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Countering ideologically motivated bad science, pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies is one of the main purposes of this blog. Specifically, we try to combat such misinformation in medicine; elsewhere Steve and I, as well as some of our other “partners in crime” combat other forms of pseudoscience. During the nearly five year existence of this blog, we’ve covered a lot of topics in medicine that tend to be prone to pseudoscience and quackery. Oddly enough, there’s one topic that we haven’t really written much about at all, and that’s genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs, as you know, are proliferating, and it’s quite worth discussing the potential and risks of this new technology, just as it is worthwhile to discuss the potential benefits versus the risks of any new technology that can impact our health, not to mention the health of the planet. Unfortunately, GMOs have become a huge political issue, and, I would argue, they have become just as prone to pseudoscience, misinformation, and bad science as vaccines, with a radical group of anti-GMO activists who are as anti-science as any antivaccinationist or quack.


 

Comments

I think the conspiracy road trip was quite an interesting case study. I've often wondered what would happen if I had the resources to take some of the creationists I've met around to do the very activities they do there. The conclusion kind of crystalizes the different possibilities of what can happen.

The Abdul compartmentalizes the issue away from his faith. Sam has galvanized himself and openly rejected science. Phil has shut himself down, to make his faith inaccessible.

On the other hand, Bronwyn seems genuinely shaken in her faith, and Jojo seems to have been nearly wholly swayed away from creationism.

Coyne seems to be of the opinion that this is troubling. I see it as a sign of hope. Maybe my standards have just been lowered too far. I just think that there's so much baggage that comes along with faith that it's unreasonable to expect someone to just be sold on a week long road trip.

All of them seem to recognize the fundamental incompatibility, and that they need to choose sides. Creationists may be intransigent, but in the long run fact, I think, should prove to be even more so.

Wow, that anti-GMO article sure is making the Science Based Medicine blog look bad. Taking two authors and overgeneralizing, and then making the poor comparison to the anti-vaxers. Was the article supposed to be a lesson in using faulty logic?

Should I assume that the anti-vaxers have scientific evidence on their side and they are right about vaccine manufacturers preventing research into vaccines? That's what GMO corporations do, but the "skeptics" at the blog apparently think publications like Scientific American and the group Union of Concerned Scientists are a bunch of quacks.

I've noticed that website often makes reference to a "naturalistic fallacy". Whatever that's supposed to be. Apparently it's a catch phrase to belittle a position without actually discredited a position. Even worse, they criticize studies critical of GMOs that use the same research methods as GMO corporations use but don't criticize companies like Monsanto. Clearly they are biased if they hold such a double standard.

The article criticizes the mentioned study for the breed of rat and sample size, although neglecting the fact that Monsanto's research used the same sample size and rat's species but the author concludes that Monsanto's own research proves the product is safe.

Science Based Medicine is clearly a misnamed blog.

The Naturalistic Fallacy is a concept initiated, I believe, by the philosopher G E Moore (whoever he is). It is an interesting positioning of two articles here where creationism v science seems to be very similar to the argument between the GMO lobby and their opponents. My impression is that creationism and anti-GMO beliefs are both core constructs (in the George Kelly meaning of the term) held by people who have some significant problems in accepting scientific evidence.

What scientific evidence do the anti-GMO people have a problem accepting? Creationists and anti-vaxers have no scientific evidence to point to to support their claims, anti-GMO does.

"There’s a lot in common between anti-GMO activists and antivaccine activists. Perhaps the most prominent similarity is philosophical. Both groups fetishize the naturalistic fallacy, otherwise known as the belief that if it’s “natural” it must be good (or at least better than anything man-made or “artificial”)."

comment: The vitriol directed toward the "other side of this discussion" from GMO and Vaccine advocates such as Mr. Gorski is, I find, rather appalling. What purpose is served by such rude and intentionally offensive misinterpretation of positions he disagrees with?

The reason un-manufactured input sources are preferential for some products is because the entire life cycle of the product must be weighed in decision making. Wrenching another bushel of corn from the field with petrochemical fertilizer has toxic costs to the planet that must be accounted.

