Category: Science

‘GMOs Decoded’ –Krimsky’s latest screed

‘GMOs Decoded’ –Krimsky’s latest screed

GMOs Decoded is Tufts Professor Sheldon Krimsky’s latest skeptical discussion on the virtues of plant biotechnology. Unlike his previous book, The GMO Deception, Krimsky here appears at first to take a more nuanced approach, by taking about eight of his fourteen chapters to explain the details of various biotechnology issues.

The book opens with a Foreword by nutritionist Marion Nestle, which you can read here in her column. Nestle has never been a fan of biotechnology so her comments are fairly anodyne.

Then, in the Introduction, gives away the game by noting that “there is a strong scientific consensus among elites over GMOs.” He goes on to say that “Although some scientists have declared the debate…over,” referencing Jon Entine’s Forbes article which references von Eenennaam and Young’s trillion animal feed study, This major study in the Journal of Animal Science studies feed records for over 100 billion animals fed either GE or non-GE foods, and found no unfavorable effects on the animals.

Then Krimsky notes that “other scientists declare with equal confidence that there is no scientific consensus on GMO safety.” His reference is to a paper in the trivial non-journal Environmental Sciences Europe, by prominent GMO disinformationists: Nicholas DeFarge, Michael Antoniou from Seralini’s group, and Indian pseudo-science mystic Vandana Shiva, among others. The paper presents no research but merely a report on a petition signed by “300 scientists worldwide.” (I have that list and most of the signatories are not scientists.)

The Seralini problem

Critiques of biotechnology, or colloquially “GMOs,” really was heightened by Giles-Eric Seralini’s 2012 paper in Food and Chemical Toxicology featuring tumor-laden Sprague-Dawley rats: Long-term toxicity of Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically-modified maize.” Even the title made the objective confusing.  Wayne Parrott’s criticism describes the paper’s problems clearly.

The paper had so many problems from animal husbandry to poor experimental design that protests and a re-review caused the journal to withdraw the paper. It was eventually reprinted (without review) in Environmental Sciences Europe where you can find it now.

Seralini’s group has continued to publish papers critical of biotechnology, all of questionable validity, and many very difficult to follow. His co-workers and colleagues have been publishing these papers ever since, and Brazeau has dubbed them the “Seralini pseudo-science syndicate.” And none of his lab’s papers have been replicated be others.

The footnotes

You can learn a great deal about a book’s approach by scanning the footnotes, which occupy pages 156-181 in Krimsky’s book. It doesn’t take long to discover that the footnotes are larded with 15 references to Seralini’s disinformation machine.

Charles Benbrook who was for a few years at Washington State University, but whose salary was paid by the Organic Center and has close ties anti-GMO activists, appears in 5 footnotes, and his paper (published in a predatory pay-to-play journal) claiming negative impacts of GM crops has been roundly debunked by Brookes, Carpenter and McHughen.

Jonathan Latham, publisher and author of the anti-biotech Independent Science News appears twice arguing that transgenic plants can sometimes mutate dangerously. He has been severely criticized by Katiree.

There are, however, many footnotes to well-regarded sources such as Brown and Federoff’s Mendel in the Kitchen and papers by legitimate scientists like Wayne Parrott and Alessandro Nicolia, for example.

The chapters

The book starts out soberly as an outline of various genetic breeding techniques: traditional, molecular and their differences. Chapter 4 details difficulty in producing the Flavr-Savr tomato and FrostBan  bacteria. Chapter 5 covers herbicide resistant  crops and brings up no-till farming, which can improve soil health. However, it suggests that herbicide resistant weeds may require tilling. However, this has obvious solutions in crop rotation. The chapter also brings up Benbrook’s discredited paper claiming increases in herbicide use that are significantly overstated. This chapter also brings up the IARCs discredited claim that glyphosate can cause cancer.

Chapter 6 fairly and accurately covers disease resistant crops, but in Chapter 7 covering insect resistant crops, Krimsky goes afield in his summary of Starlink Corn, spending  several pages scaring us, only to finally report that there was no evidence that Starlink corn caused any illnesses. Krimsky then cites Antoniou and Robinson from Seralini’s stable to claim GM-fed rats suffered liver and kidney damage in a 3-generation study that you can safely ignore.

Chapter 8 on GMO Risk Assessment makes claims that “scientists differ,” but suffers from a dearth of supporting footnotes on who and what these differences are. There is a lot of “some groups” but “other groups” but little supporting explanation.

Chapter 9 on Contested Viewpoints argues that trans-genes may be placed differently and could result in plants having different properties, including varying toxicity, but cites Latham twice and actual scientists in Kuiper et. al. You have to actually check the papers to see that there is little to be concerned about here. He also raises the question of whether pre-market testing is actually done, as if this is not a requirement for approval. Krimsky also gets “substantial equivalence” wrong, but Kuiper explains it clearly.

  • Substantial Equivalence is a starting point for a safety assessment
  • Make a comparison between the GM organism and its closes traditional counterpart.
  • Identify intended or unintended difference on which further safety assessment should be focused.

By contrast, Krimsky says that a transgenic crop and its conventional counterpart about which toxicology information is known are compared. “When extensively analyzed, if the transgenic crop exhibits no changes …compared to its parent strain it can be treated as substantially equivalent to that strain. After that determination is made, further safety or nutritional concerns are expected to be insignificant.”

This is just not the same idea at all!

The chapter also mentions a 13-week pilot study on the effect of Roundup on the gut microbiome of rats in a study performed by the Ramazzini institute in Italy. While they did claim to find some changes in the microbiome, the Ramazzini institute seems to have a spotty reputation, having been criticized for poor reliability in another recent study on aspartame, and in the glyphosate case, Brazeau criticizes them for finding “results that match their priors but not anyone else’s research.” (They also did a questionable report on cell phone radiation.)

