Follow and Support this Skeptic ===> Jeff Holiday

On February 6, 2016, in Science, by prosario2000

Very recently, after I adopted the path of skepticism, not only as an intellectual but also as a spiritual path (as a Religious Naturalist), I’ve been watching a lot of skeptics who have become very popular on the Internet such as Rebecca Watson, Kavin Senapathy (follow her page in, Myles Power and James Gurney (both: The League of Nerds),  Yvette d’Entremont  (aka the SciBabe), José Miguel Mulet, The Skeptics Guide to the Universe, among many others. Through Patreon, I have supported three of them. Two whom I have mentioned: Rebecca Watson and Myles Power.  Yet, the third one has not received the attention he deserves: Jeff Holiday.

Don’t get me wrong, he is getting popular. He has more than 1,000 subscribers in Youtube, and that is a respectable number. What I like about him is a neuroscience student who wants to comment about the best science today with a great sense of humor, while demystifying certain BS people find on the Internet.

However, his comments are not limited to science, but he also talks about politics. Many times I’ve seen the headings of his political comments videos, and my initial reaction is a raise of an eyebrow. It may be that I end up disagreeing or agreeing with him, but whichever the outcome, I feel that he wants to provide the best rational basis for his views. He also posts some silly stuff just people to enjoy.

Here are some of my favorite videos:

… and one silly video:

He seems to be a great guy, and I honestly wish him all of the best.

I started supporting him in Patreon recently (within the capacities of my low budget, of course), because I believe that he should do many more videos, and talk to more people about science and skepticism. After some time, he posted a video thanking his supporters … or (to my surprise) his supporter … me! The ONLY Patreon supporter (“technically” at least)?!

In my humble opinion, I should not be the ONLY supporter in Patreon. I invite everyone to please support him if you have the chance. Honestly, it doesn’t take much. We need more people like him in Youtube, in Facebook, in Google+, in Twitter … everywhere!

Please, go and support him in Visit his page:
Also subscribe to his Youtube channel:


No poder olvidarte (with English translation)

On January 8, 2016, in Poetry, by prosario2000

Licencia de Creative Commons
Este obra está bajo una licencia de Creative Commons
Reconocimiento-CompartirIgual 4.0 Internacional

Cuando quiero besar las aguas del Leteo,
interrumpe mi sed el recuerdo de tu rostro
y en desesperación suspiro cuando mi mente ve
cómo tus ojos se convierten en luz de vida.

¡Ay! ¡Cómo desearía morir de una vez,
para renacer en la otra vida!
Quisiera sentir cada célula de mi cuerpo
expirar de mi corrupción material,
para tansmutarse en tu tierra, en tu aliento.

Ojalá pudieras saborear el sudor de mi frente.
Como el vino, embriagarte de locas visiones,
y así destilar regocijo al sentir cómo gotas de fuego
se insertan en nuestro íntimo baile nocturno.

Y entre realizaciones de sueños y aventuras
al nos inquirir nuevas maneras de perecer al otro
te contemplo reír como cuando una niña descubre
en su inocencia que del día se puede enamorar.

Y de la noche … poder respirar junto a las estrellas.


Whenever I wish to kiss the waters of Lethe,
my thirst is broken by the memory of your face,
and in despair I sigh when my mind looks at
how your eyes become a light of life.

Oh!  How much do I wish to die for once,
to be reborn in the afterlife!
I wish to feel every cell of my body
expire from its material mortality,
to be transformed to your soil, to your breath.

I wish you could taste the sweat of my brow,
with it, like wine, make you drunk with mad visions,
and distill joy when we sense the drops of fire
be among us in our nocturnal dance.

By realizing dreams and adventures,
when we inquire new ways of perishing for one another,
I watch you laugh like when a little girl discovers
in her innocence how to fall in love with the morning

And how much in the evenings she can breathe with the stars.


Leaving the Political Left

On October 3, 2015, in Economy, Philosophy, Politics, Puerto Rico, Science, by prosario2000

Some Original Revolutionary and Progressive Values which Have Been Lost

If there was any thinker in the world I admire is Karl Marx. Contrary to many people’s opinions, I do not consider him a philosopher, but an economist and one of the fathers of Sociology. I think that most of what he proposed as solutions for capitalism have been refuted by philosophy, sociology, and history. Yet, that does not mean that he didn’t have any valuable insights. Capital stands as a unique classic that, along with Adam Smith’s The Wealth of Nations, and has enabled us to understand capitalism regarding its process and dynamic. The work itself is not infallible, but it is immensely valuable. I also think that the Communist Manifesto, how ever small and simple it is as a historic document, should be considered an eye-opener for most Progressives and Left-wing leaning people today. I particularly love these words when he makes an explicit admiration for capitalism:

The bourgeoisie has disclosed how it came to pass that the brutal display of vigour in the Middle Ages, which reactionaries so much admire, found its fitting complement in the most slothful indolence. It has been the first to show what man’s activity can bring about. It has accomplished wonders far surpassing Egyptian pyramids, Roman aqueducts, and Gothic cathedrals; it has conducted expeditions that put in the shade all former Exoduses of nations and crusades.

The bourgeoisie cannot exist without constantly revolutionising the instruments of production, and thereby the relations of production, and with them the whole relations of society. Conservation of the old modes of production in unaltered form, was, on the contrary, the first condition of existence for all earlier industrial classes. Constant revolutionising of production, uninterrupted disturbance of all social conditions, everlasting uncertainty and agitation distinguish the bourgeois epoch from all earlier ones. All fixed, fast-frozen relations, with their train of ancient and venerable prejudices and opinions, are swept away, all new-formed ones become antiquated before they can ossify. All that is solid melts into air, all that is holy is profaned, and man is at last compelled to face with sober senses his real conditions of life, and his relations with his kind.

For Marx, the technology developed by the bourgeoisie was incredibly valuable and created “wonders”. Of course, all of this technology was directed to one end in particular: the bourgeois’ profit. Even Marx recognized the great advances that this technology meant for the public, but he recognized the need to eradicate the injustice and class struggle generated by the system, so that the proletariat would, not eliminate these technology, nor dismantle these means of production, but to use them for a just world. In this case, science was seen as the basis for making the world better. Marx was Mary Shelley’s fan, and read Frankenstein (and you can see it all over Capital), and this novel referred extensively to the problem of “how man should not cross certain boundaries established by Nature”. Yet, Marx underscored the great importance of science for making the proletariat and the poor better. His friend, Engels, described his proposal as “scientific socialism”, as opposed to “utopic socialism”. Although I do believe that Marx’s proposal for this “scientific socialism” is as utopic as the rest, I can’t avoid appreciating how much Marx and Engels regarded science so highly.

