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Month: August 2013

From the archives: Why your kids are fat and sickly

From the archives: Why your kids are fat and sickly

The Nonsense Crowd has blamed GMOs for all modern illnesses and allergies despite any evidence to the contrary. Back in 2009 I wrote this when I was writing for the NY Examiner.  This was before GMO was on my radar. This was when I was really cranky.

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Hey, it was International Walk to School Day this week!  It’s an international event. NY1 was on the scene in Riverdale, interviewing parents and kids to get their opinions of this radical new idea.

One grinning parent loved this novel idea and said that it was a much better idea than driving his kid four blocks to school.

I have another radical new idea. How about if they encourage their kids go outside and play after school? Oh, but wait, they might get hurt or dirty. Good. Getting dirty and hurt is healthy so they don’t grow up to be lard-assed, sickly whiners who suffer anaphylactic shock when they even look at a picture of a peanut.

I know, it’s a crazy idea. The better solution is to ban bake sales, institute a tax on soda and stuff our kids into hazmat suits whenever they go outside.

The over protection of children has become an epidemic. Why, when I was a kid, we played barefoot on concrete playgrounds embedded with shards of glass. If we fell off the jungle gym and got hurt our parents would taunt us while treating our wounds with muddy, salt water and poke us with sticks until we stopped crying. Then, and only then, were we allowed to walk barefoot uphill six miles to school in six feet of snow, backwards.

Allergies seem to be rampant among kids today. Parents’ obsession on cleanliness and anti-bacterial this and antibacterial that, is harming kids. Back in the dark ages, you never heard of kids having peanut allergies. Now it seems that every other kid has them and all kinds of other immune deficiencies as well.

Scientists have come up with an idea of why this is happening. It’s called the Hygiene Hypothesis. Simply stated, our kids are too clean. Kids need to get dirty. They need to strengthen their immune systems.

Studies have found that kids who grew up on farms have significantly lower rates of allergies and asthma. However, Dr. Scott T. Weiss professor at Harvard Medical School and ivy league spoilsport says “Eating dirt or moving to a farm are at best theoretical rather than practical clinical recommendations for the prevention of asthma.”

We are raising a generation of kids who will grow up to be soft, weak and sickly. The worst case scenario is that it will be a generation of kids who have to live in bubbles, like John Travolta.

Anti-GMO movement are liars and a disgrace to progressive activism

Anti-GMO movement are liars and a disgrace to progressive activism

Never in the history of progressive movements have so few lied to so many. That pretty much sums up the anti-gmo movement. It is the most dishonest, wretched and immoral movement to ever come out of the left. They traffic in lies, obfuscation, threats and violence.

It used to be progressives, liberals and the left based their arguments on evidence and facts. They may have been coming from different perspectives but the debate was honest. The anti-gmo movement has jettisoned that honesty and intellectual rigor. They have not only allowed fringe crazies into the house, they have allied with them.

The anti-gmo movement can’t deal with facts and evidence. They dismiss every challenge to their fabrications and distortions with allegations of industry propaganda. One of the biggest offenders in this area is GMWatch, an anti-gmo group that would make make Goebbels proud. (Yup, I went there)

Whenever a progressive writer decides to do some research into this issue and they come to realize the activists are full of shit, the discrediting machine goes into full gear. Nobody does this better than GMWatch.

When environmentalist Mark Lynas did his mea culpa on gmos, the GMWatch propaganda machine went into overdrive. They questioned his bona fides as a “founding member” of the anti-gmo movement.

Now, whether he was or not, is beside the point. What GMWatch did was not refute his evidence and facts but embarked on a smear campaign to discredit him and thereby his facts.

The latest victim of GMWatch is Nathanael Johnson of GRIST who did a multi-part series on gmos to separate the non-gmo wheat from the chaff. What was his crime? He dared to believe actual experts in the biotech field.

GMWatch, or rather Claire Robinson, Minister of Propaganda at GMWatch wrote:

Being wrong on GM as often as he is, ignoring or twisting corrections to support his preconceived views, and in the process misleading the readers of a till now respected publication like Grist, doesn’t make him exciting, creative, or cool. It just makes him an unreliable source.

Wow, what brass ones she has. If there is anyone who engages in that behavior its GMWatch.

