Monday, May 27, 2013

University Scientists- Corporate Puppets or Public Servants? - a Post Revisited

*** I posted this a few years ago and it really fits well in the current climate.  How much are scientists really "paid off" by corporate interests?  How much funding at public institutions comes from corporate sources? ***

The scientific consensus of public, academic scientists tells us that:

1. The earth's climate is warming, with at least a component of human cause
2. Evolution explains the diversity of life on earth and continues
3. Transgenic trangenic (GMO) food crops are safe and effective
4. Vaccines are a tremendous, safe cornerstone in public health.
5. Stem cell based therapies show great promise and some application now

Every one of these statements is a well supported hypothesis.  Each is based on substantial data from different experiments and models, from many independent labs, worldwide.

Critics suggest that such data and conclusions only are present because academic scientists are "bought and paid for" by big corporations.  The allegation is that corporations dictate what is to be studied, what will be funded and what results will be obtained, and what may be published.

According to critics, who's bought off, who does the buying? 
1.  Climate change scientists- George Soros, liberal media
2.  Evolution scientists- liberal media, secular humanist and atheist groups, the ACLU, National Academies of Science, Family Guy. 
3.  GMO scientists:  Monsanto
4.  Vaccine science:  "big pharma"
5.  Stem cells: Liberal government operatives that want to kill babies.

I've even endured this personally.  Lay people that disagree with my evidence-based-food stance tell me that none of my work matters because it is all paid for by Pepsico and Monsanto, simply because those companies have minor product licensing agreements with my university.

This argument comes up frequently in discussion of these topics, so I thought I'd take a look.  How much of our research is corporate sponsored?  How "bought and paid for" are we?

First, I went to an easy source at my university, the University of Florida.  The Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) publishes their financials every year.  You can find this online here.

How much Big Corporation money did we spend?  Not that much.  It is buried somewhere in that "other sponsored funds" piece of the money pie.
If corporations are fueling scientific discovery at universities,
they sure aren't contributing too much.  Somewhere in "Other Sponsored Funds"

Now wait, I can hear critics already screaming that "other sponsored funds" is almost 10% of the research dollars spent, and that's a significant amount at a place like the University of Florida.  So let's use the record to break that down: 

Yikes.  Corporate sponsorship is a pretty small sliver of that pie.

So about two percent of our funds come from corporate interests.  For the anti-scientific critics out there, that's about two dollars out of every hundred. 

If we are bought and paid for, we're bought really cheap and not paid well. 

In reality, you can check any individual's research funding, as all of these records are publicly available.  Me, I can state that I've never received corporate financing.  Not a penny.  I do get some support from farm-industry groups, but these are associations of farmers, not corporate interests. 

And I am the rule, not the exception.  Very few of my colleagues have corporate sponsors.  

The other piece of tangential evidence backing my claim of low-corporate involvement in academic science is that public universities are suffering from massive cutbacks.  Whole departments are shrinking or are cut, state and federal resources are harder to obtain, and funding research is harder than it has been in a long time. 

Meanwhile Wall Street rolls along, recovered and soaring as the stock markets reach new highs and corporate profits exceed old records. The corporate world is driving forward, and if they are really sponsoring research in public universities they can't be paying too much.

Maybe these activist causes should consider who academic researchers really work for.  Them.  

Instead of wasting time pointing fingers and implying corporate malfeasance, they might want to examine their own stance, and realize that maybe their experts in academic research are really experts and worth listening to.

** Since first posting of this blog I have received some minimal corporate support for a small project in testing gene regulatory sequences.  It is not from MON, DOW, Bayer, etc. 

Thursday, May 23, 2013

You Asked for Independent Replication... Stunning Corn, Again

A mantra of the anti-GMO movement is that they want independent research, from neutral sources devoid of  special interest.

That is, until it is their special interest.

The Moms Across America "stunning corn" is old news here. In short, anti-GMO websites everywhere showed that GM corn was full of formaldehyde and had no nutrients. The data presented were so fake that anyone with half a brain could see right through it.  They were soil data, and likely faked soil data. 'Moms' promoted, and rabidly defended, fake results as authentic. Still do.

When I questioned them on their websites I was banned, blocked and then criticized.

Last week on Mae-Wan Ho's website I offered to personally pay for a replicate of the experiment.  I was greeted by a kind email from Dr. Ho, and clear indication that Howard Vlieger and Dr. Don Huber (the goofy one, not Don J. Huber) were on board for the new test.