There is nothing fetishistic about such a view. Indeed, the observation that we must, in choosing alternatives, account for waste and toxins produced should be indisputable. It's, well, like Math. You can't lose a penny on every pound but think you might make it up in volume.

With respect to vaccines, so long as there is a public health need to manage and contain disease outbreaks, then we must have accessible labeling of individual vaccine products such that consumers have ability to make an informed choice between them. This is particularly important with respect to vaccines because the Drug manufacturers have wide ranged protections from product liability claims. Furthermore, the stacking of vaccines is increasing in human vaccine products, just as it did in the cattle vaccine industry. This is not good, because it forces the consumer to become inoculated against diseases that are not of concern to them in their area - which simply spreads the vectors of potential problems with no advantage (except, of course, to the vaccine manufacturers who can produce, test, market a one size fits all vaccine).

THATS "anti Vaccine fetishism? nnnoo, it's just a real simple demand for visibility, accountability and choice. Not like I'm asking the government regulators and the industry lobbyists to go work in a coal mine.

Mr Gorski complains of the "apocalyptic language used by many of the anti-GMO activists".

comment: Aww. Don't like the language eh?

He goes on about the study: "the rat strain used (albino Sprague-Dawley rats from Harlan Labs)."

comment: Blame it on the breed of rat? Really? Heck, these poor Laboratory Rats were deliberately fed Genetically Engineered Feed cropswith herbicide resistance bred into them. They suffered painful deathsfrom tumors. Give 'em a break....I mean, they were RATS! Not like THEY had a choice to read a simple label before they bought and consumed this substance....

Mr. Gorski complains that the study control groups were too small...

comment: Well, compared to what? Most such studies have what appears to be ridiculously small sample sizes. I expect it's the unintended consequence of the amount of paperwork required by regulations to maintain and utilize laboratory animals.

Surely this writer actually read many of the reams of "studies" from Universities and Laboratories all over the world about GMO, Organic, Pesticide and Herbicide effects. NOTE: I mean, as opposed to just reading the free abstract then the reams of words written about it (as opposed to the actual publication. I just wonder cuz the latter is what I often do, (especially if I have to pay Wiley for a 2 day copy. However I have, sadly, enough times gone back to the actual publications where I ALMOST ALWAYS find either extremely small sample sizes in control groups, or a paper that collects citations to other papers that have been already published on the subject. PITIFUL I say, how far our Institutions of Higher Learning have fallen. I mean, how hard can it be? Not like those scientists are cleaning the chicken house.

It is not ANTI-SCIENCE QUACKERY to expect a higher quality standard from the scientific community irrespective of which questions they are asking in their research about something as important as food.

Too often, IMO, the Pro-GMO crowd forgets that quality research begins with asking the right questions....

I agree that Mr. Gorski is a bit over the top at times and perhaps doesn't persuade those he's trying to persuade. But to say he misrepresents positions may also be misguided. When you're talking about Organic, the positions, no their isn't just one are all over the place from Homeopathy to the Naturallistic Fallacy. There is a fair number of absurd views and they deserve a bit of scorn.

If I were a farmer I would never use the term organic, it's meaningless in my view. Instead I would say I practiced sustainable farming and lose all the negative baggage associated with the term organic.

Ironically Monsanto published in the same journal regarding their study which says the corn is perfectly safe. In that Monsanto study they used the same breed of rat and had the same sample sizes. Yet the author didn't have a problem with Monsanto's research methods, he just criticized anyone who disagreed with Monsanto a bunch of quacks.

They have quite the double standard over at Science Based Medicine.

The Sprague-Dawley rats have been used in all sorts of research, from tobacco research to Agent Orange research. I guess Science Based Medicine will have to conclude that anyone who thinks tobacco and Agent Orange (which Monsanto is trying to put back into use) are just a bunch of anti-scientific loons.

The very way in which "GMO"s are portrayed as one thing that is equally bad is the naturalistic fallacy. Are all GMOs equally bad? Are they even one thing? Is anything bad just cause of it being GM?

