It’s Time for the Religious to Do Some Due Diligence. Reuters and Roundup.

Today I’d like to tell you quite an interesting story of what goes on behind the scenes here as I cover the subject of agriculture and try to present readers with an informed view of reality based on science. Something happened in the past couple of days that felt routine to me in my news gathering process, but which turned into a bigger story.

First, a little background on how I use twitter as part of my process of gathering weekly news here.

Twitter is a great tool for gathering news and I have some favorite sources on twitter that I follow. I also have three twitter feeds built into this site in the dark green news section at the very bottom, which some readers here probably never go to while others find it useful. It’s there primarily for myself, but available to anyone, just like the “Latest Ag News” tab above.

The top twitter feed on the right in the green box below is one that I designed myself which uses my favorite Ag tweeters. The second, from Rachel’s Network, is a list on which I’m included, which is aggregated by a notable group of women out of Washington D.C. who focus on sustainability in food and agriculture. I find that list keeps me informed of some of the sources being promoted which I sometimes categorize as more activist-radical than I generally view myself. It is important that I know that arena of news, too.

The third twitter list that I follow is by the Federal Reserve Banks, just because. This list was composed by CME Group, just as the first list was composed by myself. Then, the way twitter works, others can come along and follow lists by anyone, provided they are “public” lists, not “private”. [I might use this opportunity to boast that because of some of what I cover here, I'm getting invitations these days to attend some of the Federal Reserve Banking meetings, and am currently sitting on an invitation to hear Bernanke speak next month in Chicago. I don't think I'll be going, but wish I could as it might be one of his last speeches some are speculating — since he's announced that he's not going to Jackson Hole this year. And, no, I'm not endorsing banksters here.]

Back to the real subject of this post.

It just felt routine to me, when during my normal news hunting process, I caught this tweet from Huffington Post:

I (already skeptical) clicked on it and saw this:

I didn’t waste much time with it, maybe a minute altogether, because I see these things not infrequently and ignore them. I’m only one person and don’t have time to take on every sensationalist anti-GM/Monsanto story, popular as they are. But, what made this a bigger story was the fact that Reuters featured it.

Huff-Post’s article began like this:

April 25 (Reuters) – 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. The peer-reviewed report, published last week in the scientific journal Entropy, said evidence indicates that residues of “glyphosate,” the chief ingredient in Roundup weed killer, which is sprayed over millions of acres of crops, has been found in food. … “Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body,” the study says. We “have hit upon something very important that needs to be taken seriously and further investigated.”

Now it doesn’t take much of a scientist to look at that and quickly have a multitude of red flags go off. Too general. Too unprovable. Goes against all the information out there to date.

Kudos to Keith Kloor, with the Discover Magazine Blog, “Collide-A-Scape”, who wrote this must-read rebuttal to the story, “When Media Uncritically Cover 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.” 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.”

There is much more of interest in Kloor’s coverage, so please read it.

The usual suspects were gleefully promoting the Reuters article, however, like this next one who should have been more careful because he’s considered the nation’s food expert/watchdog and is promoting his latest book right now. [Pollan is a great writer, thinker, and speaker. He's taught Americans a great deal about questioning the system at large. But.]

Pollan was bombarded by at least a few science writers on twitter following his tweet. And, I must agree that if he is to have the status which he does along with that goes an incredible responsibility to teach us science and not religion.

Wanting to save face Pollan tweeted this after the above tweeters called him on his judgment. Note that I do credit Pollan for not deleting his tweet, like other “reputable” food tweeters I noticed deleted theirs!

And Huff-Post also followed-up their poor choice with this:

As for me, I sigh, and say this is just an average day in my life of collecting news for you, dear readers.

16 thoughts on “It’s Time for the Religious to Do Some Due Diligence. Reuters and Roundup.”

  1. Awesome.

    With all due respect, what is your education in biochemistry and what is your level of experience in internal medicine… metabolic syndrome, IBD, hepatology, etc?

    Because, you know– I take all of my medical advice (uncritically) from plant pathologists, Monsanto and agriculture experts.

    1. My background education is in laboratory medicine and human medicine including a couple of months of clinical internal medicine and does in fact include a fair amount of biochemistry.

  2. That the article grew is one point, importantly, and that one or more of the authors are borrowing the credulity of MIT is another.

    http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2012/11/20/dumpster-diving-in-the-vaers-database-again/

    Beyond Reuters, methinks senior editors will be asking their reporters to better evaluate sources, and that’s a good thing. Day after day, news bureaus churn material that’s poorly vetted, merely collecting page views and revenue.

    1. Yes. Good comment.

      I should have also left a link to the f/u Huff Post piece: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/tamar-haspel/condemning-monsanto-with-_b_3162694.html?ncid=edlinkusaolp00000003

      One of the reasons I did this post was not that this particular story was huge, by the way, just because this sort of thing gets tiresome, people who have an agenda and try to persuade the public with false information. Regular readers know that I am not for overproduction of agriculture through policy which leads to too much industrial farming. I am not defending that at all, quite the opposite.

  3. Ok, somebody clue me in…what does this have to do with “religious people”? Is Entropy a science publication, or a church publication?