It seems that if you work in biotech for a living, that excludes you from being a reliable source in the minds of the antis. It would be like dismissing the expertise of a heart surgeon because he does that for a living.

Slowly, as mainstream and progressive journalists come to see through their lies and bullshit, the antis like GMW are going nuts. They have turned to attacking those who see through their lies. Since they don’t have the science on their side they claim those who have changed their minds as falling for industry propaganda. They’re also big on cherry picking and taking things out context

GMWatch is proficient at this technique. What’s even more lame is that they link to their sources and when you actually read the source, it doesn’t say what they claim.

One of their latest bits of nonsense is in response to Golden Rice. They quote  the World Health Organization as saying  “Vitamin A supplementation has already “averted an estimated 1.25 million deaths since 1998 in 40 countries.” This is true.  What they left out was the next part “…supplementation capsules lasts only 4-6 months, they are only initial steps towards ensuring better overall nutrition and not long-term solutions” and “Food fortification takes over where supplementation leaves off. “

And then you get the physical destruction of gmo field trials. The very same activists who claim there haven’t been enough studies, destroy field trials that are designed to do just that. The  latest travesty was the destruction of a Golden Rice trial field in the Philippines. Greenpeace and others applauded.

Side note: Greenpeace tweeted that the Russians were “illegally” boarding their ship in the Arctic. That’s rich. A group that engages in destruction of property whining about illegality.

But wait…there’s more. Not only do the antis promote lies and destruction of property, scientists report having received death threats. One of those scientists is Kevin Folta who has been in the forefront of trying to dispel the lies peddled by the anti-gmo Philistines.

Folta, a stout yeoman for science if there ever was one, has written on his blog, Illumination that he’s received more than few death threats over the past few years. The latest salvo of veiled threats came after he flew to Hawaii to try to get a dialogue going regarding the science of biotech. Hawaii has become the latest gmo battleground.

email1If death threats aren’t enough, Folta reports that activists are now creating fake websites purporting to be the original biotech sites and impersonating biotech scientists.

Critics of biotechnology are now stealing the identities of reliable information sources, creating bogus inflammatory websites, and then promoting them as the real thing.  Why?  They realize that these sources of legitimate, unbiased science communication have appeal to those in the middle seeking quality information.

I highly recommend Folta’s blog. I have never met the man, but I have had extensive digital communications with him. He’s as honest as they come and due to that, he is one of the top targets of the anti-gmo activists like GMWatch.

And speaking of GMWatch which we were, here is their notion of what science is

Even if such a “consensus” of GMO safety did exist, it wouldn’t be worth the paper it was written on. Science does not advance in the manner of a flock of sheep, by “consensus”, but through the generation of new data. The new data in turn lead to new conclusions that build a new paradigm. It doesn’t matter if just one scientist or hundreds generate the new data.  (my emphasis)

What our good Claire fails to understand is the consensus she derides is arrived at, not because of one scientist, but studies that have been replicated enough times there is no doubt. Then it becomes a consensus. Robinson and GMWatch borrow from the climate denial camp when they assign more weight to fringe scientists whose flawed work has never been reproduced and has been discredited by the overall scientific community.

Robinson then goes on to play the Galileo gambit.

Galileo didn’t have “consensus” support for his observation that the earth went round the sun. But because the data supported him, people eventually came round to admitting he was right.

RationalWiki describes this gambit

The Galileo gambit, or Galileo fallacy, is the notion that if you are vilified for your ideas, you must be right. It refers to Galileo Galilei’s famous persecution at the hands of the Roman Catholic Church for his defence of heliocentrism in the face of the orthodox Biblical literalism of the day. People use this argument repeatedly in response to serious criticisms that more often than not they just don’t understand.

They go on to say

Cranks who use the gambit to claim persecution by “big science” often fail to see the irony in the comparison — it was the Catholic Church that censored Galileo, not the “scientific establishment.”

An additional irony arises when we consider that if the maverick idea does manage to amass enough evidence to win over the majority, it will become the new consensus — at which point, by the fallacy’s own reasoning, the idea must become wrong!

