Is Greenpeace misinterpreting data?

New study concludes" "The western bean cutworm is neither a 'new plant pest' nor 'caused by GE corn' as stated by Greenpeace."


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Link goes to a "Session timed out" page.

Just an FYI. The link to the study does not work. It returns a session timed out error page.

The link doesn't work, alas.

Bad linky... Is this the permanent one:
No question that the study by Greenpeace is flawed and that they likely employed motivated reasoning to reach their conclusion. Nonetheless, there is a difference between making things up (essentially lying) and making conclusions not supported by the data. I question the word selection; simply state that the data do not support the conclusion. The connotation that they are making things up implies a disposition towards falsifying data, which is not shown. Pointing out the flaws in their reasoning and tenuousness of their conclusion is sufficient to refute the argument.

Please do your homework.

Your source is an edited rewrite by the Entomological Society of America (not posting any generally accepted conflict of interest notice regarding the piece) of a summary by the same organization of an abstract which asserts GreenPeace claiming pest expansion "entirely" due to GMO's, something GreenPeace appears against.

If GreenPeace clearly states this, it would clearly be unreasonable. However the actual report content refutes the abstract's claim by stating "...Greenpeace Germany sponsored a technical report (Then 2010) that summarized their interpretation of the primary factor that has facilitated the eastward range expansion of the western bean

This is the opposite of what the abstract claims. Yet without reference, the report content again asserts the claim that GP concludes a cause "solely"

Other misleading bits:
"New pest" indicates "new" to an area, not the strawman of a new species, attacked by the industry group's paper.

They attack "massive damage" by dismissing unreferenced estimates of "4.1– 8.0 bushels/acre (256–501 kg/ha)". I've got a hectare, and losing 500kg of product would be catastrophe.

The rest of the piece demonstrates a similar slant one might expect of an industry group, but not SB.

By Buck Field (not verified) on 14 Jun 2012 #permalink

Boba, good point. "Making stuff up" is too harsh so I changed the title.

Buck, I fixed the link so you can now read the entire article. (FYI, The authors of the manuscript are academic researchers, not industry groups).

Dr. Ronald, I am not sure how to say this other than mea culpa. Buck's response prompted me go to the <a href =""o… report, and indeed, the only conclusion I can reach is that they (TestBiotech, and client German Greenpeace) are deliberately and knowingly misusing the available data to reach a desired conclusion. Indeed, they are, as you originally wrote, making things up. I've become too sensitive to complaints of fundamental attribution error that I jumped on it. The irony is that when Monckton or Watts employ such methodology in AGW discussions Greenpeace is quick to deride them However, they seem to believe when the technique suits their purpose, then it's sound science. Such is the political environment that we inhabit.

I perused the TestBiotech report, following Boba's lead, and was immediately put off by the language of the report. Certain phrases and images do not—to my eyes—serve to do anything but prejudice the reader against genetic engineering.

My support of Greenpeace has, over the years, been steadfast, but it has lately grown less certain as the wholesale attack on GM crops has become more a "religious" matter than a practical, pragmatic, scientific one. I find their claims to be pro-science on the issue dubious, as it seems that the only results they label "good science" are the ones that support their anti-GM position. Certainly, there is (and should always be) room from criticism with regard to the genetic modification of crops, but what seems to be the case here is that the desired conclusion was rationalized while equally cogent points (e.g. the effect of climate change on pest range) were simply ignored. This does not bolster Greenpeace's position but rather undermines my confidence in it. This is especially frustrating to a layperson like myself, because I am not necessarily the most perspicacious student of the matter and do not have 100% confidence in my own understanding. Thus I turn to those who would, seemingly, be in a better position to explain in clear language the germane conclusions. It is depressing to think that those I consider to be champions of the earth might mislead me out of an unfortunately "religious" distrust of a field of scientific endeavor. Nothing loses my favor so quickly as ideological propaganda that serves beliefs over hard science.

Does the full paper actually provide support for any of the alternative hypothesis/es for the admitted explosive expansion of this pest's range since the 1990s? The final sentence of the abstract reads: "These additional factors may include insect biology, insect and corn phenology synchrony, reduced insecticide use, conservation tillage, soil type, glyphosate-resistant crops, insect genetics, insect pathogens, preexisting insect population densities, and climate change." This rather looks like they're throwing out a blizzard of every possible alternative, plausible or implausible (has soil type in the Midwest changed much in the last 15 years, really?). I would be more impressed if they listed just two or three factors that they or prior authors had demonstrated to be plausible contributors.

