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)

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Are You Harming Your Best Advocate?

 Be careful when you take action to eliminate an informed voice from a conversation. In the days of the internet such cancellation can be permanent, and if you remove someone that has a clue, it might just come back to work against your best interests later on. 

Throughout the 2000's and most of all in 2015 and to this day, there have been activist groups and unhinged individuals that wanted me silent.  Whether it is weird professional jealousy, the fact that I run a highly-rated biotech podcast, or the fact that I am a trusted source of scientific information, I attract vicious critics. 

But I'm consistent about two things:

1. Speaking from the evidence and the data.

2. Admitting when I'm incorrect and adjusting.  

When critics use sharp and defamatory means to destroy trust and remove their target from a scientific conversation, they run the risk of removing them from all scientific conversations. 

In 2015 I was targeted by USRTK, Paul Thacker, Charles Seife, Organic Consumers Association and dozens of other anti-biotech activists.  Food Babe Vani Hari joined in. Journalists like Eric Lipton at the New York Times and freelance writer Brooke Borel took hard and visible shots that today clearly stand as well-orchestrated hit pieces. 

Other folks added their interpretations of emails, professional actions and even crept eerily into my personal life. Gross. 

 The defamation for teaching science remains permanent on the internet to this day. 

Why does it matter? 

Because it forever serves as a touchstone for those that reject the science I teach, it is a get-out-of-science-jail-free card to those that want to debate climate change, vaccination, genetic engineering or evolution, but rely on bad evidence and conspiracy to fortify their bankrupt positions.  

Case in point.  Last night I had a pleasant conversation on Twitter with someone (now going by "Fauci is Mengele" that was certain he was correct.  He was not.  He drew a chorus of supporters that chimed in about the COVID19 vaccine that was untested, experimental, dangerous, and blah, blah, blah. 

Painted into a corner with evidence to counter his anti-vax claims, he "did research" on me and posted this:

Fauci is Mengele "did a bit of research" to eliminate my knowledgeable voice from an important conversation.  A tip of the hat to those that work to slander scientists.

And the fact that I've not "lined my pockets" and am hardly an insider doesn't matter. I've been a academic scientist my entire career and have a strong record of public service.  The fact that the New York Times used out of context quotations (at times eliminating words to reverse their meaning) and false interpretations to harm my reputation is something I'll carry to the grave. 

From the New York Times, 9/5/2015 regarding me: 
I reject the notion that teaching science is a "corporate public relations campaign"


Also from the New York Times, 9/5/2015 
When I first read this in print I spit my coffee all over the screen. Inner circle?  I'm a freakin' piss-ant public servant that begs federal agencies for funding to do great science and train tomorrow's scientists. I WISH I was some kind of inner circle lobbyist or consultant!  


This kind of rhetoric provides an easy disqualification for those that cannot discuss the evidence.  If they can't address your arguments with conspiracy and websites, they eliminate you from the conversation.  This is especially true towards me because I treat everyone with profound kindness and do influence those watching the conversation. 

So be careful of trashing academic, public scientists in big, public, visible ways.  At the end of the day they do work for you, and the reputation you are harming may be that of one of your best advocates. 

 


Monday, May 24, 2021

Creating False Consensus with Bots

 The discussion around Twitter bans is hot, mostly with regard to specific accounts that provide dangerous false information. 

But what about accounts that appear to be legitimate users, but somehow are coordinated accounts posting false or misleading information?  One false-information source alone is not much influence, and one can be singled out, reported or appropriately banned without consequence.  

But does the mass posting of a common false claim from dozens of accounts provide a false sense of consensus where none really exists? 

It's right from the Goebbels playbook-- tell a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.  It works because repetition and the perception of broad support from a number of supposedly independent accounts provides the illusion of truth. 

This barrage occurred following news that Oxitec mosquitoes were being released in the Florida Keys. 


Repetition of a common message from multiple accounts that appear to be independent provides the illusion of consensus about a common theme where none really exists. 

This deceptive spamming appears to happen through legitimate accounts. So either these are well-crafted fake online personas, or a careful coordination between individuals in a "phone tree" type of distribution of an identical message.  Either way it is deceptive, and the second one is highly unlikely. 

I'm going to look at this more closely.  My guess is that this all boils down to a common organization that is trying to manipulate public opinion around biotechnology.  Stay tuned....

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Allegations of Threats

 Over the last week the trolls are back, and polluting social media with more anti-Folta nonsense. 

