Wednesday, November 20, 2013

The Sincerest Form of Flattery

When they are trying to tear you down in cartoons, while distorting the scientific message and lauding the deception of a phony, you know you are doing something right.

When Huber publishes his groundbreaking story on the new pathogen I'll happily apologize for my skepticism, but I don't think I'll receive the same courtesy. 

It is also interesting that the kind hearts of they anti-GM movement now have me planned for a dart board and claim I'm all for hurting children.  Plus, the sophisticated use the word, "retard"

The scientifically illiterate hate Folta, but they loves them some Shiva! One of them is lying to you.

Once again a reminder that if you can't legitimately question the science, attack the scientist.  My request to Dr. Huber was simple and from a kind place of assistance.  It is unfortunate that the anti-GM movement found it offensive that I'd point out that the emperor literally wears no lab coat. 

Monday, November 18, 2013

Huber's Takedown- A Group Effort!

Over the last few days the emails have been coming in.  Notes of thanks and congratulations have arrived from all over the state, the nation and the world for publicly exposing Don Huber and his magic organism as fiction.  To recap, I saw him speak live, asked him to share the organism so we could sequence it, and then watched him pirouette through painfully awkward nonsense.  When I get some time I'll post the live audio here.

I'm quite uncomfortable here.  Not for throwing someone under the bus for spreading misinformation, rather, that this was just the most recent salvo in an ongoing call-out of Dr. Huber and his mystery pathogen.  The story really starts long ago with efforts over on Biofortified.

The criticism against Huber has been rich at  My recent foray is simply an extension of previous efforts. 

Anastasia Bodnar blogged about this almost three years ago.  Karl Haro Von Mogel spoke with Huber for two hours by phone, two years ago.  When encouraged to release the pathogen for wider science study, Huber claimed that the manuscript was in the works and would be published soon.

When I learned that Huber was coming here to Gainesville, FL to spread his nonsense I wanted a good plan.  If I came out salty and swinging I'd alienate the audience, and audience already skeptical of biotech and certainly accepting of Huber's trash science.

I contacted Anastasia and Karl about what questions I should ask.  Certainly I had ideas, but wanted to get their expert opinions.  Karl reminded me of asking Huber to release the organism.

That's where I thought to extend an offer to sequence it. Rather than getting something from him, I'd collaborate with him, and instantly solve this important "crisis".  It then went on to the petition to ask Huber to release the organism on

The fact is, there is no secret mystery pathogen.  Huber's out on the circuit fooling any room full of concerned citizens he can find.

That's sad, sick and wrong.  It is not the way we do science, not the way we represent science, and we never should twist science to suit some political end.

Without Anastasia, Karl, and Biofortified the stage would have not been set for that crushing takedown of pseudoscience. I just was in the right place at the right time to tip it in.

This illumination of Huber's sham is only in the first phase.  Watch for the next shoe to drop this week...

Wednesday, November 13, 2013

A Generous Offer to Dr. Huber -Turned Down

This is the beginning of the end of this particular sad tale of fear mongering and misinformation.

Anti-GMO darling Dr. Don M Huber is on a tour of the Sunshine State, giving two talks in Tallahassee and one in Gainesville.  In Tallahassee he got a rock-star's welcome with coverage on the news describing how dangerous GMO food is, and a meeting with politicians.  On my calendar November 12 had a big red circle on it for some time. Huber was in town tonight to tell his story of poison food and deadly new organisms.  I went with one of my favorite organic & sustainable extension/research faculty and had a GREAT time.

I never saw Huber's whole shtick.  It starts out about the failures of biotech and the crisis and danger from glyphosate.  A lot more on the details of his talk later.  Seriously, it was a science abortion.

A significant portion of the presentation addressed his mystery organism.  He allegedly has identified this novel not-quite-a-virus, not-quite-a-fungus plant-animal kingdom-hopping pathogen in 2005, according to his slide.  He attributes this organism to widespread plant harm, problems (like abortion) in cattle and a slide of disorders in humans.  The audience was amazed, a new infectious agent, probably made in the Monsanto dungeon.

The kicky title "Failed Promises; Flawed Science; Interactions of Glyphosate and GMOs on Soil, Plant, Animal & Human Health" a presentation by Dr. Don Huber at the Civic Media Center in Gainesville!

At the end of the talk I was identified in the room by Marty from Florida Organic Growers as someone in favor of biotech and we had a good smile and a certainly civil introduction.  Marty and others don't realize that I support all kinds of low-input ag and defend organic all the time. Still, all very nice.

He asked me if I had any questions for Dr. Huber.  "I have a lot of questions," I said, "But I want to start out with a kind offer."


Here's what happened.

"I offer to sequence the genome of the pathogen and identify what it is," I said.  "If Dr. Huber could kindly give me a small amount of the culture we could identify this new life form before Christmas."

I'm not bluffing here. We could do that.  I could pay to have the libraries made and get several lanes of Illumina sequencing done in a few weeks. We'd get several hundred million 'reads' (small bits of data) that could be computationally assembled into a whole genome of his novel organism, if it actually existed.  If it was real, we could have 300-fold coverage of its sequence.  Completely do-able, and I'd pay for it.

