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A Lesser Abomination

The Scientific American article about "dying broccoli" and "toxic corn" drew wide criticism for its unreferenced and outright false indictment of modern agriculture, and flimsy treatment of concepts in microbiomes.  My dissection can be seen here. 

I contacted the editors, and apparently others did too. I was shocked to find out that there was no peer review or expert consultation.  The editors kindly returned a conscientious and conciliatory email that suggested they made a mistake and the authors would revise. 

Personally, nothing short of a full retraction was a remedy.  That first article was absolutely horrible, D.O.A. horrible. Not only did it vilify farmers, it scared people about food, and misinformed them about basic biology, and it was done under the banner of Scientific American, a trusted popular scientific brand.  

Out of the frying pan...

The editors published a "corrected" version.  I learned of the revision via Twitter from Dr. Elisabeth Bik (@microbiomdigest) someone that knows a thing or two about microbiomes. 




This is the editor's note, noting that the original work failed to meet editorial standards. 


And into a fajita skillet.

"Substantial revision" might be a slight step forward, but still is an absolute mess.  Here again is a painstaking dissection with referenced rebuttals. The revised text was longer, referenced (but with select references that supported the authors' assertions, ignoring all other contradictory literature) and equally fear-based and misleading.  Here goes... (click to make bigly)








There you have it.  The editors at Scientific American clearly don't realize how scholarly writing should be done, even if it is in a popular science venue.  As it stands, the work uses misrepresentation and cherry picking to disparage agricultural producers, conjure fear of safe and reliable chemistries/genetics, and promote a vision of agriculture that is ultimately unsustainable without removing a lot of people from the planet.

Articles like this get a day in the sun on Twitter. Anti-ag interests will bask in its words and share in their online communities.  The real atrocity is how Scientific American destroys its own credibility, abrades trust in farming, and scares people away from fresh fruits and vegetables, the most important food on the plate for long term health. 

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