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Saturday, May 9, 2015

Mac and Cheese and Still More Baloney

This is sort of a Part II follow-up to my Food Babe vs Sci Babe post. It's (mostly) about Kraft Mac and cheese, but I'm going to share a funny thing that happened to me first.

I tweeted out my blog post as per usual, but this time someone actually read it! And liked it! So we ended up tweeting to each other, and though I had no intention of ever interacting with Yvette, now called Sci Babe, I accidentally tweeted her directly during that conversation. Oops. And she replied.  For the most part, I try not to get into confrontations with people over social media as it's generally pointless. If you read the thread, you can see who's sharing propaganda and making insults, and who is sharing real science. After she asked me if I needed a nap, I decided that she did not deserve a response. And with that she blocked me. Maybe she read my blog post? Maybe it's because I called her French Canadian? Maybe she just really wanted there to be sexy pictures of Theo Colborn on the TEDX site? I will probably never know.

And that's how you communicate science!

"There's a group on Facebook called " Banned By Food Babe" that boasts nearly 6,000 members. Reasons for being banned include "I asked for her qualifications" and "I pointed out that water was a chemical." Some members of the page were former fans of hers who were banned when they asked questions of clarification. Any dissent couldn't possibly have merit within the ranks of the Food Babe Army." - Sci Babe on Vani Hari.
I pointed out that there's an entire field of research that negates the claims she makes that the dose makes the poison. Hypocrite much?

Okay. Now, on to the macaroni!

mmm. the cheesiest.

Kraft Mac & Cheese has announced that it will be removing all artificial dyes and preservatives from it's most iconic blue box. Kraft already makes a different product for sale in overseas than the one they have been selling here. It's easy to see why consumers would feel cheated by such a large difference in the ingredient list. Consumer demand spoke, and Kraft listened.

Now, mac and cheese isn't the most nutritious food to begin with, but for those who like to indulge in a treat now and then but prefer to avoid a lot of additives, the blue box has become an option once more. For those people who are eating this, or serving it to their children because they live in a food desert and it's one of the things they can afford - an improvement in the ingredients is just that, an improvement. Clearly if a product can be made without synthetic ingredients, then why not? There is no nutritional value in preservatives or artificial colors.

There are legitimate concerns about them however. From a recent article in Scientific American:

"Bernard Weiss, professor emeritus of the Department of Environmental Medicine at the University of Rochester Medical Center who has researched this issue for decades, says he is frustrated that the FDA has not acted on the research showing the connection between artificial dyes and hyperactivity. "All the evidence we have has showed that it has some capacity to harm," he says. "In Europe that's enough to get it banned because a manufacturer has to show lack of toxic effects. In this country it's up to the government to find out whether or not there are harmful effects." Weiss supports banning artificial colors until companies have evidence that they cause no harm. Like most other scientists in this field, he thinks more research, particularly investigating dyes' effects on the developing brain, is imperative."

This really illustrates how different regulations are here, compared to Europe. They take a precautionary approach, while the U.S. takes a reactionary approach that caters to industry. Are we really surprised by any of this though?

Speaking of people who cater to industry interests, my BFF Sci Babe isn't into taking a precautionary approach either. She says artificial colors are safe, and that by taking them out, and using real food ingredients to add color it's probably not making the food any safer. She says that people have already written her to say that their kid is allergic to paprika! She says that public concerns about artificial food dyes and additives "comes from a place of: because I don't understand the science, I think it's unsafe."

Please tell me if I'm misunderstanding this then. There is a fair amount of real scientific evidence that points to artificial colors being a trigger for behavioral problems in children. The amount of these colors in food has increased over the last 60 years, and children are likely consuming more dyes than previously believed. Removing these from a child's diet is shown to be an effective way to treat ADHD, which costs society billions of dollars each year.

So, scientific evidence aside - does not wanting to eat things that aren't food make you science illiterate? I'm not buying that, and neither should you. People ought to be able to decide what they are and are not willing to put in their face. Erring on the side of caution is not something to be belittled over. Once again, Yvette takes the side of industry - and then tells you if you don't then you just don't understand science. Woman needs to open a deli, lunch meat falls out her mouth every time she opens it.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Diluting the Truth

I recently came across a blog post by a woman married to a farmer - Nurse Loves Farmer - which sets out to debunk people using adjectives like 'drenched' or 'doused' when describing the amount of herbicide applied to GMO crops.

