Wednesday, September 8, 2021

Talking Biotech 308 - The Origins of GMO Disinformation

 Where does bad information begin and how does it propagate?  I speak with University of Connecticut law professor Robert Bird in this week's podcast. 



Sunday, August 29, 2021

Talking Biotech 307 - Glyphosate Residues and Dietary Exposures

While glyphosate is claimed by may to be ubiquitous in food, how much is really there and is it a legitimate risk?  I had the opportunity to ask a panel of the world's experts about a recent review they prepared that summarized the peer-reviewed literature on detection, residues, exposures and risk. 





 

Friday, August 27, 2021

Report on the Problem You Create- The Rise of Cyclical Sensationalism


 A reporter places a banana peel at the top of the staircase in a local mall. A customer walks toward the stairs only to be shoved by the reporter onto the banana peel and down the stairs. The customer dies from traumatic injuries. 

The next day the reporter's headline reads, "Customer Dies on Mall Stairs."

The same reporter repeats the assassination ritual a few more times and shares the story of a negligent staircase widely on social media. he also cites his own article from the previous week, giving the impression of an epidemic of dangerous stairs. From there it spreads among local mall patrons. 

The next week the reporter's headline reads, "Customers Concerned about Staircase Safety at Mall."

*****

A visible trend is emerging in crank journalism and slimy activism-- reporting on the significance of a problem that they themselves created.

For unethical "journalists" it is a way to create "evidence" that their errant or malicious position actually has support. First they produce media or messaging that makes a bogus claim. Next, they cite their own media source to create the perception that their bad claim has wide support. In other words, they strategically place the banana peel and shockingly report when someone slips on it. 

I call this cyclical sensationalism.   It is a case where maliciously motivated can create faux news to fool the reader into believing a false claim is legitimate. This tactic is used for several reasons:

1.  To harm the credibility and trust in legitimate scientists. 

One especially egregious violator of ethical standards uses cyclical sensationalism as a mainstay. Paul Thacker foists the patina of a legitimate journalist, but in my estimate he's a stooge working for the anti-GMO, anti-5G, anti-scientist interests like US-RTK. 

He started writing fallacious stories about me in 2014, and trolls my social media accounts with regularity. Some of his work has been retracted by ethical journals.  Other stories he has written appear in Grist and The Progressive, and all target me unfairly and inaccurately.  Both Grist and The Progressive failed to take action when I notified them.  

The Progressive did offer me a 250 word rebuttal to the 10,000 word hit piece. I declined. 

The point is, he is one of very few writers that seem to scam publication outlets into publishing his filth.  So he writes new hate pieces and then links to his own old work citing the name of the source (e.g. The Progressive) rather than the author (him).  The goal is to trick the reader into believing that there are independent, legitimate voices that agree with his claims, and that he's not a lone goof libeling scientists. 

I complained to Grist about the piece they hosted.  In the article Thacker states without question that my research can't be trusted because it is compromised by corporate influence, which is absolutely not true.  As I stated in my letter: 

"... he (Thacker) does the execution, leaves the shotgun in your closet, and then uses social media to say, “Hey, look who Grist just killed.” 

I'm not the only one. He's done this to other scientists like Dr. David Gorski, and good journalists like Keith Kloor and Tamar Haspel. The list is reasonably long, but he has a special eerie tumescence for me.  


2. Amplification with cyclical self-sharing. 

Retweets and shares come from linked accounts held by the same person, or within a tight network of cronies, provides a false sense of legitimacy or consensus to poor scientific ideas.

A really good example is US-RTK, the science hate group that seeks to harm reputations of scientists on behalf of the industries that pay their bills.  Gary Ruskin and Carrie Gillam retweet Stacy Malkin's posts (both US-RTK employees), then US-RTK retweets their retweets. Usually it does not go much farther than that. 


3. To give the perception of mass interest in a non-problem that they describe as a risk. 

A recent tweet by the Non-GMO Report claims that 49% of US adults...  you can read it! 

Duh!  When an organization endlessly maligns a technology and makes false claims about it, certain elements of the public are influenced. They then report about the phenomenon they helped create! 

This example is a great case of cyclical sensationalism, creating the problem, and then pretending to independently report that there is a problem. The BIOHAZARD sticker is 100% intended for shock value. When the world is trying to figure out who to trust about food and farming, consumers are influenced by this malicious messaging.

Of course, Twitter sets them straight:



These are just three ways that self-citation and near-network amplification spreads misinformation.  It is cyclical sensationalism, and is becoming more common as crank claims and pseudoscience become more prominent through the limited filters of social media. 


Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Dissecting the Dr. Dan Stock Video

One of the saddest parts of the pandemic is the number of trained physicians that have divorced themselves from their training and exploit their credibility to motivate action on an agenda. In my study of the social dynamics of the pandemic I'm finding more and more physicians that promote politically acceptable views of their community over published science. 

As I continue to gently persuade and address concerns in social media I frequently get a video or podcast thrown at me.

"Well what do you say about THIS, plant scientist!" they say. 

The assertion is that just because someone completed medical school (or maybe didn't lots of folks call themselves "doctor" and do not fulfill accredited training) they have some special forcefield of infallibility. 

But they are fallible, and dangerous. The credibility of the title matters, and is being wielded at local events and school board meetings to influence critical public health decisions. 


Indiana sort of health guy Dr. Dan Stock misinforms a school board about COVID19 and it takes a plant molecular biologist to sort it out. 

One video I was sent by FOUR separate people is at the Mt. Vernon, Indiana school board meeting.  A guy dressed like John Boy Walton introduces himself as Dr. Dan Stock, expert in "functional medicine". 

Red flag #1.  "Functional medicine" is a red flag tagging dubious alternative medical practices like reiki and energy field manipulation. Most of the disciplines used are bogus, unlike I guess non-functional medicine, the stuff that works. 

The evidence presented was a Gish Gallop of false claims, starting with the Indiana Board of Health and the CDC fail to "read the science". Then he says, "everything recommended by the CDC is contrary to science."  

The CDC is operating contrary to science. Riiiiiiiight. 

The first time I watched it to 45 seconds when he claimed masks don't work. After the second person to send it to me wanted an analysis, I went through the whole thing, painfully. 

Here we go: 

Claim 1.  "all respiratory viruses are spread by aerosol particles which are small enough to go through every mask"

Fact- viral particles are highest in the fine particles that come from deep in the lungs.  They are smaller than 5 um and most projected from taking, singing, yelling (Coleman et al., 2021). These are significantly attenuated by an N95 mask and even a basic surgical facial covering (Leung et al., 2020). 

Claim 2.  Respiratory viruses time infection for the "immune system to get sick through the winter"

Fact- This makes zero sense. His contention is that the virus is always there, human immunity drops and then it takes over. There is substantial evidence against that, namely the huge spike we're seeing the USA now. And the huge spike during our winter, but in Brazil, where it is their summer. There are seasonal variations in some respiratory viruses, but they are due to other factors, mostly people concentrating indoors. 

Claim 3.  Vaccines make your immune system "deranged...  cause symptomatic disease"

Fact-- the vaccines have been shown to be safe and effective.  There are rare cases of myocarditis, Guillain-Barre syndrome, and cerebral venous sinus thrombosis (a specific clotting in the brain), along with anaphylaxis reported.  However, the fact that these are identified as a handful of doses in 160,000,000 vaccines shows that the vaccine is safe and that the side effects are being carefully monitored.  


Claim 4.  Vaccines can't work because the virus is in "animal reservoirs" and goes on to name a number of other viruses, like influenza. 

Fact- Flu and SARS-CoV2 are very different viruses. Influenza viruses undergo genomic shuffling to vary their genetics and presentation to the immune system. While SARS-CoV2 variants exist, they are slow to emerge and evade vaccines, which work quite well and were very effective against the original variants. He talks about respiratory scintitial virus (RSV) as being zoonotic, when there is no evidence for that. 

Claim 5.  Vaccines "go wrong" because of antibody dependent enhancement, "worse than it (infection) would be if fully vaccinated".  He mentions the incidence of COVID19 among the highly vaccinated Provincetown outbreak. (Draws applause)

Fact-  The folks in Provincetown were 99% vaccinated, so almost all cases (we know the vaccine isn't 100% effective) will be in vaccinated people.  If everyone is wearing red shoes, the odds are that everyone with COVID19 will be wearing red shoes. 

There is also ZERO evidence of antibody dependent enhancement (ADE) with respect to SARS-CoV2, the phenomenon where vaccination leads to worse symptoms upon actual infection. It is a real problem with some vaccinations, like the early versions of Respiratory Scintitial Virus (RSV) vaccine.  It has never been an issue with others, like measles. Clearly the least vaccinated counties have the highest incidence of symptoms/disease, the exact opposite of if there was ADE. 

