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Skeptic Summary

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Skeptic Summary #386

By The Staff
Posted on: 6/2/2013

Veganism, truthiness, destruction, feminism, GMOs and more!


Week ending June 02, 2013 (Vol 10, #8)

Welcome to the Skeptic Summary, a quick, bi-weekly review of the Skeptic Friends Network and the rest of the skeptical world.



Forum Highlights:
Baby breastfed by vegan mother dies - But cause of death wasn’t malnutrition.

Did he even exist? - Classic conspiracy thoery setup, shot down.

OK tornado - Secular fundraisers for tornado victims.

Editor’s Choice: Shut up and listen - Feminism, harassment and schisms — the Deep Rifts continue to widen.



Kil’s Evil Pick:
It’s time for the skeptical community to take on the issues surrounding GMOs. What I mean by that is there is so much baloney flying around the Internet of a decidedly anti-scientific nature, including outlandish conspiracy theories (Be sure to watch the Alex Jones videos), bogus studies, fear mongering and conclusions based more in ideology than good science, it boggles the mind. And Because it’s the skeptics who challenge that sort of thing, I believe that the time has come for a vigorous science-based response like that seen in reply to climate change denial and anti-vaccination pseudoscience. Of course, there has been some push back already, but it’s been rather tepid, all things considered. As a force with a cause, we are arriving late to the party. Much of the damage is already done.


What I’m going to do is provide some links to what I believe to be the best sites where people have laid out the case for why I think we should step up our activities in the area of GMOs, with good information on the subject and that sort of thing. I could rant about the anti-GMO “truthers” but there are people who are much more knowledgeable on the subject than I am, and have done more research than I have and are more qualified to present the case. So I’ve gathered a few of them up, hopefully making this pick a one stop shopping entry for those who need access to the lowdown on GMO nonsense.
I think this might be a great place to start. The link includes an interview with Mark Lynas and the full presentation he made before The Oxford Farming Conference back in January:
Former Anti-GMO Activist Says Science Changed His Mind

For years, British environmental activist Mark Lynas destroyed genetically modified food (GMO) crops in what he calls a successful campaign to force the business of agriculture to be more holistic and ecological in its practices.

His targets were companies like Monsanto and Syngenta — leaders in developing genetically modified crops.

Earlier this month he went in front of the world to reverse his position on GMOs.

At the Oxford Farming Conference in Britain, Lynas apologized for helping “to start the anti-GMO movement” and told his former allies to “get out of the way, and let the rest of us get on with feeding the world sustainably.”

He spoke to Jacki Lyden, host of weekends on All Things Considered, about his change of heart.
There is also this one by Lynas from a speech hosted by the International Programs &mdsah; College of Agriculture and Life Sciences (50th Anniversary Celebration), and the Atkinson Center for a Sustainable Future, Cornell University:
Time to call out the anti-GMO conspiracy theory

I think the controversy over GMOs represents one of the greatest science communications failures of the past half-century. Millions, possibly billions, of people have come to believe what is essentially a conspiracy theory, generating fear and misunderstanding about a whole class of technologies on an unprecedentedly global scale.



This is what has happened with the GMOs food scare in Europe, Africa and many other parts of the world. Allowing anti-GMO activists to dictate policymaking on biotechnology is like putting homeopaths in charge of the health service, or asking anti-vaccine campaigners to take the lead in eradicating polio.

I believe the time has now come for everyone with a commitment to the primacy of the scientific method and evidence-based policy-making to decisively reject the anti-GMO conspiracy theory and to work together to begin to undo the damage that it has caused over the last decade and a half.


And then there is this:
“Monsanto Protection Act” is a bullshit, made-up term. There is no such thing.
And this:
Five “Monsanto Protection Act” Myths
It’s amazing how successful that bit of baloney has been. Even people who are not against GMOs have fallen for the twisted propaganda version of a provision that is essentially there to give farmers protection, once they have planted approved crops, from red tape and regulatory mistakes. The provision was not written to protect Monsanto. It was written to protect farmers. But the baloney doesn’t stop there:
Top Five Myths Of Genetically Modified Seeds, Busted

Having just stepped into the shouting match over patents on genetically engineered crops, there are a few small things that I, too, would like to get off my chest.

I say small things. I’m not talking about today’s big hot issues: Whether genetically modified organisms — GMOs — should be labeled, or cause cancer in rats, or might improve the lives of poor farmers in Africa; none of that.

