Is Nassim Taleb a “dangerous imbecile” or on the pay of anti-GMO activists?

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If you think the headline of this blog is unnecessarily inflammatory, you are right. It’s an ad hominem way to deal with public discourse, and it’s unfair to Nassim Taleb, the New York University statistician and risk analyst. I’m using it to make a point–because it’s Taleb himself who regularly invokes such ugly characterizations of others.

Taleb rocketed to seer and cult celebrity status after his 2007 book on extreme risk, The Black Swan, was followed serendipitously by the 2008 global market crash and Great Recession.

Taleb has recently become the darling of GMO opponents. He and four colleagues–Yaneer Bar-Yam, Rupert Read, Raphael Douady and Joseph Norman–wrote a paper, The Precautionary Principle (with Application to the Genetic Modification of Organisms, released last May and updated last month, in which they claim to bring risk theory and the Precautionary Principle to the issue of whether GMOS might introduce “systemic risk” into the environment. Taleb portrays GMOs as a ‘castrophe in waiting’–and has taken to personally lashing out at those who challenge his conclusions–and yes, calling them “imbeciles” or paid shills.

Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 1.37.08 PM

He recently accused Anne Glover, the European Union’s Chief Scientist, and one of the most respected scientists in the world, of being a “dangerous imbecile” for arguing that GM crops and foods are safe and that Europe should apply science based risk analysis to the GMO approval process–views reflected in summary statements by every major independent science organization in the world.

Taleb’s ugly comment was gleefully and widely circulated by anti-GMO activist web sites. GMO Free USA designed a particularly repugnant visual to accompany their post. B1YDWz7CQAAUJ-V

Taleb is known for his disagreeable personality–as Keith Kloor at Discover noted, the economist Noah Smith had called Taleb  a “vulgar bombastic windbag”, adding, “and I like him a lot”. He has a right to flaunt an ego bigger than the Goodyear blimp. But that doesn’t make his argument any more persuasive.

The crux of his claims: There is no comparison between conventional selective breeding of any kind, including mutagenesis which requires the radiation or chemical dousing of seeds (and has resulted in more than 2500 varieties of fruits, vegetables, and nuts, almost all available in organic varieties) versus what his calls the top-down engineering that occurs when a gene is taken from an organism and transferred to another (ignoring that some forms of genetic engineering, including gene editing, do not involve gene transfers). Taleb goes on to argue that the chance of ecocide, or the destruction of the environment and potentially of humans, increases incrementally with each additional transgenic trait introduced into the environment. In other words, in his mind genetic engineering is a classic “black swan” scenario.

Neither Taleb nor any of the co-authors has any background in genetics or agriculture or food, or even familiarity with the Precautionary Principle as it applies to biotechology, which they liberally invoke to justify their positions. That has not stopped them from making sweeping generalizations that contradict more than 2000 studies to date, many of them independently executed, indicating no unusual harm posed by GM crops; not one study suggesting potential dangers from GE crops has been published and replicated in a major independent journal.

One of the paper’s central points displays his clear lack of understanding of modern crop breeding. He claims that the rapidity of the genetic changes using the rDNA technique does not allow the environment to equilibrate. Yet rDNA techniques are actually among the safest crop breeding techniques in use today because each rDNA crop represents only 1-2 genetic changes that are more thoroughly tested than any other crop breeding technique. The number of genetic changes caused by hybridization or mutagensis techniques are orders of magnitude higher than rDNA methods. And no testing is required before widespread monoculture-style release. Even selective breeding likely represents a more rapid change than rDNA techniques because of the more rapid employment of the method today.

In essence. Taleb’s ecocide argument applies just as much to other agricultural techniques in both conventional and organic agriculture. The only difference between GMOs and other forms of breeding is that genetic engineering is closely evaluated, minimizing the potential for unintended consequences. Most geneticists–experts in this field as opposed to Taleb–believe that genetic engineering is far safer than any other form of breeding.

Moreover, as Maxx Chatsko notes, the natural environment has encountered new traits from unthinkable events (extremely rare occurrences of genetic transplantation across continents, species and even planetary objects, or extremely rare single mutations that gave an incredible competitive advantage to a species or virus) that have led to problems and genetic bottlenecks in the past — yet we’re all still here and the biosphere remains tremendously robust and diverse. So much for Mr. Doomsday.

Don’t expect Taleb to engage in reasonable discourse about his unorthodox views, in public or especially on Twitter. He doesn’t believe much in dialogue, as many reviewers of his Black Swan book noted. “Taleb’s style is to severely criticize experts and authorities–lots of ‘moron’, ‘idiots’, and ‘fools’ out there–while implying that both he and his reader or listener are exempt from their many biases,” writes economist Erik Falkenstein, author of Finding Alpha.

Rather, as Kloor writes, watching Taleb spar is “like being ringside at a verbal boxing match with the intellectual equivalent of Clubber Lang, the snarling, contemptuous boxer played by Mr. T in Rocky 3. In the movie, Clubber Lang was so mean and nasty the performance was almost a parody.”

Kloor cites numerous commentators who tweeted reactions to the release of the latest iteration of his GMO doomsday paper, including risk specialist David Ropeik, which apparently loosened the straps on Taleb’s restraints.Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 2.14.20 PM

Kloor wasn’t surprised, as Taleb had targeted him months before when he requested an interview to discuss the professor’s thesis. Screen Shot 2014-11-03 at 2.18.13 PMSo much for reasonable discourse from crop biotechnology critics.

  • GM Rumsey

    The anti-gmo Mafia..mafia?? Isn’t that just a little over the top, Mr. Entine?

    • Sienna Rosachi

      Entine is the perfect example of a sell out, disgusting.

    • Loren Eaton

      Jon’s pretty much spot on. That list is long, but incompetent:-(

      • Sienna Rosachi

        Spot on? lol

  • klausammann

    Dear GM Rumsey, this is exactly what Jon Entine tried to say and illustrate with this toxic headline, and a suggestion for you: FIRST READ his article before you are contradicting it.

  • August Pamplona

    Apparently we are to believe that if we have trait X and we bring it into our species of interest via a wide cross (maybe with marker assisted breeding) it is a bottom-up change and not worthy of any special concern; but it we took that same trait and introduced it into our target species using gene editing techniques it would be a top-down change and a potential black swan waiting to rain disaster upon us all?

    • Loren Eaton

      Better yet, we could (and have) zap it with ionizing radiation causing multitudes of DNA breaks and then pick the best of what comes out. Yes, the material that he chooses to deride makes little sense.

  • DRoell

    Taleb should do a different risk assessment before the next time:
    What’s the risk he’ll totally embarass himself when writing about a topic he only has very limited knowledge of.
    Dunnig-Kruger is a thing, and it’s strong with this one.

    • Sienna Rosachi

      Oh and like Jon has expertise with his B.A. in philosophy, okay got it.

  • Bob Peterson

    There’s no need to stoop so low. I understand why you went there but all that’s needed is to read their paper and it becomes immediately apparent that it is without merit. Taleb is an economic risk analyst, not an environmental risk analyst. That becomes painfully obvious when reading the paper. The authors’ understanding of biology is practically non-existent.

    • Sienna Rosachi

      Oh and Entine has more credentials, really, you have got to be kidding me. He has a B.A. in philosophy. So he can weigh in on science but Taleb cannot. You need some new brain cells.

