Friday, September 21, 2012

Rats, Tumors and Critical Assessment of Science



My email box exploded with new messages.  A flurry of notes contained a link to a new peer-reviewed paper, a work showing that rats fed “GMO” corn developed massive tumors and died early, compared to controls.  Immediately I smelled a Seralini paper.

A click on the link did not disappoint-- it's Seralini again.  I was electronically whisked to a PDF of the whole text and began to read.  Within minutes I was blown away by the lack of rigor, poor experimental design, attention to controls and loose statistics.  Most of all, I was blown away by the conclusions drawn by a study with tiny numbers of subjects in a rat line known to grow endochrine tumors.

The anti-GMO interests were quick to anoint this new work as a rigorous pillar of exceptional science, a hard-science detailing of the danger of transgenic food.  They want this to influence public policy.

I was really impressed by how the scientific media and the science blogosphere pounced.  The best names in the business, Terwavas, Leyser, Goldberg and many others were interviewed and provided detailed analysis of the work, pointing out its many flaws.  Those reviews can be foundthroughout the internet, and they are awesome. Like this one! I don’t need to reiterate them here.

What I will do, which is highly uncharacteristic and but consistent with the post hoc analysis done all the time, is provide a level of analysis that was not explored.  There are features of this paper that hint at a motive, an intent.  I do not believe this was a hypothesis tested.  I believe that this was an experiment designed to frighten.  I believe that this is blatant mis-use of science to forward an agenda.

Those are strong words and I never thought I’d cast such allegations at someone else’s peer-reviewed research.  That’s usually pretty low.  However, there are facets of this work that are clearly indicate the intent of the authors is to provide shock, not a good test of a hypothesis.  In fact, the word “hypothesis” does not appear once.  

This is why the report is in Food and Chemical Toxicology and not in Nature, where it would be if it was a properly conducted study.

Here are some red flags the others have not mentioned.  I’m reading between the lines here. I will describe what a good scientific report should not do and then give you some strong inferences from what the paper does not show, as well as how data are presented.

1. The first line of the paper claims an “international debate”, yet he cites himself and nobody else.  Easy to claim a debate when nobody else is participating in it.

2.  Figure 3.  This one really makes me see red.  Look at tumors.  Look at massively deformed rats.  Shocking, isn’t it?   The authors tell us in Table 2 that control rats also develop tumors.  Why not show them?  Why are the controls not shown in that figure?  It is because if they are identical to the experimental treatment rats then the fear factor is gone.   This is inexcusable and the authors, reviewers and editors should be ashamed.

Sometimes the way data are presented can expose the relative objectivity and hidden intent of a study. Left-rat that ate GMO corn.  Center- rat eating GMO corn and roundup. Right- rat fed roundup. Their associated tumors shown on the right. Wait!  What about the control rats, the ones that also got tumors?  How convenient to leave them out!   

3.  The labeling on the figure is “GMO” or “GMO+R” (R stands for Roundup).  GMO is not a product. It is not a genetic line of corn.  It is a technique.  There are many kinds of GMOs, plant lines bearing different transgenes.  Even if these results linked rat tumors to the food (which they don’t in my assessment) they would  link it to one kind of transgenic crop, not any transgenic crop.  This again shows the authors’ intent to overstep the data in a manner that will inflame the reader and further vilify a technology. To be fair, they do state it properly in the conclusion, but few are reading past the sensational photos.

4.  They show comparable effects of Roundup treatment and the transgene.  This should be a tip-off as well.  What is the likelihood of both inducing identical problems?

5.  Low numbers of subjects are a sign of poor design.  When tumor incidence is 30%, vs 50% or 70% that means three rats vs. five or seven.  The incidence of endocrine tumors in Sprague-Dawley rats is 70-80%.  Imagine you roll a die and numbers 1-4 mean develop tumors, 5 and 6 mean tumor free.  Now roll it ten times and log the result.  You’ll find that there will be times when you consistently roll 5 or 6, maybe 5 times out of ten.  Other times you’ll roll 5 or 6 only 2 times out of ten.  That’s natural random variation, and if you roll it 100 times, 1000 times, then the real probabilities will even out. 

