2012: The year crazy and stupid went mainstream


I’ve always been of the mind that stupid should hurt, so 2012 was a hard one for the Contrarian. It was the year that crazy and stupid went mainstream, or at least when I first noticed it did. It was the year a manufactured issue, the safety of GMOs, came to the popular progressive imagination. Progressives embraced every crackpot and their theories.  And none of them felt any pain due to their stupidity.

Now, the fact they were being stupid had nothing to do with a lack of intelligence, although there were some people who seemed downright unhinged. These were people with whom I was in agreement with on most issues. It was very distressing.

After spending countless hours on this blog and comment boards trying to correct the errors, and set straight all the bogus information that was being peddled by the anti-GMO crowd, I discovered an alarming trend. The more I countered the nonsense with scientific peer-reviewed facts and evidence, the harder the anti-GMO crowd dug in their heels.  It was like confirmation bias, cognitive dissonance and identity politics joined forces to create a gigantic mental disturbance field.

I didn’t understand it, then I came across a book called,  Experiments With People: Revelations from Social Psychology, by psychologists Robert P. Abelson, Aiden Gregg,and Kurt P. Frey. It was a study on doomsday cults. There was this Eureka moment:

“..continuing to proselytize on behalf of a doomsday cult whose prophecies have been disconfirmed, although it makes little logical sense, makes plenty of psychological sense if people have already spent months proselytizing on the cult’s behalf. Persevering allows them to avoid the embarrassment of how wrong they were in the first place.”

That’s it. The anti-GMO crowd are like a doomsday cult.  Hyberole? Probably, but both cults have their similarities. Both are so heavily invested in their belief, they have no choice but to carry on in spite of evidence to the contrary. The  anti-GMO crowd does share a sort of doomsday mentality in the sense they believe GMOs will kill us all.

Another mental tool the anti-GMO crowd embraces is a version of Godwin’s Law or Reductio ad Hitlerum or Aargumentum ad Hitlerum (Reduce/argument to Hitler.) Just replace Hitler with Monsanto and there it is.  This is a common response. If you explain to someone why they are wrong using facts and evidence, you will eventually be accused of being a shill for Monsanto.

No one knows this better than Kevin Folta, a plant scientist at the University of Florida. In Six Degrees of Monsanto, a recent post at his blog, Illumination, he chronicles an online discussion he had with an anti-GMO person.

Rather than look for real evidence to support his point, he scoured the web for the words “Monsanto” and “Folta”.

They search for any connection, real or imagined; direct or tenuous to Monsanto because they don’t have the facts on their side.

And here comes the real bummer. Whereas progressives used to have a healthy mistrust of government and corporations, (for good reason) that mistrust has now become one ginormous conspiracy fueled by the insanity of people like Jeffrey Smith, Dr. Mercola, Mike Adams and Ronnie Cummins.

In order to bolster their belief system, they have bought into the crazy talk and lies promoted by these four horsemen of the Aquackalypse. These clowns have managed to tap into the corporate mistrust of progressives  and use it to advance their own crackpot agendas.

Now, I’m not a scientist.  I’m just a progressive who has managed, over the decades to overcome my confirmation biases and notice red flags.  I’ve becomes a real skeptic when someone is pushing an agenda, even when it comes from my side and people are screaming doom and gloom.  It’s one of the reasons I came late to the climate change party.  I’ll admit that.  But what I did was check out the actual science and my thinking changed. (Actually I did believe it, but I was wary of how much humans contributed to it.)

When the GMO issue hit my radar about a year and a half ago another one of those red flags went up. It was all doom and gloom.  So, I did what I did with climate change. I did some research. What I found was that every single piece of evidence citing safety and health issues regarding GMOs weren’t true or had been discredited.

What was worse is that it was actually difficult to find independent science.  I had to wade through all the activist sites which turned out to be a real echo chamber. The same information and the same articles kept popping up. Then I started seeing the same bylines and sources for the information. Off I went to find out who those guys were.  That’s when I found the crackpots, fraud and charlatans.

I became embarrassed as a progressive. These were my peeps.  At first it was easy to chalk it up to a bunch of cranks and then I noticed that friends were parroting this misinformation. People I knew weren’t dumb. That’s when I realized the nonsense had hit the progressive mainstream. And even more horrific is when I would explain why they were wrong on some science point… they said it… Monsanto. It was coming from inside the house!

