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Tuesday, May 30, 2017

No Benefit From Parachutes, Study Shows

*beeeeeeeeeep* "We interrupt tonight's regularly scheduled programming for a very special breaking news report from our Senior Social Skeptic Correspondent, Fara Faelle."

I offer straight talk on science, medicine, health and vaccines.

"Good evening, Fara Faelle reporting for Forbes. A new study from the University of Bullschvitz has reviewed the existing medical literature on parachutes as an effective intervention to prevent major trauma related to gravitational challenge. Researchers were unable to identify any randomized control trials. Therefore there is no evidence that parachutes do any good to prevent people from going splat when they fall out of planes. Since there isn't enough evidence to draw any conclusions, all observational data must be relegated to the Land of Mere Anecdote. We all know correlation is not causation, therefore no further study is warranted. Parachutes are clearly quack therapies. Save your money, and don't even attempt to try this snake oil scam."

Does this sound illogical to you? That's because I'm using an example of something that is easily observable - parachutes either work or they don't. No randomized, double-blind, placebo control trials needed.

It's not always so clear cut with other interventions, and this is where Social Skeptics will use sciencey sounding language to push an agenda and squash further inquiry into areas they don't like. "There's no evidence that _______" Or my favorite, "There's no credible evidence to show ________"

Many times just doing a cursory search of the scientific literature will reveal that there is indeed evidence, sometimes quite a bit, and that using the qualifier 'credible' is just another attempt at stifling information one does not like. But even when there truly has not yet been any formal investigation, SSkeptics will still make claims based on this lack of evidence - despite this being totally unscientific. When there is exists only observational evidence on a topic the ethical skeptic takes a neutral position on the matter and awaits more research. This mindset is known as epoché - a Greek word that means suspension of judgement.

Fake skeptics view observational evidence as something to be dismissed, not as it should be, a call for more formal investigation and experimental research. Not everything we observe will turn out to be correct, but breakthrough research has resulted from investigating areas where we thought nothing was to be found. Imagine the things we would be missing if we routinely dismissed observations as mere anecdote? Imagine the things we are missing.

SSkeptic logic is once again found to be fallacious and not rooted in reason or the correct application of the scientific method. Stating that there is 'no evidence' falls under Wittgenstein sinnlos as it "is correct at face value but disinformative or is otherwise useless." Beware of anyone claiming to 'communicate science' who engages in this type of evidence sculpting and lying through facts.

Nooooo Evideeeeeeeencccccccce!

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Campaign Against IARC

In March, 2015 the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released IARC Monographs Volume 112: evaluation of five organophosphate insecticides and herbicides. Five pesticides were evaluated; malathion, diazinon, tetrachlorvinphos, and parathion insecticides and the herbicide active ingredient glyphosate.

Glyphosate was classified as group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans. From a news release dated March 20, 2015 -

"For the herbicide glyphosate, there was limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The evidence in humans is from studies of exposures, mostly agricultural, in the USA, Canada, and Sweden published since 2001. In addition, there is convincing evidence that glyphosate also can cause cancer in laboratory animals. On the basis of tumours in mice, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) originally classified glyphosate as possibly carcinogenic to humans (GroupC) in 1985. After a re-evaluation of that mouse study, the US EPA changed its classification to evidence of non-carcinogenicity in humans (Group E) in 1991. The US EPA Scientific Advisory Panel noted that the re-evaluated glyphosate results were still significant using two statistical tests recommended in the IARC Preamble. The IARC Working Group that conducted the evaluation considered the significant findings from the US EPA report and several more recent positive results in concluding that there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Glyphosate also caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells, although it gave negative results in tests using bacteria. One study in community residents reported increases in blood markers of chromosomal damage (micronuclei) after glyphosate formulations were sprayed nearby."

Further down in the release they state -

"Glyphosate currently has the highest global production volume of all herbicides. The largest use worldwide is in agriculture. The agricultural use of glyphosate has increased sharply since the development of crops that have been genetically modified to make them resistant to glyphosate. Glyphosate is also used in forestry, urban, and home applications. Glyphosate has been detected in the air during spraying, in water, and in food. The general population is exposed primarily through residence near sprayed areas, home use, and diet, and the level that has been observed is generally low."

As you can imagine, Monsanto (the maker of Roundup herbicide, and glyphosate) and the rest of the chemical industry who enjoy the profitability of the now off patent active ingredient glyphosate, were very unhappy about this news. On their website Monsanto clearly state, "Based on the overwhelming weight of evidence, Monsanto strongly disagrees with IARC’s classification of glyphosate." No real surprise there.

