Wednesday, March 19, 2014

A Proper Goodbye for Fred Phelps

There's a special place in hell for Fred Phelps, and a few extra slots for the loons that surround him.  At least that's what I always said.  For some reason I've always read about the exploits of Westboro Baptist Church (, provoking my own visceral reactions about such misplaced emotion and energy that could be used for more churchy activities.

The congregation is best known for its extreme views on homosexuality, other religions, and the picketing of major tragedies.  Whether it was the death of a soldier or a tornado through Joplin, Missouri, Phelps and clan showed up to note how the deaths were the acts of God and a message to those on earth.  They financed their events through funds gathered from lawsuits, and are quick to note when their civil rights were violated, successfully suing municipalities.  

When someone is as bad as Phelps, should we celebrate his demise, or is it time to show love and tolerance-- qualities they don't know? 

Last week I smiled when I heard that Phelps was critically ill. I even tweeted something snarky about it. As I stewed, I realized that I was falling into the same trap-- celebrating someone's ultimate demise because I denounced his fundamental beliefs.  In so many ways good riddance felt appropriate.  But it was too easy. 

As I painted my black block letters on fluorescent pink, yellow and green God Hates Fred sign, I started to think about this differently. The expected response to his death is one of hate and anger, capitalizing my own feelings on his family's loss.  Am I responding in a primitive and unrefined way by being happy about his death?  Was I being just like Fred Phelps himself? 

Sure, it felt damn good.  The guy is/was/will always be scum. He's caused a lot of heartache and hysteria, ruined thousands of lives and hurt many others.

But isn't this exactly why we need to say nothing?  Isn't this why the most eloquent response will be one so deep and meaningful that Fred's flock cannot comprehend it? 

They are expecting a massive, hateful and inflammatory picket of his funeral, one even Fred would be proud of.   That's exactly why we shouldn't give it to them. 

What if we instead said nothing?  What if we let this guy pass into the ether and not even notice?  What if we show he means nothing to us, that his thoughts didn't affect us? 

Even more, what if we showed empathy, compassion, tolerance and kindness at his family's worst hour?   Can we be everything they are not?  Should we show the love and forgiveness that a church leader did not possess? 

We can show them what it is like to be decent humans, and remind each other of how love and kindness always win over hate? 

Saturday, March 8, 2014

At the Master Gardener Spring Festival

For those of you that attended, thanks.  Please see the links below for some more information on points discussed!

It was a beautiful Saturday to drive to Ocala and see the Marion County Master Gardener's garden show.  It was even sweeter because I was on the schedule to talk about GMO Technology:  Coming to a Garden Near You, a provocative title for sure.


The Spring Festival was great, the audience was fun. Thanks for coming out. 

You may have already read some of the grief the organizers received for having me come give a science talk. Chatter on their Facebook page concerned the organizers that there would be trouble brewing, such as violent protests and angry throngs.  They emailed me and let me know that there would be police present and they'd be checking the room.

Of course, I sent a note back that it was completely unnecessary, that there's no problem and that such things didn't concern me.  They don't.  It does give you a sense of what happens when we even dare to discuss science.  What would Galileo do?

The audience was small and everyone was attentive and interested.  There were a few people that clearly disagreed with the technology and we shared a reasonable dialog.  The major points were right from the GMO Bingo card, with some new ones, including allegations of nefarious use of aluminum tolerance genes so that plants could survive spraying with chemtrails.

The saddest part is that some members of the audience knew every cent that Monsanto and the tree company ArborGen contributed to researchers or programs at the University of Florida.  Of course, none of this gets to me or just about any specific researchers. They go to a scientist to answer a question. We're experts in what we do. Companies want to pay for that expertise.

Overall, it was a good time.  One woman there told me that the last time I spoke there it changed her mind 100%.  That makes it worth it.

Information and links from the talk:

1.  It was suggested that Japan does not accept Hawaiian papayas.  I indicated that the policy had changed that the point was disputed by an audience member. 

