Tuesday, September 30, 2014

My New Hat

Science sure is cool.  However, when I talk about science in public places, and that science doesn't mesh with someone's beliefs, they tend to get prickly.  I'd like to think that scholarly, evidence-based discussion can bring those in disagreement to a common ground based on data and its interpretations. However, when all they have is photoshop and time on their hands- they don't talk science- they give me a funny hat.

Better yet, they juxtapose me next to woo-woo former scientist David Suzuki.  This gem was floating around the internet, thanks to the folks over at GMO Free USA. 



To opponents of transgenic technology, the words they agree with define their allegiance, not critical consideration of data, interpretations or scientific consensus.  And to call a publishing scientist "Anti-science" while calling Suzuki "Pro science" when he's the guy on record of being "ashamed by geneticists"... 

Plus they gave me a demotion to "Interim Chairman".  Geez.  Plus they fail to realize that a guy that even is an interim chairman among high-caliber scientists in crop science might know a little more about crop biotech than a guy that published fruit fly genetics papers on  in the 1970s. No hard disrespect to Suzuki-- he wrote my favorite Genetics textbook in the 80's and clearly had a distinguished career. But his contemporary understanding of biotech crops is all ideology and not science-based. Sometimes scientists just go batty when they get old and irrelevant.

And what do the comments say?  Well there are over 700 Facebook 'shares' of this image, so lots of my stupid mug getting around.  Here are just a few comments:




And the bummer is that I'm blocked from GMO-USA, so I can't even respond.  Of course, nobody realizes that my lab's research is not funded by Monsanto, never was. In fact over the last five years our University received $21,000 total grant support to one faculty member.  That is distributed over three research projects!  Clueless.

It reminds us that they speak without evidence and are willing to fabricate information to appease each other and their common beliefs. 



Plus I like this one!

I don't remember when the government told us that Agent Orange was safe.  Maybe right after they told us not to drink coke and eat pop rocks at the same time.


And what's up with Suzuki?  They best video is here. Shows his surfacy treatment of the subject.

 http://en.video.canoe.tv/video/suzuki's-clueless/2695393091001

Watch at 4 minutes and listen to him make up insane junk about strawberries, Puzstai and Mick Jagger, rambling in an argument from ignorance-- and then he gets owned.  It is fun to watch him squirm, because he's their hero. To his credit, he says he's open to be convinced-- he might just see how taking such stances harm his reputation.

Let's see what happens.

The bottom line is I must be doing something right.  When the GMO USA folks take the time to smear a public scientist for talking about science, you know they are on the ropes, and fight their battle using photoshop over facts. 



Thursday, September 18, 2014

Guest on RT; Ambush or Error?

When the phone call came in my Administrative Assistant accepted-- my time was open at 6 pm EST to talk to Russia Today (RT).   I know Abby Martin, I've seen her shows and understand her politics, so I didn't cancel.  I did speak to the producer.  It was sold to me that I'd be a guest on the show about GMO technology. There would be another guest, but it would be a conversation.

I was scheduled for 6 pm, and RT bought 25 minutes of 'fiber time'.  This is the time on the satellite feed that they purchase to ensure a decent connection with where I was in Gainesville, FL.  I raced back from my talk at Valencia College to make it on time.  I cleaned up, fixed my tie by 5:45, and sat ready to begin at 6 pm.


No idea this was a "debate". I guess if I knew this was they GMO Bill Nye vs Ken Hamm I would not have agreed. 


At 6 pm I was ready to go.  However, there was a 10 min story on Scottish independence.  At 6:10 there was a discussion of libertarian candidate presence in the debates.

Which led to the last 10 minutes for me to discuss transgenic technology, which turns out to be a "debate" with someone from Organic Consumer's Association.

Fine with me, I have facts and evidence, I'm down for a discussion, but there's no debate.  What is there to debate?

I provide a scientific synthesis of transgenic technologies, and the woman from OCA comes out blazing with the usual nonsense.  She claims there is no FDA oversight, that Monsanto controls all seeds and tells farmers what to do, blah, blah, blah.  The discussion turns to labeling.

Right when I get my chance to refute the nonsense-- the feed dies, precisely at 6:25, right when we knew it would die.  This left five minutes for the guest to go on and on about "insecticides in blood" (the tired junk study by Aris and Leblanc refuted here), no regulation, health concerns, and every other bogus claim.

It was really disappointing.

I'm going to reach out to her and see if she's being deceptive or just does not know better.  I'll report back...

I'm not a big conspiracy guy.  However, they KNEW that they had 25 minutes, we told them that time was short, yet they moved this discussion to the back end of the report.

I"ll never go on Abby Martin again unless they do some major damage control.  It sort of seems like an ideological ambush, a planned illusion of false equivalence.  A perfect anti-GMO scam.

So far no reports to Twitter, so this thing likely died in place.  Let's hope so.

Friday, September 5, 2014

A Conference to Misinform

Colorado is trying to pass a GMO labeling law, so they'll need to bring in the slate of discredited pseudoscientists to scare the credulous.  The Seeds of Doubt Conference is being held on October 11, and features an array of proven scare mongers that sell bad science.


Renowned experts!  Wow!  I can't wait to see who those might be...



The usual suspects.  Of course, nobody invited that actually presents a viewpoint based on the peer-reviewed literature.


This is no surprise.  When a ballot initiative needs to steep a population in fear and push them to vote against science, this group will be most effective.  Huber will talk about his mystery "entity" that he's cultured since 2002 and has no idea what it is (even though anyone could figure it out in a few days).  There's author and documentarian Jeffery Smith, a guy who's empire depends on scaring audiences. Seralini is well known for data that never pan out anywhere else in the world, especially in the billions of cattle that consume 100% GMO diets. 

Here's the scary part:  YOU CAN GET CONTINUING EDUCATION CREDITS!  


CONTINUING EDUCATION CREDITS!!  WHAT?
SERIOUSLY?


One of the operative words here is EDUCATION.  This group will misinform a public about a perfectly safe technology.  The participants are not being educated, they are being lied to by expert manipulators that push an activist agenda.  

Having CE Credit for healthcare providers also provides a credibility to the event it does not deserve. 

I'm thinking about hosting an event across the street, a Science Kegger.  Free!  Talk about what participants just heard and how it meshes with actual science.  I just might do it.. 





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.