Sunday, August 17, 2014

This is What I Get For Offering to Help...

In the last blog I wrote about correspondence from a young woman that apparently was not interested in scientific interaction.  To review, she posted a note on the Stop Neil deGrasse Tyson from Talking about Science petition, requesting he contact her so that she could give his dim self some book learnin'.  She provided an email address in this public forum.

Dr. Tyson is a busy guy.  He's trying to disentangle fundamental questions about our universe, and may not be surfing crackpot websites, especially those trying to censor him.

To be of service, I wrote a short and punchy note to (we'll call her RK) only to earn a semi-psychopathic retort.

I get it.  Asking Neil deGrasse Tyson to contact you and then getting a note from Kevin Folta is a lot like ordering a pizza and having the delivery guy show up with a used tube sock filled with guacamole. I'm sure she was disappointed, but when life hands you a tube sock of guacamole, get the chips!

I took the time to write back a little softer note explaining the situation.

On the surface my note seems soft and helpful-- but the words within conjured a rhetorical shitstorm like I've never seen. The "ego" comment comes from her last note where she tells me, "Drop your ego little man!"  She's giving Valerie some competition in the zany department! 


My message disappeared into cyberspace, hoping to mend a misunderstanding or somehow illuminating that she just might be wrong.  However, my desire to initiate a healthy and useful conversation was dead on arrival.  My offer to assist was met with an interesting reply-- and I have no idea what she is talking about! 


Yikes!  I never visited her facebook page-- Ever. YouTube channel?  I guess I have no publications or even a B.S. degree...  Don't like that I offer to help a woman?  I offer to help everyone...

BUT WAIT! THERE'S MORE... 



I do kind of hope she calls my department and asks to talk to the Chair... He'd be happy to hear her complaint. I think he already has, and he knows all sides of this fiasco. 


Today's blog has two major conclusions:

1.  This is why scientists don't engage.  The abuse and threats from wackos are a turn off and make you feel like you are wasting your time.

2.  This is why Mike Adams and Vandana Shiva are actually dangerous.  When they encourage violence against journalists and scientists, there are a number of unstable persons out there like RK that could easily be inspired to carry out their bidding.  





Saturday, August 16, 2014

A Kind Scholarly Note from a Sweet Soul

Last weekend when skimming the petition to silence Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson I stumbled upon one that seemed really odd.  The author, I'm guessing a female, said, "End the Bt (Agent Orange) Toxic Corn", as part of her rant.  She offered her email address an suggested that Dr. Tyson contact her, of course, perhaps in more crunchy tones.

Seeing as though Dr. Tyson was probably busy solving problems of the cosmos and not likely to respond to this request, I kindly took it upon myself to send her a quick note and clarify her Bt/Agent Orange foible.

Shortly thereafter I received her gentle retort.



Reaching out to touch the lives of others with the gift of science.  My she is one feisty space bat.  I'd recommend Occupy a Padded Cell. I'm guessing her trusted and accredited news sources is probably Natural News.

My first note to her was honest and well intended, and I'd be glad to talk to her about transgenics, Bt, 2,4-D, agent orange, whatever.  I don't think she's much interested in what science has to offer, as she seems like an angry nutcase that is probably flipping kittens into a wood chipper and not partaking in critical analysis of the scholarly literature. 

Oh well.  I tried. Next time I'll take a whiz on a killer bee colony instead. 

Tomorrow I'll post our next correspondence... 







Saturday, August 9, 2014

DeGrasse Is Not Always Greener in the Other Science

I was grateful when Dr. Neil deGrasse Tyson accidentally stepped in science's ripest dookie- anti-GMO pseudoscience.  He's getting to experience first hand what it is like to be a scientist trying to communicate sound science with the most rabid bunch of clueless know-it-alls ever amassed under a single banner.