-- After a quick check, it turns out that Japan does accept Hawaiian GM papayas as of December 1, 2011.  Link

2.  The Indian suicide issue.  Here are some resources regarding that allegation.

-- Here are great posts on the myth  click here  and here!
-- Here is a link to an entry-level dissection of the issue by Dr. Ronald Herring of Cornell, the political science expert that has studied the dynamics of cotton farming and its impacts. 
-- And GM cotton makes farming profitable. A link from PNAS, one of our most prestigious journals, points to "large and sustainable benefits, which contribute to positive economic and social development in India."

3.  A vague point was made about GM bacteria leading to the "deaths of 37 Americans" and many others made ill... that was all I had to go with, but assumed it was the trypophan issue.  Years ago a Japanese supplement company made tryptophan as a dietary supplement and didn't purify it correctly, many people developed a disease known as EMS.  Anti-GM folks point to this as a fault of GM, when it was a fault of manufacturing.  A full discussion is here. 

4.  As always, I'm accused of having no professional integrity and judgement because of the claim that scientists are all bought and paid for stooges for Monsanto.  The claim came up again today, and I can direct you to my feelings on the subject here and here. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

The "Support Seralini" Challenge!

The 2012 work by Seralini et al has long been retracted, and months later friends and admirers of Prof Seralini still are screaming foul and injustice.  Now the anti-GMO, pro-Seralini interests are screaming "Censorship!", claiming that their hero has been the victim of a company's influence over a scholarly journal.
However, there's only one person controlling censorship at this point-- Prof. Seralini himself!
Here's the easy fix-- if the work is as good as he says it is-- then he should simply publish it elsewhere.  Today. Well, months ago.  It was retracted by one journal. It is now unpublished. If that journal and its editorial board had some ax to grind as his supporters contend, then Prof Seralini can push the work down the road to the next willing publisher! Easier than growing lumps on a Sprague-Dawley rat.
Since retraction, Prof Seralini must be carefully considering which top-shelf journal he'll consider as a Plan B.  Groundbreaking findings will find publication in science's best journals. 

After all, if GMOs or Roundup were causing massive tumors and killing people, and they are used in 70% of the food supply, it would be a HUGE story- we're talking Nobel Prize here.  Certainly one would look pretty sharp on Prof Seralini's mantle. Here he claims that both cause these problems.  That's two Nobel Prizes, if shown conclusively, and that's one for either side of the mantle!
If the data in Seralini et al. 2012 really definitively showed that outcome, then any journal, even the most elite journals, would be crawling over each other to publish the work. My guess is that the delay in publication is that he's combing through the offers and looking up impact factors.
The other night there was a Twitter party to show support for Prof Seralini.  You can find it with hashtag #SupportSeralini.  But rather than licking wounds and screaming foul, why don't his emboldened minions just encourage Prof. Seralini to resubmit the work to a better journal?  They could even check editorial boards to find editors that never worked for Monsanto, if there is such a thing.  Seriously, if the methods and data are that good...
So if you really support Seralini, I hope that you'll become vocal and persistent in the resubmission of the work to one of science's premier journals.  If censorship is real over at Environmental and Chemical Toxicology, then another journal will undoubtedly be thrilled to publish and promote such groundbreaking work.
It is conceivable that the data may find publication in a smaller low-impact title, like Carman's article in the Journal of Organic Systems, an apparently online only journal with no impact factor and limited editorial rigor.  The credulous anti-GMs don't understand science, let alone what the quality of the venue means. 
I do think I know the answer already.  The work can't possibly be resubmitted because Monsanto already owns all of the journals and paid off all of the editors.  And reviewers. Everywhere.  In all countries.  Forever. You get the picture.
Of course, none of this would prevent him from releasing all the data publicly. The only person censoring Seralini is Seralini himself.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Roundup In Air and Rain? What the Report Really Says

This week websites across the whackosphere exploded with the the news.

Wow, that seems pretty remarkable.  I wanted to get a copy of the actual research paper right away! 

I wanted to learn more, but I could not access the paper at Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry.  So how did all of these websites and their scholarly journalists get the manuscript?

I contacted one of the paper's authors, Dr. Paul Capel, and asked for a copy and he kindly sent one.  Apparently I was the first.  Seems like those coming to the conclusions of the websites above were acting true to form-- skimming an abstract and drawing a conclusion that best fits their desires.

So I actually read the paper!   Want to know what it says?  

In short-- the conclusions from the websites above are cherry-picked nonsense.  