Nurse claims through a set of mathematical equations and this infographic that the amount of glyphosate containing herbicide applied to their crops is so tiny that using the words 'doused' or 'drenched' is just silly talk for dumbasses who don't understand farming.

Please read this before complaining at me (again) about 'stolen' content, Sarah.

This is claiming that the amount of herbicide used is equal to just a soda can per acre. But is that accurate? She mentions a little further down in the post that "these results will vary on the brand of glyphosate a farmer uses, its concentration and the method in which it’s used for." Wait - concentration? Whatever could she mean?

I went over to the website at Purdue University and this is what I found regarding formulations for agricultural use: 

"Water-Soluble Concentrate (WSC): Water-soluble concentrates from a true solution when added to water and are applied with water as the carrier. ... There are usually 2 to 6 pounds of active ingredient per gallon of formulation. Example: Arsenal, Formula 40, Garlon 3A, Krenite, Roundup Pro, Tordon K,  Vanquish, Veteran 720."

*link and emphasis mine

The brand Farmer uses is by Syngenta, called Traxion.

It is a liquid concentrate. That soda can amount is being mixed with several gallons of water, and that solution of herbicide is being applied with an agricultural sprayer that puts out a spray somewhat similar to the water misters in the grocery store that keep your lettuce crisp. So whether or not 'drenched' is a correct adjective to use, I can't say - I'm not going to argue over semantics. But if you are mixing concentrate with water to reconstitute it, (forming a true solution) it is incredibly misleading to tell people you're only using an eye dropper's worth per square foot. You're out there with a sprayer, not an eye dropper - let's get real.

This is akin to me telling people that this pitcher of juice only contains 12 oz of juice.

I'm guessing you wouldn't believe me because obviously, it's 48 oz of juice from concentrate. If I diluted it further I could say that it was just 48 oz. of juice cut with however much water I used. But to say that it is diluted, when it's really a reconstituted product is flat out lying. There really is no getting around that.

Nurse is distorting the truth, and misleading the public in order to make a defense of her husbands agricultural practices. After all, Nurse loves Farmer.  She further commits another blunder at the end of her blog post when she uses a favorite phrase of the chemical industry (one which they base their safety testing on) and Skeptics alike.

"A really important thing to remember is: the dose makes the poison. This goes for anything—not just pesticides used in agriculture!"

Anything? Really? Anything at all? She links to another blog with another infographic to back up this statement, which got some of its information from 'various Wikipedia entries' to make a list of things that follow a linear dose response. Now while it's very true that there are things that this applies to, it does NOT in fact, apply to 'anything'. 

What Nurse is either unaware of, or purposefully ignoring is the field of endocrine disruption science. As I mentioned in an earlier blog post, glyphosate based herbicides have been shown to have hormone disrupting effects. From Endocrine Review:

"For decades, studies of endocrine-disrupting chemicals (EDCs) have challenged traditional concepts in toxicology, in particular the dogma of “the dose makes the poison,” because EDCs can have effects at low doses that are not predicted by effects at higher doses. Here, we review two major concepts in EDC studies: low dose and nonmonotonicity. Low-dose effects were defined by the National Toxicology Program as those that occur in the range of human exposures or effects observed at doses below those used for traditional toxicological studies. We review the mechanistic data for low-dose effects and use a weight-of-evidence approach to analyze five examples from the EDC literature. Additionally, we explore nonmonotonic dose-response curves, defined as a nonlinear relationship between dose and effect where the slope of the curve changes sign somewhere within the range of doses examined. We provide a detailed discussion of the mechanisms responsible for generating these phenomena, plus hundreds of examples from the cell culture, animal, and epidemiology literature. We illustrate that nonmonotonic responses and low-dose effects are remarkably common in studies of natural hormones and EDCs. Whether low doses of EDCs influence certain human disorders is no longer conjecture, because epidemiological studies show that environmental exposures to EDCs are associated with human diseases and disabilities. We conclude that when nonmonotonic dose-response curves occur, the effects of low doses cannot be predicted by the effects observed at high doses. Thus, fundamental changes in chemical testing and safety determination are needed to protect human health."

Nurse had better get herself a fact checker. Her Skeptic friends are doing a really lousy job.

For more reading on endocrine disruption see The Endocrine Disruption Exchange (TEDX).

