Does the source matter?

If you’re unsure about something, there is probably a non-profit organization (aka special interest group, aka non-governmental organization)  just waiting to tell you what the “facts” are. These organizations all claim to present the most accurate information in their non-peer-reviewed reports, but can we trust them?

Let’s take Research Shines Light on Gulf of Mexico Hypoxic Zone (full paper) as an example. This report by the National Corn Growers association was, to be blunt, biased to the point of falsehood. I explain how in Rotten Corn. The organization has an agenda to put corn farming practices in the best possible light, which means every report we see from them will have some degree of spin. We should expect some degree of spin from any of these groups, but sometimes they overstep the line.
Spin can be frustrating, particularly when we have specific evidence that contradicts what the special interest group said. What happens when the bias isn’t as obvious as in the NCG’s hypoxia report? Sometimes these reports seem 100% legitimate, especially when we agree with the agenda of the group, and especially when we don’t have the prerequisite knowledge to judge them. Even worse, there are many situations where two groups will put out directly opposing reports. Each group claims to have the “real” information, sometimes even calling out opposing reports.
The most recent example of this is the Organic Center’s Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years. It directly contradicts the year old GM crops: global socio-economic and environmental impacts 1996- 2006 (pdf) by PG Economics. I covered some of the specific differences in Does using GMOs really increase pesticide use? a few days ago. In researching for the post, I made the decision to include the PG Economics report as an opposing viewpoint because the sources of the data are solid and the conclusions they make in the paper are well supported by peer-reviewed research. The Organic Center’s report leaves out a lot of data that is readily available, and doesn’t explain why – which is enough to make me question the conclusions in the report (along with glaring problems like lumping all biotech traits as “GMOs” with only a passing mention of how Bt and glyphosate resistant crops are different).
I mention these two opposing reports on GMOs and pesticide use to show that it is possible to evaluate “spun” reports when we consider them with a critical eye and a reasonable familiarity with peer-reviewed research on the subject. Why peer-reviewed? To paraphrase Winston Churchill, “Peer review is the worst form of quality control for scientific research except for all those others that have been tried.” Mistakes do, famously, get through, but don’t matter as they are either ignored (not cited by other scientists) or directly contradicted by new research.
These reports, scientifically sound or not, bypass the peer-review process. They aren’t screened by other scientists before they are published, and sometimes they are written by people who aren’t even in the field they are writing about. They can be good sources of information, but only if we take it to the next level and seek out the peer-reviewed research behind the reports as well as opposing viewpoints to help us get the big picture.

52 card pickup
52 card pickup by mikep, via flickr.

When I say peer-reviewed research, I’m not just talking about one paper. Instead, I mean multiple papers, preferably by different authors from different institutions, and different funding agencies. The papers should use different data sets and different experimental designs that ask similar questions.
Imagine that the entire body of peer-reviewed research for a subject area is a deck of cards that we’ve placed on the table, 52 card pickup style. Each card is a paper that is related to some of the other papers. Some papers cover very similar areas, totally overlapping. Others are only slightly related, with just a tip overlapping. Any one of those cards won’t tell us that much about what’s really happening, but when we look at the whole pile, particularly the overlapping areas, we can start to understand what’s really happening.
For more on the benefits and downfalls of peer review, see Nature’s peer review debate (accessible without login!).

Anastasia Bodnar

Written by Anastasia Bodnar

Anastasia Bodnar serves as the Policy Director of Biology Fortified, Inc. She is a science communicator and multidisciplinary risk analyst with a career in federal service. She has a PhD in plant genetics and sustainable agriculture from Iowa State University.

