Saturday, February 27, 2016

Into the belly of the beast. My day at an integrative health conference.

Displaying DSC05506.JPGStephan Neidenbach -  

Edited by - Nandu Nandini

"You here? Smells like woo and essential oils."

"It smells like kombucha or something."

Those were the texts I received from my two fellow science communicators as we all arrived separately at HealthFest 2016, an integrative health conference in Washington, DC. As I first entered the vendor room, I immediately realized that I was surrounded by pseudoscience. Acupuncture, reiki, chiropractic, healing stones, holistic dentistry, and also college recruiters for bachelors and masters degrees in pseudoscience. That pseudoscience stuff you read about online and think that people surely cannot believe in this, turns out they really do. The event was also graced by the transcendental meditation cult recruiters in the back corner.

As I collected the obligatory free pens, I noticed something odd about many of the vendors selling wares. I was expecting this would be like an arts and crafts festival I suppose, with homemade chakra stones and other merchandise. What I saw was a room full of victims of multi level marketing schemes. Essential oils, magic rub-on pain relievers, and organic versions of Herbalife. These were people suckered into buying products enabling a pharaoh somewhere to become richer regardless of whether or not any of these products ended up with a consumer.

But I was not there to engage the vendors, I was there to listen to the speakers. Specifically I was intrigued by the history of Charles Gant, a medical doctor and naturopath who was there to capitalize off of the Flint water crisis.

The workshop he held there was called, "Flint's Lead Poisoned Residents CAN Heal". I walked into the room and was fairly surprised to see that attendance was sparse, maybe about five people including myself. QuackWatch reports that Gant left New York for having his license suspended because he, "practiced the profession with negligence on more than one occasion, practiced his profession fraudulently, engaged in conduct which evidences moral unfitness, filed false reports, received consideration from a third party for patient referrals and failed to maintain accurate records." He now practices the pseudoscience of naturopathy in Washington, DC.

I purposefully sat in the front row so that there would be no doubt I was recording video of the entire session. In front of the "audience" was an elderly man who was so out of shape that he seemed out of breath just leaning onto a counter. If this is what worrying about chemicals instead of counting calories does to you, grab me a calculator. His lecture started late because of the lack of people in attendance. He kept waiting and made comments about how if everyone in the vendor room realized that 1/3, 1/4, 20% (the amount kept changing) of them were lead poisoned, there would be a stampede to get in.

Like many woo practitioners, he relied on blending fact with fiction. He explained why lead is a problem - Old infrastructures, especially in inner city areas, combined with some poor government decision making. But then he ventured into more familiar pseudoscience territory; the idea that even minute amounts of any substance is dangerously high, that even the amount of lead exposure deemed safe by every major scientific organization on the planet was giving children autism, depression, ADHD, and learning disabilities.  "I assume there is a connection, even if there is not," he states in a way that essentially sums up every crank out there. His solution to this lead poisoning epidemic appears to be some type of natural genetic modification. He believes that alternative medicine will be found soon to turn genetic switches on and off to prevent lead contamination in the body. His 10-day detox therapy includes colloidal silver (for turning into Papa Smurf), IV therapies (because vaccines needles are bad, but pumping your blood full of vitamin C is good), and oxygen therapy (for when the risk of death is worth getting rid of "toxins").
I would say that my favorite moment was this quote, "For thousands of years it was thought that.... the good spirits from the volcanic water would take the evil spirits out of the body. And in fact even though they had the terminology a little wrong, they were right! The hot sulfur water causes us to sweat, and sulfur penetrates the surface of our bodies and binds to toxins and out they come." Somehow he managed to actually prove the skeptics were correct. We have been saying that toxins are the new spirits for years!

Next up to speak was a holistic dentist. Dr. Terry Victor offers services for patients who fear chemicals in the DC area. Profiting off of fluoride fear-mongering, Dr. Victor told us with a straight face that he is proud of a certain chart in his office. He apparently explains to his patients with this visual how meridians from ancient Chinese medicine relate to their teeth. The meridians he is talking about comes from acupuncture, allowing "chi" to flow through the body. I get nervous enough as it is thinking about dentists and needles, the last thing I want is one who practices acupuncture. Especially one who says that a patient with prostate cancer has a tooth connected to it through these meridians. I promise you, I was sober when I wrote that sentence.

