Respectful Insolence

I was going to join PZ Myers, ERV, and Pamela Ronald in helping out an old blogging friend and former host of the Skeptics’ Circle, Karl Mogel of The Inoculated Mind by pimping his other science-based blog Biofortified, which seeks to provide a science- and evidence-based discussion of plant genetics and genetic engineering. Unfortunately, as seems to be the case lately, other things have distracted me, and I’m late to the party. Better late than never, though.

Basically, Biofortified is in the Ashoka Changemakers contest, GMO Risk or Rescue. First prize is a $1500 grant and a conversation with Michael Pollan. Thanks to PZ, Biofortified has pulled into first place. Even though my vote-generating mojo does not approach PZ’s, I thought I’d still ask my readers to go and register, and then to vote for Biofortified. Instructions are here.

I also want some of that filthy Monsanto lucre that is supposedly (or so it is implied) behind an astroturf movement that (or so the anti-GMO cranks think) is behind PZ and everyone else who is supporting Biofortified at this late stage in the game:

This group has been putting out the following messsage on Twitter: “Vote for Biofortified in Ashoka Changemakers contest”.

A Monsanto PR operator has discreetly done the same and now the votes for Biofortified have suddenly exploded, more than doubling in a matter of hours in a completely unprecedented pattern.

The winner of the Chagemakers competition gets a cash prize of $1500 and a conversation with New York Times food writer, Michael Pollan, but above all cudos.

If you think the GM industry trying to fix this competition stinks, then please vote for one of the anti-GM candidates in the Changemakers contest.

The leading anti-GM contestant at the moment supporting consumer choice is the NonGMOProject who are trying to bring voluntary GM labelling to the U.S. You can find out more here: http://www.changemakers.com/en-us/node/58742
Voting on the Changemakers site can be a bit confusing so we’ve given clear instructions below. Please make the effort and vote today as voting will close very soon. Thank you!

Don’t let the biotech industry steal the vote.

Hilarious, and such an utterly, pathetically predictable response from cranks. In any case, if I’m going to be a “pharma shill” (as so many anti-vaccinationists and alt-med cranks accuse me), I might as well be a GMO shill too, right? Why the heck not? So help me get a share of that beautiful Monsanto biotech money* and at the same time help a great skeptical blogger win the competition. The vote ends at 6 PM on Wednesay.

*For the irony-challenged, literal-minded cranks who like to attack me, that is sarcasm. I’m joking. I don’t need any of that Monsanto lucre. Pharma companies, and in particular vaccine manufacturers, pay me more than enough to keep me able to stay in my sweatpants all day churning out anti-alt-med screeds.**

**Oops. I did it again. Ah, hell, just go vote for Biofortified.

Comments

  1. #1 SciencePundit
    October 27, 2009

    I knew it*!!!

    *There’s a link there to my comment on PZ’s post.

  2. #2 Rogue Medic
    October 27, 2009

    in my sweatpants all day churning out anti-alt-med screeds.

    That explains why you have more traffic than I do. You wear sweatpants all day. Now that I have read and understood Dr. Jenny McCarthy’s book – Anecdotal Evidence in One Easy Lesson, I see a bright future for my blog.

    Maybe I can write my own book. No need for footnotes, research, or even credibility. Soon she will abandon that comedian for me. I do not need any logical basis for these claims. I just need to believe and stalk. I love this freedom from responsibility, sensibility, ethics, and least of all – sanity. Jenny, dear, you have convinced me. You are all mine. MwaHaHaHaHa.

    Any protestations that you do not feel the same way about me and I will sue for alienation of affection.

    Evidence?

    A stalker just knows. ;-)

    You taught me well, Jenny.

  3. #3 DLC
    October 27, 2009

    But. . . they changed the plant’s genetics . . . nobody’s ever done that ! Oh wait.. they have… how many varieties of roses are there? orchids ? cattle, Banana ?
    should we force United Fruit Co. to put “This banana is a food created by genetic modification” ? You know, the difficult to do GM that comes of many generations of selective breeding ? Oh, but somehow that’s “Natural”.

  4. #4 XiXiDu
    October 27, 2009

    Oh no frankenfood!!! We’re all going to mutate into Monsanto zombies and become servants of the almighty biotech cartels…

  5. #5 Tsu Dho Nimh
    October 27, 2009

    @3 DLC- The common yellow banana is a MUTATION! It appeared in the early 1800s (possible origin is Mauritius) and was considered good enough to clone.

    When you slice bananas into your cereal, you are eating cloned, mutated fruit! Ewwwwww!

