Monday, September 2, 2013

Kauai III -- The Sweet Side of an Island Divided

*** NOTE- I prepared this blog entry a month ago after returning from Kauai, the day after I posted the angry messages I received, but neglected to post it.  I really regret that because this was meant to be the contrast to the anger.  This one is about the kind side and a common goal.***


As I watched the island of Kauai disappear in the airplane window I was a little sad at what I left behind.  It is a beautiful place with wonderful people for and against biotech-- for and against Ordinance 2491.  The companies brought me out there because I reach out and try to talk about the science.  When you reach out softly, you can't be surprised when someone kindly reaches back.

greet 2491.jpg
This picture from the day of the public hearing speaks volumes. You can't tell if the Rivera bothers are arm wrestling or shaking hands from both sides of the issue. Do any of us know?  In reality, we just don't want either one to lose. 
photo credit: Dennis Fujimoto/The Garden Island
(Hi Fern!)

My last post was about the the threatening, angry and viscous.  It made reference to a handful of angry and maybe evil emails I received since appearing on KKCR radio.  To me, it was science time.  The first 20 minutes were full of understanding. So good. It turned a little sour after 20 minutes and that's fine.  It rattled a few cages if the dozen emails I received are any indicator (I gave out my actual email on the air, so that 'splains it).

Since I've returned I've enjoyed great emails and Facebook exchanges via messages with several people on the island.  After a few back-n-forths it ended in an offer to visit and some understanding that we all are on the same side- we just disagree on how to get there.  I can live with that because from there we can adjust.  It is not the hard line of 2491-- "GMOs kill", "companies are evil", etc.

There still are some that were provoked by a scientist speaking from evidence that was inconsistent with their worldview.  Some of them had the desire to fire off angry emails.  That's fine.

Throughout the trip I met with many that had concerns.  Deep in my science brain I knew that their concerns were based on thin data and perhaps misinformation.  Still, these were humans, mostly wonderful caring people that I was glad to meet.  Their concerns were real and deserved answers.  Corporate seed farms are there, but the good dialog was always missing.  You can blame the companies or you can blame the people, but my feeling is that both need to do a better job at fostering understanding.

Yes, I received a few nastygrams.  They didn't phase me. They were lost in the kind thoughts on Facebook, twitter and various blogs. There were also people that thanked me for coming and others that just appreciated me interacting and not being a complete jerk.

Even one of the leading and most visible anti-GM activists left a nice message and her phone number on my work voicemail box.  You know who you are. I've enjoyed great dialog with others via Facebook and social media.

To the companies and the concerned residents-- you are in this together.  Nobody wants to poison children or harm the environment.  The companies are populated by people, with families and a community, that honestly believe in humans first.  They have children there, they love the place and the people.  You can wave a middle finger at the nameless faceless Wall Street symbol and that's fine.  But those companies are made up of people that care, in a wonderful home, on a beautiful island that worry about tomorrow.

Kauai is a special place with a special problem, the collision when an abstract and on-the-face creepy science meets a pristine environment.  It is time for everyone to dial it back a notch.  Decide where you can agree.  Decide how to find experts that can guide science on the island and ensure its safety.

I feel bad saying, "This is your problem, you sort it out", but I'd like to see this come to a good conclusion. Ordinance 2491 is not the solution. I'd personally like to see citizen concerns and corporate responsibility meet somewhere in between.  Let science be the guide.

If we trust facts, science and reason we all win-- as does the Island of Kauai.


*** Last note in proof.  One month after I've been there I enjoy almost daily interaction with those on the pro-2491 issue, and can't wait to visit them on a return trip. Even those that have reputations as being aggressive anti-GM personalities have been kind and reasonable lately.  Hope to see all of you again.***



Tuesday, August 27, 2013

High Weirdness and Heimliching

I would not believe it if it did not happen to me. 


I get an email, out of the blue, that makes zero sense.


Even though I have no idea about what this is, I don't hesitate to invite myself for lunch and talk about trees...



So Sue writes me back, looks like lunch time!!


She then calls me and it turns out that she's at a conference down the street and there's an opportunity to network with a palm breeder.  He's bred new types of palms high in healthful oils, but they can't grow them in Florida because it is too cold.  These are equatorial trees with no cold tolerance. Still, maybe there's some cool tricks we could do to make it work here.

Unfortunately I had to decline because lunch was scheduled for 12:30, but was delayed because the conference was running late. I had an errand to run and then be at a graduate student orientation meeting at 1 pm.

