Tuesday, November 05, 2013

Test Your Scientific Skepticism

I once posted a series of articles on Roundup® (glyphosate) explaining how it works and how one makes Roundup®-Ready genetically modified plants.

A reader has alerted me to a paper published last Spring that purports to show the dangers of glyphosate. This paper has gone viral—as you might have guessed. It led to an interview with the lead author, Anthony Samsel, on Moms Across America [Part 1 Samsel on Glyphosate and Autism, Asthma, COPD, Diabetes and more]. Here's part of what blogger Zen Honeycutt has to say about this paper ...
What he has uncovered, and will continue to share, will impact the future of our entire nation and planet.

50% of our children will have Autism by 2025 at the rate we are currently going. Millions more will be sick with debilitating diseases and disorders. This is unbelievably outrageous. But it is not crazy. It makes absolute sense when you look at the past history and trend in connection with the levels of glyphosate in our food supply.We will be a nation crippled by convenient toxins with a generation of compromised adults if we do not listen, speak up and alter the course of our future. Our workforce, technology, economy and health care system could be compromised for the sake of greed.
This is interesting for several reasons but one of them is to provide a "teaching moment." I'm trying to teach students to be critical thinkers and part of that process is being skeptical. That doesn't mean you should question everything but it does mean that you should apply your intelligence to evaluating new information.

Problem is, there don't seem to be very many rules about when to be skeptical and when not to be skeptical. But there are some rules that usually work. Let's see how you do with this paper [Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases]. Are there any clues that set off alarm bells? Why don't people like Zen Honeycutt—and hundreds of others—apply these rules?
Review
Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases

Entropy 15(4), 1416-1463

Anthony Samsel
Independent Scientist and Consultant, Deerfield, NH 03037, USA

Stephanie Seneff
Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory, MIT, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
Abstract: Glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup®, is the most popular herbicide used worldwide. The industry asserts it is minimally toxic to humans, but here we argue otherwise. Residues are found in the main foods of the Western diet, comprised primarily of sugar, corn, soy and wheat. 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. Negative impact on the body is insidious and manifests slowly over time as inflammation damages cellular systems throughout the body. Here, we show how interference with CYP enzymes acts synergistically with disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids by gut bacteria, as well as impairment in serum sulfate transport. Consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease. We explain the documented effects of glyphosate and its ability to induce disease, and we show that glyphosate is the “textbook example” of exogenous semiotic entropy: the disruption of homeostasis by environmental toxins.
Let me know whether you would have been skeptical if you had encountered this paper on your own. And if so, why?

After you've thought about it you can check out some other articles like [Bogus paper on Roundup saturates the Internet] and [Condemning Monsanto With Bad Science Is Dumb]. How well did you do?


Image Credit: This is Roundup Ready corn being sprayed. A few months ago we were at a wedding on a farm and the fields surrounding the house were full of Roundup Ready corn. The owner of the farm, the father of the bride, was perfectly happy spraying a few tons of Roundup every year. You'd think that these farmers would be the first to notice that their children we suffering from all kinds of diseases and ailments. He's a very smart man but I guess neither he nor his neighbors noticed anything amiss. Isn't that strange?

19 comments :

  1. If there's anything in the biochemistry, I missed it, but this gave it away:

    1. Published in "Entropy", which sounds as a physics journal.

    2. Author with unspecific credentials.

    3. Author with unrelated credentials.

    4. Claim glyphosate to cause almost every bad thing imaginable, except halitosis.

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  2. This giveaway sentence would be enough for me:

    Consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

    A vist to the second author's home page is quite revealing. She's an electric engineer who

    has focused her research interests back towards biology [she received a BS degree in Biophysics back in the 1960s]. She is concentrating mainly on the relationship between nutrition and health.

    Yep, the root of all evil, from cancer to autism, has been identified.

    In fact, she must be quite obsessed with the subject. She publishes prolifically, mostly in Entropy, which apparently just LOVES this kind of fringe stuff.