That started a whole new conversation about separating the technology from the corporations that use it. Look, I’m an old, out shape smoker. My lungs don’t have the capacity they used to.

Side Note: I actually had one of my best friends accuse me of defending BigAgra simply because I didn’t believe community gardens could feed the world and that in many ways organic is a scam. She refused my challenge of bringing over a conventional apple and and organic one and she had to pick which was which by taste.

As a way to end this up, since I don’t have a closing, I think this is the year when the progressive/liberal/left went off the rails regarding science. They went with their identity politics and gave credibility to the cranks. They not only gave credibility to the cranks, they joined forces with them.

End note: I would like to thank the  people who  helped this non-scientist guy along his way.  The first are Pamela Ronald and Raoul Adamchak who took time out of their vacation to answer my questions when I was writing my first posts on the issue. They didn’t know me from Adam. The second is Anastasia Bodnar who allowed to me to use her succinct description of how transgenics work even though she probably thinks I’m a weirdo.  ( I am) Another is Monsanto shill, Kevin Folta. He has given me some positive reinforcement to make me think I’m not that way off base. And I want to thank the agricultural folks who I asked for assistance to understand things and who were more than happy to answer my questions.

Happy New Year.

Guest blogger: Gun control and the availability heuristic


NOTE: I was going to write about this topic and I probably will in the next few days, but faithful reader of Contrary and friend, Stan Oh asked if he might do a blog post on the topic. He has some interesting thoughts. I don’t necessarily agree or disagree with what he writes, but it is an interesting sober take on a hot button, emotional issue.

If you’re in the “obviously we need to ban guns” camp like me and are open to having the obviousness of your position challenged, check out Jeffrey Goldberg’s piece in The Atlantic on Tuscon and Megan McArdle on The Daily Beast on Newtown.

In summary, both Goldberg and McArdle agree that with almost 300 million guns already in circulation, banning guns outright is an impossible (and unconstitutional) task. Both support closing the gun show loophole which is something everyone likes although it’s worth noting that no gun show guns were used in Newtown, Tuscon, Virginia Tech and most of the other mass shootings in the U.S. (the only exception I could find was Columbine where a friend of the killers made a straw purchase on their behalf at a gun show—even then if a background check was required she would’ve passed). In fact, gun shows were the source of less than 1% of the guns used by incarcerated criminals in general.

McArdle seems to say “these things are gonna happen from time to time deal with it” and in the end wants unarmed people to bum rush mass shooters (just read it). McArdle is being ridiculed for this suggestion but Goldberg points out that it’s the same one being made by the Dept of Homeland Security if you are faced with an “active shooter” situation. It’s the type of thing that makes a person a hero. McArdle’s suggestion may be unrealistic but to guffaw at it is to show cynicism toward the hero-potential of the average citizen.

It seems like Goldberg subscribes to the popular gun rights argument that more guns in the hands of law-abiding citizens can help reduce gun deaths. But he denies wanting teachers to carry guns even though he says:

I put to Tom Mauser a variation of the question I had asked Barton. What if a teacher or an administrator inside Columbine High School had been armed on the day of the massacre? Unlike the theater in Aurora, the school was brightly lit, and not as densely packed. If someone with a gun had confronted Harris and Klebold in the library, he or she would have been able, at the very least, to distract the killers—perhaps even long enough for them to be tackled or disarmed.

In his piece, Goldberg takes on critics of right to carry, like John Gilchrist, the legislative counsel for the Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police. Gilchrist, in his 2003 testimony against the state’s proposed right to carry law said “If 200,000 to 300,000 citizens begin carrying a concealed weapon, common sense tells us that accidents will become a daily event.” The law passed and went into effect in 2004. Goldberg spoke to Gilchrist recently to see if his prediction panned out:

Gilchrist said he did not know the exact statistics on gun-related incidents…He says, however, that he tracks gun usage anecdotally. “You can look in the newspaper. I consciously look for stories that deal with guns. There are more and more articles in The Columbus Dispatch about people using guns inappropriately.”

I and I think most gun control advocates have these types of thoughts and Goldberg rightly questions them. A psychologist would say Gilchrist is operating under the availability heuristic—”when people make judgments about the probability of events by the ease with which examples come to mind” (Wikipedia).The ease with which examples of gun violence come to mind is very high. “If it bleeds it leads” media culture is largely to blame here I think. Any argument supported mostly by “common sense” and anecdotal evidence needs closer scrutiny. This I think is where obviousness comes in. An opinion that seems rooted in common sense seems obviously right. Goldberg continues:

Gilchrist’s argument would be convincing but for one thing: the firearm crime rate in Ohio remained steady after the concealed-carry law passed in 2004.

