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Monday, July 17, 2017

EDCs In The Mac n Cheese

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jenny Splitter wants you to 'calm the fuck down'

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, July 16, 2017

The Little Black Book of Junk

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are just some of the lowlights:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

No Benefit From Parachutes, Study Shows

*beeeeeeeeeep* "We interrupt tonight's regularly scheduled programming for a very special breaking news report from our Senior Social Skeptic Correspondent, Fara Faelle."

I offer straight talk on science, medicine, health and vaccines.

"Good evening, Fara Faelle reporting for Forbes. A new study from the University of Bullschvitz has reviewed the existing medical literature on parachutes as an effective intervention to prevent major trauma related to gravitational challenge. Researchers were unable to identify any randomized control trials. Therefore there is no evidence that parachutes do any good to prevent people from going splat when they fall out of planes. Since there isn't enough evidence to draw any conclusions, all observational data must be relegated to the Land of Mere Anecdote. We all know correlation is not causation, therefore no further study is warranted. Parachutes are clearly quack therapies. Save your money, and don't even attempt to try this snake oil scam."

Does this sound illogical to you? That's because I'm using an example of something that is easily observable - parachutes either work or they don't. No randomized, double-blind, placebo control trials needed.

It's not always so clear cut with other interventions, and this is where Social Skeptics will use sciencey sounding language to push an agenda and squash further inquiry into areas they don't like. "There's no evidence that _______" Or my favorite, "There's no credible evidence to show ________"

Many times just doing a cursory search of the scientific literature will reveal that there is indeed evidence, sometimes quite a bit, and that using the qualifier 'credible' is just another attempt at stifling information one does not like. But even when there truly has not yet been any formal investigation, SSkeptics will still make claims based on this lack of evidence - despite this being totally unscientific. When there exists only observational evidence on a topic the ethical skeptic takes a neutral position on the matter and awaits more research. This mindset is known as epoché - a Greek word that means suspension of judgement.

Fake skeptics view observational evidence as something to be dismissed, not as it should be, a call for more formal investigation and experimental research. Not everything we observe will turn out to be correct, but breakthrough research has resulted from investigating areas where we thought nothing was to be found. Imagine the things we would be missing if we routinely dismissed observations as mere anecdote? Imagine the things we are missing.

SSkeptic logic is once again found to be fallacious and not rooted in reason or the correct application of the scientific method. Stating that there is 'no evidence' falls under Wittgenstein sinnlos as it "is correct at face value but disinformative or is otherwise useless." Beware of anyone claiming to 'communicate science' who engages in this type of evidence sculpting and lying through facts.

Nooooo Evideeeeeeeencccccccce!

Friday, May 12, 2017

The Campaign Against IARC

In March, 2015 the specialized cancer agency of the World Health Organization, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) released IARC Monographs Volume 112: evaluation of five organophosphate insecticides and herbicides. Five pesticides were evaluated; malathion, diazinon, tetrachlorvinphos, and parathion insecticides and the herbicide active ingredient glyphosate.

Glyphosate was classified as group 2A, probably carcinogenic to humans. From a news release dated March 20, 2015 -

"For the herbicide glyphosate, there was limited evidence of carcinogenicity in humans for non-Hodgkin lymphoma. The evidence in humans is from studies of exposures, mostly agricultural, in the USA, Canada, and Sweden published since 2001. In addition, there is convincing evidence that glyphosate also can cause cancer in laboratory animals. On the basis of tumours in mice, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) originally classified glyphosate as possibly carcinogenic to humans (GroupC) in 1985. After a re-evaluation of that mouse study, the US EPA changed its classification to evidence of non-carcinogenicity in humans (Group E) in 1991. The US EPA Scientific Advisory Panel noted that the re-evaluated glyphosate results were still significant using two statistical tests recommended in the IARC Preamble. The IARC Working Group that conducted the evaluation considered the significant findings from the US EPA report and several more recent positive results in concluding that there is sufficient evidence of carcinogenicity in experimental animals. Glyphosate also caused DNA and chromosomal damage in human cells, although it gave negative results in tests using bacteria. One study in community residents reported increases in blood markers of chromosomal damage (micronuclei) after glyphosate formulations were sprayed nearby."