15 comments

  1. While I agree the peer review process is the best system yet for developing conclusions based on facts (ie science), I don’t know if it is the best way to correct misunderstandings of science by the public (or intentional misinformation put out by unscrupulous interest groups).
    Many people don’t want to (or don’t have the training) to critically evaluate peer reviewed papers published in academic journals. Science is what I do for a living, and I still come across Plant Cell papers that I can’t make heads or tails of after several reads.
    The result, I imagine, is that most of the people buying into the “GMOs increase pesticide use by X tons” didn’t read the Organic Center’s report themselves, or even know anyone who did, but simply picked up the fact and passed it on because it sounded right to them. What would be really great would be a new generation of science journalists who’d actually have the training, time, and motivation to read up on the literature as you described, and the wide audience and credibility to effectively call out misinformation like The Organic Center report (or the NCGA one). But given the direction news reporting seems to be headed such a development doesn’t seem very likely.
    This has been a very long rant for so early in the morning, sorry. Great post for getting me this engaged!

  2. Anastasia’s “Does the Source Matter?” makes several false claims and misrepresentations about The Organic Center’s new report assessing the pesticide usage impacts of GM crops, available at http://www.organic-center.org/science.pest.php?action=view&report_id=159.
    First, however, it would be interesting to know why Anastasia “disabled” further comments at her Genetic Maize blog after several critical comments on her superficial and biased review of the report – see:
    http://geneticmaize.squarespace.com/blog/2009/11/24/does-using-gmos-really-increase-pesticide-use.html?lastPage=true#comment6424193. Unable or unwilling to respond to those critical comments, she instead stops discussion and switches to a different blog to engage in the age-old and ever popular ad hominem attack so favored by polemicists everywhere.
    Anastasia gets it wrong on just about every count. GM crops in the U.S. have led to a substantial increase in overall pesticide use: an estimated 383 million pounds more herbicides thanks to herbicide-tolerant GM crops (virtually all glyphosate-tolerant, Roundup Ready), offset by a 64 million pound reduction in chemical insecticide use attributable to Bt crops, for a net increase of 318 million pounds. (Though as one commenter at GeneticMaize rightly pointed out, this reduction in insecticide use does not account for the “uncounted” amount of Bt toxins introduced into the environment via Bt crops.)
    A major factor driving increased herbicide use is the rapid and widespread emergence of glyphosate-resistant and glyphosate-tolerant weeds fostered by overreliance on glyphosate with Roundup Ready soybeans, corn and cotton (documented discussion in Chapter 4). In brief, resistant/tolerant weeds require higher doses of glyphosate/Roundup, increasingly in combination with greater use of other, nastier herbicides like 2,4-D, to control. See my comment at the geneticmaize link above (and the report) for a fuller treatment of this serious agronomic problem.
    Here, I will merely comment on the serious misrepresentations in Anastasia’s post above.
    First, no honest reader of the Organic Center report could possibly claim that it gives “only a passing mention of how Bt and glyphosate resistant crops are different.” In fact, the report provides extensive, detailed and documented descriptions and analyses of both major GM trait categories and how they have (differently) impacted pesticide use (see Chapters 2, 4 (HT crops) and 5 (Bt crops)). There is also no explanation of data supposedly “left out” of the Organic Center report.
    Second, the Organic Center report is based on USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service pesticide usage data, acknowledged by government, industry and public interest groups to be the “gold standard” in pesticide usage data in the U.S. In contrast, the biotech industry-funded PG Economics report ignores USDA data, and is instead based on a non-peer-reviewed white paper (a biased “simulation study”) by another biotech industry funded group, the National Center for Food and Agriculture Policy (NCFAP). NCFAP also avoids USDA NASS data like the plague, because these data decisively contradict its “simulation” results, which are based on entirely unrealistic assumptions about (low) herbicide use by RR crop growers and outrageously inflated estimates of herbicide use by conventional crop growers.
    Third, the Organic Center report includes critiques of the methodologies and results of both PG Economics and NCFAP (Chapter 6). Again, no unbiased reader would fail to mention this.
    Fourth, like Anastasia, neither PG Economics nor NCFAP has a single word to say about the herbicide usage impacts of the serious and growing problem of glyphosate-resistant (GR) weeds (triggered by the excessive reliance on glyphosate fostered by Roundup Ready cropping systems). This is like an analysis of the causes of global warming that ignores automobiles. This is the approach taken by public relations’ specialists – if there’s an issue that challenges/undermines your position, don’t address it, IGNORE it. Honest scientists, on the other hand, confront reality even when it upsets their preconceived notions.
    Fifth, the Organic Center report is written by one of the most respected independent agricultural scientists in the U.S., Dr. Charles Benbrook, who once served as executive director of the National Academy of Science’s Board on Agriculture.
    Finally, Anastasia’s failure to mention that PG Economics (and NCFAP) are contractors for the biotech industry, and address the inevitable conflict of interest that generates, gives little confidence that she is a disinterested commentator – all the more so given her snide reference to public interest groups with the standard industry euphemism “special interest.” The true “special interests” are the pesticide-biotech companies, with their clear financial interests in selling increasingly expensive biotech seeds and the pesticides used with them.
    Bill

