Sunday, January 25, 2015

For ****'s Sake, Cite That Site Right!

So off I went, and sure enough there was a website called “12160: Resisting the New World Order” with an article about soybean workers in Brazil suffering genetic damage as a result of spraying Monsanto herbicides.  Haha, another smoking gun, thought I, and set out to read it.  BUT…

The site said that the original article had appeared in the journal Mutation Research/ Genetic Toxicology and Environmental Mutagenesis, but gave no further information.  I first looked up the journal’s impact factor, because Monsanto trolls have been blogging a lot about impact factors.  (An impact factor is an indicator of a journal’s prestige—it’s a figure obtained by dividing the number of articles published in a journal by the number of times those articles have been cited in articles in other journals).  The trolls were saying that anti-GMOers were pushing such “junk science” (another troll meme) that they could only get published in journals with low impact factors, i.e. junk journals.  So I was relieved to find that this journal had a five-year average of 2.814—not Nature by far, but at least better than the 0.something IFs that anti-GMOers usually publish in.

The trouble was, when I looked for the paper, it wasn’t there.  I wasted a half-hour on Google Scholar and on the Mutation Research website trying to find it, and so far as I have been able to find out, no such paper exists. What does exist is a book chapter that has the exact same subject matter.  How 12160 got this so wrong remains a mystery.

Why is all this anything more than a petulant rant over something so trivial that only some irascible old fart besotted with his own self-importance could give a **** about it?  I’ll tell you.

The whole strategy of Monsanto-lovers is based on framing the GMO issue as one of clear-headed defenders of Reason, Progress and Science battling manfully against hordes of clueless, overemotional, sloppy, ignorant, propeller-capped dingbats.    Trouble is, this picture, largely uncontested in our own literature, is one that strongly appeals to the vast majority of the uncommitted.  Almost everyone would rather be on the side of Reason, Progress and Science than on the side of looney-tunes losers.  So we have to convince them of the truth: that the pro-GMOers are the ones who are flying in the face of Reason, that their distorted notion of Progress will prove disastrous for our species, and that their “Science” is in fact twenty to fifty years out of date.

In order to do that, we have to look like we know what we’re doing, especially when it comes to the science.  All too often both in blogs and news reports you see things like “A recent article claims…” X, Y or Z.  Sometimes it’s correct, sometimes not.  Sometimes what’s claimed is true, sometimes it’s false.  How can anyone know?  How can you check?  So, how can anyone take such reports seriously?

So what I suggest is, every article cited in everything we write should be properly referenced.  It’s the easiest thing in the world.  Just go to Google Scholar, click on the “advanced search” button, put the article title in the “exact phrase” box and alter the setting “anywhere in the article” to “in the title of the article”.  Then when the article you want pops up, click on the “cite” button under it and you get the citation in three different formats (MLA, APA and Chicago).  Choose any one and cut and paste it into your own piece (put it at the end if you feel that in-text citations are too intrusive).
This procedure is fine so long as the article appeared in a journal.   If, as here, it’s a book chapter, you’re out of luck.  For some reason known only to its makers, for book chapters Scholar lists only book title and date—no publisher.   In this case I got only:
Benedetti, D., Da Silva, F. R., Kvitko, K., Fernandes, S. P., & da Silva, J. (2014). Genotoxicity Induced by Ocupational Exposure to Pesticides.

To get the full reference you have to click on the article title, which in this case gave me: Agricultural and Biological Sciences » "Pesticides - Toxic Aspects", book edited by Marcelo L. Larramendy and Sonia Soloneski, ISBN 978-953-51-1217-4.
Seems like an interesting book.  And it's free access.  I’ll look into it.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

Vandana Shiva

Last Wednesday I attended an event in Honolulu sponsored by the Council for Food Safety.  It kicked off with a “cocktail reception” at which I met for the first time the Hawaiian activist Walter Ritte, someone whom I’d long admired, and was braced by a Monsanto troll, who showed me the graph—it’s a GMO meme on the internet—that shows the rise in autism correlating perfectly with the rise in organic food purchases (I’ll be writing quite a lot about correlation in future posts).  Then the talks, which were given in the Mamiya Theater at St. Louis High School--a plush modern auditorium that seats 500, and there must have been over 400 there.  Speakers were, first, a panel consisting of Ritte and three neighbor-island anti-GMO pols, all highly articulate and sometimes very funny, and then the guest speaker, recently vilified in the New Yorker, famed Indian activist Vandana Shiva.

