Glyphosate and the Gut Microbiome: Another Bad Argument Annihilated


Glyphosate is a broad spectrum herbicide that was first introduced by the Monsanto company in the 1970s under the brand name Roundup. The already popular product grew even more popular among farmers upon the introduction of various commodity crops which were genetically engineered to resist the herbicide while it killed the surrounding weeds with which the crops would otherwise compete for water and nutrients. Glyphosate went off patent back in the year 2000, and since then many manufacturers have cashed in on its popularity [1]. Although it is of unusually low toxicity, glyphosate receives a level of scrutiny and vehemence of criticism that is disproportionate to its actual established risks [2],[3],[4]. This is attributable in part to its ubiquity in modern conventional farming, but it’s likely even more attributable to its association with Monsanto, against which a large and well-organized counter-movement has emerged [5]. (more…)


Genetically Engineering Foods Involves Greater Precision and Lower Risk of Unintentional Changes Than Traditional Breeding Methods


There exists an international scientific consensus that existing genetically engineered foods are at least as safe as their closest corresponding non-GMO counterparts [1]. This consensus is drawn on decades of research and thousands of studies. Despite this fact, there still exists a broad gap between the science and public perception of the topic. According to PEW reports, this gap is wider than on any other topic for which a strong scientific consensus exists [2].

This is significant because we know several other scientific topics have remained highly controversial in the court of public opinion for decades after having achieved mainstream acceptance among experts. Young Earth Creationists have been trying out various strategies for roughly a century to undermine the teaching of evolution in public schools in the US [3]. Rejection of Anthropogenic Climate change is ubiquitous in the US, and even extends to the POTUS himself, despite the weight of the evidence and resulting scientific consensus to the contrary [4],[5],[6],[7]. Although its prevalence has waxed and waned over time, vaccine opposition has been a near constant presence ever since the discovery of the cowpox vaccine [8],[9]. So, for there to exist an even bigger gap between science and public perception on GE foods than for any of these other topics, is no trivial matter.

One of the most common reasons given for trepidation with respect to GE foods is the idea that it’s a more radical way of altering our foods than more traditional methods of artificial selection, and that we therefore can’t know whether or not GE foods are bad until they’ve been around for several more human generations. This view relies on an argument from ignorance logical fallacy, and presents a double standard with no biologically plausible justification. One fact that proponents of this view rarely acknowledge is that it also leads to the generation of testable hypotheses, the results of which actually suggest the exact opposite. Allow me to explain. (more…)


Scientific Consensus isn’t a “Part” of the Scientific Method: it’s a Consequence of it

Although conceptually simple, the term “scientific consensus” is often misused and misunderstood. It can get confused with appeals to popular opinion or erroneously conflated with “consensus” in the colloquial sense of the word. These misunderstandings can lead to things like opinion polls, often predominated by unqualified individuals, being misconstrued as evidence that no scientific consensus exists on some topic for which it clearly does, or that it leans towards a different conclusion than it actually does. In some cases, the very concept itself invokes resentment or even retaliatory commentary from people whose views are threatened by its implications. The purpose of this article is to clarify the concept that the term scientific consensus is meant to refer to and address some of the arguments commonly leveled against it.

Defining Scientific Consensus

Just as the term “theory” has a different meaning in science than its colloquial usage, the term scientific consensus means something different than “consensus” in the usual colloquial sense. The latter typically refers to a popular opinion, and needn’t necessarily be based on knowledge or evidence. On the other hand, a scientific consensus is, by definition, an evidence-based consensus. A convergence of the weight of existing evidence is a prerequisite which distinguishes a knowledge-based scientific consensus from mere agreement. This is critical, because the scientific enterprise is essentially a meritocracy. As a result, it doesn’t matter if a few contrarians on the fringe disagree with the conclusions unless they can marshal up evidential justification of comparable weight or explain the existing data better. The weight of the evidence is paramount. (more…)


The One True Argument™

Anyone who has spent much time addressing a lot of myths, misconceptions, and anti-science arguments has probably had the experience of some contrarian taking issue with his or her rebuttal to some common talking point on the grounds that it’s not the “real” issue people have with the topic at hand. It does occasionally happen that some skeptic spends an inordinate amount of time refuting an argument that literally nobody has put forward for a position, but I’m specifically referring to situations in which the rebuttal addresses claims or arguments that some people have actually made, but that the contrarian is implying either haven’t been made or shouldn’t be addressed, because they claim that it’s not the “real” argument. This is a form of No True Scotsman logical fallacy, and is a common tactic of people who reject well-supported scientific ideas for one reason or another. In some cases this may be due to the individual’s lack of exposure to the argument being addressed rather than an act of subterfuge, but it is problematic regardless of whether or not the interlocutor is sincere. (more…)