When asked last week about transgenic crops, he said that humans have been manipulating genes for thousands of years, so "chill out".  He's exactly right.  Humans have been taking the trash that nature gave us and folding it into useful crops for certainly the last 10,000 years. The process is random and wild, and only since the dawn of biotechnology do we have any handle on what genes we are moving and how we do it.

However, far be it from the anti-GMO movement to accept scientific facts.  To them, Tyson is a sellout to corporate seed greed, a Monsanto Collaborator, and probably someone that Mike Adams wants dead.

I wrapped up my Saturday science day and opened the browser only to find this gem:


20,000 people capable of logging on to the internet are clearly smarter than one goofy Monsanto-owned astrophysicist.  


It is a petition-- that's right, a petition, to tell Dr. Tyson to not tell people to "chill out" about GM foods. 

A petition.  A device usually used to invite a change in policy, here it is being used to coerce a scientist out of speaking, well, scientifically.  

The good news is that some of the petitioners take the time to provide rationale for why they want Dr. Tyson to not tell them to chill out.  It is tragic comic gold.  In no place have I recently read such a public display of mass ignorance, criticizing our generation's greatest voice in science. 

Let's look at some of the gems:


Mrs. Sandy Pidgeon from Montana expresses her concerns about that roundup-ready wheat.  She apparently suffers from MS, so she's sensitive to the food she eats.  Unfortunately, she is ready to voice out against the GMO wheat-- when there is no GMO wheat.  It was never commercialized. 


Ms. Cheryl Berdahl from Nevada notes that "All of Europe can't be wrong".   

I have two words.  Soccer.  Hasselhoff. 


Ms. Jessica Kraskian from New Jersey clearly wants Tyson replaced.  He doesn't verify her biases the way Sagan did, like when he said the earth was a pale blue dot in the vastness of space and that we need science more than ever.  Sagan would agree 100% with Tyson, and would call the anti-GMO movement another facet of the Demon Haunted World.  Maybe a scientist like Jeffery Smith could tell everyone about how to cure cancer by burning a smudge stick and breathing in the vapors through an eagle feather.  


Mr. Kevin Klasman swings and misses with his exposition of scientific illiteracy.  He buys into the bogus "infertile crops" narrative and talks of "more aggressive" pesticides, which is exactly not the case. But hey, Tyson is the bonehead, right? 


Rocket surgeon turned internet police guy Mark Crossland peels himself away from the Bararck Hussein Obama Birth Certificate site long enough to give Tyson a pretty firm spanking.  GMOs "change genetic structures" according to this guy, which I guess is true, but it happens at a much lower rate than what happens in traditional breeding, and we understand the genes that are being affected. I'll remember when I teach molecular biology class next year, "Anytime you modify something DNA you F it up".


Mr. Garry M. Doll of Pennsylvania chimes in with some surprising news-- GM technology is not science. At times I've thought of it more of an art form, but in general it is pretty sciencey.  I'm also guessing that science dudes like me know about epigenetics (actually, they discovered it) and maybe we do know something about genetics.  My guess is that Mr. Doll is plagued with recessive genes that block the distinction of reality versus fiction. 


Lee Beffort in Nevada recounts a common allegation-- Dr. Tyson is now sold out to Corporate Masters, many others site that he's a shill for Fox News. You know, the corporation that tells scientists to talk about how the world is being threatened by antropogenic climate change.  They can't have it both ways, can they?


Dr. George DeForest of Texas, a state known for its high scientific resolution, suggests that Tyson is not qualified to speak on transgenic crops because his scientific training in astrophysics.  I'm guessing Dr. Deforest is a podiatrist. 

WAIT WE"RE NOT DONE!  

This is the very tippy tip of the iceberg and I'm going to use this platform to generate lots of responses and even some video.  

Thanks Dr. Tyson for getting involved in this topic.  You've stirred a pot that needed to be stirred, so let's get all of the public advocates for science on board to stand up for science, and stand up for biotechnology!