There was also the Progressive Era that stemmed from the ashes of the Gilded Age in the United States. In part (but only in part) to the economic collapse of the 1880s, the Federal government wanted to invest in education, medical services, and the sciences in general. Of course, this was no ethical golden era. Native Americans had to suffer new ways of exploitation under these ideals, and … at least in my case … the Progressive values mixed with Imperialistic ideals led to US’s efforts to establish policies to assimilate different ethnicities which did not agree to WASP values, such as Puerto Rican culture. Needless to say, practically black people in the U.S. were virtually left out of the Progressive equation. Despite this, not all Progressive values should be rejected. New technologies that started appearing more vigorously during these decades were extremely valuable, and made people’s lives better. These led to a basic ideological and physical infrastructures that led to more government investment in new technologies during WWII and the Cold War.

Something Gone Wrong with the Left

Apparently, even when the radical Left and the more Center-Left or Progressive policies affirmed and recognized the way technologies (even from the private pro-capitalist sector) improve people’s lives, this seems to be no longer the case. Instead, the Left is gradually leaning towards anti-scientific and anti-technological views. Usually, they have a secular “holier-than-thou” attitude against the Right-wing, especially regarding the problem of climate change. They actually tell people that ignoring science is to doom the world. That is great, as far as it goes.

The problem with the Right-wing regarding climate change can be read word-for-word in any Left-leaning or environmentalist blog or website about this subject: scientists all over the world have established a pretty strong consensus that global warming is happening, and its effect –climate change– is anthropogenic (from human origin). There is no question at all about this. Yes, you could find some very few scientists (with titles and everything) who have contested it, but they are a minority, and practically all of their work have been refuted by other scientists. In the current scientific literature, this is practically a non-issue. See the most recent peer-review article on the consensus here. In fact, it has been found that most of the deniers of the anthropogenic origins of climate change make scientifically baseless allegations: they ignored critical background information, cherry-picked their data, rejected solid studies that were inconvenient to their preconceived solutions, and so on. I could even add the documentaries that purposely distort data to deceive the public (e.g. The Great Global Warming Swindle). Many people in the Right reject this consensus for two reasons:

  1. Because most of the measures to remedy climate change implies an increase in state-sponsored investments in clean energy, which would mean an increase of the intervention of the political state in the economy.
  2. Because a lot of the interests behind Right-wing politicians come from industries that invest heavily in fossil fuels.

The same could be said about the Right-wing’s flirtation with Creationism and Intelligent Design, mostly because a lot of the Right-wing embraces the religious sector of U.S. society, most notoriously the conservative and the fundamentalist sectors.

Yet, as it happens, when it comes to other scientific issues, such as GMOs, nuclear energy, and others, certain Left-wing and environmentalist groups can be just as “crazy” or incredibly “deceptive” as their counterparts in the Right-wing extreme. DemocracyNow has served as a forum for Left-wing and environmentalist forum … which is great! … Except when the show interviews a lot of people whose reputation and credibility have been seriously questioned by the scientific community (e.g. Vandana Shiva, Helen Caldicott, Greenpeace activists, etc.). This adoption by the Left that these people are somehow sacred leads to peer-pressure. If you believe something different than from these major figures in the environmental movements, then you have been “bought by Monsanto”, or “bought by the fossil fuel industry”, or “bought by the nuclear industry”, or you are a traitor to “the cause”, etc.

Yes, I agree that the interaction between scientists and companies is a problem that must be dealt with. There have been scientists who have been recruited to say that cigarettes are not all bad for you, and work for the tobacco companies. Yet, that hasn’t moved  the whole scientific community an inch in favor of smoking or had dissuaded its members from believing that it is carcinogenic. Even tobacco companies agree today that it causes cancer! The same can be said about the way ExxonMobil has recruited scientists all over the world and has actively tried to intervene with the scientific establishment to change the consensus, even when it knew that the anthropogenic climate change was real.  Let’s remember that Exxon has about $350 billion in assets, and about $400 billion in revenue.  As we have seen, Exxon has been totally unable to change the minds of the vast majority of the scientific establishment about it. All of the major scientific institutions around the world have established their agreement with the world wide consensus on the subject.

Yet, when it comes to genetically modified food and transgenics, the Left becomes the very big mirror of the Right in both attitude and behavior. Today, an overwhelming vast majority of scientists and scientific institutions around the world agree that GM food is no riskier than conventional or organic food. These conclusions have been very well established by scientific and health international organizations and by independent scientists again, and again. Here are three of the most important studies about GM food in the world:

  1. The European Commission’s 10 years study of GM food.
  2. An Italian meta-analysis on 10 years of scientific literature on how GM food has affected non-human animals and humans: basing themselves on 1,783 studies found no evidence of harm.
  3. A 2014 study which carries out a meta-analysis, researching about the harm of GM on farm animals covering a period of 29 years, including the results of about 1 trillion meals to a 100 billion non-human animals: there are no cases of reported harm.

Of course, as the exact mirror of the Right, certain people in the Left (especially those in the environmentalist movements) accuse the scientists participating in this as being “sold to Monsanto”. My question is … “Really?” Is Monsanto all THAT powerful to establish the consensus on GM food in the scientific establishment?

Remember how ExxonMobil with all of its assets and revenue, and which has actually tried to buy scientific opinion, has been unable to change the 97% scientific consensus on climate change? Well, how much does Monsanto have in relationship with Exxon? As it turns out, Monsanto has $23 billion in assets (it is almost 15 times smaller than Exxon’s), and $14 billion in revenue (almost 27 times smaller than Exxon’s) … all of these are 2013 and 2014 figures. How could Monsanto accomplish something that neither the tobacco industry nor the fossil fuel industry (whose revenues together are remarkably higher) have not been able to do?

And it gets even worse. Compared to many of its competitors, Monsanto is a remarkably small company. Don’t get me wrong! $14 billion in revenues makes it a very big company. Yet, not so much when you compare it with  Syngenta’s ($15 billion), Bayer ($51 billion), DuPont ($36 billion), Dow ($57 billion), Archer Daniels ($90 billion), BASF ($99 billion), and Agrium ($16 billion) … 2013 and 2014 figures. So, this mythology about an all-powerful Monsanto is not even remotely believable, especially when one takes into consideration the situation in the market.

And it gets even WORSE. The Monsanto that exists today barely resembles the old Monsanto. As the public record will tell you, the Monsanto that exists today is actually a spin-off that arose when the old Monsanto was fused with another company, Pharmacia, which was later bought by Pfizer. The agribusiness operations (which Pfizer was not interested in) consolidated into the new company, Monsanto (the one people love to hate today). Of course, misunderstandings about this history have made some people in social networks say that Monsanto is managed by Pfizer, which is utter non-sense.

