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Friday, November 24, 2017

Science Moms Documentary: A Review

I've been observing the behavior of the Skeptic movement for many years. Those observations led to my starting this blog several years ago. One Skeptic group I've been openly critical of call themselves the 'Science Moms'. Just recently their documentary by the same name became available for purchase. I thought it only fair that I watch the film and see what they have to say.

They open the documentary with a quote from Gwyneth Paltrow - who has now joined Vani Hari as a Skeptic community soft target du jour.

Science Moms director Natalie promotes the film on Twitter.

The first segment introduces us to the Science Moms and gives them a moment to tell the audience what led them to their respective role in this group. Three of the five Moms featured have science degrees. Anastasia Bodnar is a plant geneticist and describes herself as an 'ecomodernist'. Layla Katiraee is a GMO Answers contributor, has a Ph.D. in molecular genetics and works for a biotech company. Alison Bernstein aka Mommy Phd is a neuroscientist who describes herself as "committed to promoting science and destroying pseudoscientific claims" on her Twitter profile.

Kavin Senapathy, is referred to in the film as a 'science communicator'. She is a co-founder of March Against Myths (MAMyths) and an author of The Fear Babe: Shattering Vani Hari's Glass House. She is also employed by a company founded by her father called Genome International specializing in bioinformatic technologies.

Jenny Splitter's backstory is definitely the most enthralling of the five. She is described by the filmmakers as a science communicator and story teller. "I didn't have any interest in science until probably a couple years ago, just, you know, getting involved in the Skeptical movement as a parent. But I was not doing science experiments in my garage or anything like that,"she states at the beginning of the documentary.

This can't even is brought to you by Kavin.

For all its production value - it is well filmed and edited, and nicely scored - the content is what I have come to expect from Social Skeptics. There was nothing in this film I hadn't heard before, there are no new revelations or profound ideas to mull over. They mention the hard hitting issue of vagina steaming, homeopathy, and 'fear based marketing' along with some of the common misleading catch phrases employed by SSkeptics - 'everything is made of chemicals', 'all our food is genetically modified'. Senapathy, the co founder of MAMyths, ironically enough repeats a common myth about the holy grail of genetic engineering, golden rice. "Because of anti-GMO ideology and lobbying and over regulation, this rice has not reached the people who need it. Tragic!"

While some of the points made by the Moms have merit, like criticism of marketing techniques for instance, they feel misplaced. Organic food becomes the fall guy here, but what about junk food advertising to our kids? Have they never been in a cereal aisle? Rising autism rates are brushed off as just 'better diagnosis' and the dumbfounding claim that "30 years ago, a diagnosis didn't even exist" is made. Leo Kanner aside, thirty years ago was when the movie Rain Man was made. Did they miss it? Cancer statistics are badly misrepresented as people simply 'living longer' and they fail to mention declining fertility, increases in autoimmune diseases, celiac, obesity, diabetes and other chronic conditions. They present things like choosing organic or avoiding BPA as 'fear based' parenting.

All in all the Science Moms present a rosy view of the future, where technology in all its forms and uses can and should be embraced unequivocally simply because it's 'science'.

Life, and especially parenting really does get overwhelming at times and so I can see the appeal in this hakuna matata attitude towards food, medicine, and chemical exposures. But in reality these topics are so much more nuanced that it couldn't begin to be covered appropriately in a 30 minute documentary film. For all their talk about evidence, the Science Moms don't actually provide anything to back their claims made in the film, and upon my investigation many of their stated opinions turn out to be false, cherry picked or even just logically fallacious, as one of the Moms states in the film, "Personal research is not science!"

Mind blown.

I believe that these women came together for the reason they state - because Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other celebrities supported labeling of genetically engineered foods. I do not think that this film or this group was created by Monsanto or any other company as has been suggested by some, but between what I have observed and what they themselves state, I cannot feel confident that their message is fully independent of some level of industry influence. I also feel like Moms 4 GMOs would have been a more accurate title for the film and the group, seeing that this technology is their main focus.

It's no secret that the Skeptic movement is targeted by industry public relations people. Some of the Science Moms themselves have what can be considered a conflict of interest (COI) as they work in the biotech industry and therefore their message may be influenced by their source of income. One of the Science Moms, Layla Katiraee is listed as an expert on the Ketchum PR biotech funded website GMO Answers - as is one of the producers, Mary Mertz. In fact, amongst the list of producers we have quite a diverse array of people, many with connections to the biotech, agriculture and food industries.