Tuesday, July 29, 2014

"Health Ranger'"-like Science Cleansing in Stalin's Russia

Sometimes history repeats itself.  Sometimes history repeats itself in remarkable irony.

Last week Mike Adams (the Natural News ‘Health Ranger’), a highly public figure in natural foods and magical thinking,  made a less than veiled call to arms.  Citing references to Nazi propaganda, he almost directly instructed the assassination of scientists and journalists that exhibited favorable viewpoints on transgenic (GMO) technology.   Much has been written about his rants onsocial media, along with his tenuous claims that scientists and journalists are dangerous corporate pawns with a mission to poison the planet.

Adams’ deplorable viewpoints caused quite a hiccup, followed by a backpedal.  Even anti-GMO's darling Vandana Shiva lovingly posted Adams' science-Nazi rants, until even she realized that he is insane and probably bad for $40,000 speaker engagements.  They have since been pulled from her website and live on only in screenshots for use another day.

Inciting harm to scientists that fail to comply with a popular social myth is nothing new.  We can point to The Inquisition, to Pope Urban IV and Galileo, and many others. 

Adams’ call for the murder of scientists and reference to Nazi imagery brings to mind the story of Nikolai Vavilov.  Vavilov was a brilliant scientist and gifted geneticist, years before genetics was even a discipline.  His tireless collections of plant species, incredible observations and excellent science were decades before his time.  His collections of seeds are among the world’s greatest and his botanical tenets remain underpinnings of modern crop biology.

Nikolai Vavilov, brilliant botanist and plant collector.  He was murdered for his science that was not accepted by those that held "alternative" views in science. 


Here’s the punch line.  Vavilov would be arrested and tried by the Stalin regime for his views on science.  He would die in prison for his science.  He remains to this day a hero among academics in plant breeding, and a martyr of science.

Nikolai Vavilov was born in 1874.  He attended fine academies and quickly found himself among Russian luminaries of science.  In 1917 he became a professor at Saratov University, and quickly gained attention as one of the world’s foremost experts in plant biology. 

He attained this distinction because of his expeditions and collections.  He traveled the globe, identifying new species and trends of diversification within plant populations.  He traveled into uncharted areas of the world to better understand plant biology and plant diversity. During his travels he documented skirmishes with bandits, and bouts with malaria and typhus.  Throughout his career he traveled to 64 countries understanding plants, taking massive collections (160,000 cataloged under his direction), careful documentation and generating huge amounts of data.  He wrote many books and scholarly papers, spoke fifteen languages, and introduced ideas that were revolutionary in a time where the concepts of the gene were just bubbling to the fore. 

He would rise to the position of Deputy Director of the Soviet Bureau of Applied Botany.  At the peak, the institute was home to over 20,000 scientists and 400 research laboratories.  Some concepts, such as the Law of Homologous Series of Variation (1920) are still taught in contemporary breeding and evolution classes, and as far as traits go, typically hold up to modern molecular scrutiny.

Vavilov lived during the transition to Stalinist Russia.  Lenin died in 1924, and Stalin took charge of the country.  With this change came a frank denial of Darwin and his fundamental principles.  Vavilov, being a scientist and witnessing living examples consistent with Darwin’s ideals, held views consistent with the emerging concepts of genetics.

T.D. Lysenko claimed that species changed because the environment "trained" next generations. His data were limited, he was criticized by scientists worldwide, but those in charge in his country accepted and lauded Lysenko and his "science" because it fit communist ideology better than Darwinian ideas. 

Coincident with as Vavilov’s ascendance, a young scientist named T.D. Lysenko began working under his direction.  Lysenko examined vernalization, the process of inducing flowering by subjecting plants to cooler temperatures.  This is an important agricultural trait to understand, as it governs when food will be produced.  Lysenko became a prominent voice in plant science, and was appreciated by the Soviet government because his ideas of Lamarckian evolution fit the government’s preferences over Vavilov’s Darwinian slant.

