Sunday, August 13, 2023

Glyphosate, A.I. and Spreading Disinformation

 Here's a great example of how bad reporting and the war on glyphosate play hand-in-hand.  I don't know anything about the reporter, Stacey Scott at Gillett News (Gillett is a town of 32,000 in Wyoming), but the headline she/it (they use A.I. generated graphics, Stacey Scott might be an A.I. too-- no Twitter or online presence) generated has the potential to misinform. 

The Agriculture Department?  You mean the USDA?  


You mean some other major government regulatory agency?


Some respected international agency? 


Then who "warns" ? 

It was the government of Amritsar. 


Yes. Amritsar, a relatively small town/region by India standards. It's a major metropolitan hub in the northwest, not far from the Pakistan border. They have some agriculture there, mostly rice, palm oil, sugar cane and maize, apparently a lot of Basmati rice which is exported from small-holder farms.

According to Scott's article, glyphosate is "a chemical known to cause cancer since 2018."  In reading everything I can on the subject, I saw no evidence of such conclusion. 

Gillett News appears to be all A.I. generated or Stacey Scott is extremely prolific.  She had 10 articles written on August 10th, and at least 70 (I stopped counting) launch on August 13th. To my eye these are articles that are curated and written by A.I.

This interpretation makes sense, as the conclusion "glyphosate causes cancer" would likely assemble from online claims. Garbage in, garbage out.

I dug a little deeper on the subject.  Amritsar's Chief Agriculture Officer recently called for a ban of fungicides, insecticides and herbicides in "chemical free" Basmati rice production. Why?  Because rice exports were being rejected because residue levels exceeded allowable levels. My guess is that small farmers with their livelihoods on the line, were a little overzealous with application in an interest to save their crop, and it was rejected upon export. 

But the headline from an apparently A.I. generated newsletter, from a robot reporter was all GM Watch needed to amplify the headline. 

This is how false information spreads, and get ready for more of it as A.I. constructs real-looking articles that are nothing by eye candy to grab readers, hoping they'll click a link and buy some socks, a few cents of the sale going back to the "news" outlet. 

But can the average person tell the difference? Absolutely not.  Such claims appear as credible, they reinforce the biases and errors of GM Watch's audience-- despite not being supported by any hard evidence or regulatory decision. 


Tuesday, November 22, 2022

Glyphosate and School Lunches

 School lunches might not be the perfect sustenance, I don't know.  When I was in school the institutionalized food was a weird combination of vague meatoid substances and carbohydrates pushed together into recognizable forms. I think we have come a long way since then, and I'm grateful that many municipalities recognize that many economically challenged families rely on school-based nutrition to feed their children. 

Last week I saw a tweet about the horrors of school lunches on Food Chain Radio, a syndicated broadcast by Michael Olson that may be accessed online.  The episode hosted perennial wet blanket on science Zen Honeycutt, representing Moms Across America (that Olson slipped and referred to as "Moms Against America"), a group of scientifically distressed moms that search to blame agriculture for their families' health issues. 

I engaged Honeycutt in the past on her website. She posted blatantly false data that were absolutely manufactured (claiming for instance that tested corn had no carbon but was alarmingly high in glyphosate, which contains carbon). When I asked questions kindly I was banned from her website. Of course, her responses and the responses of her followers remain. 

In this episode Olson allows her to rattle on about how school lunches are full of toxic herbicides and that these "cause" autism to cancer.  She made the usual crazy assertions that we know are not consistent with the evidence. 

I listened intently and prepared a point-by-point rebuttal.  I posted that in the comments section of Olson's website. 
You can read my responses and predict the same-old-same-old tropes that Honeycutt claims. She quotes Seneff, talks about plants "doused" in herbicide, and holds up the half-baked ideas from Don 
Huber as evidence. 

But when I pushed "submit" it did not post to provide clarity to the listener. 

Instead I received the "awaiting moderation" message.  

I gave it a week for the moderator to post it. 

Apparently the moderator found science problematic. 

