Saturday, December 20, 2014

Sony, KJU, and a Coward's Way Out

Next week another movie I don't want to see was going to premier.  The Interview was a comedy about journalists interviewing Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea... and then they were given the job to assassinate him.  The huge advertising campaign suggests that the film's script and humor are rather simple and targeted to eighteen year old dudes.

As we all know by now, alleged North Korean hackers cyber-attacked Sony and made terrorist threats to anyone showing or seeing the movie.  

Theaters pulled the film, Sony ceased promotion.  Way to go, morons.  You just bent to threats and further empowered anyone not appreciating artful criticism.

Art pokes fun at international leaders. Remember the scenes from good movies like Naked Gun?  Ayatollahs, Sadam Hussein, Ronald Reagan, Mikhail Gorbachev, Fidel Castro-- all sitting around a table arguing, portrayed in a less-than-lovey way. 

Yep, and here's how Sony and Kim Jong Un played these cards wrong

Where Sony Went Bad

Sony, or any company, never should capitulate to a terrorist threat.  They should have made a strong statement about the value of art, the value of motion pictures as political speech, and what we can learn from communicating through satire.  They should have said, "In response to North Korea's threats we will show the film for free, everyone may download it, use it as you wish-- we support freedom of expression and political dissent." 

Where Kim Jong Un Goofed

KJU shows poor discretion in earning some easy political capital.  The first bad move was hitching his trailer to Dennis Rodman.  There's an ambassador of all things delinquent.  KJU could have made this into political gold.  Instead of inspiring a hacker attack, what if he asked to attend a screening in downtown Hollywood, attending with Seth Rogen and James Franco, the film's two main stars?  He could have had a good time, bought the big tub of popcorn and Snowcaps, joked about how it costs a year's pay in North Korea, and had some fun at his own expense. A softer KJU would be tougher to criticize and criticism would be less effective.  


Here a major corporation and a world leader could have made different decisions to change the political tenor of this dust-up, caused by a lame movie that would be forgotten by Ground Hog Day. Instead we have escalated poor relations to uber crappy and KJU found a new cellar in his public perception. Two lessons.  1. Don't be a dick.  2. Never give in to terrorism

If it was a movie that made fun of President Obama or George W. Bush Sony would have never pulled it.  If it was an American Flag on the ground at the Metropolitan Museum of Art or a picture of Jesus painted with a dog dookie they would have defended the artist and the need for free expression.

Here they fold like a house of cards.  I say it all the time, never make a decision based on fear

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Never Met a "Merv" I Didn't Like

The folks over at Safe Affordable Food retweeted one of my recent articles on the cost of activism.

A guy named Merv was not very happy about that, nor very congenial. 

I was nice. 

Friday, December 12, 2014

The Value of Vani

Can she be an ally?

I’ve been extremely critical of Vani Hari, aka “The Food Babe”.   She freely demonstrates, without humility, her complete disregard for science and evidence when vilifying food, chemistry and farming. She has amassed a substantial group of venomous followers that subscribe to her leadership. 

As we attempt to illuminate products, technology and method to feed a growing population, Hari’s shameful resistance to reality needs to be met.  We've done that, and I'm proud of the push back from Steven Novella, Kavin Senapathy, John Coupland, David Gorski, The Chow Babe and the Food Hunk.  Well done. 

But when scientists take the time to show her errors, she lashes back with a string of lies and allegations that are truly curious.  She’s stated in her recent writings that I’m just a pawn doing the bidding of corporate ag, which of course, is supported by zero evidence.

It turns into two groups.  One that manufactures the trash, and another that points a finger at manufactured trash.  Do we ever change anything? 

What if the charismatic Hari could be convinced to teach the science of food and farming?
Could she be a powerful ally? 

Conflict and debate are time consuming and they don’t change true believers. Can we shift Vani Hari herself?  Instead of working against her, can we look at what she does well, and maybe help her come to science?

Let’s say some good things about her.  She’s clearly gifted at communicating a message that resonates.  She has a huge following that hangs on her every word.  She does a good presentation live, and can connect with an audience. 

What if Hari were to take a long look in the mirror and decide that while scaring people into boycotts and book buying pays the bills, the legacy associated with it is embarrassing.  Time will frown on Hari, and it already is happening.  While adored by internet fans, scientists, physicians, the food industry, farmers and science fans see her clearly as the empty information vessel she truly is. 

I’d welcome her change.  I’d be glad to help her with that change. Can we as a scientific community reach out to Vani and welcome her into our fold?  She’s got a lot of learning to do, but we’re good teachers.