Of course since this time, the IARC classification has spurred numerous mounting lawsuits against Monsanto, as well as the announcement that the state of California intends to label Roundup and other glyphosate containing herbicides as a carcinogen under Prop 65. Monsanto is currently fighting this in court, along with more than fifty lawsuits.  One of these have, through the discovery process, made many internal documents available to the public. Back in March a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that these discovery documents could be unsealed. 

The Center for Biological Diversity and U.S. Right To Know have submitted FOIA requests to obtain more information that may shed light on the extent of Monsanto's influence on the decisions made at the EPA. From their press release:

"Court documents released last month indicate that the chair of the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee on glyphosate had a cozy and collaborative relationship with Monsanto and was someone the company thought might be “useful” in defending glyphosate safety. The records include discussion of how the chair of the EPA committee may be able to thwart a Department of Health and Human Services’ review of glyphosate’s safety, saying that if he was successful he deserved a medal. The department never did review glyphosate’s safety."

This is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the controversy surrounding glyphosate, and it's causing what I'd wager is a whole lot of dick pain for our friends in the chemical industry. This is why early this year, a new group formed called Campaign For Accuracy In Public Health Research, or CAPHR for short. It may come as no surprise to you that this campaign is a project of the American Chemistry Council and its members. 

"CAPHR is an education and outreach initiative to promote credible, unbiased, and transparent science as the basis of policy decisions and help the public and policymakers understand the relevance of public health studies in our daily lives.

In particular, CAPHR will promote reform of the International Agency on Cancer Research (IARC) Monograph’s Program and bring to light the deficiencies, misinformation, and consequences associated with its work."

I know, I know, you're shocked. But IARC isn't exactly a stranger to this type of, ah, attention. The agency's director, Christopher Wild has been quoted as saying, “Since that time, this is probably the most aggressive that it’s been. What we see is, it’s linked to classifications where there’s a very strong commercial interest,” in regards to when IARC classified second hand smoke as a carcinogen and now, with glyphosate.

Just by browsing the CAPHR website, you can get an idea of the quality of the arguments being used against IARC. There's the typical rhetoric: IARC confuses consumers!" In reality though, it's CAPHR that's trying to deceive and confuse consumers.

I noticed on one of their pages a graphic they were using looked just like one by Compound Interest, run by a chemistry teacher named Andy Brunning. He's a talented graphic artist and does a nice job of making chemistry interesting and easy to understand. Kudos to him on that.

Image by Compound Interest

 It is clearly stated on the Compound Interest website with regard to sharing online, that

"The graphics are shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence. This means they can be freely shared as long as a few conditions are met.

Firstly, they must remain unaltered – this includes the cropping off of watermarks/credit on the graphics, or cropping out other parts of the graphic. Secondly, they cannot be used for commercial purposes without prior permission. Finally, attribution to Compound Interest must be given clearly when re-sharing the graphics, and the attribution should also include a link back to the post containing the graphic."

I've complied with these stipulations when sharing CI's work before, and again, just above. It wasn't difficult at all. CAPHR it seems, has a problem following simple directions.

View archived link here

This page along with a 'case study' and 'fact sheet' using this are now gone, since they were caught red-handed committing plagiarism.

Someone must have tipped him off about his altered graphic on the CAPHR website... 

This is a great indicator of the CAPHR's level of honesty and ethics. They are purposely being deceptive about IARC in an attempt to silence and discredit them. Their Twitter feed alone is a treasure trove of examples, many of them just plain absurd.

They link to another case study on processed meat. It contains numerous quotes from 'experts' most of which are directly tied to the meat industry, and they even use Beef Magazine as a citation. Can't make this stuff up!

They also make a big deal about hazard assessment vs risk assessment...

...then contradict themselves by implying IARC lists the risk from bacon and plutonium as the same.

They accuse IARC of cherry picking studies...

Except it's just another misrepresentation of what IARC does. The scientific studies IARC uses are those in the public domain, meaning published, peer-reviewed research. Whereas regulatory bodies rely primarily on industry conducted studies that are not published, never have been subjected to peer review and are kept hidden as proprietary information. And they have the nerve to say IARC is not transparent.

