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Showing posts from November, 2016

"Monsanto Supporters" - A Desperate Move?

The enemies of science and reason must take unethical steps in attempts to tarnish and discredit the legitimate scientists who retard penetration of their fear mongering campaigns.  Last week's fear brochure claiming "alarming" levels of herbicides in familiar processed foods was a joke to scientists that understand analytical chemistry, agricultural chemistry, and their relative risks.  When Dr. Shelly McGuire and I correctly commented that the analysis presented was wholly insufficient to support a claim of alarm, we immediately became targets for those that manufacture risk and wish to erode trust in food, farming and science.  We were immediately chastised by those that promote pseudoscientific claims, and those paid to obfuscate science and ablate the trust of public scientists.  USRTK employee and paid content producer Carey Gillam cites article where Dr. McGuire and I were referred to as "Monsanto Supporters".  Wow. Sticks and stones... 

Translating Activist Spin: How They Lie to the Public

Two weeks ago now an activist brochure was distributed through the internet, promoted as exposing "alarming" levels of glyphosate in common grocery store items.  The report did not provide adequate methods, statistics, or evidence of replication, and therefore does not qualify as work that can be trusted.  I have spoken with the laboratory that did the work.  They claim to have done the test correctly, but did not provide evidence of that or any statement of the numbers of replicates.  They won't do that because the data belong to a paying client.  And of course, the paying client has no interest in transparency, as that would let the air out of the fear balloon.  My comments and criticisms were all correct and within the bounds of conventions of analytical chemistry.  Others have been much more critical and feel that there's no way these results should ever be trusted.  Bottom line-- it is unacceptable to scare the public with false statements about un-trustabl

Important Follow Up to Glyphosate/Groceries- Please Read!

Science is not about entrenching into a position based on ideology. It is about making interpretations based on the evidence provided, and that evidence can, and does change.  This is a critical follow up to the discussion of the Food Democracy Now brochure that claims dangerous levels of herbicide in common grocery items. I was contacted by the laboratory that did the analysis for them and I am comfortable that they did the detection 100% correctly. No question. There was no way that I could have known this from the information presented by FDN or by the company's analytical documents. This tells us two things: 1. Peer review and complete disclosure of methods is important. 2. The levels are still of absolutely no biological consequence. If anything, this reputable laboratory's analysis and document tells consumers that their food is safe, because an herbicide aggressive food activists find controversial is detectable at the edge of nothing. You

Standing By for Retaliation

As a public scientist I'm deeply committed to providing research, teaching, and outreach to help broaden our understanding of farming and food.  One leg of that stool is to connect with the public and help them understand the current scientific literature, and help them make evidence-based decisions.  Last week a glossy brochure was published by the fear factory called Food Democracy Now.  Despite the name, it is much less democracy as it is a cult. Their deceptive self-published report featured hyperbolic images of babies juxtaposed with herbicide bottles and Cheerios.  The meat of the report was a table that claims to find parts-per-billion levels of the herbicide glyphosate in an array of common grocery products. Even if it was true, such levels would be biologically meaningless.  I've discussed the technical limitations of their analysis here and on my podcast .  The bottom line is that this is statistically underpowered, they are likely reading noise, and the work has

Thanks Snopes- A Big Win for Science and Reason

I'm up on a Saturday enjoying a big cup of coffee and working on the podcast . I'm also standing by for the next round of requests for my emails from Vani Hari. What happened? Yesterday's blog was in response to an article on Snopes .  The article on Snopes was in response to a flashy brochure that claimed to find herbicide residues, in parts per billion (seconds in decades) in familiar foods.  The well-circulated activist rhetoric was intended to scare, and it worked .  My inbox was flooded with inquiries from friends, relatives and dozens of strangers.  When Snopes talks, people listen, and their analysis was a bit confusing, sort of lending credence to the claim, as well as stating that glyphosate herbicides were carcinogenic.  This is on the cover of the report. It should be an immediate tip-off to the reader that this is highly suspect and intended to tell a manufactured story, not communicate scientific results.   I reached out to the author and partic