Is the Pope catholic?

Hi Pam,

A couple of clarifications: you indicate I "can now read the entire article" suggesting I had trouble doing so, which is false.

You suggest I'm confused as to whether the authors are humans or industry groups, I am not.

My main criticism was that your link was to a 3rd hand source. My second criticism was that this source is funded by companies legally obligated to profit.

It is unreasonable to expect honesty from something that lacks a human-like nervous system, emotions, and conscience. Therefore, I suggest we consider the reliability of judgments or statements on GM topics issued by a consortium funded by:
Syngenta Crop Protection, Inc.
Apex Bait Technologies, Inc.
Monsanto Company
Gowan Company
BioQuip Products
Dow AgroSciences
Pioneer Hi-Bred International
S.C. Johnson & Son, Inc.

Regarding the authors themselves, the claim they are "academic researchers" is partially true, in that most appear primarily to work at universities, although they all appear to work with at least one corporation invested in a favorable study. Such partnerships may include direct receipt of benefit, or indirect compensation and / or support.

I think it silly to overlook the natural need for the result of such support to include seeing things in a manner compatible with the corporate sponsor's interest, don't you?

By Buck Field (not verified) on 15 Jun 2012 #permalink

Buck, I am glad you read the peer reviewed article. If so, you will see that the link is to the primary article not a third hand source. The article was peer reviewed by experts in the field. Although two of the authors are affiliated with Dow and Pioneer, this is disclosed to the reviewers. The rest of the authors are research scientists with expertise in entomology and agriculture at U. Minnesota and the U. Nebraska. As professionals at respected non-profit institutions, and as scientists, they are obligated to carry out their research with the highest scientific rigor, and have the skills to do so. In contrast, the Greenpeace report was written by a single person with no research expertise in food, farming or entomology. The Greenpeace report was not peer reviewed. Essentially the Greenpeace report is an opinion piece written by a politician paid by Greenpeace.

Buck, potential conflict of interest can arise when researchers are connected to any industry. This should be a valid concern. But I think the emphasis should be on whether the research is valid (and the bona fides of the researchers themselves). Too often, people knee jerk dismiss research if even the tiniest link can be found.

The Greenpeace example is textbook. Why would you be less skeptical of research by a group that has an overt political agenda, but more skeptical of researchers with so-called "industry" ties? Both have the potential to skew the data to support their stance. That's why I suggest the need to look at the data is more important than who the researchers are affiliated with.

By Bernie Mooney (not verified) on 15 Jun 2012 #permalink

The authors of this paper may well be correct in their conclusions, but having read the whole thing, it seems to me more of a polemic than a scientific paper; I am surprised that it could get through peer review. A large portion of the paper is devoted to line-by-line criticism of the Greenpeace report, sometimes nitpicking over a single phrase that's accurate on its face but didn't make them happy.

By contrast, the positive discussion of alternate explanations is lame. Some of the "alternate explanations" don't make sense, e.g., "insect biology/genetics," by which they are just saying that there is evidence of dispersal from the West. Yeah, but why did that not happen before? Soil type: areas of heavy infestation in the Midwest and East tend to have sandy soil. Fine, but they also did forty years ago. For the reasonable hypotheses, such as increased use of glyphosate-resistant crops and no-till agriculture, they do not provide any numbers quantifying the changes in usage over time to demonstrate that the coincidence between those changes and increased infestation is temporally reasonable. Any real scientific paper would dig up the numbers. Finally, the table in the paper does list pest replacement as one of the possibilities with support from multiple references, which I understand to be essentially the Greenpeace hypothesis. So they have failed either to invalidate the hypothesis they dislike (which they admit in the introduction to be supported by some research) or to provide meaningful support for alternate hypotheses. I haven't read the Greenpeace report, but I would be surprised if it was a much sloppier job than the rebuttal.

I haven’t read the Greenpeace report, but I would be surprised if it was a much sloppier job than the rebuttal.

It is unreasonable to expect honesty from something that lacks a human-like nervous system, emotions, and conscience.

