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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 is 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.