The Fear Babe, Part 1: Hexane & Soy Protein

June 23, 2014

An article called Think Twice Before You Buy This Type of Burger by The Food Babe, aka Vani Hari, who you may remember from the Subway-yoga mat “scandal”, detailing the supposedly scary ingredients in a typical veggie burger has been making the rounds in the run up to BBQ season. But like pretty much everything The Food Babe has written, this article is simply pseudoscientific nonsense that plays on the public’s fears and misunderstanding of food chemistry. Over the next five days I hope to break down each claim, one by one. Let’s go…


The first issue The Food Babe raises is that of “neurotoxins & carcinogens”, particularly in the form of hexane. During the processing of some soy for veggie burgers and other soy protein products a solvent called hexane is used to extract the oil. Over the years a number of groups such as the Weston A Price Foundation and The Cornucopia Institute have sought to exploit public fears of this issue for their anti-soy and pro-organic agendas. Fortunately though for those that enjoy a good veggie burger this is probably not a big concern, most if not all hexane is removed during processing but sometimes a small amount in the parts per million range remains behind. While the US has yet to set limits for hexane residues in soyfoods the levels of hexane residue claimed by folks such as the The Cornucopia Institute are below limits set by the generally cautious and conservative EU. To reach a reasonable level of concern one would have to consume many thousands of veggie burgers or drink dozens of gallons of vegetable oil.

If you really are still concerned, not to worry, there are many brands of veggie burger on the market that do not use hexane. Finding them is just a Google search away. As for me, I’m not too worried so make my burger a double.

Hexane in Soy Food on Berkeley Wellness
Hexane in veggie burgers: little science behind the claims by Virginia Messina
Is Your Veggie Burger Killing You? The risks of hexane in soy products.
by Brian Palmer
Do Veggie Burgers Contain Hexane? by Shereen Lehman
Vani Hari (a.k.a. The Food Babe): The Jenny McCarthy of food by David Gorski
Useful Idiot Alert: The Food Babe by Julie Gunlock
Chemicals in Food: Who cares about Science? by Amy Hawthorne

Fluoride & Neurotoxicity in The Lancet

June 20, 2014

Not this again! Lately anti-fluoridationists have been touting a recent study, Neurobehavioural effects of developmental toxicity, published in the Lancet,

Who would have thought that it ever would have happened? Someone in mainstream medicine and peer reviewed literature and journals would publish the ‘unthinkable’: fluoride, the stuff they put into municipal water supplies supposedly to ‘protect’ teeth from cavities, is a neurotoxin. Wow! And congratulations to doctors Philippe Grandjean, MD, and Philip J Landrigan, MD, two researchers who published their findings in The Lancet Neurology, Volume 13, Issue 3, Pages 330 to 338, March 2014. [source]

But how significant is this finding? Not very. This is simply a rehashing* of the same Chinese studies from the so called “Harvard study” and adds nothing new to the discussion. Dentist and pro-fluoridationist Steven D. Slott writes,

The “Harvard Study” was simply a review of 27 Chinese studies found in obscure Chinese scientific journals, of the effects of high levels of naturally occurring fluoride in the well water of various Chinese, Mongolian, and Iranian village. The concentration of fluoride in these studies was as high as 11.5 ppm. By the admission of the Harvard researchers, these studies had key information missing, used questionable methodologies, and had inadequate controls for confounding factors.

The Chinese studies have been addressed to death already (you can see my break down of the studies here), but anti-fluoridationists just don’t seem to care. They will continue to parrot anything that casts fluoridation in a sinister or scary light. For them this is not an issue of science, this is fear and ideology.

As I’ve written before fluoride is a social justice issue. Endemic fluorosis disproportionately affects the poor in developing nations, while fear-based efforts to stop community fluoridation programs disproportionately affect the poor in developed nations. When anti-fluoridationists cite such evidence what they are essentially doing is exploiting a very real problem of mostly poor and non-white folks (endemic fluorosis) in order to drum up attention and donations for a *made-up* problem of mostly privileged white folks in the West. The Fluoride Action Network in particularly is fond of citing Chinese, Indian, Middle Eastern and African data on endemic fluorosis, yet to my knowledge they have not lifted a finger to help people in these areas. Instead they focus entirely on blockading or dismantling public health programs.

