Showing posts from 2012

Never Agree to Disagree in Science

Every now and then I'll be in a discussion with someone on a scientific topic.  There are three conversation enders that I abhor.  1.  "You are just a shill for (insert company, political party, etc here), how much are they paying you?"   Read about that one here.   2.   "What-ever."  Which is code for "I got nuthin'"  3.   "We'll just have to agree to disagree."  I just hate that last one, and it is the typical refuge of someone intelligent that has walled off their desire, but not ability, to learn about a given topic.  For me, I can't "Agree to Disagree" about a scientific topic. If I'm wrong, please show me the evidence-- convince me. If you're wrong, it is important that I show you my evidence and convince you.  Open hearts and minds can agree to find Truth,  and discussion of evidence is the first step.  Scientists and teachers are,  by nature,  compelled to do this   Hair combing p

Leaving the Limbaughs of the Left: Parting Thoughts on Prop37

Over the last month I've had a lot to think about.  I visited several 3rd grade classes to teach kids about plant biology.  They all learned what makes plants unique from animals and how plants grow and develop.  In each class we did a simple experiment with two test tubes, two seeds, and two pieces of foil. Each tube contained a milliliter of water/agar. The kids would add one seed to each tube. They would wrap one in foil, leave the other uncovered, then scrunch up the other piece of foil as a base. Thirty minutes, a few cents of science surplus, and a huge retreat from book science for the kids. The elegant simplicity of plant development. The happiness that comes when someone that is not their teacher brings them stuff! They went nuts, as always. They loved the test tubes, the seeds, and any  science stuff you could give them. They were all excited to participate in science . In third grade science is still cool. Special guest talks at local schools remind me about ho

Comments Blocked by the "Right to Know"

Awesome.  For the second time in as many days I have been blocked from providing scientific content to rants on YouTube regarding California Proposition 37.  After all, it is about the Right to Know, as long as it is something they want to hear! The situation happened on a YouTube video " That Monsanto does not want you to see, Brought to you by Nutiva and Elevate" .  It presents Danny DeVito, Bill (don't vaccinate your kids) Maher, and other Hollywood luminaries that I don't recognize.  They tell us that it is a 'right to know' what's in our food, a point I don't organically disagree with, yet maintain that prop37 is an inappropriate, highly flawed, vehicle. So I begin to comment in the 'comments' section under the name "Swampwaffle".  You can see, my comments are scientific, concise, polite and engaging.  I invite opportunities to share evidence and partake in a scholarly discussion.  With one particularly energetic person who r

Lost Rebuttal from Dr. Ena

Dr. Ena Valikov is a Veterinarian from Huntington Beach, CA.  She frequently comments on posts, usually those regarding transgenic technologies, and presents coherent arguments that elevate the discussion.  She has a background in biochemistry so she speaks science well and can discuss the literature. Yesterday morning my gmail account posted several responses to my September 21 post. There were two there from Dr. Ena.  I was excited to read them and prepare my responses. Yet when I looked at the comment section of the article one of her comments was not there.  Instead, there was an appropriately cynical comment from Dr. Ena about censoring the comments. I have no idea what happened or where her comment disappeared to.  However, I was disappointed and upset for several reasons.  First, I appreciate an informed rebuttal because I am the first to admit, I might be wrong.   I'm glad to consider all evidence in my synthesis.  Second, I would never, and have never censored a comme

Rats, Tumors and Critical Assessment of Science

My email box exploded with new messages.  A flurry of notes contained a link to a new peer-reviewed paper, a work showing that rats fed “GMO” corn developed massive tumors and died early, compared to controls.  Immediately I smelled a Seralini paper. A click on the link did not disappoint-- it's Seralini again.  I was electronically whisked to a PDF of the whole text and began to read.  Within minutes I was blown away by the lack of rigor, poor experimental design, attention to controls and loose statistics.  Most of all, I was blown away by the conclusions drawn by a study with tiny numbers of subjects in a rat line known to grow endochrine tumors. The anti-GMO interests were quick to anoint this new work as a rigorous pillar of exceptional science, a hard-science detailing of the danger of transgenic food.  They want this to influence public policy. I was really impressed by how the scientific media and the science blogosphere pounced.  The best names in the busin

Thoughts from a "Shill for Monsanto"

