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Thursday, December 29, 2016

Unhealthy Advice: The Mysterious Case of the Disappearing Nurse

Every now and then a new account appears, ready to communicate science to those poor souls who have not yet been indoctrinated into the world of fake skepticism.

Skeptical Nurse materialized on Twitter not long ago, and disappeared almost as quickly.

Well known and aggressive GMO proponent, recent recipient of the Borlaug CAST Communication Award, guest on Skeptic's Guide To The Universe, The Joe Rogan Show and others, hailed by his boss as 'an agricultural scientist whose work has been compared to that of Neil deGrasse Tyson, Bill Nye, Carl Sagan,' Mr. Kevin Folta shared this new account with his followers about 15 hours before it went *poof!* into the ether of the interwebs:

Thanks to Notorious KGB Aggie, who decided to verify the qualifications of this account, it was revealed that the 'Skeptical Nurse' was really a woman who has worked as a cosmetologist with a delinquent CNA license.

The Florida Department of Health lists her license as having expired at the end of May, 2016.

As it turns out, this is someone Kevin Folta has been familiar with for some time (ahem ahem). He mentions Ms. Porozinski in this blog post back in 2010.

That blog of hers is now gone. In fact, all of Ms. Porozinski's social media accounts disappeared very quickly after it was made public that she is not in fact, a nurse, as she was calling herself. This is highly unethical - and outright illegal.

Three twitter accounts are now gone along with her Facebook profile, Skeptical Nurse page, both a Wordpress and Blogger blogs, and who knows what else. This is hella shady. These are the actions of a woman who engaged in deceit and got caught. This is a fake skeptic and a fake-ass nurse to boot. Yet, according to our friend Kevin, you should follow her for 'synthesis of diet and health claims -- and other stuff'.

Why, oh why, should we listen to these people for health advice? Do they think we are all stupid? If they would purposefully deceive us as to their degree and qualifications, what else are they being dishonest about?

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Fact Checking, SSkeptic Style!

Part 1 - Kevin Saves The World From The 'Activist Flyer'

Back in November, Food Democracy Now! and The Detox Project put out a report on lab results of glyphosate testing on popular food items. Vani Hari, aka Food Babe shared it on her website with the headline:

"Monsanto Is Scrambling To Bury This Breaking Story - Don't Let This Go Unshared!"

This prompted an article at Snopes by science writer Alex Kasprak. At first, the verdict was 'mixture', but that didn't last long. The Skeptics rode in on their science horses to correct Mr. Kasprak's miscarriage of justice. Kevin Folta in particular was very broken up over this particular Snopes piece and the FDN commissioned testing.

It seems that in Folta's mind, Kasprak's article had lent 'credence to the crazy claim' and so began a series of back and forth between them on social media and behind the scenes. As he had written in his blog, Folta was so sure that the tests were just a series of false positives, and the lab results are not peer reviewed because they could never survive peer review. 

Background noise! Methods incomplete! No evidence of replication! If it is not peer-reviewed, it does not count!

So, to recap - FDN and The Detox project released a report based on lab tests for glyphosate and AMPA (its major metabolite) in food samples. Food Babe shares it with dramatic headline. Folta cries that it's just fear-mongering and the results are meaningless. Snopes does a write up on it. Folta cries again. Folta sets the Snopes author straight. 

This all leads to the Snopes writer, Alex Kasparak changing the article to reflect Kevin's opinions

Still with me? There's more:

Folta then thanks Snopes for listening to 'science and reason' aka him

Pseudoskeptic Pseudoscience: dismiss what you dislike, then call it science and reason. Huzzah!

In his next blog post on the subject, he steels himself for retaliation (because martyr) from the FDN 'cult' and the 'wicked people in their defamation team', accuses a twitter account of 'an obvious call for illegal hacking of my personal accounts' (they tagged @wikileaks in a tweet about Kevin - omg!) and awaits said retaliation, for he knew that commenting on 'the glyphosate brochure' 'would put me in the cross hairs of evil people with a mission to scare people about food.' After all these histrionics, something very interesting happens...