Further down in the release they state -

"Glyphosate currently has the highest global production volume of all herbicides. The largest use worldwide is in agriculture. The agricultural use of glyphosate has increased sharply since the development of crops that have been genetically modified to make them resistant to glyphosate. Glyphosate is also used in forestry, urban, and home applications. Glyphosate has been detected in the air during spraying, in water, and in food. The general population is exposed primarily through residence near sprayed areas, home use, and diet, and the level that has been observed is generally low."

As you can imagine, Monsanto (the maker of Roundup herbicide, and glyphosate) and the rest of the chemical industry who enjoy the profitability of the now off patent active ingredient glyphosate, were very unhappy about this news. On their website Monsanto clearly state, "Based on the overwhelming weight of evidence, Monsanto strongly disagrees with IARC’s classification of glyphosate." No real surprise there.

Of course since this time, the IARC classification has spurred numerous mounting lawsuits against Monsanto, as well as the announcement that the state of California intends to label Roundup and other glyphosate containing herbicides as a carcinogen under Prop 65. Monsanto is currently fighting this in court, along with more than fifty lawsuits.  One of these have, through the discovery process, made many internal documents available to the public. Back in March a U.S. District Court Judge ruled that these discovery documents could be unsealed. 

The Center for Biological Diversity and U.S. Right To Know have submitted FOIA requests to obtain more information that may shed light on the extent of Monsanto's influence on the decisions made at the EPA. From their press release:

"Court documents released last month indicate that the chair of the EPA’s Cancer Assessment Review Committee on glyphosate had a cozy and collaborative relationship with Monsanto and was someone the company thought might be “useful” in defending glyphosate safety. The records include discussion of how the chair of the EPA committee may be able to thwart a Department of Health and Human Services’ review of glyphosate’s safety, saying that if he was successful he deserved a medal. The department never did review glyphosate’s safety."

This is merely the tip of the iceberg when it comes to all the controversy surrounding glyphosate, and it's causing what I'd wager is a whole lot of dick pain for our friends in the chemical industry. This is why early this year, a new group formed called Campaign For Accuracy In Public Health Research, or CAPHR for short. It may come as no surprise to you that this campaign is a project of the American Chemistry Council and its members. 

"CAPHR is an education and outreach initiative to promote credible, unbiased, and transparent science as the basis of policy decisions and help the public and policymakers understand the relevance of public health studies in our daily lives.

In particular, CAPHR will promote reform of the International Agency on Cancer Research (IARC) Monograph’s Program and bring to light the deficiencies, misinformation, and consequences associated with its work."

I know, I know, you're shocked. But IARC isn't exactly a stranger to this type of, ah, attention. The agency's director, Christopher Wild has been quoted as saying, “Since that time, this is probably the most aggressive that it’s been. What we see is, it’s linked to classifications where there’s a very strong commercial interest,” in regards to when IARC classified second hand smoke as a carcinogen and now, with glyphosate.

Just by browsing the CAPHR website, you can get an idea of the quality of the arguments being used against IARC. There's the typical rhetoric: IARC confuses consumers!" In reality though, it's CAPHR that's trying to deceive and confuse consumers.

I noticed on one of their pages a graphic they were using looked just like one by Compound Interest, run by a chemistry teacher named Andy Brunning. He's a talented graphic artist and does a nice job of making chemistry interesting and easy to understand. Kudos to him on that.

Image by Compound Interest

 It is clearly stated on the Compound Interest website with regard to sharing online, that

"The graphics are shared under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives licence. This means they can be freely shared as long as a few conditions are met.

Firstly, they must remain unaltered – this includes the cropping off of watermarks/credit on the graphics, or cropping out other parts of the graphic. Secondly, they cannot be used for commercial purposes without prior permission. Finally, attribution to Compound Interest must be given clearly when re-sharing the graphics, and the attribution should also include a link back to the post containing the graphic."

I've complied with these stipulations when sharing CI's work before, and again, just above. It wasn't difficult at all. CAPHR it seems, has a problem following simple directions.

View archived link here

This page along with a 'case study' and 'fact sheet' using this are now gone, since they were caught red-handed committing plagiarism.

Someone must have tipped him off about his altered graphic on the CAPHR website... 

This is a great indicator of the CAPHR's level of honesty and ethics. They are purposely being deceptive about IARC in an attempt to silence and discredit them. Their Twitter feed alone is a treasure trove of examples, many of them just plain absurd.