6.  Low numbers + a line known to get tumors = some frequency of data that will prove the authors’ beliefs.

7.  A prediction-- the larger study will never be done and these results will not replicated by other labs.

8.  The Discussion.  Lots of guesses on how to link the food or Roundup to the symptoms. Quite a bit of speculation and hand waving, with no likely mechanisms discussed.

I could go on all day. For fun reading review the press conference. It was a bigger joke.  

The bottom line is that if we look at the report and what it says, and compare it to what the data really say, there is limited concordance.  To the trained eye the data say that these rats get endocrine tumors at high incidence and that what is being observed is the natural variation of the tumors in small numbers of rats, where the authors'  “significance” is found in statistically meaningless samples.

Alas, it is now part of the true-believers' war chest of crap information that now will be used to steer the unsophisticated and influence public policy. 

Monday, July 16, 2012

The “Arctic Grape” Sneaks Through Public Approval

We are currently witnessing the USDA public commentary period on the Arctic Apple, a transgenic apple that does not exhibit browning upon injury or cutting.  The anti-browning trait was installed by scientists at Okanagan Specialty Fruits. A copy of the apple gene for polyphenol oxidase (PPO) was overexpressed, which triggers a plant response to silence the over-expressed gene.  The same process also suppresses the apple’s endogenous PPO genes.

Trees have been growing for ten years and are poised for widespread adoption.  But as expected, the critics have now emerged against this non-browning apple.  They say that the apples are untested in humans, that the pollen will contaminate other plants.  They say that it is unnatural and will need more pesticide. 

But the same criticisms were strangely silent against what was essentially the Arctic Grape.  A major genetic alteration affected the PPO gene of the ‘Sultana’ grape, a genetic change that was unknown, uncharacterized and uninvestigated. All the scientists knew is that they didn't brown. The resulting grape exhibited the same anti-browning properties as the current Arctic Apple, and gained rapid favor for the production of light-colored raisins and low-oxidation wines.  Unlabeled and untested, this genetic aberration spread quickly throughout the dried-grape industry, as consumers and farmers realized great gains from the sweet, white and golden raisins.  

Worse, it turns out that scientists later deciphered the molecular basis for the disorder. The normal PPO protein was unprocessed, a new protein created!  Just like the anti-GMO folks warn us about all the time, the new protein, untested for allergenicity and long-term feeding consequences, accumulated in the modified Franken-fruit background.  This new freakish protein was the unnatural reason that the grapes did not brown, and the raisins remained white or golden.

The Punchline.  You’ve likely eaten them.  You might have even bought them at an organic market.  You never cared.

In fact, the PPO mutant occurred spontaneously in 1962 in a grape line called “Sultana”.  A mutation in the grapevine changed a gene so that the PPO oxidase protein (the one suppressed in Arctic Apple) could not be processed and made functional.  The fruits were largely white and did not show PPO activity. 

Why?  The active enzyme is about 40 kilodaltons in size, but in ‘Bruce’s Sport’, the ppo mutant, the protein was not processed.  The modified protein was not a functional PPO.  A new protein was formed and caused the lack of browning. How did this mutant atrocity ever escape regulation?  Surely Monsanto ram-rodded this through the FDA and USDA!

Not so much.

In fact, not at all. 

The PPO mutant was found in 1962.  Nobody cared about why the grapes didn’t brown, they just knew was a great trait.  In 1992 scientists finally figured out that the non-browning trait was caused by the fact that a new protein was formed in the plant, an unprocessed form of PPO that could not complete the browning process.

The year 1962.  The year 1992.  Changes in genes, new proteins formed.  All untested, unlabeled, and accepted as perfectly fine; happy golden raisins to go with your granola.  De-lish.

