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.