When Media Uncritically Cover Pseudoscience

By Keith Kloor | April 26, 2013 8:52 am

Anti-biotech activists, like their fellow travelers in the anti-vaccine movement, are masters at pseudoscience. As I’ve previously discussed, the really clever GMO opponents put a veneer of science on their propaganda.

One recent example that an anti-GMO website approvingly pointed to was so obviously absurd that I was sure it  would be ignored by media. It’s a paper that suggests a chemical in Roundup, a widely used Monsanto herbicide, “can remarkably explain a great number of the diseases and conditions that are prevalent in the modern industrialized world,” such as “inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, depression, ADHD, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, multiple sclerosis, cancer, cachexia, infertility, and developmental malformations.” [UPDATE: As someone puts it on Twitter, the paper “reads like it was scribbled on Glenn Beck’s chalkboard.”]

The paper is by two authors with dubious credentials and is such a mashup of pseudoscience and gibberish that actual scientists have been unable to make sense of it. As one of them also noted, the paper is published in a “low-tier pay-for-play journal.”

The authors of the paper conclude that glyphosate, an ingredient used in Roundup “may be the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernized societies.” This sweeping claim, combined with where it’s made and the backgrounds of the authors (one who works in computer science), should trigger alarm bells in anyone with a functioning brain, particularly journalists on the look-out for a good story. Alas, a Reuters reporter took the bait:

Heavy use of the world’s most popular herbicide, Roundup, could be linked to a range of health problems and diseases, including Parkinson’s, infertility and cancers, according to a new study.

Except it’s “not a study,” as plant geneticist Kevin Folta noted on Twitter, and “no data was presented.”  When he saw the Reuters article, Folta was incredulous:

Some of his peers tweeted a similar reaction. Andrew Kniss, a University of Wyoming agronomist, wondered: “Why are they [Reuters] calling it a ‘study’? There was absolutely no data.” He added that the paper “carries as much scientific credibility as creationism.”

Hey, it was good enough for Reuters, whose uncritical coverage of it now gives the paper a veneer of legitimacy to readers (many who will use social media to share the link to the Reuters story) around the world.

UPDATE: Wow, via a commenter, I’ve learned this about one of the authors of the paper.

UPDATE: In 2012 I critiqued a similarly flawed story by the same Reuters reporter.

  • Georg Schoen

    “inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, depression, ADHD, autism,
    Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, multiple sclerosis,
    cancer, cachexia, infertility, and developmental malformations.”

    I use to add “as well as all diseases not mentioned” to such accounts.
    This practice is very adoptable to all kinds of idioscience.

    • Buddy199

      Sounds like the list of conditions cured by Professor Marvel’s Miracle Snake Oil

  • Živko Kondić

    Bullshit, bullshit everywhere… I just had THE talk with a “Anti-GMO” friend yesterday. She’s all antiGMO but clueless about any facts apart from BS like this…

  • http://twitter.com/r343l Rachael Ludwick

    Thanks Keith. I haven’t had a lot of energy or time for online stuff so glad to see you point out how ridiculous this is. I’ve also contacted Reuters though I don’t expect much (I don’t think I’ve ever succeeded in getting a media organization to correct an article which probably says more about me than them.)

  • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

    Ya know, I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried educational outreach online. I’ve tried public meetings. I’ve tried comment threads. And it all gets torpedoed by a crappy piece of news coverage.

    But every time I turn around I’m told by the scicomm professionals that i’m doin’ it rong. One study said that public meetings don’t impact opponents–just hardens them. One said rapid corrections doesn’t help. Brian Cox and Robin Ince regularly take hits for attempting to educate. Nobody can tell us what does work.

    So I have decided to embrace the crazees. I think it will be easier to dismiss them–and discredit their perspectives–among anyone with two neurons to rub together if we just let the crazee run wild.

    They have become impossible to parody. Opponents fell for a satire piece from the Canadian equivalent of The Onion.

    So I want to share with you more of Seneff’s oeuvre. I want to spread her work around. Please visit Orac’s site for more of her illuminating strategies: Stephanie Seneff: Following the Geiers dumpster-diving in the VAERS database.

    Go Stephanie! (ps: have a look into the DNA control of Google that modifies behavior–it’s a swell plan!) I eagerly await her next “study”.

    • http://twitter.com/WyoWeeds Andrew Kniss

      Anthony Samsel (the first author of the study) also has some interesting views on GMOs (see here: http://www.hawkeshealth.net/community/showthread.php?t=8059&page=1)

      “Genetically Engineered Rice and Barley are popular choices with a danger now of vaccine and pharmaceutical drug laced Beer.”
      “There should be NO Genetic Engineering of life.”
      “Horizontal Gene Transfer and recombination of Transgenic DNA is inherently designed to jump into Genomes sometimes through virus or Bacterial Plasmids. This fact makes Transgenic DNA different and more dangerous than naturally occurring DNA. ”
      “
This perversion of our natural world must be stopped. “

      • http://twitter.com/WyoWeeds Andrew Kniss
        • Matt B

          Ah, the credibility……the first line of the Samsel article:

          “On World Food Day, October 16, 2011, millions of Americans marched, protesting and demonstrating in over sixteen hundred cities and towns in the USA.”

          I was in America on October 16, 2011 and gotta tell ya, no recollection of hearing about World Food Day, much less millions of protesters in 1600 different towns. A quick check on Google didn’t show much (any?) reporting on such a well attended event; you would think the media in at least a couple of the 1600 protesting communities would see fit to report on this……..

      • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

        Oooh! And we have gone Godwin–sweet.

        J. Craig Venter from La Jolla, CA and owner of the company Synthetic Genomics in my opinion is probably one the most maniacal people on the planet rivaling German scientists of the Third Reich under Adolph Hitler.

        Bring on the crazee–I’m telling ya, I am now going to stop worrying and love the nutty.

    • Charles Rader

      Mary, I don’t think Stephanie Seneff has got it right, but I’d like to comment a little in her defense. First of all, yes her field of expertise is not genetics. In fact her field of expertise is similar to my field of expertise and if you dismiss her opinion for that reason, you would have to be equally dismissive of my opinions. Also, in her traditional field she is very highly respected and that says something about her intelligence. I knew Stephanie many years ago and I remember when she decided to learn Chinese, which she did by herself in just a few weeks. I don’t doubt that the same brain could have learned a lot of biochemistry.

      Another thing is worth noting. Stephanie’s paper refers to other publications for the source of claimed problems with glyphosate, but the paper discusses mechanisms that could be root causes of the claimed problems. I’m not saying that her mechanisms are correct, but they are quite a different thing from the usual anti-GMO propaganda – in that once you think you understand HOW something happens, you can think about how to prevent it or manage it. Stephanie is NOT saying “glyphosate might be bad because it hasn’t been tested for a normal human lifespan”, or “it was invented by the same greedy company that made Agent Orange.”

      • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

        You’ll have to begin by explaining what “exogenous semiotic entropy” is. Nobody in biology has ever heard of this before. We’re all waiting to know.

        I wouldn’t be able to judge how good her Chinese is–if you are qualified to do that, that’s great. But I can judge her fictional jargon, her reliance on terrible sources, and many unfounded claims based on enormous leaps of logic.

        Just because someone can string some words together doesn’t indicate that they have meaning or relevance.

      • Matt B

        William Shockley was a Nobel Prize winner & definitely a genius. That doesn’t make his racial theories any less kooky.

      • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

        I’m assuming that the egregious claims are clear to anyone familiar with this topic. But let’s look at one as an example. Here it is, from page 23 of the pdf I have.

        The fertility rate in Brazil has also dropped dramatically over the past several decades from six children per woman on average to fewer than two, now lower than that of the United States. Brazil is the second largest producer and exporter of soybeans in the world behind Argentina, and it has embraced genetically modified soybeans engineered to be glyphosate-tolerant as a means to increase production since the mid 1990’s. A rapidly evolving glyphosate-resistant weed population in Brazil due to genetically engineered glyphosate-tolerant crops is leading to increased use of glyphosate in recent years [250], the same time period in which a rapid drop in birth rates was observed.

        Sounds like it could be nefarious, yes? But if you weren’t trying to pin the cause on your pet theory, you might actually search for information about this. For example, the research on the recent demographic shifts in Brazil that have led to women choosing to have fewer children. This was well studied and widely publicized in the last few years, and anyone genuinely interested in the *actual* causes of reductions in birth rate should know about it.

        In science you don’t get to just leap from one item like that to the conclusion you want. If there are opposing ideas, your job is to reference them and say why your idea has merit and this other one doesn’t. As Dara O’Briain has said:

        “Science knows it doesn’t know everything; otherwise, it’d stop. But just because science doesn’t know everything doesn’t mean you can fill in the gaps with whatever fairy tale most appeals to you.”

        How many times do we have to say “correlation ≠ causation”? Especially to people who presumably understand science?? This paper is full of fairy tales that fit the desired narrative (some are self-citations of other creative writing of hers). That is not the same thing as science or anything resembling a “study”. In fact, it’s reprehensible and anti-science. It is the hallmark of cranks. I’m sorry if she’s an acquaintance of yours. But don’t let that cloud your grasp of what this really is.

        • Charles Rader

          Come on, Mary. I’m not trying to say that Stephanie Seneff is right. I don’t think she is right. But she is in a different class from the loonies we’re used to making fun of. And, yes, I am qualified to judge how well she learned Chinese.

          • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

            I am unfamiliar with the loony classes. Please delineate them for me. Where is dishonesty on the loony scale please? I’d put it pretty high.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003586298460 Mike Bendzela

            “But she is in a different class from the loonies.”

            Yes. She’s in a class, all by herself.

        • dogctor

          The point, I believe, you are missing is the point between an intentional reduction in birth rates and a reduction in birth rates due to infertility, miscarriages, and birth defects.
          The question I posed to Kevin, which I would like you to tackle, is : what empirical evidence do we have on trends of those events in the populations with the highest exposures to round up…. farming communities with rapid and pervasive adoption of Round Up Ready technology.

          • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

            You’ll have to be more specific about your claim. What data shows these trends? Are they statistically significant? Please provide the citations. We’ll have to take a look at the credibility of the sources and the methods before we can decide.

            I can imagine a number of things that also changed in a community over the years. Maybe better reporting. Maybe better access to medical services instead of some local care provides better data. Maybe increasing maternal age. Maybe they got cell phones, or wifi, and that’s caused problems. Maybe there are other lifestyle factors.

            Nonetheless–you aren’t allowed to pin your pet cause on Roundup because you want it to be so. And the problem with that, like so many other wild claims in this arena, is that if you blame it on the wrong thing you don’t get to the actual reasons that will help you to address the problem.

            And in any case: it’s still dishonest the way it was reported in this paper.

          • dogctor

            I don’t think you understand me Mary. The burden of proof is on You to show these products are safe, and are not contributing to birth defects, miscarriages and infertility.