I'll post it here.  Here is the content deemed unacceptable for Olson's website. If you listen to the episode you can follow along. 

Dr. Kevin Folta says:

Your comment is awaiting moderation. This is a preview; your comment will be visible after it has been approved.

November 15, 2022 at 4:07 am

As I’m listening I am typing. As a scientist and farmer I have been listening to this, and it bothers me that such false information is given such credence. It is critical that we get this right, and your show has little to match the scientific consensus. Here are a few thoughts as I listen. 

1. The crops are not “drenched” in weed killer. Glyphosate active ingredient is applied at 750 ml/acre, about 2 soda cans.

2. Crops are not “infused” with insecticide that harms people. It contains a gene encoding a protein that is toxic to specific insect larvae, not to humans, animals, and non-target insects.

 3. Glyphosate is not used on a lot of grains, occasionally depending on weather. 

4. If you look at the statements made by Zen Honeycutt over the years you find a record of being wrong about almost everything.

 5. how does her son get enteric bacteria in his urine?

 6. There is no evidence that glyphosate affects bacteria in the digestive system, it is not present at high enough levels. 

7. The testing depends on the kit that is used and the standardization– in most matricies it cannot be accurately detected. 

8. Sugar? What is in sucrose from a GE sugar beet that makes it different from non-GE sugar beet? It is sucrose. That’s it. Sucrose.

 9. Stephanie Seneff is not a reliable source. Even the anti-GMO movement says she’s out there. 

10. Gives a plant AIDS? C’mon. Don Huber wrote to Tom Vilsack in 2011 and claimed a secret organism that was in GE foods. It was total fabrication.

 11. Glyphosate is not a great chelator. Although patented that way, patents are broad. Compared to actual chelators like EDTA/EGTA it is not very good. Plus, it is present in parts per billion, whereas most minerals to be chelated (divalent cations) are present at levels several orders of magnitude higher, so they can’t have much effect.

 12. Honeycutt has posted and promoted false information before “Stunning Corn Comparison” where the data were absolutely fudged. They were so badly fabricated, and when I inquired she blocked me from the website. 

13. Glyphosate has never been shown to be carcinogenic. The data for liver damage and endocrine disruption are thin. Most show no effect. At micro-residue levels present. 

14 The experiments that suggest feminization or masculinization use high doses to see these subtle effects. 

15 Don Huber—“It will make DDT look like mouthwash” When? It has been used safely for 40 years, with no effect. 

16. The Swanson article is a correlation. Purely a correlation. It also overlays with organic food sales. There is no causal effect, and her claim is anecdotal. There are no clinical data to support such claims. If that was true, it would be everywhere. Autism is not a new thing. If you could reverse it with organic food, or avoiding glyphosate, it would be easy to demonstrate clinically.

 17. Contained pesticides— how much is there? The dose makes the poison. They can detect a tiny amount and it is far below pharmacological levels but thousands, millions of times. 

18. The regulatory bodies like the EPA are extremely rigorous barriers. They rely on independent and company generated data. The IARC mentioned is the one that only accepts published data, and they ignored the largest, best study that shows zero association with glyphosate and cancers. The other examples mentioned in IARC are not statistically significant differences, they are trends at best. That’s in the IARC monograph, and you can compare to the original research.

 19. Heavy metals? No idea. 

20. Yes, we have traces of herbicides, insecticides, fungicides. These are in tiny levels. Glyphosate is found at parts per trillion—minutes in 32,000 years, parts per billion, seconds in 32 years. The rest of the stuff, who knows. I just don’t trust activists that have lied before. And there is not a lot of hormone in milk and meat. This is what the animals naturally produce, maybe a tiny chip in one ear on some cattle that provide far less hormone than a birth control pill. 

21. I completely disagree with gender identity claims. It is not diet related. It is natural variation in humans that is due to how we develop sex organs, and brain development. It is normal and acceptable. Kleinfelter syndrome is a chromosomal segregation disorder, it is rare and not due to “endocrine disruptors”

 22. Glyphosate is sprayed on plants, not on soil. Anything sprayed on soil is a waste, and farmers don’t do that. It is a foliar herbicide, it must be sprayed on leaves. Farmers spray the leaves, a little reaches the soil. 

