Tuesday, April 14, 2015

The Strongest Argument Yet for GMO labeling laws

So far, GMO supporters have managed to frame the GMO labeling controversy as a battle between pro-science and anti-science, and by and large they've been able to get away with it.  That’s been a key factor in the battles over labeling laws, most of which the anti-GMO side has lost.  Undecided voters may be unsure of science or even vaguely afraid of it, but they respect it and don’t want to be on the wrong side of it.

The only thing that will change this is showing them that scientific opinion is turning against GMOs and that all the dangers that have been pooh-poohed by GMO advocates are turning out to be real.  And now, thanks to two ground-breaking announcements that have come just in the last week or two, it’s possible to build a coherent argument that the GMO advocates won’t be able to answer.  The first is the decision by a WHO panel of experts that glyphosate is “probably carcinogenic”. The second, and to my mind the more important, is the Endocrine Society’s statement that glyphosate is an endocrine-disrupting chemical, capable of causing far-reaching and long-lasting damage to hormones essential for health.   These findings should be spread as far and as wide as possible, especially in areas where labeling laws and other restrictions on GMOs/pesticides are being proposed and have not yet been defeated.  The argument goes along these lines:

  •       The plants used in many GMO foods are RoundUp-resistant, and therefore have been sprayed with, and absorbed, glyphosate, a herbicide in the next-to-worst category of toxic substances by EPA standards.
  •        Yet GMO advocates tell us that scientists (with few or no exceptions) agree that this process is perfectly safe.  But that’s no longer true—if it ever was.
  •        The Endocrine Society, a hundred-year-old organization of scientists with 17,000 members, has just issued a statement naming glyphosate as an endocrine-disrupting chemical—that is, a substance that can cause far-reaching and permanent damage to the production of hormones vital for human health. 
  •       Consequently, government has both a duty and a responsibility to provide consumers with the power to decide whether or not they will buy food that might do them serious harm.   

UPDATE (04/16/15)
Will this argument work?  Since posting this I've been testing it on the Biofortified blog, one of the top pro-GMO blogs--the post in question is "Should science be a democracy?" So far there's been no attempt to answer it.  Maybe they can’t answer it. Maybe they daren’t admit, even to themselves, that they’re losing the “We’re the pro-science side” argument.  Follow it, it's fun.  

Saturday, March 28, 2015

How the medical establishment caused the anti-vaccination movement.

I watched the PBS Frontline on the Vaccine Wars and they still don't get it, five years on.

In 2010 I blogged about their first "Vaccine Wars"for Psychology Today.   Five years later they're still ignoring both of the 500lb gorillas in the room.  And refusing to admit what should be blindingly obvious to any unbiased observer--the main cause of the belief that vaccines cause autism lies not with parents' hysterical fears or ignorance of 'REAL science' but with the medical establishment's gross stupidity (if it's no worse than that) in dealing with autism.

Look, John, see the gorillas!  Gorilla Number One is something that Frontline admitted in a quick screen flash that was over, wholly without comment, in a couple of seconds--that autism has increased by a whopping 6000% over the last few decades.  Gorilla Number Two is the fact that they and the medical establishment continue to completely ignore: that there are two kinds of autism,  one clearly genetic and unvarying from the start, the other occurring in previously normal children and triggering rapid regression to an autistic state.  Obviously something in the environment is implicated in these cases.  But what?

Clearly the two gorillas are related.  Evil twins.  If autism has soared and if a lot of it (how much, nobody knows--talk about that for neglect of responsibility!) consists of late-onset, regressive autism, part of the cause has to be something in the environment that wasn't present before.  The obvious move for any responsible medical establishment is to start looking for the new factor(s).

Did they?  Not for one second.  They blandly told us that the increase was due to broader diagnostic criteria, better diagnosis, wider public awareness.  The regressive autism cases?  Well, that was just that the parents were in denial until they were eventually forced to face the truth--their "kids" had been autistic all along but they hadn't recognized it.

I don't like it when people insult my intelligence.  I get apoplectic when those people masquerade as the voice of REAL science. What the medical establishment offers is not even junk science.  It's nothing more than the face-saving reaction of any large human organization, which is always self-protective and always strives to pass itself off as omniscient.  If doctors are the all-knowing guardians of our health that they think they are, how can they say that they don't have a clue about what's causing the staggering increase in autism?

