Debunking Denialism

Defending science against the forces of irrationality.

Tag Archives: GMOs

Anti-GMO Statistician Nassim N. Taleb Now Defends Homeopathy

Taleb on Twitter

Over a year ago, statistician Nassim Nicholas Taleb co-wrote an ignorant paper on the precautionary principle and its supposed lethal application to genetically modified foods. In it, the authors made several errors. They asserted, without evidence, that genetically modified crops are more dangerous than conventional crops and failing to consider the benefits of GM crops in preventing vitamin a deficiency, blindness and death (instead falsely comparing it to letting poor people play Russian roulette to get out of poverty).

Despite critics writing several detailed refutations, Taleb retained the irrational belief that no “intelligent comment” had been made. A person even tweeted Taleb the above article from Debunking Denialism and after spending a total of two minutes on it, Taleb declared that it was “not very intelligent”, “full of flaws” and “even downright stupid”, despite the fact that it had demolished the central claims made by the authors.

As if this was not enough, Taleb has now gone full-blown anti-science. In a couple of recent tweets, he went so far as to defend homeopathy at length. He falsely claimed that homeopathy was harmless and thus totally ignoring documented expectancy side-effects as well as the problem that people with real dangerous medical conditions (such as cancer) might avoid science-based intervention. He also completely misunderstood and mocked the psychiatric condition known as health anxiety, thereby implying that those individuals are better of with homeopathy than psychotherapy. In a final twist of incomprehensible absurdity, Taleb stated that superstitions such as homeopathy can sometimes be rational, particularly if they somehow “prevent you from listening to forecasts by economists”.

Homeopathy is not “harmless placebo”

Taleb starts out by making the common claim that homeopathy is harmless:

Taleb defends homeopathy

Homeopathy is not harmless. It is certainly pharmacologically inert on its own, but this is not the same as harmless. First, promoting homeopathy might make people with dangerous medical conditions forgo science-based treatments. Second, homeopathy can be accompanied by negative expectancy effects called nocebo effects. Third, unscrupulous alternative medicine sellers can mix in pharmacologically active substances that can have potentially dangerous health consequences. In the United States, all of this is unregulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).

Read more of this post

Anti-GMO Activist Roseanne Barr Struggles to Defend Her Claims

Roseanne's twitter page

In Anti-GMO Activist Roseanne Barr: GMOs caused Papaya Ringspot Virus, I explained how the papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) almost totally destroyed the papaya industry on Hawaii and that researchers saved it by developing a genetically modified papaya that was resistant to PRSV. I also criticized the claim made by anti-GMO activist Roseanne Barr that the genetically modified papaya caused/created PRSV. I pointed out that the virus was first reported on Oahu in 1945 (although it can be traced back at least 500 years ago to Asia) and it was not until 1998 that the genetically modified papaya was released, making her scenario impossible without a time machine.

I examined her response to my criticism in Anti-GMO Activist Roseanne Barr Goes Off the Deep End and found it deeply unsatisfying. Barr did not reply to the actual arguments I made, instead asserting that I was a Monsanto shill. She tried to spread biotechnology fear-mongering and mistrust of mainstream scientific research as well as performed several logical fallacies, including hasty generalization and the post hoc fallacy.

This post examines some of Roseanne Barr’s reactions since I published my previous posts about her claims about genetically modified papayas and the PRSV.

Roseanne Barr calls for backup

Presumably stumped by the scientific and historical facts I presented about the situation, Roseanne decided to ask her twitter followers for help:

Roseanne calls for backup

Barr is still of the mindset that I have provided her with “false science”. She calls me a “science debunker”, presumably a debunker of what she thinks is “true science” i.e. stuff that would seem to support her contrarian views on genetically modified papaya and the PRSV. It is also fascinating that, despite being criticized for it, she still asserts that I am a Monsanto shill. She has now also blocked me on Twitter.

Unwittingly, tweeting a link to my blog to her followers (over 200k at the time of this writing), she gave both my blog and the scientific facts against her a lot of exposure. Thanks for the help, Roseanne! Read more of this post

Anti-GMO Activist Roseanne Barr Goes Off the Deep End

In a previous post entitled Anti-GMO Activist Roseanne Barr: GMOs caused Papaya Ringspot Virus, I showed that the papaya ringspot virus nearly destroyed the entire papaya industry on Hawaii in the 1990s and that researchers who genetically engineered the papaya to become resistant saved the day. I also demonstrated, contrary to the beliefs of celebrity and farmer Roseanne Barr, that the papaya ringspot virus was first reported in Hawaii in 1945 and that the genetically engineered resistant papaya was released in 1998. Thus, the GMO papaya did not cause or create the virus since the virus was present decades earlier on Oahu.

I tweeted the link to the previous post to Barr and she replied. Did she respond by writing a densely referenced blog post of her own? No. Did she link to scientific research contradicting what I had said? No. Did she even bother to write a short rebuttal? No.

Instead, she posted the following three tweets:

Roseanne has a meltdown

There are a couple of things that are worth noting:

Inability to respond to criticism: Barr showed a remarkable inability to make a coherent and thoughtful response to criticism. Nowhere in her tweets does she even begin to make an argument and there are no references to the primary scientific literature. Instead, she just asserted that she was not wrong. This point is further supported by the fact that she often wrote in all caps and used multiple exclamation marks.