Of course, then people can say it's because corporations and corruption, but really, if you see the propaganda pro-labeling here in CA, it's blatantly implied that GMOs are simply less healthy or even harmful, and they are using scare tactics.

Prop 37: vote YES for "The right to know". The right to know what? Here there is an actual, straightforward parallel with antivaxers, in the way in which Thimerosal was banned without a shred of evidence that it was in any way harmful, which prompted people to think that if the government cautioned against it, it must be bad. They're fabricating something that "needs to be known". What is a "GMO" sticker on your fruit going to tell you exactly?

Just look at their web site for christ's sake. Besides the scary video, look at the "who's side are you on" list. I find the lack of any scientific and medical institution on either side very telling. The AMA is against labeling, for one. Somehow it didn't make the list.

re: "The AMA is against labeling, for one."

Why, in Heaven's name, would the AMA object to consumers having the right to choose food that is not laced with pesticides? I suppose it doesn't matter much, since the Feds don't listen to them anyway, (else cannabis would be legal).

re: What is a "GMO" sticker on your fruit going to tell you exactly?"

It will tell me that in all probability, this fruit has been designed to be produced with Herbicides, has been produced with Herbicides, and most likely will leave endocrine disrupting herbicide residue in the bodies of my granddaughters. Other than that, no problem eh?

re: "Just look at their web site for christ's sake."

Naw, ain't gonna look on the Web site. One can never control the verbiage or 'scare tactics' used by politicos of any stripe. Corporations and their political lackeys, who pretend in the name of increased sales, that they know best what I should choose to consume, AND are willing to spend considerable fortunes to prevent my access to the information I need to make my own choices are full of malarky. It's an issue of freedom of choice and informed consent. (and yea, I support a woman's access to reproductive health services too).

Anyone who has ever looked at the nutrition label on their food and found it helpful in making healthy eating choices, would never think it might be better to have no label on the food. Yet back in the day, it was a HUGE fight to get those labels required.

Why, in Heaven's name, would the AMA object to consumers having the right to choose food that is not laced with pesticides?

Because it's not really about "the right to choose". It might be for you, but it's clearly not the reason behind the pro-labeling campaign. Besides what happened with vaccines and Thimerosal, also see what happened with silicone implants in the early 90's. When the government mandates something, there better be good evidence that it's necessary.

Naw, ain't gonna look on the Web site. One can never control the verbiage or 'scare tactics' used by politicos of any stripe.

The point of looking at the site is that it clearly shows how they're manipulating uninformed people's emotions. It is clearly not about the "right to know", it's about portraying GMOs as harmful. Since I don't think the majority of people are like anyone of us here that take more than 1 minute to read anything on the subject, pro or con, they have to rely on lying and manipulating someone who won't care to think twice that GMO's are worse cause the government mandated they be labeled.

As for herbicides, you're the farmer, I don't know that all GMOs are treated that way, but why not a "treated with herbicides" label, if it's so important (proper evidence notwithstanding)?

has been produced with Herbicides, and most likely will leave endocrine disrupting herbicide residue in the bodies of my granddaughters. Other than that, no problem eh?

Do you still have the link to the study you cited previously supporting this claim. As I recall it was pretty iffy, though sometimes iffy is enough.

everybody watch the TED talk in this post. It illustrates a point about the skeptical movement that Steven Novella made quite well. Lots of people criticize the skeptical movement for attacking "harmless" beliefs. Novella responds as follows.

"Part of the reason that we target extreme beliefs, such as alien visitation, bigfoot, and psychic powers, is that they are extreme. They therefore display some features of poor logic and bad science in a blatant and obvious way, but may also have more subtle flaws. I liken this to a patient with the end-stage of a disease – such patients are often seen as great “teaching cases” and are presented to medical students and at teaching rounds for this reason. Seeing the obvious and severe manifestations of a disease may help to recognize the same disease in its earlier and more subtle form. In the same way, seeing the blatant logical fallacies and terrible scientific methods of creationism or homeopathy lays bare the methods of pseudoscience that exist in more subtle forms throughout legitimate and semi-legitimate science." http://theness.com/neurologicablog/index.php/analyzing-harmless-nonsense/#more-4941

In the TED talk uses an idea that is easy to understand in the context of criticizing astrology, to criticizing publication bias in medical journals. Good stuff.

shouldn't have to say this, but M\my post above should not be construed as having anything to do with the discussion about the GMO article.