Background noise! Methods incomplete! No evidence of replication! ... oops.

Science is most certainly not about entrenching into a position based on ideology, and it would have served Kevin a lot better had he, oh, I don't know, contacted the laboratory himself for more info before passing judgement on the validity of their tests. Because indeed, there is no way he could have known that information, but he proclaimed his judgement regardless. So much so, they took the initiative to contact him. It seems as though they asked him to withdraw his unfounded criticism which we can probably assume is the reason for his above post. Despite this new revelation about the competency of the lab and their testing, Kevin comes to the conclusion that this whole exercise 'tells us two things'. One, that peer-review and complete disclosure is important, and two, that the levels are of absolutely no biological consequence. 

First, no one is going to argue that peer-review and complete disclosure are important, however, might I remind Kevin that the industry studies that glyphosate and other pesticide approval is based on are neither peer-reviewed, nor are they available for public viewing. So if he really believes that then he needs to begin a crusade to change that part of the risk-assessment process. As far as this type of testing is concerned, meaning testing of food for pesticide residues, when you look to the USDA Pesticide Data Program, their test results are also not peer-reviewed, and you must request information on testing for individual commodities - much like the FDA approved lab that performed the analysis for FDN. So, if it's good enough for the USDA, why hold FDN to a higher standard?

Second, Kevin seems very self-assured that these levels are of 'absolutely no biological consequence' and yet, all one needs to do is look at the scientific literature to realize that this is an issue still being researched and debated within the scientific community. There are numerous independent studies showing hormone-mimicking effects at very low levels, and that issue alone needs to be thoroughly researched before anyone can conclude such absolutes. After all, as Kevin said, science is not about entrenching into a position based on ideology...

Part 2 - Fact Checking The Fact Checkers 

Snopes is often touted as the final word by many people and there's no exception to that within the Social Skeptic club.

Note how she qualifies it with 'regularly' - but let's be honest, you know are going to be mocked and derided as a conspiracy theorist should you disagree regularly or not. 

Snopes can be very useful if you want to know the legitimacy of the viral video of Cee Lo Green having a phone explode in his face, or say, if giving your dog ice water will really harm him like that blog post your Aunt Martha shared on Facebook says. These are simple straightforward questions with simple straightforward answers. 

Of course there are other questions that do not have simple, straightforward answers, and for these things is where it gets hairy. It's important to remember that Snopes is made of of just regular people who don't possess any special powers. The information they share as true or false or mixture, is only as good as their source. If that source is a SSkeptic, you can be pretty much assured you will get the janky ass fake skepticism method demonstrated in part one of this post

Another issue that's quite noticeable with Snopes' fact checking methods is their tendency to form a question in a way that they can get a desired answer. 

H/t The Ethical Skeptic
We have an example of this here, with the ConfoundUp article, originally titled 'Monsanto Suppressing Cancerous Herbicide In Food?' before Folta raised a stink. Primary focus is on Food Babe and her headline, which to me, isn't even worth arguing over. Monsanto is not shouting these test results from the rooftop to be sure, but the real issue is the test results - and whether or not they are valid. The issue of impacts on human health is still in the stage of being investigated, and this is not time or place to pass judgement on that. Regardless, this gets buried under an avalanche of 'conspiracy' and Ermagherd Ferd Berb said(!), with a big scoop of Folta's 'facts' on top. 
What is most important to note here is that even after being contacted by the laboratory (presumably because if someone just trashed your business with accusations of incompetence, malfeasance and fakery, wouldn't you contact them and tell them to cut the libelous shit?) and subsequently recanting publicly; 'I am comfortable they did the detection 100% correctly' (because wouldn't you cover your ass?) the Snopes article update remains exactly the same:

Note the contradiction here? Folta's statement is from Nov. 24




Monday, November 28, 2016

Reclaiming Skepticism

Somewhere in time, scientific skepticism has been co-opted by frauds. Masquerading as bastions of logic, reason and critical thinking, these charlatans are anything but. The modern, pop science Skeptic movement is preoccupied with debunking, targeting their designated bad guys (ie: Food Babe, David Wolfe, etc.) and promoting an us vs them narrative by using weapon words like anti-(pick a topic), denier, conspiracy theorist and so on. Allowing themselves to be manipulated by industry, with or without pay, they advocate for corporate interests in the name of science. By proclaiming themselves as Skeptics, they are able to promote a chosen agenda while pretending to represent science. This is a con game.