Hasty generalization: Barr is unable to separate the large corporations she dislikes from single individuals (unrelated to those corporations) that criticizes her claims online. She just lumps those two together, which is clear when she uses phrases like “your false science”, “that you pay for”, “you invented it” etc.

Using pseudoscientific debating rhetorics: Barr used a classic debating tactic common to proponents of pseudoscience: the shill gambit. This consists of claiming, directly or indirectly, that the arguments provided by your opponent can be dismissed because he or she is allegedly bought by large corporations ad is only making those arguments because he or she is being paid to do so (i.e. a shill).

Mistrust of mainstream scientific research: Barr attempts to undermine the conclusions of mainstream scientific research by asserting that the funding of the research that developed the transgenic papaya came from a suspect source (presumably large corporations) and labeling it as “fake science”. However, if she had read some of the papers that I cited in my previous post, such as the review by Gonsalves (1998), she would have known that the development of the transgenic papaya was not funded by large corporations, but by the USDA (U. S. Department of Agriculture) Section 406 grant program (i.e. taxpayer funded research) Read more of this post

Anti-GMO Activist Roseanne Barr: GMOs caused Papaya Ringspot Virus

Roseanne Barr is an American actress perhaps most well-known for her role in the TV-show Roseanne (1988-1997). The show tackled many important issues such as obesity, race, class, feminism, domestic violence and LGBT rights. Since then, Barr has run for President for the Peace and Freedom Party in 2012 and become a prominent social activist.

However, dark clouds started appearing on the horizon. In July of 2012, Barr asserted that people who eat at the fast food restaurant Chick-fil-A chain deserves to get cancer (see the tweet conversation below that tweet). This was in response to public statements made by Dan T. Cathy disapproving of same-sex marriage. While same-sex marriage is an important social issue to defend and opponents will find themselves on the wrong side of history, it is both ethically and scientifically dubious to say that people who get cancer deserves it. It is also ironic that Barr claims to be against racism and classism when things like poverty and discrimination being “obstacles to receiving health care services related to cancer prevention, early detection, and high-quality treatment” (American Cancer Society, 2013, p. 43) for ethnic minorities. Later the same year, she came under fire again for making transphobic remarks, presumably because of Green Party presidential candidate Jill Stein’s support for trans rights (Barr lost the Green Party nomination to Stein). Some commentators pointed out the hypocrisy of claiming to take class issues seriously at the same time as discriminating against trans women who cannot afford gender reassignment surgery.

Recently, I replied to a tweet by an anti-GMO activist calling for the ban on genetically modified foods on Hawaii by pointing out that biotechnology saved the Hawaiian papaya industry in the 1990s from almost complete collapse by engineering the papaya to be resistant to the papaya ringspot virus (PRSV). The anti-GMO activist was apparently not aware of this, so she retweeted me @TheRealRoseanne. Barr, who had apparently become an anti-GMO activist herself, tweeted this (webcite) in reply:

Barr thinks GMOs created PRSV

There is one big problem with that claim: the papaya ringspot virus was first reported on the Hawaiian island of Oahu in 1945. Transgenic papaya was not released in Hawaii until 1998.

In fact, phylogenetic analysis puts the origin of the PRSV version that infects papayas at 500 years ago (concurrent with the arrival of the papaya in the region including Indian and China). Unless multinational corporations traveled 500 years back in time, there is no way that GMOs or GM corporations caused or created PRSV.

It is very important to understand how badly the PRSV virus damaged the Hawaii papaya industry. Read more of this post

The Scientific Ignorance of Stasia Bliss – Part II: GMOs

Note: This is the second installment in an article series debunking the massive amount of pseudoscientific claims made by Stasia Bliss. It destroys her demonstrably false assertions about genetically modified foods. For more posts in this series, see the introduction post here.

Stasia Bliss' falsehoods about GMOs

In this second installment of the article series highlighting the scientific ignorance of Stasia Bliss, we will take a closer look at her claims regarding genetically modified foods. As we saw with cystic fibrosis in the first installment, this alleged master alchemist and high priestess of Qi Vesta does not grasp even the basics of the scientific background, which makes her discussion of the more complex aspects of the area laughable in its absurdity.

In her post about GMOs, Bliss ignores the fact that the microRNA observed in human serum was from non-GMO rice and that microRNAs are often conserved across species so any plant food we eat (GMOs or non-GMOs) will contain these microRNAs. She is also ignorant about the scientific background to two well-understood applications (BT and herbicide resistance) when she claims that these involve the genetic modification of microRNAs. In reality, they involve the addition of single non-microRNA genes. Additionally, she does not seem to understand that the basic structure of DNA is the same in all species, that humans have been genetically modifying foods for around 10000 years and that DNA is in everything we eat.

Furthermore, she concocts her private nightmare scenario were a gene for the BT toxin is taken up by endogenous human flora and transcribed, making us somehow “less human” despite the fact that DNA is degraded in the gastrointestinal tract and endogenous flora has no evolutionary benefit by producing a substance that harms certain insects. She finishes off with some conspiracy mongering, suggesting that eating genetically modified foods will brainwash humans to be more accepting of large corporations.

This article will take on her irrational and fear-mongering claims about genetically modified foods. Read more of this post


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