  6. #6 History Punk
    October 27, 2009

    So how long do you think it will be until Jake Cosby cites this confession:

    “I don’t need any of that Monsanto lucre. Pharma companies, and in particular vaccine manufacturers, pay me more than enough to keep me able to stay in my sweatpants all day churning out anti-alt-med screeds.**”

    in a blog post?

  7. #7 E.V.
    October 27, 2009

    I take back all the insulting things I’ve ever said about you.

  8. #8 Todd W.
    October 27, 2009

    @Tsu Dho Nimh

    When you slice bananas into your cereal, you are eating cloned, mutated fruit! Ewwwwww!

    No, no, no. As Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron clearly demonstrate, the common yellow banana was created exactly like that by God. I mean, it fits nicely in the hand, with the ridges lining up to the knuckles. It has an easy-open tab. And, it basically unzips. Oh, and it is long and narrow so it fits easily in the mouth.

    You don’t know anything, do you?

  9. #9 sailor
    October 27, 2009

    I would have thought the term GM as used today implied changing the genes of plants in some manner not available through nature (cross breeding pollinating etc). For example inserting a gene that produces an insecticide into your potatoes so at least you can be sure when you die you won’t be eaten by caterpillars.

    Being against the idea of GM on principal does seem a little retrograde. Being against the idea that companies like Monsanto will turn crops that were open source to copyrighted monocultures with unpredictable results, especially when we are to be dependent on the company to report anything bad, does seem worth fighting against.

    Michael Pollan has a very healthy attitude: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/18/michael-pollan-discusses_n_203954.html

    Considerably more nuanced than the gung-ho pro GM attitudes I see here and on PZs blog. I personally thought some of those other anti GM groups had a point. I think it would be good to see GM food labeled. If thy are really good and good for you that will be a plus. If not that will be minus. You can choose. Now you have no idea.

  10. #10 Todd W.
    October 27, 2009

    My main objections to GM crops are the patent laws around them (i.e., the onus is on the non-GM farmer to keep his crops pure rather than on the GM-farmer to keep his pollen contained) and the potential for certain crops to cross with wild varieties (e.g., weed-killer-resistant crops crossing with wild-type species that can then become weed-killer-resistant weeds).

    Boosting nutritional value? Great! Creating varieties that can withstand environmental conditions like drought or cold? Great! Nothing wrong with GM if done carefully and thoughtfully.

  11. #11 cicely
    October 27, 2009

    Todd W.:

    No, no, no. As Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron clearly demonstrate, the common yellow banana was created exactly like that by God. I mean, it fits nicely in the hand, with the ridges lining up to the knuckles. It has an easy-open tab. And, it basically unzips. Oh, and it is long and narrow so it fits easily in the mouth.

    You don’t know anything, do you?

    Posted by: Todd W.

    And yet, the coconut is so demonstrably awkward in the hand, has no obviously-designated access point, and far from unzipping, has to be forcefully broken into; plus, it’s round and wide and doesn’t fit in the mouth at all. One might even say, poorly designed.

    God: incompetent schiz.

  12. #12 Todd W.
    October 27, 2009

    @cicely

    Hmm…I was expecting the pineapple rebuttal. I hadn’t heard the coconut rebuttal yet. Well done. :)

  13. #13 Militant Agnostic
    October 27, 2009

    And yet, the coconut is so demonstrably awkward in the hand, has no obviously-designated access point, and far from unzipping, has to be forcefully broken into; plus, it’s round and wide and doesn’t fit in the mouth at all. One might even say, poorly designed.

    In addition, falling coconuts kill many more people than do sharks. I have personally had a close call with a falling coconut. I heard a thud behind me and saw a coconut lying on the path right where I was walking.

  14. #14 sailor
    October 27, 2009

    “In addition, falling coconuts kill many more people than do sharks.”

    Another shark loving, coconut hating, fabricatonist

    http://www.straightdope.com/columns/read/2405/are-150-people-killed-each-year-by-falling-coconuts

    Having spent about 40 years where coconuts are common close to the shore, and where beaches are popular, it has always amazed me in that I have not come across one verified account of a coconut killing. Mind you in that time for that area I have not come across on verified account of a shark killing either.

  15. #15 Karl Haro von Mogel
    October 27, 2009

    Thanks for the plug, Orac! I’ll be sure to tell them to send your ‘payoff’ right away. Still living at Orthanc Tower Drive? Did you want it in gold bullion or souls?

    Thank you everyone who is taking the time to vote. We’re doing great, but things could always change in the next 27 hours. Let’s push it to 1,000 votes!

