May 10, 2015

Faith in Science

Two words that don’t belong together


Would you believe a study sponsored by BP saying that oil in the ocean helps promote a healthier aquatic ecosystem by reducing the footprint of life while leaving only the more suitable species to thrive?


You would be an idiot if you did believe such a claim.



Science on Faith


There’s this notion in modern society that science is this infallible source of true knowledge and de-facto understanding. It’s something that troubles me in that so many times in history have we gotten things utterly wrong, that when the actual truth comes about, we garner this confirmation bias based solely on faith in previous scientific studies and that excludes playing devil’s advocate on the subject.


Take into consideration Galileo, who proposed a heliocentric model of the solar system. He would say “It looks like from my observations, that the earth revolves around the sun and not everything else revolving around the earth...”


Well, during that time it was an unorthodox view and countless studies prior to that contradicted Galileo’s claim. We, as a society, succumbed to confirmation bias and effectively blind faith in science. We didn’t actually know either way up until that point and were taking an educated guess which happened to rely heavily on religious faith at the time.


Still, Galileo ended up in the inquisition and all sorts of ugly things happened upon him for having the audacity to contradict the church and previous findings.


In today’s society we have the same problem.


The entire point of science is to have a healthy skepticism in all things, always looking for a better solution. But we’ve become so complacent in science that when a load of studies come out over a number of years saying one thing, we immediately try to discredit studies that begin to contradict that view.


Science is not infallible, and in fact can be (and often is) corrupted. We have faith in a lot of junk science held as de-facto truth when in reality the results and outcomes are suspicious at best. But because enough studies are produced to reinforce that confirmation bias, we as a society on the whole never bother to question it.


Heroine It is absurd to think that less than 100 years ago it was scientifically deemed “safe” to include heroin in your kids cough syrup, and we think it’s absolutely absurd today that countless studies “proved” the safety and even health benefits of smoking cigarettes. So, too, it is insane to think that it’s alright to include cocaine in your Coca-Cola, even though it was originally sold that way as a health tonic.


Science, by itself, is theoretically hardcore and supposed to get to the truth of things. On its own, science is actually pretty freaking awesome (I’m a huge fan). It is one of those things that works amazing in theory but not so much in practice because the humans who conduct science are corruptible on the whole. Companies like Monsanto set up think tanks separately who (in turn) commission studies at universities on their products. Those universities have a monetary incentive to deliver favorable results to their benefactors, and so try and skew the results as best as possible to keep their funding.


This is junk science (checkbook science), and it absolutely pollutes what should have been a pure method of determination and truth.


The problem is that there is so much of it going on that we hardly ever question the validity or bias of these studies and they collect over the years into a body of corrupted studies that are taken on faith as “proof” something is safe or not safe. Science itself is more credible than faith only because it demands that you test it out to make sure somebody isn’t bullshitting you. Therein lies the problem, in that most people who rely entirely on the faith of science are also in no position to actually ask questions or test it.


So they (generally) just take anyone with a lab coat at face value if there are enough of them asserting the same thing. I mean, if the general consensus among scholars is that the universe revolves around the Earth, then who the hell am I  to question it? Better yet... who are you to come along and question people smarter than us? You must be some sort of whackadoodle! Just trying to fear monger!


It isn’t about science, per se, but more about winning public opinion regardless of the validity of the scientific findings. You can make anything sound scientific if you run a study at a university, and pay enough “independent” studies to give you the results you are looking for. And when you put together a large enough body of material to support your pre-conceived bias, you create this thinking in the population which assumes it’s all valid and the final word.


Another good example is the Fracking industry insisting that their methods are perfectly safe, despite never revealing what chemicals they are using to frack with, going to court and insisting it is a trade secret, and the EPA (yes, the Environmental Protection Agency) insisting that while they have no idea what the hell is in fracking fluid, they are assured it is perfectly safe and the fracking industry is taking the highest precautions for public safety possible. Because the fracking industry promised to regulate itself...





People setting their tap water on fire, breaking out in rashes, and entire towns experiencing earthquakes. It was only until California (I believe) forced the issue, that we actually found out how ridiculously toxic fracking fluids are and how badly they destroy the environment and our water supply.


Up until that point, everyone in the “industry” and who we should have been able to trust (local and national government, along with even the EPA) were telling us it’s perfectly fine and not to worry. Anyone who was saying there is a serious reason to worry was scoffed at and treated like they were conspiracy lunatics until it actually came out that those people weren’t as batshit as people thought.


