Monday, April 2, 2018

Off Target CRISPR Report Retracted

The world is poised to hate gene editing technologies, much like they hated refrigerators, cars, open heart surgery and in vitro fertilization.  There has not be a revolutionary technology yet that consumers haven't rejected first, and asked questions later.  Except stuff Apple sells. 

So when a paper came out last year claiming massive off-target effects of CRISPR-based gene editing, the critics went ballistic. 



The scientific brain trust at Mercola.com jumped on the news story, as to the biotechophobe the genetic sky was falling. 


But to the rest of us we looked carefully at the paper and had a lot of questions.  Mostly, it appeared that what the researchers were calling "off target changes" were not changes from gene editing at all, but instead were just natural sequence variations found between mice.  Bee. Eff. Dee. 

One year later, the paper has been retracted.  But the damage has been done.  This revolutionary technology now gets a sideways look when mentioned.  This one paper, and subsequent media explosion, truly harmed public perception. 

The detractors also fail to point out that the therapy rendered allowed blind mice to see, so they may argue that even with a bit of collateral DNA damage the ability to see cheese and mousetraps was a fair tradeoff. 

The point is simple.  This toothpaste is out of the tube and nobody needed to brush their teeth in the first place.  The reputation of this stellar technology has been effectively sullied by activists, the media, and even scientists that failed to look critically at the work before caving into group hysteria. 

The answer?  Be skeptical.  When you hear claims about the dangers of new technology, be aware that there are plenty of people out there that would love to see it fail. 





Sunday, March 25, 2018

Science Denial, Glyphosate, and Democrats

The discussions around agricultural technologies, especially herbicides, are nuanced and complex.  So if someone gets the basic information completely wrong, why would you trust them? 

Such is the case of a Minority Staff Report prepared for congressional members of the Committee for Science, Space and Technology.  That's right, these are the same folks that extol the realities of anthropogenic climate change, now "preparing" a document that has activist fingerprints all over it. 

It is a lot of the same-old same-old conspiracy nonsense-- that herbicide science is a corporate scam where regulators are paid dupes and all of the scientists in the world are corporate liars.  The scientists that make D.O.A. claims that are not supported by ggood science are not described as inept or soft, instead they are heroes, slienced by a well-organized corporate machine. 

The whole thing is embarassing, and a reason why I'll never write a check to the Democratic Party again (I've written off the Republicans long ago). 

You don't need to go further than the cover to see the blatant misinformation.  It shows some dude in a respirator and rubber overalls spraying something on strawberries.  The report photoshops in a bottle of Roundup, the commercial formulation of glyphosate. 

What is wrong with this picture? 

Glyphosate kills strawberries. Dead.*  

The picture does not show someone using glyphosate. It is a lie for shock value, smack dab on the cover. 




The staff of Congressional Democrats presented a document to the Science, Space and Technology Committee that reads like it was written by attorneys and activists. The cover image shows the deception and ignorance.  

Ironically the whole document is activist spin, and the only scientists silenced are the ones they never bothered to interview-- actual scientists that know stuff. 

The whole thing is embarassing, and shows how anti-farming activists attempt to influence policy with fabrications and distortions-- the exact tactics they claim of others.  It also shows that science denial runs on both sides of the aisle. 


* Years ago we lost an important population of strawberry plants when someone used a sprayer to water them, containing a residual amount of glyphosate. 

Friday, February 16, 2018

Texas Postdoctoral Mentoring Conference


This week I had the honor of speaking at the Annual Postdoctoral Career Symposium at the Texas Medical Center.  I'm not sure if that's what it is actually called, but this place in Houston features medical schools associated with Baylor College of Medicine, Texas A&M Medical, Rice University, University of Texas Medical School, MD Anderson Cancer Center, Houston Methodist Research Hospital, and University of Houston.   Such concentrations of research also are anointed with a concentration of postdoctoral researchers. 

Postdocs can easily become a lost class in any university.  They don't get the attention  of undergraduate and graduate students and don't enjoy the same access as faculty. Pay is typically awful, and postdocs are running out of time to start families before they transition into a career or old age-- whatever happens first!

My mission was an extension of what I do at the University of Florida, give some love and guidance to this under-represented and under-appreciated class of professional scientists.  

We spoke about the importance of branding, and how some simple outreach can be the difference between a successful application and one that is looked over.  We discussed the need to exceed expectations, the need to write, and the need to develop a brand.  All of this can leverage the tools of social media networks to build the brand. 




Transitioning from postdoc time to an academic career can be challenging, but some simple steps can improve your chances. 

In a later talk I discussed the philosophy of the academic interview.  Too many times it is a postdoc out of time and money, desperate for a position.  That is a ticket to failure.  