            You need to show Me an epidemiological study that demonstrates convincingly that Round Up doesn’t raise the rates of these events; given what we know about it’s documented teratogenicity via the retinoic acid pathway, and other worrying studies.

            I think the compilation of 286 studies did a very nice job of highlighting the harms of Round UP..and all of us are very familiar with the lurid history of lies and obfuscation by chemical companies denying medical harms and delaying action, whether it is lead, asbestos, Agent Orange, tobacco or RR GMOs.

          • http://twitter.com/mem_somerville mem_somerville

            Just because you type it in bold doesn’t mean it’s true Ena. Please source your claim so it can be assessed.

            Maybe you’d like to read Derek Lowe’s take on this paper. http://pipeline.corante.com/archives/2013/04/30/is_glyphosate_poisoning_everyone.php

          • dogctor

            43 pregnant women were recruited and completed a self administered questionnaire with a food frequency component and provided a composite food sample. Twenty food samples were analysed with very low glyphosate concentrations (mean 0.08 mg/kg, range 0.002-0.5 mg/kg) with residues detected in more than 75% of the samples. Maternal dietary exposure was very low (0.001 mg/kg bw/day) and was considerably lower than the predicted National Estimated Daily Intake of glyphosate (0.02 mg/kg bw/day). The estimated exposure based on measured glyphosate in composite food samples corresponded to 0.4% of the acceptable daily intake for glyphosate, and the predicted concentration from dietary information was 4% which is comparable to the National Estimated Daily Intake of 5.5% of the Acceptable Daily Intake of glyphosate. Prenatal exposures were estimated (how?) to be significantly lower. While residues of glyphosate are present in food, this study demonstrates that exposure concentrations are low and confirms the current models used to estimate glyphosate exposure.

            Where these women living in farming communities?
            What time of year were the samples collected?
            What do 20 food samples tell me about Round Up exposure to 47 women over 9 months of gestation, never mind millions ingesting billions of meals?
            Where is data on fertility rates, and rates of miscarriages compared to national averages?
            How statistically significant is a self-reported sample of 47 women relative to the population of women in farming communities, with high adoption rates of Round Up technology Mary?
            What is the NOAEL and LOAEL for glyphosate teratogenicity in women, relative to vitamin A intake, Mary?
            What was the vitamin A intake of these women? http://teratology.org/pubs/vitamina.htm

            The rest of the info at the link you provided doesn’t warrant a serious response at this time.

          • dogctor

            Now, that presumably sounds extremely detailed and impressive if you don’t know any toxicology. What you wouldn’t know from reading through all of it is that their reference 121 actually tested glyphosate against human CYP enzymes….. But the direct evidence is available, and is not cited – in fact, it’s explicitly ignored. Reference 121 showed that glyphosate was inactive against all human CYP isoforms except 2C9, where it had in IC50 of 3.7 micromolar. You would also not know from this new paper that there is no way that ingested glyphosate could possibly reach levels in humans to inhibit CYP2C9 at that potency.

            Sorry, Mary– I don’t know that there is no way that ingested glyphosate which inhibits 50% of CYP2C9 at a concentration of 3.7micromoles, couldn’t possibly reach teratogenic levels in women in farming communities sampled during spring/ early summer season, based on a sample of 40- odd women in a metropolitan area.

            The reason I don’t know that is
            1. CYP2C9 gene is highly polymorphic. Multiple in vivo studies also show that several mutant CYP2C9 genotypes are associated with significant reduction of in metabolism and daily dose requirements of selected CYP2C9 substrate. In fact, adverse drug reactions (ADRs) often result from unanticipated changes in CYP2C9 enzyme activity secondary to genetic polymorphisms. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/CYP2C9In fact, adverse drug reactions (ADRs) often result from unanticipated changes in CYP2C9 enzyme activity secondary to genetic polymorphisms)

            genetic polymorphism wasn’t reflected in the study

            2. This was a sample of women from a metropolitan area, who were eating cereals after processing -which reduce glyphosate levels compared to field cereals.

            3. This was not an occupational study of women in farming communities, with higher exposures, especially so in spring and early summer.

            4. A very wide range of glyphosate concentrations is reported in foods, with cereals being the most contaminated, and the study focused on composite food samples

            5. A sample size of 20 composite meals is statistically trivial, as the study itself suggested, recommending larger sample sizes. And I emphatically agree.

          • Nerdsamwich

            In reference to your second point, do you really mean to say that commercial farmers eat pesticide-treated grain directly from their commercial fields without washing or otherwise processing it?

          • Ce Gzz

            You really have no clue how is Brazil!?
            Most of it’s population reduction can be explained by abortion. It is now “legal” so you will see same behavior as Spain. Plus most of their population lives in the cities, not in rural areas where they farm.

      • Benjamin Edge

        “once you think you understand HOW something happens, you can think about how to prevent it or manage it.”

        Charles, I think you left out a critical step here. Once you THINK you understand HOW something [might] happens, THEN you can start to think about ways to determine IF it happens. No point in trying to prevent it or manage it if it doesn’t happen, e.g. glyphosate causing disease.

  • Tom Scharf

    Come on Keith, we all know those diseases are caused by Wind Turbines.

    Reuters is definitely guilty of copy / paste journalism on occasions. They also reported that 100M would die from climate change in 18 years.

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2012/09/25/us-climate-inaction-idUSBRE88O1HG20120925

  • Buddy199

    “Why are they [Reuters] calling it a ‘study’?
    ————–
    Because most reporters have zero scientific education, so all “studies” appear the same to them. If it’s an incredibly flagrant piece of garbage, they refer to it as a “controversial study”.