Lysenko had narrow training and rejected Mendelian genetics and Darwinian evolution. He was opposed to the use of hybrid maize, a concept that was gaining acceptance at the time.

The contrast was becoming more clear.  Lysenko pushed a concept that conditioned changes could be inherited.  His hypotheses were based on a single plant, and he was seriously criticized by the wider scientific community.   On the other hand, Vavilov adhered to Darwinian concepts, indicating that traits were inherited and predictable in populations.  (Sound familiar in the modern context?)

Meanwhile, Vavilov invited American-resident Russian scientist Georgi Karpechenko to return to his home country.  Karpechenko was well known for his studies of speciation in plants, particularly in examination of polyploids (plants that possess too many sets of chromosomes). In 1940 Karpechenko eventually returned to Russia.  

Science of inheritance and chromosomes discussed by Vavilov and Karpechenko did not resonate well with Stalin-regime leaders. They were described as "Mendelist-Morganist enemies of the people".  Lysenko’s ideas of nurture being more powerful than nature matched well with the communist doctrine, as they found the idea that change could be installed to be consistent with their philosophy.  Stalin’s government then would dictate the rules of biology, and how they were applied.

During the late 1930's, on a Mike Adams-like roundup, geneticists were arrested and tried.  Many of them were murdered for their acceptance of Darwinian evolution.

Among them would be Vavilov and Karpechenko.


Vavilov was the director of a prestigious scientific institution, so his arrest would bring great public attention.  He was invited to an excursion in what is today western Ukraine, and in 1940 he was arrested.   The collecting excursion was designed to get him into a place where there would be little news, little controversy when arrested.  Vavilov was returned to Seratov where he was tried and convicted.  He was supposed to have been executed by firing squad, but he was spared to twenty years in prison.

Arguably the greatest scientist of the time and one of the best plant scientists ever was then incarcerated in the Seratov Prison, a hideous gulag where he suffered in horrendous conditions, sustaining himself on moldy flour and cabbage.  

He died 2.5 years later in 1943 of cardiac failure at the age of 55, malnourished and wasting in solitary confinement.

Fellow scientist Kapechenko, along with some of his colleagues, were arrested and executed by firing squad in 1941 for practicing forbidden sciences of genetics

*****

During his confinement, Vavilov stood by his science, stood by his understanding,  eventually to his demise. He wrote, with reference to The Inquisition, "We shall go to the pyre, we shall burn; but we shall not retreat for our convictions."

To stand in the cross hairs of Adams' violent motivations is not to compare to Nikolai Vavilov.  He sits aside Borlaug and few others in his scientific stature and in his impacts on modern plant science.  

The point is to compare where ideology violently over-rules science.  It is relevant again as we witness a new war of anti-scientific ideas, along with an orchestrated call for harm to scientists and the journalists that support science.  Adams creates an insidious parallel between scientists and Nazi criminals, and parallels between the death of over six million innocent people and modern agricultural practice.

In times of such faulty rhetoric, it is reasonable to review the instances in history where ideology made irreversible errors that harmed innocent stewards of science, and without question slowed progress in the future of food. 

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Do You Stand with Adams and Shiva?

Dear Biotech Critics,

Mike Adams has issued a rather unveiled threat against journalists and scientists that favorably view crop biotechnology.  His position has since been implicitly backed by Vandana Shiva on her website.

it is the moral right — and even the obligation — of human beings everywhere to actively plan and carry out the killing of those engaged in heinous crimes against humanity.


This is a call to publicly denounce the terrorist tactics by Adams and Shiva.  It is important to your own movement that you distance yourself from them, and condemn their statements.

Or, if you think their positions are good, don't I have a right to know?

Thanks!

Kevin

Friday, July 25, 2014

Vandana Shiva Endorses Murder of Biotech Supporters

Mike Adams has called for the assassination of journalists and scientists that stand behind the use of modern biotechnology in crops.  Not to be outdone, this warm message of love and tolerance was quickly posted by Vandana Shiva, you know, the one that received the Sydney Peace Prize in 2010.  Sydney must be a relatively violent place.