Turn ahead to 2012.  The same gene is suppressed in apples with great precision.  A group of people object to the process. They worry about allergies, cross-pollination and GMO Franken-dangers.

Questions.

Why is this process completely acceptable when unknown, unpredictable and untested back in the 1960's? 

Why is the process decried when it is understood, documented and tested now?

These two questions frame an intellectual inconsistency of the anti-GMO movement that I cannot understand, and show that it is not the product, but the process that activists find objectionable.



References

Rathjen and Robinson (1992)  Aberrant Processing of Polyphenol Oxidase in a Variegated Grapevine Mutant Plant Physiol. 99(4): 1619–1625.

Dry and Robinson (1994) Molecular cloning and characterisation of grape berry polyphenol oxidase Plant Molec. Biol. 26: 495-502

 

Antcliff (1962)  Bruce’s Sport:  A Mutant of the Sultana.  

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Opposition to the Newest Apple Product

Sorry tech geeks.  This is about fruits, not phones. 

The Arctic Apple is a new product currently undergoing regulatory approval in the United States and Canada. It was developed by a small biotech company in Summerland BC, Canada, so save the Monsanto comments.


It is a non-browning apple, created using transgenic technology (probably cisgenic).  Browning is a reaction to damage. This can be cutting or bruising.  An enzyme called polyphenol oxidase (or PPO) mediates this process.  Without PPO, no browning occurs. 

A silenced gene inhibits browning.  A great development for growers and consumers.

Apples have four PPO genes.  In the Arctic Apple these genes are silenced, likely using RNAi technology.  In a very basic explanation, the native apple PPO gene is expressed in a way that causes the other PPO genes to be shut down. 

The potential benefits?  The details are here.  Huge amounts of apple fruits are culled from the tree, damaged from post-harvest handling, or are discarded by grocers or consumers because of browning.  The Arctic Apple promises to limit these problems. Not the solution to world hunger, but certainly a way to deliver a better product to more people with less waste. This is good for growers, the consumer, and the supply chain in between.  This is sustainable agriculture. 


But of course, the technology is being met with opposition. And it is opposition based on ignorance and not science.
JIND Fruit's Jessie Sandhu was reported to show concern for the product.  Of course, he gives the usual mantra of "we just don't know what will happen".  But he also offers other irrational fears as well.  He mentions cross pollination and perception in markets like the EU. 


Sandhu displays ignorance of the industry when he raises the question of cross pollination.  Apple trees are not propagated from seeds.  They are vegetatively grafted on to rootsocks.  There is no chance of cross pollination leading to spread of the transgene. 


According to an industry report, Canada is the 8th largest apple importer in the world.   Their major export destinations are the USA (83%), with 7% going to the UK.  The EU is not a major export target, and it also is unclear if they are opposed to cisgenics.  Researchers in the Netherlands seem to think there is good public acceptance.


Of course, opponents forget that this could be a great opportunity for growers as fruit with superior postharvest performance will have reasonable demand.

Don't tell that to Allan Patton.  Allan sits on the board Regional District of Okanagan-Similkameen. He made a plea to his colleagues to reject the Arctic Apple from the region, and even made overtures that the Canadian Federal Government should reject the application.

The article continues: 


"The director for rural Oliver said the risk of cross-pollination of traditional varieties with genetically-modified strains puts the entire Okanagan fruit industry in jeopardy."


Again, apples are not grown from seeds, so here politicians are making decisions on a technology when they don't even understand it. 

Neal Carter, President of Okanagan Specialty Fruits, was in attendance and commented, "“Right now, the decisions are being carried by fear, not science or real data.”

The product will continue to spur discussion.  Look for it to receive regulatory approval in 2014. 