    • dogctor

      Because it is. Glyphosate’s inhibition of cytochrome P450 (CYP) enzymes is an overlooked component of its toxicity to mammals. CYP enzymes play crucial roles in biology, one of which is to detoxify xenobiotics. Thus, glyphosate enhances the damaging effects of other food borne chemical residues and environmental toxins.

      • Keith Kloor

        dogctor, you’re the next best thing to having one of the authors of that baked paper respond.

        • dogctor

          Thanks Keith. I’ll take that as a compliment to my open mind. As a vet friend once said ” I believe in an open mind, but not so open that my brains fall out” :)

          • Buddy199

            Was your vet Carl Sagan?

          • dogctor

            No. He is a garden variety vet practicing in Wyoming. His area of interest is anesthesia and analgesia, Buddy.

          • Janice la Pinta

            basically ur agreeing with that paper, so why are u saying ur not?

    • mhollis

      Uh, actually, most media outlets have a Science Reporter who actually has a degree in Science, like a Masters or above (many are M.D.s). The issue here is not the reporter, but lack of an editor or of any fact-checking.

      In this case, either the reporter was not qualified to write the story (editorial fail) or the person(s) responsible for fact-checking were “downsized” as having been too many 40-hour weeks on someone’s spreadsheet (managerial fail).

      I know. Been there.

      • Hominid

        A BS or MS in a science is inadequate to assess the validity of scientific methodology and to critically evaluate complex concepts. MDs are NOT scientists – they’re technicians whose clinical expertise may be science-based, but who have little if any training in scientific methods.

        • mhollis

          Obviously, you have done no science.

          • Hominid

            Only a fool would presume to make such a baseless remark.

          • dogctor

            Lets see if there is a basis to it.. Kevin posed an interesting question below, but evidently is too busy with other stuff. So, in the interim, lets see if you and I ( a lowly vet) can sort this question out.

            Let’s assume that the inhibition of aromatase activity is accurate and Seralini’s group is reporting things correctly from well-designed experiments. If you’re willing to make that leap, then you most certainly are not going to be comfortable assuming that bathing cells in 1% glyphosate for days in any way mimics what happens in an organism.

            As a mere veterinary medical doctor, who is clearly not a medical doctor (MD), I say:” But of course not my friend, Kevin. I want to see a statistically powered peer reviewed study examining the LOAEL and NOAEL of glyphosate for teratogenicity and then compare those levels to urine glyphosate levels in pregnant women ( along with an analysis of their fecal microbiota, ideally) in a prospective double blinded statistically powered study examining in/ fertility rates and birth defect rates in farming populations with differential adoption rates of Round UP and non-farming pregnant women–to compare those populations with respect to those variables– infertility and birth defect rates.

            What say you, hominid?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000980613760 Kevin Folta

    Robyn O’Brien and others on Twitter touting this work as “An MIT study links a weed killer used on genetically modified foods to cancer, infertility and Parkinson’s” Once again, the anti-GM folks tie their campaign to flimsy claims and anti-science.

    The whole movement is getting crazier and crazier. Sadly, people like O’Brien that have many good ideas are going to be discredited from their association.

    • dogctor

      Hi Kevin. My first impression of this conversation itself is that it is pseudoscientific. By now, I am sure, you know how I roll when I see the ad hominem approach to science. Science is not about bashing the messenger– it is about critically evaluating the substance of the study itself.

      Dear Kevin, please do not stop at discrediting the scientists. I invite you to actually examine the science in this study attempting to analyze connections between glyphosate and disease using an artificial intelligence model designed at MIT.

      Is there any support for any of the claims made?

      How does glyphosate kill plants, aside from the classical mechanism of inhibiting EPSPS? Does it have any documented effects on p-450 cytochromie?

      Perturbations of Amino Acid Metabolism Associated with Glyphosate-Dependent Inhibition of Shikimic Acid
      Metabolism Affect Cellular Redox Homeostasis and Alter the Abundance of Proteins Involved in Photosynthesis and Photorespiration
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3165874/

      Glyphosate is an inhibitor of plant cytochrome P450: functional expression of Thlaspi arvensae cytochromeP45071B1/reductase fusion protein in Escherichia coli.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/9514851

      An evaluation of the cytochrome P450 inhibition potential of
      selected pesticides in human hepatic microsomes
      Some pesticides caused relatively potent inhibitions sporadically glyphosate….. CYP2C9, IC(50)
      = 3.7 micro M
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20183062

      Glyphosate decreased the hepatic level of cytochrome P-450 and
      monooxygenase activities and the intestinal activity of aryl hydrocarbon hydroxylase.
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/6624478

      Conclusion Our studies show that
      glyphosate acts as a disruptor of mammalian cytochrome P450 aromatase activity from concentrations 100 times lower than the recommended use in agriculture
      http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1257596/#b13-ehp0113-000716

      If glyphosate affects the micorbiome, ( which we have just barely began to study) could that lead to a panoply of disease?

      http://physrev.physiology.org/content/90/3/859.long

      Why… it appears that hypothetically speaking, it could.

      While being incredulous about the sweeping claims ( for instance, the only evidence I found of carcinogenicity of glyphosate was a possible rise in multiple myeloma and NHL) I am not nearly as ready to dismiss all the claims, as there are indeed global mechanisms to disease.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000980613760 Kevin Folta

        Ena, First, I can’t “examine the science in this study attempting to analyze connections between glyphosate and disease using an artificial intelligence model designed at MIT” because there were no data presented. It is a review, a recapitulation from an author with no credibility.