Can we really trust that the regulatory agencies are basing their conclusions on strong scientific evidence? Using chlorpyrifos and Dow as an example, let's ponder that question. As reported in The Intercept, during the discovery process of a lawsuit against them, Dow was required to provide various documentation. The attorney for the plaintiff hired neuroscientist and Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky to review Dow’s own studies on the pesticide. After reading them, Sapolsky wrote to the lawyer for the plaintiff in an email, that he was “simply stunned at how bad the work was, how utterly awful every aspect of them was, from the scholarship to how the studies were conducted to how data were analyzed, to how everything was then interpreted.”
The Intercept goes on to report:
"Eventually, Sapolsky enlisted a dozen postdoctoral neuroscientists at Stanford to systematically review as much of the company’s research on the pesticide as he could find. According to an unpublished report they produced in 2008-2009, all the Dow studies on chlorpyrifos they reviewed had some errors and 89 percent had errors that broke the basic rules of science. And these weren’t randomly distributed mistakes, according to Sapolsky. “Every one of the errors in the papers worked in Dow’s favor.” Thus tailored, the company’s studies “were all sterling testimonies to [the] utter safety of the stuff,” according to the neuroscientist.
Dow heavily promoted this rosy vision of chlorpyrifos. Even as it was spinning the science, collecting reports of poisoning incidents, and fending off legal responsibility for them, Dow — or Dowelanco, as it was called at the time — was also boasting about the safety of its pesticide. “The 20-plus years of chlorpyrifos use involving millions of applications confirm that there is not a single documented incident of significant adverse health effect resulting from proper use of Dursban insecticides,” announced one 1991 brochure under a picture of a woman with a small child on her lap. “Does Dursban have any long-term effects?” the brochure asked before supplying the answer: “No.”

Does any of this sound familiar? Due to the discovery process in the lawsuits against Monsanto for glyphosate/Roundup, there are similar documents coming forth such as the one I mentioned at the outset of this post. That particular email's subject line was, 'RE: Glyphosate IARC Question' dated April 2015, right after IARC released their monograph.

In this document, Donna Farmer, Monsanto's lead toxicologist is quoted saying that Monsanto "cannot say that Roundup does not cause cancer" because, "(w)e (Monsanto) have not done the carcinogenicity studies with Roundup" In the real world no one uses glyphosate alone, it is always used with proprietary co-formulants. Seems like it would be relevant to test the actual product being used, rather than just one ingredient if you want to make safety claims about it.

Say what now?

Interestingly enough, IARC looked at both glyphosate alone and whole formulated products. However the CAPHR accuses them of 'failure to consider the weight of the scientific evidence' on their website. That's pretty laughable, given this context.

They also quote critics of the IARC classification as part of their argument, such as Hank Campbell of the astroturf group American Council on Science and Health, Jay Vroom, President and CEO of the agrochemical industry trade association CropLife America and the Intertek panel assembled by Monsanto.

The CAPHR also uses loads of rhetoric and flawed arguments to push their conclusion that glyphosate is safe.

"Glyphosate is less toxic than either caffeine or table salt. Over the last 40 years, the herbicide has been rigorously tested and studied by regulatory agencies worldwide that have found it poses no risk to human health when used as directed.
Indeed, there is global scientific consensus that glyphosate is safe..." 

"Glyphosate is less toxic than either caffeine or table salt."

Groan. Give us a fucking break with this shit please. I've already hashed this out more times than I'd like. (If you don't already know why this is a steaming pile of bullshit please see here.)

"Over the last 40 years, the herbicide has been rigorously tested and studied by regulatory agencies worldwide that have found it poses no risk to human health when used as directed."

Can we consider Roundup to be 'rigorously tested' if the EPA isn't even requiring it to be tested as stated by Monsanto's lead toxicologist in her deposition above?

"Indeed, there is global scientific consensus that glyphosate is safe..." 

They make it sound so sciencey and authoritative, surely it must be true!

Consensus – is the collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists composing a particular field of study. It is not a popularity poll among scientists in general or even necessarily inside the field of study in question. Consensus can only be claimed when multiple opposing explanatory alternatives have been researched in objective detail, and a reasonable body of those scientists who developed the field of opposition alternatives, have been convinced of the complimentary alternative’s superiority. Just because a null hypothesis exists, and only that hypothesis has been researched, does not provide a basis for a claim to consensus, no matter how many scientists, or those pretending to speak for science in the media, favor the null hypothesis.

What experimental studies have been done to see what glyphosate based herbicides' long term effect are on the human microbiome? How about chronic low dose exposure and how it effects the endocrine system? Intergenerational effects? Mmmm, seems a bit premature to be claiming such an assured and widespread consensus.

Consensus Appeal to Authority – in so far as scientists speak in one voice, and dissent is not really allowed, then appeal to scientific consensus is the same as an appeal to authority.