And to make matters worse …  Monsanto is not the only company working on GM food. It was lucky that it was the first one to market it. The other ones have not been able to do so too soon, mostly due to over-regulation implemented because of anti-GM activism. Not even public university scientists who are willing to charge a small fee for their patents, or, better, make their seeds available for free to farmers, have not been able to do so because of this over-regulation. Some have no choice but to make BigAg companies the owners of these seeds so that they become available, which is ironically what the Left mostly fears. Talking about a self-fulfilling prophecy!!!


Anti-GM: The Left’s Dark Side

Whether a technology is produced by big corporations or cooperatives, small businesses, or the public sector, is irrelevant from an ethical standpoint. What does matter is if these organizations actually accept and manage the technology in such a way that can benefit the public most. Vaccines and medicines that save lives, and gadgets that improve quality of life for many have been the great accomplishments of modern medicine. Yet, most of these have been created by for-profit corporations. Despite this corporate end, the public greatly benefits from the availability of this technology. In fact, a lot of these medicines, vaccines, and devices can be traced to how public scientists interact with big corporations, which provide the capital for investment. In the case of medications, some of those greatly needed in many parts of the world are provided for free. No one in his or her right mind would actually protest the provision of these goods on the basis that “they are corporate” or “made for profit”. If any corporation withholds them on purpose, it would have the same outcry that the pharmaceutical industry had to deal with in 1998 when it asked the U.S. to create a blockade to South Africa because it tried to buy cheaper medicines from India to deal with AIDS population. The public would be rightfully outraged when vultures prey on the sick for profit, like what recently happened in social networks when people learned of a hedge fund manager who raised the price of a drug used for AIDS patients.

On the other hand, we can’t deny that some sorts of technology were originally created for reasons that, perhaps, people find reprehensible. There is no doubt that the military in the U.S. has made Puerto Ricans miserable by advocating for a colonial policy that lives on today. Many innocent people have died because of military tech used in battles and wars all over the world. Yet, it does not cross my mind to protest against the Internet, whose origins include its adoption by the U.S. military in the 1960s.  There is no doubt that this technology, with all of its virtues and vices, has made people’s lives better: just imagine that people have more access to information, manage their finances, buy goods, etc., all of which have saved a lot of people money and increased their wealth. In some countries, due to the access of the Internet, that can represent the difference between having four meals a week to having five meals a week. This is the reason why I believe that access to the Internet should be in the end a human right, and we should develop the technology towards that goal, regardless of whether you love or hate the military establishment.

Even when supposing that Monsanto is the ethical equivalent of the evil Galactic Empire that built the Death Star and destroyed Alderaan, the rejection of genetic modified food is simply something I can’t understand.

It is often said that Indian farmers are committing suicide because of the introduction of Monsanto’s Bt-cotton in 2002, a story promulgated mostly by Vandana Shiva and company. Yet, there is no scientific study in recent years that accepts this narrative. On the contrary, all of the pertinent studies show that there is ample evidence that Bt-cotton has made their lives better (see here, here, here, here, and even more critical articles here and here, most of these studies are independent) . This is indicated by two things:

  • The rate of adoption of Bt-cotton by Indian farmers over the years

Adoption of Bt-cornSource

  • The improvement of their quality of life

 Variables of Life Quality Among Indian Farmers


So, even when Indian farmers have to buy Bt-cotton seeds that are four times more expensive than normal seeds, they produce so much cotton that their increase in wealth, and their savings from not having to buy insecticides compensate for it very well, and their lives have improved dramatically in general.

When you  see the testing of Bt-brinjal, it has been said by some environmentalists that it has been an overwhelming failure, and that it has been denounced by farmers. Yet, these very same farmers named in the article beg to differ from it (Watch them say this on video! By the way, they also make fun of anti-GM activists.) The seeds for Bt-brinjal have been provided for free to farmers, who can plant the next generations seeds as many times as they want. Monsanto made sure of this … (That evil company!)

GM-papaya has been able to save papaya farmers from starvation, and it was the direct result of public scientists, Dennis Gonsalves and his team. The only threat that these farmers have ever faced are anti-GM activists who destroy their papaya trees. And you can go country, by country, and find that there can be difficulties (e.g. weeds and insects resistant to glyphosate and Bt respectively), but there are also situations where, with good farming practices, GM can make a difference in farmers’ lives (e.g. in every country that has legalized it). The most recent study that calculated the economic impact of GM on farmers has pointed out that, even when farmers in general pay far more for seeds (due to their demand and patent costs), they save a lot of money from administering pesticides and health costs related to them, and increase in productivity. Both of these factors account for an almost 70% increase in revenue. When you ask yourself why do farmers buy GM-seeds, the answer is easy … because they have more money and they improve their quality of life.

Impacts of GM crop adoption.

Impacts of GM crop adoption.
Average percentage differences between GM and non-GM crops are shown.
Results refer to all GM crops, including herbicide-tolerant and insect-resistant traits.
The number of observations varies by outcome variable; yield:
451; pesticide quantity: 121; pesticide cost: 193; total production cost:
115; farmer profit: 136. *** indicates statistical significance at the 1% level.

That’s it! Now everyone can talk to me about how Monsanto makes farmers “miserable”. As a “Leftie” at heart, I would love to believe that a corporation is making farmers miserable, but I would actually believe it more if that “Farmer profit” bar was beneath the line, not over it.

Due to the notable increase in production, despite the cost increase of Monsanto’s seeds, the indirect effect has also been beneficial for consumers, since it has driven down corn, soy, and cotton prices due to the increase in productivity, hence, the increase in supply. Other than the excessive use by glyphosate by some farmers, especially to the point of generating glyphosate resistant weeds, I have not seen anything else that would damn this company to hell. Quite the opposite. In general, the solidarity created by the social matrix involving Monsanto, public scientists, farmers, and consumers have been greatly beneficial to everyone in general. Are there monopolistic concerns? Definitely! But the fact that farmers keep buying GM-seeds despite their cost reveals that they are more than happy to pay for a better outcome than the alternatives.

Going beyond Monsanto is also a healthy exercise for the mind when trying to think clearly about this subject. Other projects such as Simplot’s Innate potatoes, Del Monte’s Rosé transgenic pineapple, wheat without gluten, golden rice, purple tomatoes with antioxidants, the golden banana, the golden cassava, among many others, are being developed by other companies or by public universities around the world. In the case of public universities, they are trying their best to create GM seeds whose patent licenses can be affordable, or, in the optimal case, make them patent-free (the so-called “open source” GM seeds) to make them freely available to farmers to do with them as they wish. Also, these products would directly improve the health of consumers, since many of them are designed to avoid carcinogens, prevent cancer, or make available a variety of goods to people whom, for reasons of their particular illnesses, cannot consume them. People who suffer from celiac disease will feel their pockets relieved because of a gluten-free wheat.