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Science Babe vs Food Babe: Who's Frying Up More Baloney?

I decided today to weigh in on the internet drama between a well known food blogger and author, Vani Hari - also known as Food Babe - and Yvette Guinevere d'Entremont aka Science Babe. 

Brief rundown for the uninitiated:

Science Babe recently wrote an article for Gawker with the attention grabbing title 'The Food Babe Blogger Is Full of Shit' in which she tears down Hari's advice with colorful language. It criticizes the tactics she employs, and the lack of science behind many of her claims. Science Babe said on her Facebook page that that Gawker asked for "an all-encompassing takedown" and she happily delivered.

Food Babe responded with, well, a response. She defended herself of course, and shared some not-so-secret information on d'Entremont's background as a former employee of Amvac  - a chemical company making agricultural products. She also shared an anonymous email from someone claiming to be a former co-worker of Science Babe, which painted her in a rather unflattering light.

To be perfectly honest with you, I'm not a fan of either Babe.  I'm also not a fan of using the word babe to describe oneself. Indeed, I find the Glamour Shots style photographs they display a bit trite (okay, a lot)... I mean, I'm always just laying upside down on my couch, crouching in a safe in stilettos or whipping out my trusty giant magnifying glass at the grocery store! Come on ladies, let's be real. You look silly.

Aside from that, I think that they're actually both full of shit - but one just a little bit more than the other (okay, a lot). Let me explain.

I agree with and admire Hari's goals. She obviously cares about health and getting people to take an interest in what is in their food. These are good things. The name Food Babe itself annoys me though, what's wrong with Vani? It's a perfectly fine name. Calling yourself a 'babe' doesn't exactly strike one with it's humility. She's making it difficult for people to take her seriously. So, right there, off to a bad start. Her fixation on single food additives isn't helpful either. She puts a lot of effort into removing additives from foods that aren't going to suddenly be nutritious without them. See Kraft Mac n Cheese & Starbucks Latte's as examples. It would seem that informing people and encouraging them to choose less processed foods would be a better focus. Although, I do have to hand it to her, getting a major chicken purchaser to go with chicken raised without antibiotics is going to have a positive impact. Not so much for the people eating Chick-fil-A, as it's still nutritionally absent garbage but in the big picture since antibiotic resistance is a huge problem.  It's causing 2 million illnesses and over 20 thousand deaths every year in the US. And those are conservative estimates. I do absolutely applaud that effort and I think she needs to keep going in that direction.

But she totally loses credibility with the approach she takes at times. Aside from her infamous airplane and microwave posts (now removed from her site) - telling people to say to servers that they have an allergy when they don't to avoid GMO's at restaurant - which let's be honest, is nearly impossible - is terrible advice. It really does put a burden on those who legitimately do have an allergy to something. Science Babe, who has celiac disease is totally right on that point. Food Babe also exaggerates the gross out factor of certain food ingredients like castoreum flavoring, instead of focusing on the fact that they really just ought to be labeled clearly. Vegans ain't want no beaver butt juice in their whatever-the-heck vegans eat. Same with fish extract in their beer. These things aren't proven to be dangerous, just undesirable for some (okay, probably a lot).  Less fear, more facts please.

Hari is also pretty terrible at conveying anything in a scientific manner. Take her Godawful Kale Quote for instance.

"The enzymes released from kale go in to your liver and trigger cancer fighting chemicals that literally dissolve unhealthy cells throughout your body."

I mean, Vani. Come on honey. What did you expect? You really need to work on that. Kale is indeed good for you, but - Jesus.

And then there's her reasons for not getting a flu shot. While her conclusion is something I agree with, (there are better and more effective ways to prevent influenza) she works off assumptions, unsubstantiated internet rumors and conjecture rather than just displaying the evidence that backs up her opinion.

This is a theme with so much of what she says, and it just serves to undermine the genuine concerns about our food and agricultural system. That's a real shame. The goals are good and admirable, I just can't support the execution and delivery at times. I honestly hope that this run of negative press inspires her to hire a scientific adviser and reinvent her approach. She has the ability to do a lot of good, and I'd really like to see it happen.

Alright, enough about Food Babe. I think you get the idea. Now onto Science Babe.