They link to another case study on processed meat. It contains numerous quotes from 'experts' most of which are directly tied to the meat industry, and they even use Beef Magazine as a citation. Can't make this stuff up!

They also make a big deal about hazard assessment vs risk assessment...

...then contradict themselves by implying IARC lists the risk from bacon and plutonium as the same.

They accuse IARC of cherry picking studies...

Except it's just another misrepresentation of what IARC does. The scientific studies IARC uses are those in the public domain, meaning published, peer-reviewed research. Whereas regulatory bodies rely primarily on industry conducted studies that are not published, never have been subjected to peer review and are kept hidden as proprietary information. And they have the nerve to say IARC is not transparent.

Can we really trust that the regulatory agencies are basing their conclusions on strong scientific evidence? Using chlorpyrifos and Dow as an example, let's ponder that question. As reported in The Intercept, during the discovery process of a lawsuit against them, Dow was required to provide various documentation. The attorney for the plaintiff hired neuroscientist and Stanford professor Robert Sapolsky to review Dow’s own studies on the pesticide. After reading them, Sapolsky wrote to the lawyer for the plaintiff in an email, that he was “simply stunned at how bad the work was, how utterly awful every aspect of them was, from the scholarship to how the studies were conducted to how data were analyzed, to how everything was then interpreted.” The Intercept goes on to report:
"Eventually, Sapolsky enlisted a dozen postdoctoral neuroscientists at Stanford to systematically review as much of the company’s research on the pesticide as he could find. According to an unpublished report they produced in 2008-2009, all the Dow studies on chlorpyrifos they reviewed had some errors and 89 percent had errors that broke the basic rules of science. And these weren’t randomly distributed mistakes, according to Sapolsky. “Every one of the errors in the papers worked in Dow’s favor.” Thus tailored, the company’s studies “were all sterling testimonies to [the] utter safety of the stuff,” according to the neuroscientist.
Dow heavily promoted this rosy vision of chlorpyrifos. Even as it was spinning the science, collecting reports of poisoning incidents, and fending off legal responsibility for them, Dow — or Dowelanco, as it was called at the time — was also boasting about the safety of its pesticide. “The 20-plus years of chlorpyrifos use involving millions of applications confirm that there is not a single documented incident of significant adverse health effect resulting from proper use of Dursban insecticides,” announced one 1991 brochure under a picture of a woman with a small child on her lap. “Does Dursban have any long-term effects?” the brochure asked before supplying the answer: “No.”

Does any of this sound familiar? Due to the discovery process in the lawsuits against Monsanto for glyphosate/Roundup, there are similar documents coming forth such as the one I mentioned at the outset of this post. That particular email's subject line was, 'RE: Glyphosate IARC Question' dated April 2015, right after IARC released their monograph.

In this document, Donna Farmer, Monsanto's lead toxicologist is quoted saying that Monsanto "cannot say that Roundup does not cause cancer" because, "(w)e (Monsanto) have not done the carcinogenicity studies with Roundup" In the real world no one uses glyphosate alone, it is always used with proprietary co-formulants. Seems like it would be relevant to test the actual product being used, rather than just one ingredient if you want to make safety claims about it.

Say what now?

Interestingly enough, IARC looked at both glyphosate alone and whole formulated products. However the CAPHR accuses them of 'failure to consider the weight of the scientific evidence' on their website. That's pretty laughable, given this context.

They also quote critics of the IARC classification as part of their argument, such as Hank Campbell of the astroturf group American Council on Science and Health, Jay Vroom, President and CEO of the agrochemical industry trade association CropLife America and the Intertek panel assembled by Monsanto.

The CAPHR also uses loads of rhetoric and flawed arguments to push their conclusion that glyphosate is safe.

"Glyphosate is less toxic than either caffeine or table salt. Over the last 40 years, the herbicide has been rigorously tested and studied by regulatory agencies worldwide that have found it poses no risk to human health when used as directed.
Indeed, there is global scientific consensus that glyphosate is safe..." 

"Glyphosate is less toxic than either caffeine or table salt."

Groan. Give us a fucking break with this shit please. I've already hashed this out more times than I'd like. (If you don't already know why this is a steaming pile of bullshit please see here.)

"Over the last 40 years, the herbicide has been rigorously tested and studied by regulatory agencies worldwide that have found it poses no risk to human health when used as directed."

Can we consider Roundup to be 'rigorously tested' if the EPA isn't even requiring it to be tested as stated by Monsanto's lead toxicologist in her deposition above?