23. If you test military food you’ll detect a few parts per billion glyphosate. No question. It goes through the body and shows up in the urine. The levels detected are safe. 

The sad part of this is that Honeycutt and her organization are making a sense of risk where none exists. This means parents that believe her will have their kids not eat school lunches. In many cities the school lunches are the best meals they get all day. The artificial risk implied, where none exists, drives parents to push their kids away from school lunches. Then they get nothing, or some alternative that is not as good as the school lunch. It is so disappointing that you listen to a known generator of false information and don’t interview actual scientists or regulators. Then again, they don’t have sensational claims, so the non-alarmist message is not as compelling as, “The sky is falling, kids are being poisoned, and we’re all doomed.” Thanks.

Why does it matter?  Many families rely on school lunches to provide nutrition for their kids. As usual, Honeycutt and the well-healed moms of California's suburbs push their scientifically distorted agenda without considering the collateral harm that is imposed on poor families. 

When you tell a mom that the school food is poison, she will not allow her child to eat it, and if she has no other choice, the child will go without. The economically challenged will not eat "poison" and instead will foment angry feelings towards a system that would harm children. 

Fearful messaging, bad science, scare tactics, and major media have conspired to push Honeycutt's horrific anti-agriculture agenda. Olson's echo chamber is insulated from legitimate scientific criticism, and his listeners were just treated to disinformation that will further affect their views. 

Ten years ago Honeycutt pushed false information and doctored numbers. Today she's targeting children, particularly those that don't have parents that prepare lunch at home, or perhaps require a subsidized meal. It is elitist, cruel, and deceptive.  Honeycutt should be showered in shame, and Olson as well for enabling and promoting her crusade.

Wednesday, July 27, 2022

A Response to Carey Gillam

The general rule is not to engage those that seek to malign you as a scientist.  But this is a textbook case of how they respond to legitimate criticism-- by trying to disqualify the critic. I thought it would be worth a read so you can understand how these folks work, and why scientists are hesitant to engage disinformation. 

Last week I prepared a critical, scholarly response to an article by Carey Gillam in The Guardian. Her work was a horrible distortion of data to manufacture a sense of risk where none actually exists. 

In response, she published a textbook ad hominem fallacy argument against my scientific response, personally impugning me with selective editing, out of context quotations, and misrepresentation of situations. All of her comments are based on documents (mostly my emails) freely obtained through transparency laws I abide by as a public scientist.

I then commented thusly on her website. To her credit, it has been allowed to stand, of course with her comment: 

"If you care to read an unchallenged set of claims against a scientist you can pay me for them, because he's a shill that makes up things for money." 

Check out her article, and read my response: 

59 min ago·edited 38 min ago

Hi, Dr. Kevin Folta here, the guy in the article. I usually don't respond to such things, but it is kind of important as a teaching tool. As in the article in question, she continues to mislead. Here are my responses to her claims.

1. Note that Gillam does not address the criticisms levied against her article. She attacks the scientists that levied the criticisms. Because we appropriately called out the distortions, she's angry and needs to disqualify expert opinion.

2. Her claims that a 2014 (snooze) donation from Monsanto to my university to help defray the costs of a science communication program were not disclosed is not true. The VP of my university clarified that, and be because of the threats, hassles and fallout from her social media (and others) the university moved the funds to a campus food bank. None went to me and they were never used for science communication.

3. I did not "allow my name to be used on columns posted on an industry website that were written by industry PR teams." When the website GMO Answers came out I was asked to answer questions. Awesome. That's what I should do as a public scientists. In a conference call with all independent, unpaid writers, I asked about the scope and depth expected for answers. In response, the folks running the website provided a sample answer to one of the 72 questions I answered on the site. The answer was quite good, it was accurate. So I edited it, changed things around, clarified other aspect of it, essentially using that one as a template. That was one article of the thousands of things I've written. It gave red meat to those that want to cancel my voice, and that was a huge mistake I should have never given them. And that answer is 100% accurate and supported by a scientific consensus to this day.

