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5 Astroturf Groups You Should Stop Sharing From

After a hefty helping of inspiration from blogger Dawn's Brain's series on Facebook pages that people need to stop sharing fr...

Saturday, February 10, 2018

Sham News Sites Promote False Narrative

If you've been following the controversy over the world's most popular herbicide active ingredient  glyphosate, you know things have been getting increasingly heated since the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) classified it as probably carcinogenic to humans back in 2015.

During this time, a series of reports have come out of Reuters by a reporter named Kate Kelland. These 'exclusives' can all be traced back to Monsanto, the agrochemical company that made glyphosate famous with their lucrative product Roundup. As a result of this reporting, and perhaps some lobbying efforts, the U.S. House Science, Space and Technology Committee has launched an investigation into IARC, threatening to cut funding to the independent organization. Three of Kelland's stories were cited in letters to IARC by House Science chairmen Lamar Smith and Andy Biggs. The first letter was sent in November 2017 and a follow-up in December 2017. 

Most recently, the House Science committee has held a hearing titled "In Defense of Scientific Integrity: Examining the International Agency for Reasearch on Cancer (IARC) Monograph Program and Glyphosate Review" wherein Andy Biggs refers to glyphosate as "glyphosphate." It was just as appalling as it sounds. But then, this is that House Science committee.

NBC reports: The article claims the science behind global warming is “in its final death rattle.”
And if you think they learned after that first go-around...well, you'd be wrong.

Despite their name, the House Science committee needs some serious work on their science literacy. The criticisms made by Chairman Smith, who has accepted thousands of dollars in contributions from the agribusiness industries, have been thoroughly rebutted by IARC Director Christopher Wild in several written responses, and yet the 'investigation' continues to drag on - much like their tweets featuring rock solid sources.

ACSH is American Council on Science and Health - a notorious front group.

While this circus has been going on, Monsanto has been rolling out their "Preparedness and Engagement Plan for IARC carcinogen rating of glyphosate." In one section of this plan, they state their first objective is to "Protect the reputation and FTO (acronym for 'freedom to operate') of Roundup by communicating the safety of glyphosate." One of the first actions in the plan is "Engage Henry Miller." The finished product of that engagement was an article on Forbes' website, which has now been removed along with all of Miller's articles. It turns out Henry submitted a draft written by Monsanto. Ghostwriting, for obvious reasons, is in direct violation of Forbes' contract with contributors. Oops.

Another part of the plan specifies "Share SM messages (Twitter, Facebook)." This is interesting considering a number of ads that people have been seeing on the social media platforms from anonymous and fictitious news sites.

The Facebook page Science News Today with posts dating back to March 18th 2015, (two days before the IARC monograph 112 was released) have since removed their reviews because so many people called them out - they had a rating of 1 star with 124 reviewers as of October 2017.

In addition to that Facebook page there are at least two more that people have noticed, In The News and Facts of Science.

This was in my news feed not long ago.
Reviews are still up.
The only three star review was an accident.
I think it's fair to say people are noticing something fishy about these accounts. They are painfully obvious.

This tweet, now deleted, was being promoted on Twitter by Facts of Science in January.

The account is really bizarre, it was created in May 2017 with a creepy-feeling focus on single mothers along with some forced sounding 'you go girl' style replies to certain tweets.

The Facts of Science account on Facebook has posts going back to October 2017. It has no reviews but you can still see what people are saying about this page.

Bottom line, someone is creating these accounts in an attempt to look like multiple independent sources, and are using them to buy ads on social media to promote the narrative that glyphosate the wonder chemical is being unfairly maligned by those fraudulent scientists over at IARC. This is a bunch of bullshit, straight out of the tobacco playbook and you have to wonder who is behind it.

If I had to give it a guess, I'd say, oh I don't know, someone in the chemical industry?

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Jesus Christ Poseurs (or Jesus Christ, Poseurs!)

I don't generally write about me, because that's not what this blog is about. But today, I'd like to talk about a personal experience and how it relates to what I observe within the fake skeptic movement.

I am a cult survivor. I was raised from the age of three in a fundamentalist religious cult. At about the age of 19 I made a full exit from the religion that I will refer to in this blog as The Cult, not to be confused with the band, which I absolutely adore. It took me a little time to side step out the back door, but I did, successfully, and have not ever regretted it. I credit my rebellious nature for helping me to hasten my exit. I always felt miserable and suffocated by The Cult and its oppressive rules about what to wear, how to speak, whom to socialize with, and the like. In true cult fashion, the punishment for breaking these myriad soul sucking rules is excommunication or shunning by all family and friends in The Cult. Though I was careful to make my exit on the sly, and not get caught doing all the sinning I was doing (oh so much sinning) I exited alone and without the one family member who was inside with me. Though I am not officially marked by The Cult for shunning, my close family member still practices a modified form towards me by attempting to emotionally blackmail me to reform my sinful ways and return to The Cult.

Well, it ain't gonna fucking happen.

I am gloriously free of the oppressive control of the elitist group of men who deem themselves (and only them) to be speaking for God. I won't ever give that up for anything. This feeling might be difficult to understand for someone who has never been in the clutches of a high control cult. To this day, I bristle at anyone who takes an air of authority and attempts to tell people what is true, whether they hide behind religion or science while they are doing it.