Much of the rest of the chapter deals with worries that have never been found to be an actual problem.

Chapter 10 rehashes all the arguments for labeling GMOs and some of the issues various states have encountered, closing with the fact that Congress passed a “labeling law” that amounts to a QR code you can scan with your phone, and is thus pretty harmless.

Chapter 11 deals with the 2016 National Academies Study on Genetically Engineered Crops. Krimsky admits that the evidence of the report reinforces the fact that GM crops are safe to eat and do not pose any risks. However he carefully picks advantageous quotes to suggest that biotechnology does not improve yields. One would wonder why famers are then willing to pay more for them. If you read through the report or its summary you will find a number of carefully written conclusions suggesting that it is mostly difficult to measure the effects of yield because it is difficult to find identical cropland to compare GM and non-GM crops, and whether the GM and non-GM varieties were true isolines to be comparable. The report also discusses the strategy for preventing evolution of herbicide reisistant weeds and Bt resistant insects.

In fact, the report suggests that in the U.S. and in China, insect-pest populations “are reduced regionally and that this benefits both adopters and nonadopters of Bt crops.” And it is important to note that Bt brinjal (eggplant, or aubergine) has significantly improved farmers’ lives in both Bangladesh and India.

Krimsky also spends 3 pages defending Seralini’s disgraced paper, claiming that was “not a carcinogenicity study” to defend the small number of rats used. In fact, critics have said that Seralini’s paper had no particular objective in advance and he let the S-D rats grow until they naturally developed tumors and published their pictures.

Finally, Krimsky attacks the integrity of the NASEM panel itself, pointing to a reference that claims 6 out of 20 members had conflicting financial interests. Of course that paper is by Krimksy himself.

Chapter 12 discusses the development of Golden Rice, which the author calls a “promise unfulfilled.” It has now been approved by the US FDA, however.

Chapter 13 discusses conflict among scientists regarding GMOs as if it actually existed. The overwhelming worldwide consensus, including every major national scientific association, is that GM crops pose no harm. He mentions “uncertain risks,” and the “GMO divide” which he himself has tried to manufacture. He recycles the canard that “farmers do no own their own seeds” as if hybrid seeds had never before existed, and of course mentions international crackpot Vandana Shiva who questions  patenting living organisms. Oh, and don’t forget “corporate hegemonic control.”

Chapter 14 presents Krimsky’s completely expected, but erroneous summation. He attacks the values of science and “trans-scientific concepts,” (whatever they are!). He suggests that “it’s an evolving story in India,” despite the overwhelming success of Bt brinjal, and questions whether yields actually improve. Of course he trots out Robin Mesnage, one of Seralini’s henchmen to argue that corn (maize) sprayed with Roundup produces different metabolites, and claims farmers have untold economic losses because of unexpected GM contamination.

Conclusion

Krimsky starts out soberly enough trying to explain the various techniques that have been developed and some of their successes. But he can’t help himself, and by Chapter 5 he is back beating the same poor old horse, and gradually slipping more misinformation into each succeeding chapter. Nothing really new here, unfortunately.

 

Advertisements
Sheldon Krimsky publishes more anti-GMO malarkey

Sheldon Krimsky publishes more anti-GMO malarkey

This 2015 review is being republished in advance of my forthcoming review of Krimsky’s latest book.

Sheldon Krimsky, Professor of Humanities & Social Sciences at Tufts University has published another in a series of articles and books attacking the safety of genetically modified plants (GMOs). Professor Krimsky’s appointment is in the Department of Urban & Environmental Policy & Planning, but he holds and adjunct appointment in the Department of Public Health and Community Medicine. Krimsky holds a masters in physics, but his PhD is in philosophy. Thus, many of his arguments have already been rejected by biologists.

Last year Krimsky published The GMO Deception at Skyhorse publishing (who also published RFK jr’s anti-vax book). While the book’s anti-science point of view is obvious from the title, it received a devastating review at Biofortified , who pointed that the book is nothing but a repackaging of old, discredited articles from GeneWatch archives. That site is hosted by the Council of Responsible Genetics, where Krimsky is the chairman.

Getting to Krimsky’s latest publication “An Illusory Consensus behind GMO Health Assessment,” it too brings up a number of discredited articles and workers.

The thesis of Krimsky’s article is that there is not a scientific consensus on the safety of GMOs, because he has uncovered about 26 articles attacking them. Krimsky’s paper is published in the journal Science, Technology and Human Values, where Krimsky is on the editorial board.

In discussing articles on biotechnology, it is useful to remember  The Seralini Rule, published in the Skeptico blog, which states that

If you favorably cite the 2012 Séralini rats fed on Roundup ready maize study, you just lost the argument.

That Skeptico article summarizes all the problems with that discredited and withdrawn paper, noting that if you cite this paper as serious science you haven’t taken the trouble to consider all of its scientific weaknesses.

Unfortunately, Professor Krimsky’s paper fails this test, citing 5 papers by this discredited scientist.

Krimsky’s  article is divided into three parts. In the first part, he summarizes eight recent review articles on GMOs finding some very critical and some much less critical. We read several of the more critical ones to see if we could understand his point.

He first cites “Genetically Modified Foods and Social Concerns,” by Maghari and Ardekani, published in the Iranian journal Avicenna Journal of Medical Biotechnology. This paper is basically a summary of potential concerns, none of which are supported by actual science. Suggesting that transgenic DNA might break up and reintegrate into the genome (which has never been observed), he cites two non-peer-reviewed reports by Mae Wan Ho, who has been criticized for embracing pseudoscience. Even more risible is Maghari’s assertion that GMOs may be responsible for “food-borne diseases” such as the “epidemic of Morgellon’s disease in the U.S.” In fact, Morgellon’s disease is a delusion that one’s skin is crawling when no cause can be found, and is considered a psychiatric ailment, not one caused by diet.