Now on the GMO issues. I have a couple of things to say to Doug. First,

"Ironically Monsanto published in the same journal regarding their study which says the corn is perfectly safe. In that Monsanto study they used the same breed of rat and had the same sample sizes. Yet the author didn't have a problem with Monsanto's research methods, he just criticized anyone who disagreed with Monsanto a bunch of quacks."

The problem with the Sprague-Dawley Rats is that they have a naturally high propensity for tumors. Not the best strain of Rat to use as POSITIVE evidence that something causes cancer.

Now on the Monsanto Study. DESPITE THE FACT that rats have a naturally high propensity for tumors, the Monsanto no increased risk for tumors. You might even think that this is better evidence for safety than other strains of rats.

This isn't a double standard. Whether one strain of rats is good for a study depends on the details and nature of the study. And lest you think I approve of some of Monsanto's crappy corporate behavior, I emphatically do not approve.

The naturalistic fallacy being referred too in the article is not the one GE Moore was talking about. Moore was talking about ethical inferences. The naturalistic fallacy referred here is just to make the inference that because something is natural (whatever that means) that it must be safe or nutritious or good for the environment, etc. This is clearly false. Some natural products are bad, some are good. Some synthetic products are bad, some are good. You have to take them on a case by case basis.

more to come on this...

If it's the case that the species of rats is invalid then that would negate the previous research on which Monsanto based it's results on and was granted approval for approval. Then again, vaccine research used the Sprague-Dawley rats to validate vaccine safety.

Other research that used Sprague-Dawley rats includes research involving Agent Orange and tobacco which concluded that such products were cancerous. We might as well through out mountains, upon mountains of research and designate the vast majority of the scientific research community as 'quacks' as Science Based Medicine would refer to them. Then there are the vast numerous of journals which we'll have to discount as unreliable for publishing this research.

One question remains, what point is it to recreate a study by using a different breed of rats? Had the study used a different breed then it could be rejected on the basis of poor reproduction of methodology. So, regardless of the outcome, the research must be invalidated.

So from what basis should anyone conclude that Monsanto's product is safe for consumption since, by your own admission, their research must be rejected?

Also, I wonder why there was no mention by Gorski about his financial ties to Bayer, a company that manufactures GMO seeds. Clearly there's a conflict of interest there.

I think you missed the point Chris was making. Please reread what he wrote.

I don't think so, but perhaps I am. I'm also curious as to why those on the self-professed Science Based Medicine and elsewhere (not on this blog thankfully) are quick to label anti-GMO people as quacks and anti-science but haven't applied the same criticism to the pro-GMO people. Clearly the pro-GMO have accepted the faulty science without question but only point criticism towards the anti-GMO research for utilitizing the same methodology as the GMO companies.

As for the naturalistic fallacy, it's used more as a strawman against the anti-GMO people rather as a legitimate fallacy.

betty jo writes, "Mr. Gorski complains that the study control groups were too small...

comment: Well, compared to what? Most such studies have what appears to be ridiculously small sample sizes. I expect it's the unintended consequence of the amount of paperwork required by regulations to maintain and utilize laboratory animal"

Well you can't get a statistically good signal from 20 subjects. A good rule of thumb for this sort of thing is about 50. Anything under that just isn't reliable. It isn't a defense of the study to point out that other studies are crap because the researchers are too lazy to do some paper work.

The sample sizes were the same sample sizes that Monsanto used. Therefore, would you conclude that Monsanto's product is not properly tested and should be removed from the market?

Finally, the comparison to anti-vaxers.

