He's not stupid, so he's deliberately deceptive. Gary is Gary, paid by an industry to assault the careers of scientists paid by the taxpayer. 

These people are motivated activists, not academics. They are held to no standard, no rigor.  And these were the people presenting that lecture to a room of students. 

This is not even "teaching the controversy".   It is an asymmetrical vomiting of bogus information from known anti-science entities.


Gary Ruskin presents my article on Genetic Literacy Project as an attempt to mislead the public about glyphosate. 


Why is UCSF providing a forum for merchants of doubt to create fear, uncertainty and doubt, and besmirch the reputations of actual public scientists?  I've complained, and they don't care. 

Oh, and UC-Berkeley brought a busload of journalism students down to this event too. 



Journalism students were treated to literal fake news, presented by industry-funded activists that seek to stop science education. 


If UCSF brought in Holocaust deniers to provide a lecture on how they were silenced and how their opinions are more important than the evidence, people would be rightfully outraged.  Same if UCSF brought in speakers denouncing climate change, suggesting vaccines cause autism, or claim HIV is not a cause of AIDS. 

Then why does UCSF use public resources to sponsor known science-hostile activists to tarnish the minds of students in attendance?  

This is a very serious problem. 

Friday, September 14, 2018

Three Years after The Food Babe's Request for My Personal Emails...

Nothing. 

Three years ago the Food Babe, Vani Hari, submitted a public records request to my university.  I have always been a vocal about Hari, both in her egregious errors as well as her talents as a motivational pre-Goop peddler of generally poor advice. Of course, a blind squirrel does find a nut here and there, so I agree with her on some facets about food and farming. 

But Hari was convinced that my criticisms were being dictated by the Biotech Industry Mothership, and that an independent scientist could not possibly find flaw with her analyses and recommendations. 



This is the text from her blog about the need to file the request. She wanted to unveil how the "food industry" used me to "control science and deliver their PR and lobbying messaging." She got a big fat goose egg.

She exploited transparency laws and requested tens of thousands of pages of my personal emails.  They were delivered to her promptly and at great taxpayer expense.  

And three years later that incredible stack of documents has yielded zero outcomes that support her allegations. 

I bring this up over 1000 days later for a couple of reasons.  First, taxpayers are paying a fortune to comply with transparency laws.  These are important rules that were put in place so that media could quickly have access to records of government officials, keeping them honest. 

But somewhere along the line this all was extended to cover the private correspondences and paperwork of university professors.  I'm always glad to comply, but it takes huge amounts of work time that I'd rather spend with students and research. It also is exceedingly expensive, as an attorney must go through each document and redact student, health and proprietary information. 

It also confirms my original hunch about these witch hunts.  People like Hari don't reach out and ask questions or pick up a phone-- they grab your private correspondence and then tell the story they want to tell from it.  

But high marks to Vani for not making something out of nothing like others have done. She refrained from endless innuendo and taking lines out of context to build support for her (failed) hypothesis.

Back in September of 2015 when I was literally dying from anxiety and depression and contemplating quitting science, this blog post and the doxing that occurred in the comments section was devastating.

But three years later the truth clearly won.  There was nothing there.  


No secret collusion.

No corporate PR messaging.

No conspiracy.

Just thousands of pages of email from a simple guy that does his job and corrects those that deceive the public for personal gain. 

Back in 2015 therapists told me that time would be kind.  At least with The Food Babe's allegations, they were correct.  


Wednesday, September 12, 2018

More Bullying Scientists

Cameron English just published an outstanding article over on Genetic Literacy Project.  If there's one thing you read today, please make sure this is it.  The story is about lactation specialist Dr. Shelley McGuire.  She tested for glyphosate in breast milk and didn't find it. What happened next is about intimidation, hacking, and abuse by a corrupt movement. 



Thursday, September 6, 2018

Balancing Transparency and Confidentiality, Again

Today I found another sterling example of how academic researchers find a challenging predicament when honoring both transparency and confidentiality at the same time.

I recently reviewed a grant proposal for the USDA.  We agree to keep this information confidential, yet the proposals and our review travel by university email.  It would be easy to harvest the proposal and my evaluation using FOIA. 

But the USDA makes me sign an agreement that I will keep the information confidential and cannot provide the information via FOIA.  My institution didn't sign off on this, just me.  Would the USDA, the researchers, and my private correspondence be protected?  Probably not. 

  
The USDA says that it is their job to determine if the materials are to be distributed.  If the university receives a request, they don't reach out to those involved and ask for permission. They fill the request.

So if Karl Haro von Mogel asks me questions about the review, who's lab it was or what the project was about, I would have to decline providing any details. 

But if he wants to see this confidential review, he can do the anonymous FOIA request to the university and get it. 

Then he can admonish me publicly for not being transparent and then publish the content of a private document on the web. 

There are times when academic researchers, striving for transparency, must heed confidentiality agreements in order for the process to work properly.  Unfortunately (or fortunately if you like seeing private documents) the laws that ensure transparency are not compatible with the need to occasionally maintain confidentiality. 

Saturday, September 1, 2018

The Peril of Non-Disclosable Details in COI's

The last part of my discussion in Conflicts of Interest (COI) and balancing transparency versus confidentiality.  

The conversation started when I had outside work, meaning nothing to do with my university appointment. I was asked to review data for a law firm as a subject matter expert.  It was not a trial, but a private mediation between parties. It was agreed that all information, including the players involved, would be kept confidential.  I agreed with that.

Vague (and approved) verbiage was provided on my website that I was working as an expert for a law firm outside of my job and I was compensated for it. 



What I didn't realize at the time was how this kind of non-disclosable COI is perceived.  To most of us that have such arrangements with companies that fund a trial, share a collaboration, and wish their association to remain confidential, it poses a tremendously dangerous place for loss of public trust. 

What can he possibly be hiding? 

Again, this never crossed my mind because my non-disclosure agreements have been with little ma & pa companies that wish to work in an arena dominated by big names.  It is not biotechnology, for what its worth.  Nobody is claiming that they can't believe my pigment data in sprouts because I'm "shilling for big microgreen."

We all have COIs, and many have non-disclosure agreements.  The problem is that when we honor confidentiality it disturbs public trust.

This will continue to be a challenge for those of us that wish to continue research under NDAs.  We probably are best suited to step out of science communication.