Would you drink that water? The short answer is “Hell no...”


Hindsight is 20/20 in a lot of things, and if we look at our own history we know full well that when there is a monetary incentive for something to be “safe”, then there is no shortage of studies that come out to reinforce that predefined notion. It all goes well until the shit seriously hits the fan and people get sick, die or worse... then those same companies say “Oops...” play the plausible deniability card, and settle out of court for a few billion dollars (maybe a hundred bucks to everyone in the class action lawsuit) then call it a day. Considering they made hundreds of billions of dollars up until that point, it’s just cheaper to screw people over and pay a fine than it is to do the right thing from the start.


Corporations like Monsanto, whose GMO-agriculture inventions (Bt corn; Roundup herbicide) now threaten human and environmental health alike, have moved beyond the stage of simply denying or minimizing the science revealing the harm being done by their products (there is too much science now to maintain this strategy!); rather, they are now investing in the burgeoning, multi-billion dollar industry practice known as "check book" science: find willing researchers, research institutions, and journals to create and publish information favorable to the company writing the check, and you're in business.


It is no surprise, then, that Monsanto funded studies prove how safe Monsanto products are.



Monsanto-Funded "Research" Reveals Monsanto Products Are Safe (Surprising Nobody)


A review on glyphosate (Monsanto's invention and key ingredient in their Roundup herbicide formulation) titled, "Developmental and reproductive outcomes in humans and animals after glyphosate exposure: a critical analysis," was published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health late last year which claimed the following: "[T]he available literature shows no solid evidence linking glyphosate exposure to adverse developmental or reproductive effects at environmentally realistic exposure concentrations."


The review authors included a thank you to Monsanto for funding their work: "The authors acknowledge the Monsanto company for funding and for providing its unpublished glyphosate and surfactant toxicity study reports."


It is of course worth mentioning that when an actual independent study came about that showed a link to cancer with GMOs and Roundup, the mainstream went berserk citing “mountains of evidence” to the contrary. Which isn’t surprising since that mountain of evidence was held up primarily from checkbook science practices.


I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be safe than sorry and err on the side of “Fuck GMOs and Roundup until we actually know legitimately”





Their report (and others) aimed to discredit the work of a French research group at the Institut Jaques Monod who published five articles indicating glyphosate’s wide-ranging potential for environmental and human harm. When the study came out with the cancerous rats, plenty of checkbook science studies came about to discredit it as well. Quantity over quality of research.


In their newly published rebuttal titled, "LETTER TO THE EDITOR: TOXICITY OF ROUNDUP AND GLYPHOSATE," the French research team pointed out several serious flaws in the Monsanto-friendly scientist’s criticism of their work.

The first major flaw was their total disregard for the scientific context within which their glyphosate research was performed, namely, the DNA-damaging and carcinogenic potential of the chemical.


The second flaw was the claim that their results were "not environmentally relevant" (repeated 5 times in the article), despite the fact that the French researchers were able to demonstrate toxicity in 100% of the individual cells at short exposure time below the usage concentration (20 mM) of the herbicide in present agricultural applications.


The French team went on to further dismantle the legitimacy of the Monsanto funded study and their assertions, but what you end up believing is the “official” study from Monsanto (which was funded by them) and wind up disregarding the actual science going on by independent researchers not affiliated or funded by Monsanto.



"Therefore, regarding the considerable amount of glyphosate-based product sprayed worldwide, the concentration of Roundup in every single micro droplet is far above the threshold concentration that would activate the cell cycle checkpoint. (2) The effects we demonstrate were obtained by a short exposure time (minutes) of the cells to glyphosate-based products, and nothing excludes that prolonged exposure to lower doses may also have effects. Since glyphosate is commonly found present in drinking water in many countries, low doses with long exposure by ingestion are a fact. The consequences of this permanent long term exposure remain to be further investigated but cannot just be ignored."



The problem is that when you have a boat load of money, this idea of checkbook science is ideal. You can effectively flood the scientific community with “independent” research to make your products look harmless. Because you are getting quantity over quality of research, and it comes with a confirmation bias and hefty funding, it may as well be discarded when taking into account whether or not Roundup and GMOs are safe.


But people don’t disregard those mountains of studies that are corrupted, and instead because they see the word “science” attached to it automatically take it as gospel.


And then independent teams (our version of Galileo) come along and say “No, it’s not what you believe but something different” and we go collectively apeshit because people are demanding labeling of GMO products and to stop using Roundup. We effectively relegate those people to the fringe and pretend like they’re relying on pseudoscience to make their minds up.