No amount of smirking or magic tricks can hide the fact that you're a nihilist in an atheist dress, Penn. 

No, you arrogant motherfucker, this life, and my beliefs or lack of is for me to figure out - it's not up to you to tell me what is true or what to think. This is of course entirely different from someone teaching people how to think by giving them practical tools. But we have among us those that say they are doing one while doing the other, much like the leaders of The Cult have been doing for decades. I don't like people's controlling bullshit and dogmatic teachings, and I would think that my comrades who also grew up alongside me in The Cult would be on the same wavelength as me here.

Sad to say, I see some of them not just gravitating towards, but enthusiastically embracing the celebrity pundits of what is known as New Atheism, which is really just nihilism in sheep's clothing. Nihilism, on a spectrum of belief and non-belief is at the opposite end of theism, but it is still belief. In between rest the agnostics and atheists like me who lack belief. From my vantage point, the two ends of the spectrum give me the same uneasy feeling bordering on total revulsion at times, depending on who is doing the speaking.


The thing about being and becoming a non-believer is I didn't need any guidance from the 'atheist community' to get where I am. I left the cult and I concentrated on living my own life! I gave myself a much needed break from even thinking about religion. The last thing I wanted to do was to join a club where all they do is talk about fucking religion, and more than half of them can't even articulate to me what the religion I escaped from believes with any type of accuracy! Why the fuck would I want to learn about other religions from these asshats when they can't even accurately describe the beliefs and practices of the cult I left?

This is why for the life of me, I can't understand why anyone, let alone someone making a cult exit would slobber and fawn all over guys like Dawkins, Hitchens and Harris. They're dicks! All they're doing is feeding you another set of beliefs - they aren't helping you to become a critical thinker, they aren't helping you to learn science, and the kicker is you don't need them. No one on this planet holds any special truths that you aren't able to find for yourself. Always remember that.

It is depressing to see friends from The Cult trading one set of men bearing beliefs for another set of men bearing beliefs. It feels to me like they haven't truly broken free of their indoctrination, and that in wanting to do so in their vulnerable state they have embraced another belief system pretending to be atheism or science-based with promises of truth, rationality and critical thinking being made by these poseurs.

My friends from The Cult aren't the only people to buy into this belief set masquerading as science and atheism, the so-called New Atheists have a fairly large following. My hope is that people will question their beliefs - no matter what end of the spectrum they happen to land on - and learn to recognize both the high control groups out there, and the groups pretending their nihilist religion is atheism in order to have real freedom of mind.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Stand Up For Critical Thought

It's likely you've heard this popular quote from celebrity astrophysicist Neil DeGrasse Tyson, "The good thing about science is that it's true whether or not you believe in it."

But is science really just a collection of incontrovertible truths? Or is there more to it than Tyson's clever sound bite?

Science is a method of gathering knowledge. Through the scientific method we collect information about the world around us. Sometimes conclusions about this information change or are challenged as we continue to compile more data and make new observations. Sometimes we are only partway through investigating a subject, or an observation has not yet been investigated at all. Just because there is little or no evidence for something, does not mean we can draw a conclusion that it is false or does not exist. This would be pseudoscience. An ethical skeptic applies a philosophical approach called epochè when this is the case. This means they would suspend judgement on the topic while it has a chance to be investigated via the scientific method. An ethical skeptic asks what step is next, in contrast to a fake skeptic who uses a lack of evidence to dismiss things he or she dislikes while using a flawed methodology to enforce favored conclusions. This does not mean that all of their conclusions are wrong, nor is this an excuse to employ denial of evidence regarding established knowledge like that of evolution or climate change. Critical thinking and skepticism is about how we think not about what we conclude.

It is the fake skeptic's method that is the pseudoscience, not necessarily the conclusion itself although there are examples of where they have been wrong in the past. See the story behind the father of hand washing, Ignaz Semmelweis for a cautionary tale about dismissing an observation before the scientific method can be fully applied. "Doctors are gentlemen, and a gentleman's hands are clean." This chilling quote from one of Dr. Semmelweis' colleagues, Charles Meigs parallels the hubris and incompetence we see demonstrated today, especially regarding some of the misunderstood medical issues of our time.

Plenty of examples of dogmatic conclusions abound in what I've observed as a popular pastime for fake skeptics - list making.

Also available as a mug!

It's vitally important that science literacy be taught to the public, and made as accessible as possible. This is how we move beyond fringe ideas like flat earth and the like, but also how we make progress against serious threats like climate change denial. Saturating people with lists of conclusions, calling them truths, and treating them as dogma is not going to accomplish this. It may make some people feel better about themselves to share or wear things like this, but we must realize that standing up for science is about protecting the integrity of the method, and using it to help others and solve urgent problems.

“There is a conflict in the heart of science between science as a method of inquiry based on reason, evidence, hypothesis, and collective investigation, and science as a belief system, or a world view. And unfortunately the world view aspect of science has come to inhibit and constrict the free inquiry which is the very lifeblood of the scientific endeavor.” – Rupert Sheldrake

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 as 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 are 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 even 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.