I was driving on my way to the errand when my phone rings.  It was Sue, and it turns out that they moved the lunch up an hour to 12 noon.  I was literally in front of the conference center where the lunch was being held, the timing now worked, so I turned into the driveway and went in for lunch.

We all gathered a plate from the buffet and I sat next to the palm breeder.  We had a good conversation about hybrid palms and potential use for oil plants in Florida.

Suddenly he starts making a grunting noise.  He does it again and it is clear that he's choking.  Just as I learned, I stood behind him, gave him two blows between the shoulders with my the palm (go figure) of my hand, then reached around and delivered the Heimlich maneuver.

The blockage cleared.  He sat, took a deep breath, and I sat down and shaky from the adrenaline rush.

******

When I look back at the strange turn of events that placed me in to the right time and place, it is pretty amazing.  But do you want to know the weirdest part?

The lunch was in the exact same room of the conference center where I took the CPR / Heimlich class.














Wednesday, August 14, 2013

Fake Websites, Fake E-Mails- New Tactics in the Fight Against Science

Beware.  The underhanded elements of the anti-GM world are now impersonating scientists and companies in the electronic media.

A few weeks ago I received a frantic email from a plant scientist I know needing advice.  I'll give details soon.

In general, he was the organizer for a plant biology conference where transgenic (GMO) plants were part of the discussion.  Activists bought a URL similar to the conference URL, then sent emails using a corresponding email account, using his name in an attempt to defame him.

They wrote fraudulent emails with harmful content.  The idea was to cause harm to his reputation and the conference. Several emails were sent that may impact his career, and certainly they have caused him substantial grief.  Poor guy.  He's a good guy with a great family and wonderful students.  Yet there are those out there that want to hurt him and damage his career.

Today a website showed up on the internet at www.monsantoglobal.com .  This site is a direct mock-up of the Monsanto's template but the content has been changed to reflect incorrect and even malicious information.

Fake websites that look authentic.  Impersonation is the most sincere form of flattery. My guess is that there will be a little lawsuit coming down on this one. The big MON usually ignores the harassment, but this may have crossed the line. 


This is copied right from the page:

MYTH:   Fear exists around what’s popularly known “terminator” seeds, which are developed and commercialized to only be used once a year.  Farmers will not be able to harvest these seeds for future growing seasons and will have to buy them from Monsanto every year.
FACT:  Although it is true that we are developing these seeds, Monsanto needs to protect our products.  As the trailblazers in the development of GMO seeds, Monsanto maintains a legal right to protect and charge for our biotechnology.
MYTH : The creation of pesticide-resistant crops opens the door for new “super” pests that might be resistant to pesticides.
FACT : Monsanto spends over 2 million dollars a day in research in order to maintain itself as leader in the technology in pesticide production. We are devoted to staying a step ahead of nature and providing our consumers with the best quality products for all of their growing needs.

The bottom line is that these are boldfaced lies.  There is no "terminator" seed and Monsanto is not even a "leader in the technology of pesticide production".    Absolute crap.

What this tells me is that when you can't convince people with fake science, they need to impersonate scientists and biotech companies in an attempt to deceive.

So when you get the insane email from Kelvin Folate please consider it with the greatest of skepticism.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

TH121 Infomercial- Anti-Aging and Weight Loss!

Today I'm listening to the hardcore right-wing radio station in town, the SKY WSKY 97.3 in Gainesville Florida. As I've posted before, although they want the 10 commandments in every classroom and courthouse in the USA, they spend the weekend as the vectors of bearing false witness. They run a series of fake medical radio shows that actually are infomercials for bogus health items.

Today I heard the claims of TH121, on a commercial posing as a radio show called "Ask The Doctor" hosted by Charlie Robbins. If by "ask" they mean staged phone calls and if "doctor" they mean the company selling a vitamin and making claims about it, then they are 100% honest.

These a-holes really make me mad. They had caller after caller phone in, without ever offering a dial up number. Each caller lost weight, and fast, without dieting and exercise! One caller claimed 9 pounds in three weeks! Then they say that there are no side effects, that is is "safe" and "FDA Approved".

Check Google- there's no Charlie Robbins and the only thing you can find about "Charlie Robbins Ask the Doctor" is a complaint that the free trial of this product are not free when you call in. You have to pay for two months and then get one free. Apparently they say it is a mistake in the commercial. I'll check that later.

A bit of research shows that TH121 is just some acai berry extract, an antioxidant to be sure, but the medical claims are not supported by the scholarly medical literature (just by Oprah).