Unlike Gant, Victor opened up to questions from potential patients. One young lady who was prescribed specific things by her legitimate dentist, was basically told to stop what she was doing by Victor. Victor compared the minute amounts of fluoride we get for our teeth to the high levels detected naturally in Chinese groundwater. Steven Novella explains the problem. "Fluoridated water in the US has the same level of fluoride as the control or low fluoride groups in the China studies reviewed in the recent article, and the negative association with IQ was only found where fluoride levels were much higher – generally above EPA limits."

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Of course one of the biggest problems with pseudoscience dentists are filling removals. Like mercury in vaccines, they incite fear about mercury in amalgam fillings. Patients seek out these doctors to have their fillings removed, and new ones placed in. "But composite fillings have their own problems. They cost more than amalgam and often are not covered by insurance. Numerous studies have shown that amalgam significantly outlasts composite, while composite causes more secondary cavities and may contribute to plaque formation." This might be a nice circle of profit for these dentists, as this one spoke at length on tooth removal and what he uses to replace them. I wish I had access to data comparing cavity rates between holistic dentists and good dentists. He credits the Internet for allowing people to "do their research" and seek him out for filling removal.

Opposing alcohol based mouthwash and fluoride, what is left to put in your mouth? Oil pulling. This is where a person swishes something like sesame oil around in their mouth for 10 - 20 minutes. The term pulling is used to make it sound like "toxins" (evil spirits) are being pulled from your mouth. Swishing liquid around your mouth for that amount of time is probably going to remove some food particles from your mouth, and it may have a small role to play in oral hygiene in some developing parts of the world. People in developing parts of the world do swish water around in their mouth and spit it out after every meal, thus ensuring some food particles and sugars are washed off the teeth. But, again, as Steven Novella concludes, "Oil pulling for general health or any other indication is pure pseudoscience. Detox claims are based on nothing, as all detox claims are. There is no evidence or plausible rationale to recommend oil pulling for any indication other than as a poor substitute for oral care."

Victor ends the workshop with something that made my jaw hit the floor. He talked about a study that showed how the more teeth you have missing, the shorter your expected lifespan. Talk about a case of correlation vs. causation. Did he mean people with poor hygiene are very likely to live shorter lives and that is the only cause? Forget vaccines and other forms of modern medicine that can ensure longer lives. We just need to make sure those missing teeth get filled in everywhere. He went on some crazy rant about how the missing teeth causes you to not begin the digestion process properly leading to all sorts of health problems. Of course most people in the developed world with missing teeth are probably going to get fake ones placed in. The whole topic reeked of kombucha and essential oils.

Two people made that day worth it. The first was blogger Jenny Spitter who brought her son along with her. When her son asked her if everything Gant was saying was true, she didn't immediately say it was all BS like many skeptics would. She insisted on going home and looking for science and evidence based sources of information so he could come to his own conclusion. Pretty open minded for the author of, "Stop Telling Me I'm Poisoning My Kids."

The other was Ilana Seidel, an Integrative Medicine Family Medicine physician currently working at the Washington, D.C. Veteran Affairs Medical Center and the GW Center for Integrative Medicine, who approached my other science pal after the dentist's office manager mentioned his recording of the talk. "As an undergraduate, she shared Reiki with HIV+ patients at St. Luke’s Hospital in New York." With my We Love GMOs and Vaccines shirt I admitted I was a skeptic, but not that I was going to write about the event. At the time I wasn't sure if I was going to or not. We don't plan on actually distributing the audio and video at this point. But we had a very pleasant conversation, and she was not at all hostile about me not believing a word of any of the talk. I told her that in some cases placebos can be beneficial, and she tried to convince us that if we exercised or got massages we were already practicing integrative health. We left essentially agreeing to disagree, but on that day I came to a conclusion . These people are not lying. They are delusional. Vani Hari is not a liar. The dentist is not a liar. Gant is not a liar. Andrew Wakefield is not a liar. They actually believe all of this. You can be honest and wrong, which is something a lot of skeptics don't get. If this was all some giant scam set up with the purpose to deceive, they would have been hostile to us being there. She wanted to "save us" like a missionary going door to door. I am sure she just believed we were full of evil spirits, I mean toxins, that needed to be pulled out.