Thankfully however there are some organizations on the ground in India addressing the issue of endemic fluorosis in a science-based manner, the Fluoride Knowledge & Action Network (not to be confused with the anti-science Fluoride Action Network) is one such organization. Hopefully this organization will grow and make some headway however I do share one concern expressed by science-blogger Ken Perrott,

I wish the Fluoride Knowledge and Action Network well in their future activity. They are dealing with an important problem in their area and hopefully won’t get diverted by Connett’s organisation. I think that is a possibility because the fluoride free groups, and the “scientific” journal Fluoride they love to quote, does try to make capital out of these real problems by arguing that they are also a problem with fluoridation in countries like New Zealand [and the US]. They aren’t.

Another organization doing some good in India is Frank Water which helps to provide “safe drinking water for the world’s poorest communities” by setting up sustainable filtration programs in areas with bacteriological and fluoride contamination. Their work in India, a fluorosis hotspot, has resulted in safe drinking water for hundreds of thousands of people who now have a brighter future. It is projects like this that are doing the real good, spreading fear and misinformation, however, helps no one.

*in that spirit you may find some that some of the text here is rehashed from previous posts on the subject.

Further Reading:
Repeating bad science on fluoride by Ken Perrott
The Data Behind the Global Neurotoxicity “Silent Pandemic” Is Kinda Sketchy by Michael Byrne
Upholding its tradition, a new Lancet piece on chemicals aims to scare rather than inform. from the ACSH
Fluoride & the Brain: The China Studies by Skeptical Vegan

Waco: Cock-up or Conspiracy?

June 12, 2014

I was recently interviewed for one of my favorite podcasts, The Conspiracy Skeptic podcast, about the 1993 federal siege and subsequent deaths of the Branch Davidians at Mount Carmel Center near Waco, TX. These tragic events were surrounded by conspiracy claims from the very beginning and ultimately formed the basis of a lot of far right-wing paranoia and militancy in the ’90’s.

On February 28th 1993 federal agents from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms attempted to serve a search warrant for illegal weapons, including automatic firearms and grenades, on a religious group called the Branch Davidians led by a man named David Koresh (born Vernon Howell) at their Texas ranch/compound. The tragic events that followed launched the relatively small city of Waco, TX into the national spotlight and eventually birthed a plethora of conspiracy theories that live on to this day. The Davdians evolved as a break off of the Seventh Day Adventist church whose main theological focus was the end times and in particular a section in Revelations know as the seven seals that contain prophecies of the end of the world. The Davidians believed that in the end times a messiah, or Lamb, would be sent to reveal and explain the true meaning of the seals. This Lamb, they believed, was David Koresh. Koresh had wrestled control of the group and their property, known as Mount Carmel Center, from the son of of the former prophetess in 1987. But soon Koresh’s apocalyptic rhetoric, questionable firearms purchases, sounds of automatic gunfire coming from the compound, and rumors of polygamy and child abuse involving under age girls began to worry law enforcement and the local community. It was these concerns, especially those about illegal weapons, that resulted in a several month  investigation and eventual raid on the group.

Unfortunately for federal agents on the morning of February 28th Koresh had been tipped off about the coming raid and the element of surprise lost, but too much work had gone into this and the ATF believed that Koresh was valid threat so the agency decided to go ahead with the plan anyways. Arriving to the compound in cattle trailers, agents unloaded and headed to the building. What happened next is a matter of dispute and little evidence appears to exist that could settle the question. The ATF claim that Koresh and several followers answered the door armed and shot first. Koresh claimed that it was the agents who shot first, either intentionally or accidentally. Either way the result was what may still be the longest shoot out in US history. For 2 hours both sides exchanged fire until a ceasefire was negotiated. At the end of that first day six Davidians lay and four ATF agents laid dead, with many more wounded. The ATF retreated and because federal agents had been killed the FBI took over. For the next several weeks the FBI laid siege to the building trying everything they could think of to get the Davidians to come out peacefully. They even facilitated the national broadcast of a one-hour audio tape of a religious message from Koresh. They were successful in negotiating the release of a number of children as well as convincing a several adults to come out initially. But over 70 adults and children remained inside. Communication between the negotiation and tactical teams was poor and Koresh was resistant to more traditional negotiation techniques. The FBI simply didn’t know how to handle a group that devoutly believed that they were living out biblical prophesy. At the end of 51 days the patience of the FBI had worn thin and concerns for the children inside increased. A plan was drawn up to use CS gas to drive the Davidians from the building. Beginning on the morning of April 19th armored vehicles began spraying CS gas into holes created in the walls of the building while loudspeakers announced their intent. The gassing continued to little apparent effect for several hours. Some Davidians sheltered in more protected locations while others fired on the armored vehicles. Then around noon three fires broke out near simultaneously in different parts of the building. Flames quickly engulfed the building and reduced it to ash. 76 adults and children died that day, some of smoke inhalation but others shot themselves/were shot and one child was stabbed to death. Only 9 Davidians escaped the flames that day.

