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Project News and Views

GMO Health Risks — Financial Conflicts and Suppression Bias Scientific Understanding

Sheldon Krimsky, Tufts University Professor of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning, recently published an excellent and data-laden analysis of GMO health risks:

Krimsky, Sheldon. “An Illusory Consensus behind GMO Health Assessment.” Science, Technology & Human Values (2015): 0162243915598381.

Certain prominent scientists and policymakers claim there is a scientific consensus on GMO safety and call anyone whose opinions differ “anti-science” or a “GMO denier.” Such advocates believe “that genetically modified crops currently in commercial use and those yet to be commercialized are inherently safe for human consumption and do not have to be tested.”

Krimsky uses several methods to critically assesses this claim of a scientific consensus. He first identifies 8 scientific reviews of GMO health effects and finds that each reaches different conclusions on safety. Krimsky then discusses the widely divergent concerns about GMO health risks expressed by different professional bodies. He points out that differing opinions on GMO safety can in part be attributed to differences in the body of research selected for review. However, he also identifies other factors.

Some of the disagreement over GMO health risks clearly arises from personal or institutional conflicts of interest (COI). The authors of one review of COI and GMOs found that “without a conflict of interest there was a 23 percent chance of reaching an unfavorable conclusion and with a COI there was only a 2 percent chance.”

Many of the reviews themselves point out the paucity of published data assessing GMO health risks. Others note that each GMO must be analyzed for risk independently, on a “case by case” basis, as every independently derived GMO is unique. Finally, Krimsky identifies and discusses the findings of 26 scientific studies that found GMO health risks. He also covers in depth the cases of two respected and productive scientists, Arpad Pusztai and Gilles-Eric Seralini, who published findings of harm from GMOs. As was the case for Pusztai and Seralini, such research findings are frequently assessed in a biased manner and the researchers themselves may be personally attacked and heavily penalized. The general lack of research on GMO health effects, therefore, may may be due in part to the current scientific and media environment which is clearly hostile to findings that GMOs cause health problems.

An Illusory Consensus behind GMO Health Assessment” is a well-documented and clearly-presented paper that addresses several important issues (1) scientific risk assessment of GMOs (2) the impact of conflicts of interest on science and (3) how to interpret research indicating GMOs harm health. None of his findings support the claim that GMOs are safe and should be unregulated. Neither do they support the claim that there is a scientific consensus on GMO safety.

Further reading:

Landrigan, Philip J., and Charles Benbrook. “GMOs, Herbicides, and Public Health.” New England Journal of Medicine 373.8 (2015): 693-695.
Hilbeck, Angelika, et al. “No scientific consensus on GMO safety.” Environmental Sciences Europe 27.1 (2015): 4.
Latham, Jonathan “Fakethrough! GMOs and the Capitulation of Science Journalism.” Independent Science News January 2014.
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The Twin Research Debate in American Criminology

New publication: The Twin Research Debate in American Criminology

by Jay Joseph, Claudia Chaufan, Ken Richardson, Doron Shultziner, Roar Fosse, Oliver James, Jonathan Latham, and John Read

Published in Logos (Vol 14) 2015.

Summary: Classical twin research has been one of the most influential research methods in all of biology. Twin research is based on the proposition that human twins can be either monozygotic (genetically identical) or dizygotic (share 50% of their genes) and this genetic difference can be used to infer the magnitude of a putative genetic component contributing to any physical or behavioural trait. Based largely on many thousands of such studies, which usually show that monozygotic twins are significantly more alike than are dizygotic twins, the scientific community at large has concluded that there is a strong genetic component to many human attributes. Characters for which such conclusions have been reached include practically every familiar physical and mental illness (including heart disease, diabetes, Parkinsonism, ADHD, etc.) and also human behaviours such as IQ, voting preferences, and criminality.

The flaw in this logic, which is outlined in this paper, is that this twin methodology makes use of improbable assumptions. Most notable of these is that the environments of monozygotic and dizygotic twins are identical, and in particular that the environments of monozygotic twins are not more alike. This particular assumption is called the equal environment assumption (EEA). This assumption has never been proven. On the contrary, it can clearly be shown to be often false. This casts grave doubt on ALL twin study findings.

The genetic explanations extrapolated from twin studies have almost never been supported by actual positive findings of significant gene variants in human populations (e.g. Manolio et al., 2009). This failure provides another reason to suppose that the twin method is flawed and we propose that this faultiness lies with the equal environment assumption. In other words, the explanation for the higher similarity of monozygotic twins compared to dizygotic ones is not their genes but their more similar environments.

In this paper, we examine the specific flaws in the EEA from the perspective of criminology, but equivalent or identical arguments apply to all twin research. The scientific implication is that most human variation results from environmental variation in physical, chemical, and social factors (or chance) and not from variation between genes or genomes, and that all twin research is effectively worthless. More broadly it also follows that society has been erroneously led by genetic researchers into a genetic determinist mindset that bears little relation to reality.

Manolio T. et al. (2009) Finding the missing heritability of complex diseases. Nature 461: 747-753.