Into The Belly Of The Beast - My Day At An Integrative Health Conference by Stephan Neidenbach is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Anti Biotechnology Groups Blame Organic Pesticide Company For Microcephaly in Brazil

Edited by Nandu Nandini
By Stephan Neidenbach -

No sooner than it was announced that transgenic mosquitoes and recombinant vaccines could help battle microcephaly in Brazil, conspiracy theorists drew out their arsenal and went into full battle mode. They immediately started grasping at straws to blame the problem on any bogeyman they could invent. One such conspiracy theory manufactured managed to make its way to Tech Times. In an insult to journalists everywhere, Alyssa Navarro seemed to not have spend any additional time in researching facts before regurgitating the internet myths. Much of the article seems pilfered from GM Watch.

Navarro goes on to blame the problem on a larvicide she claimed was manufactured by a company owned by Monsanto. At some point the headline was changed to cover their tracks, but the original is still visible in the URL of the article. Monsanto would eventually complain, because they are in no way associated with the company that manufactures the larvicide, and later Navarro followed up with another article. Unfortunately her old one is still out there, with no link to to the new one, nor was there ever an admission of her mistake.

The icing of the cake with all of these anti biotech and organic industry front groups running with the Monsanto/microcephaly conspiracy - The larvicide they claim is manufactured by Monsanto, is actually made by a large organic pesticide producer - Sumitomo. Sumitomo that makes the larvicide (the larvicide is itself not organic though), owns Valent and MGK. In fact, Hank Campbell writing for Genetic Literacy mentioned these companies back in 2014.

Sumitomo is also a major Japanese importer of organic sugar from Brazil used for energy and fertilizer production. Although they can get sugarcane locally in Asian countries, they choose to go organic and increase their carbon footprint by importing it from another continent. 

I hope these organic industry front groups learn their lesson for the future. Do a "little research"; a term they love to use,  before manufacturing fear, uncertainty, and doubt. 

For more on the conspiracies about the Zika virus, check out Dr. Gorski's piece here:

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This work by Stephan Neidenbach is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Friday, February 12, 2016

Who is Jonathan Matthews, and why is he trying to starve the planet?

By Stephan Neidenbach
Edited By Nandu Nandini

There is one organic industry "front group" I check in on more than any other, GM Watch. The organization regularly publishes up to date "news" and opinions about biotech crops. They always seem to be one of the first to publish articles about the latest crank studies that claim to show the benefits of eating like our ancestors did and to demonize modern agriculture. They also serve another purpose, to instantly smear any person or organization that seeks to debunk the myths spread by the primitive food movement, almost in real time.

Plan on refuting a study that was designed to scare mothers into eating organic food? They will just call you unscientific. Are you a plant scientist studying the effects of different colored lights, but like to volunteer some of your own time debunking myths? They will accuse you of subterfuge and of running a network of hooded figures working for corporations. They are anti-vaccine and are quick to even call crops free of corporate control, vapor ware.

Their hatred of biotechnology knows no bounds. Recently they joined the trend of blaming the effects of the Zika virus on anything they could rather than the mosquitoes actually causing it, essentially because they oppose any type of solution that might come from biotech companies. Limit the population of the number one animal killer of humans? Encourage the production of a recombinant vaccine to immunize populations? No, they just want everyone to put fish in all standing water. A solution that may work in one small village in El Salvador, but can and has lead to fears of a new invasive species elsewhere. As typical anti technology extremists, it is all or nothing with GM Watch. Scientists call for a blend of methods but GM Watch highlights one method as an example and make it seem like that it is all the world needs.

According to the GM Watch page, started in 1998, it is currently run by Jonathan Matthews and Claire Robinson. Claire Robinson is well known in the anti-biotechnology world. She is currently on the board of advisers of GMO Free USA, a "research" director at Earth Open Source, and part of a dangerous mind control cult called transcendental meditation. The connection with TM is most interesting, because John Fagan was "crowned Raja with Global Responsibility for Food Purity and Safety and for Healthy Invincibility". Fagan just happens to be a founder of Genetic ID (though no longer affiliated), which has a vested interest in demonizing biotech crops to stay in business. According to the transcendental meditation belief system, the removal of biotech crops from the world food supply will bring about world peace and invincibility for all mankind. Fagan helped kickstart a large "grassroots" campaign against biotech crops when he traveled to England not long before GM Watch was started. Their political party, Natural Law, worked hard to connect all biotech crops with pesticides in the minds of the people there. Even though the first one on the market, a tomato, had no connection with pesticide traits. Their web page also describes how one of the editors, presumably Robinson or Matthews, received money for work done with the Institute for Responsible Technology, another NGO from the same cult.