Looking at a popular Skeptic website for their definition of what skepticism is, we find:

"Skepticism is the process of applying reason and critical thinking to determine validity." - Skeptoid

Debunking is not skepticism. Anti-theism is not skepticism. Targeting an enemy and enforcing  designated 'correct' conclusions on pluralistic topics is not skepticism. Skepticism does not mean doubting everything. Skepticism is not cynicism. It is not a tool for self-promotion. It is not an identity. Skepticism is a way of thinking. It is not a method of evaluating claims - only science does that. This is an example of the appeal to skepticism fallacy.

It is clear what skepticism is not - I have outlined many such examples in previous posts. Just as important, if not more so, is understanding what skepticism is, or should be. Let us examine the practice of skepticism as 'ethical skepticism' - a more rigorous definition of the mindset as is being espoused by The Ethical Skeptic - a man who has generously devoted time to cataloging what many, myself included, have observed happening with Skeptics on our own, but do not have the ability, experience, training, or knowledge base to so eloquently describe as does TES. Since discovering his website I rely heavily upon this information, not simply because it is the most comprehensive and current I've seen, but because his impetus for creating a resource for the public comes from an altruistic place and this most certainly shows in his writing.

Ethical Skepticism

/ Epoché Vanguards Gnosis / : a means of disciplining one’s mind, practices and data sets in order to maintain objectivity in methods of science. The positive technique of developing a neutral phylogeny, cataloging existing and new data without prejudice. An aversion to obsessing over proof or the disposing of subjects, people and claims; while instead, focusing on accruing field observations and asking the critical reduction path, value and clarity enhancing, next question under the scientific method. Defense of the Knowledge Development Process through application of Ockham’s Razor and full scientific methodology. Opposition to all thinking which seeks to surreptitiously establish power through errant science or method, religion, institution, cabal, oligarchy, intimidation or ignorance – regardless of how ‘critical’ or ‘rational’ it purports to be.

Epoché is an ancient Greek word concisely defined as 'suspension of judgement' by Merriam-Webster. A vanguard is 'the forefront of an action or movement' and gnosis is a Greek word that  literally means knowledge. Suspension of judgement, therefore, is the front line of knowledge development.

Ethical skepticism is a way of thinking. Even if you are not a scientist by trade, it is a valuable skill to have when navigating scientific matters - something we must all do to one degree or another throughout our lives. Staying objective while making and cataloging observations can serve you well in your knowledge seeking process. Being obsessive over proof, targeting and neutralizing individuals, topics or claims (ie: debunking Dr. Oz, homeopathy and UFO sightings) is repellent to an ethical skeptic. Rather primary focus is on making and documenting observations, and asking the next appropriate question in the scientific method while using the REAL Ockham's Razor and complete scientific methodology to uphold and defend the process of knowledge development. No subject should be off limits for an ethical skeptic.

An ethical skeptic ought to vehemently oppose "all thinking which seeks to surreptitiously establish power through errant science or method, religion, institution, cabal, oligarchy, intimidation or ignorance – regardless of how ‘critical’ or ‘rational’ it purports to be." This is an important piece given the prevalence of these types of agendas and those Skeptic spokespeople pushing them featuring so prominently in the media as 'experts'. Learning to recognize those who would use 'science' to manipulate the public and understanding their tactics is paramount in turning the tide on fake skepticism.