The second paper we read from his list was a literature review by Domingo and Bordonaba, which also violates the Seralini rule, and asserts without proof that studies showing the safety of GMOs have been performed by biotechnology companies. This is in fact contrary to the findings of Biofortified’s GENERA database of papers, which found that more than half of the studies were performed by independent researchers.

The third paper he cites, by Dona and Arvanitouannis also violates the Seralini rule, and completely misstates the doctrine of “substantial equivalence.” The correct statement of this principle is that if a GM and a conventional crop have similar origins, then their “substantial equivalence” can be the starting point for testing of the GM version to see if it has different properties that might make it dangerous to the consumer. It does not mean that no further testing is required. It also erroneously suggests that the Cauliflower Mosaic Virus, which is found on all cauliflower, is dangerous if used in biotechnology. This is, of course, rubbish, since we eat it every day on most brassicae.

In checking these papers, we quickly wander down a “rabbit hole” of papers referring to other papers and to each other, but all seeming to cite the same erroneous information. After citing some inconclusive studies, Krimsky quotes the American Academy of Environmental Medicine, which is listed on QuackWatch, and is not recognized by the American Board of Medical Specialties. It has been criticized by Science Based Medicine, and is considered a dubious certifying board.

Arpad Pusztai and Giles-Eric Seralini

In the second part of his paper Krimsky focuses on the poorly regarded work of Pusztai and of Seralini, carefully omitting some of the more damning details about their work.

Pusztai was asked to evaluate some experimental genetically modified potatoes, and reported that they damaged the stomach lining of rats. After an investigation by his employer, the Rowett Institute, found that his data did not support his conclusions, he was fired. However, Krimsky does not note what Chassy and Tribe have pointed out: the potatoes Pusztai used were an experimental and unapproved variety, and that the rats were fed uncooked potatoes, which are always harmful to rats. Moreover, two expert panels concluded that no scientific conclusions could be drawn from his work. Pusztai has become an anti-GMO activist, travelling the world giving scary talks, but has not carried out any further science.

Professor Giles-Eric Seralini has published a number of papers critical of GMOs, and their confusing style and lack of rigor have been criticized long before his rat tumor paper. However, when Seralini published his 2012 paper, scientists immediately began criticizing its small sample size, lack of double blinding, animal mistreatment, and unsupported conclusions: Sprague-Dawley rats develop tumors anyway, which is why they are suitable for 90 day experiments but not 2-year experiments.

Krimsky notes that Seralini revealed his association with CRIIGEN, a French anti-GMO organization he headed, but did not mention that Seralini’s work was sponsored by Carrefour grocery chain and the Auchan retail group who wanted to promote their new line of organic (non-GMO) products.

When many, many scientists protested to Food and Chemical Toxicology that this paper did not represent good science, the journal editor, A. Wallace Hayes, convened a new group of referees to review the paper. After nearly a year, the review panel concluded that the paper should be withdrawn because of its scientific flaws, and it was. Krimsky fails to mention the panel, but suggests the editor did this unilaterally.

Krimsky also cites an article which suggests that a “new assistant editor” joined the board of Food and Chemical Toxicology who had previously worked for Monsanto. This old conspiracy theory is easily laid to rest: biologist Richard Goodman worked for Monsanto from 1997-2004 and then joined the faculty of the University of Nebraska, long before Seralini’s paper came to light. He was an assistant editor during the Seralini controversy, but Hayes specifically excluded him from the review panel at Seralini’s request.

Author’s Conclusions

Professor Krimsky’s conclusions rely on the fact that he claims to have found 26 animal studies that found “adverse effects or uncertainties of GMOs fed to animals.” We didn’t read all of them, but we have already read some which are discredited and/or published in very low-level journals.

  1. Ewen and Pusztai, “Effects of Diets Containing Genetically Modified Potatoes,’ Discussed above.
  2. Ermakova, “Genetically Modified Soy Leads to the Decrease of Weight and High Mortality of Rat Pups.” Not published in any journal.
  3. Seralini, Cellier and Vendomois, “New Analysis of Rate Feeding Study with GM Maize Reveals Signs of Hyporenal Toxicity.’ The EFSA has debunked this paper.
  4. Aris and LeBlanc, “Maternal and Fetal Exposure to Pesticdes Associated tp GM Foods in Eastern Township of Quebec, CA.” Critiqued by Anastasia Bodnar.
  5. Carman, Vlieger,Ver Steeg, Sneller, Robinson al., A Long-Term Toxicology Study on Pigs Fed a Combined GMO Soy and Maize Diet.” Published on a non-peer-reviewed journal. Bozianu’s work rebutted this paper. Rebutted by Mark Lynas  and  by David Gorski.
  6. Seralini al. “Long Term Toxicity of a Roundup herbicide…” Discussed above, and debunked by Skeptico and by Wayne Parrott.
  7. De Vendomois, Spiroux and Seralini, “A Comparison of the Effects of Three GM Corn Varieties on Mammalian Health” Reviewed and debunked here.

 

Conclusions

Professor Krimsky has recycled old, discredited papers and arguments as if they were new to try to imply that there is a serious doubt about the safety of GM crops. He neglects the thousands of papers that make up the scientific consensus over the few weak ones he has dredged up to make his point. And Professor van Eenennaam’s billion animal study simply closes the door on this discussion.

Will CBD oil help you?

Will CBD oil help you?

CBD oil is the abbreviated name for cannabadiol, an extract of one of several cannabinoids found both in marijuana plants (cannabis sativa) and in hemp. CBD oil is not psychoactive and won’t get you “high,” but if extracted from marijuana plants, there may be trace amounts of THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), the active component in marijuana in the extract. Usually, “CBD oil” is made by extracting CBD and then dissolving it in neutral carrier like coconut or hemp seed oil.