Claim 6 - "No vaccine prevents you from getting infection"

Fact - not true. HPV works great. Well established. 

Claim 7 - "vitamin D, ivermectin and zinc, not a single person that has come near the hospital" 

Fact-  he treated 15 people. Odds are that out of 15 infections most are unlikely to need hospitalization. I wonder how many of his untreated control group were hospitalized?  Oh, he didn't have one. What dose did he use?  How did he determine it was safe and effective at that dose? He just took a wild-ass guess.  There are no clinical good clinical data on ivermectin and zinc for COVID19, so he's doing his own experiment on his patients based on beliefs, taking a guess at levels needed to treat a novel virus.  Ethical?  

Claim 8 - "patients that recover from COVID19 have no benefit from vaccination." 

Fact-  the CDC has looked at this (Cavanaugh et al, 2021) and there is significant reductions in reinfection after vaccination following natural infection. 

Claim 9 - "suffer 2-4 x  side effects if vaccinated" 

Fact - There is no evidence to support this. 

He then says that the board is wrong because they aren't scientists and listen to the NIH, CDC and Indiana Board of Health... but then says that he should "listen to the people in the audience" as the average person in rural Indiana is certainly a better source of infectious disease information than our nation's infectious disease brain trust. 

He then offers to be an expert for free if they are sued.  (Applause)

The bottom line is that Dr. Dan Stock is making unfounded assertions that placate the political rejection of science resident in his community.  While a school board has a responsibility to protect the health of children, the community will follow guidance that fits their beliefs, even if it is wrong. 

Dr. Dan Stock just used his authority to affirm their beliefs, beliefs that vaccines don't work, masks don't work, and that the virus is treatable with bogus nostrums. 

First, do no harm Dr. Stock.  First do no harm

This is dangerous, and explains why his community will soon be a twisted little red pixel on the Indiana map, suffering from the spread of a completely preventable pathogen.  When licensed physicians deceive the community they serve, shouldn't there be some repercussion?  

I guess if they want to be deceived he's in the right place. 

Tuesday, July 13, 2021

The Massive COVID19 Gain-of-Function Experiment -  Are You Part of It?

Critics of SARS-CoV2 research decry the use of the gain-of-function experiments used to study viruses. Such experiments are designed to test how changes in DNA sequence relate to enhanced activity of a gene product on biology, or in this case, the function of a virus. Mutation of viral DNA may lead to enhanced transmissibility, infectivity, pathogenesis, or lethality, among other effects. 

That is exactly why researchers perform gain-of-function experiments in the safety of a laboratory setting.  By understanding the biology in controlled circumstances scientists can better prepare to address the virus if it naturally becomes problematic in a population. 

Yet critics of gain-of-function research say it is dangerous and unnecessary.

And the same critics are also the least likely to be vaccinated. 

The unvaccinated say they don’t want to be part of an experiment. 

By failing to be vaccinated, they have become an experiment.

This is the profound irony. Those that refuse vaccination are the most likely to sequester in small towns, churches and political rallies. They participate in work and social functions as though the virus is not a threat. Few masks, little distance, limited isolation, life as usual. They are a gain-of- function experiment, a spawning ground to test effects of new mutations.


When ignorance goes viral, the virus goes to the ignorant. 


In the lab, prescribed changes may be made in DNA precisely, and the effects can be followed in laboratory animals. 

Outside the lab, the virus replicates furiously in the body.  The body produces hundreds of billions of viral particles. Each round of replication is slightly imprecise, potentially introducing random errors into the newly-produced virus. Most mutations have no effect. Others negatively affect the virus, its transmissibility, infectivity, or pathogenesis.  We don't ever see these viruses in populations because they are a biological dead end.

But occasionally a mutation arises that bestows gain-of-function. When that newly-enabled virus escapes containment in that first breath, it may gain a foothold in a population, and become a new "variant of concern".

We are learning about enhanced viral function by studying the new variants now circulating in populations. 

There is no question that vaccine denial follows political and regional trends. These areas are the breeding grounds for new variants. It is the most extensive viral gain-of-function experiment ever performed.  

And remarkably people are willing to participate. 

Please get vaccinated. 

Sunday, July 11, 2021

Gyphosate, Autism, and Goal Posts

 Dr. Stephanie Seneff has polluted the scientific conversation about the health effects of the herbicide glyphosate for over a decade.  This latest volley is the waving tip of a white flag, as time is not supporting her alarmist claims. 