Yet, out of all of these, only Arctic apple and Innate potatoes have been made available. Why not more?

Why isn’t golden rice available now? Golden rice is GM rice that has been fortified with beta-carotene, one vitamin A precursor, which studies have shown to become vitamin A after it is consumed. These seeds would be provided patent-free for farmers, with the right of re-selling them and re-planting them as long as they don’t profit more than $10,000. In practice, this would make the rice available for free for all Asian farmers. However, golden rice is not available, because environmentalists (especially Greenpeace) have made sure that it is never available to people in Asia who are suffering from vitamin A deficiency. This would cost them $1.4 million life/years to many people who are really going through blindness and death because of lack of access to it. This is clearly inhumane and, coming from a milti-million dollar organization (such as Greenpeace), it is a crime against humanity.

But, it is a crime supported by the LEFT!!!! How can this be?!  Aren’t Progressives and Left-wing people all for human rights … for the economic rights of the marginalized and the poor?! I think that knowing this fact shook me pretty bad.

… I have to say that not even that prepared me to what happened next: the relentless persecution, intimidation, and even physical threats to U.S. scientists whom anti-GM critics perceive as being in cahoots with Monsanto. The cooperation among public scientists and big companies is a delicate subject, and from an ethical standpoint, I can understand the objection coming from many people. However, from an ethical standpoint, this sort of cooperation is completely legitimate if it is done following a code of ethics, and scientists can guarantee their independence of criteria from their interactions with industry.

The first victim of this process was Dr. Kevin Folta, and I’ve seen with pain how he is going through this ordeal, even when the money he received from Monsanto was not for him (as Ralph Nader deceptively tries to argue), but for an outreach program teaching young people about science. Whatever you believe about Monsanto (e.g. that it is the equivalent of Skeletor’s Snake Mountain), this contribution was very positive, because it promotes science. Even when people want to really believe that Monsanto finances Folta’s work, just forget about it! He works on strawberries, Monsanto is not interested in them and has not financed his studies at all.

And I’ve seen worse!  Much worse … with no public uproar!!!  Did you know that Nova’s episodes on Brian Greene’s The Fabric of the Universe was sponsored by David H. Koch, of the Koch Brothers? You know, the same people who finance anti-scientific campaigns to discredit global warming, and try to cut down regulatory legislation of the industry?  Yeah… those guys!  And still, they are great episodes. The same when Microsoft sponsored some great episodes by NOVA, and believe me, THAT company can control your life a thousand times more through your computer than Monsanto would ever do just by selling seeds and Roundup. I’ve always promoted software freedom, and I wish that more people in the Left had just the same passion against Windows and MacOS that they have against Monsanto.

And even the Left is in a worse situation than the Right, for the simple reason that the former tends to be so self-righteous about how much it endorses evolution and the anthropogenic view of climate change. Yet, when it comes to studies, the anti-GM sector is just as insane!!! It uses extensively retracted, very bad, and ethically questionable studies to prove their point (such as Séralini’s experiment), or studies financed by industries and lie when they say that they have no conflicts of interests (e.g. the famous Judy Carman’s –and company’s– study on the effects of transgenic maize and soy on pigs), or studies published in notorious predatory journals such as those published by OMICS International, Scientific Research, MDPI, and others (e.g. Stephanie Seneff’s bogus study on glyphosate in Entropy). In other words, everything revolves in totally and absolutely discredited studies that are not even worth the virtual paper they were written in. And please, don’t get me started on Greenpeace!!!  It is renowned for not revealing how their studies were carried out, and it has been caught altering its own data to fit its causes (e.g. the Brent case, and the Chernobyl meltdown).

The Left’s dubious association with pseudo-scientifically-minded individuals around the world does not make the its situation any better. Mike Adams, founder of Natural News, is not only a long time scammer, but also at one point wrote an article clearly implying that it should be anyone’s moral duty to kill scientists, academics, journalists, and so on who advocate for GMOs, while the next day posting a webpage giving people names of Monsanto employees, biotech scientists, academics, and advocates so that the public would intimidate them. Then he changed the text to “clarify” that he didn’t mean “kill”, just bring these advocates “to justice”. Later he deleted it, but the Internet remembers events like that. Because of this incident, he is being investigated by the FBI right now. By the way, this article was also posted in Vandana Shiva’s website for a week, and then was taken down after the uproar of indignation it provoked. Dr. Oz, (read this study and listento this interview about his recommendations), Vani Hari (the Food Babe), Jeffrey Smith (who knows nothing of science and doesn’t know what he’s talking about — see here and here–), Dr. Joseph Mercola (… And I mean, really?! A guy who sells as “healthy” a product containing the very same stuff he himself has said is poisonous to the public?!!  Really??!!! …), among other frauds, have inundated the media with totally false claims about GM food, not supported by any scientific study at all.

Even legitimate scientists, such as Dr. Don Huber, fall from grace as soon as they are mixed in this mess. According to him, he discovered how GM and glyphosate create a “pathogen” that could represent a threat to human and animal health. He has been claiming this for years, without ever showing this pathogen to the scientific community. (So … is he withholding evidence of something that could harm the public, and will not make it available to scientists and the public for examination?  Why the heck not??!!!)  And what about David Suzuki’s shameful ignorance of GM work that ended up in a video that discredits his statements, not only about GMOs, but about his campaign to address the problems of climate change?  The Right-wing had a field day with Suzuki! With this, in the eyes of the public, Suzuki has contributed to discredit the urgent need to address the problem of climate change. He campaigns for it, but appeared before the public as an ignorant about his own field, genetics; so, in the minds of many people, why should they pay attention to him about climate change?

And the Left wants to associate with all of these people and use them as “legitimate” references?!  Really??!!!


I’m OUT!

I began as an anti-GM campaigner, and I ended up being in favor once I sat down and studied this subject carefully. I have to say that as time goes by, I am increasingly disappointed with the Left, especially when they don’t stick to neither science nor history. They invent false historical memory about a time when “farmers lived in harmony with nature”, and “they lived healthy” because they had no synthetic pesticides and everything was done “naturally”. Just a little verification on farming practices in that “ancient past” will make them realize that not only they used to use pesticides, but that they were as toxic as arsenic, mercury, sulfur, copper, rotenone, pynethrum, among many others, many which are banned today in many countries, or are still legal but are creating a lot of environmental problems. A little check on the life expectancy data on humanity in the past vs. today should wake people up from their slumber.