It is a popular “natural” remedy, and has been suggested as treatment as a pain reliever, treatment for depression, cancer-related symptoms, acne, neurological disorders, heart health, substance abuse and diabetes protection.

However, there are just about zero studies of CBD oil’s actual effectiveness in the published medical literature. This extensive review of CBD oil and marijuana by David Gorski in Science Based Medicine explains that CBD oil has only been found to be helpful and is approved for treatment of two rare forms of epilepsy. There are no other documented benefits.  Wilkerson and McMahon discuss how CBD oil seems to work in this one case

One problem is, the CBD oil is not a consistent mixture. Depending on how it is extracted, its concentration will vary, as will the number of associated impurities, which may include traces of THC. So possible benefits (if any) are not going to be consistent. Essentially this is herbalism, treatment with herbs where the exact concentration of possibly beneficial components are unknown.

The summary in WebMD says that other than as treatment for some forms of epilepsy, the benefits are “largely unproven.” And Christie Aschwanden’s article in fivethrityeight.com says much the same thing.

An interesting article by Richard Freedman, MD was published in the NY Times last December in which described CBD-based candies as a “fruit flavored placebo.” But more to the point, he cites a 2017 study in JAMA that only 26 out of 84 samples of CBD oils, tinctures and liquids contained the amount of CDB claimed on the labels. Eighteen of them contained THC, which could lead to impairment or intoxication and a quarter contained less CBD then specified. The FDA has also issued warning letters to producers whose products  did not contain the amount specified.

In 2017, the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine published a review of some 10,000 studies on the health effects of cannabis and cannabinoids. The review is over 400 pages, but here is the summary chapter. They found only a few small, randomized trials of CBD and concluded that there was insufficient evident that CBD was effective in treating insomnia, Parkinson’s, and smoking addiction, and only limited evidence that it was useful in treating anxiety.

And to move directly into utter quackery, there is now a CBD infused sports drink being promoted by retired NFL player, Terrell Davis.

That’s it. There are no other substantive studies on CBD except the one finding it helpful as an adjunct in treating two uncommon forms of epilepsy.

Other than that, there is simply no evidence that CBD is effective for anything except profit margins!

What about CBD with THC?

pot plant1

In his somewhat critical New Yorker article on medical marijuana, Malcolm Gladwell points out that all of the studies on marijuana effects were done using older strains of marijuana. All such studies were required to use the same plants, grown for research at the University of Mississippi. Modern breeding techniques have allowed the development of newer strains with about 10 times higher concentrations of THC. And we have simple no idea what the effects of these higher concentrations might be. We don’t know if the body responds linearly to this drug, or whether it responds more than that. We don’t know if there are new side effects or any indications of additive properties. We just don’t know.

National Academies Study

The complete summary of the National Academies study is actually rather disheartening to medical marijuana advocates.

  • There is strong evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective
    • for the treatment of chronic pain,
    • as anti-emetics for treatment of nausea induced by chemotherapy.
    • For improving patient-reported multiple sclerosis spasticity symptoms
  • There is moderate evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective in improving short term sleep outcomes
    • associated with obstructive sleep apnea syndrome, fibromyalgia, chronic pain, and multiple sclerosis
  • There is limited evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective
  • Increasing appetite in HIV/AIDS patients
  • Reducing symptoms of Tourette’s disease
  • Improving social anxiety symptoms in people with that disorder
  • Improving symptoms of PTSD
  • There is limited evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are ineffective for
    • Dementia
    • Glaucoma
    • Depressive symptoms
  • There is no evidence that cannabis or cannabinoids are effective for
    • Cancers
    • IBS
    • Epilepsy
    • ALS
    • Huntington’s chorea
    • Parkinson’s
    • Dystonia
    • Addiction treatment
    • Schizophrenia

Negative effects of cannabis

The same National Academies study found associations between cannabis use and

  • Lower birth weight (substantial)
  • Development of schizophrenia and other psychoses (substantial)
  • Increased symptoms of mania and hypomania in bipolar disorder (moderate)
  • Increase suicide ideation (moderate)
  • Pregnancy complications for the mother (limited)
  • Later outcomes in the offspring (not refutable)
  • Cognitive impairment in learning, memory and attention (moderate)
  • Impaired academic achievement (limited)
  • Increased rates of unemployment (limited)

41xF+Ugrf4L._SX324_BO1,204,203,200_And, in Alex Berenson’s new book Tell your Children the Truth about Marijuana, he also draws connections between marijuana use and mentally ill criminals. Essentially, he asserts that they are all pot smokers.

What is disturbing to me is that despite the very low level of medical value of both CBD oil and actual cannabis, and the very high amount of risk it seems to present, the “marijuana industry” has been very successful in promoting their products as beneficial, when objective evidence simply does not support these conclusions.

Nothing could be more indicative of this slippery slope than the fact that the Wilton Continuing Education department was offering a class in the benefits of CBD oil taught by a woman from a marijuana dispensary, whose bio clearly shows how strongly she believes in the medical benefits of cannabis, but who has very little actual scientific training. When I pointed out the articles showed how little benefits actually existed, they did not cancel the class.

 

 

The new Nikon Z6 versus the D7200

The new Nikon Z6 versus the D7200

Nikon’s new Z6 camera is the first of their mirror less full-frame cameras. It’s nominally a 24 megapixel camera much like my recent D7200. But while the D7200 is a DX format with a sensor that is 24  x 16 mm. The new Nikon Z6 has a full frame sensor of 24 x 36 mm, but with the same megapixel resolution. Is it better or just more expensive? All reports seem to indicate that the larger, sharper pixels.

z6 and adapter

The Z6 is a camera you can enjoy handling. It is about 3 oz lighter than the D7200 (both with their default kit zoom lens) and much thinner. It is very easy to hold. Unlike the D7200, the Z6 has no built-in flash, but that is no great loss because the built in flash on all these cameras isn’t that great. But the flash connector works fine with my SB-800 flash.