  3. Hello Bill,
    In case you were wondering why you didn’t see your comment right away – this blog automatically holds up comments that have two or more links in them as a preventative measure against spam comments. Normally I do not bother saying this as I moderate the comments, however I think it is necessary to point this out to you as in your first comment on this blog you are already making wild assumptions.

    First, however, it would be interesting to know why Anastasia “disabled” further comments at her Genetic Maize blog after several critical comments on her superficial and biased review of the report (…)
    Unable or unwilling to respond to those critical comments, she instead stops discussion and switches to a different blog to engage in the age-old and ever popular ad hominem attack so favored by polemicists everywhere.

    We have been cross-posting our posts at Biofortified and at our personal blogs, which takes extra time so we’ve been looking for a more elegant method of cross-posting. Consequently, Anastasia decided yesterday to instead do her posting on Biofortified and have her blog post discussions over here rather than at her own blog. I only just noticed your comment yesterday, and thought it was too bad that I couldn’t respond to your comment there, and I planned to respond to it with a full post here.
    In essence, you are looking at a coincidence.
    Just so everyone’s on the same page, Bill Freese works for the Center for Food Safety as a Science Policy Analyst. The CFS co-commissioned the Benbrook report. This is good to be aware of as Bill is talking about conflicts of interest. Does the CFS receive any funds from companies that have a vested interest against genetic engineering in agriculture? (Organic/”Natural” food companies or farms) We take great pains to disclose any potential conflicts of interest ourselves, and there is no intentional concealment of PG Economics’ ties, as a matter of fact I have a video to post where I ask their director about that very question. But I am wondering in the context of this discussion whether the CFS is willing to disclose any and all such ties concerning their activities?
    I’ll let Anastasia respond to the content of your comments first, but I’ll have a few things to say later this week.