Goldberg’s right and that puts a real crimp in the central argument of gun control advocates—that more guns lead to more crime. In response to Goldberg, Alex Seitz-Wald on Salon.com writes:

Researchers at Johns Hopkins University recently conducted a review of all the existing academic literature on right-to-carry and found: “The most consistent finding across studies which correct for these flaws is that RTC laws are associated with an increase in aggravated assaults.” They estimated the increase to be about 1 to 9 percent.

So which is it? Goldberg’s selection of Ohio might have something to do with the discrepancy. 41 states have implemented “shall issue” right to carry laws, it might be more useful to look at the rate of gun crime in the aggregate. Is Ohio an outlier? What about the suicide rate? Surely right to carry correlates with a clear increase in the suicide rate given the famous link between owning guns and suicide? The suicide rate in the U.S. has been declining steadily for the past 20 years.

But here’s the confusing part for me: it seems like both Goldberg and Seitz-Wald are assuming that right to carry laws increase the rate of gun ownership but during the 10 year period that most states passed right to carry, rates of gun ownership in the U.S. have either remained steady or declined depending on who you listen to. During that period there was a decline in violent crime and suicide rates, gun accidents did not become a “daily event” (swimming pools are another story.) In this context, the assumption on the part of gun control advocates that having lax gun control laws leads to an increase in the number of guns that leads to an increase in gun crime is far from obvious.

Anthony Gucciardi: Anti-science crackpot and pretend journalist


The liberal/left is constantly excoriating FoxNews for their dishonest and incredibly slanted reporting. The thing is, every once in a while, whether by design or accident they get it right. This can not be said for Anthony Gucciardi.

Gucciardi is a writer for Nation of Change and the Natural Society websites. His bio lists him as “an accomplished investigative journalist whose articles have appeared on top news sites and have been read by millions worldwide. Anthony’s articles have been featured on top health & political websites read by millions worldwide such as Reuters, Yahoo News, MSNBC, and Bloomberg.”

If those sites are publishing him they need a better vetting process. Everything Gucciardi writes is wrong or misleading. I’m not talking once in a while, or even often. I mean every single article, bar none. If at one time he was a journalist, he sure isn’t one now.  He’s an alternative health, anti-GMO, anti-vax, crackpot activist.

His November 30th column, EU Food Safety Agency: Please Stop Performing GMO Research is a classic example of his dishonesty.  That headline is absolutely not true. The issue is the totally discredited Seralini study (which he still supports). What the ESFA actually said was there was no need to go back and re-test the GM corn that since it has been found safe.  In fact, the article he links to doesn’t say that either. What is says is that the EFSA  “finds there is no need to re-examine its previous safety evaluations of NK603,” That’s a far cry from saying stop all GMO testing.

In the same article he references Wikileaks documents which tells of how Monsanto used its muscle with the US Government to apply pressure to countries so they would accept GMOs. While that is true, its old news and most likely not happening anymore. It happened during the Bush II years and there is no evidence that the policy was continued under Obama. The ambassador, a Bush crony who was the point man is no longer in government.

Back in June he wrote, Genetically Modified Grass Kills Cattle By Producing Warfare Chemical Cyanide, another bullshit article. “Another report of genetically modified creations taking the lives of livestock has hit the media, and this time genetically modified grass has been identified as the culprit according to CBS News. Shockingly (and quite disturbingly), the GM grass actually produced toxic cyanide

Wrong again, Tony. While the CBS news report originally reported the grass was GM, they later corrected the error.  Tony never issued an update to correct the error. I wrote about this issue back in June as well:

“According to the Texas Agricultural Service:

“Tifton 85 is a hybrid bermudagrass that was jointly developed and officially released in 1992 by the USDAARS and the University of Georgia Coastal Plain Experiment Station in Tifton, Georgia. It is a cross between a selection from South Africa (PI 290884) and Tifton 68.”

What happened was the grass started spontaneously producing cyanide gas. Texas has been experiencing a drought and there is a connection. During droughts, some grasses like Tifton 85 can produce high concentrations of cyanide.”