        To your other stuff here. A plant cell exposed to application levels of glyphosate may undergo changes in metabolism. Sure. I don’t doubt that. But that does not somehow generate magical toxicity to humans any more than drought stress, water deficit stress or pruning that I’d bet have comparable effects.

        What is never shown is that these changes have a dose-response effect on anything. We can speculate all day and draw potential interactions from the literature (as you’ve done). We can formulate hypotheses. But until there is evidence…

        I’m not impressed by Seralini’s work ever. Until somebody reproduces any of his work independently (which never seems to happen as that work ages) it is not worth considering as a basis of evidence.

        With today’s high-res ability to profile metabolism, if there was any curious collateral effect of consumer exposure-level doses of glyphosate it would be found in a heartbeat.

        • dogctor

          Hi Kevin. It is an exhaustive review of 286 journal articles. The author with no credibility is analogous to saying a shill for Monsanto, no? Lets talk about the science, Kevin.

          The toxicity described isn’t magical. There are very specific mechanisms described.

          It is absolutely not true that dose response is never described. The dose at which retinoic acid (upon putative suppression of p450) causes teratogenicity is : 1/5000 dilutions of a commercial GBH. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/20695457

          if there was any curious collateral effect of consumer exposure-level doses of glyphosate it would be found in a heartbeat. Unwarranted assumption. Got science?

          Here is just one of the hundreds of possibilities (which is why artificial intelligence comes in very handy, as there are so damn many). E coli lacks p450– I would have hoped you’d get the implication of this link

          Glyphosate is an inhibitor of plant cytochrome P450: functional expression of Thlaspi arvensae cytochromeP45071B1/reductase fusion protein in Escherichia coli.
          http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pu

          to inflammatory bowel disease.
          .http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/17476674

          glyphosate affects the micorbiome, ( which we have just barely began to study) could that lead to a panoply of other disease?

          http://physrev.physiology.org/

          Why, yes– it could. Do you have empirical data to prove it does not, Kevin? Mind you, I am of the point of view that the burden of proof is on you to prove GE is not harmful. Please do, Kevin….with science, customarily presented in a form of links to actual peer reviewed studies to be contrasted with rhetoric.

          Thanks very much.

    • jayeferguson

      Kevin, your thoughts on the “Differential Effects of Glyphosate and Roundup on Human Placental Cells and Aromatase” study? I’m interested.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000980613760 Kevin Folta

        Sure. The work comes from Seralini in 2005. Nobody else has seemed to find the same results since, so after 8 years this earth shattering evidence is not gaining much momentum.

        The report itself (i’m at home tonight and can’t access specific, but I remember it broadly) is that if you put cells in a dish and float them in 1% roundup, they don’t survive well after a few days. They don’t react so much to glyphosate alone. It says that the surfactants are stressing cells.

        Dr Bonner’s soap would likely do the same thing.

        Let’s assume that the inhibition of aromatase activity is accurate and Seralini’s group is reporting things correctly from well-designed experiments. If you’re willing to make that leap, then you most certainly are not going to be comfortable assuming that bathing cells in 1% glyphosate for days in any way mimics what happens in an organism.

        Glyphosate is broken down rapidly in the body and excreted in the urine. The pharmacological fate is well understood. So if you assume you consume plant materials treated with 1% (a little high) and you directly consume them (which never happens, gly is applied early in the field) then that amount presented to any cell type is far far far far far below the amounts used in the referenced paper. It is clearly in the range where no effects are seen.

        Of course, even answering this question subverts the real scientific process. We should not be connecting dots that should not be connected.

        If the hypothesis is that glyphosate is poison to animals because of X, y, z, then that is testable. It can be tested (it has, exhaustively) and any evidence of harm would also reflect in epidemiological records, seeing as though massive amounts of food materials are glyphosate treated.

        • jayeferguson

          http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2012/10/23/glyphosate-found-in-human-urine.aspx

          Urine samples collected from city dwellers in Berlin all tested positive for glyphosate, with values ranging from 0.5 to 2 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml), which is five to 20 times the permissible upper limit for glyphosate in German drinking water.

          But (clearly) as a well-meaning, tinfoil-hat-wearing, tree-sitting, granola-munching, free-loving, commune-dwelling, off-the-grid’er, conspiracy-theorist, lunatic extremist, I am no match for your superior biotech intellect. As a result, I acquiesce. I know you want to pat me on the head and tell me to crawl back into my cave.

          But you kow the feeling, right?

          “Ugh, welcome to my world. I can’t communicate the scientific literature without being called a shill for Monsanto.”

          Guess what? I can’t communicate my disdain for the massive corporate retardation of the food supply without being labeled a: “shill for: the environment, overzealous helicopter mommies, burnt-out hippy retreads, snake-oil sales(wo)men and those who believe in Martians.”

          It is a burden we’ll both have to bear, I guess…

          Anyway, the same criticism could be leveled at the numerous studies you lovingly cite as though your job depended on it…oh wait, it sorta does. And shoot, I am just They [studies] are duplicated, in an incestual manner, by other biotech giants (and the universities that they fund – UC Davis, et al.). It is hardly shocking that BIG Chem/AG/Food seem to all come to the same conclusions. And with oodles of lobbyist dollars in the greasy palms, operating in much the same way as Tammany Hall did, congress(wo)men and senators seem to somehow agree (see: Roy Blunt – Monsanto Rider).