So they pretend that the causes are what they've always been--strictly genetic--and that therefore there hasn't REALLY been an increase, and that if you think there has, you're an ignorant idiot.   Which is absolute self-serving crap, as anyone with half a brain can see.  Can you imagine how a parent feels who has just seen a bright and promising toddler with a whole fruitful and happy life ahead of him or her suddenly regress to a prelingual presocial state, maybe just days or weeks after a vaccination (or more likely, with today's protocols in place, a whole batch of vaccinations, some against diseases you're unlikely ever to see, but Big Medicine's mantra is CAN DO, WILL DO).  What would you think?  Oh no it can't be the vaccine because a man  in a white coat told me it wasn't?

So the anti-vaccine movement is the natural and inevitable reaction of any normal human to the cretinous obstructionism of the medical establishment.  You broke it, you doctors--now go fix it!

The medical establishment could fix the anti-vax movement by simply telling the truth.  By saying, loud and clear:  yes, we're sorry, we dropped the ball on this one, but clearly there's something new at work here, and it's almost certainly something in the environment, so we're going to work our butts off finding out what it is, no holds barred--and, parents of autistic children, we welcome any input you can give us!

Will they?  Come on, what world are you living in?

A funny world indeed, where police work is more scientific than science.  I kid you not.  Faced with a crime where there's no obvious suspect, a good detective doesn't say, "Oh well, maybe it didn't happen".  A good detective suspects everyone until s/he has a prime suspect (or at least a "person of interest") in sight.  A good detective doesn't rule out any possible suspect unless that suspect can supply an unbreakable alibi.  Even if s/he can't solve the case, a good detective never, ever gives up--sometimes, not even after retirement.  Those are just the things that a good scientist should always do.  And what a frightening number of self-described scientists today wouldn't even dream of doing.

Me, I don't rule out anything.  Vaccines are relatively low on my list of suspects. PCBs somewhere in the middle.  Pride of place: pesticides, and genetically engineered foods that have been exposed to pesticides.  Of course, now we are realizing there are wide differences in individual reactions, it could be multi-causal.  But pesticides are the prime suspects, because the UC Davis study showed that pregnant women in sprayed areas were 60% likelier to have autistic  children and because the Swanson et al. paper showed an R = 0.989 for the autism-GMO/glyphosate connection.

It's high time to get the show on the road.  I'm already preparing a list of all the leading U.S. science writers and editors who will shortly receive an open letter asking them why they have abdicated their responsibility to the American public and failed to publicize the great and growing threat that the monstrous increase in the use of glyphosate and other pesticides poses to us all.

Saturday, March 21, 2015

HOT, HOT BREAKING NEWS! The Lancet Declares Glyphosate “Probably Carcinogenic to Humans”!!!

Talk about smoking guns!  This is more like a fusillade from an AK-47!

Yesterday, the prestigious, ultra-conservative medical journal The Lancet reported, pre-publication, on a study produced by 17 experts from 11 countries on the carcinogenicity of five leading pesticides, scheduled to appear as Volume 112 of a series of monographs produced by IARC (the International Agency for Research on Cancer, Lyon, France).  Herewith, complete and unexpurgated, is The Lancet’s summary of what the monograph says about glyphosate.  Any italics in the summary are mine.

“Glyphosate is a broad-spectrum herbicide, currently with the highest production volumes of all herbicides.  It is used in more than 750 different products for agriculture, forestry, urban, and home applications. Its use has increased sharply with the development of genetically modified glyphosate-resistant crop varieties.  Glyphosate has been detected in air during spraying, in water, and in food.  There was limited evidence in humans for the carcinogenicity of glyphosate. Case-control studies of occupational exposure in the USA, Canada, and Sweden reported increased risks for non-Hodgkin lymphoma that persisted after adjustment for other pesticides. The AHS cohort did not show a significantly increased risk of non-Hodgkin lymphoma. In male CD-1 mice, glyphosate induced a positive trend in the incidence of a rare tumour, renal tubule carcinoma. A second study reported a positive trend for haemangiosarcoma in male mice.  Glyphosate increased pancreatic islet-cell adenoma in male rats in two studies. A glyphosate formulation promoted skin tumours in an initiation-promotion study in mice.  