Saturday, April 21, 2012

Agent Orange, Monsanto, and a Little Clarificiation

On Tuesday I gave a talk at Florida State College at Jacksonville entitled "The Future of Food: Feeding More People with Less".  The talk described the challenges to modern agriculture, the need for conservation, improved production practices (including low-input/organic ag) and new genetics from breeding.  One of the key facets was transgenic technology to complement other improvements.

There was one person in attendance that was not a student, but a guy from the community that thought the topic was interesting.  As soon as I got into the GMO part of the lecture he began being disruptive.  I usually invite interaction, but his objections were relatively constant.  As usual, they were dogmatic and uninformed, tying nicely to the propaganda lines of the anti-GMO interests.

For my lecture I held up glyphosate resistance as a successful implementation of transgenics in agriculture.  Here a relatively innocuous chemical displaces others that are more dangerous.  Most of all, glyphosate resistant crops have paved an inarguable track record of success. There are some downsides, and I discussed them, including generation of resistant weed and some minor developmental effects on some animals.

He would have none of it.  "You know what glyphosate is, right?"

I was puzzled.  Sure I knew what it was, how it works, how it breaks down, etc.

"It is Agent Orange made by Monsanto", he continued.

I told him that it was not true, but of course, he knew better.  He knew it was the dreaded glyphosate, "Monsatan's Roundup".  I directed everyone to their smartphones and told them that the components of Agent Orange were synthetic auxins and not glyphosate.  But then I started to wonder, was I right?  So what is the relationship between Monsanto and Agent Orange?  What is Agent Orange?  

Agent Orange was a defoliant weaponized by the US military during the Vietnam War.  It was composed of a 50-50 mix of 2,4-D and 2,4,5-T, 2,4-dichlorophenoxyacetic acid and 2,4,5 trichlorophenoxyacetic acid, respectfully. These compounds are auxins.  Auxins are a class of plant growth regulator associated with cell division, elongation growth, and a large suite of other plant processes.  These two auxins are synthetic mimics of the natural compounds.  They work well at low concentrations because plants do not have a means to break them down easily.  Essentially, a plant grows itself to death.

The two principle plant growth regulators in Agent Orange


Who made 2,4-D?  It was manufactured by  several agrochemical companies, including good ol' Monsanto. Others were Uniroyal, Diamond Shamrock, Hercules and Dow Chemical.

So when the military wanted to defoliate large swatches of dense jungle for military operations, Agent Orange was the ticket.  Over 20 million gallons of the stuff was dumped over Vietnam during Operation Ranch Hand.  Nobody could ever know the exact numbers for sure, but there are huge numbers of affected US military and Vietnamese civilians that suffered from the effects of Agent Orange.


Of course, the anti-GMO types don't care too much about facts, just shock value.  If you look at the sign on the right they do make an attempt to be somewhat honest with the mice type above the bottom words... can you see it? 

The problem was (well, the toxicity issue was) that 2,4,5-T was contaminated with 2,3,7,8-tetrachlorodibenzodioxin, a potent dioxin that causes alterations of gene expression that can be carcinogenic.  Documented cancers from Agent Orange exposure include prostate cancer, respiratory cancers (lung, trachea/bronchus, larynx), soft-tissue sarcomas, non-Hodgkins lymphoma, Hodgkins disease, chronic lymphocytic leukemia, and multiple myeloma. 

Oh, by the way, no glyphosate.  Not a drop.  Kevin one, disruptive guy zero for those keeping score at home.

Beyond that my response to this guy was completely on target.  I asked him, "How can you blame the chemical or the company that makes it, when someone (in this case the US government) chooses to use it in an unethical manner?"

It is like if someone beat another person to death with an organic zucchini... in his eyes it would not make organic zucchini evil.  Unless of course Monsanto made organic zucchini.

This is the point of the matter.  This guy had the information wrong.  There was no glyphosate in Agent Orange.  The use of a plant growth regulator and its contaminants as a weapon is now manipulated to connect a major US health issue to Monsanto.  And the anti-Monsanto, anti-GMO, anti-scientists just love that. 