4. In thousands of pages of emails etc provided and information subpoenaed in legal discovery, there was no place that I 'defended" "questionable activities in defense of Monsanto". I'm a scientist that discusses the strengths and weaknesses of technology. I don't care about the companies.

5. I did write a (freely available) email to a friend of mine that works for Monsanto (it's hard to be a plant scientist and not have old friends that end up there) "I'm glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like." What was the context that Gillam omits to make this look nefarious? There was a blatantly false and deceptive television commercial going on in Oregon and Colorado around the 2013 (?) labelling ballot initiatives. Lies, total disinformation. My friend and someone else (and you can go back and read those emails online) were soliciting scientists to respond to the false information. They suggested an op-ed or a petition. I replied, "I'm glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like." Context matters, but do you see how Gillam pulls quotes from context to make it appear nefarious?

6. The line "I'm grateful for this opportunity and promise a solid return on investment" is absolutely 100% correct. I didn't make that statement to a "Monsanto executive". I made it in an email to Charla Lord who is on the communications team at Monsanto. She was the one that sent the donation to my university to expand the science communication program. I was really grateful for the donation because it would allow me to teach more, hold more workshops where I trained scientists, farmers, academics, etc on the nuances of science communication. It would have been a great return on investment. I always over deliver. It's how I roll.

7. And yes, I published it in GLP. I appreciate GLP a lot as a source of scientific information and always am glad for the space they give me.

8. And I'm paid 9 months a year by a public university, also from a software company to do my podcast and by various websites that pay me for freelance content. I have no funding from Bayer, Monsanto (dead now 4 years) or any ag or biotech company. If there are factual problems with that content I'm always glad to discuss.

In the days of disinformation it is good to illuminate how we as public scientists are maligned by folks like Gillam. Those of us that discuss the science of chemistry, genetics, climate, vaccines, abortion, etc are targeted by these folks She's been on me for a decade, and while she's paid to write books and articles to trash the science and scientists, my work appears in scholarly journals with peer review.

It's why I bothered to reply.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Your Evidence Means Nothing- Time to Disengage

 As usual, I was being berated by an anonymous "GMO-free" account on Twitter, and also as usual, responded with kindness and tact. 

Another nameless account joined in the Folta pile on, responding to my tweet about Vandana Shiva being invited to give a talk at the FAO.  He reminded me about the "terminator" seeds that never were actually commercialized.  

I offered a few words about my knowledge of the subject, but that was met with disdain. I sent a link to my CV so he could understand who I really was and what I really do. 

I guess I was not surprised to get such a response. I asked about why someone would listen to aggressive hate groups over a pubic scientist's actual record. 

It was the best response I could have imagined.  It was the line I needed to drop engagement, block, mute, etc.  When people do not accept evidence and instead trash others based on what they think, they don't deserve your time and attention.  Trolls.  Spend your time influencing others that are willing to learn, and at least consider evidence before making decisions. 

Thursday, March 31, 2022

Blackmailing Small Business

 Thanks to my friend Freida for bringing this to my attention.  I'm glad to discuss it here, so that others can understand that this is happening. It is extortion. 

According to Freida, Corner 17 Noodles and Bubble Tea is an exceptional small restaurant in St. Louis.  They offer authentic Asian cuisine, and are apparently the "real deal" according to Freida.

They were contacted by a social media personality that offered them the opportunity to be reviewed for a $100 food credit.  The owners politely declined. 


A polite response from the owner didn't sit well with "influencer" Antonio Malik

Self describing as an "influencer" suggests a certain level of confidence that you do in fact influence others.  It also comes with a certain sense of entitlement that people actually care about what you do or give a damn what you think.

In response to the owner's kind decline of the offer, Malik decided to write the review anyway. Apparently without actually visiting the establishment, or perhaps after actually visiting, he wrote a review that trashed the restaurant. 