Snopes Claims About Glyphosate in Food

I like Snopes.  So many times I've been rescued from a critical debunking excursion because someone had provided excellent analysis that I could use as a starting point.  It is really disappointing to see them go soft and conflate unrelated issues that just confuse the reader. The article about the Food Babe's claims about Monsanto covering up glyphosate in food items seemed like it would follow the science and once again foist her on her own critically underpowered petard.  But instead the article by Alex Kasprak just creates confusion.  Even the subhead says, "Monsanto suppressing evidence of cancerous herbicide in food?" (and to be fair, Alex did reach out and we're discussing this. I do think he wants to get it right) What "cancerous herbicide?" Instead of simply letting the air out of a conspiratorial claim, he conflates three issues at once, an in the process lends credence to the crazy claim, while not critically evaluating the

Glyphosate Detection- Making Claims from Noise

There is a central rule in the anti-GMO world--   scare them at any cost.   It is amazing how ethics are disregarded in the interest of peddling a fearful message.  It has long been part of the anti-GMO industry and a weapon of its foot soldiers.  If something sounds scary and supports your beliefs, then promote it, run with it.  No matter how weak the evidence is, claim it is real.  Such was the case with the "Stunning Corn Comparison" where fake data in a soil test table were claimed to represent biological samples-- that were not remotely biological.  Still the authors and pundits stood by it as a legitimate test.  They also claimed to find glyphosate in breast milk.  However, an actual study by a real scientist with properly reported methods did not show any evidence of detection. Of course, anti-GM folks shouted down this legitimate report as unreliable.   Fake data, finding positive signals in noise, and wrongful interpretation of good data are cornerstones of

No "GMO"- Time to Take the Science Back

The term GMO has unclear roots, but it likely stems from technical language used to describe organisms featuring genes installed through recombinant DNA techniques.  Over the last decades the term has been adopted as a term of both derision and endearment. But does the term really mean anything?  Scientists don't use it.  Well, Seralini et al ( 2012 ) (2014) used it in the figures of an attempted scholarly paper.  He had to. The purpose of the paper was to scare people, so the term was necessary.  Let's just say, it is not used in real scientific papers. We speak with precision. So why do we tolerate its use when it is imprecise and confuses the public?  Over the last several years I have spoken to hundreds of public, scientific and agricultural audiences and I think it is time for all of us in a science-minded community to adopt some precise language.   We should all speak from a codified vernacular to be more effective as a whole. Here's what I propose (discuss

Online Training in Biotech Concepts

In today's Talking Biotech Podcast guest host Dr. Paul Vincelli talks about Journey of a Gene with Dr. Don Lee from University of Nebraska. This website is an online multimedia resource to teach concepts in genetic engineering.  Listen to the interview here , or subscribe through iTunes.

Uninvited -- Damage from Lipton's Article Continues

I've enjoyed providing good information that challenges the conclusions of  Danny Hakim's New York Times article.  I've posted real data, shown discussion of farmer sentiments, and tried to provide a sobering dose of reality to a seriously biased article.  NPR's On Point inquired about my participation in the current discussion on Hakim's article.  They were enthusiastic, until the libelous misrepresentation of my career in science eliminated me from the discussion.    I got an email from the producer for NPR's On Point .  He asked me if I could be a last-minute guest on the show on November 2, so I moved a standing meeting so I could accommodate his request.  We spoke for 30 minutes about the topic and the producer seemed quite happy with my answers and my command of the subject.  Twenty minutes later he called and asked, "What is your relationship with Monsanto." I answered correctly, "I have friends that work in the company, they

Some Actual Yield Data

After commenting on the New York Times piece that claimed that genetically-engineered crops have failed due to no effect on yield, I decided to revisit a slideshow I prepared back in 2014.  I was on a panel in Denver, CO to discuss risk, benefit, gain, loss of genetically engineered crops with a diverse group of farmers, scientists, physicians, activists, NGO leadership and corporate representatives.  I was tasked to be on a point-counterpoint discussion with Doug Gurian-Sherman, then with the Union of Concerned Scientists.  He wrote the notoriously cherry-picked and underpowered (yet highly influential) brochure "Failure to Yield", and indictment of the failure of genetically-engineered crops.  My point was simple.  GE crops were not made to directly increase yields.  They control other aspects of growth so that yields are maximized.   Yields are determined by how genetics interact with environment, and how pest pressure, weather, and dozens of other factors impact t