Showing posts from January, 2015

Girl Scouts- Standing Up for Science

Two years ago I wrote a blog about an eight-year-old California girl that started an online petition to remove transgenic-crop-based ingredients from Girl Scout cookies. Again, I admired her drive and interest, but was appropriately critical of her surfacy scientific understanding. She claimed that " GMOs studies (sic) (in animals) have linked them to infertility, immune problems, accelerated aging, faulty insulin regulation, and changes in major organs and the gastrointestinal system." It could be an honest third-grade interpretation of the scholarly literature.  Probably not.  More likely she was simply a pawn of flimsy parents that paid good money for an anti-GMO book at Whole Foods, only to have their food fears reinforced by a popular TV doctor, leading to the de-education of their daughter.   That's something I'm firmly against, as I want young women to be excited about science, not taught to fear it because parents are twits.  I wrote a blog

Vani Hari's Kooky Response to Critical Students

The other day a group of food science students penned a letter to Vani Hari , criticizing her pseudo-scientific approach to food and health issues.  It was a thoughtful, reasoned and appropriate letter. They were speaking from a basis of evidence and science. And instead of simply leaving it out in the internet, Hari actually responded .  In typical Food Babe fashion, she approaches criticisms from actual emerging scholars with a the usual barrage of nonsense and holier-than-thou attitude.  She actually tells these students that they are wrong on all counts. University students are pretty sharp, especially grad students like these folks appear to be.  Their points are consistent with the scientific literature and the scientific consensus.  Well done.  Hari's reply is the usual indictment of stuff she doesn't understand, and adherence to her beloved suite of fallacies. I've parsed her arguments line-by-line, and as usual, she clearly just does not understand how science wo

The Citrus Crisis and False Balance

I'm so grateful to any author that takes the time to write about citrus greening disease and its potential solutions.  When I saw the posting in Fast Company by Satta Sarmah, I was happy that someone might be providing a additional resources on the disease and its solutions. When you read the article Does orange juice have to genetically modify or die? it does a good job describing some of the proposed solutions, some of which will involve the addition of transgenes. They mention Dr. Eric Mirkov's (Texas A&M) installation of a spinach gene and Dr. Jude Grosser's (Univ Florida) efforts with other transgenes.  While many solutions have been attempted, a subset of them show strong potential to help solve the problem. To this point it is a factual summary of what science has done. Then Sarmah makes the classic journalist mistake-- striving for balance.  If scientists propose solutions, there must be some other opinion of equal importance, right? The article then goes

Johnson's Fights Chemophobia

While other companies roll over and reformulate ancient recipes when Food Babe Vani Hari comes to town, Johnson's is fighting back.  Clearly influenced by Hari's inane claims that "if you can't pronounce it, it is bad for you", Johnson and Johnson have produced a video for the Carah's Life series.  Here Carah (a mom with a You Tube channel documenting her experiences) addresses the concerns of chemicals in baby products, reminding us that everything is made up of chemicals.  My new hero.  Carah Amelie speaks of chemicals, and those long science-sounding words that freak out Food Babes. Carah is exactly what we need.  She's slick but unpolished, articulate but clunky, beautiful and plain. She's any of us.  We believe her.  She conjures credibility and trust.  She knows what she's talking about. Johnson's, I'm going to go buy some baby shampoo and give it to someone with a dirty baby, just because you hired Carah and made this vi

Horizontal Transfer of GMO DNA

To the critical science reader, the claims by the anti-GMO world are a goldmine of intellectual turds.  Over the last few weeks I've been blown away by the junk that is accepted and promoted by folks like (we don't know their actual name, just their fake sock puppet name) GMO USA.  Unfortunately I've been behind on a dozen writing assignments and can't very well put fun discussions like this into the public space without feeling a bit guilty.  However, I could not let this one go!  To the rocket surgeons over at GMO USA, the work by Oraby et al (2014) is quite compelling. However, to anyone with even a high-school level understanding of the science, these data are just awful, and the conclusions unacceptable. The title says "Horizontal Gene Transfer" when the authors don't even test for it! The manuscript was published in the African Journal of Biotechnology, a journal with an impact factor of 0.5 or so.  The lead author, Hanaa Oraby, has some pu

What Shiva Can Teach Us About Science Communication

We can learn a lot about people from not just what they say, but how they choose to say it.  Communication scholars claim that something like 75% of meaning comes from non-verbal cues. Non-verbal cues are not just gestures, they come from our rate, volume, proximity and our willingness to absorb feedback.  Many suggest that the non-verbals communicate true intention, and that these signals may not always match the words.     When we critically evaluate the non-verbal performance of Dr.Vandana Shiva on China’s CCTV , (beginning at 23:00 min) we learn a lot about the person. This video is a MUST WATCH .  Portrayed by her supporters as a kind-hearted and gentle defender of the downtrodden and the environment, we see her true colors. It is not just her words, but the way she chooses to say them. We can analyze her communication style and rhetoric and draw some important conclusions. If you want to learn how NOT to discuss biotech, watch Shiva closely. Nobody learns anythin