I didn't even know this person existed until very recently, and in perusing her Facebook page it was easy to ascertain that she is a self-styled Skeptic. This one is a chemist, with a background in pesticides. Is it any wonder then that she vehemently defends their use? 'The dose makes the poison' is her battle cry. I guess she missed an entire field of research into endocrine disruption that renders Paracelsus' rule outdated and thus extremely dangerous to apply across the board. A scientist really ought to know better. A perfect example of Yvette's attitude is captured in this meme she shared comparing Roundup with Absolut vodka. Glyphosate is shown to be an endocrine disruptor in peer-reviewed research. I wouldn't think to dispute that alcohol can cause cancer in excessive drinkers, but the mechanisms of toxicity here are entirely different. It's just not a fair comparison. People are exposed to Roundup over a lifetime at low doses - which can be more harmful than high doses. This isn't 'perspective' and it isn't good science. This is smoke and mirrors and memes. Arguing that salt and water can both be toxic at high doses isn't a very scientific argument for the safety of other things. Both are essential to life, glyphosate (the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide, which is not assigned an LD50 or even tested for that matter) is not essential to any physiological function. Ridiculous, kind of like this:

Better living through chemistry, bitches.

My tour of her website gave me some more impressions. She is clearly presenting herself as a brand. A cartoon likeness with flask and lab coat billowing in the wind is joined by a photo of her in a tight red dress laying on her back in sexypose in the photo banner. Science Superheroine dedicated to ridding the planet of any type of quackery, woo or pseudoscience with her wit, sexiness and dirty jokes. I didn't see any dirty jokes, or much wit or sexiness, but she's new at this I guess?

I don't think I'm reading too much into it either when I say I think she's looking for attention: Stunts like taking a 'deadly dose' of a homeopathic remedy on video a la the Amazing Randi & crashing the premier of Trace Amounts in a pink wig and miniskirt wearing an 'I heart vaccines' t-shirt are clear attempts at that. She took selfies with Bob Sears and even smooched Jay Gordon in one. Then she called them assholes in her blog for not being pro-vaccine enough.

The problem with all this is it's more entertainment than science. What I would expect from someone who is a scientist and genuinely wants to help people would be taking a concept that is bogus say alkaline water for example, and explaining to people why it's a waste of your time and money, and may even be harmful. Instead, I see legitimately useful interventions like essential oils being called 'snake oil'. Instead of justly pointing the finger at the people or companies advocating unsafe use of EO's as miracle cures for everything - she just waves her science wand over the entire practice of aromatherapy and proclaims it bunkum. That's the equivalent of saying that all water is bad because of alkaline water scams. She doesn't differentiate. Skeptics love to take this incredibly polarized view that only allopathic/mechanistic medicine is real medicine. That's just absurd. Medicine that works is medicine.

My cursory investigation did not find Science Babe to be a bastion of Reason and Science as she holds herself up to be. A skanky French Canadian purveyor of superficial information wrapped in exhibitionism is more like it. Oh alright, I have no idea if she's really French Canadian or not.

To Science Babe, just like every other Skeptic, modern agriculture, GMO's pesticides, vaccines, chemotherapy and the entirety of allopathic medicine is perfectly fine just the way it is. If you have any concerns about any of this at all, you have obviously been duped by Food Babe. Stop questioning, everything is fine the way it is, don't be a stupid science denier. You don't want to be one of those idiots do you? We'll have to laugh at you, and make fun of you because bullying is scientific, and mocking people always gets them to see reason. Nah nah, nah nah, nah-nah. Science!

You rang?

This is Science as Religion. This is close-minded agenda driven vitriol. This is about as non-objective as one can get. Science is a method used to gather data. It also has its limitations and we need to remember that so we don't get too damn cocky. I'm afraid it's too late for our Skeptic friends, but we can still apply a little reason and common sense and keep an open mind. It may feel good not to have to fight against the tide of public opinion sometimes, but it also won't help you get anywhere purposeful.

My conclusion here? Rather than taking a side and declaring allegiance to one camp or another, it seems the intelligent choice to look closely at what any blogger is telling you. One doesn't need a degree to be credible, and conversely having a degree does not make one credible either. Scrutinize what you read carefully and consider the source. Don't be so quick to jump on a bandwagon, it might be heading in a direction you don't want to go.

I have no agenda other than to put my thoughts on the internet - which I have now just done. Though my brain might be a little meltier for it. And so I urge you gentle reader, to form your own opinion. Don't just take my word for it.