Things I read on facebook: Monsanto and Bt

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Source: Vegiheal.com on facebook

 

 

Getting information about anything from infographics on Facebook is a bad idea. This should be obvious. What should also be obvious is that getting information about medicine, nutrition, or food from facebook is an even worse idea, because there is a massive grassroots campaign of hippies (hey, they don’t call it grassroots for nothing) who generally mean well but unfortunately will share almost anything that perpetuates the idea that everything natural is good and everything to do with technology is dangerous or toxic. The end result is that if you’re friends with a lot of old-school hippies (like I am) you stand a very good chance of seeing a lot of really bad science in your news feed. I’m personally of a split mind on these – on one hand, it’s always nice to keep one’s mind sharp and show people good science; on the other hand, you’d think that after the 50th time you’ve shown someone why, say, GreenMedInfo.com is a terrible, dishonest, ignorant source, they’d stop going there. But oh well, such is life.

 

Now, there’s a lot of crap on facebook, but I chose this as my first choice because it really is such a lousy image. I mean, I’m not even kidding when I say that before I saw this on one of my friend’s walls and responded, the response beforehand was my grandmother saying, in essence, “Wait a minute, why should I believe any of that?”. My grandmother. Okay, that’s a low blow – my grandmother is sharp as the type of knitting needles a nanny in Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon would use – but the point is… well, come on, look at it. It makes a series of claims but provides absolutely no citation and no indication on where to find more information. I could make a picture like that! In fact, I think I will!

 

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This is very basic – if someone makes a scientific claim and provides no citation, there’s one of two ways it can reasonably go:

  1. It’s something so blatantly obvious that everyone knows it already and you don’t need to demonstrate it, and the point is not “this is a thing” but rather “because this is a thing, X”.
  2. It’s not something blatantly obvious – it requires special knowledge, presents studies without mentioning them, or otherwise aspires to scientific knowledge without actually wasting any time on those silly “citations” thing.

Either way, it’s not usually worth sharing. And this one clearly falls into the latter category. After all, as the great man once said,

 

“Almost all fake information is provided without citation.”

-Abraham Lincoln

 

But this picture falls into a rare third category – its claims are not “obvious” and do require special knowledge, but one of them is fairly specific and the other is infamous enough to discern despite its vagueness.

First, the specific. At first, I wanted to be generous to these guys with regards to their statements about Bt, because they’re at least pretty close to accurate by some approximations, but then I thought twice about it and decided I’d just rather be a dick.

 

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Calling Bt a “toxin” is straight-up fearmongering. Bt is actually the abbreviation for Bacillus_thuringiensis, a bacterium. Thuringiensis is not actually particularly toxic to, well, just about any mammal. Or vertebrate. It produces a specific type of protein known as insecticidal delta-endotoxins. These are small capsules, slightly resembling a d8 the cleric with the cheetos sat on, which are normally quite tough. They don’t become soluble until they become exposed to a high-pH environment, and even then, they require certain enzymes – it’s not a one-size-fits-all insecticide. In fact, due to its specificity, it’s been used for more than half a century as an organic pesticide! So already, the prior plausibility that it could reasonably be toxic to humans, rats, or the like is very low. If some element of human biology was harmed, it would be one hell of a freak accident. So what about the studies referenced? (And I do really use “referenced” about as loosely as humanly possible.)

 

Well, when talking about rat studies and GMO, one paper immediately springs to mind – Gilles-Éric Séralini’s work on the subject. Now, some might say that Séralini is controversial. I’m not going to say that. I think “controversial” gives the man too much credit; you wouldn’t call someone who consistently pumps out biased, low-quality research in an attempt to prop up popular pseudoscientific conclusions “controversial”, you’d call him a dishonest hack. And in that regard, Séralini belongs in the same bin as William Dembski, Richard Lindzen, or Mark Regnerus. What is there even to say about his work that hasn’t been said? Small sample sizes, poorly-chosen rat breeds, no probability analysis, data presented in ways that are almost impossible to read, unethical treatment of animals to get pictures solely for the sake of shock value… I’m not exaggerating when I say that the 2012 rat study is one of the most transparently bogus studies in existence – it’s absolutely reasonable to compare it to Mark Regnerus’s awful study on homosexual parenting. The unimpeachable David Gorski of Respectful Insolence has his review of it here, but let me just list a few of the more obvious problems:

  • Each group tested, including the control group, had only 20 rats
  • The rats chosen, Sprague-Dawley rats, have a baseline cancer incidence that’s actually higher than that which was found in most groups in the study
  • The group in the study that did the best was not the control, but one of the groups given straight-up round-up!
  • There was no correlation between dose and injury
  • There were so many individual groups of rats with such a baseline high cancer rates that there was almost certainly going to be a handful of groups with above-average prevalence.
  • The study has since been retracted by the journal that published it. For pretty much these reasons.

The study was really, really, really, really bad. It belongs under the general banner of “Scopie’s Law” – that is, if you cite it as a valid source to support your conclusions (unless your conclusions are “look at how dishonest anti-GMO advocates are”), you are no longer worth taking seriously. Throw it on the pile with NaturalNews and Age of Autism. Now, if there’s some other study meant by rat study, then I’m sorry that I got it wrong. But let’s be fair here – how the hell am I supposed to know which study you’re talking about if you don’t give me anything more than “this is what the study concluded”?! So damn well I’m not going to assume that you aren’t talking about this study – especially when this study is still so popular among anti-GMO circles, and when you offer no citations.

 

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Seriously, people. Don’t get your health or medical information from social media. But if you do, don’t take it from image macros with scary imagery with no citations! Or at least fucking check Snopes.

 

…Which I should have done before writing this blog. Because I could have just linked to that and said “LOL NO”. Instead of spending an hour or so writing this up. Oh well.