    • Nathan Williams

      Agree, Entine is just a trash journalist

    • John Vos

      Taleb is just as much an economic risk analyst as an environmental risk analyst. He’s not a statistician either. The only people who think he’s got anything meaningful to say on these subjects are people who are even more ignorant about them than Taleb himself. Read for example his ridiculous explanation of the ‘law of iterated expectation’ (quite basic statistical law, yet completely misunderstood by this self-proclaimed “statistician”) in The Black Swan, or his confused distinction between sample mean and population mean (even more basic) in his diatribe against Steven Pinker (“Second thoughts on the Pinker story”). According to Taleb, working with the sample mean is unempirical!! Not that this has anything to do with Steven Pinker, but Taleb finds enemies everywhere he looks. His “risk analysis” is the one of an armchair philosopher who refuses to learn anything about the subject, because he knows his armchair is far more superior. I spend a lot of time debunking Taleb’s outrageous claims on my website (quixotic finance . com) but he sprouts nonsense at such an incredible rate it’s impossible to keep up. So thank you Jon (and supporters on this page) for showing the world what an impostor this guy is.

  • glamourshtz

    Entine… the only credentials you have is a Political Science degree on how to accept money from the KOCH bros and other special interest SuperPACs to keep spewing SEO propaganda on this shit show of a website. If the public can’t get unbiased science on transgenics, then we will gladly accept a risk assessment. http://www.sourcewatch.org/index.php/Genetic_Literacy_Project

  • What’s really funny is that he actually knows better than to employ ad hominem.

    “You never win an argument until they attack your person.”
    -Nassim Taleb

    • Sienna Rosachi

      Using your logic Mike, Jon Entine must lhave lost hundreds of arguments since he is the biggest employer of ad hominem online today.

    • Uh, that’s Nassim Taleb’s logic.

      It’s also a really nice example of the fallacy fallacy. One doesn’t win or lose arguments on the basis of committing (or avoiding) fallacies. An argument can be riddled with them, and still have sound premises and a correct conclusion.

      https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Argument_from_fallacy

      That said, Taleb knows better than to attack the person instead of the argument, yet he does it consistently.

      The odds of finding a correctly reasoned argument in the midst of fallacies is low. People stoop to ad hominem when they can’t counter with a valid argument. If they have a valid argument, they don’t need the insult and can only appear to lose by employing it.

      • Sienna Rosachi

        Really? I can’t believe you said that. So that is Entine and Kloors excuse then, they stoop to ad hominem because they can’t counter with valid arguments, thanks, got it. Considering that they don’t have the educational background to address these issue and are really just paid hacks, this makes perfect sense.

      • amrit

        OPEN LETTER TO EDITORS OF
        Physical Review Letters

        Dear Editors

        recent article on time “Identification of Gravitational arrow of Time”
        http://phys.org/news/2014-11-physicists-identification-gravitational-arrow.html
        published in your journal has wrong conclusions because time we
        measure with clocks has only a mathematical existence. In the universe
        there is no such a thing as “arrow of time” which exists only as a
        mathematical direction of numerical order of change which run in
        quantum vacuum, see our paper published in
        FOOP http://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10701-014-9840-y

        More than that: gravity is immediate, that’s why in Newton formalism
        for gravity there is no symbol t and in GR time t is only a parameter
        of stress-energy tensor.
        From this point of view relating time with gravity is pure mistake.

        Yours Sincerely Amrit Srecko Sorli, Foundations of Physics Institutewww.fopi.info

        • Sienna Rosachi

          OPEN LETTER TO EDITORS OF
          the Genetic Literacy Project

          Dear Editors,
          Please stop spreading misinformation and publishing ad ad hominem attacks on any one who has a differing opinion on GMOs.

  • Sienna Rosachi

    Taleb is pussy cat compared to nasty horrible Kieth Kloor. Kloor is an angry troll. Lets see, who is more disagreeable, Kloor or Entine? I think it’s a tie, lol!

  • You lose any moral high ground you might have claimed with “paid hacks”.

    • Sienna Rosachi

      Uh, I think the paid hacks have lost moral ground all on their own. I am just pointing out the obvious. Sometimes the truth hurts.

  • Bob Peterson

    Why do you feel the need to engage in an ad hominem attack against me? I wasn’t defending Mr. Entine’s credentials. I was actually criticizing him for stooping to Taleb’s level by using ad hominem attacks. Taleb can weigh in on whatever he wants. However, that doesn’t make his opinions fact. The paper in question does not even demonstrate a rudimentary knowedge of biology or environmental risk assessment of GE. That can be demonstrated without name calling. That was my point.

    • Bob, in what way was the article an ad hominem attack on Taleb? I condemned the use of the very verbally abusive language that Taleb regularly invokes.

    • Sienna Rosachi

      I see your point, but you did say, “Taleb is an economic risk analyst, not an environmental risk analyst.” I would argue that Mr. Entine is a philosopher and it is unethical for him weight in on GMOs or genetics.

    • Bob Peterson

      “Unethical” is a strange choice of words. Like Taleb, Entine can weigh in on whatever he wants. That doesn’t make his opinions fact and it is up to the reader to assess the validity of the argument. In the case of the Taleb et al paper, Entine was summarizing what experts have concluded about the paper. I didn’t come to the conclusion that the paper was not sound based on Entine’s opinion or anyone else’s. I read Taleb et al and came to my own conclusion. It certainly helps that I am an expert in this area and specialist knowledge is very important, but it is also wrong to conclude that if you’re
      not properly credentialed, you can’t weigh in on or evaluate a technical issue.
      With careful attention to critical thinking skills and healthy skepticism,
      anyone can evaluate technical issues.

      At any rate, Entine’s point above was to demonstrate the intellectual vacuousness of ad hominem attacks and Taleb’s hypocrisy.

      • Sienna Rosachi

        Unethical is the perfect choice of words to describe Entine. If you are honest with yourself you know this is true. Of course you and he can weight in, anyone can. But the name of this site, “The Genetic Literacy Project,” implies that the people writing the articles are experts on the topic. And they are not. Based on the constant ad hominem remarks, it just makes the articles written by him and others on the site look like the shabby yellow journalism they are so quick to attack.

      • spc

        Im a system analyst.
        If you don’t work in IT, you can’t weigh on or evaluate any technical issues in my field.
        You have the right to try, but you will fail 10 out of 10 times.
        I assume the same is valid with any branch of work and areas of knowledge.
        I’m opposed to GMO’s by the way, but this line of reasoning is just flawed.

        • Bob Peterson

          It’s true you have specialist knowledge that I and others do not have, just like I have specialist knowledge that you do not have. And, this specialist knowledge can, and often does, have a huge impact, which can cause non-specialists to “fail” when evaluating specialist knowledge. However, when you write that “you can’t weigh on [sic} or evaluate any technical issues in my field”, you are committing the logical fallacy of Argument from Authority. The skeptical community would strongly disagree with your position. With training in critical thinking skills, statistics, and careful attention to cognitive biases and logical fallacies, people not highly trained in a discipline can weigh in on a paper/report and uncover any general problems (e.g., failure to replicate or randomize, speculating beyond what the data can support, etc.).

  • Neil

    The paper is a classic example of GIGO (garbage in, garbage out) mired in the appeal to nature fallacy. The probability theory and modeling is, of course, completely solid but the assumptions made about rDNA techniques are garbage.

    The authors of this paper appear completely unaware of methods of crop breeding apart from selective breeding. The point seems to be that the danger of the rDNA technique is due to the rapidity of the genetic changes and that these changes do not have time to equilibrate in the environment. Let’s assume that the latter part of that sentence is a fair criticism. If so, it means that rDNA techniques are among the SAFEST crop breeding techniques in use today because each rDNA crop represents 1-2 genetic changes that are more thoroughly tested than any other crop breeding technique. The number of genetic changes caused by hybridization or mutagensis techniques are orders of magnitude higher than rDNA methods. And NO testing is required before widespread monoculture-style release. Even selective breeding likely represents a more rapid change than rDNA techniques because of the more rapid employment of the method today.