First, the paper's authors do this work because ag chemicals volatilize.  I never realized to what extent, but wind, rain and other factors stir up otherwise latent chemicals and it is important to understand what is present.  The authors did such a survey.   They performed a survey in 1995 and 2007, at two separate sites in northwestern Mississippi that support 80% of the state's agricultural harvest, mostly supporting corn and cotton.

The authors note that the region had similar area farmed between the two dates, but the management was quite different, the biggest differences being the introduction of GM crops and the discontinued use of several insecticides. They sampled air and rain in this agricultural region over a growing season to understand environmental flux of ag chemicals. The areas had similar rain patterns.  Samples were analyzed by GC/MS, so we're talking sensitive detection.

Conclusions?   CONCLUSION 1- GC/MS is SENSITIVE! 

The authors are obviously quite skilled at analytical chemistry, as they reliably detect glyphosate, atrazine, and a dozen other chemicals in air samples in 2007.  Glyphosate is detected in 75% of samples, atrazine about the same.  The authors even found Molinate, a compound that had not been used in four years-- this is sensitive technology!   

THIS is what the articles above discovered, that chemicals were detected in these samples. Detected?  That means it is there, but it does not say how much is there. More on this later.

CONCLUSIONS 2.  Herbicides.

Figure 4 shows the difference in herbicides between 1995 and 2007. Peak applications are in May, as expected.  What you see is that glyphosate becomes the main herbicide detected.  What the activist literature does not bother to tell you is that the increase in glyphosate substitutes for "other herbicides". Atrazine levels decreased 36%. Trifluralin was present in almost every sample but its levels were 20 times lower than 1995. Essentially, glyphosate removed the need for other herbicides with higher environmental impact, a fact well documented (e.g. Duke et al., 2012).

CONCENTRATIONS. Oh, and don't forget to look at the y-axis units.  We're dealing with nanograms per cubic meter.  Considering these compounds are biologically relevant at the conservative level of milligrams per kilogram, we're talking about levels millions to billions of times below any biological relevance.

What the data really show is that tiny amounts of ag chemicals can be detected (ng /m3), and that between 1995 and 2007 glyphosate substituted for herbicides with more potential impact. 

CONCLUSION 3 -- Insecticides.

Here's another set of data that the scummy green media seemed to forget to report, but more likely they didn't read it because it was not in the abstract.  The trend from 1995 to 2007 shows a decrease in insecticide use.  In 1995 methyl parathion was heavily used in Mississippi on cotton (160,000 kg!). By 2007 its levels dropped twenty fold.  In 1995 there was high reliance on Chlorphyifos and malathion, and by 2007 the levels were down substantially, the authors citing "no local use". All "other insecticide" levels were lower as well.

Why?  Why the decrease between 1995 and 2007?

The introduction of transgenic (GMO) Bt cotton and Bt corn, the two principle crops of the region.  Of course, the crazy green media forgot to take the blinders off to see that.

Insecticides detected in 2007 compared to 1995.  You clearly see what may be attributable to the effect of Bt corn and cotton, that the GMO products work as claimed to decrease insecticide requirement.  The authors do not explain the 4 Sept peak in methyl parathion. 

Basically, the paper says that when you get into an ag area you can find ag chemicals, if you have sophisticated equipment and plenty of know-how.  The authors discuss that they sample two different sites with different crops growing, so that could affect data and account for some of the weirdness and spikes observed..  It does not change the take-home message that agricultural chemicals volatilize and persist in the environment, so it is best to minimize their use, use chemicals with less environmental impact, and choose seeds that require less chemical.

That is exactly what GM crops do, and exactly what the data show. 

Some additional points to note:

1.  The use of "Monsanto's Roundup" in the titles.  Glyphosate was detected.  While AMPA was also detected and is a breakdown product of glyphosate, the test did not find "Roundup" and the authors do not say "Roundup" once.

2.  The headlines above come from places where nobody actually read the paper.

3.  The same information outlets neglected to mention that glyphosate increases offset the use of other herbicides with more impact, that insecticide use was down, and that the levels were nanograms per cubic meter.

These are all important to note because is reveals how misinformed, ignorant and willing to deceive the anti-GMO media really is.  They are not out for science or truth, it is about an agenda.


Glyphosate and School Lunches