Not everyone is buying the propaganda coming from the Skeptics, however. Dissent is met with much aggression and pigeon-holing by club members, who label people as 'anti-science', conspiracy nuts and the like. These types of tactics only highlight the fragility of the provisional stacks of knowledge they are so desperate to defend. An ethical skeptic should not be swayed by this type of social manipulation. The goal of ethical skepticism is to use the scientific method to alleviate suffering. This can be accomplished by not allowing oneself to fear the hordes of Skeptics who would try to silence inquiry into taboo or controversial areas of science, and by learning the tactics of Social Skepticism and exposing them. Only then can a paradigm shift occur. 

Even if one is not a scientist by trade, a skeptical mindset can still be cultivated in areas of information. Having a science degree and being science literate are not one and the same. Deferring to other ethical and trusted experts in various fields must be done whether one has a STEM degree or not. Regular citizens can participate in the knowledge development process, and assist those who are conducting research through various means. One should never feel as though they are powerless for lack of formal degree or position. 

Ethical skeptics are growing in numbers as a direct result of the blatant pseudoscience being pushed by Skeptics. Social media has done us a great favor in exposing the true nature of these imposters. The poseurs have limited time, and as such they get more and more aggressive in forcing their dogmatic conclusions on an increasingly mistrustful public. 

The time is now to stand up to the bullies by applying the tools of ethical skepticism. 

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Median Lethal Dopes

Here's a trend I'd love to see die. I can't go five minutes without seeing some snotty know-it-all whipping out the same argument every time someone brings up a concern with a food additive, or other substance. Most commonly though, it comes up when talking about the worlds most ubiquitous herbicide.

Note the condescending attitude of commenters, and lack of understanding of LD50 amounts. The higher the dose, the less acutely toxic something is, which two of these fail to grasp - but we'll get into that more while we take a look at the memes that often accompany these types of comments.

Exhibit A:

Here we have naturally occurring compounds from two edible plants used as an insecticide, being compared to the active ingredient in a synthetic herbicide. Both capsaicin and allicin have documented health benefits and theraputic uses, and can be easily washed off of food. Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup, a systemic herbicide formulation that contains proprietary ingredients to help it work better. It cannot be washed off.  The LD50 (lethal dose 50 or median lethal dose) is used to indicate how acutely toxic a substance is. In other words, how much it would take to kill you. This has nothing to do with chronic exposure, nor does it apply to chemicals with a non-monotonic dose response. This false equivalence theme continues with...

Exhibit B:

To view larger see the original chart in PDF form.

Here is a chart comparing the acute toxicity of numerous substances - salt, caffeine, pharmaceutical drugs, and pesticides, to riboflavin/vitamin B2. It was created by a lobbying group called Washington Friends of Farms & Forests, whose secretary and treasurer just so happens to be a Monsanto employee.

Speaking of Monsanto employees...

Exhibit C:

This is one I have addressed before in a previous post, Diluting The Truth. This is from Cami Ryan, Social Sciences Lead at Monsanto Co. Sarah Schultz of Nurse Loves Farmer referenced this chart as proof that "...the dose makes the poison. This goes for anything—not just pesticides used in agriculture!" Again, for the MILLIONTH time - this is simply not true for all substances. Sigh.

And now for...

Exhibit D:

No, genius, because Starbucks serves coffee to drink, not herbicide.


Exhibit E:

Photo by Compound Interest

This one is probably the most accurate, (even if virtually no one is eating apple seeds on purpose) however, it's like one puzzle piece rather than a full picture. It's not wrong so much as it's incomplete, and misused by Social Skeptics. Indeed, just because a chemical is present does not mean that it is harmful in the amount present, but that does not mean low levels of chemicals cannot be harmful, as in the case with endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs). But Social Skeptics still try to fudge that picture up as much as possible - when they aren't just outright denying their existence or avoiding the topic. It should come as no surprise then that this particular graphic was commissioned by Sense About Science, known to champion chemical products while hiding ties to industry. It suits their agenda just fine, and SSkeptics are more than happy to help them.

While writing this piece, I decided to search 'the dose makes the poison' on twitter, just to see if any other graphics came up. Lo and behold...