    The fact that the paper does not address rDNA techniques in context of all the crop breeding methods is a basic flaw, but not surprising considering none of the authors appear have any knowledge in the agricultural field.

  • jsterritt

    Taleb’s paper is a mess of mistakes and biases. Taleb presumes that the validity of the precautionary principle can be irreducibly determined by stuffing variables into a bunch of arbitrary dichotomies (like “harm/ruin” and “bottom-up/top-town”). Even if one accepts these polar reasoning devices uncritically, it still takes a Herculean effort to leverage GMOs into them. So, to make his model work, Taleb combines GMOs and monoculture into a single intervention, as if the two were one in the same. What’s more, this GMO/monoculture intervention is further presumed to be global in scale, utterly contemporaneous, and forced on the world by Monsanto and a handful of other companies. No words better describe the fatal flaw of this model than Taleb’s own (apparently irony is lost on him):

    “Today many mathematical or conceptual models that are claimed to be rigorous are based upon unvalidated and incorrect assumptions. Such models are rational in the sense that they are logically derived from their assumptions, except that it is the modeler who is using an incomplete representation of the reality.”

  • Andres

    Taleb’s paper claims that since the development of GMOs has potentially (not certainly) ruinous effects, the precautionary principle applies, in the sense that scientific near-certainty on the safety of developing GMOs should be established before wide-spread adoption. Further, the burden of proof on safety should be on those who develop GMOs.
    This not unreasonable, and it simply sounds like the same principle currently used in the development of pharmacological treatments. Before a new drug is allowed for use in the general population, extensive clinical trials are required to establish both safety and efficacy. These clinical trials, which cost millions, are paid by the pharma companies (the burden of proof is on them). Further, once a new drug has been approved for use, long term monitoring of side-effects is conducted.
    Taleb has criticized, with reason, former Nobel prize winners (e.g., Robert C. Merton) who, in hindsight, made big mistakes, so criticizing the European Union Chief Scientist is nothing that Taleb won’t do if necessary. However, using ad hominem is uncalled for. If he disagrees with the EU’s chief scientists, then that’s fine, and he should state the reasons for his disagreement. But there’s no need to get personal. The same goes for Entine: just because Taleb uses ad hominem. it doesn’t mean Entine should. Taleb is a great thinker, but alas, he is just human, with the good, the bad, and the ugly.

    • For the record, I did not use an ad hominem. If you read my piece…the first few lines…I condemned the use of ad hominems. Please get your facts straight before making an ad hominem attack against me.

    • Sienna Rosachi

      Nice point Andres.
      BTW-Entine’s middle name is ad hominem.

    • John Vos

      What was Merton’s “big mistake”? That he was a member of the failed hedge fund LTCM’s board of directors? Perhaps so, but LTCM’s failure had nothing to do with the alleged failure of the Black-Scholes-Merton model in finance, in spite of Taleb’s unsubstantiated accusations. Taleb gets the facts wrong on just about every topic he discusses.
      What reason is there for requiring GMO food to be subjected to much more stringent tests than non-GMO? Doesn’t make any sense unless if you adhere to a luddite worldview in which technology is suspect by definition, and ‘natural’ synonymous with ‘harmless’.

      • Chris Martin

        For me, the argument isn’t whether GM is stringently tested or not, but simply that after the many years that science has been employed by large multinationals as a justification for actions that are not in the general public’s interests so much as their own, there is a body of opinion that has a healthy distrust of motive. Given that large and aggressive companies in the bio tech sector are patenting food types that are being released into the environment without long term testing (by which I mean ‘long term’ not just 20 years) and which I am led to believe will often blow across into neighbors fields and cross pollinate or whatever….I feel scared! Scientists are, like many other professionals, rather prone to underplaying their own biases. Moreover, doctors make mistakes, oil men make mistakes, nuclear power station designers make mistakes….often due to incomplete understanding. Looking back on most fields of scientific knowledge, we can read about ideas that were considered unassailable at the time, that now seem laughable. The medical professors of the day didn’t think that infection could be passed on through not washing hands at one time!

        So it’s a worry, quite frankly, that we forget to notice this….and think about it for a bit longer when we glibly claim safety. I do think that Taleb is a flawed personality, but I realise that I am too. The question is…do the scientists working with GM?

        I can’t profess any expertise in science. I’m a special effects supervisor, a generalist, and despite an MBA, (or perhaps because of it) I’m very distrustful of business.

        The reason (as far as I’m concerned John) for requiring GMO’s to be tested more stringently, is because (and feel free to correct me) at a genetic level, we are re-organising the building blocks of nature? I happen to trust nature….it’s not ‘harmless’ but it’s known. That said, testing can’t really tell us if it’s safe or not can it? It’s all about risk, as Taleb claims. We can’t test it forever, we can’t test for every eventuality, we don’t understand what every eventuality actually is do we? We can predict likelihoods, but as with cancer, we can only say there is ‘no evidence of cancer’ we can’t actually say a patient doesn’t have it!

        The Japanese decision makers that opted for nuclear power stations presumably did risk assessments… but they were flawed because they didn’t count on the Tsunami that did them in…

        Those of us ‘Luddites’ that are cautious are powerless to stop those of you ‘Scientists’ who are in the employ of big business from trampling our world view with yours. Yet the consequences of your being wrong are potentially catastrophic and far reaching.

        Lastly, I always feel jumpy when people use the word ‘facts’ as if such a thing existed in this emerging field. Don’t pick holes here, I realise that ‘facts’ DO exist, but we use the term too generally. Would it not be better to say ‘current understanding’? In business, I find people say things like ‘lets look at the facts’ as if they have a handle on all the complexities of the interrelationships that make up the current state of play. What they’re actually doing is filtering out what they consider irrelevant and boiling down what is left. Business leaders like to have ‘facts’ that allow them to pull a lever that makes something happen. They don’t really want to look at the complexity, they’re too busy, they just want the lever! Sometimes when they pull that lever, it has unintended consequences. That’s not good if you’re talking about nature is it? Or can we really claim to have all that information to hand and a complete understanding of the evolutionary interconnectedness of all living entities, just because we have a degree/masters/phd/or whatever in genetic science or whatever you call it?

        • John Vos

          For the record, I’m not a businessman. I’m probably as distrustful of business as you are. The irony of anti-GMO activism (often anti-corporation activism in disguise) is that they are furthering the cause of big corporations to the disadvantage of small companies, because regulation has become so harsh only the big corporations can afford to comply with all the rules.

          “We can read about ideas that were considered unassailable at the time, that now seem laughable.” Who thought they were unassailable? Scientists? On the basis of what?
          “The medical professors of the day didn’t think that infection could be passed on through not washing hands at one time!” Right, until they started testing it. “Not washing your hands is harmless” was never scientific knowledge, because it was never tested. GMOs have been tested for decades. You can keep playing the “it’s never enough” card, but then why the double standard? The EHEC bacterium was found on biological food products not long ago in Europe, even leading to deaths. Should we apply the same rules to biofood producers? Don’t forget EHEC is just as much a product of nature as those delicious untreated peaches. Food should always be tested for its safety, but there’s no reason to apply a double standard.