  4. Bill,
    I’m assuming Anastasia is busy doing actual science, but I’ve got another long script running right now, so let me take issue with your second and fourth points.
    The criticism of using the USDA number isn’t that there is anything wrong with the raw USDA data, it’s that The Organic Center report’s only control for herbicide usage if genetically engineered crops were unavailable are the pesticide application numbers for that small fraction of acreage where farmers choose not to purchase genetically engineered seed, in some cases because low insect and weed pressure meant it wasn’t worthwhile to do so, in others because the acres are low yielding anyway and are therefore farmed using less productive low input techniques. Using a biased and non-random sample as a control is just bad science, as demonstrated by it’s failure to account for the overall rise is spending on inputs (fertilizer and pesticides) in the past two years as food prices spiked, making it financially advantageous for farmers to spend more money getting the absolutely highest yields possible (which means more applications of pesticides). This point was addressed in more detail by Steve Savage over at sustainablog.
    With your fourth point it seems obvious you are trying to have your cake and eat it too. Yes, herbicide resistance is a problem in weeds (just as antibiotic resistant is in disease causing bacteria). The solutions are using approaches to minimize the development of resistance, which, unfortunately can often mean applying MORE herbicide. It’s the same reason your doctor tells you to keep taking antibiotics until your prescription runs out. A partial dose may make you feel better, but it also gives a huge evolutionary advantage to bacteria that are partially resistant to the antibiotic after their more vulnerable brethren are wiped out. By not taking antibiotics long enough to kill even these pre-resistant bacteria you’re speeding the development of full out anti-biotic resistant bacteria which cost lives. The other key approach to slowing the development of resistance is to rotate between multiple controls. For many years glyphosate resistance was the only genetically engineered herbicide resistant trait on the market. Now a competing company, Bayer CropScience has introduced crops resistant to a different herbicide (glufinosate) so farmers can rotate between different weed control technologies. It’s the same reason treating patients with a cocktail of different HIV drugs is more effective than using a single one. Resistance to any one HIV-drug, (or herbicide) is much less of an evolutionary advantage when the resistant viruses or weeds are still being killed by another drug or herbicide. In all honesty the industry has been quite lax in not bringing a wider range of herbicide tolerance traits to market before now, but most of the reason for that has been the disproportionate regulatory requirement imposed on this singe technology (but that’s a whole separate discussion).
    But back to trying to have your cake and eat it to. Glyphosate resistant weeds are only a problem (and they are a serious problem) for farmers who use glyphosate. Now it’s true glyphosate can be used as a pre-emergence herbicide by farmers growing glyphosate sensitive (ie. non-genetically engineered) crops. But when organic advocates, such as The Organic Center which issued this report (and I presume yourself), complain, it makes absolutely no sense. They have already rejected the use of glyphosate, but are now complaining that the herbicide they’ve already promised never to use isn’t going to be as effective in the future. They are has little credibility as a Christian Scientist (a religious group that rejects modern medicine) complaining about the development of antibiotic resistant bacteria. Yes it’s a problem, but in both cases the one complaining party has already chosen to renounce the benefits which are under threat and ends up coming off as an opportunist not arguing from their own beliefs, and I basically stop taking them seriously.
    Which is what I’m going to do with you (stop taking you seriously) unless you either A. correct me about my assumption that you are an advocate of organic agriculture and instead affirm you are in favor of the use of glyphosate in non-genetically engineered contexts. B. Retract your point #4.

  5. Thanks for the clarification of Bill Freese’s interest in the subject matter Karl.
    Sounds like you and Anastasia are working though some of the kinks of contributing to both individual and group blogs. Ideally there’s be some wordpress plug-in that mirrored comments between copies of a post on multiple sites, but I’m not sure such a thing exists. Good luck!

  6. Bill – it’s interesting to note that you’re perfectly willing to acknowledge that there is a scale of ‘nastiness’ in various herbicide useage when posting here, whereas your report is completely oblivious to the fact instead focussing solely on pounds of active ingredient.
    I hadnt considred yet that in soybean the useage on the remaining acreage (rather than a well controlled comparison as you’d see in what one might call real science) that is not GM may be lower for reasons of low yielding acreage or low weed pressure – thanks James for bringing that up, I’ll store it for future regurgitation.
    I was doing a little number juggling of my own earlier, and it appears that in corn at least (where % acreage has changed from 3% to 26% in terms of HT traited acres) useage overall has declined dramatically with the per acre useage of herbicides (on the admittedly poor ‘lbs of AI’ measure) down to 68% of 1996 useage in 2005 (the last year for which the NASS has actual corn data, which makes the 2006,2007 and 2008 figures in the UCS report more bogus than they already are) and when taking into account the lbs of AI/bushel you see that this is at 58% of 1996 useage in 2005.
    Now, taking James’ point about the utilization of RR crops on acreage where herbicide useage is most needed – it may not be too unfair to claim that a lot of this reduction is due to the useage of RR crops on the ‘worst’ 23% of corn acreage – it would certainly be an hypothesis worth testing, rather than looking at broad figures on useage across the entire US I’d imagine you could relatively easily pick a random sample of 100 farms who use RR corn/soy/cotton, and 100 farms who dont, and get their historical useage from 1995-2009 for ALL herbicides. That way you could make claims either way based on real comparitive data and even potentially extrapolate this to the full country data – if for instance RR adopters had higher useage of herbicides prior to the introduction/utilization of RR crops as compared to non RR adopters you could actually account for this in the final analysis and make a fair comparison. You could even go so far as to use the far more meaningful environmental impact quotient at the same time.
    Although obviously the UCS wont do this. Because regardless of the benefits, GM crops are bad, mmkay? (and it’d be a real pain in the behind to do something that was actually publishable through the peer review process)

  7. This is the key problem I see:
    “Sometimes these reports seem 100% legitimate, especially when we agree with the agenda of the group, and especially when we don’t have the prerequisite knowledge to judge them.”
    I’m not asking for special treatment in fact checking and credibility. I just wish people would hold everyone to the standards they claim they want: appropriate sourcing, quality data, transparent funding. And it’s funny — for some of them, they’d be horrified to let any similar points from climate deniers slide by they way they let organic food and farming claims slide by without challenge. Just because they want to believe it.
    The answer “google it” is not sufficient sourcing….