Exhibit F:

I typed the link on the photo into my browser and came up with a review article discussing the pros and cons of phytoestrogens (plant estrogens) on human health. 'Science Mom' Mommy PhD has badly misrepresented the information in this review in her graphic. For instance, the authors state regarding the difference in public attitudes toward synthetic EDCs and phytoestrogens: "Source, rather than evidence for effects likely contributes to this incongruous attitude." This does not jive with her quote at the bottom of the graphic. The words 'likely contributes' does not mean 'the foundation for' last I checked. The authors in the review go on to say "The 1999 approval by FDA of the health claim that daily consumption of soy is effective in reducing the risk of coronary artery disease has undoubtedly cemented the idea in the minds of many that soy is beneficial for human health." Basically, the general public's attitude toward phytoestrogens has a lot more to do with the health benefits being touted - not purely a naturalistic fallacy which she implies here. Not only that but the graphic is taking what the review said about phytoestrogens and applying it equally to synthetic EDCs making it seem as though the risk is the same from either one when that's not what was said at all. I'll tell you what's really incongruous - Mommy PhD's ahem, creative interpretation of her citation for this picture.

The fact remains, that acute toxicity, sub-lethal harm, chronic toxicity, dose, timing, sequence, vulnerable populations, and many other factors make this a complex discussion that can't be boiled down into a meme. Even so, I doubt that SSkeptics will lay off this logical fallacy any time soon, as this is one of their core arguments. It would be in their own best interests though, as this gross simplification only serves to shine a giant spotlight on their scientific illiteracy in this matter.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

'Reasonable' Rhetoric

The ladies at Independent Women's Forum are out in full force with a new campaign - it's called 'Reasonable Moms'.

I've heard mumblings about it for a little while now, but other than a pretty broad statement about parenting pressure and guilt, with some pointed rhetoric thrown in, the Reasonable Mom movement seemed pretty tepid at first. I definitely had my suspicions about the underlying motives of this project, which turned out to be correct.

After the scheduled event in Washington, IWF tweeted a link to their project's 'fact' sheets. My head promptly exploded.

These 'fact' sheets are on three topics: BPA, GMOs, and Food Dyes. Let's take a look, shall we?

First up, the sheet on BPA. According to the NIH Bisphenol A (BPA) is "a chemical produced in large quantities for use primarily in the production of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins." BPA use is expanding since it's introduction to the marketplace in the 1960's - 10 billion pounds were produced worldwide by 2012, and the estimated market value reached over $13 billion in 2013. The market is predicted to grow by about 5% annually. BPA is big business.

Though originally discovered in the late 1800's, BPA renewed interest in the 1930's when scientists were looking for a drug to treat miscarriages and menstrual problems. Despite its estrogen mimicking effects BPA fell to the wayside in favor of the more potent DES, now banned from use due to increased rates of reproductive diseases and cancers from exposures in utero. BPA began to thus become widely used in consumer products like plastics and in canned food linings. Like most of the 80,000 chemicals on the market, under the law there is no requirement to do comprehensive safety studies. And if you had any doubts about the ineffectual framework in place, the EPA has still yet to be able to ban asbestos. Yes, you read that right.

Many studies have shown negative health effects from BPA. The majority of independent studies in particular have shown harm - contrasting starkly with industry studies conclusions. From a report in Newsweek:

"One 2006 analysis by vom Saal and Wade Welshons showed that 11 out of 11 industry-funded studies found BPA had no significant action, while 109 of 119 studies that had no industry funding (92 percent) did find effects of BPA."

An independent review of the literature in 2013 found 'strong links exist between early exposure and altered behavior and asthma in children.' An expert scientific panel concluded that 'The published scientific literature on human and animal exposure to low doses of BPA in relation to in vitro mechanistic studies reveals that human exposure to BPA is within the range that is predicted to be biologically active in over 95% of people sampled. The wide range of adverse effects of low doses of BPA in laboratory animals exposed both during development and in adulthood is a great cause for concern with regard to the potential for similar adverse effects in humans.' 

A review by scientists from 2008 concludes in part that "The data collected thus far in the field of environmental toxicology are sufficiently robust to raise concerns about the potentially deleterious impact of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on human development." We have many, many more studies supporting this statement now.