          • Chris Martin

            In 1847 Hungarian-born physician Ignaz Semmelweis made striking observations which lead to the practice of hand washing in medical clinics. While working at an obstetrics clinic in Vienna, Dr. Semmelweis was disturbed by the fact that fatal childbed (or “puerperal”) fever occurred significantly more frequently in women who were assisted by medical students, compared with those who were assisted by midwives. Through meticulous examination of clinical practices, he discovered that medical students who assisted in childbirth often did so after performing autopsies on patients who had died from sepsis (of bacterial origin). After instituting a strict policy of hand-washing with a chlorinated antiseptic solution, mortality rates dropped by 10- to 20-fold within 3 months, demonstrating that transfer of disease could be significantly reduced by this simple hygienic practice.

            Clean Drinking Water: John Snow and the Broad Street Pump

            Can you imagine what your life would be like if your only source of drinking water was contaminated with diarrhea from people dying of cholera? Sounds pretty gross, doesn’t it?

            In mid-19th century England , outbreaks of cholera (of bacterial origin) led to an epidemic of massive proportions, leaving tens of thousands of people dead and more ailing. At the time, people knew little about the microbial origins or spread of infectious diseases. Rather, they were convinced that the cholera disease was caused by poisonous gases from sewers, open graves, and other places of decay.

            John Snow was a medical doctor who observed that cholera appeared to be spread not through poisonous gases, but from sewage-contaminated water. He noticed that most of the cholera-related deaths occurred near a pump on Broad Street, where residents of the area frequently stopped to drink water. Dr. Snow removed the pump handle, and almost instantaneously, the spread of the disease was contained. Although it took some time for the local government to believe his assertions and take action, Dr. Snow’s theories and findings represent major contributions both in the understanding of origins of infectious disease and in the disseminated use of clean drinking water.

            http://infectiousdiseases.about.com/od/prevention/a/history_hygiene.htm

          • John Vos

            Exactly, that’s my point. There weren’t any scientists in all of this. It was popular belief, ultimately replaced by scientific knowledge, verified by scientific tests.
            Now I’ve got one for you (from Nature, 1991). Peruvian officials decided not to chlorinate drinking water, because studies showed chlorine creates a ‘slight cancer risk’. The naive (Talebian?) risk assesment is: “not safe, so let’s get rid of it”.
            Result: cholera epidemic claiming thousands of lives. Cholera is that cute little creature, bacterium Vibrio cholerae, made by Mother Nature, and tried and tested by Mother Nature on millions of innocent victims throughout the ages. (If Taleb reads this, he’s probably already vetting Nature’s editorial board for links with the chlorine industry).
            Risk assesment is not about labeling something safe or unsafe. It’s about comparing alternatives. Do you know how many people died from the Fukushima accident? Any idea how many workers die in coal mines each year?

        • John Vos

          An excellent article by Steven Novella recently appeared in the Skeptical Inquirer. “No health risks from GMOs”. http://www.csicop.org/si/show/no_health_risks_from_gmos/
          Read especially the last paragraph about the Precautionary Principle. Steven Novella is not a businessman, is not a shill for the GMO industry, nor is CSI/Skeptical Inquirer.

  • DRoell

    I have a riddle for you.
    One of the two people mentioned in our discourse does not disagree with the scientific consensus. It’s not Taleb.

    Oh, that wasn’t a riddle at all.

    Further, having specific formal education is not necessarily a prerequisite for expertise in that field.

    Jon definitely has a lot more knowledge of breeding methods than Taleb. And in all your rants here about how Jon allegedly has no clue about the topic, you kind of miss the whole point of this exercise: it’s about how clueless Taleb is.

    • Sienna Rosachi

      Um, you miss the point, science is complex, otherwise why would people bother spending a fortune on on a degree. Anyone I know that does not actually have a degree in a topic has a lot of holes in their understanding. And the complexity of genetics is no exception. Just because he wrote a book about blacks and sports does not mean he knows about the impact of genetic engineering. Let’s face it, there is little if any environmental research on their impact and for all intents and purposes no research in humans. Seems like good sense to use the precautionary principle.

    • DRoell

      Yes, science is complex. Exactly my point.
      Taleb’s assessment is based on a way too simple understanding of the topic. It’s so simple it makes his conclusions wrong.

      And that’s the end of it.

      You bringing in Jon doesn’t even make sense.

      “Let’s face it, there is little if any environmental research on their
      impact and for all intents and purposes no research in humans.”

      Except there is. Further: do you even understand how genes work? Your statement makes me think you don’t.

      • Sienna Rosachi

        Bringing up Jon make perfect sense. All he does is go after a person charactor with ad hominem attacks. He is not even subtle about it. It is insulting to the field of journalism, it’s not even journalism. He is a sham.

        Okay so where the research in humans you have eluded to? And the environmental research that considers the impact on non-target insects? Why are people attacked for publishing research on the negative impact of GM technology on the environment? See here: http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090902/pdf/461027a.pdf

  • John Green

    Jon, I’d like to see the math redone with your suggestions applied to mutagenic crops, ionizing radiation, etc. This is just a hit piece, though, and it shows that you have no science background.

  • Bob Peterson

    I disagree that Mr. Entine is a “trash journalist”. There’s no need for name-calling. I disagree with the tactic he used in his article on Taleb, although his point was to use ad hominem attacks to point out Taleb’s hypocrisy. GLP is a little too rah, rah pro-GMO for my tastes, but I commend the site for accurately portraying the science and the scientific weight of evidence regarding GE. There needs to be a counter-balance to the errors of fact about GE that are perpetuated over and over in cyberspace. GLP helps with that counter-balance.

  • DRoell

    Bringing up Jon does not make Taleb’s stuff right. Logical fallacy much?!

  • Falco

    GMOs have the burden of proof. Humans evolved with non-GMO foods. “No evidence of harm” is not good enough especially when GMOs have been around for a miniscule amount of time. More important, the lack of labeling is an issue. If you don’t mind GMO, fine, no one cares what you eat. But those who prefer not to eat GMO deserve to know what companies are sneaking into their food at grocery stores.

    • So you support a ban on almost all cheeses and beer, of course, which use GMO ingredients, yes? Good for you. Will you sign a petition to that effect and send to the Vermont government?

      • Falco

        No, I would not support a ban, despite the fact that I do not drink beer or eat cheese. Again I don’t care what you eat. I just prefer not to eat GMO so I would like to know.

        • Well, don’t drink beer, many forms of alcohol, or cheese. Also, avoid all Italian food and Ruby Red oranges as they were radiated and doused in chemicals in laboratories. Plus 2700 other grains and foods. Ice is okay though. Hope this helps. Lots of helpful labels necessary.

          • Falco

            Thanks for the unsolicited advice. Arguing personal preference has been extremely productive.

            I would suggest Anti-Fragile over Black Swan for future argument with Taleb. In particular, the section on absence of evidence v evidence of absence.

          • John Vos

            There is no evidence for the unsafety of, say home-grown carrots. But that’s not the same as evidence FOR their safety. By Taleb’s (fragile) logic, there’s a big disaster waiting to happen!

          • Chris Martin

            So, Jon, I live in Australia, do you know if all those foods you list have been subject to GM here? We have labeling here, but only if the food has been altered in terms of the DNA, or have altered characteristics (such as an altered nutritional profile). I’ve heard that cheese is no longer made with traditional rennet but a GMO Chymosin. There are no labels on the cheese that says that….do you know?