Because the camera is mirrorless, the display and viewfinder are electronic and sharp as a tack. In addition, vibration reduction is built in, so you get a sharper picture by default than you could ever get in camera with a flip up mirror.

With the Z series (there is also a 45.7 megapixel Z7), Nikon has introduced a new Z lens mount that supplants the F mount of the past 40 years or so. The opening is a bit bigger, and the new technology it includes will allow lenses as sensitive as F/0.95.

The standard kit lens for the Z6 is a 24mm-70mm f/4 zoom lens, which seems very sharp indeed. By contrast, the D7200 comes with an 18mm-140mm f 3.5-5.6 zoom. Of course making these lenses is much cheaper for the DX area than for the full FX area.

Nikon also has introduced a $250 adapter for F-mount lenses (shown above), but only some of the most recent lenses seem to work with it. Neither of my fairly recent full frame lenses allowed autofocus to work, so look at the table of supported lenses before ordering it. Nikon has also released a roadmap of new lenses they will be introducing in the next 3 years.

The buttons and controls are very much like all my previous digital Nikons, so for the most part you will find it pretty easy to use. However, there are some exceptions.

Formatting the memory card is no longer something you can do by pressing two buttons at once: there just aren’t as many buttons on this camera body. But rather than hunting for the Format menu item, you can easily add it to your private menu favorites (My Menu) so you can find it more quickly. I usually copy photos to my PC about once a day and then format the memory card, so this is much handier.

I was surprised to discover that out of the box, there is no display of the photo you just took: the display goes live right away. If you want to look at your latest shot, you have to press the right-arrow button at the top left corner of the camera. There is a way to change this, however, using the Image Review menu item in the Playback menu. This took me quite a while to find, but after trying the setting both ways, I can see some advantages to each. For very rapid action shooting, that review is in the way, but if you are taking candids or covering an event where you need to make sure of your last shot, turning on Image Review will help.

The Z6 is also provides WiFi connection, which should allow you to transfer photos wirelessly. But like a number of other people who have tried this feature, I simply could not make it work. Fortunately, photos transfer very quickly using the provided USB cable. I now have 3 such USB cables: one for my D80, one for my D7200 and one for my Z6. So, when travelling be sure to pack all the cables you might need.

The display is bright, sharp and crisp, as is the viewfinder display, making you appreciate the quality of this camera’s features. However, this does have battery implications: you will probably have to change the battery every few days, while for the D7200, I could sometimes go a week or two between battery changes.  Fortunately, both cameras use the same charger and can use the same EN-EL15 batteries.

How sharp is it?

Below is a lovely shot I took in Martinique using our workhorse Nikon D7200. Can the Z6 do any better?

hillside mart.jpg

Well, not having another trip planned, I decided to do a couple of local tests. Below is a forest scene near our house.

z6trees full

I took the same shot at about a 50mm focal length with both cameras, with aperture priority set to f/11, using the same autofocus settings. At full frame the two pictures look pretty identical. You can see them at full resolution here for the D7200 and here for the Z6. Below, are details from both shots. It is pretty clear that the Z6 is much more detailed.

Nikon D7200        ——-    Nikon Z6

And what about our dog Edward?

bigz6dog

Here he is full frame, and here he is in details from both cameras. No question that the Z6 is much sharper. Of course he dozed during  D7200 shot and that could be why he looks “less sharp.”

Nikon D7200  —–     Nikon Z6

Having used the camera for about a week now, I am really impressed with the incredibly sharp pictures in the viewfinder, on the display and expanded on my laptop. It is the sharpest digital camera I have ever had and I plan to keep it.

Photo notes: Pictures of the two cameras (Z6 and D7200) were taken with my 10 megapixel D80. Pictures of the Z6 were taken with the D7200.

Oh, and incidentally, the Z6 uses only relatively expensive XQD memory cards, and the package (camera plus lens) does NOT include a memory card. Make sure your order includes one!

Why homeopathy is hokum

Why homeopathy is hokum

There are lots of faux drugs on the shelves of many shameless drugstore chains that are labeled “homeopathic.” These are useless nostrums marketed to the gullible.  Usually they are labelled as something like “200C.” This is not a temperature, but the number of dilutions of the original substance.

The completely unsubstantiated hypothesis behind homeopathy is that “like cures like,” and that a very small diluted amount of some “natural substances,” such as plant extracts can stimulate the body to repair itself. There is no evidence that this 18th century idea actually works.

The way homeopaths work is that they select some substance or substances they believe might be helpful and dilute them with shaking, which they call potentization. The word has no actual meaning. Then after many dilutions and shakings, they sell some to you for treatment.

Well now, how much is “some”?

Let’s assume that table salt is a substance that can be used for treatment. It has a molecular weight of (23 + 35.5) of 58.5. We know, from the work of Loschmidt and Avogadro that if you weigh out the molecular weight of any substance in grams (in this case 58.5 g) it contains one  mole of particles, or 6.02 x 1023 molecules.

1 mole saltSo let’s dissolve that mole of salt on one liter of water. Now we have a one molar solution containing those 1023 molecules.  And now, lets dilute 10 ml of that liter by 100, to again make one liter.  This new liter will have 1/100 as many molecules in it, or 1021 molecules.

Well the “C” in that “200C” designation means that has been diluted by 100. And the 200 means that this has been repeated 200 times!

So lets see what happens after each dilution:

  1. 1021 molecules
  2. 1019 molecules
  3. 1017 molecules

…..