Frieda A. Custodio, a nutrition researcher based in St. Louis, MO shares the producer credits on Instagram.

Peggy Greenway is a pork producer, Bill Price is Director of Statistical Programs in the College of Agriculture at the University of Idaho, Kim Bremmer founder of AgInspirationsJoan Conrow from the Cornell Alliance for Science and Montserrat Benitez, currently with Syngenta, formerly with Monsanto and PepsiCo. Cami Ryan, Social Scientist for Monsanto Company is listed as a one of the many Kickstarter donors and unsurprisingly, Vance Crowe is amongst the names receiving special thanks at the end of the film. The director Natalie Newell counts him among her friends.

Of course this makes people wonder about the level of influence these friends have, and I think it's fair to question whether the opinions expressed in the film are truly impartial.

Choosy moms choose Jif! 

All in all, the Science Moms documentary is on par with the type of content being disseminated by most Social Skeptics. I don't see this as being a vehicle to enhance further discussion of parenting topics, science or technology. It's not a film that goes beyond pushing conclusions and facts to its audience, and does little to promote science literacy or critical thinking.

A wise man once said - "I am not impressed by the correctness of your regurgitations, rather the insight and power of your ideas."

Thursday, November 2, 2017

5 More Astroturf Groups: Part 2 Electric Boogaloo

And now, the long awaited follow up to 5 Astroturf Groups You Should Stop Sharing From - ok, maybe not. Regardless, here is another list of some fake grass front groups pushing industry junk science on the unsuspecting public.


Well, yes it does. And it matters where you get your science from, like independent endocrinologists or the chemical industry. Guess who is behind Endocrine Science Matters? Spoiler alert: it's not independent scientists.

On the ESM about page; "Endocrine Science Matters is a project of CropLife International and its global network, which are the voice and leading advocates for the plant science industry."

CropLife's members?


It's evident that the Big 6 (for now, anyway, pending mergers) and friends have a rather strong financial interest in NOT having any of their chemical products declared to have endocrine disrupting effects.

Here they are trying to throw shade on a recent study looking at declining sperm counts in Western countries by sharing a link from the very aptly named Junk Science website run by Steve Milloy. Similarly, they seem extremely bothered by estimates of human cost burden from exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDCs) calling them "grossly exaggerated" on their website along with half a dozen or so tweets making similar accusations about research conducted by NYU scientists. The 'experts' they cite are Gregory Bond a former Dow Chemical employee, and Daniel R. Deitrich, who has received funding from industry as well as working closely with chemical companies like Dow and Bayer.

One might notice too that their logo is not so dissimilar to that of the Endocrine Society, a legitimate science organization - you have to wonder if this was purposefully done to confuse the public.

If you're looking for endocrine science that matters, best to skip over this industry front group.


This is a group I've written about before more extensively, but I'll give a short recap here. The CAPHR is somewhat unique in that they are focused on the findings of one group of independent scientists - the International Agency for Research on Cancer arm of the World Health Organization, known as IARC for short. CAPHR is a project of the American Chemistry Council and its members who happen to be exactly who you would expect them to be.

Here they are making the argument that out of the hundreds of compounds and agents evaluated, only one has been categorized as probably not likely to cause cancer.

Inadequate evidence to classify the carcinogenic potential of caffeine is impacting enjoyment of pumpkin spice lattes everywhere. It's a crisis of epic proportions. 

If you listen to the pumpkin spice latte enthusiasts over at the CAPHR, it would seem as though IARC just chooses things at random to evaluate simply so they can scare people into avoiding benign substances, such as asbestos, tobacco, or plutonium.

This of course isn't really the case. IARC explains on their monograph Q&A about how they choose which agents to evaluate:

IARC works with international experts to identify priorities from among agents suspected of causing cancer, based on the availability of scientific evidence of carcinogenicity and evidence that people may be exposed to the agent. Priority can be given to a wide variety of agents or substances with different impacts on public health. For example, air pollution has a high public health impact because everyone is exposed, even if exposure levels are generally low. On the other hand, occupational exposures, such as those involving vinyl chloride, may be very high and can therefore have a marked impact even if very few workers are exposed.

So, they are evaluating things that are already suspected of of causing cancer in the first place, which would explain why only one has been found to be probably not carcinogenic to humans and placed in group 4.

IARC's mission is in the interest of public health, by categorizing hazards that health agencies around the world may use for conducting risk assessments. The science they rely on is available to the public and peer reviewed. Their monographs are updated periodically as new data emerges. While constructive criticisms are warranted with most any large scientific group and how they operate, it's not very hard to see the picture that the CAPHR paints is heavily biased towards the interests of the ACC and its members.