    • Good4U

      Falco: No, the burden of proof is on YOU and others who rail against GMOs. Scientifically speaking, we start with the null hypothesis, which is that there is no difference unless proven. In the case of GMOs vs. conventionally bred crops, there is no difference. So YOU haven’t met any burden of proof.

      • Chris Martin

        Hey Good4U, I wondered, does that mean that the tests that are done by the GMO companies that are used by organisations such as Food Standards Australia and New Zealand are considered to be rigorous if no difference if found? I mean at the start of a trial there is the assumption that there is no difference, and at the end of the trial there is no difference found, so we conclude that there is no difference? I’m thinking that there’s no ‘burden’ on the GMO company, but they’re the ones doing the testing…which seems a bit lopsided to me? Have I got that right?

        • Good4U

          Chris: Yes, you have that right. Any scientific experiment begins with testing on the basis of the null hypothesis, i.e. there is no difference between one treatment and another unless proven by the results of the experiment. If there is truly a difference then it will show up in the results of the study. To put it another way, if a person believes something, yet it can’t be shown in the results of the experiment, then it is not real, i.e. it is not truthful.
          If you want to know more about science, i.e. truth (science by definition seeks the truth), just let me know. I will be happy to help.

          • Chris Martin

            Hi again Good4U,

            Thanks for your reply.
            Your exposition of the Null Hypothesis is revealing.

            As I understand from my
            reading, the guy that first wrote about a null hypothesis in an
            experiment called ‘Lady tasting tea’ stated that the null hypothesis
            should be exact. The lady in question claimed she could distinguish
            between tea that had the milk put in first, and tea that didn’t. (My
            wife claims this too!) Turned out she could (the lady that is, not my
            wife), and was able to tell which were which in all eight examples
            she was given. Fisher (the experiment designer) claimed that only a
            100% result without ambiguity would disprove his null hypothesis
            which was that she couldn’t. So in this case it wasn’t a null
            hypothesis, quite rightly of course. However the interesting thing
            is that if she’d made one wrong call, she would still have had a
            pretty good record of being right, but her claim under the stated
            claim of the test, that she could tell the difference without
            ambiguity, would have been proven to be a null hypothesis.

            The drafting of what
            constitutes a null hypothesis and consideration of ‘directionality’
            are therefore of considerable importance are they not? A null
            hypothesis that states that ‘There is no nutritional difference
            between GMO food and conventionally grown food’ is
            I believe from what I’ve read this evening a poor fit for Fisher’s
            ‘exactness’ criterion, especially if the question should have been
            something like ‘Is it possible that GMO’s will introduce
            systemic risk?’ (Taleb’s
            assertion) How would you design a null hypothesis for that?

            It
            seems too that a result of null hypothesis is a long way from a
            concrete ‘truth’ as you suggest, but more an ‘absence’ of evidence
            of (in this case nutritional paucity).

            In
            any event, I suppose to bring this back to the original topic of
            discussion, Taleb is expressing very real concerns that we all have,
            scientists and non scientists alike, that sometimes science, even
            correctly done, can bring outcomes that are not fully understood by
            those who are involved in it’s development. One example is the case
            of the scientist Edward Teller, who was involved in the development
            of the H bomb. A brilliant mind and a somewhat prickly character who
            was, later in life regretful of some of the decisions made by both
            himself and the organisation he worked within, as well as by
            Oppenheimer, who he had previously considered a good advisor.

            Teller
            wrote a letter to a fellow scientist (Leó
            Szilárd)
            on the Manhattan Project who was suggesting that the bomb should be
            demonstrated rather than used….
            http://blog.nuclearsecrecy.com/wp-content/uploads/2012/09/1945-Teller-to-Szilard.pdf

            On
            reflection on this letter years later when he was writing his
            memoirs, Teller wrote:

            First,
            Szilard was right. As scientists who worked on producing the bomb, we
            bore a special responsibility. Second, Oppenheimer was right. We did
            not know enough about the political situation to have a valid
            opinion. Third, what we should have done but failed to do was to work
            out the technical changes required for demonstrating
            the bomb [very high] over Tokyo and
            submit that information to President
            Truman.

            Edward
            Teller with Judith Schoolery, Memoirs: A Twentieth Century Journey in
            Science and Politics (Cambridge, Mass.: Perseus Books, 2001), pg 206

            I
            realise this is just one example, but in the spirit of Teller’s view
            after the benefit of elapsed time, perhaps the call from certain
            members of our collective
            society that we should be cautious about GMO in particular and
            Industrial Farming in general (Taleb’s reference to Monoculturalism)
            seems reasonable to me at least, and given his recent banning of GMO
            in Russia, obviously Dmitry Medvedev thinks similarly. He’s probably
            working with the old scientists mantra (mentioned elsewhere in this
            forum if I remember rightly) that ‘absence of evidence is not
            evidence of absence’. Perhaps time will show that you are right and
            there’s nothing to worry about. Perhaps not. Either way, you surely
            cannot mean it when you say that science is ‘the truth’ as you
            suggest in your latest response. My albeit limited understanding is
            that it can only ever be our best understanding of a specified set of
            questions and answers at present. If merely seeking the truth were
            concomitant with being in possession of the truth we wouldn’t be
            having this discussion would we…unless you suppose that scientists
            are the only ones in our convoluted history who have sought it and
            everyone else has just been left short of the intellectual
            where-with-all to even understand the question? I really can’t
            imagine that you think that! Priests used to think that about being
            closer to God than the rest of us…did you ever meet one like that?
            I did and found them interesting to talk to. It always came down to
            them saying ‘…well it’s a matter of faith’, by which they meant
            that if I had it, I’d understand.

            The
            bottom line question ‘Is science always right’ is, I think is the
            difficult one here for you guys. This site states at the top that
            this is a place where ‘Science Trumps Ideology’. I accept that it
            can
            do that. But is it doing it in this case do you think? I remain
            unconvinced by your collective arguments, partially because I’ve not
            seen any substantive acknowledgement that Taleb has got some valid
            points, and partially because you’re all so rude (bordering on the
            same arrogance that you find so unpalatable in Taleb) in enunciating
            how you feel to people who are ‘not scientists’ as if their non
            participation in that club renders their cognitive machinery in
            pitiful shortfall, and as if the mere questioning of science and the
            results of scientific inquiry is some kind of heresy!

            So
            (if you can be arsed)…explain to me in a non condescending manner
            why Taleb’s concerns are ‘dangerous’, and why a group of people who
            (I imagine) are not going to profit from the greater regulation of
            GMO and who are certainly not as money oriented as the large GMO
            organisations might ‘pay’ him? I would be surprised if he would be
            in someone’s pocket…he doesn’t really come across like that does
            he?

          • Good4U

            Chris, I can’t address your concerns about atom bombs. I am not a physicist, although I do understand the concepts pertaining to nuclear fission and fusion. To address your other stated concern about transgenics and “GMO companies” (there really is no such thing), I simply restate my original post, which is that In the case of GMOs vs. conventionally bred crops, there is no difference in terms of human or livestock toxicity, as demonstrated by the hundreds of studies that have been done; therefore the null hypothesis has not been invalidated. If a scientist were to develop authentic evidence that such an effect exists, I would change my opinion. I’m not talking about bogus, fraudulent junk on the internet or in the popular press. I’m talking about core guideline scientific studies, conducted under Good Laboratory Practice criteria. See several of my other posts on that topic if you want more detail. In Australia, where you live, the key governmental regulatory agency, APVMA, uses those studies to conduct their reviews and form regulatory decisions on whether to approve or disapprove the deployment of transgenic technology. They are staffed by credible, unbiased scientists who are doing a good job, as are all other comparable regulatory agencies worldwide.