Before the embers of Mount Carmel had even cooled conspiracy theories that the FBI intentionally set fire to the building and murdered the Davidians were already flying. These claims were bandied about of early internet message boards and then popularized by the release of number of documentaries such as Waco, The Big Lie and the award-winning Waco: The Rules of Engagement. I watched these documentaries while growing up and personally found them quite convincing. It wasn’t until a number of years later that I really began to question the story I had come the believe. As I engaged with the skeptical literature more I started to ask myself if there were things that I believed for which I lacked good reason or evidence. Once I chose to set aside my anti-government bias and look at all the available information I quickly found counter arguments to the conspiracy claims, though thoroughly sifting through and comparing the arguments and sources took much longer.

Ultimately the evidence appears to clear federal agents of murder and does not point to any kind of grand conspiracy. Koresh resisted efforts to end the stand off peacefully at every turn and broke every promise he made to come out. Instead of turn himself over to the authorities he chose to play out his part as a sacrificial Lamb, setting fire to the compound and taking many of his followers with him. This does not mean that there was no wrongdoing on the government’s part. As widely recognized, the initial raid was fatally bungled and subsequent siege poorly managed. To make matters worse a small number of agents were found to be dishonest in the course of the investigation, though not about anything that would implicate the government in starting the fire or murdering the Davidians. Some agents were disciplined, other weren’t, guidelines and protocol were reviewed but the agencies would forever be tarred by their association with the events at Waco.

To me the events at Waco show the importance of being able to direct our skepticism inward as well as outward. Also that one need not naively trust the government (or media) 100% to question conspiracy claims. I still believe that not everything politicians or law enforcement say or do is entirely honest or in the public interest. But in the end grand conspiracies (as opposed to short lived, petty criminal conspiracies) are exceedingly rare. The events at Waco are perhaps best understood by invoking Hanlon’s Razor, “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity“, though I prefer the more pity, “Cock-up before conspiracy.

To go through every single claim made about the events at Waco would take far too long but below I have at least detailed the major claims made by the most popular Waco conspiracy movies, Waco, The Big Lie and Waco, The Big Lie Continues by Linda Thompson, and Waco: The Rules of Engagement, Waco: A New Revelation, and The FLIR Project by Mike McNulty.

Major Conspiracy Claims:

In Waco, The Big Lie (1993) & Waco, The Big Lie Continues (1994) Linda Thompson claims that:

(1) The ATF agents (Steve Willis, Robert Williams, Todd McKeahan, and Conway LeBleu) killed on the first day were former Clinton bodyguards who were executed by friendly fire and that,

(2) a US tank with a flame thrower set the building on fire.

In reality:

(1) While the agents do appear to have been assigned at one point or another as bodyguards to Clinton, the claim that they were executed in the middle of an intense gun fight is made without any real evidence. It also ignores the wounding of 16 other agents that day. This claim is probably best understood as part of a larger conspiracy theory called The Clinton Body Count. The autopsy reports for the four agents kill at Waco can be viewed here.

(2) Thompson bases this claim on a very short segment of low quality video tape taken out of context. When others, including other prominent conspiracy theorists, have viewed the uncut tape it shows no such thing. What Thompson cites as flames is in reality insulation or building materials which have fallen on the tank as it penetrated the building. There is no evidence that any flamethrowers were in operation at Waco. The evidence points fairly clearly to the Davidians as intentionally setting the fire (also see references under claim number 4 below).

The big lie by John Blanton
Waco: The Big Lie Revealed As Hoax by Dean Speir
Because YouTube said so… by Gary Hunt
The House Report (search the words “flame thrower” and “flamethrower”)

While Thompson’s outlandish documentaries found favor mainly in the far rightwing fringe another set of films about the incident received much more widespread support. In his three main films about Waco, Waco: The Rules of Engagement (1997), Waco: A New Revelation (1999), and The FLIR Project (2001), Mike McNulty claims that:

(1)  FBI agents fired on the Davidians from the ground as their compound went up in flames,

(2) that federal agents fired on the Davidians from helicopters,

(3) that FBI agents placed an explosive charge on top of and blew a hole through the roof of the room in which many of the women & children were (“The Bunker”)

(4) that FBI agents caused the fire intentionally.