  1. 105 molecules
  2. 103 molecules
  3. 101 molecules

 

After 11 dilutions, you have only 10 molecules of salt left in your solution.  What happens when you dilute it 100:1 another time? If you take 100 10 ml samples of that last liter, 10 of them could have one molecule of salt!

And after that, the chances of there being even one molecule of our “medicine” are vanishingly small. All of the salt (or any other substance) is lost in the dilution process! There isn’t any left after 12 or so dilutions. And by 200 there is absolutely no chance you’ll encounter even one molecule!  It’s gone down the drain, just as the entire homeopathic hypothesis has. There are no active ingredients at all!

Taking homeopathic preparations can act as a placebo, or if they dilute the substance in alcohol instead of water, a quick drunk, but there just can’t be any benefits in the absence of any medicine.

Unfortunately homeopathic preparations are poorly regulated, and some dangerous substances may remain in significant quantities. In some cases, heavy metals have been found.

513minrbq9l._ac_us436_fmwebp_ql65_Studies of the famous quack medicine oscillococcimnum have shown no significant effect. And studies of some 68 treatments have found that they have no effect either.

These are quack medicines that improve the bottom line of unethical pharmacies, but can’t do you any good. Any they may do some harm.

Sifting and measuring flour

Sifting and measuring flour

If you look at nearly any baking recipe, you will see something like “sift together the dry ingredients,” usually flour, baking powder and maybe sure and salt. Why do they do that? Well, because someone clear back to Fanny Merritt Farmer, in her Boston Cooking School Cookbook (you can read a digital copy here) said to. Flour in 1896 was probably much lumpier than today, and she said to sift all ingredients before measuring them.

Nowadays, flour isn’t usually very lumpy and we usually use it right out of the bag.

But we thought we’d try sifting some paprika into flour to see how well it mixes. This is about 1.5 Tb of paprika in 2 cups of flour.

 

 
 

As can see, it doesn’t really mix all that well. In fact, you could do better just using a wire whisk. But, if you are making a batter for baking, the mixing of the dry ingredients with the liquid will distribute them just as well.

Now about that cup

A measuring cup measures 8 fluid ounces: it is really for measuring liquids like milk or water. Flour, not being a liquid can be a little variable about how much fits in a cup. Fanny Farmer said you should scoop out the flour and level off the cup with a knife, and that works for 1 cup of flour. But for 2 ½ cups of flour, it gets messier and it soon becomes easier to weigh out the flour. We have an inexpensive kitchen scale, Ozeri kitchen scale (it cost $15.95), we keep right with our bowls and dishes, and can easily weigh anything we want.  If you don’t have one, ask someone to give it to you for Christmas.

So how do you weigh out flour? We found that 1 cup of King Arthur All Purpose Flour weighs 142 g (see above). We use grams because then there aren’t any pesky decimal pl aces to confuse you.

weighing



But what about sifted flour? The only thing sifting commercial flours does is to aerate them a bit so a cup of sifted flour weighs less. Sifted King Arthur flour weighs 126 grams, or about 8% less.

Cake Flour

Cake flour is made from a mixture of lower protein wheats that will give a light and tender crumb in cakes. According to Harold McGee in On Food and Cooking, all purpose flour has about 11-12% protein (mostly gluten) and cake flour about 7-8% protein. And U.S. cake flour is bleached as well, which causes “the starch granules to absorb water and swell more readily in high sugar batters.” Need less to say, cake flours weigh less per cup:

 All purposeCake flour
Scooped142 g120 g
Sifted126 g112 g

These weights are useful when you need some off amount of flour. For example, my waffle recipe requires 2 ¼ cups of sifted cake flour. It’s easiest to just quickly weigh about (2.25 x 112g) or 252g in a dish and mix it into the waffle batter. I keep this table posted inside my cupboard door, and write the weights into any recipes I use frequently.

So, get your scale out and you can do your baking quickly without getting a lot of measuring cups dirty. Happy holiday baking!

Tony Buettner pitches the Blue Zone Project in Wilton

Tony Buettner pitches the Blue Zone Project in Wilton

Tony Buettner, who identified himself as the Senior Vice President of the Blue Zones Project gave a polished pitch and review of the Blue Zones Project. Buettner is the brother of Dan Buettner whose book(s) on five pockets of centenarians around the world and their habits and diet was a best seller. (There is third Buettner brother involved as well.)

He started out by asking if every adult in the room had walked to school as a child, and most had. However, when he asked if their children did, almost no one raised their hand. This may sound damning, but is really rather naïve. Wilton has essentially zero sidewalks outside the downtown area, and no real way to maintain such sidewalks even if they could be built. This is common in New England because of the rocky terrain and old property lines and roadways. He might have looked around the town a bit before starting his canned pitch.

Buettner reviewed some of the remote civilizations where there are more than a usual number of long-lived people, including quite a number of centenarians, and followed that up with Dan’s conclusions that there are nine factors involved in extending your lifespan, (and living happily as the members of these civilizations) in Sardinia (Italy), Okinawa (Japan), Nicoya (Cosa Rica), Ikaria (Greece) and the Adventists of Loma Linda, CA.  He named and trademarked these nine factors as the “Power of Nine,” even though some of them are pretty common and obvious, such as “eat more vegetables.”

He suggested that their success in longevity is 80% environment and life-style and only 20% genetic. This is somewhat in conflict with their science advisor Stuart Jay Olshansky, who believes genetics is far more important than that. However, this was a marketing pitch, not a scientific one as we discovered when one of his slide misspelled “Chi-squared” as “Khi square.”

bitter-gourd-2He also suggested that bitter melon, favored by the Okinawans, “kills cancer.” This is utter nonsense, as no human experiments have been performed to validate this folk remedy. And he refers to the Ikarian wine as having 4 times the polyphenols of other red wines. But, unfortunately, there is no scientific evidence that such antioxidants have any health-giving properties. That is mostly a marketing myth.