I won't even touch on it.  Nobody has looked at it, nobody really cares.  It gets few likes, retweets, etc., and those that do show some love to the filth are in the defamation network.  It's dead.

But sadly I need to always play defense.  Now that these allegations are forever placed in findable space, I must reluctantly respond. I teach students, I work with kids, I lead community initiatives, and when someone claims that I'm issuing "threats" I unfortunately have to provide my perspective.

First, Carey Gillam.  She tweeted this, this week:


Carey is one of very few people on my "do not Heimlich" list.  She is one person that I believe is truly evil, and takes pleasure in harming others.  When I begged her to leave my family out of some online slander, she doubled down and went after someone very close to me.  I appealed to her as a mother and a human being to please just stop-- but she dialed it up.  She is a monster. 

Over the last decade she has trashed my work, made false claims about me and my motivations, and has been generally horrible.  She is paid by USRTK, the organization sponsored by industry to  endlessly harass me, so she gets a paycheck to post defamation like the above.  That's her job. 

If she had "bizarre and oddly threatening emails" from me she would have posted them, or paraded them around the internet. 

And if I would have made threats, they would have been very much deserved. 

Threat Capacity

I'm not one to make threats.  I'm a diplomat.  We work things out. However, I am one to describe the constellation of outcomes if a given path is taken.  Big difference. By talking about "here's what happens if..." is an important point for me to present to others. 

I make no threats, and nothing I say could ever be remotely construed as a personal threat-- like physical harm or unfair retribution.  I don't have that gear.  Frankly, I wish the trolls would leave me alone, and I ignore them for the most part. 

Where It Started

This week a story emerged online about how Karl Haro Von Mogel claimed that I threatened him in a 39-page psycho complaint to my University's Dean for Teaching.  

Think about this.  If someone were to threaten you in a non-work related context, legitimately, would you run crying to their employer?  

Karl does this because he knows that there are no legitimate threats from an ethical or legal perspective, and people that know me, and know him, understand that I don't operate that way.  They see what he has done to cause me personal and professional harm, along with stark personal betrayal, and understand that I probably am justified in feeling a little prickly towards him. I just ignored him until his wild complaint package surfaced.

But universities are extremely risk averse and must take all claims very seriously.  That means universities can be exploited to do your dirty work, and trash the reputation of your target academic from within their institution. 

At the same time my University Administration knows me better than anyone, and also knows the praise I receive for good work in teaching, service, research and outreach. They know a troll when they smell one. 

The other major problem here is that the alleged threats were not communicated through a university email account or in my role as a professor at the university.  I was a private citizen protecting my privacy and reputation, and discussions with Karl were personal and through non-work channels. Now von Mogel took it upon himself to drag in my employer and make his claims public, making my personal, private emails public without my knowledge or permission, or the courtesy a carbon copy.  Shame.

He produced an email from me that contained this excerpt, interpreting it as a threat: 



At the time, my personal property and files were being distributed to the internet, including the ever-hostile GM Watch for malicious and incorrect re-interpretation. I wanted to know how that material was getting out of my home and file cabinet, and I suspected he may be part of that pipeline. I already knew that he broke my confidentiality on some highly-sensitive work I was doing with a law firm and was meddling in my divorce by providing false statements to my ex-wife's attorney. 

I simply told him, we can discuss this privately, or make it public, you pick.  That's not a threat. This is me kindly offering to work it out together privately, rather than having it blow up publicly and have to explain it, like is happening here.  I don't want to wreck the guy's future like he wants to wreck mine.  

Keep in mind that this was several years ago. I just learned of this complaint last week (5/2021) when it went public, and if it didn't go internet-wide I would never have said anything publicly. They guy has enough problems and could still sort it out and be a good contributor. 

But to accuse me of threats is something I must directly address. 

He continues: 


  If it is false, then we can talk about it and sort it out.  It was his refusal to discuss this important issue, and my need to get to the bottom of it that prompted my response.  It was not "social blackmail", as proven by the fact that he did not discuss it with me and I kept quiet-- I never made it public until now, when his complaint became public. 

The next "double down" on "threats" was:



This was after Karl reported me to a professional conference for violating the Code of Conduct, simply because I requested a meeting with him on how we were going to complete a project that was crowdfunded with >$13,000 of public money, where he dropped the ball and my name was attached to it.  I had every right to be angry, and I wasn't.  I just wanted to formulate a plan out of the mess, together. 

My reputation was on the line and I wanted a resolution. I either wanted a plan forward or was going to disconnect from the work very publicly in an act of self-preservation. 