            I would go further, and state that transgenic technology holds authentic promise to prevent further degradation of the environment (by minimizing waste) and improve human health (by improving nutrition and reducing exposure to known toxins). These latter concepts need to be proven, of course, which I hope they will be. My main concern is that transgenic technology will be shut down due to hyperbolic scare tactics, most of which is being fostered by the “organic” marketeers who can’t stand being at a competitive disadvantage. The only way they can gain market share is by mongering fear among an unsuspecting subset of dupes in order to force scary labeling on their competitors’ products. That’s not a condescending barb at you, by the way; you seem intelligent enough to parse truth from BS. Just don’t kid yourself by imagining that they “…are not going to profit from the greater regulation of GMO and who are certainly not as money oriented as the large GMO organizations…” (excerpt quote from your post).

    • John Vos

      “Humans evolved with non-GMO foods”. Yes, and the way evolution works is by having people/animals die in vast numbers (natural selection). Snake venom has evolved naturally, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

      • John Vos

        In fact, there were many instances in the history of natural evolution where one species picked up genes from another one, leading to further evolution, even new species. This could happen at this very moment. Should we – heeding the precautionary principle – closely guard every plant and animal to prevent it from disseminating its genes to unrelated species?

  • Alex Reynolds

    hm maybe if Monsanto, with its sordid background and all removed itself from the GMO field, they’d be more accepted. Even GMO supporters dont like Monsanto, its background or its tactics.

    While GMO have been proven not to be dangerous overall, Monsanto and their prior history and agenda IS in question. Especially since glyphosate is no longer as effective as it once was (for the same reason that bacteria have gained immunity against many antibiotics and we need to get them out of our farms). Even GMO supporters see the dangers of a Monsanto monopoly, and want no part of it. I took this off of Monsanto’s own website (dont they ever read?) while the article is pro GMO it does poke holes in Monsanto’s propaganda that their products need less dangerous pesticides. As a matter of fact, Dow and Monsanto could have used much less dangerous pesticides than one of the two main ingredients of Agent Orange, but they chose to use the one they can make the most money from (patent):

    http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/recipes/healthy-eating/nutrition/gmo-facts/

    But less than 20 years later, over a dozen weeds have developed resistance to glyphosate, meaning that farmers have to use more of it, as well as other more hazardous chemicals such as 2,4-D, a powerful herbicide linked to reproductive problems and birth defects, says Chuck Benbrook, PhD, a research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. On the basis of 16 years of pesticide data, collected since GMOs were introduced, Benbrook predicts that use of 2,4-D will increase more than fourfold in the next decade, spurred by new GMO crops. “Twenty years from now we will look back and deeply regret the misuse and mismanagement of current-generation GMO technology,” he says.

    This is Agent Orange, the same carcinogen that Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, et. al, poisoned Vietnam and our soldiers with. Now they are trying to patent it as their new pesticide- this is the part everyone should be paying attention to

    These are also interesting reads- illustrative of what may happen in the future

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/03/08/148227668/insect-experts-issue-urgent-warning-on-using-biotech-seeds

    http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2011/12/05/143141300/insects-find-crack-in-biotech-corns-armor

    Note how scientists differed with Monsanto’s assessments and guess who the “regulators” listened to (and you can probably guess why- conflict of interest when they are allowed to be on the regulatory agencies.)

    http://fieldquestions.com/2012/02/12/bt-cotton-remarkable-success-and-four-ugly-facts/

    http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/11/us-gmo-science-idUSKCN0IV24C20141111

    But critics of the products say that is not the last word on the issue.

    Some international scientists are challenging the assertion and say many scientific studies show concerns with crops whose DNA has been spliced in ways not seen in nature.

    On Tuesday, a group with backing from institutions in Russia, the United States and Europe said it would undertake the longest, largest and most definitive study of GMOs to date to try to settle the debate once and for all.

    The $25 million study of 6,000 rats to be fed a GMO corn diet is designed as an independent examination of the health impacts of GMO corn and the herbicide used on it. The research is to be done in Russia and western Europe over two to three years. (factorgmo.com/en/)

    “The science on these GMOs is not settled by a long shot,” said Bruce Blumberg, an endocrinology expert at the University of California, Irvine, who sits on the study review board. “Studies that were done by the manufacturers are the main ones showing safety, and those have an inherent conflict of interest.”

    • Good4U

      Alex: Anyone who can get a broadcasting license (NPR, NBC, etc.), and anyone who wants to publish articles in the popular press (Fitness magazine, Reuters, etc.), can say or print anything they want in order to sell air time and advertising page space. You don’t need to demonstrate any scientific expertise in order to do that; all you have to be is an effective talking head. As for me, I take my guidance on what the peer-reviewed scientific literature says, and from authentic scientific studies that are conducted in compliance with Good Laboratory Practice (you do know what that means, don’t you Alex?). As for the truly scientific studies that have been done on biotechnically modified organisms, i.e. GMOs, all found that there is no difference in nutritional composition or human health risk between GMOs and their conventional counterparts.

      I believe the science, not the air-headed drivel that spews out of the mouth of Chuck Benbrook and his type, who have been railing against technology for the past 3 decades. Chuck’s no better than the other hucksters out there walking among us, and whose main agenda is to disparage technological advancements so they can sell the public on health foods and pills by using touchy-feely “organic” smarm. That wouldn’t be so bad if after all is said & done their effects were to simply bilk wealthy fools in the developed world, but unfortunately the nefarious effects of their anti-technology campaigns have caused starvation, malnourishment, disease, and death among the rest of the world’s 7 billion people who have been denied the benefits of GMO crops. Anyone who authentically cares about human suffering, or about unnecessary environmental destruction, would: a) work as hard as they can to limit population growth; b) get behind GMO technology and promote it for all of its proven and potential benefits.

      As a final note, the fact that you polemically used the term “Agent Orange” paints you (yes, YOU) as an agenda driven shill. You like to throw out a lot of BS, much like the other ilk that you mentioned in your post.

      • Alex Reynolds

        Hm it seems, like you are the one with the agenda, Pal 😉 I’m fine with transgenics, as long as Monsanto is driven out of the industry. Remove Bayer and Dow and any other chemical warfare company also. Other GMO proponents agree with me.

        Here’s the funny and ironic thing about that Fitness magazine article, it was a pro GMO puff piece Monsanto listed on their own Discover website- haha! Their own dumb commercials condemned them.

        And if the above aren’t good enough for you, perhaps Scientific American, Nature and the New York Times and Washington Post will be- unless you have a political agenda of your own.

        You mean peer reviewed or Monsanto reviewed? Because the conclusions are completely different. The point I made that you dont seem to understand, is that just like antibiotics resistance is growing, so is pesticide resistance. The newer pesticides (like 2-4.D aka Agent Orange) is FAR more dangerous and scientists are alreadty decrying its usage. There IS a FAR better way, just like there is a new emerging alternative to antibiotics.

        The fact is Monsanto, with their grisly background in chemical warfare, tried to hoodwink the scientific community with its promises that glyphosate resistance wouldn’t happen- well they were dead wrong. Makes you wonder what else they were wrong about- and no wonder they are trying to recoup their image with these silly TC commercials no one is buying.