He also brought up their oft-repeated story about Stamatis Moriatis,  a Greek man from Ikaria who while working in the U.S. “developed terminal lung cancer,” and went back to Ikaria to die, but lived another 30 years, allegedly because of the healthy climate and lifestyle of his home island. Neither his story nor any of the articles I have found provide any validation for this medical fairy tale: no doctors in either the U.S. or Greece are cited. While Buettner, asserted that this story has been validated and published in the New York Times, he is actually referring to a magazine article written by his brother Dan, which contains no references of any kind.

In pitching the services the Blue Zones Project can provide to our town, Buettner continually mentioned “evidence based” and “science backed.” However, at no time did he give examples of such evidence or science. OK, neither Buettner is a scientist. But in describing their work in demonstration city Albert Lea, MN, he talked about replacing candy and junk foods in the supermarket checkout area with 43 “superfoods.” Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a “superfood.”

Switching to some of their current projects, he mentioned the Beach Cities project in California, made up of Redondo Beach, Hermosa Beach and Manhattan Beach. He claimed great success, with a 50% reduction of childhood obesity. This would be an amazing accomplishment, but if you go and read about the project, this effort was a years-long project by the Beach Cities Health District starting in 2006. According to Eric Garner, Communications Director of the BCHD, childhood obesity has fallen by 68% since that time.  This is indeed a major accomplishment, but the Blue Zones Project came much later, (2010-11) and only added the Walking Schoolbus to the obesity project. I would call this intentionally misleading, to say the least.

When I got to ask some questions, (awkwardly, I’ll admit) I wanted to know why this work had never been published or subjected to peer review, and whether this wasn’t just correlation without causation. Buettner’s rather arrogant answer was that they had been featured on 3 magazine covers and been asked to present at the Davos Economic Forum, and they didn’t need to deal with causation, (which he clearly didn’t understand).

I also mentioned Professor Stuart Jay Olshansky’s objection:

He exaggerates the importance of diet as genetics is critical in these folks, and I was not happy early on that they were selling items from the various locations as longevity boosters, which supposedly they stopped doing…

He immediately interrupted to me to assert that the BZP has never sold anything. This is patently untrue: here is a link to their “store,”   where they sell turmeric from Okinawa, bean soup with beans from almost very Blue Zone region, and even cases of Blue Zones Water. They also have offered “Longevity Tea,” and Caracolillo Coffee from the Nicoyan region, but these are sold out.

He was not interested in discussing the criticism in Eric Carter’s paper, which I enumerated in my previous article, and quickly moved to shut me down.

I found Buettner’s attitude and mendacity very troubling and am not enthusiastic about our working with this group.

Thinkpad and Surface: choosing a new laptop

Thinkpad and Surface: choosing a new laptop

 

When my old Thinkpad finally went south, a friend of mine suggested I consider the Microsoft Surface laptop instead of another Thinkpad. After a bit of messing around, I finally ended up with two laptops on my desk to choose from and a large (but temporary) bill on my credit card. One was going to be sent back off the island.  How to choose among these two tremendous laptops?

Since I have a number of compute-intensive applications, I chose a pretty high end model (16 Gb of memory of 1 Tb of solid state disk space), but many of the criteria apply to lower priced systems as well.

The Surface laptop screen is a touch screen in all models, and you can buy a stylus to do actual drawing on it if you want. Any place you’d want to click your mouse, you can just touch the screen. This is integrated with Windows 10, which supports and encourages your using touch, including the otherwise baffling Edge browser that supplants Internet Explorer. But, after having used a mouse in Windows for many years, I just didn’t see why I needed this. If you are working in graphics, you might find it helpful.

Both laptops come with Windows 10, which has its own learning curve, but the Surface Laptop gave you a choice of installing Windows 10 Home or Windows 10 Pro. The Thinkpad just gave you Windows 10 Pro right out of the box. Windows 10 comes with the new Edge browser that replaces Internet Explorer, although IE is still supplied for diehards. The Internet scuttlebutt is that the main use of the Edge browser is to download another browser, such as Chrome, and I did that immediately, because Chrome has all my bookmarks and passwords stored in my account. As soon as you try to download it, Edge scolds you, saying that Edge is much faster than Chrome.

On the Thinkpad, it seems a perfectly capable browser, and it can import your bookmarks from Chrome after you install it. On the Surface, all of your bookmarks seem to turn into big squares at the top of the window, wasting a ton of browser screen real estate. This feature is presumably for touch screen users, but I couldn’t figure out how to turn it off. So, on the Surface, I used Chrome exclusively.

The ThinkPad beautiful display comes with Dolby Vision, which allows each individual pixel to have a wider range of color and contrast. This is primarily for entertainment apps, but the screen is really impressive to work with.

front dark

As soon as I set the two laptops side by side, it was obvious that the Thinkpad screen was wider. It’s almost an inch wider than the surface, and this makes a significant difference when you need to switch between app windows. Since the Surface is a bit taller, you probably get about the same amount of screen, but the width is what makes to different to me. When you first boot up the Surface, it comes up with a tiny font: much too small to do actual writing with. So I had to find the control panel settings that increased the system font. This also affected the fonts in the browser, and I found that I had to enlarge it using Ctrl/Shift/+.

The Surface immediately found and connected to my wireless printer. On the Thinkpad, I had to tell it to scan for printers, and it found it right away.  Neither Windows 10 machine allowed me to share files with my Windows 7 server upstairs without some screwing around I still haven’t completely solved.

On the Surface, I seemed to be making more typing mistakes, and when the measured the two keyboards, the Surface keyboard was 10.75” from the outside of the left shift key to the outside of the right shift key. The Thinkpad was 11.12” and that 3/8” difference made a significant different in my typing accuracy.