  16. #16 Karl Haro von Mogel
    October 27, 2009

    Whenever something bad happens near or in a GE crop field, the anti’s often blame the GMO. If there were GE coconuts, would we hearing about a sharp increase in the number of coconut-falling-related deaths?

    Inquiring minds want to know!

  17. #17 Party Cactus
    October 27, 2009

    I’m a plant person. It really does my heart good to see anti-GMO crankery getting more of the thrashing it rightfully deserves. You might not notice this, Orac, but they share a lot in common with vaccines (and alternative medicine), at least in the terms of arguments used against them.

    First, there’s the toxin gambit. That’s the first thing every anti-GMO person says. There is the claim that GMOs are toxic, however, not once is said toxin ever mentioned. They will never tell you what is actually toxic. Also, no chemical pathways for the creation of the alleged toxin are given, nor is a genetic cause of the toxin ever given. Nope, just like how alties think herbs work because they’re herbs (not an active ingreadient), GMOs are toxic without a causative agent.

    But of course, no one is ever anti-GMO. Nope, they’re pro-safe GMO. They want more testing. Hey, sound familiar? Green our Vaccines, anyone? Some will come out and say it, but most try to pretend they’re rational moderates. Sound like a certain Stealth anti-vaccinationist?

    They also try to mix good fact in with bad, just like the anti-vax crowd will mix good advice about diet and exercise in with woo. For example, they’ll often cite the problems of monoculture as a reason GMOs are bad, or say that we should use crop rotation. Everyone knows that monoculture is has risks (remember the Irish Potato Famine? No GMOs involved), and that crop rotation can improve soil quality and yield, but these are both practices that have nothing to do with the topic at hand. It’s just like how, sure, avoiding fatty and sugary foods and going for a daily jog are good medical advice, but that doesn’t have anything to getting vaccinated.

    And of course, we plant folks also have our own type naturopathy that absolutely abhors GMOs, just like alternative medicine in general recommended you not get vaccinated, only we call ours organics, which, like I mentioned above, is a combo of good advice and unproven (and low yield) argumentum ad naturam. Norman Borlaug, greatest human being who ever lived, once estimated that if the whole world used organics, we could only feed 2/3 of the population, and yet, its proponents detest the spread of GMOs into poorer regions, and want to instead have their agricultural woo become the primary method of farming (tough luck to the over 2 billion people who would have to starve). Sound like Homeopaths Without Borders, people whose actions have caused diseases to become endemic to the UK, and raving loons who think vaccines in Africa are going to, I don’t know, do something bad?

    Just like the anti-vaxxers, they also like to go for the creepy angle. Your vaccine has aborted babies in it! You’re a lab experiment! Your tomato has fish in it! This is Frankenstein! Neither are true, but they sound spooky. And there’s the mixing of valid concerns with sheer woo. There’s no reason to think all GMOs are good. No man made thing ever is. There was a GE bean in Australia that really was toxic, that’s true. But the researchers in charge identified the toxin, and the chemical pathways that formed the toxin, and had very good scientific reason for why everything happened, then they abandoned that line and started a new one to fix the problem. There was a GE soybean that had a gene that produced Brazil nut proteins, and consequently, would have hurt people with Brazil nut allergies. Both of these were purely experimental. Likewise, vaccines can, have, and do hurt people. There have been instances of vaccines with one problem or another that have been harmful, right? And in both cases, the anti-GMO/vaxxers will use this as ‘proof’ that GMOs/vaccines are too dangerous. And it has the unintended problem of making any valid problem look stupid. If a legitimate problem with GE crops or vaccines came up, how would the average person recognize it among all the unscientific madness?

    There’s also the appeal to long term effects, or as I like to call it, the Plus Five Argument. In other words, we must wait until the current number of years researched plus five before anything should be done. Just like with vaccines, some people say we don’t know the long term effects of GMOs on our health, but we’ve been eating them for years and there has been no problem, and there is no evidence to think that one day everyone is going to fall over dead because of it. We’ve been eating food that has been slow modified via breeding, or even modified with mutagens (where do you think seedless watermelons come from?) for all our lives. But they still say that GMOs cause problems. Why, the disease of the day rates have been rising, of course! Correlation and causation problems with disease diagnosis, remind you of a certain anti-vax argument involving autism?

    And of course, there is a direct connection between GMOs and health quackery. I’m sure you’ve seen it on NaturalNews.