It is unfortunate to have the Agent Orange / 2,4-D tie because these synthetic auxins are the cornerstone of the next generation of herbicide-resistant plants.  The companies working with this technology will have to endure the mis-representation of their products by people that really know nothing about them.

And by the way, the instructor that organized the session said that everyone in the class verified my information, was impressed with how I handled the criticism, and "thought the disruptive guy was a dick."


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Answering the Critics- Are Academic Scientists Owned by Big Corporations?

The scientific consensus among academic scientists tells us that:

1. The earth's climate is warming, with at least a component of human cause
2. Evolution explains the diversity of life on earth and continues
3. Transgenic trangenic (GMO) food crops are safe and effective
4. Vaccines are a tremendous, safe cornerstone in public health.
5. Stem cell based therapies show great promise and some application now

Every one of these statements is a well supported hypothesis.  Each is based on substantial data from different experiments and models, from many independent labs, worldwide.

Critics suggest that such data and conclusions only are present because academic scientists are "bought and paid for" by big corporations.  The allegation is that corporations dictate what is to be studied, what will be funded and what results will be obtained, and what may be published.

According to critics, who's bought off, who does the buying? 
1.  Climate change scientists- George Soros, liberal media
2.  Evolution scientist- liberal media, secular humanist and atheist groups, the ACLU, National Academies of Science, Family Guy. 
3.  GMO scientists:  Monsanto
4.  Vaccine science:  "big pharma"
5.  Stem cells: Liberal government operatives that want to kill babies.


I've even endured this personally.  Lay people that disagree with my evidence-based-food stance tell me that none of my work matters because it is all paid for by Pepsico and Monsanto, simply because those companies have product licensing agreements with my university.

This argument comes up frequently in discussion of these topics, so I thought I'd take a look.  How much of our research is corporate sponsored?  How "bought and paid for" are we?

First, I went to an easy source at my university, the University of Florida.  The Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) publishes their financials every year.  You can find this online here.

How much Big Corporation money did we spend?  Not that much.  It is buried somewhere in that "other sponsored funds" piece of the money pie.
If corporations are fueling scientific discovery at universities,
they sure aren't contributing too much.  Somewhere in "Other Sponsored Funds"


Now wait, I can hear critics already screaming that "other sponsored funds" is almost 10% of the research dollars spent, and that's a significant amount at a place like the University of Florida.  So let's use the record to break that down: 

Yikes.  Corporate sponsorship is a pretty small sliver of that pie.

So about two percent of our funds come from corporate interests.  For the anti-scientific critics out there, that's about two dollars out of every hundred. 

If we are bought and paid for, we're bought really cheap and not paid well. 

In reality, you can check any individual's research funding, as all of these records are publicly available.  Me, I can state that I've never received corporate financing.  Not a penny.  I do get some support from farm-industry groups, but these are associations of farmers, not corporate interests. 

And I am the rule, not the exception.  Very few of my colleagues have corporate sponsors.  

The other piece of tangential evidence backing my claim of low-corporate involvement in academic science is that public universities are suffering from massive cutbacks.  Whole departments are shrinking or are cut, state and federal resources are harder to obtain, and funding research is harder than it has been in a long time. 

Meanwhile Wall Street rolls along, recovered and soaring as the stock markets reach new highs and corporate profits exceed old records. The corporate world is driving forward, and if they are really sponsoring research in public universities they can't be paying too much.

Maybe these activist causes should consider who academic researchers really work for.  Them.  

Instead of wasting time pointing fingers and implying corporate malfeasance, they might want to examine their own stance, and realize that maybe the experts are really experts and worth listening to.


** Since first posting of this blog I have received some minimal corporate support for a small project in testing gene regulatory sequences.  It is not from MON, DOW, Bayer, etc. 

Saturday, January 28, 2012

If You Can't Attack the Science, Attack the Person!