She does not run a research program on glyphosate or its effects on humans.  What she does do is use the title of "Senior Research Scientist at MIT" as cred to be able to push underpowered hypotheses that are framed as legitimate empirical research. 

The outcome is a slate of less-than-scholarly review articles, almost invariably in low-impact journals, that decry the dangers of herbicides and vaccines. They are give some credibility because of her title, and at least one journal has published a warning label that the work is suspect. 

How are the papers constructed?  In short, they are sculpted narratives of cherry picked data and pushing correlations as causation.  These are crafted into what are best hypotheses not supported by the preponderance of he evidence. 

Like this one in the journal Entropy. The unknowing actually think it is scholarly research. The journal even notes the authors' bias in not presenting the breadth of the research (a.k.a. 'Cherry Picking'). 

One famous one was the claim that due to glyphosate use, half of all children would be autistic by 2025.  This is conclusion is an extrapolation of trends of glyphosate use and autism prevalence, as she described in this logical-fallacy strewn wreck of a paper. 


To some great thinkers correlation and causality are one in the same. 


Apparently now that landmark 50% rate appears to have shifted, apparently to 2032.  We're not using less glyphosate, so I wonder why autism rates now won't hit half of kids until seven years later?


Twitter links to the claims that glyphosate-induced autism is on the rise, just not as fast as predicted. The link takes you to an anti-vaccine site for the documentary Vaxxed II.

The real reason the claim was pushed back was much more practical. 2025 is the year after the year after the year after next year.  If you're going to revise your bogus claim you have to do it early. 

The more realistic answer is that physicians have changed the criteria for autism and surveillance has greatly improved.  Even minor anti-social behaviors can place a child on the autism spectrum, which is excellent because early therapy and intervention can have great effects. 

My point here is to remind you of the predictions that were made and never seem to come true, and remember the people that make them. They are held up as heroes in some conspiracy communities, and their errant opinions affect how some perceive science and technology.  


Friday, June 11, 2021

Coordinated Disinformation Campaigns on Twitter

 Today on twitter I kept seeing the same message coming up, over and over again.  What the heck is going on? 


Mia's mom wants major restaurant chains to know that she's not exactly up on the science.

The link goes to the Center for Food Safety, an organization that really isn't that is much more of an anti-technology club than a food safety concern.  They speak out against any application of biotechnology, such as the release of the disease-suppressing GE mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. 

Somehow when CFS launches a twitter campaign they plaster the Tweet Stream with the exact same message over and over again.  My feeling is that they do this to create the impression of a mass consensus, a movement to essentially bully retailers and restaurants.

In this case it is the AquaAdvantage Salmon, a fish grown in inland tanks in Indiana.  First invented in 1989, the salmon has had a rocky road to market, despite the magic of growing to market size in half the time and on a fraction of the food and other resources. 

It has been shown to be equivalent to regular salmon and safe as can be. It is not a threat to natural populations because the fish are genetically sterile and a long flop to any place where they could cause ecological problems. 

While technophiles argue that this innovation takes pressure off of natural populations and can provide fresh fish at a better price point, those opposed to biotechnology in any form push back.

The Tweet above is just one of hundreds.  Literally, hundreds. All exactly the same, cookie-cutter tweets. The information is false, as they imply risk to public health, oceans, and wild salmon populations. It is total disinformation. 

They spam popular restaurant chains and hotels, folding them in to tweet after tweet.  What gives? 

I've heard of tweet-storms before, campaigns to start hashtags trending around a given topic. When spawned organically this is probably a good way to get an issue noticed. 

But the identical nature of these tweets is highly suspect. They are not retweets, they appear to be original work of real people.  But are they? 

I thought they were bots, and remain to be convinced otherwise.  Are there services out there that create hundreds of bogus accounts that appear real, simply for these applications? 

I reached out to some of the tweeters, asking if there is a message they received or some script they copied.  I received one reply that said, "Go to the (CFS) website". 

I went to the website and there was simply a petition to sign. No twitter script. 

Meanwhile they accumulate by the hundreds. 


If you search tweets using the hashtag #GMO you'll find over 100 identical messages implying harm from AquaAdvantage Salmon.

I'm very interested in how these kinds of coordinated disinformation campaigns are being used to influence corporate decisions.   Social media can be a powerful influence, and those not understanding the technology might find this mass movement against a new product quite compelling.  How can so many people be wrong?

The real question is, are there really so many people, or is this just some devious scam to present the fa├žade of widespread concern, when it really is just the Center for Food Safety pushing their typical anti-biotech agenda?  

(To be continued)