In reality:

(1) This claim is based on interpretations of flashes seen on infrared (FLIR) video being taken on April 19th. Under proper examination and testing flashes on the FLIR were determined not to be gunshots but to be reflections.

FLIR by John Blanton
FLIR: Mike McNulty responds by John Blanton
Debunking the Waco FLIR by Ian Williams Goddard
Danforth Report, pages 17-27 & the following appendices:
Expert Report of Mr. C. M. Mills (Video)
Expert Report of Mrs. Lena Klasén and Mr. Sten Madsen (FLIR Systems and Video)
Expert Report of Vector Data Systems (U.K.) Ltd. (Imagery Analysis)

(2) No evidence was found to support this claim. As with the above claim it is based primarily testimony of some of those inside that saw bullets holes in the ceiling as well as references to video/infrared footage. Agents present that day do however have a fairly logical explanation for the presence of bullet holes in the ceiling. Agents who attempted to breach a second story room in the compound reported coming under fire from the central four-story tower (as well as possible shots from below). Additionally agents were on the ground firing at an upward angle. The preponderance of the evidence, including testimonials and video, do not support the idea that any helicopters strafed the compound with machine gun fire. There in fact appears to be no strong evidence that any shots were fired from helicopters at Waco.

House Report: Were shots fired from the helicopters?”.
Danforth Report, pages 24–25 (footnote 26), 33, 42–43, 132, 134.
“Trojan Horse: Inside the ATF Raid at Waco, Texas” by Chuck Hustmyre

(3) This claim is pure speculation based in part on an explosion seen during the fire, attributable to a gas tank, and a hole in the roof of the remaining concrete structure. However actual examinations of the hole and room show no forensic evidence of any high powered explosives.

Danforth Report, pages 32-33 & the following appendices:
Expert Report of Dr. Gerry Murray and Mr. David A. Green (Explosives)
Expert Report of Dr. Jerry Havens (Gas Dispersion and Fire)

(4) many pieces of forensic, audio, video, and eyewitness evidence attest to the fact that the Davidians spread fuel and lit the fire themselves. Davidians were caught on tape discussing starting the fire. Both survivors and agents present that day reported seeing or hearing Davidians pour fuel and starting the fires. Accelerants as well fuel can punctured by knives or hand tools were found at the origin points of the fires (as well as on the clothing of some survivors). Further evidence shows that a number of the Davidians died from close-range, small arms fire consistent with a suicide or murder/suicide.

Danforth Report, pages 6-16 & the following appendices:
Expert Report of Mr. Walter Wetherington (Fire)
Expert Report of Dr. Ulf Wickström (Fire)
Expert Report of Dr. Jerry Havens (Gas Dispersion and Fire)

More General Links on Waco:
A linked list of Government investigations and hearings
A Chronology of Waco from PBS’s Frontline
Waco, The Inside Story from PBS’s Frontline (a documentary presenting the mainstream version of events)
Ashes of Waco (an archive of audio and documents related to Waco, including sermons from Koresh)
The Sinful Messiah By Mark England and Darlene McCormick


Milk Myths: Autism

June 2, 2014

The myth that milk causes or contributes to autism recently has been getting more attention due to a six year old billboard campaign from PETA. The billboard was thankfully taken down rather quickly but the article about the campaign remains on PETA website (as one of their most popular info pages) and they have continued to push it since. But both then and now this claim has been met with a good deal of skepticism and outrage. One of the recent responses came from Steven Novella writing for the Science-Based Medicine blog. In his post titled PETA Embraces Autism Pseudoscience he writes,

The pattern of evidence reveals that the methodologically poor studies, ones that are liable to confirmation bias, show some effect, but the properly blinded studies tend to show no effect. For example, a 2010 study (although small) observed children with autism on a gluten-free and casein-free diet, and then challenged them with either gluten, casein, or placebo in a blinded manner. There was no difference in behavior observed. A recent 2014 study also showed no association between dairy and behavior in autism.

As an aside, when such studies are pointed out, the emotional argument is sometimes made that we are “attacking mothers” or “criticizing parents.” This is a diversion, however. Our only point is that parents are humans and are subject to the same cognitive biases that we are all subject to. Being a parent does not magically render someone immune to bias. We need controlled and blinded observations so that we can differentiate between a real effect and self-deception. When an effect disappears under proper blinding, the most likely conclusion is that the phenomenon is not real but is an artifact of observational bias.