From what I’ve seen in the left, not only in the United States, but also in Puerto Rico where this opinion is almost monolithic, especially with political groups like the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP), the Sovereigntist Movement Union (MUS), and even Nada santo sobre Monsanto, which have created a new ignoramitocratic thinking (i.e. they dictate public policy on the basis of ignorance and fraud rather than science). In the United States, the situation is a little bit different so far as the political Left is divided on this issue. Although I understand the opposition to the nuclear alternative by people like Ralph Nader, I have been stunned by the fact that he actually endorses the persecution and intimidation of scientists by misusing the FOIA, especially accusing the critics of such behavior of being “tied to Monsanto”, and quoting a study published in a very low impact journal that has been criticized and debunked by the scientific establishment, mostly because it made no original research, and was picking and choosing the data from a previous retracted Séralini study, which was later republished without any peer-review. The authors of the quoted study are, of course, Séralini himself and company. Nader also quoted the (in)famous IARC study that created a lot of unwarranted chaos in public policy over the world, and which is also ridden with very serious and evident mistakes.

(Note/Rant: Why is it that we have to ban glyphosate all over the world because it is categorized 2A by the IARC, but not working at night, or working in a salon … By this reasoning, women are screwed, because estrogen has been classified as 1 by the IARC –i.e. we are sure it is a carcinogen– , as well as painting, … and let’s ban pears, they have formaldehyde, and let’s not forget banning the Sun itself!)

This has been the greatest disappointment ever from the Left, especially many environmental groups.

I’M DONE!!!!

Before, I thought that the Left embraced the best of Progressive values, and placed a great emphasis on science. Today, as time goes by, as a Left-wing, I’m asked politically to support ideas that are clearly unscientific, fraudulent, and that obey the interests of certain industries (like the organic industry, and the scammer industry, many of them with cultish tendencies and behavior) to whom the Left and the environmental movements are doing favors. When did so many in the Left in industrialized countries become so pathologically inhumane?  Can some of you who hold this position really consider yourselves as being ethically superior to the Right-wing extremists and the harm they cause? I think not!

If being in the Left means that I have to endorse pseudo-science, scammers, and not embrace the best studies out there about this subject (and many others), if it means using important mechanisms for human rights to abuse scientists, and also preventing the poor and the sick from having technologies that may save their lives, … then it is time for me to leave it behind, and I will wipe the dust from my feet on the way out.  As far as it goes, the Left is inviting people to “think outside of the box” created by the political and corporate establishments … in order for people to accept another box created by other political and corporate establishments –the latter, built on  fraud and fear-mongering–.

As far as it goes, I will be more independently-minded, and far more receptive to science than I have ever been in my life.

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Recently, I’ve been re-visiting much of Richard Elliott Friedman’s work, especially because in my new edition of my book on St. Paul the Apostle, I will include an appendix talking briefly about the Song of the Sea (Exod. 15) and another one about the Song of Deborah (Judges 5).

To my pleasant surprise, I’ve been watching some skeptics evaluate his work online and, in general terms, they all like his book Who Wrote the Bible? which I also highly recommend. This is one of the bestseller books that I am very, very glad that it is a bestseller. I also found this video on Youtube titled: “Biblical Criticism Book Club – Who Wrote the Bible? – Richard Elliott Friedman – Hangout #1″.

Apparently, there is also a Hangout #2 scheduled sometime in the future.

Yet, as it always happens with anything related to the Bible, some skeptics (who are many times either agnostic and/or atheists) extend a shadow of suspicion on some of the Bible scholars’ intent when these propose a certain historical theory that may seem to confirm some beliefs that are very cherished by religious communities.

One example of this can be seen precisely in this video. I haven’t seen it all, but at one point, the skeptics, who engaged in this very interesting discussion, question Friedman because he favored the idea that there had been some sort of historical “exodus” from Egypt. Obviously with some care, they state that perhaps, maybe, Friedman is trying to somehow “save” the story, to have something to give historical credence to the “exodus tale”.

I’m not Friedman, but I’ve known his (and other scholars’) work enough to know that this is not the case.


What Skeptics Usually Forget About History

One of the things that many people forget, especially skeptics who approach timidly to Bible scholarship, is that history is not a clear-cut given. Yes, we have documents, archaeological findings, and so on. On the “exodus” stuff, though, we don’t have much, except what we have in the Hebrew Bible. Skeptics obviously feel frustrated, as most scholars, to be sure.

Let me add to the discussion that Friedman is perfectly aware that the “exodus” as told by the Biblical book Exodus could not have happened. This is something he has underscored both in his famous popular book as well as by other scholars and archaeologists in the field as William G. Dever and Amnon Ben-Tor.

The archaeological evidence regarding Ancient Israel without a doubt collides directly with the Biblical accounts. No ancient Hebrew army attacked Neguev, Siho, Jericho, Ai, or the kings of Hasor. Simply speaking, the destruction of these towns and cities took place either before or after the time-period when the “exodus” apparently took place (1275-1208 B.C.E.).

William G. Dever calls “proto-Israel” the society that emerged, not from an attack of people foreign to Canaan, but from Canaanites themselves. This apparently occurred in the same time-period when Egypt was going through economic tough times, and debilitated the vassal monarchs in Canaan. They probably taxed either monetary contributions or labor-force from the poor. The Canaanites revolted against the kings of the area, and established an egalitarian society free from Egyptian rule. That is as much as the archaeological evidence shows us. Without a doubt, Friedman knows this. After all, he recommended Dever’s book Who Were the Early Israelites and Where Did They Come From? (which I also wholeheartedly recommend).

So … where does an “exodus” fit in all of this?

The problem is that history is not merely excavating and inferring from what you dig up, nor is it believing a document is “historical” when it seems believable, and “unhistorical” when it seems too fantastic. Documents also must be evaluated and qualified, especially in a specific context and in light of other evidence we have available.

Here is where there is a strong debate by scholars and by archaeologists regarding the possibility of an “exodus” event in the past.

OF COURSE the “exodus” could NEVER have happened in the way told in Exodus!  As a bishop explained once, by the sheer number of Ancient Israelites in the desert claimed by Exodus for a period of 40 years, the Sinai should have ended up fertile! Friedman knows this.

Yet, this is not all. Bible scholars are historians. Again, their duty is not to “tell us” exactly what happened from just reading a document. Nor is he merely going to declare a document to be “believable” or not. As historians themselves will tell you, it is extremely rare to find a document that will tell you exactly “what happened”. This is true, not only of the documents which have survived in the Hebrew Bible, but of other documents and archaeological artifacts as well. For example, as everyone knows, when Sennacherib carried out the siege of Jerusalem, you will have many versions of the story. One of them will tell you that King Hezekiah took effective measures against a potential invasion, there is another similar story but with an angel helping the Israelites, while Sennacherib’s prisms will tell you another very different story.