        Sorry, no one buys your plutocratic notion of what science is supposed to be, I prefer my scientists to be free of any corruptive monetary influence, thank you very much.

        http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/03/08/148227668/insect-experts-issue-urgent-warning-on-using-biotech-seeds

        http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2011/12/05/143141300/insects-find-crack-in-biotech-corns-armor

        npr insect experts issue urgent warning on using biotech seeds

        http://www.fitnessmagazine.com/recipes/healthy-eating/nutrition/gmo-facts/

        But less than 20 years later, over a dozen weeds have developed resistance to glyphosate, meaning that farmers have to use more of it, as well as other more hazardous chemicals such as 2,4-D, a powerful herbicide linked to reproductive problems and birth defects, says Chuck Benbrook, PhD, a research professor at Washington State University’s Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources. On the basis of 16 years of pesticide data, collected since GMOs were introduced, Benbrook predicts that use of 2,4-D will increase more than fourfold in the next decade, spurred by new GMO crops. “Twenty years from now we will look back and deeply regret the misuse and mismanagement of current-generation GMO technology,” he says.

        This is Agent Orange, the same carcinogen that Monsanto, Dow, Bayer, et. al, poisoned Vietnam and our soldiers with. Now they are trying to patent it as their new pesticide- this is the part everyone should be paying attention to

        These are also interesting reads- illustrative of what may happen in the future

        http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/03/08/148227668/insect-experts-issue-urgent-warning-on-using-biotech-seeds

        http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2011/12/05/143141300/insects-find-crack-in-biotech-corns-armor

        Note how scientists differed with Monsanto’s assessments and guess who the “regulators” listened to (and you can probably guess why- conflict of interest when they are allowed to be on the regulatory agencies.)

        http://fieldquestions.com/2012/02/12/bt-cotton-remarkable-success-and-four-ugly-facts/

        http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/11/11/us-gmo-science-idUSKCN0IV24C20141111

        But critics of the products say that is not the last word on the issue.

        Some international scientists are challenging the assertion and say many scientific studies show concerns with crops whose DNA has been spliced in ways not seen in nature.

        On Tuesday, a group with backing from institutions in Russia, the United States and Europe said it would undertake the longest, largest and most definitive study of GMOs to date to try to settle the debate once and for all.

        The $25 million study of 6,000 rats to be fed a GMO corn diet is designed as an independent examination of the health impacts of GMO corn and the herbicide used on it. The research is to be done in Russia and western Europe over two to three years. (factorgmo.com/en/)

        “The science on these GMOs is not settled by a long shot,” said Bruce Blumberg, an endocrinology expert at the University of California, Irvine, who sits on the study review board. “Studies that were done by the manufacturers are the main ones showing safety, and those have an inherent conflict of interest.”

        he program is implemented by farmers to assess non-GMO product performance compared to the dominant GMO products on their farms. “Buying seed is an investment and we understand our seed products must offer additional returns. Last year, based on 120 replications of farmer-generated data, we found non-GMO hybrids out-yielded GMO hybrids by an average of 4.7 bushels per acre,” says Odle. And he adds, “This is why we see our PlotPak™ program as a critical component of our story. The purpose is to empower farmers and re-engage them in the decision making process.”

        http://www.scientificamerican.com/article/genetic-engineering-match-weed-resistance/

        http://www.businesswire.com/news/home/20110628006520/en/non-GMO-Corn-Farmers-Discover-Yield-Profits-Promote

        http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2013/04/02/why-do-g-m-o-s-need-protection/

        http://evolution.berkeley.edu/evolibrary/news/130501_superbugs
        Antibiotic resistant bacteria at the meat counter
        May 2013
        The pork chops you buy in the supermarket neatly packaged in plastic and styrofoam may look completely sterile, but are, in fact, likely to be contaminated with disease-causing bacteria — and not with just any old bugs, but with hard-to-treat, antibiotic resistant strains. In a recently published study, researchers with the National Antimicrobial Resistance Monitoring System bought meat from a wide sampling of chain grocery stores across the country and analyzed the bacteria on the meat. Resistant microbes were found in 81% of ground turkey samples, 69% of pork chops, 55% of ground beef samples, and 39% of chicken parts. Of course, thoroughly cooking the meat will kill the germs, but if the meat is undercooked or contaminates other food with its bacteria — perhaps via a shared cutting board — the result could be an infection that can’t be cured with common medications. Such infections are a serious health concern — a strain of antibiotic resistant staph was recently estimated to cause nearly 20,000 deaths per year in the U.S. — and the problem seems to be getting worse. An evolutionary perspective helps us understand how antibiotic resistance arises in the first place and why the prevalence of resistant bugs in livestock has health professionals and scientists worried.

        http://www.npr.org/blogs/thesalt/2012/03/11/148290731/why-monsanto-thought-weeds-would-never-defeat-roundup

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2014/11/06/beyond-antibiotics-a-new-weapon-against-superbugs-shows-promise/

        antibiotics alternatives that a new type of treatment had been effective at curing five out of six patients whose skin had been infected with MRSA or methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus — one of the scariest bugs around because it appears to shrug off even the most powerful antibiotics available. The initial trial was small and limited to those with eczema, contact dermatitis and other skin infections but the company said it is beginning clinical trials for other types of infections.

        Antibiotics work by getting inside bacteria, but in recent years many bacteria that cause common illnesses such as tuberculosis or salmonella have mutated to have thicker membranes that stop the medicine from getting inside.

        The new drug — which the company has dubbed Staphefket — works from the outside by latching on to the outer cell wall of bacteria. It uses an enzyme known as endolysins to degrade the wall and thereby kill the bacteria. Scientists theorize that bacteria will be less able to evolve to protect themselves against this type of attack because endolysins tend to evolve with their hosts. They are also believed to have another advantage over antibiotics: They can be targeted to only kill specific types of bacteria while antibiotics tend to kill a whole spectrum of them — both good and bad for the body.

        Micreos said in May that it had tested the drug against 36 strains of bacteria, eight of them MRSA.

        The President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology in September issued a long-awaited report on the matter warning that antibiotic resistance threatens to undue all the progress we’ve made in the past century in terms of controlling infectious diseases.

        http://apps.washingtonpost.com/g/page/national/report-combating-antibiotic-resistance/1328/

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/obama-directs-federal-agencies-to-ramp-up-efforts-to-deal-with-antibiotic-resistance/2014/09/18/581d2b70-3f56-11e4-9587-5dafd96295f0_story.html

        http://www.washingtonpost.com/national/health-science/antibiotic-resistant-genes-are-widespread-in-nature-study-finds/2014/05/08/ec608662-d53c-11e3-aae8-c2d44bd79778_story.html

        http://pubs.acs.org/doi/abs/10.1021/tx1001749?journalCode=crtoec

        Tell EPA to Reject the Use of Toxic 2,4-D Herbicide for Dow Chemical’s “Agent Orange” GE Crops

        EPA is deciding whether to allow the use of the herbicide 2,4-D for Dow Chemical’s genetically engineered “Agent Orange” corn and soybeans. Tell EPA to deny approval for these additional uses of toxic 2,4-D.

        The Environmental Protection Agency has just opened a public comment period on the approval of the use of toxic 2,4-D specifically for Dow’s GE corn and soybeans. EPA is timing their approval process with that of USDA, with both agencies proposing approval of the Dow Agent Orange, GE crop system.

        Dow Chemical, the same company that brought us Dursban, Napalm, and Agent Orange, is now in the food business and is pushing for an unprecedented government approval: genetically engineered (GE) versions of corn, soybeans and cotton that are designed to survive repeated dousing with 2,4-D, half of the highly toxic chemical mixture Agent Orange.

        Agent Orange was the chemical defoliant used by the U.S. in Vietnam, and it caused lasting environmental damage as well as many serious medical conditions in both American veterans and the Vietnamese.