Give them a call. 800-966-9368. Ask them when you can call into the Charlie Robbins show and maybe if you can have the free product. It will never happen.

Seattle Workshop? Our Proposal's Fate.

You may remember that I submitted a proposal to give an "ask a scientist" workshop at the Seeds of Justice get together in Seattle, Aug 1-2.  The event has all of the usual suspects that will throw the usual crazy kerosene on the imaginary biotechnology fire.

My hope was to get all of the angry anti's in one place and just answer their questions honestly. Anastasia Bodnar, Jon Entine and I were excited to participate, even in a likely hostile forum. Certainly they'd be whipped into a frenzy by Smith, Shiva and the laundry list of non-scientists pontificating as experts.  What a great time to talk to them about science, how we do it, and what it says.

So what was their response?

Crickets.

Crickets.

Crickets.

No response.

Seeing as though we would need to plan, buy tickets, arrange lodging etc, it is not something we could do overnight.  It would be a significant expense for us to participate, but we were willing to take this on if given a forum to do some public education.

I actually gave them more credit than I should have.  I honestly thought they'd have us out for a discussion.

"Lo, come to Me, oh smelly waves of the credulous! I will teach you to fear, teach you that scientists are evil, and that you are all being poisoned. And buy my book on the way out"


On second thought, the survival of their club relies on suppression of evidence, turning a blind eye on science, and feeding a strategic system of misinformation driven by angry activists, profiteering authors and misaligned natural foodies.

And yes, sour frickin' grapes.  I love to engage an audience that disagrees with me.

And say what you want about CATO and their forum.  At least they had the balls to host one.

At the "SoJ" meeting they will spew their insanity to willing listeners.  Unchallenged and non-critical, they can gaze glassy eyed into the god-like presence of luminaries like Smith, Shiva and Kimbrell and hang on every word they say. Sniff the rag, sniff the rag...

At least we tried.  Teaching and education will squelch the fear of transgenic technology.  That's why the profiteers driving the anti-industries need to make sure that there is no science, teaching or education in their forums.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Collateral Damage of Tripe

To many in the anti-GMO movement the report on pig stomach inflammation could not have been more welcome.  In a time were generating public hysteria is job #1, a flurry of hazard claims based on scientifically bankrupt articles in obscure journals is the best thing that can happen.

Or is it?

The latest attack on science comes from a report from renowned anti-GM activist Judy Carman.  Number 2 on her 'science' team is Mr. Howard Vleiger, the guy that came up with the stunning corn data that likely are fabricated numbers. So his stellar credibility may follow him here.

Their paper has some nice points in that they finally start to use relevant numbers and measure lots of health parameters.  That's good.  What is atrocious is the statistical massage (beating) and the overstepping of the data, as long as some severe flaws in experimental design. These have been discussed elsewhere and I might fill in some of the gaps later.

Good Ol' Mike Adams continues his scholarly interpretation of the literature. 


My big complaint here is different.  You are screwing "organic" stuff.

The report was published in an online journal, the Journal of Organic Systems.  Hmm. JOS is an almost non-existent, web-based journal that does not even have an impact factor.  The JOS  has sponsors, one that is the Organic Federation of Australia.  They promote Seralini's work on their homepage.

This is the problem.  Right now the poor research is being used to manipulate the credulous and breed fear.  However, silently in the background there is a mounting discrediting of organic cultivation.  The legitimate science of organic production, a discipline built on low-input agriculture, is now becoming aligned with crackpot science, dubious reports, insane activists and politically-motivated manipulation of data.

I'm a fan of organic farming, a fan that understands its strengths and limitations.  Many small farms use these practices to reach niche markets and stay in business, and oftentimes produce a superior product to conventional.

I have colleagues that do great work in this area.

I fear that the continued hijacking of the organic label to vilify sound technology is only going to discredit a discipline that needs all the cred it can get.  A lot of people view organic ag as flaky and unscientific. That's just wrong and it is changing as good science makes that case.

My hope is that those that value organic produce and low-input agriculture, maybe even those that hate Big Ag, might realize that by hitching their wagon to horrible science their own interests are the ones that ultimately suffer.

Monday, May 27, 2013

University Scientists- Corporate Puppets or Public Servants? - a Post Revisited

*** I posted this a few years ago and it really fits well in the current climate.  How much are scientists really "paid off" by corporate interests?  How much funding at public institutions comes from corporate sources? ***

The scientific consensus of public, 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 scientists- 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 minor 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 their experts in academic research 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.