Given current evidence, that is the best conclusion we can come to regarding the effects of gluten and casein on autism. The evidence for any effect on behavior is weak and likely not real. There is also no credible evidence to suggest that casein plays a causal role in autism. The evidence is overwhelming that autism is a genetic disorder. Clinical signs are evident at least by 6 months of age, if not sooner, and there is evidence that the developmental processes leading to autism begin in the womb.

The science simply doesn’t support PETA on this one. Please check out Novella’s full post for more information. For further reading check out some of the following posts:

The Bad Science Behind PETA’s Claim That Milk Might Cause Autism by Arit John
PETA: Milk Linked To Scary Autism And Vegan Is Your Only Hope by  Emily Willingham
PETA Reinvents Science And Medicine, Declares That Milk Causes Autism By Hank Campbell

Also don’t forget to check out my take on other milk myths.


Fluoride, Monsanto, No Kill, & The China Study

May 27, 2014


I can’t count the number of times that I have been discussing GM crops with someone only to get the response, “Oh, I have no problem with the technology, it is just Monsanto that is really bad…” and what generally follows is a re-hashing of all the common half-truths, myths, and conspiracy theories surrounding the company. It can be hard to point out the unsupported nature of these claims without seeming like a corporate fan boy or shill, but we can’t unskeptically give into our knee-jerk anti-corporate sentiments. As the Pythgorean Crank says in his latest post titled We Are All Monsanto,

I hate to sound like a corporate defender or apologist. What a weird position I find myself in. The worst of Monsanto’s offenses may be the sum of its parts and that’s always been a problem of big business. We should be wary and resolute in business ethics. But lets not cry wolf lest that wolf finally sneak past us…

This is just getting into 9/11 truther territory now. None of the charges levied against Monsanto are unique, inherent or evil. Just the same with the vilification of GMOs. Huh, imagine that. Others are discovering the same and sharing their stories. We don’t have to throw Monsanto under the bus in order to reach out to the GMO haters. Let’s not be complicit in fanning the flames of yet another conspiracy theory.

Madagascar Against Monsanto Prank:

Ever wonder what depths of ignorance and gullibility that the anti-GMO movement can sink to? A recent prank by a young man from Madagascar tested just that…and the March Against Monsanto folks fell for it hook, line, & sinker*. Eventually the prankster outed the hoax,

To my new friends from March Against Monsanto:

I apologize, I have tricked you for many days now, and I must now stop because I am getting scared of your community, and even though I do not respect your ways, you are humans and I feel bad tricking you into thinking I am one of your group. You mean well, but you are not using science in a good way to help Madagascar.

There was no March Against Monsanto (MAM) in Madagascar. I made the signs and gave them to my friends to see what your group would say. My teacher (who does not agree with this project because of the trickery) told me that your group will accept almost anything regardless of the scientific process, this was my experiment to see if he is correct. In my opinion, he is correct, and your group should not have the same respect as people who are careful about their science. When we talk about science, we must be very careful how we use peoples emotions, otherwise it is manipulation…

You can read the full story here.

*wait…that’s not very vegan

Fluoride & IQ Update:

Not that I expect it to change anyones mind but there is a new study published examining the effects of childhood fluoride exposure on neurological development. Unlike previous research on the issue such as the oft cited “Harvard study” which looked at exposure from uncontrolled sources such as coal burning and ground water, this study examines exposure from sources more typical of community fluoridation and dental health programs. In short the study found that,

These findings do not support the assertion that fluoride in the context of CWF programs is neurotoxic. Associations between very high fluoride exposure and low IQ reported in previous studies may have been affected by confounding, particularly by urban or rural status.

You can read more about this study over at the NeuroLogica blog.

No Kill?:

The No Kill vs. Open Admission model of sheltering has become a major issue and source of division among some animal advocates. In this new article the author attempts to parse the two and wonders if there is perhaps a middle ground between the most vocal sides of the debate.

Behind the vitriol, the two sides agree on many things. Shelters should have partnerships with rescue groups and veterinarians. They should be staffed with caring volunteers who look for good homes, not just any home. They should offer animals exercise and attention. They should actively push spay and neuter programs. If you’re looking for a shelter to support, these are the things you should care about. They are what make the difference between a good shelter and a bad shelter. You may be able to avoid the difficult philosophical question of whether euthanizing shelter animals is humane.