Recently I’ve given a number of talks and interviews where I’ve been described as the “guy that stood up to the Food Babe”.  While standing up for science is important, I’d rather be described as the guy that changed her mind because I took the time to teach the facts.   

We know that we’re not going to change hearts and minds pounding people with the science fist.  We need to share our ideas, revise her way of thinking, and educate her about science. 

She’s wrong, but I don’t think she’s stupid.  She bought into her own mistakes and was picked up by the momentum.  Can we #reachouttovani and build trust, teach science, and motivate her to work with us to shape the future of food?

Monday, December 8, 2014

Vani Hari (Food Babe) and Silencing Critics

When you can't discuss things scientifically, just do your best to make sure critics can't be heard. 

This is the level of Hari's continued assault on science and reason in the food theater. After a rather pointy article in NPR's The Salt blog, she now throws herself on the sword, a victim of Big Food and Evil Scientists. Like me!

On her website about the "attacks" she refers to me loosely...

  • The bottom line is that the time ended and there was no public Q&A.  There was no way that the 300 students she just misinformed could question her claims.  I have posted a letter from the organizers that invited her, stating that she did not answer questions except for a small group that convened to meet her by the stage.  That's true.  However, students left without the opportunity to challenge her claims.  That is not a question.

  • Of course, she ties me in with Monsanto.  Blatantly false.  But since when does she need evidence before making a claim?

  • Students had to get to the next classes?   At 8:30 pm?

  • And yes, the "whisked away in a limo" comment was originally stated, based on what someone told me about her as we were walking back from the event.  I learned that it was not true, and that comment was removed immediately.

So I decided to comment on her blog.  Of course, I knew it would be taken down,  Comments that don't stroke her warmly are eliminated by her crack team of censors. I did put up a rather soft and forward-thinking defense of my position.

Luckily someone took screenshots of this, because it was deleted within an hour. She can tell the world about my non-existent relationship with Monsanto, but then blocks and deletes critics that hold her accountable for actual facts. 

That is a very soft note on her site... but it has been removed. 

No matter what anyone says about Hari, it is absolutely clear that she has no room for honest discussion, reasonable criticism or scholarly defense of her positions.   Her position is to control the flow.  Keep it one sided.  Eliminate corrections or criticisms. Discredit those that attempt to adjust her.

She did address the allegations of censorship:

You can see from my comment above just how vulgar I was.  Her continued censorship is about protecting the Food Babe brand for future efforts in Food Terrorism and continued profits.

This is not about education or teaching people to be better eaters. It is about her being a victim and scientists being bullies and corporate hoodlums. Time will show that she's an empty vessel that could learn from those of us that study these topics, but she instead chooses to be a fear monger.  

Just like The Salt article claims.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Status of the Strategic Shampoo Reserve

I hate waste. I like clean hair.

I also travel.  A lot.

I started to think about the little bottle of shampoo that I'd get in a hotel.  I'd use a little goob of it, but then would think about where the rest of the bottle would go next. Certainly they don't have people spending time on refilling them....

My guess was that they went in the garbage, an assumption confirmed by discussions with housekeeping.  So I decided that I was going to cut my soap-suds footprint by taking the little bottles home and using them there.

Now a new first-world problem.... I accrue close to one-hundred little bottles.

So I decided to marry them into a common container, a strategic shampoo reserve.  Here the many fragrances and colors combine into a delightful mixture that feels weird, smells awful, and doesn't work well.

An addition of Citron Essence hotel shampoo to the strategic shampoo reserve.

I'm glad to report that as of 12/7/2014 the reserve stands at about 120 ml, and with a spring of dense travel will probably reach close to 500 ml soon.

I'm also thinking that conditioner, mouthwash and hand moisturizer might have occasionally found their way into the mix too. 

So if you are on a plane or in an elevator and smell citrus, hemp, basil, passion fruit, almond oil, green tea, avocado extract, saddlewood, musk and saskatoon berry mixed together in a twisted produce cocktail that's more like daiquiri vomit than an attractive essence of nature, look for me.  You might be smelling my head.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Don Huber's Mystery Organism- One Year Later

Food Democracy Now quotes Dr. Huber about sacrificing our future and children. 

He claims now for almost a decade to have an organism in his hands that contributes to a suite of human disease, illness and death.

He will not release it to the scientific community. 

How many must die before he will stop sacrificing our children and our health?   Dr Huber, when will you release information on the deadly pathogen?  What are you waiting for? 