Luckily he kicked me off of the project, along with lots of other people that did the analysis on my end, and did so very publicly, so I didn't have to do anything. 

Is it a Threat? 

The point is simple. These are not threats-- these are IF/THEN statements where I spelled out our options to completing a project or resolving a difference. I always was gracious in offering to do things the easy way first, and avoiding escalation that does nobody any good. 

That statement is shown to be true with time, as I did not receive a satisfactory solution that I asked for, and still never took the situation public.  I didn't want to affect his career and possibilities like he wanted to do to me.  I just let it disappear. 

Until now.  If the 39-page complaint didn't surface, then I would not have to state my explanation of the  situation.  He knows about FOIA and public records requests, he used that system anonymously to gather confidential documents of mine and distribute them.  He absolutely knew that he was planting a seed that would be discovered later and play a critical role in his malicious targeting. 

Again

If you have questions, ask me.  The situation is super unfortunate and my guess is that the other parties involved wish they had a do-over.  It makes them look amazingly sad and petty.  Rather than accepting an invitation in a private email (these were from my personal account, not subject to FOIA, and had nothing to do with university business) to resolve a difference with me personally, they run to conferences and my university administration and claim "threats". 

And now this long-forgotten annoyance has become very public, not by me, I'm busy working and teaching science. 

And I want to keep doing that.  These kinds of accusations do nothing to help me teach others as they are designed to harm my reputation.  

Which means I now need to work even harder at producing good media and better outreach. Good.  I needed a little fire to refocus my efforts in positive ways. 

I hope he finds his. 





Friday, May 21, 2021

Hang It Up Stacy

 In 2015 the anti-science, scientist slander machine called US-RTK provided my emails and a story to New York Times reporter Eric Lipton.  As stated by Lipton on the 9/17/2015 Kojo Nnamdi Show on NPR, (USRTK leader) "Gary Ruskin handed me a story and wanted me to publish it."

The result was a gross misrepresentation of me and my motivations to teach science. To them, it was all part of a corporate cabal to misinform the public in exchange for grant money. 

Time has shown that none of it was true.  Still the story lives on the internet, forever attached to me in a Google search. 

And folks from USRTK keep it alive and well.  Last week Stacy Malkan, a USRTK henchtwit, continued to post links to the Lipton story, at least to the documents that supported it, plucked from their context for easy re-interpretation.


Yes, that's what I do.  I talk to folks about communication, which has a significant component of psychology.  How do people process information?  What mistakes do they make?  How can we earn trust?  These are the things I teach. 

And as the article states,  "A Florida Professor Works With the Biotech Industry" they neglect to note that this is our job.  We are to be public liaisons with industry. That's part of the Morrill Act of 1862 that established the Land Grant University System. It is to take the knowledge generated and apply it to agriculture, which includes the ag-associated industries. 

Lipton and USRTK neglect to note that 95% of my research funding comes from federal and state sources. The industry funding for research came from the Florida Strawberry and vertical farm industries. In 2017 I hired a postdoc for one year on Bayer funds ($57,000 to hire a Ph.D. scientist for one year with benefits) to work on novel molecule discovery, which is one thing my lab does. 

Here's the Point

Over the last several years it is no secret that USRTK has lost relevance.  You can't slander scientists and attack science for years and not expect folk to catch on eventually. 

Their recent attacks on Dr. Peter Dadzyk brought them sharp rebuke by social media, and their website visits plummeted. 


Traffic ain't so hot over at USRTK. While the world tolerated their hate directed at scientists for years, the anti-COVID19 science work has flattened their curve.  Source.


At the Same Time... 

While I'm not speaking at conferences as much and have been living through the other hassles of hard defamation, things are going generally very well.  Research is fun, teaching is going great, and I'm investing time in other community leadership efforts. All good. 

The Talking Biotech Podcast is entering its 7th year, approaching 1.5 million downloads and 300 episodes. 


The Point.

When you are a hate group that targets scientists the world will catch up, and you will lose relevance.  When you do good work that grows with time, you gain relevance. 

Why do they beat a tired old story from 2015 that they created?  It got them what they wanted at the time, but in the rear view mirror of time it is clear that it was a targeted hit piece that ultimately proved to be bullshit. 

And their defamation page on me is alive and well.  My students visit it and laugh.  They know me, and that's not me.

In a world of important problems, why not focus energy and time on solving them?  What dig the heels into defamation of public scientists working for the good of others?  

It is a failed formula.  Stacy doesn't get that. Maybe she will when USRTK is out of business.  Coming soon.