Instead we talked about how to position yourself as an exception scientist with a beautiful story.  I emphasized the need to come off as an interested collaborator, a good friend, someone excited to fit into a department's mission, and someone that just would be a trusted colleague.  After all, we're stuck with you until we retire, so we have to have someone on board we like!

Carolyn Dietz and Angie Vidal were the Co-Chairs of an outstanding organizing committee.  The arrangements, food, travel and schedule were impeccably prepared, and the whole conference was amazingly tight and well organized.  Kudos to them for such a great effort in addition to their normally busy research lives. Their efforts are the kind of leadership that all postdocs should seek to propel themselves into their next careers. 




Sunday, January 28, 2018

Stonyfield Actively Censors Scientific Information- Your Right to Know?

The videos released by Stonyfield Organic are patently offensive.  They use children to produce false statements about well-understood scientific topics, which misleads the consumer, but also has potential to harm children.  

This has drawn the ire of an increasingly large scientifically adept food and farming community, and many have taken to the Stonyfield Facebook page to voice their discontent. 

Ten years ago you would have seen Rob Wager, Prakash, Anastasia, Karl, @mem_somerville and a few others weighing in.  The scientific comments would be buried in a sea of shill accusations from a series of facade accounts (and Ena Valikov).

It makes my heart happy to see scientific traction catching on. The comments come from hundreds of people -- farmers, moms, students -- all presenting reasoned rebuttals to Stonyfield's bad science campaign. 


And it is changing minds. How do we know?

Because the soft, accurate and kind comments are being systematically scrubbed from the website.  Here's just a taste of the venom that Stonyfield flagged as inappropriate:


A pox on your home Michelle Jones, you monster!  Banned! 


And my comment was pretty outrageous. 

Wow, that crosses a line. I can understand why I was banished.


Why would Stonyfield ban people from its website and censor scientific information?  Because science literacy is affecting their bottom line.  If you can't scare people into your products, you have to remove the scientific information that is influencing buying decisions. 

Furthermore you must discredit anyone speaking about science, which is why they claim the the scientifically precise comments all come from bots, trolls and fake accounts.  

Join the Party

I think it is critical to keep illustrating Stonyfield's disregard for a legitimate scientific conversation and ethical marketing practices.  Go to their Facebook page and leave a comment, an honest, kind and genuine one, if (and only if) you feel their campaigns are unethical. Don't do it to harass them. Do it to share science. 

Take a screenshot, watch your post disappear, and then join the group Banned by Stonyfield over on Facebook. Share your screenshot there. 

Stonyfield is Losing Trust

Consumers make food decisions based on trust, and Stonyfield has exploited that for a long time.  They have appealing edges about supporting local co-ops, etc, and that would be a great platform for marketing.  But their main thrust is vilifying their conventional competition.  When their social media erupts with scientific comments in a kind vein, it makes their loyal customer base wonder if they are doing the right thing by paying more for equivalent products and/or supporting a company that lies to consumers. 

That's why the comments are expunged.  Accurate information is making a difference, and scientific information is changing buying patterns. That's something to celebrate. 



Saturday, January 27, 2018

Talking Biotech 119 -- Know Ideas Media

Nick Saik set out to produce a full-length documentary about food and farming technology. Food Evolution did it first, and did it well.  So to avoid a redundant effort Nick is transforming those videos into short features.  Check out his work, and listen to him describe his efforts on this week's podcast. 




Saturday, January 13, 2018

NERD SHIELD ACTIVATE! Donate to Defend Britt Hermes

The language below is provided by the campaign to defend Britt Hermes.



You may know that Britt Hermes, who is an international skeptical campaigner about naturopathy, is currently being sued for defamation.


Britt used to be a naturopath herself, but she now spends a lot of time and effort exposing naturopathic practices, including on her blog “Naturopathic Diaries”.


She’s been taken to court in Germany by US-based naturopath ‘Dr’ Colleen Huber, who is claiming that Britt has defamed her on her blog. Huber is a critic of chemotherapy and radiation therapy in cancer treatment. Instead, she uses ‘natural’ therapies that include intravenous infusions of vitamin C and baking soda.


The international skeptical community is concerned that the case against Britt may have the effect of silencing a major campaigner against unproven and disproven ‘medical’ practices, through the imposition of considerable legal costs.


For this reason, the Australian Skeptics have set up a fund-raising campaign to help cover Britt’s legal costs.


If you would like to contribute to the fund, or want more information, then go to www.skeptics.com.au/BrittHermes.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Love Letters

Do the attack articles really help a cause?  When a scientist is paid by the state and does their vast majority of research from State, Federal and small fruit industry funds, why foment hate against them? 

Here's a love letter I got today, and my response.  Do you really hurt your causes by tarnishing the people that work for you, that are paid with your dollars and are working for the greater good?