          Meanwhile all of the usual tinfoil-hat-wearing, tree-sitting, granola-munching, free-loving, commune-dwelling, off-the-grid’er, conspiracy-theorist lunatic extremists come to the opposite conclusions when they conduct their cute little irrelevant studies. Funny how that works, right?

          Here’s another study on the healthy advantages of mass-glyphosate consumption. Likely the work of us “shills for the environment” no doubt:

          http://nobull.mikecallicrate.com/news/wp-content/uploads/2013/04/GlyModern-diseaseSamsel-Seneff-13.pdf

          Just remember, as loud and obnoxious as we tinfoil-hat-wearing, tree-sitting, granola-munching, free-loving, commune-dwelling, off-the-grid, conspiracy-theorist, lunatic “extremist”s sound to you, you sound equally that loud and considerably more obnoxious to us :-)

          And at the end of the day, while I can walk into TJ’s or WFH and buy something labelled “organic” and know I am getting food. I cannot walk into Publix or Albertson’s and buy anything labelled “GMO’s Inside” and know I am getting glyphosate.

          It sorta sucks that way…

          • brian

            The Mercola link doesn’t link to the original paper but to a website called ithaka which is “Journal for ecology, winegrowing and climate farming” (climate farming?).

            Does anyone have a link to the Leipzig study (in English)? I’d like a few more details. How many people were sampled? What were the levels of other pesticides found?

            According to the ithaka website, the limit for glyphosphate in German drinking water limit: 0.1 ng / ml

            From the EPA website:

            “The maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) for glyphosate in drinking water is 0.7 mg/L or 700 ppb. EPA has set this level of protection based on the best available science to prevent potential health problems”

            So (someone check my math here) in the same units, the German level is 0.0001 mg/L – one 7000th of the EPA limit ?

            At 0.5 to 2 ng of glyphosphate in the urine samples the German levels were (I’m not a scientist so excuse my terminology), tiny, tiny, tiny amounts.

          • Benjamin Edge

            So, the whole point of labeling is that you WANT to buy GMO? Gosh, you sure had me fooled.

  • https://delicious.com/robertford Robert Ford

    i don’t think i’ve ever really, truly understood what the MO of people like this is. they exaggerate the effects of these “toxins” which then only creates their desperate attitude about it. job security?
    I’ve given up debating them online – now I just agree with them and then one up them by saying something slightly more insane to see what they say. It’s weird that also have a threshold for crazy stuff only it’s much higher than most. They are skeptics too, remember?!

    • m0000

      they have a very selective brand of skepticism, one that also lends itself to this: http://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Crank_magnetism

      • dogctor
        • m0000

          i don’t see how that applies. i haven’t used any character traits, perceived or otherwise, to discredit ideas.

          • dogctor

            What scientific ideas relevant to Round Up and P-450/ oxidative stress are in your reply?

          • m0000

            “might result in oxidative stress” therefore “may be the most important factor in the development of multiple chronic
            diseases and conditions that have become prevalent in Westernized
            societies.”

            am i the only one who thinks this correlation leaves a lot to be desired?

          • dogctor

            No, I would stop short of accusing glyphosate as the most important factor in development of multiple chronic diseases in people based on its mode of action in plants. The next question in my mind is : is there scientific evidence that glyphosate might result in oxidative stress in mammals? The study has a link to another published in the 80s. Have you read it?

          • Harmon Killebrew

            As soon as it says “may” or “might” or “could”, etc., what follows is meaningless. It’s just filling space at that point.

      • pss1

        M0000- I’m not defending the article, but surely uou can see the difference between someone that thinks the moon landing was a hoax, and someone who hypothesizes that spraying weed killer on your food might not be good for you.

  • http://twitter.com/RexScientiarum Eccentric scientist

    Dude, seriously, I was laughing as I was reading through most of the paper. On the other hand the English is in the paper is a LOT better than some big house publishers will allow through, and it is easy to see how this could potentially fool reporters without a science background. Elsevier has several journals notorious for consistently publishing articles with atrocious spelling and grammar. Although it isn’t exactly in my field Aquaculture is one of my personal favorites to read for this reason. I have read papers published in the journal where entire paragraphs are literally unintelligible. Nevertheless they do still publish great work but it is very evident nobody on their editorial staff speaks English as their first language, that much is certain.

  • Tom Scharf

    A good overview of the lack of merit even in most “real” science studies:

    http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/25/what-do-scientific-studies-show/?hp

    This has gotten so bad as to be epidemic. People who follow biotech science know to ignore almost all new science “breakthroughs”. Academia needs to clean up its own house here.

    Can it?

  • http://twitter.com/RexScientiarum Eccentric scientist

    I seriously LOVE searching MDPI and their open-access ‘journals’. “Life” — from the MDPI stable — gave us the famous paper on “Theory of the Origin, Evolution, and Nature of Life”. Most amazing thing I have ever read. I think it must be a case of professional trolling. Satire or something. I mean it is just THAT good. He even says it PERFECTLY models life on Earth. Well Damn, who can argue with your perfection sir?

  • http://twitter.com/AgBioEye Andrew Apel

    Luckily, it has been recently discovered that the vast majority of human diseases can be cured with “pure, food-grade hydrogen peroxide.” http://allafrica.com/stories/201304240145.html?viewall=1 Like Mem suggests, embrace the crazee. It wants to embrace *you*.

  • http://www.facebook.com/shannaostewart Shanna Varrichio

    Why argue in favor of unabated use of Round Up? You can keep that stuff out of my food and water.

  • http://www.facebook.com/kerry.dunn.9461 แครี ดัน

    Sure glad all these diseases and medical conditions didn’t exist before Roundup was first manufactured. Oh wait………..