Hi Everybody!  It's me!  You might think you know me as an academic research scientist that is dedicated to training undergraduate and graduate students, helping science link real solutions to agricultural questions, and thinking of novel frontiers in genomics and other basic science.

You might also recognize me as the scientist that interacts with the public, teaching the science behind transgenic food (GMOs), climate change, evolution, vaccination, and other hot button issues that shouldn't be.  I'm glad to talk to people that disagree with me, and do it politely. Most of the time.

But my cover has been blown. See, according to one anti-transgenic advocate-- I'm a dupe for Pepsico.  Confused?  Me too until she explained.

(this is all public on Natural News comment thread, so I'm just reposting-- no violation of her privacy, and she'd appreciate me getting her message out in more places I'm sure)

While chiming in on the narrow-mindedness of labeling transgenic food (a topic in queue for this blog) I met with Ms. Lilia and used scientific evidence to provide a general debunking of transgenic food topics, where the reputation of this sound technology has been sullied by many.

She provides the same tired old articles in low-impact journals that were never repeated, or parrots the old distortions that she believes, but can be easily analyzed as not true.  So instead of addressing the science, she goes after me.  Worse, she goes after my institution, the University of Florida, and its 3000 faculty.


Oh No!  I've been found out!  First I'm practically Kevin Bacon's cousin and now this!
Our whole university is a dupe for Pepsico, brilliant on their behalf, as somehow Pepsi made the 
university decades before there was Pepsi! 

 This is pretty lame stuff. Calling my work bogus because of some contract?  I guess I'm particularly saddened because I feel great pride in being part of this faculty.  As a land-grant institution we take our mission of public education and service very seriously. It has been such a pleasure to work with farmers, students and other stakeholders in our State.  But alas, we are all shills for Pepsico.  We must be, heck, they licensed a product created by a UF scientist.  In fact, Pepsi probably hired him and forced him to create that product so that they could license it from us and pay royalties for decades to come.

Ms. Lilia continues on a separate thread:

Quite an indictment! Our University is run by Pepsico! 
We do have Pepsi vending machines... 

Here her evidence of Pepsi's deep influence on university science and technology is presented, noting that UF is "basically run by Pespsico" and that she does not believe that I have "no personal stake in (the GMO) argument."

I do take it personally.  She is impugning my integrity as a scientist, something I've trained for since the mid 1980's.  Plus it goes farther than that, personally.  I know that we have some nice transgenic tools in the lab that would be of great benefit to farmers and consumers, but they are DOA other than as research tools.  We could never afford to navigate the regulatory maze that would be required for commercializing a transgenic plant.  That is a tremendous personal disappointment.

Then it gets really fun to learn that everything that comes from my lab is essentially a fraud, as is everything that comes from UF research labs...

And you should check out the thread on Natural News where I describe to her  in scientific detail why it would be inappropriate to label transgenics without labeling any plant material generated through human intervention.  Please read- I make the sound scientific argument. 

So here a civil, polite and scientifically evidence driven discussion on my part, ends with the assertion that I'm a paid stooge for Pepsico, along with every other faculty member at UF.  She really thinks this.  What is scary is that she thinks this, but if you read the Natural News thread she clearly is intelligent, articulate and passionate.  She's one of the good ones!

The last thing I'll post is my reply to her direct allegation.  I hate to even pay credence to such things, but it is on a thread populated by anti-science goofballs, so perhaps a little gentle defense was in order... 

And I have absolutely no idea what that last comment means. Ya dig? 

To conclude, I thought I might list just a few examples of published research coming out of University of Pepsi.  It is a shame these are all frauds and based on Pepsi's approval, as they are performed by wonderful, caring people that have a mission as teachers, scholars, and stewards of society and our planet. We are people that have turned away from lucrative corporate opportunity, fight for every dollar, and work sixty hour weeks throughout our careers to remain competitive.  