This is about something simple: Seeds of GMOs. Various myths have grown up around these seeds. Like most myths, they are inspired by reality. But they’ve wandered off into the world of fiction…


This one is by my favorite video blogger, C0nc0rdance:
GMO: Are we playing God?
From David Gorski at Science-Based Medicine:
Antivaccine versus anti-GMO: Different goals, same methods

Countering ideologically motivated bad science, pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies is one of the main purposes of this blog. Specifically, we try to combat such misinformation in medicine; elsewhere Steve and I, as well as some of our other “partners in crime” combat other forms of pseudoscience. During the nearly five year existence of this blog, we’ve covered a lot of topics in medicine that tend to be prone to pseudoscience and quackery. Oddly enough, there’s one topic that we haven’t really written much about at all, and that’s genetically modified organisms (GMOs). GMOs, as you know, are proliferating, and it’s quite worth discussing the potential and risks of this new technology, just as it is worthwhile to discuss the potential benefits versus the risks of any new technology that can impact our health, not to mention the health of the planet. Unfortunately, GMOs have become a huge political issue, and, I would argue, they have become just as prone to pseudoscience, misinformation, and bad science as vaccines, with a radical group of anti-GMO activists who are as anti-science as any antivaccinationist or quack…
Here’s a very good article, also on the subject of the left once again throwing in with anti-science, with a title that tickles me. It comes from The Daily Kos, which is a decidedly left-of-center news source. And that makes me happy.
GMO Truthers need to be kicked out of the Progressive movement

I consider myself to be part of the “far left.” I also have multiple scientific degrees and work in the health care field. I strongly believe that my science background has resulted in my Progressive ideology. The reason being is Progressivism is a fact and science based ideology, whereas Conservatism is a faith based ideology. Conservatives offer religious, faith based solutions to social problems. Moreover, they rely on faith in the “invisible hand” for solutions to the economy, and any free market outcome — whether good or bad — is a moral outcome regardless of its practicality. Hence, wanting to let the economy hit rock bottom after the financial crisis, because that was the “moral”/free market thing to do.

Why do I bring this up? Because a biologist recently wrote a diary criticizing the far left for being a home for GMO truthers. And, unfortunately, Meteor Blades recently promoted GMO nonsense on the front page.

I would probably say that most progressives don’t know much about GMO at all because this topic — especially the science behind it — is not discussed nearly as much as something like climate change or evolution. And this is perfectly all right! It is impossible to know everything about everything. You know GMO has something to do with big corrupt corporations (i.e. Monsanto) and there are a lot of people and groups you inherently trust who say GMO is bad, so you are naturally inclined to think of GMO as a negative thing.

However, the great thing about this issue is that is is very science based. And you can look at independent research to come to a firm, fact-based conclusion on where to stand. Now there are people with a severe case of cognitive dissonance who, no matter how much science you shove in front of their face, will refuse to accept reality. I have very little patience — or respect — for these people, whom I call GMO truthers. For the rest of you hopefully this diary will educate you about this issue and encourage Progressives to distant ourselves from this anti-science crowd. Being associated with GMO truthers and people of their ilk is making Progressives look bad…


A site of enormous value is The Genetic Literacy Project. I have also used them as a guide to relevant blogs and stories. They would have been my pick for this Summary, but I chose to cover more territory by highlighting several articles and videos. Maybe I’ll single them out for my next pick.

So okay. I could just going on like this. But let me leave you with this 250-page meta-analysis that should put many questions about GMO safety to rest. It won’t, but it should. As an introduction to this meta-study:
Commission publishes compendium of results of EU-funded research on genetically modified crops

In order to help inform debate on genetically modified organisms, the European Commission is publishing today a compendium entitled “A decade of EU-funded GMO research”. The book summarizes the results of 50 research projects addressing primarily the safety of GMOs for the environment and for animal and human health. Launched between 2001 and 2010, these projects received funding of €200 million from the EU and form part of a 25-year long research effort on GMOs.

European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science Máire Geoghegan-Quinn said “The aim of this book is to contribute to a fully transparent debate on GMOs, based on balanced, science–based information. According to the findings of these projects GMOs potentially provide opportunities to reduce malnutrition, especially in lesser developed countries, as well as to increase yields and assist towards the adaptation of agriculture to climate change. But we clearly need strong safeguards to control any potential risks.”

A publication for scientists, policy-makers and other stakeholders

This new publication aims to contribute to the debate on GMOs by disseminating the outcomes of research projects to scientists, regulatory bodies and to the public. It follows up previous publications on EU-funded research on GMO safety. Over the last 25 years, more than 500 independent research groups have been involved in such research.