"Indeed, there is global scientific consensus that glyphosate is safe..." 

They make it sound so sciencey and authoritative, surely it must be true!

Consensus – is the collective judgment, position, and opinion of the community of scientists composing a particular field of study. It is not a popularity poll among scientists in general or even necessarily inside the field of study in question. Consensus can only be claimed when multiple opposing explanatory alternatives have been researched in objective detail, and a reasonable body of those scientists who developed the field of opposition alternatives, have been convinced of the complimentary alternative’s superiority. Just because a null hypothesis exists, and only that hypothesis has been researched, does not provide a basis for a claim to consensus, no matter how many scientists, or those pretending to speak for science in the media, favor the null hypothesis.

What experimental studies have been done to see what glyphosate based herbicides' long term effect are on the human microbiome? How about chronic low dose exposure and how it effects the endocrine system? Intergenerational effects? Mmmm, seems a bit premature to be claiming such an assured and widespread consensus.

Consensus Appeal to Authority – in so far as scientists speak in one voice, and dissent is not really allowed, then appeal to scientific consensus is the same as an appeal to authority.

Try dissenting on the topic of glyphosate's safety online, and let me know how that goes for you. Also see here and here as to why that statement is just more bullshit.

So, if when observing the Campaign for Accuracy in Public Health Research, you are left feeling like Mugatu,

Doesn't anybody notice this?
don't worry, you are not alone. Many other people have noticed that CAPHR's campaign isn't for accuracy, nor is it in the interests of public health. 

Saturday, April 1, 2017

My Friend Vance

He's in his early thirties, personable and polite, cheerful and clean cut. He's a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, holds an undergraduate degree in communications and a Master's Degree in Cross-Cultural Negotiations.

He is your classic boy next door - except for one thing. He's 'Director of Millennial Engagement' for Monsanto Company. His name is Vance Crowe.

Translation: I'm a PR guy.

The chemical and biotech industry are investing a lot of money into public relations in recent years, though this isn't exactly a new strategy. Unlike in the past, they have come to adopt more subtle techniques. Chances are, you've been exposed to industry messaging and didn't even know it. That's where people like Vance come in.

He speaks of connecting networks of people, and that is what I'd like to shine a spotlight on. If you have ever read the famous book by Edward Bernays, you would know that he advised his clients to use (exploit) already existing movements to their benefit.

Tribes clockwise from top: Agriculture, Food, 'Pragmatic Environmentalism' (aka Ecomodernism aka Bullshit), Skeptics, Science, Computer/Techno
Vance wants to connect people to 'important networks' like the Science Moms and MAMyths among others.
It has become abundantly clear that the Skeptic movement is being used to spread industry messaging. This has been discussed here before, in the post Useful Idiots. Ol' Vancey Pants has done us the favor of detailing and documenting his public relations game. Behold:

Vance with Mary Mangan, Kevin Folta, & Kavin Senapathy

Vance with Talking Biotech & UF's Kevin Folta
Vance with SciBabe/Yvette d'Entremont, A Science Enthusiast/Dan Broadbent, You Tuber @chubbyemu, ultra conservative climate change denier and food columnist, Julie Kelly.

Vance thanks Kevin 'nothing to do with Monsanto' Folta, and Science Moms documentary creator Natalie Newell

I actually made this face.

The latest Science Mom to ignore the poor state of our children's health. She also seems to have no control over who she associates with, and what messages she disseminates. Whether it's being done 'for industry' or not - it still benefits industry. Willful blindness is a choice.
It's more than evident that Vance is wielding influence in the Skeptic community. He's hobnobbing with an array of people, attending Skeptic events like CSICon and even doing speaking engagements with Skeptic groups.

He's doing interviews and podcasts with Skeptics who have a large social media following. He is using the already established Skeptic movement to advance favorable messaging about Monsanto company and their products. That message is a simple one: Those who oppose or question the biotech industry do so because of misguided fear stemming from (insert scapegoat). Only those who walk in lock step with their technology and products are 'pro-science'.

Do you want to be looked at as reactionary, hysterical and fearful? Or do you want to be someone who is admired because they 'stand up for science'? When the debate is posed this way, it sure makes the 'pro-science' side sound like the obvious choice. But this isn't reality. This is what is known as a false dilemma or bifurcation fallacy: i.e. when someone is asked to choose between two options when there is at least one other option available.