Try dissenting on the topic of glyphosate's safety online, and let me know how that goes for you. Also see here and here as to why that statement is just more bullshit.

So, if when observing the Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research, you are left feeling like Mugatu,

Doesn't anybody notice this?
don't worry, you are not alone. Many other people have noticed that CAPHR's campaign isn't for accuracy, nor is it in the interests of public health. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

My Friend Vance

He's in his early thirties, personable and polite, cheerful and clean cut. He's a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, holds an undergraduate degree in communications and a Master's Degree in Cross-Cultural Negotiations.

He is your classic boy next door - except for one thing. He's 'Director of Millennial Engagement' for Monsanto Company. His name is Vance Crowe.

Translation: I'm a PR guy.

The chemical and biotech industry are investing a lot of money into public relations in recent years, though this isn't exactly a new strategy. Unlike in the past, they have come to adopt more subtle techniques. Chances are, you've been exposed to industry messaging and didn't even know it. That's where people like Vance come in.

He speaks of connecting networks of people, and that is what I'd like to shine a spotlight on. If you have ever read the famous book by Edward Bernays, you would know that he advised his clients to use (exploit) already existing movements to their benefit.

Tribes clockwise from top: Agriculture, Food, 'Pragmatic Environmentalism' (aka Ecomodernism aka Bullshit), Skeptics, Science, Computer/Techno
Vance wants to connect people to 'important networks' like the Science Moms and MAMyths among others.
It has become abundantly clear that the Skeptic movement is being used to spread industry messaging. This has been discussed here before, in the post Useful Idiots. Ol' Vancey Pants has done us the favor of detailing and documenting his public relations game. Behold:

Vance with Mary Mangan, Kevin Folta, & Kavin Senapathy

Vance with Talking Biotech & UF's Kevin Folta
Vance with SciBabe/Yvette d'Entremont, A Science Enthusiast/Dan Broadbent, You Tuber @chubbyemu, ultra conservative climate change denier and food columnist, Julie Kelly.

Vance thanks Kevin 'nothing to do with Monsanto' Folta, and Science Moms documentary creator Natalie Newell

I actually made this face.

The latest Science Mom to ignore the poor state of our children's health. She also seems to have no control over who she associates with, and what messages she disseminates. Whether it's being done 'for industry' or not - it still benefits industry. Willful blindness is a choice.
It's more than evident that Vance is wielding influence in the Skeptic community. He's hobnobbing with an array of people, attending Skeptic events like CSICon and even doing speaking engagements with Skeptic groups.

He's doing interviews and podcasts with Skeptics who have a large social media following. He is using the already established Skeptic movement to advance favorable messaging about Monsanto company and their products. That message is a simple one: Those who oppose or question the biotech industry do so because of misguided fear stemming from (insert scapegoat). Only those who walk in lock step with their technology and products are 'pro-science'.

Do you want to be looked at as reactionary, hysterical and fearful? Or do you want to be someone who is admired because they 'stand up for science'? When the debate is posed this way, it sure makes the 'pro-science' side sound like the obvious choice. But this isn't reality. This is what is known as a false dilemma or bifurcation fallacy: i.e. when someone is asked to choose between two options when there is at least one other option available.

Fear isn't always irrational, or based on emotion. Healthy fear, like the fear of falling, drowning, or being mauled by a tiger, keeps us safe. And, rejecting a technology or a product isn't anti-science. People have their own individual reasons for not wanting to purchase something - it is their right! And those reasons will vary from person to person. When an industry have a long track record of causing illness and polluting our environment with their chemicals - is being wary of them a healthy or unhealthy 'fear'? When this same industry dominates our food system with products designed to kill (pesticides) and 'substantially equivalent' engineered crops, is it any wonder why people might be skeptical?

There comes a time when a line is crossed and no amount of Millennial Engagement can take back the death and destruction you have left in your wake over the decades. Good luck, Vance.

Gen X isn't falling for your shit.

Post Script (4/4/17)

Unexpectedly enough, I have had quite a lot of reactions to this post on Twitter.

When writing this piece, I didn't think it would be particularly notable in that all of this is public information, and easily observed. The job of a public relations person is to disseminate messages on behalf of his/her employer, and I have pointed out some of the ways in which Mr. Crowe (now forever to be known as Vancey Pants) is doing this. I'd also like to clarify, as there seems to be confusion in this regard, that I've not accused anyone of being a 'shill' and I do not believe that any of the people mentioned in this piece aside from the subject work for Monsanto or any other biotech or chemical company. To be quite clear, I am simply noting the influence of this one industry employee on different groups, particularly Social Skeptics.