If Transcendental Meditation sounds familiar, it is because it has made the headlines many times over the decades. The Beatles flirted with the movement a bit, until John and George finally got fed up when the cult founder was accused of making unwanted advances towards Mia Farrow. The organization would go on to be sued in the 80s by its ex members. Patricia Ryan, daughter of the late Senator Leo Ryan, even equated TM to cults like the one started by Rev. Jim Jones whose followers committed mass suicide in the 1970s and killed her father. More recently Fagan and Robinson's cult would cost tax payers $142,000 when their unvaccinated adherents brought measles back from India. Accusations against the cult also includes the exacerbation of existing psychological problems, leading to a murder on their campus in Fairfield. 

Not much is known about Jonathan Matthews himself. A resident of Norwich, England he is an administrator of an English language school there. A startling thought considering his willingness to maliciously attack fellow educators. After several people on Twitter mounted an organized attack on my own personal life, he offered them a pedestal on which to stand, so they could claim they were somehow the ones victimized. Matthews was largely responsible for a massive smear campaign against Mark Lynas for the simple crime of the latter changing his mind on biotechnology when presented with evidence, and insinuated that Lynas' apology speech was but a PR ploy. I asked Mark about his experiences with GM Watch, and he had this to say, "GM Watch is at the extreme end even of the anti-GMO movement. They specialize in smear tactics, innuendo and character assassination. They're not part of any conversation I want to be involved in. The whole site reeks of hatred."

Hatred seems to be an accurate word to use. GM Watch is part of a large network of web pages that use similar techniques to push their agenda. Spin Watch, which Claire Robinson also writes for, seems to have "a keen interest in the Jews", and is very anti immigration

For someone who seems to distrust any money that originates from corporations, and who goes as far as demonizing the wonderful Gates Foundation, he seems to have no problem accepting corporate money for his own organization. The web page proudly claims to have received funding from the JMG Foundation, created from the estate of the late billionaire tycoon James Goldsmith. It should come as no surprise to anyone then that Matthews hangs onto every word uttered by the son of James Goldsmith, millionaire Zac. Zac Goldmisth has served as editor of The Ecologist and has been promoting the primitive food movement campaigns for quite some time. Recently The Ecologist faced criticism for promoting myths about the zika virus and the transgenic mosquitoes set as a solution. This connection explains their lack of guilt. 

Any further doubt about their industry ties are laid to rest considering they receive money from the Sheepdrove Trust. The Sheepdrove Organic Farm and Eco Conference Center was started in the 1990s, with the conference center opening in 2004 featuring anti GMO Prince Charles.

Matthews and Robinson have also received funding from the Isvara Foundation. Their web page was set up by The World Development Movement. Under their new name Global Justice Now, this is the organization that recently issued a report demonizing the Gates Foundation for promoting both vaccines and GMOs. The duo fail to state this conflict of interest whenever they criticize the Gates Foundation. The fact that Matthews and Robinson are connected to tractor companies,  the Isvara Foundation is a product of Ayman Jallad, is just the icing on the cake that alludes to vested interests. Herbicide and insect tolerant crops allow for the reduction of tilling the soil and chemical applications. Something Big Tractor might not be very happy with? 

Is Jonathan Matthews another brainwashed victim of Transcendental Meditation? Is he being bankrolled by the billion dollar organic industry to help them sell fear? Does he just want to watch the developing world die of malnutrition from his home in well fed England? I sent him an email with some questions, but he has so far refused to comment. All said and done, he is probably like everyone in the anti biotechnology movement -  fighting against human development.
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This work by Stephan Neidenbach is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.

Saturday, February 6, 2016

I Love GMOs (And So Can You!): What I Learned In Two Years

Stephan Neidenbach - @welovegv
Edited by Nandu Nandini @nandunandini11

"Inconsistent views regarding the use of transgenic crop technology in Europe and elsewhere might have been avoided had more people received a better education in biological science." 