I was excited to say the least.  They clearly were ready to move forward, or they thought they were calling my bluff.  I'm a scientist, not an activist, so I don't have time for bluffing.  Forward we go!

Now I've opened the conversation and I'm surprised they are playing along.  Dr. Maewan Ho has been always accommodating and pleasant.  Could we actually do a real test?  I'm actually starting to think that we'll get somewhere!  No contact from Vlieger on the specifics we need to replicate the test.

YES!  Here we go!  I'm actually really pleased that there's some movement in a common direction.  Maybe they really did get those data and there was a mixup at the lab-- they were being honest.  Maybe those were real data and corn is poison...  I can't fathom that, but it is in the spectrum of possibilities I guess.  The re-test will tell.  This is great!

Let's now put everyone on the hook...  we're all accountable!

This is really coming together!  Ebony and Ivory!  Water and oil!  Union and Confederates!  Kum-by-effin-ya!

I asked Zen Honeycutt and Kathleen Hallal from 'Moms Across America" to please contribute.  I asked them to feel free to shape the next experiments, and offered them authorship on the work.  I wish I could access the old Facebook posts, but they are beyond my history's reach.  Hallal said that nobody ever claimed the results to be real, and that is just bullshit. I did have a note I sent to Honeycutt, so far unanswered.  Of course, she'll never offer to be part of the work.  Her flimsy organization has too much to lose.

Of course, not reply from Zen or Kathleen.  The light of science, the independent verification they want, causes the science-less cockroach fear promoters to scurry for shelter.

Of course, they are on the spot now.  It is time to do the independent, multiple location, replicated, statistically correct test-- they say scientists never do.  Let's do it!

And then, the black helicopters hover......

This is where they have to back out, because they know that independent tests will expose their fraud, or at least their support of a mistake or data someone else faked.  I do not believe it is a mistake, because if they were real data, they would be eager to replicate with independent scientists. 

In the meantime Anastasia Bodnar sources some maize analytical labs we we're getting loads of input on this website about numbers of replicates and experimental design. Unfortunately, none of this comes from those supporting the data.  From Moms Across America's Kathleen Halall, she tells me that they are willing to do the experiment, but I can't be part of it because it has to be an independent scientist... of course, I'm as independent as they come.  Plus, all of this is transparent! 

But you guessed it, they are retreating.  

So they don't want independent replications, they want to do their own replications, where they can control how much formaldehyde the soak the corn in, where they can manipulate the numbers.

I demanded transparency, independent replicates, multiple sites and labs!  Now they are backing out! 

I'm a little disappointed because I thought we were getting somewhere.  My reply:

And one last time to salvage that Kum-by-ya...

I know, I"m such a monster. 


And this is where it stands.  I was never contacted by Vlieger of Huber, and marching moms were just pointy, mean and nonconstructive, true to form. 

If you are someone that understands and accepts the evidence that biotechnology is a safe and useful tool, again the critics have been silenced.

If you are someone that is anti-GMO, if you feel this is dangerous, most of all if you are afraid of those corn data-- then you need to seriously think about who is representing you.  You need to see how they operate, how they are fakes and will not stand by the data they promote!

If you hate GMOs, hate Monsanto, hate biotechnology-- STAND WITH ME and DEMAND that MOMS AGAINST AMERICA, Dr. MAEWAN HO, and others that promote this fake corn data either REPEAT THE TEST INDEPENDENTLY with GREAT RIGOR or TAKE DOWN THEIR BOGUS WEBSITES AND ADMIT THE DATA ARE FALSE.

They'll never do it. They are not big enough people to admit it and their house of anti-science cards depends on it perpetually scaring people, even if it means promoting data that don't match biology, and they don't want replicated.

I've done my part to promote science and reason.  This shows what cowardly stewards of misinformation they are.  I'm maintaining my offer and stand by to do this test. 

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Calling Dr. Ho, Dr. Huber, Mr. Vlieger...

I'm so excited about the comments coming in on a potential replicate of the "Stunning Corn Comparison" originally posted on Moms Across America. I've asked for a large, transparent and independent series of tests and I'm willing to cover the costs, personally.  It will not be cheap. 