These two quotes suggest the respondents are committing fundamental attribution errors. Both respondents attribute to the researchers a disposition towards deception but fail to acknowledge the same shortcomings of the TestBiotech report. I did a quick check on Google scholar for the corresponding author on the academic work and found he has an established publishing record in the field of the topic at hand. The same check found that the TestBiotech author has a dreadful record. (The TestBiotech web page describes him as a "qualified veterinary surgeon")
The thing about meta analyses, as Dr. Ronald can confirm, is they are usually sponsored. Few journals are going to be interested in an unsolicited review, usually it is an editor who believes that advances in the field over the past years prompt such investigation. In this case, I suspect that an editor was fielding enough correspondence about the report that the editor felt an academic investigation was appropriate. And despite what one respondent demands, few meta analysis reports provide any more detail then what is in the paper. Pages in an academic journal are at a premium, unlike pages in a solely on-line medium. Where the two respondents would immediately pounce upon that and claim that some faceless corporation is the sponsor, and that the intent was to find fault. Even if that was true, finding fault in the TestBiotech report is not difficult, indeed, it is more difficult to find redeeming qualities in it. (I will say, it is well laid out from a graphic design perspective. BTW - I provided a link in the post above.) What is overlooked by our respondents is that Greenpeace sponsored the original report. They sought out a questionable entity, one whose sole purpose is denial of biotechnology field, to do the report. It is quite reasonable to conclude they (Greenpeace) knew they hired someone who will reach the conclusion they desired. Google Fred Singer and argue this is different.
I recognize the futility of attempting to correct those who read to only refute and never to understand. Nonetheless, tilting at windmills is what I do best. If anything, I would hope the respondents learn to craft better arguments, the ones they offered are poorly formed and unconvincing. And yes, I am in science. I do image analysis and quantification for developmental biologists. So I know how to read an academic paper, the protocols of journal submissions, and how to evaluate data and sources.

Oooh, fundamental attribution errors - I didn't realize that I was so stupid, thank you for pointing it out! But if we are going to start clubbing each other with such terms of art, you have offered some major straw men. For example, I did not defend the Greenpeace report, which I will not read because I ASSUME it is sloppy and biased. If I cared enough about this issue to read something supporting the pest replacement hypothesis, I would read the published peer-reviewed papers that were admitted by the rebuttal authors to do so. You also commit the fallacy of argument from authority in suggesting that because the rebuttal's first author has an "established publication record", his paper can't be sloppy and unconvincing.

If you regularly read scientific literature, you should know that this rebuttal, by supplying a list of potential alternative hypotheses with a few literature citations for each, does not thereby constitute a "meta-analysis" of the limited data supporting any of them. A meta-analysis actually combines and analyzes roughly comparable data relating to a single hypothesis and coming from more than one (published or unpublished) data set, with the sources specified. Then, some sort of quantified textual and/or graphic summation of the results, including probability values, is indeed presented.

Speaking of Fred Singer, if your argument against a not obviously implausible scientific hypothesis consists largely of insults against those whom you suspect of supporting it, you risk reminding undecided viewers of global warming and evolution denialists. That shouldn't, logically, increase their confidence in the hypothesis - it might be that your belief is correct and you're merely a lousy spokesman for it - but in practice it often will.


You observe I read "the peer reviewed article" which is fine, but then you say: "If so, you will see that the link is to the primary article not a third hand source." Obviously, whether I read a full report or not has no bearing on the content of a web link. Further, what the link currently contains has no bearing on what it had before you wrote on June 14, 2:41 pm, "Buck, I fixed the link". Thus, your reply seems an irrational lashing out against an unwelcome opinion.

Referring to people employed by a company as "affiliated with" a company suggests a desire to minimize the potential bias of researchers. Opposite characterizations were applied to GreenPeace, which normally indicates a partisan perspective.

The overly strong accusation of "making stuff up" corroborates this hypothesis.

Citing that researchers are "obligated to carry out their research with the highest scientific rigor" while ignoring legitimate concerns about obvious financial conflicts of interest further suggests an unevenness by which you may be more influenced than you are aware.

I'm willing to admit the GreenPeace report conclusions could be dead wrong due to political bias on the part of its authors. Are you willing to admit the same for corporate sponsored reports due to bias from direct or indirect economic interests?

By Buck Field (not verified) on 17 Jun 2012 #permalink

I wonder who has done more for the public good the scientists that created pesticides and other weapons like h bombs or the luddites that warned us of the dangers like rachel carson and greenpeace.