  8. Wow, this was unexpected in the few hours I was shelling corn this afternoon. I’m happy to have a flurry of comments, but I certainly didn’t mean to say or do anything untoward.
    James – see the last article on Nature’s peer review debate for some discussion of the problem of accessibility to the public. I totally agree that some papers are way too difficult to understand even with prerequisite knowledge, thus impossible without it.
    Over the long weekend, I built a new version of Genetic Maize to be more of a portfolio site so I can direct comment-type traffic over here, where all the good conversation is (you can see the new site at http://sandbox.geneticmaize.com/, including a timestamp 4 days ago on the post announcing the change). I haven’t switched it to the regular domain yet because I haven’t had time to download and configure an FTP client so I can change the pictures at the top. I’ve also been trying to figure out (as James so astutely predicted) how to transfer comments over here, or if I should email recent commenters and ask them to repost their comments here (Bill, you’re welcome to repost yours). I was happily making the new site pretty over break when I realized that I forgot to turn off comments over at the old site. I went over there to find some more comments that need responses, said “oh, shit”, turned off comments, and basically just haven’t had time to deal with the existing ones because it’s Monday and break is over and I’m supposed to be working. I just told Karl about the change yesterday.
    Incidentally, does anyone know if you can import a blog into an existing blog? Will it just add all the new posts to the existing posts, or will it overwrite? I ask because importing does bring all the comments with the posts.
    I’m making this change for a lot of reasons, but one is selfish. I just don’t have time to adequately respond to every comment or even to write enough posts to justify having my own blog. My major professor has been justifiably getting fussy with my heavy emphasis on extracurricular activities. I really seriously need to get working on my research and let blogging and other things go for a while so I can graduate! When I do have time, I want to contribute to making Biofortified better, not just my own little blog that doesn’t matter in the grand scheme of things. Plus, Squarespace is expensive, so I needed to switch back to WordPress anyway. I was hoping to announce this with a little fanfare, but that’s ok.
    Bill, you obviously didn’t know any of this, but I don’t appreciate your jumping to conclusions. I don’t even know what you mean by “to engage in the age-old and ever popular ad hominem attack so favored by polemicists everywhere”, except I’m pretty sure I didn’t use an ad hominem attack since I didn’t even mention Dr. Benbrook in this post, and I was respectful in the last post as well. Heck, I was even respectful when I asked Who is Jeffery Smith?, to the chagrin of some readers. I’m former military, I can’t even bear to call someone with a PhD by their 1st name unless I know them really well, let alone say anything inappropriate about a person. I’m also pretty friendly and go out of my way to try to understand the viewpoints of people that I disagree with at the surface level, trying to find our commonalities underneath. I see on your CFS bio that you went to Grinnell College. I’ll be in Ames for about 2 more years. If you make it back to the area, let me know and we can have coffee or something.
    I am confused about your saying that I was being snide in calling the Organic Center a special interest group. I wasn’t sneering as I typed this! I don’t have any positive or negative connotations toward the phrase, and it’s really not my fault if you do. If you’d like, substitute one of the synonyms I provided at the beginning of the post: non-profit or NGO.
    Again, you have no way of knowing (other than looking at my profile information) that I’m not a snide person. I try my best to be honestly curious and critical about everything, no matter where it comes from. That’s what I was trying to show in this post, although I may have failed miserably. I am fully aware that my writing skills may not be up to snuff, which is one reason why I started blogging in the first place.