  • Nolakai

    Many of us will choose organics for one simple reason: it’s not just about us. It’s not just about our health during our lifetimes. It’s about the health of the entire ecosystem. I only buy organics in part because I don’t want anyone, or anything, sprayed with pesticides, herbicides, or fungicides on my behalf. Many of you sound like pharma reps: distrustful of criticism and certain in your beliefs while pimping a product that has not been proven safe (and yes, I resent that the burden is on all of us to prove it isn’t — that should have been on Monsanto before Roundup was introduced). You are as rigid as those you criticize. The organic movement is growing, thankfully. Now if we can just keep Roundup-ready seeds out of organic fields…

    • lilikoi744

      It is unfortunate that people still think that organic food is not treated with pesticides or herbicides. If you only knew the whole truth of it, you’d be surprised at what is put on it. Such is the nature of farming, the battle between pests and weeds.

      • Nolakai

        The question is whether the pesticides and herbicides are synthetic or not, and yes, some organic farmers do not use any chemicals to treat their lands. I know milpa farmers in southcentral Mexico who use no chemicals at all. They grow diverse crops on small parcels of land — each field has corn, black beans, squash, peppers, and tomatoes. They work symbiotically. These farmers farm the same way their ancestors farmed thousands of years ago. And what to do you know — the community has survived through multiple political upheavals and massive social change. They are resilient in a way few American communities, let alone farming communities, are. Resiliency is key.

        • lilikoi744

          As less and less people go into farming, that means more larger farms are needed to produce the food that the populations needs. It is estimated that only 2% of the US population farms, which is why agriculture has changed so much here in the US. If more people produced their own food and the government structures were different to encourage this, there probably wouldn’t have huge need to continually use science to chance crops the way it is.

          The need for environmentally friendly products also put a strain on yields which is an added demand on farmers. Americans what ethanol, and soy based products and we are not going to put food grade soy or corn towards that. The demand for such seed companies is created by multiple factors.

          • Matt B

            Americans don’t want ethanol. Big Farm and the Senators they control want ethanol.

        • Tom Scharf

          You go off the rails when you equate synthetic with evil. Many people will stop listening to you once this errant belief is exposed. Cyanide and an uncountable number of “toxins” are produced naturally as an evolutionary defense mechanism for their hosts. Plants and animals without defense mechanisms don’t survive long.

        • kdk33

          I assume you are moving to central Mexico to be a Milpa farmer. To be resilient. Because it is key.

          No?

          • randomrandori

            I assume you will be mindlessly consuming resources until it all collapses.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100003586298460 Mike Bendzela

      Nolakai, how do you know organic is better for the environment? It might be, but it’s a broad and complicated claim, and Steve Savage has shown us that what we think about organics is not necessarily true.

      http://appliedmythology.blogspot.com/2013/04/six-reasons-organic-is-not-most.html

      Next, on the issue of pesticides: I worked at an organic farm, and I can assure you organic farmers use pesticides. In fact, I had to be trained as a pesticides applicator.

      Now, there is nothing wrong with using organic pesticides, but there is something wrong with organics advocates running their mouths off about “toxins.”

      • Nolakai

        I have the benefit of knowing the farmers who grow my food for most of the year. Yes, there are organic pesticides, and yes, there are organic farmers who don’t use any pesticides at all. I also have the advantage of knowing organic peasant farmers in south-central Mexico who farm traditionally using a milpa system. They have farmed the same parcels of land that their ancestors have farmed for literally thousands of years, using the same methods. And no, they do not use any chemical fertilizers.

        This idea that organic might not be better for the environment — perhaps industrial organic is not much better, but local, small-scale organic certainly is. It’s interesting that you are so uncomfortable with “organic advocates running their mouths off about ‘toxins.'” We are certainly the minority, and not just in this discussion, and we are certainly the least funded. Have you thought of your own biases here? That perhaps you are not worried enough about the long-term effects of synthetic chemicals on our ecosystem?

        • Nullius in Verba

          All farmers use pesticides, because the plants themselves produce them naturally. About 99.9% of all the pesticides you eat are natural.

          A major environmental issue with not using added/artificial pesticides and fertilizers is that it uses more land to yield a given amount of food. Either because more of the crop gets eaten by pests, or because yields are lower, or because you have to leave land fallow for longer to restore the nutrients. If there was no benefit to using them, farmers wouldn’t waste their money.

          By being able to feed the world with less land, there’s more room left for the wildlife. That’s not the only factor, and it’s complicated. And I’m not saying the difference is important enough to outweigh your preferences. But organic farming has an effect on the ecosystem, too. It would be a case of the naturalistic fallacy to assume that just because something is “natural” it’s not ecologically harmful, or vice versa.

  • A Scientist

    Fact: If you eat DNA you will catch the autism.

  • thesafesurfer

    Science is facing the same problem that Islam is, how to control the radical outliers. Both of them face a continuing loss of credibility if they don’t concentrate their efforts on the problem.

    • dogctor

      Genuine science doesn’t have radical outliers aka heretics, terrorists ( often a corporate term from the likes of ALEC). Pseudoscience, on the other hand…can’t wait to label non-adherents of their fundamental RoundUP religion all sort of crazeee names.

      • jh

        “Genuine science doesn’t have radical outliers aka heretics”

        Are you joking? :) You must be! How do you determine “genuine” from “non-genuine” science? Via our friend “consensus”?