Regarding all recent comments on our article, in response to the original Greenpeace report by Then (2010). In brief, for those who have not ready either or both reports, I encourage you to do so. Our primary concerns with the Then report were a) the numerous comments and quotes by U.S. researchers taken out of context, b) a gross over-simplification of the Midwest, Bt corn/soybean cropping system, c) a lack of understanding about how this pest had previously also dispersed East, from Idaho to Nebraska (1960s), and pest biology including sensitivity to soil type, tillage, etc. thus ignoring many additional hypotheses for the recent range expansion of the pest, and d) by insisting on the "open niche" hypothesis, the primary mechanism offered was reduced predation by Corn earworm (CEW) larvae on the western bean cutworm. As we note on page 4 of our paper, there are many reasons why this hypothesis lacks logic; the primary reason being that CEW is not present, especially in high numbers in corn ears in the Midwest Corn Belt, during the time of western bean cutworm ear infestations; thus, CEW could not have "kept western bean cutworm in check" all these years. Also, the Cry1Ab corn initially grown in the Midwest (e.g, 1996-2005) during intial range expansion, was not that effective against CEW in field corn hybrids to cause the decine assumed by Then.

Indeed, Then is correct that the European corn borer populations have been greatly reduced in the Midwest Corn Belt, since 2000, but this species is not predaceous on western bean cutworm. (We published a separate paper on the decline of E. corn borer in Science in 2010).

In summary, as Pamela pointed out, we subjected our paper to peer review process; we are not aware of who may have reviewed Then's paper. I also want to point out that two of our co-authors (Rice, Steffey), although currently with industry, previoulsy spent 25 and 30+ years respectively with Iowa State Univ., and the Univ. of Illinois, having established outstanding records as Extension Entomologists with the necessary field and laboratory research experience, beneficial to contribute to our review. Much of the research taken out of context by Then included the previous research by M. Rice, while he worked at ISU; thus, it was appropriate that he defend his work for this review, regardless of his current affiliation. As we conclude in our paper, the 10 alternative factors that may also influence the eastward spread of the western bean cutworm, are not only plausible based on the Evidence to date, but also relfect alternative hypotheses for future research.

By Bill Hutchison (not verified) on 18 Jun 2012 #permalink

I think we are missing the broader picture here. Why should Greenpeace Germany be interested in US agriculture? The reason is they are trying - with great success - to stop the spread of GM crops in Europe. There is no evidence of damage in Europe - obviously, as we have minimal GM crop production. So the emphasis is on supposed problems the US. The broader picture is that, thanks to Greenpeace in Europe, we import lots of GM animal feed but do not grow it ourselves. This naturally benefits US GM crop exporters. You will find that Greenpeace agricultural activism pops up worldwide whenever US export interests are threatened: Australia for wheat and canola, Indonesia for oil palm (a vegetable oil competing for soy oil) and notably in South America as their crop and beef exports to China compete with the traditional US agricultural exports to China (this is costing the US billions of dollars). But Greenpeace USA is still avoiding anti-GM rhetoric with a focus on whales, dolphins, and the fishery policy of Japan. Simply put, Greenpeace Germany and elsewhere is in the business of US agricultural export protectionism - and is good at it.

By Dave Wood (not verified) on 19 Jun 2012 #permalink

I am an industry scientist and I totally reject your premise that you can't trust industry science. Scientists are scientists. A position in industry is a job just like a position in academics is a job. I don't see any fundamental difference in motivations that would lead to differential ethical standards. Tenure, grants, prestige, positions at better Universities leading to more money, etc. are all strong motivations for cutting corners, over-interpreting data, or outright fabrication to get a big paper. You may want to look into the rash of scientific misconduct over the last decade and see what the sources were. There were also some recent interesting studies published by the pharma industry on the reproducibility of big papers coming out of academics that make for interesting reading. But my main point isn't to contrast academic and industry science. In general, I believe that the ethical standards of all scientists are above average since we are driven by the quest for knowledge. I feel that there is a far bigger motivation for bias, fact twisting, and unethical behavior than financial rewards - faith and zealotry. These are hallmarks of extremists of all sorts including environmental extremists. When you have belief system built on the faith that your self-definition of what is "natural" is pristine and perfect, you will ignore all facts and knowledge that contradict this faith. Because at this point, it really isn't about facts and truth anymore. I believe that it is very clear that you are the most biased person in this whole thread. No study, no amount of facts, no preponderance of evidence will ever convince people like yourself. I have to hand it to Pam for trying to deal with the likes of people like you since I just don't have the patience or inclination.

I agree one of the fundamental faith based denials is not to address population and resources. I have thought about it so why should it be taboo. We need numbers based on science and once those number are published I predict there will be a firestorm. What the faith based community will not address is the need to stop population growth and stabilize and minimize planetary destruction.

It's improper headline style to end with a question mark. If you know the answer, there's no need for one. If you need one, the story is not yet ready for publication. How much is Monsanto paying National Geographic for this space?

By Douglas Watts (not verified) on 21 Jun 2012 #permalink