“Glyphosate has been detected in the blood and urine of agricultural workers, indicating absorption. Soil microbes degrade glyphosate to aminomethylphosphoric acid (AMPA). Blood AMPA detection after poisonings suggests intestinal microbial metabolism in humans.  Glyphosate and glyphosate formulations induced DNA and chromosomal damage in mammals, and in human and animal cells in vitro. One study reported increases in blood markers of chromosomal damage (micronuclei) in residents of several communities after spraying of glyphosate formulations.  Bacterial mutagenesis tests were negative. Glyphosate, glyphosate formulations, and AMPA induced oxidative stress in rodents and in vitro. The Working Group classified glyphosate as “probably carcinogenic to humans” (Group 2A).”

All right, all you guys who have scoffed at Nancy Swanson and her colleagues.  Let’s see what you have to say to THAT!

Wednesday, March 11, 2015

ITSS (It's The Science, Stupid!)

Checking out visits to this blog, I made the depressing discovery that my latest post “Real Science 1” has had only about one-fifteenth of the readership of two “hot-button-issue” posts, “Unsafe at Any Dose?” and “Causation IS Correlation”.  

Why is it depressing?  Because winning minor skirmishes over particular issues, useful though it is, is not going to tackle the core belief of GMO supporters.  Which is, that they have the Science and we don’t.  And this is their key claim, the claim that that guarantees them legitimacy, the one that gets trumpeted and re-trumpeted on pro-GMO sites, that is believed and reinforced by the mass media, and that opponents of the whole GMO/pesticide nexus have so far done no more than snipe at.  We can point to individual papers that contradict their claims and they trash those papers by subjecting them to criteria that no pro-GMO piece ever had to undergo.  There are fewer scholarly papers finding problems with GMOs than there are scholarly papers enthusiastically endorsing them, and there are more scientists, at any rate more people who are called and who call themselves “scientists”—88% more, if you believe the latest polls--who believe that GMOs and pesticides are perfectly safe than scientists who are skeptical of those claims.

Small wonder then that many anti-GMOers become anti-science, become exactly what pro-GMOers portray them as being, while others are in denial, refusing to accept the situation, latching on to anything that seems prejudicial to GMOs regardless of its provenance or reliability.   But such responses are not just futile—they’re unnecessary.  All you have to do is put the conflict in a broader context.  Once you do that, you will understand what is happening, why it is happening, why it had to happen, and why the picture is already changing and will change even more.  In our favor.  It may not be quick, but we can speed it up by five, ten, fifteen years, once we realize that GMOers are weakest where they feel themselves strongest.  We can challenge them on their most basic assumptions, provided we are willing to raise our heads out of the trenches and survey the battlefield we’re fighting on from a longer and broader perspective.

In the post series entitled “Real Science”, I’ll first examine the sociology, psychology and history of science, with particular reference to its most recent 200 years.  Then I’ll talk about what’s been happening in the biological sciences over the last fifty or so years, culminating in changes to some basic assumptions that GMO advocates seem not to have noticed.  Finally I’ll survey the economic forces that have sought to control and direct science and why those forces have been initially so successful, but also why they cannot remain so.

Boring, abstract stuff of no conceivable interest to people who are trying to get labeling laws passed, or put folk with placards round City Hall, or host informational seminars, or do any of all the countless things activists must do?  No way!  Don’t think for one moment that I want in any way to depreciate those things.  Quite the contrary.  I myself am actively involved in them, here at ground zero in Hawaii, so I know they have to be done.  But, and a very big “but”…

It’s on the high ground of pure science that the decisive battle will be fought—and won!   Never mind the “pro-science” rhetoric on the GMO side.  Once you see the Big Picture, you can see how much (or how little) that’s worth.  Because that’s what it is, sheer rhetoric, the endless repetition of the same mantras: GMOs have been proven safe, no-one has ever gotten sick from them, pesticides are harmless to humans below the government-certified “low dose”, if anyone says different it’s junk science, farmers have been doing this for millennia, opposition to any of this is anti-science, and on and on.  Words.  I’m going to give you facts.  Facts you can use to put an end to all this who’s pro and who’s anti-science.

Because the issues we’re talking about are empirical issues.  Things that sooner or later will be decided on the basis of indisputable fact.  I don’t for one moment doubt that there are many people on the GMO side who sincerely believe that they are on the side of science and reason—“all paid by Monsanto” is just a pro-GMOers’ myth.  Indeed I even know WHY they claim to be pro-science.  Because they ARE pro-science.  In a sense.