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    1. Yes, this "journal" is quite "interesting". Here's another abstract from the same journal:

      ""The original rationale and impetus for artificial genetic modification was the “central dogma” of molecular biology that assumed DNA carries all the instructions for making an organism, which are transmitted via RNA to protein to biological function in linear causal chains. This is contrary to the reality of the “fluid genome” that has emerged since the mid-1970s. In order to survive, the organism needs to engage in natural genetic modification in real time, an exquisitely precise molecular dance of life with RNA and DNA responding to and participating in “downstream” biological functions. Artificial genetic modification, in contrast, is crude, imprecise, and interferes with the natural process. It drives natural systems towards maximum biosemiotic entropy as the perturbations are propagated and amplified through the complex cascades of interactions between subsystems that are essential for health and longevity.""

      For a moment I thought I was reading the latest nonsense from James Shapiro.

      Delete
    2. BIOSEMIOTIC ENTROPY. Two key words in one meaningless package.

      Delete
  3. How about this in the abstract:

    Here, we show how interference with CYP enzymes acts synergistically with disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids by gut bacteria, as well as impairment in serum sulfate transport.

    In addition to the sentence not quite making sense, these claims would need to be based upon a considerable amount of detailed experimentation. I've only read the abstract, but I'm guessing the paper will demonstrate that they have done little or no actual research.

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  4. People with unusual credentials and non-standard employment positions can make important contributions to biology, but this article doesn’t seem to be an example. The article’s problems do not end with the claim that one herbicide can be responsible for – well, contribute to – most of the ills of modern life including “inflammatory bowel disease, obesity, depression, ADHD, autism, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, ALS, multiple sclerosis, cancer, cachexia, infertility, and developmental malformations.”

    This is an ambitious review paper that cites over 280 articles. Unfortunately one of them, cited as if authoritative, is Séralini et al. (2012), a badly designed study purporting to show that both glyphosphate and GMO glyphosphate-resistant corn produces tumor in tumor-susceptible rodents.

    The very use of the work “biosemiotics” raises red flags for me. I didn’t know the word, and my confidence was not increased by a quick trip to Wikipedia that revealed this it is “a growing field that studies the production and interpretation of signs and codes in the biological realm.” Apparently it “challenges normative views of biology.” No doubt.

    The explanation in the introductions that “The connection to sulfate transport is more indirect, but justifiable from basic principles of biophysics” didn’t improve my impression of the paper. Biophysical theory can suggest a lot of things, but one should test those hypotheses to check if they coincide with reality.

    So I didn’t read most of this article. It’s 50 pages long and I have more useful things to do, including wash my hair.

    (article I cited: Séralini, G.-E.; Clair, E.; Mesnage, R.; Gress, S.; Defarge, N.; Malatesta, M.; Hennequin, D.; Spiroux de Vendˆomois, J. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food Chem. Toxicol. 2012, 50, 4221–4231.)

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  5. Independent scientists means independent of getting paid as a scientist! Who says he is a scientist! What is a scientist? A degree at 22! mom I'm a scientist. A scientist is a verb and not a noun or rather scientific actions are based on standards of investigation into something. Not a title like DUKE OR EARL.

    50% of folks with be autistic! That did it for me.
    Autisms and depression from a creationist stance do NOT come from agents outside the body. They are just items in a spectrum of failure in triggering mechanisms for the memory.
    Nothing to do with foods.

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  6. Very interesting paper and video. I'm not saying Samsel is a crank but he seems very good at doing what cranks do: taking a great deal of knowledge and imagination and creating superficially plausible scenarios that trace cause and effect.
    Yes, glyphosate could kill some gut microbes and not others and yes the gut microbiome is important for health in many ways. Glyphosate blocks the synthesis of tryptophan, some of which is converted to serotonin which is involved in IGF secretion, which could lead to autism and other conditions. But is any of this happening? One can cut to the chase and simply test people who've been exposed. As I understand theres no indication that any of this is happening but I sympathize with people who dont trust the scientific community on this. Whenever big monied interests are involved theres the possibility of a coverup and many people dont know who they can trust.