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Neoliberal Ebola: The Agroeconomic Origins of the Ebola Outbreak

Neoliberal Ebola: The Agroeconomic Origins of the Ebola Outbreak by Rob Wallace, PhD has just been published on Independent Science News.

Synopsis: The West African Ebola virus outbreak of 2014/2015 killed over 11,000 people. The outbreak has been assumed in the Western media and elsewhere to be caused by a novel Ebola virus strain. The scientific evidence, however, does not suggest the strain responsible is in anyway unusual. So, if not the virus itself, what else might explain the outbreak?

The regions affected by Ebola are undergoing environmental disruption, social upheaval and often impoverishment as a result of land use changes and “investment.” Funded by European and other international sources, large parts of West Africa are being transformed by landgrabbing, systematic plunder and forest decimation. However, this agroeconomic story has been lost from most media accounts. This is profoundly unfortunate. Not only is it an important story in its own right, it is also a better explanation of the origins of the Ebola outbreak. Equally crucially, it has implications for agriculture and the prevention of future disease outbreaks worldwide.

The author Dr. Rob Wallace is an evolutionary biologist and public health phylogeographer currently visiting the Institute of Global Studies at the University of Minnesota.

Read this important article at: http://www.independentsciencenews.org/health/neoliberal-ebola-the-agroeconomic-origins-of-the-ebola-outbreak/

For more on the topic see https://farmingpathogens.wordpress.com/

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From DDT to Roundup by Evaggelos Vallianatos

On July 17, 2015, Independent Science News published “Ruthless Power and Deleterious Politics: From DDT to Roundup” a new article by former EPA analyst Evaggelos Vallianatos.

Synopsis: The modern controversy over Roundup (glyphosate) and the
documentation of its effects on humans, animals and soils, has much in common
with that over DDT fifty years ago. In particular, Monsanto recycles standard
industry tactics in its attempts to sideline critics while Read More »

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Monsanto’s Worst Fear May Be Coming True

Independent Science News has just published “Monsanto’s Worst Fear May Be Coming True,” an important new article by Jonathan Latham of the Bioscience Resource Project.

Synopsis: The decision of the restaurant chain Chipotle to go GMO-free is potentially a huge blow to the agbiotech industry. The decision opens up a crack in the previously solid front offered by the food industry in support of GMOs. Two factors are at work that will widen that crack: the growing unpopularity of GMOs and Read More »

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Anthropocene Boosters and the Attack on Wilderness Conservation

Independent Science News has just published: Anthropocene Boosters and the Attack on Wilderness Conservation an important new article by George Wuerthner, the Ecological Projects Director of the Foundation for Deep Ecology. While the Anthropocene booster agenda opposes wilderness conservation, it is also an attack on public health as well as social and environmental justice movements — including the food movement.

Synopsis: Conservation is under attack. The attack comes from individuals and institutions (described in this article as Anthropocene Boosters, but sometimes referred to as “Neo-greens,” the “New Conservationists,” the “New Environmentalism,” etc.) whose intention is to undermine traditional wildlife conservation Read More »

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What Happened to Obama’s Promise to Restore Scientific Integrity?

Independent Science News has just published “What Happened to Obama’s Promise to Restore Scientific Integrity?” by Jonathan Latham, PhD.

Brief summary:

For plenty of people, including many outside academia, President Obama was elected as a champion of rationality and integrity. In the standard narrative, after the corruption of the Bush era, President Obama would Read More »

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New Research Links Neonicotinoid Pesticides to Monarch Butterfly Declines

Independent Science News has just published: New Research Links Neonicotinoid Pesticides to Monarch Butterfly Declines by Jonathan Latham, PhD

Article synopsis: New research has identified the neonicotinoid insecticide clothianidin as a likely contributor to monarch butterfly declines in North America. The research, published on April 3rd 2015, identifies concentrations of clothianidin as low as 1 part per billion as harmful to monarch butterfly caterpillars. These concentrations of clothianidin were found on naturally growing milkweeds sampled by the researchers. Read More »

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Food Sovereignty — best bet for food and environmental security

“(P)romoting self-sufficiency and food sovereignty does not compromise global food security and environmental quality. On the contrary, it is the best option for feeding humans and safeguarding the planet. ”

Published today in Independent Science News: Will Food Sovereignty Starve the Poor and Punish the Planet? by Gilles Billen, Luis Lassaletta and Josette Garnier. Read More »

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Agroecology Declaration Outlines Food Sovereignty Vision and Rejects Co-option by Industrial Agriculture

The recent Declaration of the International Forum for Agroecology, Nyéléni, Mali (27 February 2015) represents “diverse organizations and international movements of small-scale food producers and consumers, including peasants, indigenous peoples and communities (together with hunter and gatherers), family farmers, rural workers, herders and pastoralists, fisherfolk and urban people.” According to the declaration, the peoples and organizations represented “produce some 70% of the food consumed by humanity. They are the primary global investors in agriculture, as well as the primary providers of jobs and livelihoods in the world.”

The declaration outlines the integral role that agroecology must play in creating equitable and healthy food systems while at the same time stabilizing, mitigating and allowing adaptation to climate change. As explained in Read More »

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