Fear isn't always irrational, or based on emotion. Healthy fear, like the fear of falling, drowning, or being mauled by a tiger, keeps us safe. And, rejecting a technology or a product isn't anti-science. People have their own individual reasons for not wanting to purchase something - it is their right! And those reasons will vary from person to person. When an industry have a long track record of causing illness and polluting our environment with their chemicals - is being wary of them a healthy or unhealthy 'fear'? When this same industry dominates our food system with products designed to kill (pesticides) and 'substantially equivalent' engineered crops, is it any wonder why people might be skeptical?

There comes a time when a line is crossed and no amount of Millennial Engagement can take back the death and destruction you have left in your wake over the decades. Good luck, Vance.

Gen X isn't falling for your shit.

Post Script (4/4/17)

Unexpectedly enough, I have had quite a lot of reactions to this post on Twitter.

When writing this piece, I didn't think it would be particularly notable in that all of this is public information, and easily observed. The job of a public relations person is to disseminate messages on behalf of his/her employer, and I have pointed out some of the ways in which Mr. Crowe (now forever to be known as Vancey Pants) is doing this. I'd also like to clarify, as there seems to be confusion in this regard, that I've not accused anyone of being a 'shill' and I do not believe that any of the people mentioned in this piece aside from the subject work for Monsanto or any other biotech or chemical company. To be quite clear, I am simply noting the influence of this one industry employee on different groups, particularly Social Skeptics.

What seemed to garner even more attention was a graphic I made to go with this post. I typically make a funny picture to go with each new blog to keep my posts from getting buried in people's Twitter feed.

I'll be there for you.
I just riffed off the title of the blog and had some fun with it. Les Fausses Sceptiques lost their collective shit over it, sharing it and saying it was 'hilarious'. David James aka Stort Skeptic even made a gif out of it. I figured I might as well share it here for everyone to enjoy, before working on my next post.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

QUIZ: Are You A Fake Skeptic?

Pseudo-skeptics, Social Skeptics, Skepducks, Skepdicks - whatever it is you call them, our lives have been overrun by these poseurs. They pervade popular culture and social media, impeding progress and spreading a perverted version of science literacy.

A Science Enthusiast, pictured with Monsanto's Director of Millennial Engagement, Vance Crowe, sells stickers and t-shirts in the name of science.

Many of these big S Skeptics don't even realize what they are or know that they have a problem. Today we are going to discuss some of the the things to look for to know if you, or perhaps even a loved one might be in fact, a fake skeptic. The first step to solving any problem is realizing there is one.


"Hey Rick, what are your thoughts about healing crystals?"

  • Do you refer to personally disdained items or topics as pseudoscience or 'woo'? 
  • Do essential oils, the words 'toxin' 'detox', 'natural', ghosts or homeopathy make you flip your shit?

Do you believe in the One True Method?

  • Do you oversimplify topics and distill them into one liners like, 'the dose makes the poison' or 'correlation does not equal causation' to dismiss people's viewpoints and questions? 
  • Do you employ popular catch phrases (see above) to demonstrate your superior logic and reason?
  • Are you a dick?

Hi, my name is Dick. Skep Dick.
  • Do you use science to assert dominance over other people and prove how inferior they are to you? 
  • Have you ever called people who disagree with you 'conspiracy theorists' 'woonatics' 'anti-science' 'science deniers' or the like? 
  • Do you try to associate people with absurd beliefs to discredit them?
  • Do you tell people they exhibit the Dunning-Kruger effect without actually understanding what the findings of Dunning and Kruger really were?
  • Do you accuse anyone who does not hold your viewpoint of getting their information from Food Babe, Natural News or David Wolfe, despite them never having mentioned such sources to you?
  • Do you troll people, but pretend it's about science?

  • Do you demand absolute proof before the science has been completed?
  • Do you make counterclaims but shift all burden of proof onto the other person?
  • Do you attack the person, instead of addressing the topic?
  • Do you regularly appeal to authority by referring to scientific consensus to silence questions or calls for more research?
  • Do you spend time with industry insiders and employees, enjoying the Skeptic celebrity status and networking or career opportunities they can provide?
  • Do you refer to industry employees and insiders as 'friends'?
Yes, Vance *is* her friend.
  • Do you insert your knowledge into many different subjects, appealing to Skepticism as your expertise?
  • Do you use industry front groups as legitimate sources? 
  • Do you let climate change denial slide because the person or group is pro on other pet science topics?
  • Do you attend events with industry insiders, and accept accolades from them?
  • Do you ridicule people who are sick or otherwise suffering?
  • Do you wear Skepticism like an identity?
  • Have you ever been to a TAM, NECESS, or CSICon event?
  • Do you use science as a verb?