The bottom line is the anti-gmo groups are a disgrace to honest progressive activism. It makes me question the motives of the groups like GMWatch.   It makes me angry that groups like GMWatch are liars and frauds. The fact that a non-scientist of average intelligence like me can easily debunk their lies and cherry picking should be an alert to the average person who is looking for honest information.

NY State Assembly public hearing on GMO labeling was a farce.

NY State Assembly public hearing on GMO labeling was a farce.

This is a tough one. I’m not sure where to begin. I attended a show trial NY State Assembly public hearing on gmo labeling last Tuesday which was held at Lehman College in the Bronx. It was chock full of lies, bullying, nonsense and a pretend sense of balance. Basically it was a 3/12 hour farce disguised as a public hearing.

The public hearing was convened by Assembly member Linda Rosenthal who sponsored a bill that would require all foods sold in NY that contain genetically modified ingredients to carry a label.

Although Rosenthal touted the hearing as “hearing from both sides,” it was obvious that she didn’t mean it. Her demeanor was more self-righteous bully. She acted more like an anti-gmo activist than an elected representative looking for facts. She told the NY Daily News in an email

“I am confident that after a comprehensive public airing, where both sides have an opportunity to provide testimony, the case for labeling of GMO-containing food products will be categorically made.”

 

Hansen & Rosenthal in pre-hearing "rally"
Hansen & Rosenthal in pre-hearing “rally”

 

She spouted all the anti-gmo nonsense which included citing discredited studies. What makes it even worse is she is the Chairperson of the Assembly’s Commission on Science and Technology. Why is that bad? She’s scientifically illiterate, at least on this issue. If you are going to chair a science committee, it would behoove you to understand something about how the science works, especially before you sponsor legislation that is based on scientifically unsound information.

One of the issues she kept raising was the idea that gmos create “new allergens” which is a bold-faced lie.

She and other antis brought up the Brazil nut example which if anything, actually proved their claim wasn’t true.

The story is this: The company Pioneer tried to insert a Brazil nut gene into soybeans. They selected a protein that wasn’t allergenic. To be on the safe side, they asked allergists to test it just to make sure. It was found that the allergen transferred over. So, they abandoned the project. 

She also kept harping on the idea that there is no “concrete proof” gmos are safe. Well, as chair of a science committee she should know that nothing can be proven “concretely” safe. And if she actually cared about whether they are deemed safe, or as safe as anything can be, maybe she should consult the hundreds of independent studies that exist out there. Even better, actually consult scientists.

While grilling three upstate farmers she really went bullygirl actually disagreeing with the farmers about their experiences with gmos. She read otherwise, she claimed, dismissing their actual experience. One of the farmers, Beth Chittenden of Dutch Hollow Farm seemed to get the bulk of her bullying.

She accused the farmers of making disparaging remarks about consumers when they suggested labeling might confuse them in thinking there was something wrong with the product. She said that the reason to be against labeling is because they (the farmers) might be afraid of what we might find out.  She also said what they were saying was… “reprehensible is too strong of a word…objectionable”

Jesus H. Christ in a chicken basket. What an asshole. These weren’t industry bigwigs, they were upstate family farmers trying to explain why they used gmos; their own experiences.

During those exchanges, the packed anti-gmo crowd showed their true colors when they heckled Chittenden. Some shouted, “Bullshit.” It was at that point the chair of the hearing admonished them and basically told them to act civilized and listen to what people had to say. But that’s not what they were there for. They were there to make public their incredible lack of brain power apparent. I decided to not engage any of them since you can’t have a rational discussion with true believers.

It was becoming clear this wasn’t a legislative hearing, but a chance for Rosenthal to denigrate the opposition.

She allowed the pro-labeling witnesses to spout all kinds of discredited nonsense without an inkling of challenge they way she challenged the opposition.

Pro-labeling folks like Michael Hansen of the Consumers Union got plenty of time to lie and obfuscate. Throughout his questioning by the panel, he kept contradicting himself at one point saying that gmos aren’t ingredients and then later saying they were. He made some absurd statement that Bt, the soil bacteria used widely in organic farming somehow “bleeds from the roots to poison the soil.”

Now these witnesses were sworn in and testified under oath. I wonder if it would be possible to bring Hansen up on perjury charges?