According to the projects’ results, there is, as of today, no scientific evidence associating GMOs with higher risks for the environment or for food and feed safety than conventional plants and organisms…
The study:



A decade of EU-funded GMO research (2001-20100)

This was not the only study done. Not by a long shot. GMOs are becoming one of the most studied biotechnologies out there. But I see no reason to list them, and the EU meta study is very impressive if for no other reason than to counter the often-heard claim that there isn’t enough research being done, and that it’s too soon to draw any conclusions from the research and study results that have been done. The sad thing is in Europe, governments aren’t really listening to the scientists. Anti-GMO activists have had an enormous influence on the decision-making process in many European countries. And it’s now getting worse over here on that score.

SkeptiQuote:
Most institutions demand unqualified faith; but the institution of science makes skepticism a virtue.
— Robert K. Merton


Chat:
Please come join us for chat every Wednesday at 10 PM Eastern time (7PM Pacific). More information can be found in this forum post.


New Members This Week:
No Mere Ape
abran12

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Elsewhere in the World:
Atacama ‘alien’ mystery is no mystery

Calgary dentists report more cavities in kids after fluoride removed from water

Dolphin-Assisted Birth—Possibly The Worst Idea, Ever.

Doubtful News

From global warming to fluoride: Why do people deny science?

Frozen Mammoth Found With Flowing Blood

The Great Man: a chat with James Dewey Watson

How Much Of Food Activism Is New Age, Airy-Fairy Nonsense?

If You’re Curious What Neil deGrasse Tyson Would Be Like As Your Dad, Watch His Graduation Speech

Leaky Brains and GMOs

Modern Skepticism’s Unique Mandate

NASA: Mars Travelers Would Get Fried By Radiation

New Creation Museum Exhibit Claims Dragons Existed

An Open Letter to Animal Planet: Learn The Difference Between Real and Fake Monsters

Pneumococcal rates plunge after widespread vaccination of infants

Portland rejects water fluoridation, the largest US city without plans to add the chemical

Skepticality #208 — What The Frak!?

The Strange Saga Of The Stolen Yeti Hand

Supernatural Creep: The Slippery Slope to Unfalsifiability

Supplement poison calls on the rise

We Attended the Answers in Genesis Women’s Conference… and This is What Happened

Why Did Obama Make Those Tornadoes? Ask the Tornado Truthers!

Why Rational People Buy Into Conspiracy Theories

Wiccan Chefs and Ghost tours, why woo makes anything more marketable

Got some skeptic news items? Send them to us, and we’ll think about adding them.



Book of the Week:
Brilliant Blunders: From Darwin to Einstein — Colossal Mistakes by Great Scientists That Changed Our Understanding of Life and the Universe, by Mario Livio.



WE ALL MAKE MISTAKES. Nobody’s perfect. Not even some of the greatest geniuses in history, as Mario Livio tells us in this marvelous story of scientific error and breakthrough.

Charles Darwin, William Thomson (Lord Kelvin), Linus Pauling, Fred Hoyle, and Albert Einstein were all brilliant scientists. Each made groundbreaking contributions to his field—but each also stumbled badly. Darwin’s theory of natural selection shouldn’t have worked, according to the prevailing beliefs of his time. Not until Gregor Mendel’s work was known would there be a mechanism to explain natural selection. How could Darwin be both wrong and right? Lord Kelvin, Britain’s leading scientific intellect at the time, gravely miscalculated the age of the earth. Linus Pauling, the world’s premier chemist (who would win the Nobel Prize in chemistry) constructed an erroneous model for DNA in his haste to beat the competition to publication. Astrophysicist Fred Hoyle dismissed the idea of a ‘Big Bang’ origin to the universe (ironically, the caustic name he gave to this event endured long after his erroneous objections were disproven). And Albert Einstein, whose name is synonymous with genius, speculated incorrectly about the forces that hold the universe in equilibrium—and that speculation opened the door to brilliant conceptual leaps. These five scientists expanded our knowledge of life on earth, the evolution of the earth itself, and the evolution of the universe, despite and because of their errors. As Mario Livio luminously explains, the scientific process advances through error. Mistakes are essential to progress.

Brilliant Blunders is a singular tour through the world of science and scientific achievement—and a wonderfully insightful examination of the psychology of five fascinating scientists.”

— Book Description




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