The comparison being made here is that anti-vaxers like to argue that drug companies are evil corporations trying to make a profit, and therefore vaccines must be bad. This is similar too, monsanto is an evil corporation that does evil things, therefore the GMO's it produces must be bad.

These are both bad reasoning.They are ad hominem attacks. I agree that monsanto & pharmaceutical companies engages in some very shitty practices, but this is not evidence against GMO's or vaccinations.

This was the comparison, not one about who had evidence, Doug.

re: ANDYO "GMO's are worse cause the government mandated they be labeled."

comment: "Anyone who has ever looked at the nutrition label on their food and found it helpful in making healthy eating choices, would never think it might be better to have no label on the food. Yet back in the day, it was a HUGE fight to get those labels required."

Thing is, we all buy food now and again without a "Certified Organic" label. Like, for instance, if I can't find Organic half and half for the old guy's coffee, I don't loose sleep over getting regular milk for him. He's too male and too old to be at much risk for the negative effects of BGH (Bovine Growth Hormone). On the other hand, I would NEVER feed such milk to the granddaughters, who ARE at more risk. Likewise, that nutrition label that says a product has 8 grams of fat, tells me I can't eat that one too often!

Same with GMO labels. The label offers consumer choice. That's all it does.

re: Chris "The naturalistic fallacy referred here is just to make the inference that because something is natural (whatever that means) that it must be safe or nutritious or good for the environment, etc. This is clearly false.... You have to take them on a case by case basis.

comment: Yup. Cow manure is all natural. Doesn't mean the cows should be allowed in the creek. That arthritis in my hip is all natural. Doesn't make it hurt less. BT is a naturally occurring substance. Doesn't mean it's ok to make a plant that expresses it through the entire plant for the entire growing and consumption time, especially when crop rotation instead of monoculture is a perfectly successful solution to corn borers. You are absolutely right.

re: Chris "Well you can't get a statistically good signal from 20 subjects. A good rule of thumb for this sort of thing is about 50. Anything under that just isn't reliable.

comment: I do not defend the study, at least I intended to say instead that I am rather appalled by the quality of most studies in the nutrition area. You may recall the highly touted Monsanto study that "proved" "miracle rice" actually delivered a nano-gram of beta carotene to the four study participants.

re: Norm "Do you still have the link to the study you cited previously supporting this claim"

comment: could probably track it down, but not today. We still trying to get in the harvest before the first rains (due, we hope, on Monday).

Do you think the Monsanto study is the only one showing that glyphosate (roundup) is safe. There are dozens of studies supporting the Monsanto study. If the Monsanto study was only one the fact that they used just 20 rats would be critical. But it's not. Unlike Seralini Monsanto released their data to others. The reason for the outrage at Seralini's study is that there appear to be serious methodological problems with it in addition to the small sample size. Namely that it contradicts years of research and other studies some independent that arrived at the opposite conclusion.

http://www.24-7pressrelease.com/press-release-service/309289

You want more studies on GMOs

http://www.biofortified.org/genera/studies-for-genera/

As to what you missed in the comments Chris made is that if Monsanto was trying to hide potential problems they would have picked rats that were not subject to tumors.

You obviously have an emotional stake in the issue, don't let it get in the way of objectively assessing the information.

"Obviously have an emotional stake in the issue???" really Norm!! I would have thought after all these years, Gail would have taught you that these be fightin' words when used to disparage disagreements from women!

Not sure which reports exactly you were looking for. The issue of Roundup has always been not the Glyphosate, but the surfactants used.

The most recent reports on toxicity of pesticides were from the EPA. For, tho Monsanto and it's allies would like to pretend that Roundup is the only, and non-issue, in fact, just as we predicted, weeds have become resistant to the massive Roundup spraying and now most of the Monsanto products are bred for resistance to not only Roundup, but 24D and other even more poisonous chemicals.

We got our harvest in before the rains started yesterday.

We had an eventful day on Sunday. A fire started just up Panwacket Gulch . It was the last day of deer hunting season, so the Game Warden was out, and spotted it. You could see the flames from the road.