In January of 2014 I contracted mononucleosis at the age of 34. Homebound for two weeks, I spent a lot of time on the internet. I came across the Cult of Dusty channel on Youtube, and enjoyed a lot of Dusty Smith’s videos. One in particular stood out, because the title was something I had never heard of before. I Love Monsanto? (NSFW), At that time I had never heard of Monsanto. I had heard about the genetic engineering of crops. I was teaching in a rural school district and there were crops growing in fields across the street from the school. I was intrigued. I had heard that apparently some misinformed urban elites believed that farmers were purposefully poisoning their own communities and children by purchasing genetically engineered seed from this company, rather than seed created by other methods, namely those created by being drenched with radiation and toxic chemicals. Many of the arguments that Dusty refuted in his video sounded a bit like the ones I had seen before about vaccines. Hence a Facebook page called We F***ing Love GMOs and Vaccines was born.

Not long after starting the page a biology student in Russia began following the page and we communicated a bit. I was quite honored to have someone much more knowledgeable on the subject than me take the page seriously. Soon she was followed by farmers and scientists all over the world. I never tried to take myself too seriously. The early days of the page pretty much involved just the posting of screenshots of stupid things anti science people were saying. The first time I created a graphic responding to the argument, “Why are they labeled/banned in so many countries” I used the argument that homosexuality was banned in even more countries. Political, religious, and economic decisions made by other nations should not influence the acceptance of science or decision making in my country. Someone got really offended by that post and took it upon themselves to start emailing my principal. Unfortunately for the anti science cults, public school teachers (as government employees) are free to speak on matters of the public interest. This means that a teacher in Delaware can speak out against GMOs and vaccines, and this Maryland teacher can speak out in favor of them, without fear of losing our jobs. I actually have more freedom to speak my mind than if I actually did work for the Monsanto company.

Next I needed to find a niche. There were already plenty of web pages, like Biofortified, that were focusing on the science. Having had a background in history, culture always fascinated me. I wanted to know and understand why so many people fear these crops. I found my answer in several books by Robert Paarlberg, Sheila Jasanoff, and Matin Qaim.

"It costs rich countries little when a new technology not needed or wanted by most citizens is driven off the market through stifling regulation. But what if the same stifling regulations then come to be adopted in poor countries with unmet farm-production and food-consumption needs?"

In Starved For Science, Paarlberg explains and discusses the many reasons given as to why rich countries fear genetic engineering when applied to agriculture. 

  1. New risks to health and the environment are not logical explanations because no risks have yet been found. 
  2. Current biotech traits on the market do not pose any risks that do not apply also to other breeding methods. 
  3. That drought resistance does pose a threat to the environment because that is a trait that could help wild relatives of certain crops survive. As that trait is also being developed using other breeding methods, it is irrelevant to mention as a risk to genetic engineering ( a point that I would later learn from Matin Qaim)  
  4. Simply disliking genetic engineering (the not natural argument) was also not enough of an explanation either. 
Furthermore genetic engineering is hailed as an achievement in modern medicine. Paarlberg reiterates that the comparison to medicine goes even further because all the other complaints also apply equally to medicine. Patents, giant corporations, the high cost of products, and political lobbying are all used by conspiracy theorists to argue against Big Pharma, yet only with genetically engineered crops are these arguments so accepted by the general public. Paarlberg concludes that there is only one explanation, consumers in rich countries do not perceive a direct benefit to themselves. Without a reason to say “this product makes my own personal life better” primitive food zealots are able to create imaginary risks in the minds of enough consumers. Why else would pharmaceutical products, that can spend five minutes listing side effects in a commercial promoting their products made with the same technology, not quite face this public image problem on the same scale?

So if consumers in rich countries are inherently programmed to distrust genetic engineering when applied to seed breeding, why is this seen so much more in the United States than in Europe? In Paarlberg’s take on the overconsumption of food and fuel, The United States of Excess, he makes some excellent points on the differences of the two cultures. One huge difference is how the role of the government and individual responsibility is viewed and shaped. Europeans are much more likely than Americans to believe the government has a duty to protect people from themselves, and to mistrust corporations. Americans are much more likely to believe that the government doesn't know what is best for people and that corporations should also be responsible for their own actions. Monsanto, Americans would say, doesn’t want to end up in court facing multi billion dollar lawsuits, hence they are unlikely to put out a product they believe to be harmful. He cites a Pew poll from 2011 showing that 36 percent of Americans believe they have little control of their own fate compared to 57 percent of French and 72 percent of Germans. Even the average American's views on science vary from their counterparts across the ocean. 