What seemed to garner even more attention was a graphic I made to go with this post. I typically make a funny picture to go with each new blog to keep my posts from getting buried in people's Twitter feed.

I'll be there for you.
I just riffed off the title of the blog and had some fun with it. Les Fausses Sceptiques lost their collective shit over it, sharing it and saying it was 'hilarious'. David James aka Stort Skeptic even made a gif out of it. I figured I might as well share it here for everyone to enjoy, before working on my next post.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

QUIZ: Are You A Fake Skeptic?

Pseudo-skeptics, Social Skeptics, Skepducks, Skepdicks - whatever it is you call them, our lives have been overrun by these poseurs. They pervade popular culture and social media, impeding progress and spreading a perverted version of science literacy.

A Science Enthusiast, pictured with Monsanto's Director of Millennial Engagement, Vance Crowe, sells stickers and t-shirts in the name of science.

Many of these big S Skeptics don't even realize what they are or know that they have a problem. Today we are going to discuss some of the the things to look for to know if you, or perhaps even a loved one might be in fact, a fake skeptic. The first step to solving any problem is realizing there is one.


"Hey Rick, what are your thoughts about healing crystals?"

  • Do you refer to personally disdained items or topics as pseudoscience or 'woo'? 
  • Do essential oils, the words 'toxin' 'detox', 'natural', ghosts or homeopathy make you flip your shit?

Do you believe in the One True Method?

  • Do you oversimplify topics and distill them into one liners like, 'the dose makes the poison' or 'correlation does not equal causation' to dismiss people's viewpoints and questions? 
  • Do you employ popular catch phrases (see above) to demonstrate your superior logic and reason?
  • Are you a dick?

Hi, my name is Dick. Skep Dick.
  • Do you use science to assert dominance over other people and prove how inferior they are to you? 
  • Have you ever called people who disagree with you 'conspiracy theorists' 'woonatics' 'anti-science' 'science deniers' or the like? 
  • Do you try to associate people with absurd beliefs to discredit them?
  • Do you tell people they exhibit the Dunning-Kruger effect without actually understanding what the findings of Dunning and Kruger really were?
  • Do you accuse anyone who does not hold your viewpoint of getting their information from Food Babe, Natural News or David Wolfe, despite them never having mentioned such sources to you?
  • Do you troll people, but pretend it's about science?

  • Do you demand absolute proof before the science has been completed?
  • Do you make counterclaims but shift all burden of proof onto the other person?
  • Do you attack the person, instead of addressing the topic?
  • Do you regularly appeal to authority by referring to scientific consensus to silence questions or calls for more research?
  • Do you spend time with industry insiders and employees, enjoying the Skeptic celebrity status and networking or career opportunities they can provide?
  • Do you refer to industry employees and insiders as 'friends'?
Yes, Vance *is* her friend.
  • Do you insert your knowledge into many different subjects, appealing to Skepticism as your expertise?
  • Do you use industry front groups as legitimate sources? 
  • Do you let climate change denial slide because the person or group is pro on other pet science topics?
  • Do you attend events with industry insiders, and accept accolades from them?
  • Do you ridicule people who are sick or otherwise suffering?
  • Do you wear Skepticism like an identity?
  • Have you ever been to a TAM, NECESS, or CSICon event?
  • Do you use science as a verb?


If you answered in the affirmative -

0 - Congrats! You are not a fake skeptic. Give yourself a cookie.

up to 10 - You've picked up some bad habits, change your path before it leads to the Dark Side.

10 or more - You're faker than Lee Press On nails. Please use birth control.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Fake Skeptics Spread Fake News About Rachel Carson

I receive Google alerts for several subjects, and I like to play 'guess who wrote it?' when I see an absurd headline. Most of the time I have a pretty good idea. For instance if it's a Forbes headline trashing organic agriculture, it's almost a sure bet that Henry I. Miller is behind it.

So when a Daily Beast article showed up entitled, 'How Rachel Carson Cost Millions of People Their Lives' I wasn't exactly shocked. It's a trope I've heard a zillion and a half times before, usually from Uncle Henry's alma mater American Council on Science and Health and other industry stooges. 

Imagine my surprise to see that it was from the well known champion of public health, Paul A. Offit. Paul is the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as well as the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and a Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania according to his bio. This is a man who is promoted frequently in the media as an expert, and he's a huge fan favorite of the Skeptic crowd as well. I've personally read his book Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases about Maurice Hilleman, and taken his vaccine course online so he is someone I am familiar with. I expect a lot of things from Paul, but this piece in the Daily Beast was not among them. 