Rain was expected Monday, so we still had the full compliment of summer fire season crews around, and no other fires. Oh my, they got right on it! Within minutes there were spotter planes flying all around, and a half dozen fire trucks with full crews.

I started the sprinklers in the he corral pasture, then went up to see the situation, told the fire chief he could get water out of the ponds. We pulled out the fire pump and laid out hose to the chicken house, Our fire pump started ok, but didn't suck any water, so it was a good thing when this huge helicopter flew in, dumped it's enormous bucket in the pond and hauled it off to the fire. Back and forth it went, filling bucket after bucket. Each one probably carried 200 or 300 gallons of water.

My goodness. It was so exciting. The cows were stampeding all around the bunkhouse whenever the helicopter flew in for a new load of water. The cows bangs hair and tails were waving in the wind, the water on the pond was all ruffley from the helicopter blades. On his first water load, the pilot dropped the big bucket, and used it to push the ducky deck out of his way, over to the dock. (Ducky deck is a pallet floating on empty soda bottles anchored in the middle of the pond so the ducks have a safe place to go where fox et. al can't reach them). The cattle could have left for the big pastures, but they were too interested in what was happening. Every time the water bucket dumped in the pond, they had to run over to watch, then tore back to the road fence to see where it went, then ran around in circles til it returned. I pretty much felt like doing the same thing (except the running around in circles part - well, maybe that too). What a thrilling sight.

The fire crews stayed til dark, raking up any left over embers. Then, happily, our rains appeared Sunday night. It's been pretty much raining ever since so no worries about the fire restarting. I think we were really lucky. The fire season officially ends with the first big rains, this was probably the last day when we'd have had so many fire fighting resources close by. The fire chief said that having the pond right across the road made everything so much faster. Without it, they would have had to fly all the way to the Trinity river to refill each time, instead they just flew across the road.

p.s.

Now, even thinking about runnin' with the cows. THAT is "emotional investment".

Supporting labels on food produced with routine massive prophylactic herbicide use, is rational, thoughtful, well informed. It is essential for consumers who wish to reduce the pollution risks their offspring are exposed to. The big elephant in the room on this issue of 'safety' with respect to pesticides and herbicides, and BGH, and BPA is that the damage comes from cumulative long term effects of even small amounts of these chemicals. Prenatal exposure may be manifested 10 years later in early puberty, which is strongly correlated with later, higher breast cancer probabilities.

Argue about the breed of rats in the studies if you must. Go ahead and buy that labeled Roundup Ready +24D tofu if you wish. But think about the possibility that others may not be quite so comfortable with the amount of risk you are willing to take, and don't object to the choice of informed consent for everyone else.

The article/experiment things are interesting... personally I'm all for GM foods if they are trying to increase yield through pest and environmental protection of the plants - what I find increasingly unpleasant is the programming of plants to resist chemicals. The propaganda I've been reading convinces me that this is a really bad idea, leading to serious overspraying of poison onto the food. Does this group think that concern is valid?

An article re GMOs with interesting comments

Some of the comments, such as the following one by Bernie Mooney, remind me of something Andyo or Norm might say: "More and more, progressives are looking like the tinfoil hat brigade and that's a sad state of affairs."

Whoever proofread the article missed this one though: "an expert who's resume"

Since I'm not that much of a health-food kinda gal, I don't keep up with this as much as some of you do. I do admit though, that locally-grown fruits and vegetables taste a lot better than the ones shipped in from a distance.

I certainly don't read as much as Norm and others here about it. I think the point of view where I'm coming from is a bit different. What I see is that the vast majority of scientifically minded people (that includes relevant-field scientists, and good science journalists and bloggers) are not anti-GMO. I'm trusting in them as experts. It also has the backing of organizations like the AMA.

The "other side" has done nothing to convince me otherwise. Most of the stuff I see is kneejerk anticorporatism and appeals to emotion, and in many cases, plain outright lies.

I have no stake on the issue. I grew up with what people would call organic, cause one of my country's best resources is its agriculture. If anything, someone like me might have certain attachment for organic farming, and many of my compatriot friends do, but it's not about romanticism.

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