No-kill is a truly admirable goal, but it only works when a community is willing to back it with time and money, and to open their homes to unwanted animals. If that doesn’t happen, no-kill can become a very dangerous slogan. If a shelter can’t guarantee a good home to an animal, is it right to keep it alive in a cage, or bouncing back and forth between the shelter and a bad home? Or is it better to give the animal a quick death? I suppose only a dog could answer that question.

Read the full article at Slate.

The China Study Again:

The folks at The Reality Check podcast tackled The China Study in their latest episode. This study, or rather best-selling book, and its father-son team of authors  have become quite popular in the vegan community since the book appears to make a strong case for the total avoidance of animal protein for personal health. But does the data actually support the authors conclusions?” Not really, but to find out more listen to the episode here.


Real Vegan Cheese

May 22, 2014

This past weekend folks from Counter Culture Labs and BioCurious were at Makers Faire in San Mateo to promote accessible, affordable, and open science for everyone (and win a couple awards). They were also passing out the following postcard to promote the vegan cheese project I wrote about last time. Check it out and if you can, they could really use your support.
Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 11.42.59 AM

Screen Shot 2014-05-21 at 11.43.40 AM

The Good, The Bad, & The Ugly

May 17, 2014

The Good:

What if biotechnology could produce animal-free casein, the protein that gives cheese it stretchiness, and revolutionize the world of vegan cheese? Well, a team from a community/DIYbio lab in Oakland called Counter Culture Labs is trying to do just that! The team plans to modify common yeast (S. cerevisiae) to express the milk protein casein and then use that casein to make a vegan cheese for the International Genetically engineered Machine competition. The project is in the beginning stages but shows a lot of promise. If you wish to find out more check out their wiki page or if you are in Oakland drop by one of the meet-ups Monday evening.

The Bad:

Veg Expo 2014 bills itself as “Canada’s largest everything vegan & vegetarian event” so I was concerned when I saw that GMOs: How Are We As Canadian’s Affected would be the keynote topic but as James McWilliam’s notes in his post Scientific Credibility and the Veggie Agenda,

…not a single speaker has the proper qualifications to make authoritative claims about GMOs. What does it say about the Veg outlook on scientific credibility when, in an attempt to explain how Canadians are affected by GMOs, the organizers have invited a Joga instructor (yes, that’s Joga, not yoga), the owner of Hippie Foods (who has a financial interest in castigating GMOs), an entertainment reporter, a snack mix purveyor, a 14-year old, a vegan fitness expert, and, Jeffrey Smith, a former practitioner of “flying yoga” who now poses under the guise of the  Institute for Responsible Technology (and who has been called out by real scientists as an imposter)?
Every vegan and vegetarian is poorly represented by this agenda.

I couldn’t agree more and the fact that a crank like Jefferey Smith appears to be headlining the whole thing really irks me because as Kevin Folta writes in his piece titled VegExpo, Smith and Conference Credibility,

The general public still sees vegetarianism and veganism as crackpot fringe ideas with little scientific merit. Instead of inviting a scientist to talk about how technology can enhance veg/vegan options, now they can all get scared silly by silly Smith’s non-science nonsense. It simply turns off the science minded in their cause, leaving on the malleable emotional folks that make any organization a drag.

They could invite an actual scientist that cares about vegan/vegetarian issues.  What if you could safely engineer plants to produce the nutrients missing in a veg/vegan diet?  What about plants that produced more vegan-needed amino acids (e.g. lysine, trypophan), vitamins (like B12) & trace elements (like iron)?  All of this can be done with metabolic engineering, it has been done!  What if plants could be developed from GM that were more amenable to processing in veg/vegan foods like garden/boca burgers, etc?  That’s the tip of the iceberg!  Science can make your cause stronger, but instead you invite a non-scientific fear monger to address this conference.

For links to more information and ideas on how to help push back against this anti-scientific co-option visit

The Ugly:

Lastly, I want to share a video on the lives of Naked Mole Rats that one of my professors recently showed in class. It is slightly educational, but mostly it is just hilarious. Enjoy!

Confrences, Paleo-propagadah, How Celebrities Fail Veganism, & More

April 29, 2014

Sorry for the delay, I’ve been a bit busy lately. Before I get to the latest dose of recommended reading I wanna highlight two upcoming events. Coming up first on May 31st  in my very own city of Oakland, CA will be SkeptiCal 2014, the northern California conference for science and skepticism. With a convenient location in the heart of Chinatown and great student price I couldn’t pass this year up. So if you happen to be there, find me and say “Hi”.