This is a relatively new organization, launched in August 2017 by the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF). It seems that a major impetus for this campaign is Dannon's pledge to remove genetically engineered ingredients from its supply chain for many of their major products, as well as providing labeling indicating whether a product is produced with genetically engineered ingredients. The long term goal seems to be to transition all products "towards the use of fewer and more natural ingredients that are not synthetic and non-GMO.' 

This change isn't going over so hot with the dairy industry, in particular the NMPF. They've publicly challenged Dannon and other food manufacturers on what they call "deceptive food company marketing claims." They base this argument on the fact that some foods are being labeled 'non-GMO' like orange juice for instance. They use as one example that "Florida's Natural adding a Non-GMO Project certification to its orange juice labels, despite the fact that there are no commercially-grown, genetically modified oranges."

There are in fact no GE oranges on the market (yet). But it's a bit hard to follow how this is deceptive. The oranges have not been genetically engineered - so how is it 'deceptive' to label them as such? I've seen no explicit statements like, 'no genetically engineered oranges used in Florida's Natural products' and that I could see as implying that there is a commercially available counterpart. But labeling a non-GMO product as non-GMO?

This seems like quite a stretch. Honestly, as a consumer, a non-GMO label can only tell you so much and sometimes it seems redundant on certain products - but do consumers really need the dairy industry to sweep in and protect them from labels? Kosher labels are not relevant to a gentile like myself, but even I can appreciate that they are there for informational purposes, even if I am not using the information for myself. The real issue Peel Back The Label has with this doesn't seem to be about consumer welfare as much as it is about protecting the supply chain.

In their open letter to the Dannon corporation, NMPF states, "Your pledge would force farmers to abandon safe, sustainable farming practices that have enhanced farm productivity over the last 20 years while greatly reducing the carbon footprint of American agriculture." Would it surprise you to know that the letter was co signed by the American Farm Bureau Federation, American Soybean Association, American Sugarbeet Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, and U.S. Farmers and Rancher's Alliance?

No? Then it should also come as no surprise that the campaign is taking a cue from none other than the Astroturf Kingpin Rick Berman with another of their arguments against GMO labels. Leaked audio of a speech Berman gave reveals his tactics for manipulating public opinion and discrediting opponents. His 7th commandment? Push "fear and anger". PR Watch reports, "Berman talked about pushing people's emotional buttons...stating: "you could not get into people's heads and convince them to do something as easily as you could get into their hearts or into their gut to convince them to do something. Because, emotions drive people much better than intellectual epiphanies."

The Peel Back The Label campaign is putting this to use by portraying labels they don't like as 'fear mongering' in fact, they use the word fear quite a bit, it's all over their Twitter feed and website. By positioning the companies meeting consumer demand by dropping GE ingredients, or adding labels to their products as 'fear mongers', they are attempting to do two things - discredit the proponents of labels, and elicit an emotional reaction from the public. Some may feel embarrassed that they have been 'deceived' and don't want to be seen as fearful or naive. Embarrassment is a strong emotion that can motivate behavior - the campaign is readily exploiting this. Watch, as they invoke the Spectre of Fear Mongering - spooky!

Logically, we know labeling an orange or a tomato that is not genetically engineered, as not genetically engineered or 'non-GMO' that this is true, and not a deceptive statement. The Peel Back The Label campaign uses propaganda to emotionally manipulate the public, fights transparency and promotes what is best for their profit margins, not consumers. 


The Center for Food Integrity (CFI) was launched in 2007, by a PR firm called CMA Consulting. The name is quite similar to that of independent consumer group, Center for Food Safety (CFS). The legal director for CFS Joseph Mendelson, believes this is no coincidence. He is quoted in Food Navigator-USA.com as saying, "The name was obviously chosen to try to distract attention from groups like ours and confuse consumers."

CFI's members include the American Farm Bureau Association, Chik-fil-A, DuPont, Iowa Pork Producers Association, McDonald's, Merck & Co., Monsanto, Purdue Foods, Tyson Foods, Inc., and the United Soybean Board.

A main focus of CFI is on conducting informal research on consumer attitudes to inform their members on what they consider to be 'important food system issues.' The purpose of this research is to 'identify key audiences and insights for Food and Ag to earn trust.' CFI states on their website, "We survey U.S. consumers to measure and track attitudes on important food system issues. Each year's results build on the previous year - culminating in a greater understanding of the challenges and opportunities facing the food system, and translating into new CFI strategies to effectively engage, increase transparency, and earn consumer trust."