The National Science Foundation, Paarlberg explains, found that 90 percent of Americans think that science and technology makes their lives better. The European Union ? Only 66 percent. Neither I nor Paarlberg, are necessarily stating that the American outlook is better. These same cultural norms lead Americans to much more likely fight the government regulating caloric intake and also to assume that they can burn all the fossil fuels they want because science and technology will solve global warming. But, unlike in most of Europe, American women are free to choose what to do with their own bodies. Surrogacy is completely legal in America, as is the freedom to terminate a pregnancy.

"Already by the mid-twentieth century, experts of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers had begun to insist on the objectivity of the cost-benefit analyses with which they justified flood-control projects. Whereas British actuaries and French railroad engineers admitted that their cost-benefit calculations reflected professional judgments, Corps engineers stoutly maintained that their assessments were not so compromised: their numbers were not subjective estimates but reliable representations of reality."

Sheila Jasanoff expands on this in Designs on Nature: Science and Democracy in the United States and Europe. Whereas Paarlberg is clearly pro GMO in all of his writing, Jasanoff writes in an unbiased fashion to examine why biotechnology is viewed so differently in the United States, Great Britain, and Germany. She paints the picture of what the primitive food movement probably saw as a perfect storm of events. US scientists themselves in the 1970s decided they wanted to gain the trust of the public and held an open door conference inviting the press to witness and report on how they would ensure the safety of these new experiments, without any government intervention needed to tell them to do so. Precautionary measures were put in place voluntarily that would assign risks based on what was being done. Innocuous cloning experiments, for example, were classified as being of lower risk with less containment required. Experiments with bacteria at the time, fearing escape into the general populace causing outbreaks (thanks Michael Crichton!), were required to be genetically engineered to not survive outside the lab. The  precedent was set and The United States would make decisions based on the product, not the process. Follow this up with 12 years of Reagan and Bush being in favor of deregulation when the first crops were coming to market, and one can easily see how this success played out. Great Britain would end up setting up  government committees to make such decisions, setting a precedent that the process itself required government regulation from the beginning. 

Suffice it to say when this same government failed at handling the mad cow scare adequately, they faced a highly critical public with regards to their decisions on the food supply. Many Germans still connected science with a fascist government that considered its citizens to be subjects of the state with a duty of subjugating nature. The Green party formed an early alliance with Social Democrats to create a committee with the explicit purpose to examine the “prospects and risks of genetic engineering”. The Greens would insist that before R&D could even take place, alternative methods would have to be considered first for any field, not just agriculture. When German protesters took this to the next level and protested a planned factory that was being built to develop genetically engineered insulin, the courts agreed and ruled that the German government had a duty to create laws controlling risks. “This conception of a conscientious state has no exact parallel in Anglo-American law,” Jasanoff explains.

"Many in the wider public are deeply persuaded that GMOs are evil. This misconception builds on limited scientific understanding, false assumptions, and deliberate deception by anti-GMO activists, aided by the mass media and various groups of stakeholders who benefit from this opposition."

With these answers in hand, I had to ask myself where were the defenders of this technology? Why are people so quick to defend the consensus on vaccines, evolution, and climate change? The answer would come to me from Matin Qaim in Genetically Modified Crops and Agricultural Development. To put it simply, all it takes for pseudoscience to win, is for science communicators to do nothing. There is an alliance of non-governmental organizations, the mainstream media, food industries, pesticide manufacturers and politicians that have vested interests in demonizing biotechnology. Is this a vast conspiracy where heads of all these groups meet regularly to discuss how they are going to smear pro GMO scientists? Not at all. A large portion of these groups need to do nothing more than just sit back and watch it all unfold. 