Even if you feel inclined to reject the Bible’s versions of the story because they are biased and its facts are changed (sometimes to be too fantastic), you cannot say that Sennacherib’s version is more “true”. Why?  Because, as it happens, his version is also biased and changed. So, we cannot “dismiss one in favor of the other”, maybe both texts have elements in them to formulate a viable theory that best explains these texts. Friedman discusses this case in his book very well. We can also see this in Merneptah’s Stele, which claims that pharaoh Merneptah’s militia destroyed the “Israelites” (1208 B.C.E.), and yet, we know for a fact it didn’t! The hardcore job of Bible scholars, as good historians, is to qualify all of these stories, including archaeological discoveries we have available.

To summarize, just because it is in the Bible and looks fantastic does not mean that the story could not contain some core truth, and because it is not in the Bible does not mean that the story has to be “truer” than anything in the Bible.

In light of this, as much as it is tempting to dismiss the “exodus’ story”, it is not really that easy as to claim that there is no archaeological evidence, or that there couldn’t have been millions of Israelites wandering in the desert for 40 years. There are other things that many skeptics are not seeing about this issue.


Those Strange Levites!

We can try to explain the presence of the famous tribes of Israel as the result of a rebellion against those nobles and monarchs of the area. No problem there…

But at the very least, we have to recognize that among the tribes of Israel, there is a particular one we might call the “odd one” in the family, the Levites. Here are some interesting facts about them:

  • They don’t have territory.
  • They are the core of Ancient Israel’s religiosity, although for a while it was not exclusive, until the time of King Hezekiah’s and King Josiah’s reforms. The Levites were certainly favored by David and Salomon, especially the former.
  • They were paid the tithe as a religious contribution.
  • The supervision of the sacred places such as Shiloh in the North, and Jerusalem in the South were trusted to them.
  • One of the Levites (the ones in the South) claimed to be descendants of Aaron, while the Shiloh priests seemed to derive their authority from the fact that they were Mushites (Moses’ descendants).

Why is this? How can there be an explanation for these facts? We could conjecture that this priesthood was created almost as a response or as an alternative to noble-Canaanite or Egyptian religious beliefs. Yet, this seems ahistoric. Canaanites already had a polytheistic or henotheistic belief in the god El and his hosts, usually represented as a calf, and never abandoned it. Also, they introduced the belief in Yahweh, which seems to derive from the belief in Yahu, the god worshiped by the shasu, further southeast of the whole area we now know as Palestine. How is this explained?

There are further oddities we can point out regarding Levites general. For instance, there is an unusual amount of them had Egyptian names. The name “Moses” seems to be derived from a way to name an Egyptian royal heir or king. For instance, “Rameses” (Rammsy or Rams) means “Son of Ra”, the “msy” part means “Son of”. If the legend says that Moses was an Egyptian “prince”, it seems reasonable that his name has “msy” or “ms” as its root. You may ask, “but what about the fact that he was called ‘Moses’ because he was drawn out of the waters”? Here is where the historian has to be careful. There are four things to keep in mind:

  1. The word for “drawn out” (meshitihu) is a Hebrew word. Who named him “Moses”? The daughter of the pharaoh. If this is the case, why would she name a child with a Hebrew? Would it not make better sense if the root of the word is the Egyptian “msy“?
  2. Moses had an older sister, Miriam, and an older brother, Aaron (at least according to the Biblical story). These were not rescued by the pharaoh’s daughter nor did they have a privileged position in Egypt at any level. We could safely say that presumably both stayed with their Hebrew mom while Moses was growing up as an Egyptian prince. So far, so good. But here is a catch …  why do Miriam and Aaron have Egyptian names too?! “Miriam” has the Egyptian root “myr” (which means “beloved”), and “Aaron” comes from the Egyptian “aha rw” which means “warrior lion”. Why would their Hebrew mom name them with Egyptian names? Isn’t the Biblical story a bit awkward in this sense? …  An Egyptian woman naming Moses “Moses” as a Hebrew name, while a Hebrew mom names her other two children Egyptian names …  Doesn’t this make anyone scratch his or her head?
  3. Isn’t it a coincidence that the “exodus” story occurs, by Exodus’ own admission, during the time of Rameses II, whose name also happens to share the same root of “Moses”?
  4. Finally, doesn’t the whole story of a Hebrew mom giving birth to Moses, placing him in an ark that floated down the river to be found by the pharaoh’s daughter very strange? Why didn’t Moses’ mother do this also with Aaron before Moses? When Aaron was born, couldn’t he be also threatened by the pharaoh’s determination to kill all male newborns?

If there were no historical Moses, how can you explain that Ancient Israelites invented an “exodus” story where they chose Egyptian names for their heroes, but then decided that the Egyptian name of Moses was not really Egyptian, but a Hebrew name that happens to be close to an Egyptian name, that also happens to be close to Rameses’ name … which is just a coincidence, but was given to him by an Egyptian princess, who was the pharaoh’s daughter, but didn’t mean anything related to her father’s name, but it meant …?  …  UUGGGHHHHHHH!!!  Get my point?!

Here is when we need to account for something that clearly makes no sense, even if you want to suppose that these characters never existed.

“Moses”, “Miriam”, and “Aaron” are Egyptian names, but these are not the only Levites to have Egyptian names. Take, for instance, “Hur”, “Merari”, “Mushi”, “Hophni”, “Pinhas” (there were two of them), also Egyptian names.


Old Israelite/Egyptian Relics?

But the deal with the Levites doesn’t end in just the names. What about the two artifacts most closely related to them? The Tent of Meetings (aka the Tabernacle) and the Ark of the Covenant?

Let’s begin with the Tent of Meetings or Tabernacle. As many scholars have pointed out, the Tent’s structure, as described in the Torah, seems to be amazingly similar to that of Rameses II’s War Tent used during the Battle of Kadesh. Here is an illustration:

War Tent of Rameses IIAbu Simel Relief, Representing the War Tent of Rameses II.

As you can see, at the very bottom you find a wall, and then there is a pathway to a reception room, and the pharaoh’s chamber, where he happened to have two winged creatures, specifically two falcons, symbolizing the presence of Horus, something remarkably similar to the two winged creatures said to be portrayed in the Ark of the Covenant. In the case of Richard A. Gabriel’s, The Military History of Ancient Israel, you find a comparison between what the War Tent and the Tent of Meetings would look like.

Rameses' War Tent and the TabernacleSource: Gabriel 2003, 96.