The opinion piece contained zero citations, and even a simple Google search can show you how many of the claims made are flat out false. Like, in regards to India, Sri Lanka and South Africa for example. 

The publication of this article did lead to a couple of responses, this one had a very concise rundown of the issue for those who may not be familiar:

"the short version of it is that
a) Carson did not call for the complete ban of DDT when it could save people’s lives,
b) The U.S. ban on DDT in 1972 did not include other nations, where malaria was actually killing people, many of which never did ban DDT,
c) her actual argument was not that chemicals should not be used to kill insects, but rather that the unregulated spraying of them everywhere all of the time had massive ecological consequences that would affect humans negatively too,
d) mosquitoes were becoming resistant to DDT by its ban in 1972,
e) much of the rise in malaria in the developing world in the 1970s had to do with decreased anti-malaria expenditures by governments,
and f) DDT is still frequently used in the developing world." 

The same article links to this post from Yale Environment 360 that touches on the matter more in depth. Also recommended is the book Merchants of Doubt which addresses the subject of DDT in one of the chapters. 

Despite the information Offit espouses having no merit whatsoever, as well as already having been very widely refuted - this did not stop the Skeptic community from sharing it. To be sure, there were dissenters, and they earned their points for this. Mark Hoofnagle being one, and David Gorski as well who has written about DDT before. Some remained conspicuously silent on the matter, while others just uncritically shared the article - presumably because of who the author was. 

Skeptic's Guide - 851 shares

Sci Babe shared from SGU - 183 more shares

Skeptoid Podcast's Brian Dunning doubles down on his ignorance and contributes 54 shares

That's over 1000 shares of pure bullshit posing as fact. To put it in the common vernacular - it's fake fuckin' news! So how ironic then, that it should be shared by those who claim to promote evidence and science and condemn fake news.

Sci Babe is even going to be giving a lecture about fake news at the American Chemical Society's national convention soon.

Are we really supposed to take these people seriously when they yammer endlessly about evidence and reason and critical thinking, and then demonstrate such an egregious lack of applying it to themselves?

A convicted felon, former pesticide co. employee, cow and a potato walk into a bar...

Rachel Carson once said: "We live in a scientific age, yet we assume that knowledge of science is the prerogative of only a small number of human beings, isolated and priestlike in their laboratories. This is not true. The materials of science are the materials of life itself. Science is part of the reality of living; it is the way, the how and the why for everything in our experience."

Her words don't ring any less true today.

Saturday, January 14, 2017

Useful Idiots

A term generally used in politics, a useful idiot is defined by the Oxford Dictionary as

(Originally) a citizen of a non-communist country sympathetic to communism who is regarded (by communists) as naive and susceptible to manipulation for propaganda or other purposes; (more widely) any person similarly manipulable for political purposes.

The latter part of the definition makes it a suitable term for the throngs of people commonly referred to as 'trolls' by many, also referred to as 'shills' and probably some other colorful terms I've missed. I think that the term troll is often accurate, though not everyone disagreeing with you is necessarily an internet troll

The word shill gets thrown around far too often and far too carelessly. It's a term I avoid using, personally. Making accusations without proof is never advisable, and it's also committing an ad hominem logical fallacy which is always guaranteed to make you look foolish. There are much better ways to get your point across in a debate. 

There is also a common misconception that there are hordes of people on social media paid by various industries simply to troll and argue with people. I think this widespread idea is a very human response by people who simply cannot fathom why someone would spend time defending companies with such horrific documented harm to people and the environment. That they must be compensated for it seems the likeliest explanation - but I've seen no evidence to back this claim. I do think that we have plenty of evidence for another explanation however...

The Useful Idiot.

March Against Myths About Modification, not funded by industry, yet very useful to them.

From the evidence that I have seen there is definitely a concerted effort on the part of industry to control the flow of information. Activists have done such a good job of getting their message out, that industry has needed to hire PR firms to help them influence public perception, particularly on social media. 

A perfect example of this being how the agriculture industry has hired infamous PR firm Ketchum (who run the website GMO Answers) to disseminate a positive message about their products, genetically engineered crops. Sites like this along with other astroturf groups and academics with industry ties and conflicts of interest are at the top of the pyramid, spoon feeding propaganda dressed up as 'science' and 'evidence' to our good friends, the celebrity Social Skeptics. They in turn happily disseminate this information to their followers. The way that these fake skeptics operate has been thoroughly detailed, so I won't get too into that here. The SSkeptics of course have innumerable blogs, websites, Facebook pages and Twitter accounts with which to share the information they are getting from 'experts' and recycling among themselves. This is social engineering at it's finest. 