    I’m sure there’s more similarities thanks to the Unified Theory of the Crank, but you get the picture. I always say to myself that in the future GMOs will have the acceptance they deserve, but looking at the state of vaccination, that’s doubtful. Like alties and anti-vax cranks, all anti-GMO people aren’t all bad. Sure, some are too far gone to save, but most, I think, are just mislead by bogus reports and scare mongering. Anti-GMO sentiment is here to stay, but genetic engineering has as much potential as agriculture itself, all the way back when man first formed agrarian societies out of the hunter-gatherer tribes. This has the potential to allow us to more food on less land with less water in harsher conditions, produce medicines for the cost of seed and water, or mimic virtually anything that evolution has produced, and hopefully someday, create our own novel traits. With world population growing at the rate it is, we simply can’t risk turning our back on science. We need a science based society. I believe that in the coming decades this technology will be critical to the success of the human race, just like vaccines were critical in stabilizing societies by eliminating the worst of diseases. Maybe not this decade, maybe not the next, but exponential population growth will eventually catch up with our conventional agricultural methods, and if we don’t have something ready by then, it’s really going to hit the fan. This anti-GMO fear is the same type of fear that would have enabled smallpox to still ravage this world had we not acted, and in this case as well, we can’t let irrationality and fear stop us from acting before its too late.

  18. #18 gaiainc
    October 27, 2009

    I have nothing against GMO foods. I have a lot against Monsanto for being draconian asses. Seriously. They are asses. I’m with Todd W @10. If you can engineer a plant to do better with less, go for it. However, don’t expect that non-GM farmers to magically keep pollen and other plants out of their fields because you suddenly expect them to control nature. Asses. Such complete asses.

  19. #19 Wayward son
    October 27, 2009

    From Silent Spring, 1962: “A truly extraordinary variety of alternatives to the chemical control of insects is available. Some are already in use and have achieved brilliant success. Others are in the stage of laboratory testing. Still others are little more than ideas in the minds of imaginative scientists, waiting for the opportunity to put them to the test. All have this in common: they are biological solutions, based on understanding of the living organism they seek to control, and of the whole fabric of life to which these organisms belong. Specialists representing various areas of the vast field of biology are contributing – entomologists, pathologists, geneticists, physiologists, biochemists, ecologists – all pouring their knowledge and their creative inspirations into the formation of a new science of biotic controls.” — Rachel Carson, an environmentalist of some note. Too bad so many anti-biotechnology praise her writing without understanding it.

  20. #20 Mariah
    October 27, 2009

    @Party Cactus: “Homeopaths Without Borders” = LOL.

    I am also delighted to see plant science getting some respect. And your other parallels with the anti-vaxxers are completely on target.

    Funny, a lot of the same people on the lefty blogs I follow rely on Orac for the smackdown on anti-science. I can’t wait to point this post out….

  21. #21 Sailor
    October 27, 2009

    Party Cactus, that is one huge straw man you created there. I bet if you planted beans outside your door you would be able to climb up to a castle in the sky the next day.

    There are many of us, including Michael Pollan, who are not against the idea of GM, but think right now in the hands of the big companies like Monsanto it is not really doing that much good. Patenting everything, and not even allowing independent researchers to publish research they might run on your crops, is really a bad way to have advancement in science.

    You might like to check this out:
    http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2009/05/18/michael-pollan-discusses_n_203954.html

  22. #22 Dacks
    October 27, 2009

    @Sailor – yeah, this is a discussion that needs to happen. GMOs sounds great to those of us not blinded by “naturalistic” rhetoric – more production, fewer pesticides, better use of resources. On the other hand, the monopolistic practices of Monsanto make it difficult for the public to evaluate their grandiose claims. I’m looking forward to getting a little substance to round out the arguments.

  23. #23 Sock Puppet of the Great Satan
    October 28, 2009

    “Pharma companies, and in particular vaccine manufacturers, pay me more than enough to keep me able to stay in my sweatpants all day churning out anti-alt-med screeds”

    True, the seed/agrochemicals business is chump change compared to pharma, but one has to diversify one’s porfolio and not be dependent on just one Evil Conspiracy(tm) for payola. Anybody know whether the pro-GMO conspiracy has good dental benefits?

  24. #24 Not-so-innocent bystander
    October 28, 2009

    Sailor @21,

    Your post is yet more supporting evidence for what Party Cactus said. He was discussing GMOs, and commonalities between anti-vax tactics and anti-GMO tactics, and you go straight into a non sequitor about Monsanto.

    Even if Monsanto was a purely evil company that had exclusive rights to the use of GMOs, that still would say nothing about whether GE is good to use or not.

  25. #25 Pam Ronald
    October 30, 2009

    Thanks for the post and for supporting biofortified!