    1. Lee,
      Please look at it in this context.

      And, I must agree that if he is to have the status which he does along with that goes an incredible responsibility to teach us science and not religion.

      When faith is your belief system, so to speak.

  4. I must say, I find this post a bit much. In the last week or so you linked to a Forbes article about Colony Collapse Disorder in which the author was against the idea that neonics play a role. I obviously don’t know the answer to that one, but I do know his article was shit “journalism” where he made sweeping generalizations and linked to terrible sources. You gave him kudos for the article in your link. Talk about needing to do due diligence. I respect this site, and another point of view, but that article was total pro chemical ag propaganda and, I repeat, lousy journalism. So, its a bit much for me when you have a special post about retweeting or linking to bunk articles. I think we all need to be better about the info we are getting and sharing with others, and that definitely cuts both ways. I’m sure you could have found other scientists who are very concerned about glyphosate build up in our bodies and soil, but instead you got on the whole twitter real scientists believe bullying club. So much for doing due diligence.

    1. The Forbes article criticized the blaming of neonics exclusively. I think they are part of the problem, but not all of the problem.

      Forbes: History raises questions about the almost exclusive focus on neonics to explain the regional bee crisis.

      Thanks for speaking up. I’m sure your viewpoint is felt by many readers.

  5. One needs to be very careful in referencing Keith Kloor as a voice of reason. He’s a controversial figure, a self-appointed adjudicator and skeptic of global warming research, constantly offering snide remarks about AGW researchers are exaggerating risks or participating in a “Cult of Mann.” Attacking someone like Pollan for sharing information that might be considered as anti-corporate.

    Not that the research that was published doesn’t deserve a massive amount of scrutiny only that I would be very careful in turning to Kloor for that kind of insight.

    1. However, if you read this site regularly you might know that this is the 1st time I’ve ever cited Kloor. Thanks for adding to the discussion. I think it is very important to constantly question trending media mentality covering important subjects.

  6. that study was widely distributed; it hit my mail inbox yesterday, and it was reported on the news…while its certainly far fetched to blame “inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, depression, ADHD, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, multiple sclerosis, cancer, cachexia, infertility, and developmental malformations.” on roundup, i’m not informed enough on glyphosate to determine if it could have detrimental health effects on mammals…& since humans dont eat it, a pathway to affect us isnt clear..

    one thing i’m fairly certain about, though, is it’s impact on honeybees…it may well be more threatening to populations of pollinators than some widely distributed insecticides…

    1. This post was a little unusual for me, and one of the things that helped trigger it was perhaps seeing Yves at Naked Capitalism promote such poor GM articles by Mercola, etc. She clearly doesn’t know the GM story well at all to be putting up her embarrassing links. I respect her for other reasons, and I know that you and I both read her. She needs to stick to her area of expertise.

      Not surprising, today she covers the “study” — which is not really a study at all:

      Roundup, An Herbicide, Could Be Linked To Parkinson’s, Cancer And Other Health Issues, Study Shows Reuters. Paper here: Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases entropy (furzy mouse) http://www.nakedcapitalism.com/2013/04/links-42813.html

      I think a lot of that kind of thing (like Yves does) continues to go on these days and is a disservice. Heaven help me I’m sure I do some here, too, as this subject is too broad to know everything. I don’t wish to focus entirely on Roundup, Monsanto, or pesticides. What is lacking especially today in the media is seed technology and where its at today and the good that is happening in the field. The prevailing mentality is still negative on all of this.

      The big picture is hard to discern since its intertwined with the complexity of our economic system built upon growth, biofuels these days, gov’t policies and regulations, population growth, food security in food insecure regions, humans not wanting to work in the fields to produce food for little cash reward, and fossil fuel use in industrial agriculture. You can’t hardly discuss one without considering the other topics too. And regarding Roundup or glyphosate, it comes down to lesser of evils and it generally is a lesser evil with providing no-till capability, breaking down quickly in the environment, and not bioaccumulating.

      Perhaps glyphosate should be banned in urban areas if people think it is causing every disease known to man. Where is all of this ingesting or exposure supposed to be coming from that affects our gut bacteria? Water contamination? Inhalation?

      Its effects on bees would obviously be monocultures fencerow to fencerow not allowing for biodiversity, which is a result of poor gov’t policy. If you have other links, please add.

      1. no other links; just that it’s responsible for the destruction of bee pasture…too few people realize that pollinators need some source of nectar and pollen throughout the summer, which mostly comes from widespread and common weeds…

        1. Which would be another case for banning it in urban areas. You are an experienced beekeeper. A friend I know here in town is an urban backyard beekeeper and loves dandelions and weeds in her yard and anywhere else because she thinks like a bee.

          1. the time of year that dandelions bloom profusely in parts of the country makes them crucial for honeybee swarming, which is their natural method of reproduction…here, it’s usually the first flow large enough to produce a honey surplus…

  7. I recommend a book “Trust me I’m lying: Confessions of a Media Manipulator”

    Good read. Journalism has a problem. One most people aren’t paying attention to nor wish to solve.

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