The organic food industry has an understandable financial interest in demonizing biotechnology. Biotech crops are not allowed in organic farming, and if they can convince people it is for their safety, they can boost sales. Considering how many conventional food companies now own organic food subsidiaries, and sell organic versions of their conventional products, they too don’t have much to lose when pseudoscience is allowed to propagate. Grocery stores and food producers may have a vested interest in fighting labeling so they don’t have to put warning stickers on their products, but they sure profit off of the fear mongering done by the anti GMO movement. 

A great Twitter conversation with organic farmer Rob Wallbridge, whom I love to discuss economics with, made me realize how much of the organic premium that people pay goes to the companies, not the farmers. When pesticide traits hit the market, competing pesticide manufacturers were threatened. DuPont was even caught donating money to an anti Monsanto organization. Europe held most of the market share on pesticides for many years and were easily motivated to sit back and do nothing while an American product was taken through the wringer. There are people in Bangladesh who firmly believe their own pesticide companies are working with the anti-GMO movement there to fight the acceptance of Bt brinjal. Politicians, like Alaska Senator Murkowski, will be extremely eager to jump on the anti GMO bandwagon when they feel it competes with a local industry. She might only be targeting salmon, but by saying transgenic salmon requires additional regulation because of the nature of how it was bred, she is feeding right into the process based regulation NGOs are seeking. 

Furthermore media outlets themselves are rarely of any help. Which is more likely to get an audience’s attention ? Images of rats suffering from giant tumors, or the retraction of a poorly done study ? NGOs such as Greenpeace are given free reign by many politicians and media outlets because they are seen as “non profit” and therefore "pure" in some way. But, is their need to keep members hooked and sending in dues and donations really any different than Monsanto needing to keep profits up and their shareholders happy? Monsanto at least has a system of checks built into their operations. They have to keep their customers happy, because they need a steady profit flow to keep their shareholders happy. This at the risk of being taken to court decades later for harm done, even unintentionally. What customers does Greenpeace need to keep happy? Who can take Greenpeace to court decades later if the banana or orange industries are allowed to die because of their lobbying and fear mongering? Who can take Friends of the Earth to court for doing everything in their power to prevent a solution to vitamin A deficiency? That is unclear as they are not corporations with built in check systems. Why is unintentional harm from a company more of a crime than intentional harm from an NGO?

“Mind-control groups cannot tolerate opposition of any kind. Either people agree with them and are seen as potential converts, or they are the enemy.” 

Now what? Where do we go from here? I gained some insight from two more writers in fields I had not counted on to help guide me. Steven Hassan’s Combatting Cult Mind Control began to help me reevaluate how to go on the offense. I became interested in cults after learning about the Transcendental Meditation movement’s involvement with the anti GMO movement. They are everywhere. A core part of their belief system is that, “Pure food is essential for good health and clarity of mind, and the supreme value of food purity is required to enliven total Natural Law in the life of the individual and society, bringing perfect health and enlightenment to the individual, perfect balance, harmony, and invincibility to every nation and permanent peace to our world. “ You read that correctly. John Fagan, Jeffrey Smith, Claire Robinson, and Steven Drukker believe that removing biotech crops from the food supply will lead to invincibility and world peace. John Fagan being the man who helped create Genetic ID, one of the major testing laboratories used by the NONGMO Project. Fagan also helped create the fear, uncertainty, and doubt around GM soy in England in the late 90s. His FUD campaign there had the secondary side effect of killing the successful Zeneca transgenic tomato. By being labeled with the process of creating them, he managed to lump them together in the minds of the British with Roundup Ready soy, even though the two were completely unrelated.  Jeffrey Smith who runs the Institute for Responsible Technology wrote Seeds of Deception as well as Genetic Roulette. Claire Robinson who, along with John Fagan, works with GMO Free USA, Earth Open Source, and GM Watch.

Hassan’s BITE model paints a picture of many movements and organizations within the anti GMO movement. Dictating dietary restrictions is a classic form of behavior control. Deception and the discouragement of accessing is another method commonly seen, especially the way any journalist or scientist who is pro GMO is automatically assumed to be owned by corporations. Actual thought control is regularly seen as they regularly refine words and create new language. The very term, NON GMO, is a perfect example. Are they denying that artificial selection involves the modification of genes? Are they stating that a bowl of corn flakes is one whole genetically modified organism, rather than made up of many ingredients? Emotional control is probably the most obvious. Instilling fear and creating devils, such as chemtrails or “Monsatan” keeps their followers from accepting any source outside their own inner circle. While helping break someone free from cult mind control is a time consuming and difficult process, one piece of advice from Hassan appealed to me. He has seen a lot of success in exposing cult members to other cults. Once they see comparisons between what they are going through, and what other cults are doing, they can stop and think. This is why graphics on We Love GMOs and Vaccines that compare the anti GMO movement to other anti science movements have always gotten a lot of engagement. Even the name of the page, albeit prior thought, turned out to be a nod to this technique.  Activating prior knowledge is a technique most good teachers use to help students connect with information they already know. This really isn’t any different.