If you answered in the affirmative -

0 - Congrats! You are not a fake skeptic. Give yourself a cookie.

up to 10 - You've picked up some bad habits, change your path before it leads to the Dark Side.

10 or more - You're faker than Lee Press On nails. Please use birth control.

Friday, February 10, 2017

Fake Skeptics Spread Fake News About Rachel Carson

I receive Google alerts for several subjects, and I like to play 'guess who wrote it?' when I see an absurd headline. Most of the time I have a pretty good idea. For instance if it's a Forbes headline trashing organic agriculture, it's almost a sure bet that Henry I. Miller is behind it.

So when a Daily Beast article showed up entitled, 'How Rachel Carson Cost Millions of People Their Lives' I wasn't exactly shocked. It's a trope I've heard a zillion and a half times before, usually from Uncle Henry's alma mater American Council on Science and Health and other industry stooges. 

Imagine my surprise to see that it was from the well known champion of public health, Paul A. Offit. Paul is the Director of the Vaccine Education Center at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia as well as the Maurice R. Hilleman Professor of Vaccinology and a Professor of Pediatrics at the Perelman School of Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania according to his bio. This is a man who is promoted frequently in the media as an expert, and he's a huge fan favorite of the Skeptic crowd as well. I've personally read his book Vaccinated: One Man's Quest to Defeat the World's Deadliest Diseases about Maurice Hilleman, and taken his vaccine course online so he is someone I am familiar with. I expect a lot of things from Paul, but this piece in the Daily Beast was not among them. 

The opinion piece contained zero citations, and even a simple Google search can show you how many of the claims made are flat out false. Like, in regards to India, Sri Lanka and South Africa for example. 

The publication of this article did lead to a couple of responses, this one had a very concise rundown of the issue for those who may not be familiar:

"the short version of it is that
a) Carson did not call for the complete ban of DDT when it could save people’s lives,
b) The U.S. ban on DDT in 1972 did not include other nations, where malaria was actually killing people, many of which never did ban DDT,
c) her actual argument was not that chemicals should not be used to kill insects, but rather that the unregulated spraying of them everywhere all of the time had massive ecological consequences that would affect humans negatively too,
d) mosquitoes were becoming resistant to DDT by its ban in 1972,
e) much of the rise in malaria in the developing world in the 1970s had to do with decreased anti-malaria expenditures by governments,
and f) DDT is still frequently used in the developing world." 

The same article links to this post from Yale Environment 360 that touches on the matter more in depth. Also recommended is the book Merchants of Doubt which addresses the subject of DDT in one of the chapters. 

Despite the information Offit espouses having no merit whatsoever, as well as already having been very widely refuted - this did not stop the Skeptic community from sharing it. To be sure, there were dissenters, and they earned their points for this. Mark Hoofnagle being one, and David Gorski as well who has written about DDT before. Some remained conspicuously silent on the matter, while others just uncritically shared the article - presumably because of who the author was. 

Skeptic's Guide - 851 shares

Sci Babe shared from SGU - 183 more shares

Skeptoid Podcast's Brian Dunning doubles down on his ignorance and contributes 54 shares

That's over 1000 shares of pure bullshit posing as fact. To put it in the common vernacular - it's fake fuckin' news! So how ironic then, that it should be shared by those who claim to promote evidence and science and condemn fake news.

Sci Babe is even going to be giving a lecture about fake news at the American Chemical Society's national convention soon.

Are we really supposed to take these people seriously when they yammer endlessly about evidence and reason and critical thinking, and then demonstrate such an egregious lack of applying it to themselves?

A convicted felon, former pesticide co. employee, cow and a potato walk into a bar...

Rachel Carson once said: "We live in a scientific age, yet we assume that knowledge of science is the prerogative of only a small number of human beings, isolated and priestlike in their laboratories. This is not true. The materials of science are the materials of life itself. Science is part of the reality of living; it is the way, the how and the why for everything in our experience."

Her words don't ring any less true today.