Maybe he actually went there, but such an unprofessional treatment of the business appears to be retaliation for them declining his "influencer" services.

It is "retailiation"

Small business operates on thin margins, and restaurants are probably the thinnest. There is not $100 in a budget that spreads its quality and practice by word of mouth. 

Malik might consider a softer approach, because he certainly is an influencer-- a negative influencer. He's someone I'd never follow or associate with. 

Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Center for Media and Democracy Smears Scientists

 At a time when democracy is threatened by a number of sources and media is a potent remedy or problem, the Madison WI based Center for Media and Democracy could be especially relevant. Their cause seems reasonable, and as an independent academic scientist, consumer and American I applaud some of their efforts. 

Sadly, they have targeted me and other scientists for harassment.  They have posted pages that use omission, innuendo and inference to portray scientists they wish to defame in a false, negative light.

Their website about me does not mention what I actually do, awards won for teaching/research/outreach excellence, pursuit of opportunities of under-represented students, and my efforts to coach and promote faculty career progression. 

Look at the  manipulation- the omission, the twisting, the extrapolation. This is what Center for Media and Democracy does to target a scientist they don't want teaching inconvenient science. 

I have contacted CMD with kind requests to amend the information for several years. It is something I do now and then. No response from them. 

I only posted this again because CMD's web page is being used by anti-vaccine, anti-5G, anti-GMO trolls to attempt to remove me from important conversations. 

Take a look below. Here are CMD's wild fabrications and silly extrapolations that time has proven to be false.  Let's look at this point-by-point.  

Why would anyone trust them?  Why would anyone donate to support this? 

Click on image to enlarge. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

Hey Goofballs, Science is Not a Popularity Contest

Starting a few weeks ago the European Commission began a public feedback period on the regulation of gene edited crops.  Gene editing is a relatively non-invasive, rapid way to make precise genetic alternations of crops to improve specific traits. Changes made frequently emulate natural variations. 

The EU has had excessively harsh restrictions on transgenic technology, not approving any new genetically engineered crops in decades. Activists wish for the same hyper-rigorous repression of technology to be applied to new plant genetic improvement techniques. 

EU farmers and scientists almost universally feel that the technology could have some benefit, and should be part of the region's technologies. 

So when the European Commission opened a public comment period, it was spammed by an avalanche of identical and near-identical comments that were distributed by anti-biotech groups.  No thinking, just copying and pasting as they were told to.  

The European Commission asked for scientific, thoughtful comments and instead got slammed with spam. 

The part that anti-biotech groups and their lackeys forget is that science is not a popularity contest.  It doesn't matter how many people cut and paste your misguided rant into the form. It still only represents one opinion, zero data or citation, and in any "anti" movement you'll can always find a willing group of parrots willing to repeat exactly what you tell them. 

Cut/paste = LAZY.  The reviewers are not stupid. 

I watched this develop over the last few weeks, and while anti-biotech groups would not persuade anyone at the EC, they'd take a victory lap. After all, there were thousands of comments against the relaxed restrictions on gene editing. 

And true to form it happened. 

Leave it to the followers of Rudolph Steiner to get the science way wrong. During molecular biology class they were busy putting cow poop in a horn to harness cosmic energy.

It is amazing that the anti-biotech folks would claim victory after encouraging a campaign to spam a sincere effort to gather information about a new technology.  Luckily, the folks at the EC will hopefully be persuaded by this overt manipulation.

Those that have lost the argument raise their voices.  When you don't have the science on your side you have to spam the conversation in an attempt to minimize the actual science communicated.

If I was a regulator in the EC and had to weed through cut-and-paste nonsense to get to the nuggets of actual information, I would not be so happy with the anti-biotech folks.  My guess is that this will backfire. Ultimately decisions are made on actual evidence, and your opinion doesn't matter, even if pasted sixty thousand times. That's why the EC even asked for scientific comments. 

This is why I appreciate science and sports.  They are the last meritocracies, the last places where superior performance still ultimately wins.  That's why the EC opened the public comment period.  Change is happening. 

Don't take a victory lap just yet.