“Exposing a bad idea to the critical glare of other minds provides at least a chance that it will wither and die.” 

Related to exposing the common traits between the anti GMO movement and others, is satire and science communication. In The Better Angels of Our Nature, Steven Pinker seeks to prove that the human condition is improving, but explains why it will continue to do so based on historical data. Anti GMO terrorists like Gary Ruskin and Stacy Malkan, with their harassment of public scientists, truly believe and preach that they are under attack themselves. They are able to justify their actions because they believe if they stop their movement, it will, according to Pinker, “find itself on the wrong end of an invading army.” One connection, of many,  to the decrease in violence over the centuries was the writing of and tolerance of satire. As seen in Gulliver’s Travels, a satirist can get someone to stop and look at themselves from the perspective of an outsider. “A satirist can make someone appreciate the hypocrisy of their own society and the flaws in human nature that foster it.” 

Recently The Onion wrote a cute piece on a tomato escaping confinement at Monsanto. Monsanto took a risk and ran with it. They posted several pictures of an employee in a cubicle “bravely” fighting back against these tomatoes and saving us all. This type of self depreciating humor probably reached more people than any amount of Ketchum PR could, and was probably achieved with a fraction of the cost. Does Syngenta want to create a cheap promotion to calm everyone down about being bought by ChemChina? How about “Hey, at least we aren’t Monsanto!”. When several journalists on Twitter called me out on putting a long nose on someone in an article, they were right. We should insult ideas, not necessarily the people behind them. When Nicholas Taleb  and Vani Hari go on insane rants about PR campaigns, it is because they simply assume we are doing what they are doing. They are in essence doing what in Psychology is called "projecting". They truly believe they need to launch an attack on the neighboring village, before the neighboring village does the same to them.

Pinker reminds us that before Gutenberg invented the printing press, books were handwritten. This made them expensive and accessible only to the wealthy (kind of like organic food). As the efficiency of creating books improved, they became more accessible to the general populace (similar to conventional food, otherwise known as…. food). The blogospheres of the 1800s, (letters written and exchanged all over the world that discussed and reviewed books) took root, the spread of democracy and free thought became fate. Pseudoscience was an early adopter and took advantage of this early on. Food woo goes back to screaming 19th century upper class white women in New York telling everyone to only eat white bread. With social media the effect was similar. Cranks, not scientists, were the first adopters of this medium. 

In a classic case of correlation versus causation, many assume that Monsanto’s attempt to fix its public image involved hiring all these people (like myself) to do just that. But like Alexander Graham Bell and Elisha Gray both filing patents for the telephone the same day, many of us merely followed similar paths to get here. Scientists began to realize that social media allowed a very easy method of communication to refute these claims. Companies realized that social media allowed them to speak to the public in innovative ways. Layman skeptics like me and others simply began to find each other, years after seeing the messages based on fear that we started questioning. Farmers found they could teach city folk about their farming practices with a smartphone without even getting out of their tractors.

Ketchum didn’t connect me with Professor Juma, Professor Folta, Kavin Senapathy, Yvette d'Entremont, and Karl Haro Von Mogel. Mark Zuckerberg gave us a platform to reach out and connect with each other. Sixteen years ago a Monsanto PR firm actually did have to reach out to people and buy them lunch to bring them to a counter protest. 2015 was the year that was no longer true. Would it be fun to one day actually make money off of this? Sure ! Who doesn’t dream of making money doing what they enjoy. But it will be on my terms. Whether it is writing children’s books, a novel, starting a nonprofit agency to teach about agricultural biotechnology in schools, or just volunteering my time to organize eco modernist protests, these past two years were just laying the foundation.

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This work by Stephan Neidenbach is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.