One year ago on November 12, 2013, Dr. Don Huber, Emeritus Professor at Purdue University stood in front of an audience here in Gainesville, FL and told them about his research.  He claimed to have isolated an organism, a new "entity" that exudes from GMO soybeans.  It infects cows and causes abortions and causes many diseases in humans.

The audience gasped with every picture of dead calves. They were in shock about his findings.  Dr. Huber had unveiled proof that the GMO industry and Monsanto were killing us all.

So they thought.

The whole story is here.  After his talk, where I sat silently. Marty Mesh, the moderator, pointed me out in the crowd and said, "I know you disagree with everything he said, but we only have time for a question or two."

I didn't have a question, but instead an offer.  Huber claims to have cultured the organism to purity. He says it obeys Koch's postulates. Still, its identity is unknown.

I simply said, "Dr. Huber, I would be glad to help you by sequencing the DNA of your culture.  I could tell you exactly what the organism is by the New Year (it was Nov 12)".

(all of this was recorded, without his knowledge)

I continued, "You get all the credit, we solve this problem, and we end GMO agriculture-- All data will be open access-- public data.  Can I count on you to share the culture? "

He then spent 15 minutes telling us why the culture could not be DNA sequenced, and that the organism has no DNA.

This is quite a departure from his position on Genetic Roulette where he claims to have isolated DNA from the organism and it is being sequenced.

That's a screenshot from Genetic Roulette.  New Organism. 
When I ask to help sequence it, he claims no DNA!!!

My kind offer was turned away.  No DNA.  He then moved the goalpost to a "prion" or "biomatrix" in subsequent talks, both which could still be sequenced using proteomic and protein-sequencing methods.

His facade is crumbling.

Huber Tries to Get Me Fired

A few days later he objects to my request and sends a scathing letter full of lies to my boss, the Senior Vice President at the university I work at.  You can read Huber's allegations against me here. 
He made claims that were not true, that my recordings showed where not true, and were 100% legally actionable!

I chose not to go after him for libel and trying to get me fired with lies. I'm bigger than he is. It is better to let him twist in the wind of his own lies. If I sue him, I'm a bully.  If time goes by and we just remind the world that he is letting people, plants and animals die for his own gratification, then that's even better.

Such a great reputation too.  Everyone wonders what happened to him.  Many of my colleagues had him as a teacher and now wonder why he's just gone goofy.  Some have said, "He always was nuts".

What Does the CDC Say? 

The Centers for Disease Control would certainly be aware of a novel infectious agent that was killing humans, cattle and plants.  I submitted a question about it to the CDC website.  I only got a generic auto reply.

I then submitted a paper letter via certified mail.  I got this email response:

Well the CDC has no record of Huber's deadly agent either. 
Somehow he knows more than the folks that know everything about infectious diseases. 

So Huber is going around talking about this deadly infectious agent that is killing people, livestock and plants, and it is a threat to food security-- BUT he has kept it from the CDC?   He claims, on recording, to have exported it to China and other countries.  

When does this guy stop being an anti-GMO hero and start being held accountable as a terrorist, or even more, someone that is letting people and animals die, and endangering our food supply, because he has some ego issue?   He obviously does not want us to know what his organism is!  

Did he create it?   Is he going to hold the world hostage with it?  When will others start to get upset?  

People scream for justice against Monsanto for no confirmed deaths.  Huber claims an organism that is killing people and animals daily, and jeopardizes our food supply.... for the last ten years!   When can we decide that he needs to seek additional scientific assistance to end this problem?

Or maybe, when will his supporters and the anti-GMO community decide to hold him accountable for his charade?

I'm not holding my breath.  As long as he says something they find palatable, they won't ask for evidence. Sad that a credentialed academic went this direction.

My hope is that he'll come clean.  It never is too late to grow, and his legacy as a decent scientist has been overstepped by him being a footnote in a joke book, claiming harm from a fictional being, and trying to punish the scientists that only ask for him to show evidence.  Shame.


Wednesday, December 3, 2014

Thank God It's On the Internet FOREVER.

I was really excited to watch the Intelligence Squared debate. I've been looking forward to it for seemingly ages.

Bottom line-- it was as predicted.  Fear, questions, and magical thinking against science, reason and evidence.  And science won.  Not only did science win, the fear-based empty fact-free claims from the other side are permanently stored online for everyone to enjoy forever.

I'm not going into too much post-event analysis, but I will take the time to point out some of the major things we all need to take note of.

Mellon has no clue.  Here's someone that is so out of her league.  Her antiquated talking points are no match for reality.  She did a nice slam on conventional breeders, people that are working very hard to improve crops using cross breeding-- and she seems to believe they are not doing a very good job.