Of course the industry was represented. Louis Finkel VP for Government Affairs at the Grocery Manufacturers Association and Michael Rosen, VP of the Food Industry Alliance of New York State held their own against hard questioning. They were pros. Nurse Ratchet kept asking them about how much money was spent lobbying.  She wouldn’t leave that alone. She also kept whining how she wasn’t getting a satisfactory answer.  You have to have a begrudging admiration for guys like these two. As hard as she tried to knock them off their game, they never wavered.

Anyway, what the hell does how much money the industry spends lobbying have to do with the issue of gmo labeling?

So, who were some of those other guys? Guys like Hansen, who never met a GMO fact he liked. Hanson, did his best Sean Hannity impression, flogging the discredited Seralini corn rat study, one the many studies he said were “carefully well designed studies.”

There were others like reps from the usual suspects likes Patty Lovera from Food and Water Watch and Andrew Kimbrell from the Center for Food and Safety and Stacey Orel from GMO Free New York.

I would have left half way through had it not been for the fact that a Twitter acquaintance was scheduled to speak toward the end, Val Giddings.  The incredibly tall Giddings came out of the box and ticked off a list of false claims made by the previous pro-labeling witnesses. Rosenthal seemed to be unimpressed since this was what she was doing while Giddings was speaking

While guys like Hansen and Kimbrell got a lot of time in the form of questions. When Giddings finished his testimony, he was given a polite, dismissive, thank you.

Actually, it would be unfair to dismiss this hearing as all one-sided. The biggest offender was Rosenthal, but the chairman, Assembly member Jeffrey Dinowitz and James Skouflis asked some good questions and actually seemed interested in hearing the anti-side.

At one point Skouflis scolded…damn I can’t find it in my notes, one of the pro-labeling witnesses who trashed farmers. Skouflis responded by saying he took offense at their depictions of farmers; that many of his constituents were farmers and they were good, decent hardworking people. Yay, James.

On a side note: Trashing farmers seems to be common on the anti side. What’s up with that? They depict farmers as greedy people who don’t care about the environment or people’s health. On one hand they claim farmers are being exploited by companies like Monsanto and when farmers respond by saying, “No we’re not,”  they counter that they’re greedy poisoners.

But lest you go away thinking Rosenthal is some shrieking harpy, she does have a good record on progressive issues. That’s the disconnect on this issue with the liberal/left. They seem to throw reasoning out the window. Rosenthal is a classic example of this.

On a final giggity note, Dinowitz pressed Kimbrell that if labeling incurred no onerous cost, why not require labeling of conventional/non foods? Kimbrell said he would be against that. “Why? Dinowitz pressed. If there is no “onerous cost”, “Why not? Dinowitz knocked him off his game.

More anti-GMO dishonesty: GMWatch selectively edits

More anti-GMO dishonesty: GMWatch selectively edits

GMWatch, in attempt to make you believe that scientists are anti-gmo did a little selective editing to prove their point, again.  The anti-gmo crowd just can’t be honest.

The issue is a fungus that is decimating the Cavendish banana crops. It’s been hard to find a cure for what ails the Cavendish banana.

On their site they quote one Dr. Emile Frison as saying, “Only GM can save the banana “ Well at least they got that right. He did say that and he does work for Syngenta.

And they did cite some legitimate research that showed there may be other ways to save the banana. But here’s the dishonesty. They quoted a letter from banana scientist, Dr. David Jones to New Scientist Magazine taking issue with that claim, saying other methods of conventional breeding could work. Yes, he did write that.

However, GMWatch neglected to quote him completely. Here’s what they left out.

 “Many banana scientists, including me, believe that genetic engineering should complement rather than replace conventional breeding strategies. (emphasis mine) Let’s not put all our eggs in one basket.”

I would link to the letter but it’s behind a paywall. But once again we see the dishonestly that is rampant in the anti-gmo movement.

Anastasia Bodnar co-founder of the site Biofortified once tweeted that countering the anti-nonsense is like playing whack-a-mole. It’s hard to keep up.

The antis engage in what is called the Gish Gallop. 

The Gish Gallop, named after creationistDuane Gish, is the debating technique of drowning the opponent in such a torrent of half-truths, lies, and straw-man arguments that the opponent cannot possibly answer every falsehood in real time. The term was coined by Eugenie Scott of the National Center for Science Education.

 

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