Now, let’s take a look at the Ark of the Covenant. Initially, many people thought that the Ark itself was more related culturally to the territories of Mesopotamia. For example, the Ark has two cherubim. The word indicates that they are from the Akkadian karibu, or Babilonian kerubim, creatures with a body of a lion, wings of an eagle, legs of a bull, and a human head. These were not only placed on the Ark, but also at the very entrance of the Holy of Holies in the Jerusalem Temple. The function of the kerubim was to mediate between gods and men, and also be guardians (e.g. of the Holy of Holies or of the Tree of Life in Genesis).

Despite these outstanding similarities, other scholars are not as quick as to say that. For example, Scott B. Noegel has recently published an important study this year pointing out that if you see the structure and function of the Ark of the Covenant, they seem to resemble more Egyptian barques. Here are some of the most powerful similarities (as presented by Noegel):

  • Egyptian barques were fitted with gold-plated naos containing a divine image seated on a block throne, veiled with a thin canopy of wood or cloth.
  • Many of the barques were decorated with protective “kerubim“.
  • They had to be carried by priests, “the pure ones”.
  • The bark gave oracles during processions.

While not suggesting that the Ark of the Covenant was a bark (which it was clearly not), what is clear is that somehow, whoever made the ark, retained the model, structure, and many of the functions that Egyptian barques had.

Given that the Ark is strongly associated with the Levites (especially the Shilo priesthood),  we can say that apparently the Levites seem to have been very much into Egyptian stuff … much more than Ancient proto-Israelites.

And Don’t Forget Foreigners

As Friedman explains very well in his book, there are four main traditions which write the Torah and other books of the Bible that we know today: J, E, P, D. Friedman goes against current scholarship when he locates the creation of P in the time period of King Hezekiah’s reforms (following the line of thinking of Sigmund Mowinckel), and not, as most AT scholars believe, during the exile in Babylon.

Regardless of that particular difference with scholars, as he shows in his book, three of the four traditions were written by Levite priests: two by Shiloh priests (E, D), and one by Aaronid priests (P). Despite the fact that both of these traditions collided with each other often, they had some common perspectives, some not shared by J. For example, the three Levitic traditions seem obsessed about protecting foreigners. J doesn’t say anything at all about that.

Here is the P text (which, by the way, mentions the word “Torah” for the very first time in the whole Hebrew Bible):

… there shall be one law (torah) for the native for the alien who resides among you (Exod. 12:49).

Here is the E text:

You shall not wrong or oppress a resident alien, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt (Exod. 22:21).

Finally, here is the D text:

You shall not deprive a resident alien or an orphan of justice … Remember that you were a slave in Egypt and in Yahweh, your God redeemed you from there; therefore I command you to do this (Dt. 24:17-18).

The Quality of Our Sources

The whole “exodus” story (from Exodus to Deuteronomy) is a whole mixed bag of various traditions that often contradict with each other. From the modest source (J) to the most fantastic (P), stories that are often repeated (doublets), and some are even mixed in a confusing manner.

Yet, even with all of that, you can be a sort of literary archaeologist in the text, and find what seems to be very ancient texts. For example, Frank Moore Cross and David Noel Freedman have made a thorough literary “excavation” of the texts and found that the most ancient texts you find about the “exodus” story is Exodus 15, known as The Song of the Sea (sometimes also called The Song of Miriam). They could identify this song as ancient because of the use of certain archaisms that don’t seem to correspond to the styles of the traditions found in Exodus, and a poetic structure that was popular in Ugaritic poetic styles.

The Song of the Sea makes a variety of claims. One salient factor is that it only names the Israelite god “Yahweh”, without mentioning “Elohim” or making any allusion to that name anywhere to refer to the same god. In that song, it seems that Yahweh seems intimately associated with the event of the liberation of the singers from the pharaoh and his militia, often described in fantastic terms. Yet, this song never says how many people escaped from Egypt, and how such an event scared even the Philistines, Moabites, and Canaanites. Finally, the song doesn’t say that his people will inherit the whole land of Israel, instead, it says:

… You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession,
the place, oh Yahweh, that you made your abode,
the sanctuary, oh Yahweh, that your hands have established.
Yahweh will reign forever and ever (Exod. 15:17-18).

This statement, about establishing a sanctuary (habitations) for Yahweh (as it is phrases in the original Hebrew language), only appears once more in the Hebrew Bible, and that is during King Salomon’s consecration of the Temple, a place that would be administered by the Levites (1 Kings 8:13).


One Possible Explanation …?

Sorry for the skeptics out there, but it seems (at least to me) that all of these anomalies involving the Levites (which we simply do not see in other tribes) cry out for a historical explanation.

History, like natural science, not always has all of the elements that it wishes to have. We don’t have an archaeological artifact or bones to confirm the “exodus” event. Yet, the elements offered in these Biblical texts are data, and they need theory-making so we can account for them. Saying that they are “Biblical” is not to offer a good reason to dismiss or ignore them. Bible scholarship, as history, aims at explaining as much data as possible by positing the simplest theories possible.

There is an indefinite number of possible explanations for these, but it seems to me that the simplest I have seen thus far is the one put forth by Friedman himself, and here it is:

  • There was an exodus event, but not of all of the people of Israel, but only of the Levites.
  • The Levites are of Egyptian origins, and probably originated with a small group of workers who had to lend their labor force, and perhaps some slaves.
  • These Levites did not pass forty years in the desert and their numbers were not very big.
  • During their travel, they ended up in Median, a place where the shasu peoples lived, assuming their god Yahu (or Yahweh) as theirs, hence their evident cult to Yahweh.
  • Then they ended up in Canaanite lands, and perhaps through military force, both parts reached a compromise: Levites would provide the religious backbone of these societies, and identified the god El with Yahweh (Yahweh-Elohim). In exchange, the tribes would pay the tithe to these priests.
  • Through the influence of the Levites, and because Canaanites also identified themselves with the situation of subjugation and liberation from Egypt, they started identifying with the Levitic story of escape from Egypt.
  • Then legends started being forged around the core story. Not only were there Levites who escaped, but the whole people of Israel escaped. This is not unlike the Thanksgiving holiday in the United States, which everyone culturally believe that they “came from the pilgrims”, even though most people in the U. S. don’t descend from them. Then, those who escaped were not just searching just Yahweh’s habitation in a Temple, but now the WHOLE land of Israel. And not only that, but the number of people who escaped from Egypt were in the thousands … then the millions … etc.  And these versions were placed in our sources.