Obama Signs Bill Overturning Vermont’s GE Foods Labeling Mandate: Brace for Shit Storm

July 29, 2016

Earlier today, the president signed S. 764 into law: a Federal level law that stipulates that the Secretary of Agriculture is to decide on a mandatory nation wide standard by which all foods derived from sources which have been modified by in vitro recombinant DNA techniques will be labeled. Biotechnology advocates have largely opposed any Bill which unjustifiably singles out one particular breeding method for mandatory labeling (either Federally or at the State level).

Although this Bill was intended to be a compromise, the new Bill will not satisfy GE food opponents, simply because it won’t be conspicuous enough for them to easily construe them as warning labels. (more…)


Mandatory GMO Labeling Opposition: Not just for Shape-Shifting MonSatan Cyborg Super-Shills from the future

The issue of whether or not there should be a mandatory label for all genetically engineered (GE) foods is a hotly debated issue in the public conversation on biotechnology and its implementation in modern agriculture. Proponents of such a law often ask questions such as “If GMOs are so safe, why won’t you label them?” And proclaim that they have “the right to know” what’s in their food. They claim that it’s just a matter of transparency and makes for informed consumers.

These lines of argument are misleading (for reasons I will elaborate upon momentarily), but on the surface they seem compelling to people who aren’t familiar with the debate-framing techniques they utilize; so much so, that one can come across numerous individuals on social media who seem convinced that the only way anyone could possibly have any reason to oppose mandatory GE food labeling would be if they had a personal financial stake in the matter. Thus, even the most reasonable counter-arguments are frequently met with the accusation of “Monsanto Shill!”  (more…)


Why Country of Origin Labeling is not an argument for mandatory GMO labeling:

There exists a category of pro-mandatory GMO labeling arguments that seeks to remove the formidable burden of having to argue against the international scientific consensus on GE food safety by reframing the discussion to purely normative and/or political terms. This differs from many of the common talking points of GE food opponents in that it doesn’t seek to show that there’s anything wrong with the science or safety of GE foods. Instead, the strategy is to argue that objective scientific merit should not be a prerequisite to the implementation of labeling mandates so long as someone desires it.

One common approach to doing so is to cite examples of existing labels whose implementation is not predicated on any scientifically-backed bearing upon health, nutrition, or safety. It’s actually a rather humorous argumentative strategy if you think about it. It basically implicitly concedes that GE labels would be pointless from an objective scientific standpoint, but  argues that that’s okay because we have other pointless labels in society as well. It has even spawned jokes such as this graphic here: (more…)


Genetic Engineering and the Emergence of Herbicide-Resistant Weeds

One of the more common criticisms leveled against Genetically Engineered plants, particularly Herbicide-Resistant (HR) strains, is that they are purported to lead to what critics refer to as “Superweeds.” The term superweeds is not a scientific term, and can be very misleading to people not familiar with the science. What is really meant by the term is the event in which local weeds become resistant to a particular mode of action undertaken by the farmer for the purpose of weed control. For instance, local weeds might evolve a resistance to a particular herbicide is it’s used often in the areas in which they grow. There’s nothing “super” about the alleged superweeds other than the fact that they’ve become resistant to one particular method. (more…)


GE Seed Patents, Cross-Contamination, and the Trouble with Cyborg Super Shills from the Future

In being involved public science communication, I come across a number of people who accept the international scientific consensus on the safety of Genetically Engineered (GE) foods for humans, animals and the environment, but who nevertheless dislike them because they are against patents and licensing agreements. Regardless of whether one likes the current IP laws, or whether one even likes the concept of patents at all, it’s important to understand why seed patents exist and why a dislike for IP laws is not a valid argument against GE foods.

The issue with patenting plant technology is analogous to software agreements. We’re talking about a product which requires years of development and massive overhead investment, and as soon as the product goes out the door, anyone can make as many copies as they want at virtually no cost if given a Carte Blanche to do so. In the case of GE plants, it takes an average of about ten years and $136 million to bring a new product to market. That includes R&D as well as multiple tiers of safety testing. The premise is that by allowing a means by which companies can recoup their investment, the option of patenting an invention incentivizes further innovation. (more…)