From Vandenberg and Prins in Andrology 2016: "...more than 100 epidemiology studies suggest associations between BPA exposures and a range of conditions and diseases, including metabolic syndrome, infertility, and severity of asthma..." The authors address the controversy surrounding BPA, saying that "one factor that cannot be ignored is the role of ‘manufactured doubt’, a concept that was originally invented by representatives from the tobacco industry to generate scientific debate about issues that were relatively well settled solely for the purpose of shaping public opinion and delaying regulatory action...It has been suggested that the chemical industry, as well as trade manufacturing groups, has used similar tactics to keep harmful EDCs, including BPA, on the market, long after scientific inquiry has identified their potential to cause harm (Bergman et al., 2015; Oreskes et al., 2015)."

Funny they should mention that. The IWF fact sheet on BPA reads like it's coming directly from a chemical industry sponsored website. They make the claim that 'people simply don't come in contact with high enough levels of BPA through the use of everyday products and consumables for it to impact the human body.' But our bodies respond to tiny doses of hormones down to the parts per trillion level, and hormone mimicking chemicals do not follow a linear dose response pattern. But this should come as no surprise to those familiar with IWF - they deny the science around endocrine disrupting chemicals just like they deny the science supporting climate change.

IWF also makes the claim that many health and safety regulatory agencies have 'concluded that BPA is safe.' First on the list is the World Health Organization. From an expert meeting report by WHO and FAO:

I guess they are counting on people being too lazy to look? The fact sheet has zero citations, and the best part - they tell you to 'check out these good sources for more reliable information':

First they list SciBabe, an ex Amvac Chemical Corporation employee. Second, we have one of the Science Moms. And third we have Angela Logomasini, an IWF contributor and Director of Risk and Environmental Policy at the Competitive Enterprise Institute. Last, but not least is the group you think of first when it comes to corporate astroturf, American Council on Science and Health (whose name they get wrong, a common theme as you'll see in a moment.)

President of ACSH at the Reasonable Moms event with the dude that keeps calling me an 'organic shill' on Twitter, Julie Gunlock from IWF,  Jenny Splitter - another 'Science Mom', and Jamie Wells of ACSH.

Right on the heels of this event was an article in the Federalist (badly) written by Julie Gunlock criticizing the work of Leonardo Trasande, and associate professor of Pediatrics, Environmental Health and Population Health at NYU School of Medicine.

Trasande with two a's was interviewed recently in the press about a new study he published that assessed the cost of health problems associated with exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals. Julie attempts to smack down those reports with her article, hilariously misspelling voilà as 'VIOLA' along with the name of the man she is disparaging, as 'Trasende' throughout the piece. But more importantly her critique lacks any credible evidence to back it. She's all over the map, from cancer to bisphenol A, Environmental Working Group (EWG), organic food, 'correlation does not equal causation,' and even goes so far to accuse Trasande with two a's of fabricating data in a prior study. yet, she never really addresses the new study itself or gives any reasons as to why it is 'junk science' as she states. She ends with:

"The scientific community must do more to reign in activist scientists and dubious scientific studies that create fear and alarm where no documented danger exists."

Rough translation: This type of research threatens industry, and all we can do to stop them is attempt to libel them in shitty articles like this. Fuck my life. 

Look, I don't know for sure who butters their bread over at IWF, but you can usually get a pretty good picture from what they are pushing in their campaigns. The other two fact sheets on GMOs and Food Dyes read about the same as the BPA one, with no citations, dubious references to astroturf and junk science industry front groups, and loaded language meant to persuade mothers that they are UNreasonable by being concerned about the effects of these things on their children's health. 

Oh noes! Not the CHEMOPHOBES. Say it isn't so!

Like we are supposed to think they give a fuck about the earth?

In reality, there exists plenty of evidence that these things may not be as safe as the people selling them may want us to believe, and given the state of the current science, taking a precautionary approach is in fact a very reasonable position. 

Bottom line advice for moms: don't let IWF tell you how to parent, or define what being reasonable is.