        Much the opposite. In reality, science not only has but needs outliers, radicals and heretics. People that challenge the myriad assumptions that muddy the waters where “knowledge” and “supposed knowledge” meet. These people are all the more important when muddy-water science meets the public policy interface, where science needs clear streams to provide sound policy constraints.

        • dogctor

          Thank you JH. To add: For a study such as this to make sense, the interface between knowledge and pseudoknowledge should be delineated by broad representation of “knowledge specialists” in toxicology, molecular biology, biochemistry, internal medicine, immunology, infectious disease, microbiology, hepatology, intestinal disease specialists, embryologists, ob/gyn and pediatricians, public health specialists, nutritionists, specialists in obesity, endocrinologists, epidemiologists, statisticians–just off the top of my head.

      • thesafesurfer

        A perfect world has no imperfections either. Can we get back to a discussion of the world we live in. Another problem of science, reality compared to the abstract.

        • dogctor

          If you want to know what reality is, realize this: the producers of currently commercialized agricultural GMOs care as much about science as a macaque cares about manners and etiquette.

          • thesafesurfer

            ….. and now back to a conversation that relies on rational thought supported by empirical evidence.

  • GJPinks

    At least Beck provides sources that can be verified.

  • Darby42164

    It’s simple why this happened. The media being liberals are also environmentalists. As such they ascribe to the more extreme pseudoscientific beliefs they hold. Seeing an opportunity to promote those views, they put out articles on this study. They may retract those articles but the damage is done and this will take on a life of its own in the environmental movement. They will hold this up as proof for banning the herbicide. As a scientist, I have watched the media take ideological positions and then cherry pick studies, no matter how bad, to justify their position. The only shock here is that the author of this article is only now waking up to this.

  • dougbrockman

    It’s only a “study” if it involves climate research.

  • hmrhonda

    Does this author work for Monsanto? Or does he just take their money “under the table”. I would like to offer him a glass of glyphosate to drink.
    The rest of us should be able to decide for ourselves whether or not we want to eat this stuff so it should be labeled as GMO or nonGMO. Let free consumers decide for themselves what they want to put into their bodies.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=678162576 Ce Gzz

    it is also around the Huffington post, creating massive fear!

  • cagw_skeptic99

    When will we see a similar article on the pseudo science of global warming alarmism.

  • Rick

    Keith Kloor, you are a turd sandwhich my friend.

  • randomrandori

    So
    are people just making this stuff up out whole cloth, fabricating
    studies and results? If there is any possibility of this effect being
    verified then don’t you think it deserves more study by multiple
    credible researchers? This article is an example
    of pseudojournalism; labeling concerned environmentalists as
    “anti-biotech activists” and linking them w/ “fellow travelers in the
    anti-vaccine movement”. What hyperbole and sensationalist language. To
    dissuade any critical thinking on this subject. The message probably is:
    If you disagree w/ us you must be looney. As if Discover wasn’t a green-washed magazine that promotes high-tech all the way to the bank.

  • Joseph K. Del Valle

    We will never arrive at an objective truth until we all agree to thoroughly look at each other’s arguments accurately and completely.

    My question then, is while the critiquing of the alarmists is valid (there is certainly no reference to any studies in the news article but I have yet to review the paper itself. If necessary, I will update this post accordingly when I do.)

    Likewise, however, why does the author of this article and the various commentators on it (my apology to any to whom this criticism does not apply) not likewise critique the statements of Monsanto to the effect thatglyphosate “HAS BEEN PROVEN SAFE” and that it has been “very, very, extensively studied. While this is certainly a response- not a paper, to give any weight to it Reuters should certainly have sought some substantive, study based, support for such claims. I have no idea why the author of this article failed to even mention that- especially since it is Monsanto who (at least according to my understanding) has the most significant financial stake in this.

  • eastcastle007 gore

    DISCOVER here publishes an article by someone to attack another article published elsewhere. To attack a paper, solid facts or evidence are required. But the basis for the attack here is heavily rely on the comments, through UPDATE, from Twitter which are only individuals’ opinions and thus a kind of ghosip without scientific backing or fact-checking, the very thing this article attacks against the other article. Therefore, neither of the articles is science- or fact-based although I did not read the other article and so unaware whether the other article indeed lacks facts, as accused of by this DISCOVER article.

  • http://blogs.discovermagazine.com Robert Lensch

    “Pure” science is more likely to promote “worthwhile” finds than corporate science. AND their published papers are much less prone to dangerous prejudicial motives. AND their references are capable of causing orgasmic episodes (but only in the truly educated.)

  • reginabee

    The USA has failed to adopt the precautionary principle when it comes to monsanto and companies. It seems like a no brainer to me. Stop using these toxins by placing a moratorium and let’s see what happens. Isn’t that science?

  • FloxieHope

    Here is the actual article – http://www.mdpi.com/1099-4300/15/4/1416 If you don’t think that there is cause for concern, you aren’t looking hard enough.

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Collide-a-Scape

Collide-a-Scape is a wide-ranging blog forum that explores issues at the nexus of science, culture and society.

About Keith Kloor

Keith Kloor is a NYC-based journalist, and an adjunct professor of journalism at New York University. His work has appeared in Slate, Science, Discover, and the Washington Post magazine, among other outlets. From 2000 to 2008, he was a senior editor at Audubon Magazine. In 2008-2009, he was a Fellow at the University of Colorado’s Center for Environmental Journalism, in Boulder, where he studied how a changing environment (including climate change) influenced prehistoric societies in the U.S. Southwest. He covers a wide range of topics, from conservation biology and biotechnology to urban planning and archaeology.

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