She also seems to think that Europe is this wonderful place that has ag all figured out.  Of course, they import massive amounts of food from the USA, Brazil and Argentina because they are not self sustaining!  Here's a nice article by Steve Savage on those not-European-food eaters.

And she keeps saying how the technology has not lived up to its promise.  No kidding. If people like her were not standing in the way of every innovation, blocking every life-saving potential breakthrough, and tarnishing the reputation of every scientific technique-- maybe the technology would exceed expectations!  

The card got a good beating!  I think I did hear Benbrook say "antibiotic resistance" and we came close on Starlink! 

Chuck Benbrook really started to unwind in his final statement.  Defeated and called on his own errors, he spent the last 2 minute conclusion time on glyphosate. Not GM crops, not technology, but the herbicide.  He made the claim that "its in our blood and in our hair", and I think we need to demand some evidence for that.  Earlier we exchanged a pointy tweet about umbilical cords, or else he might have rolled that out too.

As usual, he combines pesticides as herbcides and insecticides. It is the only way to massage the statistics to get the conclusion he wants.  Clearly these products cut insecticides, and yes, herbicide use is up, but glyphosate has much lower impact on health and environment. Shame.

Most importantly the results show what we know.  Most people that are undecided will gravitate toward science when they are offered facts over fear.

I also hope they do this again, only next time it should be Alison and Robb against Jeffrey Smith and Stephanie Seneff.

That would be worth watching! 

Tuesday, December 2, 2014


A lot of folks don't know it, but I loves me a good debate.  In college I was the president of our Debate and Individual Events Team at Northern Illinois University, and our tiny rag-tag team of rhetorical hammers finished 7th in the nation against the huge perennial powerhouses from other universities.  That was a good score.

It was there that I learned a lot about argument and a lot about how to frame a persuasive message. My coaches were (and still are) the best in the business. Vielen danke Santa, Shrek and Solomon!

Tomorrow is the big debate on Intelligence Squared.  Chuck Benbrook and Margaret Mellon are squaring off against Alison Van Eenennaam and Robb Fraley.  It is anti-GMO vs transgenic science in an NPR-mediated battle royale!

Today I provided valuable debate insight and information Alison and Robb,  I'm so glad that these two where chosen against Chuck and Margaret.  It almost seems a little unfair. Two likable and charismatic scientists against a couple of scientifically antiquated ideologs?

Benbrook and Mellon's arguments are classic arguments from ignorance, and concepts forged in the 1990's to manufacture risk around these crops.  Even her review of RNAi this week was a scientific disaster even a first-year grad student would laugh at.

The Benbrook/Mellon arguments are boring and predictable. Use this card to play along at home while they lay down their wacky arguments.  Then open your windows. The enlightened world should extol a unified "BINGO"  about 22 minutes into the discussion. 

I can say this because I like Chuck Benbrook as a person.  He's a sharp guy, no doubt.  I spent two days at a discussion next to him and I almost think he does not buy into the BS of the anti-GM hard cores. I think he sees the Man Behind the Curtain, but it pays the bills.

In October I had a chance to hear him testify before the House or Representatives in Pennsylvania.  He actually used "bt in umbilical cords" and US crops being "blocked from export markets" as key points for his position.  Oy vey.  I do give him high marks for his generally realistic stance on glyphosate, as he hasn't fallen into the "it causes every human disease" nonsense.

Margaret used to work for Union of Concerned Scientists, and her recent post showed that she's the clueless shell she's always been in this arena. She has no idea what RNAi is, what the new products are, or how they work in practice.  Her arguments are from ignorance and it is clear that she does not understand the science she criticizes.

The sad part is that this debate really boils down to an exercise on one thing:   Can science win over fear and the unknown?

My prediction is simple. Benbrook and Mellon will speak of "imprecise, unproven science" that could cause "allergies and other issues".   Benbrook has a YouTube video with Robyn O'Brien where he connects GMO foods to autism, ADHD and arthritis  where he scares viewers of all of the "unknowns".

This is what Benbrook and Mellon have.  Fear of the Unknown.  There is no evidence, none, that these technologies are dangerous.  It is fear of the unknown. This is their argument.

Hopefully Alison and Robb will come from what the technology has done over 18 years and what it could do if it was not arrested by political barriers.

So have fun with the BINGO card, and have fun charting that Benbrook and Mellon rely heavily on the argument from ignorance..... "We just don't know..."

 No, they don't.

Best wishes to Robb and Alison.  Cool heads, big science, let's see if hope, evidence, science and love can win over cataclysm, doom and disaster.

Blow them a kiss for me.

Glyphosate and School Lunches