The irony of the situation is that it is the otherwise science advocates and public who blindly have faith in checkbook science that are swallowing the pseudoscience they swear is real science.


Nobody bothers to ask: Hey, did any of those countless studies happen to be funded by the very companies that have a stake in the outcome being in their favor?






In the real world, we call that conflict of interest and it’s usually the thing that invalidates everything, including “scientific findings”. But I’m not entirely worried about it because somebody had enough common sense to build a giant Nintendo Wii into the side of a mountain and catalogue all the seeds in the world just in case humanity doesn’t come to its senses in time. Otherwise known as the global seed vault in Norway. So I’m glad not everyone is totally convinced that the shit isn’t going the hit the fan.


In my own little world here, I simply avoid GMO stuff whenever possible. It’s a personal choice and no more destructive or silly than an Orthodox Jew demanding to eat only Kosher foods and no Pork or a Vegan insisting on Gluten Free whatever. I mean, an entire food industry exists around Kosher foods and nobody would ever even think to ridicule or berate a Jew for their choices.


So If I choose not to eat GMOs of my own accord, and I ask to have it labeled on my foods so I can make that personal choice, then it’s not ridiculous or ill-informed. Not after understanding that most of the studies saying it’s safe come out of that checkbook science sector. If I am against Fracking because I’m not a fan of flaming tapwater, rashes and earthquakes, then so be it... it is a legitimate reason. I don’t believe checkbook science because it isn’t real science at all but a wolf in sheep’s clothing used to lull a panicky public back into docility and acceptance.


Ultimately though, the question is whether I actually trust a major international corporation with near monopolistic control over the world’s food supply. Patenting the very food we rely on while doing everything they can in order to phase out any foods that are not their own devising and proprietary.


Of course, the short answer to that is “Hell no!” once again because you’d have to be a complete idiot to let a single company do that. So the whole “anti-GMO” thinking is just as much a matter of principle to me as it is the inability to actually know how safe it is.


To a lesser extent, even the so called “anti-vaxxers” have a legitimate point. Not that I condone leaving your kids unvaccinated, but in a way they do make a compelling point (even if inadvertently). The underlying issue with vaccination is that there is legitimate concern that at the rate things are mutating and becoming immune to our vaccines, that we are in fact forcing nature to create ever more powerful bugs that cannot be cured. The general consensus is that at some point (maybe soon) it would have outpaced our ability to vaccinate against it.





Then we’re pretty much screwed as some super-bug version of the common cold damned near wipes out humanity. So there is a bit of truth to either side of the coin, despite what checkbook science will tell you.


Remember, it is the same checkbook science that published numerous studies about the health benefits of smoking cigarettes and how there were no discernible links to the cigarettes being cancerous. If you hire enough folks in lab coats and they make it all official sounding, the public by and large will believe it.


Do I have faith in science?


Absolutely not. Faith implies an unreasonable belief without proof, and that should always be relegated to religion. If you have blind faith in science, you are effectively sciencing wrong. You are in effect treating science like a religion, where just because a bunch of people say it’s true you believe it without questioning (whether you actually have any idea or not whether it’s true).


I do, however, have a healthy respect for science and the scientific method.


Independent research that is not tied to corporate biased funding has my attention. It doesn’t have my blind faith, and I will use my own judgement to decide whether it’s credible or not. I will always ask questions and play devil’s advocate. Because that’s how science is actually done, and it requires critical thinking skills.


Do I believe aspartame, sucralose and similar artificial sweeteners cause issues? You bet your ass I do. If it says phenylketonurics on the package I avoid it like the plague. It is from personal experience that any product that says that on the back gives me headaches and ADHD symptoms. I can say that from personal experience and so I have every right to know when it’s in food and drink, so I can choose to avoid it.


When it comes to GMO foods, I reserve the right to know when it’s in my food and drink also so I can make up my own mind. Now, if that makes companies scared because the general public will reject GMO foods, then maybe they shouldn’t be fucking using them to begin with?


If all the “science” and studies done about GMOs have by and large been checkbook science, then as far as I am concerned there are no credible studies done on the effects of GMO and long term toxicity. If most of the studies for Roundup have by and large been checkbook science, then there are no credible studies on it worth paying attention to. If the studies for artificial sweeteners are by and large checkbook science, then there are no credible studies on their effects.


The whole lot of it is invalidated simply because of conflict of interest.