As a service to their members, CFI also offers 'Influencer Direct Outreach.' Influencers are what CFI calls consumers. They created the website Best Food Facts to 'help consumers make informed choices'.

Best Food Facts website's blog tackles in depth and hard hitting topics like:

Ask An Expert: Is German Chocolate Cake Really From Germany?

How Long Does Halloween Candy Really Last?


The Art Of Eating Insects

They also answer your questions about genetically engineered salmon, how 'science' created gene silenced Arctic apples, pesticide use on food, and one post specifically about glyphosate where a professor of crop and soil sciences and a weed scientist (clearly experts on human biology and toxicology) assure you not to worry about this herbicide residue in food, because...wait for it... it's 'safer than table salt.'

Seriously, it's getting old.

The bottom line from them on all of these topics, as you might have guessed, is that everything is fine and dandy in our agricultural and food systems.

Well, the reality is that we are facing some big problems with resource depletion, food waste, land management, antibiotic resistance, and abuse of pesticides. This is not going to go away because you deploy public relations teams to conduct surveys and try to manipulate consumers opinions with fake grassroots looking campaigns.


Formed in 2014, the Coalition For Safe Affordable Food (CFSAF) is an industry funded lobbying group that includes members such as CropLife America, and the Grocery Manufacturers Association. Monsanto Company has even announced their involvement with CFSAF on social media.

As you might have guessed, CFSAF and its members main focus is on food labels that would identify crops or products made with genetically engineered ingredients. They fought mandatory state laws and promoted voluntary labeling like the bogus SmartLabel as a federal standard for disclosure of genetically engineered ingredients. Between 2016-17, they spent at least 360,000 dollars on lobbying efforts through the firm Russell Group who has a very long list of agricultural and food industry clients, along with both the tobacco and chemical industry.

The money spent by the Food and Ag industries on labeling is hard to tally, but one estimate puts the number at about 51.6 million dollars - just for the first half of 2015 alone. Compare that to the spending by what some ironically call 'Big Organic' to lobby for labeling in the same time period that came to just under 1.5 million dollars.

Clearly the playing field is not close to level from even an industry standpoint, never mind consumer representation. Big Food Frontgroups like CFSAF are not doing anything to fight for consumers, transparency or science - only what is best for their members business interests. 

Can you spot the Astroturf? 

Technology isn't deserving of trust - that can only be earned the industry deploying it.

What this industry doesn't seem to understand is that while they can pour millions of dollars into lobbying and campaigns made to look independent and scientific, they can never buy our trust.

Tuesday, October 24, 2017

Science Bullies

If you've stuck around the internet long enough, chances are you've come across the elitist club of fakers calling themselves Skeptics. They eagerly patrol social media sites, chat rooms, Wikipedia, and reader comment sections enforcing their bastardized brand of 'science' and 'evidence'. I'm currently watching this group in action as they attempt to exert their influence on the reviews of a newly released book. The crime? The author dares to document the behavior of Monsanto surrounding their blockbuster chemical product glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup herbicide.

Despite their declarations, their activities actually have very little to do with science and evidence. These bullies do not employ the scientific method, nor do they practice ethical skepticism, but a twisted pseudo-philosophy called social epistemology.

This behavior manifests in many ways, including but not limited to:

Portraying those advocating for precaution as 'fear-mongers' 
Talking about science and evidence, endlessly at times, while demonstrating a lack of science literacy
Making appeals to settled science and consensus where it does not exist
Using social pressure to suppress and discredit evidence that runs counter to their 'facts' 
Pigeonholing those with legitimate concerns, criticisms or requests for more evidence as one of their favored pejoratives - 'denier' 'anti' 'illiterate' "conspiracy nut' etc.
Presenting as 'bad guys' the aforementioned, as needing to be stopped from their unscientific activities, lest we face dire consequences 
Recycling the same information through their social networks via blog posts, Twitter, and Facebook to rally followers and present the newest target being deemed 'woo' or 'pseudoscientific' and in need of being taught a lesson by their cabal

The 'celebrities' inside of this online club have at their disposal the already existing network of SSkeptics, primed and exploited by industry PR.

Fake skeptics, the self-appointed 'immune response system' of the internet. PR much, Vance?

These followers are ready to begin drooling like Pavlovian pooches when their masters ring the bell to signal a threat to their carefully crafted correctness. Their bastardized version of science, and the power it gives them must be defended vigorously.