Monsanto's Director of Millennial Engagement (PR guy), Vance Crowe shows the plan to 'outcompete fear of modern ag' by 'connecting tribes'.

Industry is aware of this, and isn't secretive about fully exploiting these social and political networks to their advantage as is illustrated in the above photo. This is one of the tactics used by the father of public relations, Edward L. Bernays. From his obituary in the New York Times, "He helped shape public relations by favoring the use of endorsements from opinion leaders, celebrities, doctors and other "experts" to strengthen the arguments his clients wanted to make. In addition, he favored surveys, releasing the results of experiments and polls to make a better case for his clients' positions and products."

L-R clockwise: a former chemist, not a scientist, a #ScienceMom, and a celebrity astrophysicist.  

It doesn't just stop there, though.The 'Bad Guys' or 'Evil People' as some have called them, are endlessly pointed out and pilloried. The formula is simple enough, find someone with notoriety who runs afoul of your message, and hold them up as an example of why the world is going to hell in a handbasket.

Kevin points out the 'Evil People' It's all their fault!

And now that the message has been disseminated from the top, it continues to filter down to the general populace from Useful Idiots who have wholeheartedly bought into the propaganda.

Val Bayes, Monsanto's STEM Education Lead, 'A Science Enthusiast' sticker, and Vance Crowe's hand.

And boy, do they love it when that happens. The more oversimplified the 'meme' or message, the better.


Because, honestly, what's better than a gaggle of indoctrinated, mindless automatons who spout one-liners at the bad guys on social media for you? Ones who do it for FREE. 

This is clearly social engineering. A bit more complicated than the 'paid trolls' notion that many espouse, though with considerably more evidence behind it. This is not to say that there are not people paid by industry to deliver their message, or that people are always up front about money they may be receiving directly or indirectly from corporate entities. But the idea that Monsanto or any other Ag company is paying people to disagree with you and troll your posts on social media or that they get paid by the comment, or post or whatever, is basically unfounded. As I have just demonstrated (and there's lots more where this came from), they don't have to!


Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Risk Monger's Deceitful Dozen

Another popular meme being distributed by Social Skeptics crossed my path yet again today, called the 'Risk-Monger's Dirty Dozen' and I thought it was time to address the claims being made therein. The Risk-Monger is David Zaruk. He's a prominent voice on social media, a former employee of Solvay, a global corporation with divisions in pharmaceuticals, chemicals and plastics and a part of the team that set up GreenFacts Foundation, initially funded by Solvay.

This is a stunning example of disinformation and propaganda, and I'd like to just dissect each numbered claim for a broader understanding of why that is so.

Let's begin!

1. Boron 

First of all, boron is an essential nutrient for plants and naturally occurs in soil. Like anything, it may be harmful in high doses or if misapplied, but organic farmers aren't just flinging this stuff around willy nilly. See here for an example of how it's used.

2. Acetic Acid

It's fucking vinegar. Do I really need to expound upon this one? Don't spray it in your eyes or on bees, for fucks sake.

3. Copper Sulfate

One of a few synthetic substances approved for use in organic farming, copper sulfate is definitely not being used indiscriminately due to copper's ability to build up in soil as well as being toxic in high amounts. No farmer is using this or any other input unless clearly needed, and there are steps that must be taken to minimize risk. Soil testing is required when using copper, for example. As far as being 'toxic to everything' - that is highly misleading, since while copper can be toxic in the wrong amount it is also an essential nutrient for plants, animals and humans. This is definitely not a first resort tool in crop production due to the important balance that must be kept. It is also permitted in conventional agriculture right along with all other organic approved substances, lest we forget.

4. Pyrethrins

Pyrethrins are a naturally occurring insecticidal compound found in chrysanthemum flowers. This is not to be confused with pyrethroids, a synthetic analog of pyrethrins. According to NPIC, "Pyrethrins are practically non-toxic to birds but highly toxic to honey bees. However, some of the risk to pollinators is limited by their slight repellent activity and rapid breakdown." Clearly, pyrethrins need to be used with care and applied correctly so that they do not harm bees. Neurotoxicity can be a concern with occupational exposure, safety instructions need to be followed precisely. Any residues on food would be minimal, and easily washed off. Pyrethrins do not spread readily through a plant in the way neonicotinioids were designed to do.