As an academic research scientist active at the public interface, I enjoy communicating about complex science topics. With regard to trasngenic (GMO) crops, if you read my blogs, comments left online, or listen to audiences in public discussions, you'll see that they ultimately reach a common point. Someone always indicates that Monsanto is my employer . Like clockwork. I'm still waiting for the check. Actually, I never worked for them, consulted for them, or received a dime from them. As a university scientist my funding is all public record, so this may be verified.  Here is why the throw-away "you work for Monsanto" or "shill for Monsanto" comment harms the anti-GMO movement:  1. It immediately says that you are willing to make up information in the absence of evidence. 2. It says that you are finished with the conversation, that nothing I communicate is valid in your opinion. 3. It shows that you are willing to try to influence other like-mind

The “Arctic Grape” Sneaks Through Public Approval

We are currently witnessing the USDA public commentary period on the Arctic Apple, a transgenic apple that does not exhibit browning upon injury or cutting.   The anti-browning trait was installed by scientists at Okanagan Specialty Fruits. A copy of the apple gene for polyphenol oxidase (PPO) was overexpressed, which triggers a plant response to silence the over-expressed gene.   The same process also suppresses the apple’s endogenous PPO genes. Trees have been growing for ten years and are poised for widespread adoption.  But as expected, the critics have now emerged against this non-browning apple.  They say that the apples are untested in humans, that the pollen will contaminate other plants.  They say that it is unnatural and will need more pesticide.  But the same criticisms were strangely silent against what was essentially the Arctic Grape.  A major genetic alteration affected the PPO gene of the ‘Sultana’ grape, a genetic change that was unknown, uncharacterized and uni

Opposition to the Newest Apple Product

Sorry tech geeks.  This is about fruits, not phones.   The Arctic Apple is a new product currently undergoing regulatory approval in the United States and Canada. It was developed by a small biotech company in Summerland BC, Canada, so save the Monsanto comments. It is a non-browning apple, created using transgenic technology (probably cisgenic).  Browning is a reaction to damage. This can be cutting or bruising.  An enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (or PPO) mediates this process.  Without PPO, no browning occurs.  A silenced gene inhibits browning.  A great development for  growers and consumers. Apples have four PPO genes.  In the Arctic Apple these genes are silenced, likely using RNAi technology.  In a very basic explanation, the native apple PPO gene is expressed in a way that causes the other PPO genes to be shut down.  The potential benefits?  The details are here .  Huge amounts of apple fruits are culled from the tree, damaged from post-harvest handling, or are

Agent Orange, Monsanto, and a Little Clarificiation

On Tuesday I gave a talk at Florida State College at Jacksonville entitled "The Future of Food: Feeding More People with Less".  The talk described the challenges to modern agriculture, the need for conservation, improved production practices (including low-input/organic ag) and new genetics from breeding.  One of the key facets was transgenic technology to complement other improvements. There was one person in attendance that was not a student, but a guy from the community that thought the topic was interesting.  As soon as I got into the GMO part of the lecture he began being disruptive.  I usually invite interaction, but his objections were relatively constant.  As usual, they were dogmatic and uninformed, tying nicely to the propaganda lines of the anti-GMO interests. For my lecture I held up glyphosate resistance as a successful implementation of transgenics in agriculture.  Here a relatively innocuous chemical displaces others that are more dangerous.  Most of all,

More TEDx Credulity, A Sad, Sad Talk

Birke Baehr is undoubtedly a brilliant kid.  At eleven years old he has interests in food and the environment, making him a clear outlier from his peers.  Birke was a speaker at TEDx Asheville. In my parsing of TEDx talks to identify anti-scientific claims, his was clearly a standout for good and sad reasons.  Again, as pointed out in previous posts, the outstanding reputation of TED talks was being hijacked by fringe interests to promote a non-scientific agenda, tarnishing the reputation of TED's credible brand.   This YouTube video named "Monsanto Corporation Gets Owned by 11 Year Old Boy" exploits the credulity of youth and the approval of a credulous audience.  Plus, he never says anything about Monsanto, just the usual anti-biotech rhetoric-- all stated as fact, without evidence . What is wrong with his talk?  Like a few TEDx talks I am currently discussing, they are weak on evidence and their agendas are showing.  As you listen to Birke, please read along the t