-- Here is the UF Biofuels Plant.  Allegedly remediating plant waste to make renewable energy.  According to recent commentary, it likely really is just a way to make Diet Pepsi. 

-- My department's Organic and Sustainable Agriculture emphasis is one of the best in the nation. Strike that, the best.  Wonderful faculty, and rapidly growing with new students that care about sustainable ag and want it to be their career.  Too bad they are working for Pepsi, right? 

-- and efforts to assist small farms and promote local produce are just a facade, as Pepsi is pulling the strings...

I could go on and on, but I won't.  It is Saturday, going on noon, and I have the pleasure and privilege to be able to go to work today at a kick ass job that helps people.  I get to think about big ideas, new science, and how to be a better teacher. 

.... and you know what?  Pepsi has nothing to do with it.  I don't even drink soda.  If I do, its Coke Zero. 

I was just blown away by such brainless allegations.  They illuminate the point that if you can't raise your argument, raise your voice or cast aspersions to misdirect the discussion. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Science Denial in Political Candidates;The Importance of a Simple but Telling Question

Back in 2008 Republican presidential hopefuls gathered in an on-stage “debate”.  By debate I mean they did what all politicians do regardless of political party- they used the occasion to bend questions to fit their answers and stroke the expectations of smiling partisans counting down to that primary election.

The event was typical and boring.  Stock answers to non-issues and sidestepping issues that truly matter in our country.

But one web-submitted question resonated especially well with me and it should be a mandated question in all political debates from here on out…. “This is a yes-no question… Do you believe in evolution?”

The question should have been, “Do you accept the evidence for evolution,” because we don’t have to believe something when it has been substantiated with overwhelming evidence, but these are politicians, not scientists, so we’ll let it slide.

The question was posed to Senator John McCain, who enthusiastically said, “Yes.”

When asked to the rest of the stage with a show-of-hands, hands were slow to raise, and candidates looked back and forth at each other, thinking quickly of how their answer could be politically expedient.

Gov. Mike Huckabee was the first hand up, followed by Sen. Sam Brownback and Rep. Tom Tancredo.

This was a telling moment.  Here were three candidates willing to ignore evidence and brandish their ignorance in a show to placate a political base.  To me, grounds for immediate disqualification.

This year during the “debates” some pundit mentioned that such questions were useless in vetting a presidential candidate. I could not disagree more.  This is absolutely the best question to ask anyone seeking the highest office in the land, an office where they literally have their finger on the power to annihilate the planet. They also have to make many policy decisions that could benefit from objective scientific validation, and to turn a blind eye to science for political gains is detrimental to us all.

To deny that evolution happened over the last 3.6 billion years (and still happens and is ongoing) means that you have to be willing to ignore evidence.  Worse, you have to be willing to ignore evidence and accept what someone believes in the absence of evidence, but on the basis of faith.

So when an important decision needs to be made (like invade Iraq to take out Saddam Hussein in retribution for 9-11) who do we want to make that decision?  Do we want someone in power that will carefully consider and weigh all points of view, options, and evidence, and then make a decision based on the facts, or do we want someone that will default to the voice in his head, the voice he hears in prayers, the voices of his supporters, the voices of big business, the voices of his party, and/or the voices of contributors? 

Evolution is the basis of speciation and natural selection is the mechanism by which it happens.  That is not a subject of debate among the world’s scientists.  Fewer theories have more support from diverse scientists and avenues of inquiry.  To refuse to accept this evidence to placate the ignorant shows that a politician is either lying or stupid.

Anyone not accepting evolution as an established and supported theory that explains the diversity of life on earth should be immediately disqualified from holding the office of President of the USA.  The next decade will require hard decisions to be made on economic policy, energy policy, foreign policy, and many other areas.  We need leaders that are connected to science and quality information, that can make good decisions when provided with information, and accept reality over influences.

They could instead run for King of a planet that is flat, cooling and in the middle of the universe.