5. Hydrogen Peroxide

Hydrogen peroxide (H2O2) is another substance approved for organic farming. It is allowed to be used as a disinfectant and for plant disease control. H2O2 breaks down readily into water and oxygen. Direct contact is highly toxic to bees, however as long as care is taken not to spray during active foraging times, and prevent drift, once residues have dried they are considered non-toxic. Proper care needs to be taken when handling concentrate, but again, once dry the application is considered harmless to human health.

6. Lime Sulfur

Lime sulfur is a modified form of elemental sulfur. Elemental sulfur is considered to be non-toxic to birds, aquatic organisms and honeybees. Sulfur is an essential macronutrient in crop production, it is allowed for use as a soil amendment, and for diseases, mites and insects in both the elemental and lime sulfur forms. High applications can reduce soil ph and thereby negatively effect earthworms, however the claim that it is 'extremely toxic to earthworms' is without merit. Clearly it is in the best interest of the farmer to protect soil from shifts in ph thereby protecting soil biology, including earthworms. Elemental sulfur is relatively harmless to humans, while lime sulfur is extremely caustic and must be handled properly when used in agriculture. Again, no one is flinging this shit around.

7. Rotenone


Not fucking used.  Really.

Not even on fucking imported produce either.

8. Nicotine Sulphate

It's also fucking prohibited!

9. Azadirachtin

Another name for neem oil or neem oil soap, azadirachtin (misspelled on the meme as azidirachtin) is approved for use in organic farming. It is derived from Azadiracta indica, the neem tree. It has been used for hundreds of years for medicinal purposes, as a cosmetic and as a pesticide. Azadirachtin breaks down quickly, approximately 4-5 days. Thus it is not expected that it will accumulate, and is considered relatively safe to wildlife and adult beneficial insects. Like any insecticide, it should not be applied while bees are foraging. Some negative effects have been noted for larval stages of some insects, however I've found no evidence for the claim that it is 'responsible for mass bee deaths'. Positive effects have been found for earthworms exposed to neem. Overall, azadirachtin is considered to be an appropriate tool for pest management and is classified as relatively non toxic.

10. Methyl Bromide

Methyl bromide, a fumigant, is not approved for use in organic agriculture. It is allowed under very specific circumstances called 'critical use exemptions', one being strawberry starts. If organic growers cannot find organic strawberry starts they are allowed to purchase conventional, which have had methyl bromide soil treatment. Fortunately the United States largest organic strawberry producer, Driscoll's is making an effort to expand the availability of organic starts. In fact, the organic industry is leading the way in finding alternatives to methyl bromide which is indeed very damaging to the ozone layer. Other countries have managed to phase it out completely with no exemptions, hopefully the US will follow suit.


11. Wide range of homemade chemical concoctions

Not an organic farmer.
 Yet another thing, that's


12. Citronella oil, eucalyptus oil, garlic extract 

The Risk-Monger's claim here is simply 'bees'. So, I'm going to assume he means these are toxic to bees. I don't think it's fair to lump three separate substances together, two are horticultural oils and one is a food extract. But suffice it to say, many substances can have a harmful effect on bees. Garlic is an effective insecticide, so clearly you don't want to spray it or any pesticide at all, on beneficial insects. The non-profit Xerces Society has compiled information on minimizing risks to pollinators from organic approved pesticides. They classify garlic as non-toxic. Horticultural oils are classified as highly toxic, and are recommended to be used when bees are not active as they are only harmful on contact.

Any pesticides being used on organic farms are only after other control measures have failed. Pesticides are a last choice in an organic farming program. 'Preventive, cultural, mechanical, and physical methods must be first choice for pest control, and conditions for use of a biological material
must be documented in the organic system plan' according to the National Organic Program. Like I stated before, farmers are simply not flinging this shit around. Many organic farmers don't even use pesticides at all.

There are distinct benefits to organic farming, lower pesticide residues being one, and overall, organic is competitive with conventional farming practices, as well as surpassing in many areas.

No system of agriculture is perfect, and organic certainly has areas in which it can improve as does conventional.

However, the Risk-Monger's meme simply fear mongers instead of educate on this topic. The claims range from misleading to outright false. The bits of truth have been veneered over a pile of lies and bullshit to make this information appear legitimate, but in reality it is just another example of garbage propaganda from Social Skeptics.

The accompanying article to this meme is much the same, making claims that are not true, backing claims with cherry picked quotations:

From sources that actually refute most of the claims they are making.

My advice? Seek another source other than David Zaruk for credible information on agriculture.