The plant science community has stepped up and offered many excellent comments about experimental design in the comments section of previous posts.  I have not heard anything from those promoting the data as real.  This morning I sent the following email to those named in the salutation:

Dr. Ho, Mr. Vlieger and Dr. Huber, 

I hope that we can move forward with a series of independent, transparent and replicated tests on GM corn grown in glyphosate-treated fields versus non-GM corn.  The data presented in the original data set certainly raised eyebrows and drew criticism.  I was one of the biggest critics.  I don't understand much about the data, such as how corn can have 1% brix and why cation exchange capacity was used. 

The way to really clear this up is to have promoters and critics join together to design a transparent test.  It is a win-win for me because it either clears up that there was something wrong with the original data, or they replicate and we get to share authorship on a paper showing 1% Brix corn full of formaldehyde.  That's a huge story and I'd be glad to put my name on that. It would likely go to Science or Nature. 

I've encouraged both promoters of the original data and the wider plant science community to participate in the design and execution of the experiments.  We can do replicated plots with sufficient numbers to generate powerful statistics.  So far, I have heard nothing from the people that voraciously defend these data as legitimate, except for the kind response by Dr. Ho. 

Most of all, I've PERSONALLY agreed to cover the cost of the re-analysis.  For this to be legitimate, we all need to participate and need to decide on analytical methods and multiple independent analytical facilities. 

Please, let's agree to do this.  If the technology is as bad as you claim, and the data your promote are legitimate, we'll need hard numbers from well-designed experiments to replicate and make a very strong case.  A perfect replicate is a very good outcome for me, if we do it together. 

Best wishes, and let's please drive the science forward together, 


I provide this note here in the spirit of transparency and working together to resolve an important scientific issue. I'm standing by for their response, which at first, was kind and enthusiastic from Dr. Ho.   If you are against the technology and/or stand by these data, please encourage these anti-GMO luminaries to participate in a larger, more comprehensive evaluation. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Putting My Money Where Your Mouth Is!

The Stunning Corn Comparison promoted by Zen Honeycutt at Moms Across America was certainly stunning.  While Zen, farmer Howard Vlieger and Profit Pro stand by these data as authentic, a codified scientific community sees them as either poor quality, a mistake, (or at worst) fraud.

If the results are real and GMO corn is stripped of almost all carbon, loaded with (carbon-based) formaldeyde and glyphosate, plus a Brix of 1%, it would be a remarkable story that would shake the foundation of modern production agriculture. Such findings, if found transparently and in independent, replicated trials, would likely grace the covers of major science weeklys like Science or Nature.

It would be huge news, and as a scientist, I am thrilled to test the hypothesis that the previous data are authentic.

So excited!  I love to see experimental data replicated! 
More numbers, locations, etc, the better I sleep at night!

I have agreed to personally finance the analytical portion of a replicate of the experiment. Experimental design is pending based on the corn genotype, culture conditions and analytical tests performed to obtain previous data. I am waiting to hear back from those that obtained the last numbers.

It is expected that those that produced the original data participate, and I'm working on that.  I think they'd be glad to see their stunning results replicated in statistically meaningful independent trials. Since they stand by the data so rabidly, it is expected that they participate.

At this point, here are the conditions (please submit suggestions in Comments)

  • The experimental design will contain corn from at least two locations.
  • Each location will contain the "GMO" and "non-GMO" lines (hybrids?) used to obtain the original numbers. 
  • Each measurement will come from three replicates of each genotype. 
  • Statistical methods will be determined up front and be adhered to.
  • At least two analytical facilities will be used. 
  • All samples will be coded in the field by independent personnel (County Agents, grower cooperators) and coding will not be revealed until final data are complete.
  • Exact analysis will be based on previous data reported, including %Brix, carbohydrates, amino acids, minerals, organic compounds (formaldeyde, glyphosate) and any other tests suggested.  I'm not sure how to test "anerobic biology", so I'm waiting for information from Dr. Mae-Wan Ho and Howard Vlieger to tell me how to do this or where we get it done.  Or what it is.

  • The data will be reported in a peer-reviewed journal consistent with impact of results. Publication will be pursued regardless of results obtained. 
  • All participants will be co-authors.  Offers have been extended to Dr. Ho.  I would also like to include Huber, Vlieger and Zen Honeycutt, as they stand by these data and should be included in their publication.
  • Results will be prominently featured, potentially after publication, on websites and blogs, regardless of outcome.  An announcement will be made to obtain agreement to report results on various websites. This will be a written agreement and publicly accessible.  It is expected that Moms Across America will stand by their rabid defense of the original data and agree to post these findings. 
A proposal will be circulated early this week and it will be adjustable based on public input and the scientific team that vetted/promoted the original data.   We want an airtight, valid, mutually-agreeable experimental design here so that we can have the biggest impact with the results! 