But the main difference turned out to be the number of USB ports. Since I habitually use a wireless mouse, I needed a port for this and another port to connect USB flash drives to so I could transfer data from the old computer and from my camera. Without a second port, this meant giving up your mouse every time I needed to copy data from my camera or the old computer.  By contrast, the Thinkpad had 4 USB ports, two full size and two micro ports. This one feature turned out to be the deal breaker. My friend told me this must have been a recent change, as her Surface had two USB ports. If that had been true of mine, I might have kept the Surface, because it is quite a slick  machine, but in fact I am typing this article on my new Thinkpad, and the Surface has left the island.

Oh, and the Thinkpad turned out to be $400 cheaper, too!

 

  Thinkpad X1 6th gen Surface Laptop
Display 2560 x 1440 pixels 2736 x 1824 pixels
Display size 12.25 x 6.93” 11.38 x 7.5”
Memory 16 Gb 16 Gb
SSD storage 1 Tb 1 Tb
Weight 35.9 oz 45.6 oz
Keyboard width 11.125” 10.75”
Processor Intel Core i7 (8th gen) Intel Core i7
USB connectors 2 full, 2 micro 1 full
Touch screen No (but they sell one) yes
Price $2089 $2499

 

 

We try Nueske’s Premium Bacon

We try Nueske’s Premium Bacon

We recently received a catalog offering s number of Nueske’s premium pork products, starting with their 5 types of bacon, and going on to offer sausages, ham, smoke pork chops and other products.  The photos and descriptions were so beguiling, we had to try the bacon. We ordered their Gourmet Bacon Assortment, of Applewood Smoked Bacon, Applewood Smoked Peppered Bacon and Cherrywood Smoked Bacon, which is uncured.

AssortmentThe assortment cost $34.99 plus shipping, which made this bacon pretty expensive, probably twice what you pay for supermarket bacon, but this bacon itself was of superior quality and quite delicious. They also have a thick sliced version that you can cook on a grill. We’ll have to try that, too.

Nueske’s is located in Wittenberg, Wisconsin, west of Green Bay, where they have been making their smoked meats since 1933. However, the family has there since 1882, making smoked meats for themselves. Today, they use imported spices and still use the original Nueske recipes. They smoke their bacon for 24 hours over applewood embers, which gives is quite a distinctive, delicious taste. It also is much less fatty than mass-market bacons, although, of course, it does render some fat when you cook it.

Their Applewood Smoked Bacon is cured with water, salt, sugar, sodium phosphate, sodium erythorbate and sodium nitrite, while their Wild Cherrywood smoked bacon is uncured, but treated with sea salt, raw sugar and cultured celery juice (which provides the nitrite preservatives).

We tried all three types, and loved all of them.

The Applewood Smoked bacon has the strongest flavor, but it is in no way objectionable, and the bacon goes very well with traditional bacon and eggs breakfasts. While there is some fat rendered as you cook it, the bacon shrinks much less than commercial bacons, but there is enough fat to fry eggs in.

The Peppered Bacon, is the same type of bacon as the Applewood Smokes, but with coarse pepper along the edges. You might think this would overwhelm the bacon, but it really doesn’t. After cooking, the Peppered Bacon has a mild, peppery taste not unlike what you’d get if you added salt and pepper to your eggs.

Finally, the Wild Cherrywood Smoked Bacon is uncured, and you have to keep it refrigerated (or frozen). The smoky flavor is milder than in the applewood smoked bacon, but it has just as little shrinkage, and we cooked eggs in the fat from 5 slices and had plenty to work with. We really like this one the best.

Yes, it costs more, but this is really excellent bacon, and we’ll probably order some more and try out their smoked pork chops and hams, too.

 

 

Roundup verdict in California: nothing to do with science

Roundup verdict in California: nothing to do with science

You have probably read about the verdict in California where a jury awarded the plaintiff, Dewayne Johnson $280 million in damages because he developed non-Hodgkins lymphoma while working as a groundskeeper and using Roundup.

You never know how juries make their decisions, as attorney and farmer, Amanda Zaluckyj explains. But we can be sure, that science had nothing to do with it. Maybe they chose to disregard the science because they sympathized with Mr Johnson’s severe lymphoma. But, as Monsanto pointed out in the trial, Johnson’s lymphoma was diagnosed some 10 years before he began using Roundup.

johnsons cancer monsanto

Maybe they didn’t  like Monsanto. The Organic Consumers Association, and US Right To Know have been pushing this anti-biotechnology line for years in order to scare people into using their pricier organic products. Henry Miller has even connected these attacks to the Russian government.

But the science is very clear and has been for years. Glyphosate, the main ingredient in Roundup has about the same toxicity as salt or aspirin. It has been in use since 1974 and is incredible effective and incredibly safe.  Here’s one review on toxicity and here’s another on carcinogenicity.

Probably the only actual report of Roundup causing cancer was made by the IARC, a small French research unit, who when they lost their budget, joined the WHO as a small research division. The trouble with that group is that they were not scientifically driven, but politically driven, considering only a few cherry-picked papers out of the hundreds of papers available on Roundup. And their conclusion was driven by lobbyist Christopher Portier, who formerly worked for the Environmental Defense Fund. Portier is not, however, a toxicologist.  So, when the IARC declared that  Roundup was “probably carcinogenic” they were not considering scientific data, but driven by politics.  I wrote about this in detail here.

Soon after this, the WHO overrode the IARC, and, along with the UN, declared that Roundup was NOT carcinogenic, based on available scientific data. The EFSA quickly agreed.

Courtrooms are not a good place for science,  because juries do not try to understand the scientific method or scientific findings, and instead try to connect with the emotions of the case: poor, sick groundskeeper versus large agricultural company. Who would you predict would prevail?

Fortunately, Monsanto is appealing and we hope will prevail against these preposterous claims. You might also read Cameron English’s excellent analysis of this case here.