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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 forever and ever 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.