Coming up July 10th-13th will be The Amazing Meeting 2014, North America’s largest conference focus on science and skepticism. I am already registered for the conference but I could use your help in getting there. If you would like to help out with a donation you can go to and click the ‘send money’ link. Then just enter an amount and send to ***vegan4life007***@***yahoo***.com***. You can also help other get registration grants by donating to the JREF Forum Grant Fund and Sara Mahew’s Rising Star Grant program. Also if anyone is planning on driving out from the Bay Area and has extra room in their vehicle then get in touch.

Frank n. Foode Update:

As already reported the campaign to fund the production Frank n. Foode plushies (as well as Hawai’ian Papaya plushies) was successful, but now it is time to make you contribution to their final design. Visit the Biofortified Blog for more info.

Super Juice:

Dr. Micheal Greger of, a popular vegan nutrition website, has taken on Noni and Mangosteen juices in a recent post titled, Is Noni or Mangosteen Juice Safe.


Ginny Messina takes on the latest bit of Paleo-propagadah titled the “Top 11 Biggest Lies About Vegan Diets“. Read her response here.

Animals Predictors:

Can some cats really predict a persons death? Can groundhogs predict the weather? Are dogs psychic? Can octopi predict sports matches? Check out the latest episode of the Skeptoid podcast to find out.

How Celebrities Fail Veganism:

A recent article in the Daily Mail details some of the worrying claims regarding vaccine avoidance and alternative medicine made by actor Alicia Silverstone, known to many vegans for her blog The Kind Life, in her recent parenting guide the Kind Mama. I feel this is a prime example of how mainstream celebrities fail veganism and why we need to be wary of our cultures celebrity-worship.

I’ve written about pseudo-vegan Bill Clinton before but now his story has taken a new turn as he now buddied up with Dr. Mark Hyman, a proponent of alternative and “functional” medicine, and incorporated more animal products into his diet. Read more about it here.

Brain Jerky:

Last, because I think it is good to read things that challenge ourselves I am going to leave y’all with this post titled Death as a Foodborne Illness Curable by Veganism by Harriet Hall.

recent post Top 11 Biggest Lies About Vegan Diets.
recent post Top 11 Biggest Lies About Vegan Diets.
recent post Top 11 Biggest Lies About Vegan Diets.
recent post Top 11 Biggest Lies About Vegan Diets.

Supervolcanos, Bison, Meat & Health, and More

April 8, 2014

Bison in Trouble:

A number of articles are making the rounds speculating that videos and reports of the mass exodus of animals from Yellowstone National Park coupled a with recent seismic activity may be sign that the giant Supervolcano that lies underneath the park is ready to blow. If this were to happen it would spell the end for millions and dumps choking ash across a large chunk of the US. But as I have learned, before you attempt to explain a strange phenomenon it is best to establish that the phenomenon exists in the first place. Sharron Hill of Doubtful News traces this story back to an article in the Epoch Times (a paper run Falun Gong adherents) in which the author cites two bloggers as sources. One bloggers was quoted, “Whether I believe this, or whether I don’t believe the story or not, I don’t know. I can tell you this story I saw this morning about the buffaloes running the street … whether or not it’s because of any activity in Yellowstone or not, I don’t know,…But I’ll tell you this, whatever the case may be, that their running away from Yellowstone is an alert of some sort.”

Except that the video cited shows bison running into the park rather than fleeing it. But even if reports of animals leaving Yellowstone are true they would not be unusual. In fact this is precisely the time of year when we should be seeing more such movement. As noted by chief of public affairs for Yellowstone, Al Nash,  “We do have bison, elk and other animals that have moved outside the park recently, but they’re doing that because it’s the depth of winter, food is a little hard to find in places inside Yellowstone, and they tend to migrate at this time of the winter outside the park to lower elevations where they think there might be something to eat that’s easier to get at. When the snow melts off and things start to green up, those very same animals will walk right back into the park.”

But while this latest hubbub is nothing more than wild speculation, not all is well and good with the bison of Yellowstone. Reduced from a population of millions that spanned large portions of the country to a small fraction of that in scattered herds, the vast majority in commercial operations. Only a handful of wild herds still exist with Yellowstone’s being the largest. Over the years these last of the wild bison have been faced a politically motivated assault largely driven by cattle ranching interests with the scientifically tenuous excuse the risk of transmission of brucellosis to domestic cattle. Because of this the bison face being chased back into the park or being shot by hunters when they cross the imaginary boundaries of the park. Inside the park officials also trap the bison where they are then shipped off for slaughter as part of a population management plan. The current plan calls for the slaughter of 600 – 800 bison over the course of the winter.