In an “Activist” website  post back in June, he wrote about Gottfried Gloeckner  a German farmer who claimed Sygenta’s Bt corn was the cause of the deaths of 70 of his cattle. Syngenta was charged and the charges were dismissed when a court couldn’t find a connection. Gucciardi wrote Gloeckner launched an investigation in conjunction with the Robert Koch Institute (RKI) and Syngenta to get to determine the exact cause(s) of the deaths.  He says that at the time of his piece the results weren’t made public but immediately goes on to say, “The charges bring to light just how far large biotechnology companies will go to conceal evidence linking their genetically modified products to serious harm.”

So what did kill Gloeckner’s cows? Well, they tested and found no problems with the Bt corn. What they did find were  botulism pathogens in the one of the dead cows, evidence in a second one and in three of the 5 surviving cows. They also found mycotoxins in the feed and bad hygiene standards at the farm, all of which could lead to illness and death. Did we get an update from Tony?

In 2011, he wrote an anti-vax article for The Canadian. Stephen Novella, a clinical neurologist criticized that article, writing on his blog, ” Everything Gucciardi wrote is either outright factually wrong, or incomplete in a way that makes it highly misleading.”

These are just a few examples of Gucciardi’s so-called journalism.

When old Tony isn’t writing nonsense, he is hawking alternative health products. He is a partner in Natural Attitude which peddles, advanced spagyrex formulations.  You might ask, what the hell is that? It’s a trademarked name for an old medieval process called Spagyrics. Again you ask, “huh?”  Without going into a detailed  explanation,  just think alchemy.

By the way, the product is sold exclusively through Mike Adams’ naturalnews.com.

What are the odds?

Church of the Organic demand Dr. Oz’s head on a pike as an example to the others


An angry, manure smelling mob from the Church of the Organic, citronella torches ablaze and artisanal pitchforks held aloft, stormed the production studios of TV’s Dr Oz after it was revealed he wrote an article in the current issue of  Time Magazine saying  conventional foods, like frozen peas and carrots, were A-OK by him.

Frightened production employees cowered under desks as the horde rampaged through the studios in search of Oz. Witnesses said the throng overturned desks and chairs demanding the surrender of the heretical Oz.  Oz wasn’t on the premises and was said to be in hiding in a secure safe house provided by Birdseye.

Update:

I don’t have a subscription to Time, so I wasn’t able to access the actual article on their site, but I did manage did get what I think is his article from another site. In it he utters the heretical notion that foodies are “snobs”  and “you don’t need to eat like the 1% to eat healthily.” He says that regular food is as healthy as organic.  But his most egregious crime was basically saying,  organic food isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

Organic church member and writer for Nation of Change and Natural Society, Anthony Gucciardi  takes the Oz to task.  He and others somehow manage to come to the conclusion that due to his advocacy of conventional food, that makes him a shill for GMO food even though Oz never once mentions GMOs in his article.  He also quotes the anti-vax and all around health lunatic, Mike “GMOs are the new Zyklon B” Adams as a source.

(Side note: I have my problems with Gucciardi which I will deal with in an upcoming post. I have never seen any so-called journalist write such consistently misleading and dishonest articles.)

The faithful weighed in on the comment board and savaged him, their former Pope of Nonsense.  Here are some examples of what they’re saying :

Sounds too much like he has downed the Kool-Aid and is now puking it back at his credulous audience. Does he have no reservations about GMO at ALL?

Dr. Oz needs to go hide behind the curtain. He’s drinking the kool-aid of Monsanto and their ilk…

He completely lost his credibility. I wonder how much Monsanto paid him for that? He is supposed to check the research before making blind claims like that. What a hypocrite! He sold his soul.

He has sold out. They probably threatened to take him off of the air.

Well, let me be the first one to welcome Dr. Oz to our family of Monsanto shills.

Monsanto: Profits, pirates and private dicks


Despite the outcry from the anti-GMO crowd about the dangers of GMO foods, Monsanto’s profit for the second fiscal quarter of 2012 was $4.75 billion, up from $4.13 billion at the same time last year.  Roughly half of that was sales of their GMO corn, a constant target of the AGM crowd. Sales of Bt corn rose 35%.  International sales also contributed to the increase. Overseas, one of the other evil giants, Syngenta posted a 47% increase in sales. Much of the sales increase is in Central and  South America. Eastern Europe also figures into the mix

It appears farmers aren’t hearing the activists.  AGMs may feel good about their campaign, but those who actually buy the seeds seem to be turning a deaf ear. So, in essence, the AGM war against GMOs and Monsanto, et al is also a war against farmers, or should I say, non-organic farmers. If these big companies are screwing over farmers left and right, why are they seeing record increases in sales and profits?