    These non-peer reviewed reports are likely to be biased at least to some degree. That’s just the nature of humans. We’re all biased in some small way, no matter how hard we try to be neutral. At least if we get our info from a variety of sources, including ones that we know are likely to have some degree of bias, then we can find what’s really going on. These reports advertise themselves as being unbiased, which science reporters then serve to the public as God’s honest truth. It’s just wrong, no matter what “side” you’re on.
    Finally, I acknowledge my bias in full, on my blog’s about page. I say where I’ve come from and what I’m trying to do. Where is your disclosure statement? I didn’t know where you were from until Karl pointed you out – I thought you were Bill Freese, Director of Media Services at Montana State University. That’s my fault, I could have dug further, but I don’t think its nice to tell me how biased I am when you actually work for an NGO and I don’t.
    Anyway, on to the report (although I’ve already spent waaay too much time on this, I’m supposed to be doing data analysis or going back to the lab to shell more corn or a million other things).
    1st, the report lumps all GMOs into one bunch, even after saying that Bt and glyphosate resistance are different. By lumping them into one bunch, the report effectively invalidates its own distinction between the two, which I didn’t say explicitly in Does using GMOs really increase pesticide use?, but I did go into further detail than I did here, as I indicated in this post. This post wasn’t about the specific details of the reports but was about the subject of reports themselves. The issue of left out data was already covered by James and Ewan here. Oh, and thanks for calling me dishonest.
    2nd, I don’t know all of the details of these different data sets. Sorry. What I was referring to (although, again, didn’t go into detail here since that wasn’t the post’s subject) was that this report didn’t use EIQ as a measure, instead choosing a less informative pounds per acre. All that information about toxicity and runoff is important to consider when talking about herbicides and, as far as I know, is readily available.
    3rd, the methodologies in the two reports directly contradict each other. I encouraged readers to check out both reports by providing links and saying “No matter our personal beliefs, it’s always good to expose ourselves to many points of view.” I only mentioned the PG Economics report to address the question “what is the relative impact of the herbicides used?” which the Organic Center report did not do. I did not even talk about the methodologies because they are so strikingly different and I am not qualified to evaluate them. I probably should have stated this directly, but if I stated everything I don’t know in every blog post, they’d all be very long and very boring! You can call an admitted lack of knowledge shown by a lack of mention bias if you want, but I don’t.
    4th, I was actually pretty clear about my opinions on herbicide resistance, and I’m pretty sure my thoughts on the subject do run counter to that of groups like PG Economics. I stand by what I said: “improper use of herbicides of any type (in conjunction with herbicide tolerant crops or not) will result in resistant weeds. It is misleading to claim that side effects of herbicide use are due to genetic engineering.” I didn’t feel the need to discuss more than was needed to make my point as I’m under the impression that mindful brevity is important in blogging.
    5th, I never said anything negative about Dr. Benbrook. I did say that he’s an “agricultural economist and ‘Chief Scientist’ of the Organic Center”, which he is, then I speculated (in words that are obviously speculation, because I don’t presume to know what he was thinking at the time) about his rationale for the way he wrote the report. I put Chief Scientist in quotes because economists aren’t “hard” scientists in the sense that they don’t go out and do experiments, field work, etc.
    Finally, I was clear in this post that every non-peer reviewed special interest produced report warrants further criticism. I didn’t single PG Economics out as unbiased or special in any way. I assumed that any one who didn’t already know about them and wanted to know more about PG Economics or the Organic Center would follow the links that I provided to their sites in my previous post or simply look them up for themselves. Again, I’m not snide, that’s you projecting. I’d also like to point out that, while they are smaller and have less funding, organic groups also have a financial incentive to promote their product over other products. That’s just capitalism.