"So can you send me cultures?" I asked.

What do you think his answer was?  After a ten minute talk about the organism and how it is killing cattle and causing problems he said he would not send it.

I said, "Don, you say this is a crisis, that a new pathogen is causing disease in humans and plants, and you won't release it to the broader scientific community for eight years?"

It's tough to read this blurry slide, but my hands were shaking so hard from the blatant abuse of science and deliberate confusing correlation with causation, this is the best I have. I was livid.  he also blamed GMO and glyphosate as the causal agents of Morgellan's, as "agrobacterium has been identified in the muscles of the affected"  Ugh. 

He assured me that he had an international team working on it.  When pressed for collaborator names he said he could not reveal them because they would be threatened.

I said, "But I can solve this mystery in a month. People are dying, kids are suffering... Let's solve this mystery."

He went on to say that if he relinquished the new pathogen that I'd be threatened and others would be too.  I told him to meet me in a parking lot and hand me an unmarked tube, that I'd take the heat, that I am not afraid.  If I was threatened, we'd blow the roof off of the conspiracy.

He shifted gears.

"You can culture it yourself very easily," he said.

At this point people in the Huber-friendly audience were getting annoyed with his evasive nature. "Why can't you just give it to him?" one person asked.

I asked him to send me the culture protocols and instructions on how to isolate it.  He then said that I could probably not isolate it, that it is probably a prion.

THIS WENT ON AND ON FOR 15 MIN.  He's not sharing his finding with the broader scientific community. Period. 

I was frustrated and all he did was deflect and misdirect. I offered again and again to sequence the organism.  He went back and forth about whether it was even an organism, he said at one point that "it has no DNA", said at another point that I could never culture it.  It was 100% obfuscation.

Clearly the audience was seeing through his garbage at this point.  I wish there were 1000 people there to see his slimy gymnastics. One farmer in attendance afterwards said, "If someone is at that put up or shut up point and they keep making excuses of why they can't put up, you know something isn't right."

To add insult to injury I talked to Huber afterwards and asked him about the replication of the "Stunning Corn Comparison" that he finked out on with Vlieger and Ho, after I pressed them for an independent replicate.

"Go do it yourself!" he said as his handler walked him out the door.

The best part is that a room of interested and passionate people got to contrast how garbage science and real science behave in real time.  I offer to do the work, my efforts are blocked with threats of threats, alleged technical impasses, and restricted distribution of the materials-- materials he says cause disease and death.


In the early 1980's a new disease called GRID was infecting many people, primarily IV drug users and men in the gay community.  Scientists sprung to action to identify the source of this horrible pathogen. A few years later after hundreds of international efforts set out to identify the causal agent, the Human Immunodeficiency Virus was identified and published in Science by two independent groups. 1983.  A couple of years, 30 years ago when we didn't have nearly the tools we have today.

Within a few years we knew HIV's epidemiology, the structure of the virus, the way it spread and evaded the immune system.

This is how science works.

Huber has a pathogen he says causes massive human disease and plant death.  He will not release it to the wider scientific community for further tests, even after eight years of no publications or any signs of progress.

But he'll jet set around the nation scaring people into believing his story. This should speak volumes.  It did tonight, and in a room not usually warm to biotechnology.

What I saw him do tonight was scare people for two hours with frightening slides, no controls, speculation, outright bogus claims, flawed logic and straight-up fear.  Concerned heads around me nodded in acceptance, taking his authority as a credible source of information. I was so mad watching him misrepresent science and flat out spread misinformation to an interested audience.

It stops here. I want to shine light on his false claims and starting with his pathogen is step one.  I'm really angry about the distortion of science and the use of science to build fear.  Here comes the science hammer.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Your Shill- Right Here.

It's late at the end of a four-day weekend here in Florida and I need a little pity-party.  If accusations could be believed I would be heading home from my Monsanto-funded weekend in Fiji, a little payback for my defense of biotechnology.  Hardly. It is a holiday and I just want to go home from my stupid desk.

Frankly, I've had the crap kicked out of me by the anti-GM movement.  I have no ambition to fight anti-science at the moment.  I had the same garbage-gasm after Prop37 died.  What a waste of time and energy.

It's 9 pm on Veteran's Day.  I could eat a baby's butt through a park bench.  UF has not been "open" since Thursday at 5 pm because of homecoming, yet over the last four days I went downstate and met with citrus packers, fixed an autoclave and a centrifuge (all parts paid out of pocket), and spent time with the scientists and students that came to lab all weekend.

Personally, 12 hours ago I left home when the wife went out on a bike ride with our local club.  I would have loved to have gone along, but I came to my office, finished the autoclave fix, and wrote a small proposal for a few bucks for a pilot project to engineer a solution desperately needed by the citrus industry.  I revised a patent submission, reviewed a manuscript for Nature Genetics, ate a bagel, worked with a student, worked on an overdue book chapter, and now I'm revising a really great manuscript for resubmission that has been rejected from four other journals.