The drought that ravaged corn crops this year had growers looking toward new strains, specifically drought resistant GMO corn. Some farmers have volunteered to plant new drought resistant test fields.

If the AGM crusade  is serious, why aren’t they targeting farmers who buy the seeds, seemingly in increasing numbers?  Why aren’t they protesting  farms that grow GMO crops, especially next to organic farms?

Now having said all this it would be naive to believe that all the business practices of companies like Monsanto are puppies shitting rainbows. They can be pretty hard ass in the enforcement of their patents.  And, Monsanto’s flexing their muscle through the Bush II administration to strong arm recalcitrant European countries is unacceptable. But, the ambassador leading that charge, Craig Stapleton, a Bush crony is gone and it seems unlikely the Obama administration has continued that campaign.

But what about all the suing that Monsanto does? How do they know if a farmer is illegally using their seeds? From all accounts, it’s people ratting our their neighbors.  It also the result of overzealous private dicks the company hires. Reports have said these seed shamuses often misrepresent themselves to gain access to farmers’ lands posing as such things as surveyors and they follow suspected seed pirates and videotape them.  This is the kind of issue on which activists should concentrate. There are enough cases of intimidation of farmers who in many cases are actually, truly innocent.

They are spending all their hard begged money on the wrong target. They could take that money and investigate the abuses and publicize that instead of their imagined horrors of GMOs

Yes, I said seed pirates. Seed piracy is the action of  illegal labeling and selling of proprietary crop seed.  They call it brown bagging. According to reports, it’s a fast growing business in the South and it’s not just GMO seeds but conventional as well.

The online version of  Arkansas Business, has an article detailing this practice. Mary Smith,  director of the Seed Division of the Arkansas Plant Board is quoted as saying. “The problem has become big enough that more large companies are going out and trying to enforce their rights.”

Syngenta  and Agripro, two seed companies currently have about a six lawsuits in Arkansas claiming farmers and distributors are engaging in a black market for wheat seeds. And as we know, there is no GM wheat on the market.

“I’ve been told by dealers and seedsmen all the way from here to North Carolina that anywhere from 35 to 50 percent of all of the wheat acres in the Midsouth have been planted with seeds gotten illegally,” said Duff Nolan, a Stuttgart attorney representing the seed companies.

Ah, you may be saying to yourself, that’s what the companies claim. Well, apparently even farmers don’t dispute that numbers.  “It’s at least that much,” said David Farabough, a Lincoln County farmer and member of the Arkansas Wheat Growers Association. “It’s a very common practice, and that number seems pretty accurate.”

Now you’re asking, there’s a black market for seeds? What’s up with that? According to the article, farmers in Arkansas grow what they call soft wheat which is used for such items as cookies and cakes. In case you don’t choose to read the article here’s the bottom line.

Wheat expert William Johnson of the University of Arkansas says growers have the choice between inexpensive seeds or the pricier,  proprietary seeds.  He says the proprietary seeds are superior to the publicly versions providing better yields and more pest resistance. The Arkansas Business article goes into more details about the economic issues involved.

As to the brown bagging issue, it doesn’t seem to be that new. I came across an article in Vanity Fair from 2008 that has examples of  Monsanto’s brutal enforcement tactics. But one thing stuck out.  Private dicks were investigating a farmer for  infringement.  The article quotes from a Monsanto court document which says, “…through surveillance of Mr. Rinehart’s farm facility and farming operations, observed Defendant planting brown bag (my emphasis  soybean seed. Mr. Moore observed the Defendant take the brown bag soybeans to a field, which was subsequently loaded into a grain drill and planted.” 

So, what dos this all mean? It means that anti-GMO activists are barking up the wrong tree. Their fight is misplaced. They’ve picked GMO’s when that isn’t the fight. The fight should be against all too power multi-nationals that engage in as some have described it, a scorched earth policy in their quest for market domination.  They could gain real public traction if they ditched the anti-science, anti-progress  bullshit and focused on the real enemy.