        Tell EPA, USDA, and President Obama to stop Dow Chemical’s “Agent Orange” crops!

        Wide scale use of Roundup with Roundup Ready GE crops has already led to an epidemic of resistant weeds, and the next step in the chemical arms race is 2,4-D — a chemical linked to major health problems including cancer, Parkinson’s disease, endocrine disruption, and reproductive problems. Industry tests show that 2,4-D is contaminated with dioxins—often referred to as the most toxic substances known to science.

        EPA has reported that 2,4-D is the seventh largest source of dioxins in the U.S. Dioxin contamination in the rivers and soil around Dow Chemical’s headquarters in Midland, Michigan has led to the highest dioxin levels ever found by the EPA in fish, and has been linked to increased breast cancer rates in the contaminated areas.

        EPA’s approval would lead to a massive increase in the use of this toxic, dioxin-contaminated herbicide on our farms!

        If approved, Dow’s “Agent Orange” crops will trigger a large increase in 2,4-D use–and our exposure to this toxic herbicide—yet the government has completely failed to investigate the harms such increased use would cause. This is part of a growing problem, an escalating chemical arms race going on across America’s heartland.

        Dow Chemical is hyping GE 2,4-D corn, soy and cotton as the “solution” to Roundup-resistant weeds caused by GE Roundup Ready crops. But by driving up 2,4-D use, Dow’s crops will generate even more intractable weeds resistant to 2,4-D and other herbicides. This GE crop system ensures a toxic spiral of ever-increasing chemical use on our land and food, which benefits no one but Dow.

        Tell the government to reject Dow Chemical’s “Agent Orange” crops and the toxic chemicals they rely on!

        SHARE THIS

        For more information:

        CFS’s Dow Campaign website: http://www.dow-watch.org

        EPA’s Environmental Risk Assessment of Proposed Label for Enlist (2,4-D Choline Salt), New Uses on Soybean with DAS 68416-4 (2,4-D Tolerant) and Enlist (2,4-D + Glyphosate Tolerant) Corn and Field Corn: http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=EPA-HQ-OPP-2014-0195

        USDA’s draft environmental impact statement: http://www.aphis.usda.gov/brs/aphisdocs/24d_deis.pdf

        CFS factsheet, “Agent Orange” Corn: The Next Stage in the Chemical Arms Race”:http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/agent-orange-crops_fact-sheet_22481.pdf

        CFS report, “Going Backwards: Dow’s 2,4-D-Resistant Crops and a More Toxic Future”:http://www.centerforfoodsafety.org/files/fsr_24-d.pdf

      • Alex Reynolds

        and the problem with you and your lack of research (as mine aptly indicates) is that all these war crime machines like Monsanto have done is make the rich richer and the poor poorer, they have not improved the quality of life of the poor AT ALL

      • Alex Reynolds

        they’ve also unneccessarily polluted the environment. population control is a FAR better alternative

  • Good4U

    John: I’d like to see you apply your math as it pertains to real science. Here’s some scientific fact for you–
    Splicing genes from one species to another has been done since the beginning of life, approximately 2 billion years ago. Viruses splice genes from one organism to another as they enter cells and begin their replicative processes. Some viruses are themselves mutagenic, i.e. cause gene changes in their hosts (people, animals, plants). Bacteria also carry DNA from one organism to another as they spread from one host to another. Scientifically speaking, the processes of gene transfer from one species to another, and even between plants and animals, is taking place every minute of every day, and none of those processes are in the least bit controlled by humans.

    Let me know when you’re done with your math on the above. Next you can apply it to fire. Under your logic, fire would be banned from the earth, or at least banned from being used on food. Heating causes hundreds of thousands of chemical changes in plant and animal foods, some of which render the cooked food to be more theoretically hazardous than the raw counterpart, yet we cook food so that we can digest it, and so that we don’t die from microorganisms that naturally infest the raw food. Put that into your math algorithm.

  • Good4U

    Glamourshitz (really?): I can see that you are a real MENSA type… Sourcewatch… yeah, that’s real science for ya.

  • Good4U

    Sienna, let me give you an alternative definition of unethical. Unethical are people who live comfortably in affluent societies with sufficient spare time to bang away at thousand dollar computers, with their bellies full of food and their heads full of air (or worse), at a point in time when people are living longer than they ever have in the history of humankind, and complain about the food supply. Unethical is for those sanctimonious, bloated, self-important, and very ignorant people to campaign rabidly against technology that could relieve suffering and premature death among large portions of the world’s human population, and condone the unnecessary environmental degradation that it takes to feed them. Unethical is turning a blind eye, not understanding, or simply not caring, that the deployment of biotech crops and animals could relieve that suffering to a great degree, thus providing political stability and reducing human tensions over a dwindling supply of natural resources devoted to agriculture. Unethical behavior is what science, and the technology that comes from it, are attempting to alleviate. If anyone wants to improve their ethicalness in this world, he/she would: a) work as hard as they can to limit population growth; b) get behind GMO technology and promote it for all of its proven and potential benefits. I think that’s what Jon Entine stands for, regardless of his techniques in rhetoric. Do you stand likewise?

  • DT

    If the only response to his paper is hand-waving and ad hominem, that lends support to his hypothesis.

  • W. H. Martin

    Just label our food as GMO or GMO-free.
    End of argument. Why is Monsanto spending millions of dollars to prevent labeling?

    • aballiett

      Right on, brother!

    • Good4U

      WE DO NOT WANT MORE LABELING of the food items that we purchase. Most of all, WE want NO labeling that puts transgenic crops (GMOs) at a marketing disadvantage. Anyone who wants GMO free products can to to “trader aldis”, hole foods and the like, and they can purchase all the touchy-feely “organic” stuff that they desire. End of argument.

      Why are the organic marketeers spending millions of dollars to mandate labeling of transgenic crops? Answer is simple: they just want to put their competition at a disadvantage in the marketplace. They know that without forced labeling, i.e. fear based subsidy, they won’t gain any more market share than they already have, which is pretty much limited to the “earth mothers” and the uber-affluent who precede their grocery shopping experience with a visit to the local nail salon, or perhaps an aromatherapy session at the spa. I think you know that already. You’re just baiting an audience with your fake innocence.

  • W. H. Martin

    One can choose whether or not to read the label. Forcing one to read a label would not be right.

  • Astrid

    I don’t know how much biogenetics Taleb understands, but it’s clear you’re totally clueless when it comes to risk theory so maybe you shouldn’t discuss things which basics you don’t understand at all.

    Would have thought people who are involved in science literacy would know, for example, that those biostudies are irrelevant to the mathematical argument put forth by Taleb. I guess basic logic shouldn’t come in the way here, let alone actually understanding risk assessment.

  • Al Naghavi Cohen

    Like Nassim says always, where is the f-cking “evidence”. That’s all I learned from him at NYU. The fat tail for normal distribution of any genetic blah blah is too fat. There are black swans all over it. The “idiot” who says Nassim does not know genetic, I would like to revert & say “you know nothing about statistic compare to Nassim”. I have been looking at sequencing DNA…..we need people like Nassim to find the black swan, otherwise machine learning of stupid low quality data will give inaccurate results. That’s one of the reason that breast cancer sequencing is only 20% accurate. Specificity & sensitivity of data have been undermine. Forget about Nassim’s ego, listen to his points!

  • Jens Sylvester Wesemann

    Gosh, I hate to say this, but you really need to proofread the article.

  • Gene

    excellent paper. i expect this is part of why monsanto is moving away from transgenic crops