Here goes!  I'm so excited to see this get off the ground.  I'm grateful for Dr. Ho's agreement to participate and also for all of the experimental advice from Anastasia Bodnar and Karl Haro von Mogel. 

Saturday, May 18, 2013

Verifying "Stunning Corn Data"

As the fields begin to grow and acres of corn blanket the nation, it is a great time to re-think the numbers from the chart shown on Moms Across America.  To recap, a chart claiming to be a chemical analysis of GMO and conventional corn was shown, featuring dramatic differences in nutrient content and chemical contamination.

The data, without information of source or method, were widely criticized, including by Yours Truly. However, the person that did/commissioned the test, Howard Vlieger, stands by the data as authentic, along with a host of others, including Zen Honeycutt from "Moms".  UFO Blogger and the Paranormal Society have lent their scientific analysis and are convinced too.

However, in the YouTube video (@7:51) Vlieger says clearly that the data were not repeated, "Just those two samples".  He then goes on to defend the Seralini rat study, so the scientific rigor is not necessarily high here.
Let's re-test those results!  Who's on board! 

As the corn grows in 2013, we are presented with a great opportunity to verify these earthshaking results. I'm excited to have the opportunity to lead a rigorous study to replicate these data.  I've been contacted by Dr. Maewan Ho, and she has Vlieger on board and apparently Dr. Don Huber of anti-GMO fame.

With help of others, we are currently designing a double-blind, multiple location test.  The plan is:

1.  Devise a mutually-agreeable proposal, including tests at multiple sites.

2. The same seeds will be used as in the previous replicate (provided they can be shipped, as they are transgnenic)

3.  Two separate laboratories will be sent coded samples.

4  Data will be returned and then matched to location/genotype.

5.  All facets of the project will be shared here and on, and wherever others involved would like it posted.

***  All participants must agree on the experimental design, testing facility, procedure.  All must agree to be named authors on the publication.

Personally, I think the last results were crap, that's why I want the most airtight and solid experimental design to go forward.  If it is done right, and the same results are obtained, it will be a huge story in food and corn biology!  That would be really good, so the experiments need to be perfect.

This is the plan at the moment.  Stand by!!

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Himalayan Sea Salt! GMO Free! With Extra Plutonium!

Yesterday I wrote about a website I found HERE and could not believe my eyes.  It was a picture of Himalayan Sea Salt, VERIFIED GMO-Free!   I wrote a little something about this and its insanity. 

I decided to follow up on this curious stuff.  Himalayan Sea Salt.  GMO-Free. Going forward, when I mention "salt" we're talking table salt. Table salt is one simple molecule, a sodium and a chloride locked together in ionic bliss.  In our typical table salt they add a pinch of goiter-busting iodine and calcium silicate to prevent caking. Other than that, pretty simple stuff. 

I know I'm risking being called a shill for big salt, but here goes...

So I go online and the first thing that pops up is Mercola's website- he loves not good old sodium chloride, but Himalayan Salt, over 250,000,000 years old, so it claims. 

 Dr. Mercola must have slept through chemistry class. Click on this to read the words of a true anti-scholar.  Plus, people that refer to themselves as "Dr. _______" all the time drive me nuts.  

First, the "Purest Salt on Earth".  What a great claim.  The purest salt on earth is the reagent grade sodium chloride on my lab shelf.  Mercola claims that table salt has nothing in common with natural salt, and that "heat alters the natural chemical structure of (table) salt".  

Altering sodium chloride's natural chemical structure is pretty difficult to do.  Aside from dropping it in water and dissociating it into ions, the stuff together, dry and happy, is simply sodium chloride.   

Turns out that Himalayan Sea Salt (which if it actually comes from the Himalayas is about as far as you can get from the sea) is loaded with all kinds of fun elements.  Over at Salt News (no kidding) they did a spectral analysis of Himalayan Sea Salt.  No GMOs, but plenty of things that would get spark an activist frenzy if they were present in Monsanto corn.  The laundry list of evil elements present is long, and there are detectable levels of lead, arsenic, plutonium, radium, uranium,  and the list goes on and on.  They also refer to "tungsten" as "wolfram", which explains the "W".  The list is shown after the end of this posting.