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    1. IGF secretion failure by serotonin interference leads to Autism. Who says????
      Never read that as a fact. Sounds like the same speculation as the topic here.
      Autism , I say, is not proven to be related to serotonin levels in people. if it was Autism could kick in at any point of a persons life. That doesn't happen.
      Autism is just in the spectrum of retardation and phobias.
      its all just interference with the triggering mechanism for the memory.
      Memory is the problem behind all mental problems whether enduring or episodic.
      We are souls and think with our souls and so logically its impossible for out thinking to be affected by the material world. only the material part of our brain, the memory, can be affected and thats all that is affected.

      Delete
    2. ""We are souls and think with our souls and so logically its impossible for out thinking to be affected by the material world. only the material part of our brain, the memory, can be affected and thats all that is affected.""

      So, when you die and your soul goes to Heaven, you forget everything you knew, who you were, etc, right?

      Delete
  7. The first thing that raised my eyebrow was "xenobiotics." After that there was "serum suflate transport." By then I was wondering about the apparent shaprness in CYP 450, which sounds like a specific enzyme (but turns out somehow to be plural?) contrasted to the very large number of diseases implicated. My source didn't have any information on the authors. Looking at the webpage they linked to, it looked like a regular journal abstract, but I'd never heard of Entropy.

    To be honest, my impression at that point was that it was hooey but I wasn't quite certain. So far as I know, changes in gut bacteria are as of now a plausible candidate for investigation of a few conditions., notably obesity, which is implicated in some diabetes.

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  8. I also see that Mae Wan-Ho has a paper in the current edition of "Entropy" . Ho is a well known anti-GMO extremist. I shall add this to my list of "journals" that my students should ignore.

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  9. Robert Byers said:
    Autism is just in the spectrum of retardation and phobias.

    Really? Phobias are easily cured by many methods, from conditioning, hyphnotism et ceterea to psychotherapy. Retardeness unfortunatly is something one has to suffer all through life, it is a mental (genetic?) defect. But you don't believe in genes...

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    1. Yes "minor" problems can be fixed by many ways because one can trigger the memory to change its stuck unwelcome ideas. Retardation is only a further threshold on the spectrum and is not easily put into a proper triggering mode.
      Its still just the triggering mechanism but indeed its quite broken.
      Idiot savants and many retarded peoples always have above average memories that tell what the real problem is. They are not abberations but clues to the true equation of all mental problems.
      The only genetic defect would be something involved in the genes controling the memory or rather the triggering mechanism.

      Delete
  10. I tend to be skeptical of health studies in the first place, and trendy conclusions about health rather more.

    Still, I thought this, from the first debunker site, was bizarre:

    And since it is well known that little glyphosate is ever absorbed into the body, but is nearly all eliminated in the urine and feces, almost every one of these hypotheses does not stand up to actual facts.

    Well, if it's eliminated in urine, then it was absorbed. Much? I don't know, it's just that if it were almost entirely eliminated in feces then I'd know that it's not absorbed. If significant amounts are eliminated in urine, it's absorbed significantly. Possibly it would be eliminated in urine almost immediately, in which case it would have little chance of doing much, but it could be eliminated after a long residence time--for all that I know.

    Why aren't we all dead if glyphosate is so bad? It's so widespread that Americans, especially (since GMOs concern a low percentage of USAians), should be greatly affected if it were so dire. I use it to kill weeds. I'd be skeptical (not dismissive, however) if it were published in Nature, wanting duplication of results, at least.

    Glen Davidson

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  11. What did it for me is that there isn't a single experimental design statement, there isn't a single results statement, there's not statistical statement, and there's not a single number (the numerals are naming something, not a number).

    Science papers are also about one topic, one experimental variable, not dozens. How can they possible measure the effects of glychophosphate on nine different conditions, most of which are known to have multiple factors influencing them. What kind of cancer? What kind of Autism?

    The final note is that something of this magnitude, if there was any supporting evidence at all, would be a shoe-in for Nature or Science... not a crap journal.

    I wouldn't waste my time either.

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  12. Larry,
    This stuff smells to me like pesticides few years ago... It doesn't mean all science is wrong like you think. It means that science driven by greed is most of the time wrong...I can pretty much bet on it if you are interested....

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  13. CYP is effected by a lot things, so on its own, it isn't a good bio marker.

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  14. There is a difference between being suspicious about the content and saying that it is bad.

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