But these actions have not been without opposition. Perhaps the most active organization on this issue is the Buffalo Field Campaign, who have waged battles in the courts and on the ground to protect the Yellowstone bison. To learn more about the BFC and what you may be able to do to help check out this interview on Animal Voices Radio and visit the BFC website for periodic updates and news.

Vegetarians Vs Meat Eaters:

Ginny Messina, aka The Vegan RD, has taken on the latest piece of research being passed by smug meat-eaters,

Vegetarians Found to Have More Cancer, Allergies, and Mental Health Disorders.” That’s the alarming headline from a website called Science 2.0 (which also declares vegetarianism to be a “fad diet.”)

They are referring to new research in Austrian vegetarians published in the journal PLoS One. The study compared self-reported health among 1,320 subjects who were divided into groups according to the type of diet they consumed. Although the media jumped all over it, there has been plenty of more thoughtful discussion among nutrition experts about the shortcomings of this research…

Please read the full piece here.

More to Chew On:

I think it important for people to challenge themselves. So with that in mind I want to share a recent post from James McWilliams titled, “Veganism’s Shaky Pillars”.
Let me know what you think.

My Interview, Whaling News, & More

April 2, 2014

My Interview:

This past weekend I was interviewed for the Which Side Podcast and the episode has now been released. The show format is pretty casual and we end up talking about everything from skepticism, veganism, Mormonism, to train hopping, and more. You can stream or download it directly here. Give it a listen and let me know what you think

Whaling News:

Big news is making the rounds, the International Court of Justice ordered Japan to halt their Southern Ocean whaling program and that while the program “involves activities that can broadly be characterized as scientific research” that “the evidence does not establish that the programme’s design and implementation are reasonable in relation to achieving its stated objectives”. Ultimately concluding that such whaling permits issued by Japan were not “for purposes of scientific research”.

Ive written before about my personal belief that Japan’s “scientific” whaling program is little more than a commercial slaughter operation hiding behind the guise of science. I was not alone in this assessment either, with many conservation scientists saying the same. Now at last there may be some legal vindication. But the way this development has been reported has been somewhat confusing. Does this mean an end for Japanese whaling? What are the actual implications of this ruling? For a clearer picture please check out this great post from the folks at Southern Fried Science where they break it down.

 Oil Pulling:

I’ve been hearing a lot about oil pulling from other vegans lately. If you are not familiar with oil pulling the idea is that you take an unrefined oil and swish it around in your mouth, sometimes for as long as 20 minutes or a half hour. Proponents of the practices cite all sorts of health benefits from improved dental health (the advice to brush well afterwards probably has something to do with that) to detoxifying the body (a nonsense claim) and curing cancer. As evidence they often point to personal anecdotes as well as the ancient origins of oil pulling in Ayurvedic “medicine”. But the plural of anecdote is not data and tradition does not establish effectiveness. To find out what the science actually says about oil pulling please check out this post titled Oil Pulling Your Leg over on the Science Based Medicine blog.


I tend to not follow the whole “vegan” Hollywood/celebrity scene. So I was alerted to this next piece of news by Rebecca Watson of SkepChick. It seems that Ellen DeGeneres has been promoting “psychic” Theresa Caputo, aka the Long Island Medium, on her show. I probably shouldn’t be surprised but I am disappointed. In her post Rebecca calls Ellen out and asks her to not promote such unethical hucksters. You can check it out here.

You may have also heard of how Ellen raised 1.5 million dollars for St Jude’s Children Hospital and Humane Society of the United States with her tweeted selfie from the Oscars while at the same time raising a lot of controversy among animal advocates and the public with her choice of charities. The Canadian Inuit community in particular has taken exception to what they view as an attack on their community by the HSUS campaign against the seal hunt, responding to Ellen’s tweet with their own “#sealfie” twitter campaign. I feel that issues like this can be hard to approach for animal advocates in mainstream culture. I’m not prepared to tackle this issue myself however I highly recommend that everyone read two of Dylan Powell’s pieces on indigenous communities and vegan activism titled, “Veganism in the Occupied Territories: Anti-Colonialism and Animal Liberation” and “Shadowboxing: An Animal Liberationist Perspective on the Conservative Administration, The Commercial SealHunt, and #InuitCounterProtest” and  take some time to reflect. Hopefully a more nuanced conversation can be had in the vegan community along with more bridge building between communities.


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 285 other followers