In the current example mentioned at the outset of this post, a SSkeptic bell ringer claimed censorship of their verified purchase, one star Amazon review with no explanation. They claimed the author herself somehow had the review removed, and the troops rallied to the cause and the one star reviews poured in. Most on the same day that the SSkeptic reviewer reposted their reportedly deleted review.

Serious charge against an NGO - making death threats! Should we ask for evidence of their claim?

Do we really think all these people actually read the book?

SSkeptic leaders got in on the action, writing at least three different blog posts about this cruel injustice - the review you couldn't see for half a day but is back up now - and asking for followers to upvote the new review while admitting they have yet to read the book personally.

If you think this is just a one-off, try this example of science bully mob mentality documented by A Science Enthusiast. Because nothing will teach these science illiterate heathens a lesson quite like a good old fashioned DHMO trolling perpetrated on an organic farm owned by an elderly woman.

And for an even more egregious example, go ahead and type 'seventeen reasons to ban glyphosate' into Google. Or click here. I'll wait...

Okay. Notice anything strange? The real link by Nancy Swanson can be found here. What has been done in this instance is much more sophisticated than your typical DHMO hoax or flooding a site with negative reviews.

Dr. Swanson's list was deemed such a threat, that someone went to the trouble of flooding Google search results with links to gibberish. Who would be motivated to do such a thing, and why? German blogger Nico DaVinci has followed the breadcrumb trail a bit on his site, however it doesn't take much to see that this was a deliberate act meant to suppress information that runs counter to someone's interests.

While most SSkeptics you are likely to run into are not operating on such a sophisticated level, they can still be a royal pain in your ass at the very least. Science is not a weapon to be used to exert power over someone else yet, to so many of these fakers, science has become an excuse to work out deep seated issues on unsuspecting bystanders. A socially acceptable form of bullying - at least, it is in their social club anyway.

graphic by @EthicalSkeptic 

As for the rest of us, we can readily see this perverted method at play and should not back down to these tactics.

Monday, July 17, 2017

EDCs In The Mac n Cheese

It's pretty likely you've seen the New York Times article about phthalates in boxed mac and cheese products.

It's spurred numerous other headlines, and a few knee jerk reactions (more on that later). A consumer advocacy group called the Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging, commissioned testing of various brands and types of mac and cheese products. This group is led by a woman whose son suffered from a type of genital abnormality that can be caused by phthalates. She states, "my son was born with a birth defect called hypospadias with chordee – one of the most common among babies in the United States. At just eight months old, my son needed a three-and-a-half-hour surgery to dismantle and reconstruct his penis."

The group's choice to test mac and cheese products is based on research that dairy products are a significant source of phthalate exposure for infants and women of reproductive age. This review concludes:

"DEHP in some meats, fats and dairy products were found at high concentrations (≥300 μg/kg) in food monitoring surveys and significantly contributed to exposure in epidemiological studies. Similarly, assessment of daily dietary DEHP intake resulted in dairy as the highest contributor to exposure. Exposure estimates based on actual diets for infants exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s reference level while estimates based on high meat and dairy consumption resulted in exposure above this limit for adolescents. Some of the ADI’s developed by the CPSC for reproductive outcomes were also exceeded. We provide guidance on future research in this area to further understand food as an important phthalate source and to help identify methods to reduce dietary phthalate exposures."

Many studies have shown that phthalate contamination is common throughout the food supply, diet is considered a significant exposure pathway, and levels can be higher in certain foods than others. Additional research on phthalates suggests that it may bioaccumulate in some instances. In 2008 the National Academy of Sciences concluded that the EPA ought to be assessing phthalate toxicity using a cumulative risk assessment approach - because people are exposed to multiple phthalates. Some of these combinations have been shown to be more toxic combined than isolated exposures. These combinations can be as toxic as a high level at low levels, even.

We do have some restrictions in place due to the known risks of exposure to phthalates in the US and other countries in some consumer products. Wouldn't it be awfully prudent then, that we should take measures to remove this contamination from our food supply, as well? It seems that this is exactly what the Coalition for Safer Food Processing & Packaging is trying to do with their testing and petition

Of course, rather than look at this evidence and say 'hey, if we can prevent painful genital surgery for babies, maybe we should really take a closer look at this and see what we can do to cut exposures' the reaction from Social Skeptics is unfortunately, predictable. 