Whenever I see a celebrity I go into cynic mode.  So many are overblown, coasting along on old successes, that I come in expecting to be underwhelmed with a mix of feel-good platitudes and windy exhortations.  Not so this time.

I feel I haven’t even begun to digest that talk.  It lasted less than a half-hour, but in that time Vandana managed somehow to bring everything together: the anti-GMO struggle with the rise of corporate power and greed set against the background of the whole past and future of our species and our relations with the rest of nature.  I became aware that over and above arguments about whether GMOs caused autism and suchlike were immense moral issues, the largest there are, about how we should relate to the rest of nature, of which we are not the stewards but only a small and inevitably dependent part.  None of the things she spoke of were things I hadn’t known intellectually, independently, but they’d never come together to form a whole till that moment. and they certainly never had had implications for my own life, for the kind of person I was and the kind I should be.

Enough (too much already?) about me.  Too much more stuff to talk about, anyway.

Friday, January 23, 2015

Forthcoming Attractions

In my next post I was going to talk about Stephanie Seneff.  But so much is happening that I’ll have to postpone that.  Here's a brief summary of things I will be covering.

Wednesday night I attended an event sponsored by the Center for Food Safety.  A lot happened there that I’ll tell you about.  Hawaii is ground zero for the GMO fight, and I’m right there.  We put on quite a show at this year’s opening of the State Legislature and they’re going to have to deal with the future of GMOs here in this session.  Expect fireworks.

There’s another smoking-gun article out, but whoever put the news on the internet badly fumbled the ball—this should be a learning moment for anti-GMOers.  

On NPR this morning there was a speaker who said that all the coral in the Caribbean was dying everywhere but in Cuba, where it is not only growing but spreading.  Why?  You'll see details here as soon as I can find the time to check them.

In about 50 minutes, DV, I’ll be talking on Skype with Andre Leu, corresponding author on the Swanson et al. paper.  I have a lot of questions. I’ll tell you the results.

Tomorrow I’m lunching with Vandava Shiva, the famed Indian activist, Andrew Kimbrell, executive director of the Center for Food Safety, and twenty-odd others of like mind.  I’ll report on that too.

Next week the local Cambridge Alumni group will hear a talk by University of Hawaii law professor David Callies on "GMOs: where and how to regulate:  home rule and state preemption.”  Should be some ammunition for the coming fight.

May take the weekend for me to cover all this, but I'll try.

Wednesday, January 21, 2015

What is the smoking gun?

Here, very briefly, is what the “smoking gun” (Swanson et al, contains:

Despite spending more on medical care than any other nation, in 2012 (the most recent year for which there are statistics) the US is only #36 in life expectancy, behind Costa Rica, Slovenia and Lebanon.  One reason is the increase in a number of chronic diseases, including diabetes and several varieties of cancer.  Swanson et al. show that that the upcurve in these conditions exactly matches the increase in the percentage of GE soy and corn crops and the quantity of herbicides containing glyphosate applied.  As they point out, correlation is not causation, but you can’t show causation unless you can first show correlation, and by a standard measure, Pearson’s correlation coefficient, the correspondence between increased GMO/glyphosate use and more than a dozen diseases is higher than 0.9.

To the best of my knowledge, this is the first and only epidemiological study that shows the correlation between GMO/glyphosate and America’s deteriorating health, and it should be a wake-up call to every US citizen.