The analysis says 97.5% good ol' sodium chloride, at least as I can back calculate from these numbers. Keep in mind Mercola's note above, "Today's common table salt has nothing in common with natural salt", which is exactly true, if you ignore the fact that they are both 97.5% sodium chloride. Plus, using "common" twice in his sentence is confusing. He needs a better proofreader, but they'd probably correct his loony science too. 

Now I know damn well that the vanishingly small amounts of these elements are probably present in many food items.  No argument there.  They are there at levels that are undeniably physiologically irrelevant. 

The point is, if such chemical analysis was done on corn you'd read about how GM corn contains lead, arsenic, plutonium and uranium. It would be posted on every anti-GM website and it would be the obvious link between GM and disease.  Correlations are the mainstay of anti-GM "evidence". 

The ironic part is that 1 in 10 deaths in the USA are blamed on salt, 2.3 million deaths a year worldwide. That's exactly 2.3 million more than GMOs, as transgenic plants have killed 0.0.  Salt consumption is linked clearly to high blood pressure and is a contributing factor in stroke and cardiovascular disease.

Ultimately, that ear of corn is not nearly the poison that the big pink rocks of Himalayan salt are. 

However, they do taste delicious together when used in prescribed amounts.

Here are the data from Salt News.  No other source is provided, so take them with a grain of salt. 

Sunday, May 5, 2013

An "Experiment"? Really?

Last week the interwebs reverberated in shock over news that a student had been expelled from school for conducting a science experiment. I was shocked too, certainly I've been extremely active in science fairs, elementary school science education and fostering the adoption of STEM disciplines by minorities and young women.  This is an outrage!

Until you read the details.  I don't know why the world has rushed to her defense.  To me, this is entirely different than a science experiment gone bad, as it is described in the press.

A science experiment gone bad?  Are you serious?  This is an insult to every child in a science fair that does a hypothesis-based, replicated, rigorous science experiment. 

I contend that she was curious and put a caustic chemical into a container with a catalyst and it exploded.  That's not an experiment.  

Of course, her parents have lawyered-up, the public is in a state of outrage and many are screaming for justice.  I just have a few questions for all of them about Kiera's experiment:

  • What was the hypothesis tested? 
  • How did she plan to quantify response?
  • What statistical methods did she plan to use to determine significance? 
  • How many replicates were planned? 
  • Was she planning on presenting these in science fair? 

The answer to all of these questions is, there is no answer! 

Bottom line:  There are three major fails here

  • Kiera was caught doing something wrong, she falls back on the "experiment" defense
  •  The public gives her a free pass and accepts/defends the "experiment" excuse
  • A zero-tolerance Patriot Act policy calls for her expulsion and for this to be considered a felony. 

What should have happened?  She should have admitted to making the device, apologized, discussed why it was wrong and then been suspended for a day.  The school/state should have dropped any criminal charges, as this was clearly not the intent. 

When I was in high school we did lots of experiments. I did the nitrous oxide inhaling experiment and that landed me a suspension. My parents didn't lawyer up and the suspension didn't cause public outrage. Instead, I was grounded, had to talk to counselors, etc. 

In Keira's story, details are slim, but based on the information provided it is clear that this was not an experiment.  Maybe that will change, but for now, it was a sharp kid that made a bad decision that broke the rules, and got caught.  Now is being told that she's an innocent victim, she did nothing wrong, and her behavior was acceptable. 

Friday May 10 should be declared Keira Wilmot Science Solidarity DayI suggest that all kids, in nationwide support of Keira, perform the same science 'experiment' at their schools.    I'll buy the Drain-O!  Let's see how consistent public outrage is when 30 kids show up to each school with a bottle full of caustic drain cleaner that will explode. 

A discussion with Keira's lawyer pretty much eludes to the fact that her parents will sue the school district and probably the State of Florida.  The attorney says, "It will work out very well for Keira".   

Here a lawyer and some parents will turn their kid's bad decision into a lottery ticket.  Maybe she didn't mean to make a bomb, but she should have admitted to doing something wrong, shown some contrition, and agreed not to do this again. 

Instead she'll show that by playing the victim and whining for public approval can pay for college.  That was the real experiment, and the data suggest that it just might work. 

Glyphosate and School Lunches