Jenny Splitter wants you to 'calm the fuck down'

Kevin Folta wants you to know you're a chemophobe who won't die from eating mac n cheese

When all else fails, invoke the spectre of the Food Babe. OoooooOOOOOoooooo!
I'm not going to break down every detail of these articles but the arguments I've seen have been pretty similar, and pretty flawed - this is an activist organization, the testing wasn't peer reviewed (even though it was done correctly) everything is a chemical, zomg chemophobez, Food Babe, 'dose makes the poison', etc. But anyone who has done even just some cursory reading and looked at the scientific literature isn't going to fall for the 'it's all fear mongering everything's fine' tropes. While I fully agree some of the headlines are alarmist, this still isn't an unfounded concern.

And it's amazing to me that anyone would think that the impetus for this campaign is some random hatred for Kraft, when it's much more likely that watching your eight month old baby boy endure painful genital surgery is the motivating factor here. Is it wrong to want to prevent this and other harmful effects for others? Even yet, this doesn't stop Folta from calling this group shills in his article: 'shouldn’t they be calling themselves shills of themselves?' And making a big blunder with the statement, 'According to the logic of the report, Kraft manufactures this popular product with the intention of causing birth defects. Certainly you can see why Kraft would want that, because it is M&C is an obvious choice for children stricken with reduced limbs and fused fingers.' GENITAL ABNORMALITIES KEVIN. If you don't know enough to even correctly name the health effects these chemicals are being linked to - please sit down and shut up. Also, no one has accused manufacturers of purposely adding phthalates to food. So many of these ridiculous arguments are crafted from straw.

The response from the SSkeptics has not been surprising to me, or probably a lot of you reading but it is once again illustrative of how they stand in the way of moving forward with science and applying it in ways that can help people who are suffering. And so often take the position that benefits industry over one that benefits the public.

I for one am not panicking over the boxes of Annies in my pantry, but I did sign this petition several days ago when I first saw it. This isn't a mac and cheese issue, this is a food production issue, one of public health, and making sure that we eliminate these cumulative dietary exposures that may be putting people at risk of harm. That feels quite reasonable and science based to me.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Little Black Book of Junk

Our good friends over at American Council on Science and Health have shat out a new book called "The Little Black Book of Junk Science." Released on June, 29 with a star studded panel consisting of: 

Dr. Angela Logomasini, Senior Fellow at Competitive Enterprise Institute who specializes in environmental risk, regulation and consumer freedom. Her articles have also appeared in Wall Street Journal, NY Post and many more places.

Dr. Alan Moghissi, Long-time member of the American Council on Science and Health Board of Scientific Advisors, a charter member of the Environmental Protection Agency, where he was Principal Science Advisor for Radiation and Hazardous Materials; and Manager of the Health and Environmental Risk Analysis Program, and now Associate Director of International Center for Regulatory Science at George Mason University and President of the Institute for Regulatory Science.

Professor Nina Federoff,  Professor Emeritus at Penn State University, who was appointed to the National Science Board by President Clinton, was Science and Technology Adviser to U.S. Secretaries of State Condoleezza Rice and Hillary Clinton and was a recipient of the National Medal of Science from President George W. Bush. Among her many books is Mendel in the Kitchen: A Scientist's View of Genetically Modified Foods.

Dr. Alex Berezow, Senior Fellow in Biomedical Science at the American Council on Science and Health, frequent contributor to USA Today, Wall Street Journal and BBC, and author of Little Black Book of Junk Science and Science Left Behind.
L-R: Angela Logomasini, Alan Moghissi, Nina Federoff, Alex Berezow

It is appropriately named at least, emphasis on junk. I thought we could take a look at a few excerpts and have a cringe and a chuckle.

Here are just some of the lowlights:

Second hand smoke? Pay no attention to the warnings from the CDC!

I have no idea what the fuck they're talking about here. Maybe themselves?

Fuck the ecosystem and those hippies with their science!
Hey, why blame the dealers when you can put it all on the addicts? It's complex!
No worries about 'low levels' of  PCBs! OK sure they bioaccumulate...

Except when they are an invention of Big Environmental! Oh, Hank.

The main goal of the Little Black Book of Junk Science seems to be to reassure all you irrational chemophobes about the safety of 2,4-D, atrazine, BPA, DDT, EDCs, flame retardants and the like. They go on to cite themselves no less than 26 times, as well as other highly regarded peer reviewed publications such as Forbes, Natural News, and David Wolfe dot com.

Once again, the ACSH prove themselves to be an agenda driven outfit, more concerned with industry interests than science or health. At least the title of their book was accurate.

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 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.