Today her website featured a reprint of Adams' article, reminding her followers that science is not to be tolerated and that those that support science must be stopped.   Her website, Seed Freedom, reminds her throngs of followers of Adams' vicious message- that those supporting biotechnology are all simply "Monsanto Collaborators" and akin to Nazi supporters that generated propaganda and took action to advance the influence of Adolf Hitler and the Nazi movement.  The content squares nicely with her claims of modern biotech as being a new genocide, responsible for the deaths of millions.

Shiva's website proudly displays Adams' vicious call to action for violence against scientists and journalists.

My gut tells me that this was the work of one of her minions and not the work of Shiva herself.  You'd have to be relatively dim to endorse Adams and his rhetoric.  While potentially in concordance with his views, Shiva is an adept politician, and will know that this call to action will backfire.  Equating good science to one of histories most heinous atrocities is so blatantly flawed that even she won't let it stand, as this rhetorical flourish will come back to harm her someday.  Don't expect it to remain on her website very long.

UPDATE. 

As of 7/29/14 there is no more website at this URL.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Do Not Stop Adams and Intimidation - Exploit It.

This week, Health Ranger Mike Adams made a thinly-veiled call to recruit anti-GMO activists and the general public to arms.  His goal, mobilize interest to threaten or harm scientists, journalists and others that dare to interpret the scientific literature on transgenic crops and/or communicate it to the public.  The article appeared on Natural News, a page with a readership of over 200,000 a day.  The page was steeped in Nazi imagery, calling supporters of transgenic technology part of the Agricultural Holocaust.

The title of the article is : Biotech genocide, Monsanto collaborators and the Nazi legacy of ‘science’ as justification for murder

I hear that the Nazis have contacted Adams and the owners of the "Monsanto Collaborators" website.  The Nazis feel that Adams and anti-GMO are negative weight on their reputation.


Stay hot, Dork Ranger.  Of course, he now has shown that he's seriously off his rocker and willing to command his army of the brain dead to harm those that don't capitulate to their level of stupid. 

TODAY!!!!  Imagine my joy when I find this!  A new page constructed that follows Adam's direction to establish a page of "Monsanto Collaborators", people with no formal collaboration to Monsanto, but people that communicate and/or do research on transgenic technology.  
Right now the "scientist" section is not populated, but I'm hoping to be on that list!


Now they have moved to intimidation phase.  When you don't have facts, evidence or data, use a swastika. This will backfire.  Let him leave it up there as long as possible. 

Keith Kloor addresses this whole thing quite well today, so no sense in being redundant.   The question now is, what should we do now? 

ABSOLUTELY NOTHING.   In fact, we should use this as a badge of honor, put this in every website, public talk, twitter article, whatever it takes.  DO NOT CALL TO TAKE IT DOWN.  

It means we are making a difference. 

This journalist/scientist= Nazi angle will absolutely backfire.  Remember, the people that need communication and convincing are not the crazies on  the edge, they are the people in the fat of the bell curve.  They don't know one way or the other, so they choose based on fear rather than logic.

What's more illogical than calling for harm to the scientists and journalists that simply discuss technology that has been overwhelmingly beneficial?  What's more illogical than indicting people that have a clue, but connecting them to Nazi Germany?  Goodwin's Law usually is spot on. 

My appeal is to scientists, journalists and the public, especially those named on this list, to let it ride!   Take screen shots, use it far in wide, put it in every seminar, website and blog entry.  Adams says what most of them just think.   His stupid filter doesn't stop at just writing nonsense, he's actually spewing it like a fire hydrant.

This kind of imagery will end the labeling discussion dead in its tracks.  Adams calls for harm to scientists and journalists, but has done irreparable harm to his own cause.

I'm calling this one a victory.