Then I read online that I'm just a paid agent for Monsanto, that they fund my lab's research, fund my department, and that I have to get my research approved by them before it is published. What an asshole.

That's me, in my office, 9:30 pm on day four of a four-day weekend, which means I work all the time and just don't have to take a shower or shave. The glamorous life of a Big Ag Shill...

I've missed the gym, running, biking, karate.  Great karate tournament in Perry FL I didn't do and I was going to go with friends to run the Savanna Marathon.  Stayed here in the office instead.  Yes, that's the cushy life of a Big Ag Shill.  Tons of work, missing out on smelling life's roses, just teach and do research. Again, not complaining, but pointing out this rigorous career I'm grateful to have.

But it does make me wonder, why do I waste my limited time with those that argue against science? I like to reach out to the concerned and offer the answers from science.  Instead of a hug they figuratively kick me in the science privates or flip me off.  Still, after all of the professional writing, reviewing, developing, blah blah blah I have to do... why do I have compassion for them?

(and I'm not just talking anti-GMO, we have a strong anti-evolution push in my state too)

I guess when science is so important there's an enhanced desire to share it.  I feel sad for those that don't get it, and are manipulated by others that exploit their scant understanding. I just want a chance to sit down and talk about reality, science, the stuff we do!  I guess that's why I stay plugged in.

Tuesday's almost here.  Gotta get home and get some rest.  Gotta get up and make the science.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Anti-GMO Activism in China- Exploiting Resident Fear

The anti-GMO movement is corrupt in that it does not change minds with hard evidence, it changes them with fear.  It uses the most powerfully motivating emotion to drive an intellectually bankrupt agenda.

In the West, what are our biggest fears? We don't worry about where our next meal is coming from, the well being of our farming industries, or if everyone has enough to eat.  We worry about our personal health, about obesity, degenerative disease, or cancer.  We worry about increasing prevalence of disorders like autism, allergies, asthma, Alzheimer's disease. These are the fears in the industrialized world. 

Knowing this, opponents of biotechnology will play off of those fears.  Look at their rhetoric. 

Transgenic technologies cause every problem known to man.  As you can see, we never had any of these problems before the use of GM foods. Stay hot Jeff!   from Genetic Roulette

China is home to 1.2 billion people and growing. They grow plenty of GM cotton, and cite lower pesticide application rates and other benefits. They also are generating a pipeline of transgenic technology, and the government is comfortable with ramping up these efforts to feed a growing population. 

Anti-GM activists cannot advance their agenda if governments worldwide adopt, expand and benefit from the technology.  They need to block progress. The companies of Big Activism, like Greenpeace, have active tentacles in these countries to organize against the technology.  Just like in the USA.

A protester stands with a bowl of Monsanto's famous GMO rice.
Oh, they don't have that yet.  But it is good to frighten people! 

But unlike the USA they cater to a different set of fears.  In China people are not nearly as obsessed with health problems. The mindset is a bit different.  They don't have widespread obesity, allergies, etc. The principle causes of death are stroke, coronary heart disease, lung disease, lung cancer, traffic accidents and liver, esophogeal and stomach cancers.

What is their biggest fear, especially in the younger generations?  Reproduction. 

With rules and incentives to decrease family size most young Chinese couples are parenting only one child.  Having a child is a massive priority, so this "you've got one shot" approach is quite troubling to many. Right now the biggest bubble in the Chinese population structure is 25-35 years old, in the child-bearing window.

Infertility is on the rise and has been for the last four decades.  Currently 12.5% of couples are unable to conceive. It is so important that women unable to conceive are looked upon with disdain and pity. Inability to carry a child has been the basis of divorce, and unregulated IVF clinics are popping up everywhere.  The reasons for soaring infertility are unknown, but are are hypothesized to be based on pollution, environmental toxins, later parental age and stress. 

But if you ask a 20-something on an urban street they will tell you the main problem is GMO food. In 2000 this was not a concern, and GM foods were looked at favorably.  Currently in China corn and soy are the only transgenic imports and they are strictly regulated and used only for animal feed and oil processing, so people are not directly consuming the products at this point. China is developing its own GMO rice and corn.

Still, in Chinese anti-GM social media it is widely reported that people in the USA do not eat transgenic soy and that the imports into China are a kind of "soft bomb", a plot to limit reproduction and kill people with cancer. 

Xiaoyu Wang, a leader of the Heilongjiang Soybean Association, made the claim that imported GM soybeans from Argentina and Brazil cause sterility and cancer. Of course, without evidence. His organization grows non-GM soybeans.  Sound familiar?

Scientists in China clearly unite around the potential utility of the technology and the government is trying to promote more development of transgenic solutions to environmental and health problems. Monsanto and other western biotechs see China as a huge growth opportunity, so the Chinese government obviously would like to use home-spun technology. We'll see how that goes. 

As time goes on watch how activist groups conceive new means to fertilize fear around human reproduction in China.  More importantly, note how this approach shows how science can be distorted to optimally play off of they fears of a population to maximize benefit to an activist agenda.