  9. I’m back at work shelling corn now and I just thought of one really really important point I’d like to add here, specifically directed toward Bill. I’m typing this on my iPhone so I hope it turns out ok [edited to correct 3 spelling errors at 23:35].
    While I like talking with Karl and the regular commenters, I’d really like to have some people with differing viewpoints around. That’s actually the whole point of Biofortified – conversation between diverse people. I personally would like to find things that we (people of diverse viewpoints) have in common, as a starting point, which is why I write posts like the recent one about health care costs potentially having a positive effect on agricultural biodiversity. Anyway, what I’m trying to say is: Bill, I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts about my posts and I’d really like to learn more from you. We can’t have a conversation, though, that starts with assumptions and name calling. I hope we can move past this.

  10. I simply cannot get behind your first few paragraphs. They do not inspire a need in me to read further.
    Your talk of “special interest groups” “spin” “agendas” – with negativity on NGOs – the watchdogs of our society. “Science” does not like NGOs it appears, according to you. In other words, “science” does not like criticism or being questioned.
    Who is more into “spin” I wonder. The biotech companies such as Monsanto have undertaken to “spin” everything that grows under the sun.
    Remember folks, he who owns the world’s food supply, owns the earth and its peoples, and will make us all slaves.
    Just the fact that I am writing this, is testimony to their brilliance. The more people become confused, the more they (people) spin. Do your own research before reaching a decision on the value or not, of GMOs. Don’t take anyone’s word for it, especially the word of those who stand to gain big $$$$.

  11. Maybe M. Davis works for the National Corn Growers Association? Because that was the first ‘special interest’ mentioned.
    Caricatures of the above post fail especially when people can read what was actually written.

  12. I’m surprised by how many comments this post has gotten! Unfortunately, I’m now concerned that my writing is much worse than I had thought. If people can so easily read things in my writing that I did not mean to say, I want to know how I can do better. I do my best to be even handed, but maybe it’s not good enough? How can I do it better? I’d ask Bill, but he seems to have disappeared.

  13. People read into it what they want I think…. I’m a corporate shill intent on taking over the world’s food supply, and I enjoyed it. I think generating controversy in a post like this is more likely to be due to good writing than bad, a badly written piece is easily ignored by everyone.

  14. And, in further response to M.Davis (apologies for the split posting, but I was cut off in the last post due to a need to sleep…) – if you’ve actually bothered to read any of Anastasia’s posting, spin is one of the things she (and most of the bloggers here if I am not mistaken) is (are) pretty vehemently opposed to, moreso than corporate PR types – instead generally proposing that peer-reviewed research be the gold standard for determining the facts in any given area.
    I find it bizarre that you’d lump all NGO’s as ‘watchdogs of our society’ – NGOs are capable of being ideologically driven as compared to the profit driven nature of corporate spin (a money thing generally in both directions – your donors have a set of beliefs and thus you’d better follow them if you want donations to roll in), if your ideology is vehement opposition to all genetic modification – then surely your spin is at least as invalid as the corporate spin of big-Ag companies (who at least are opposed to some types of genetic modification, be it on safety grounds (engineering actually dangerous things), or simply attempting to mollify public fears (terminator seeds)).
    You also appear to have taken it upon yourself to completely redefine “spin” mid post – in what sense does Monsanto attempt to spin “everything under the sun” – this doesn’t particularly make sense any way I attempt to look at it, although this doesnt come as much of a surprise when moving on to the next conspiracy laden rant about ownership of the food supply and subsequent enslavement of the human race, followed by a plea to look for the evidence yourself – I’d be interested to see where you look for the evidence, and how critical you are about it – this blog, and Genetic Maize, both have (if I recall correctly) posts about what constitutes reasonable searching for evidence – which essentially boils down to looking at peer reviewed evidence, from multiple sources, and using prior knowledge to weight each piece of evidence based on where it is published, who wrote it, exactly what the dataset includes, how often it has been cited, etc etc – would you agree that this method is probably more worthwhile than going to clearly biased sources? (this includes both big biotech, and anti-GM NGOs – although weighing reports from both of these should probably be part of the picture, if only to give you search terms to look for peer-reviewed literature) Or is your methodology more of a find your pre-conceived idea on a website which is ideologically aligned with your beliefs and that’s all the evidence you require?

  15. I’ve gotta agree with Ewan here, motivated people will find a way to read any piece of writing to say what they want it to say. As long as your true meaning gets through to readers without an axe to grind, I wouldn’t worry much about the Bills and Davises of the world.

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