You see, the science they are pro is basically the science they learned in college or grad-school, twenty, thirty, forty years ago.  Well, unfortunately for them, science is always moving, at some times faster than at others, and twenty years can be a long time in science.  In my next “Real Science” post but one, I’ll explain the two most recent major developments in biology—evo-devo and niche construction theory—and exactly how these impact the pro-GMO case (in a word, adversely).  First, though, I need to place these developments squarely in the context of the Still Bigger Picture—how science has evolved over the last five hundred years, and how much what we still call “science” has itself has been changed by that process.  So that’s what’s coming next—stay tuned!

Monday, March 2, 2015

Real Science 1: What Science is Really Like.

I’m going to be writing a series of posts under the general heading: REAL Science.  So let’s kick off with some full personal disclosure.

There is a stereotyped list of reasons why people oppose genetic engineering of the food supply (GMOs is just shorthand for this).  They are supposed to oppose it because they are over-emotional, because they are ignorant of science, because they are actively opposed to science, because they are neophobic, because they are irrational etc. etc.  None of these apply in my case.  For a long time I didn’t find the issue of much interest.  Then I became interested, and only then did I start to take sides.

Two things moved me.  The first was the rhetoric of GMO supporters.  Frankly, this pissed me off bigtime.  If there’s one thing I can’t stand it’s arrogance.  When I see arrogance a red mist forms before my eyes and I want to make mayhem.  Everywhere I looked was an arrogant assumption of authority occasionally leavened with a sickening condescension.  GMO supporters were the only ones who were rational.  Everyone else was an idiot, to be talked down to like you’d address a retarded ten-year-old.  There was some sickly sniggering, like “doesn’t pass the Seneff test, ha ha.” (Got it?  That’s a JOKE.  Seneff test = sniff test. Brilliant.)

Oh ho, I thought.  Let’s see what science is really saying.  Is the stuff they call “junk science” REALLY junk?  Or could it just possibly be that THEIR science is the junk?

For openers let’s start with something a real scientist, a truly rational person, would never say.  They’d never say “A consensus of scientific opinion shows that GMOs are perfectly safe, so the opposition to GMOs is anti-science”.  Why not?  For at least three reasons.  One, science is not a democracy.  You don’t decide issues by vote.  Two, nothing is ever final in science.  Three, the last and most important reason: science lives by overthrowing consensus and dies if consensus smothers it.

I’ll explain exactly why that is so—why the very essence of science is rebellion, not conformity—in my next post.  This one is really just a teaser for the series, it’s a cautionary tale about why destroying consensus, not upholding it or enforcing it, is the very life-blood of science.  It’s a real life story of a true scientist, appropriately enough from the on-line edition of The Scientist for March 2015, and it’s about Leonard Hayflick’s discovery of the function of telomeres and the Hayflick Limit (for which he won a Nobel Prize, btw).

Hayflick’s study was published in Experimental Cell Research [impact factor 3.552, DB] in 1961, after first being rejected by another prominent journal—The Journal of Experimental Medicine [impact factor 13.912, DB]. The rejection letter came from Francis Peyton Rous who received the Nobel Prize a few years later for his discovery of chicken tumor viruses. “I can still quote from that letter: ‘Anyone who has worked with tissue culture knows that if the cells are provided with the proper milieu in vitro they will replicate indefinitely.’ He also called my suggestion that our observation suggests something about cellular senescence and aging ‘notably rash.’ ” The theory that all cells are generally immortal in culture was first postulated at the birth of cell culture in the early 1900s and was well publicized by Alexis Carrel of Rockefeller University in New York City who had developed a cell strain from chicken heart cells that he claimed had been growing for more than 40 years. [Carrel obviously flat-out lied, because that's flat-out impossible--shows you the gatekeepers of the conventional consensus wisdom will lie like the proverbial troopers to defend the status quo--even before filthy lucre reared its ugly head, DB].

After showing that normal cells are mortal, Hayflick also reported, for the first time, that cancer cells were uniquely immortal—a claim that could not be made without first establishing that normal cells are mortal. He also discovered that his normal human fetal cells had a memory. When fetal cells frozen at different population doublings were thawed, the cells remembered the doubling at which they had been frozen and only divided until they reached a total of 50 divisions.

Hayflick’s work was criticized and he was ridiculed. It took about 10 years for a more general acceptance that normal cells have a limited life span in vitro, a phenomenon now known as the Hayflick limit. The Nobel Prize–winning discovery of telomere shortening and the expression of telomerase explained Hayflick’s observations.”

Thats typical of how most of what we know as science came to be.  A lesson GMO supporters ought to take to heart, because that’s exactly how real science, not junk science, really works.