Was there a historical Moses? Perhaps. It could best explain why a Hebrew hero had an Egyptian name. Most probably the whole story of him born as a Hebrew and then found the daughter of the pharaoh was made up as an apologetic means to make Moses more Hebrew than Egyptian. And also there may have been a historical Aaron (since there Aaronid priests considered themselves his descendants). Was there an Ark of the Covenant and a Tent of Meetings? Maybe. Did Moses do everything that the Bible said? Certainly no!  The Golden Calf episode was made up by E as a reaction to Jeroboam’s reforms, as Friedman tells us. The Ten Commandments were not originally the way that P and D tell us, given that they were elaborated from earlier commandments of J and E, and were means to religious reforms that took place centuries after Moses.

If skeptics still feel uncomfortable with this intelligent theory, then I challenge them to show a better theory that accounts for all of this. After all, in science, we don’t give up theories just because we don’t like them … we give them up when we find better theories with better explanations for the presence of the data we have at hand.  The same with history and Bible scholarship.

Again, Friedman’s theory is not an attempt to “save a story” (what in Philosophy of Science we call “saving the theory”), but rather an attempt to provide the best explanation possible to a mysterious phenomenon we have in ancient Biblical texts. Up to now, the theory that there was no exodus event at all would leave all of these factors unexplained.

See his video where he explains this in simpler terms (with jokes).



Cross, Frank Moore and David Noel Freedman. Studies in Ancient Yahwistic Poetry. Michigan: Wm. B. Eerdman’s, 1996.

Gabriel, Richard A. The Military History of Ancient Israel. CT: Praeger, 2003.

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The day before yesterday, the Pope has finally released his much awaited encyclical Laudato Si, which deals with the problem of climate change. Regardless of the differences and coincidences I may have with the Pope, this encyclical is extraordinary and should be taken seriously. Here, I will deal with the issues I find great and my misgivings regarding what he says in the encyclical. I will only talk here mostly about the science.

The Great Stuff

When a draft of the encyclical leaked to the press, one of the things that caught my eye immediately was the fact that its title was not Latin, but Italian. Wow!  This is new! Furthermore, I recognized immediately what it meant. As a former Catholic, I still retain a great admiration for St. Francis of Assissi, and one of the things I used to pray was the Canticle to the Sun, which the Pope was quoting the title and the introduction.

Another thing to notice is that at the beginning, Pope Francis quotes Patriarch Bartholomew in a sign of joining together of forces regarding the most serious ecological concerns for the planet. This reveals that two of the most significant figures in the Christian world (in the East and the West) join together to fight against the ills of climate change. Indeed, this is very positive.

Another thing that I was afraid of (perhaps because of the press) is the overemphasis of Pope Francis on aspects regarding technology, almost giving the impression that it is inherently evil. During my years as Catholic, I’ve known that this could not be the social doctrine of the Church, because humans, as co-creators, participate in God’s creativity. To my own relief, among the first things that Pope Francis does is to quote Pope Paul VI:

“the urgent need for a radical change in the conduct of humanity”, inasmuch as “the most extraordinary scientific advances, the most amazing technical abilities, the most astonishing economic growth, unless they are accompanied by authentic social and moral progress, will definitively turn against man” (4).

Later, Pope Francis says:

I will begin by briefly reviewing several aspects of the present ecological crisis, with the aim of drawing on the results of the best scientific research available today, letting them touch us deeply and provide a concrete foundation for the ethical and spiritual itinerary that follows (15, my emphasis).

Humanity has entered a new era in which our technical prowess has brought us to a crossroads. We are the beneficiaries of two centuries of enormous waves of change: steam engines, railways, the telegraph, electricity, automobiles, aeroplanes, chemical industries, modern medicine, information technology and, more recently, the digital revolution, robotics, biotechnologies and nanotechnologies. It is right to rejoice in these advances and to be excited by the immense possibilities which they continue to open up before us, for “science and technology are wonderful products of a God-given human creativity”.  The modification of nature for useful purposes has distinguished the human family from the beginning; technology itself “expresses the inner tension that impels man gradually to overcome material limitations”. Technology has remedied countless evils which used to harm and limit human beings. How can we not feel gratitude and appreciation for this progress, especially in the fields of medicine, engineering and communications? How could we not acknowledge the work of many scientists and engineers who have provided alternatives to make development sustainable? (102, my emphasis)

I suggest that a lot of Pope Francis’ message has to be understood within this philosophical and theological framework. Technology and innovation are good, as long as they genuinely serve humanity.

Another thing that he rightly mentions is the suggestion of St. Francis of Assissi as a model for “falling in love” with nature and the Earth. Not just fix our minds with mathematical and biological calculations, but also be moved by awe inspiring Earth (10-12).

From all of these things, he asks us to make a decisive move towards protecting our common home, and appeals to us for an open an honest dialogue about the condition of our planet and the solutions that are at hand to make the world better. Among his concerns (which are often quoted in the press), are the following:

The worldwide ecological movement has already made considerable progress and led to the establishment of numerous organizations committed to raising awareness of these challenges. Regrettably, many efforts to seek concrete solutions to the environmental crisis have proved ineffective, not only because of powerful opposition but also because of a more general lack of interest. Obstructionist attitudes, even on the part of believers, can range from denial of the problem to indifference, nonchalant resignation or blind confidence in technical solutions. We require a new and universal solidarity (14).

I can’t agree more, but, as I’ll discuss later, these are not the only reasons why there is little environmental progress. He elaborates this assertion in full detail in 54.

In the first chapter, he presents a short and precise diagnosis of our common home, planet Earth. He points out the problems of the wide use of toxins in the farming industry, the dumping of non-biodegradable material, a lot of chemicals dumped to the air, junk and trash that actually contaminates the air, the land, and the waters (20-21). Of these, I will talk about later regarding my differences with the Pope, but I don’t disagree with the general idea. He links all of this contamination to a particular cultural aspect of our way of living, what he calls the “throwaway culture”, and rightly calls for recycling, and biomimicry (i.e. a technological imitation of what nature does when it recycles energy and waste) (22). For me, this is a sign that the Pope has read extensively and seriously on the studies and technologies being developed to alleviate the ills of the planet.

Next, he says that the climate is a common good, and he correctly states that there is a very good solid consensus about the anthropogenic view of climate change and that this has been altering the Earth in important ways. He proceeds to make a great summary of the problems in general (23-26). Then he makes a very particular emphasis on the problem of the degradation of water world-wide, and its implications for the poorest (27-31). He makes a great point about the loss of biodiversity due to exctinction of plants, animals, and other living beings all over the Earth, especially because of the loss of habitats due to deforestation, climate change, and other factors (28-42).

He elaborates an entire section to humanity and the way of life in urban and rural areas. I absolutely love the fact of how he condemns the privatization of the commons, depriving the public from a good exclusively for private gain. I also like the fact that he also slams the so-called ecological areas in urban societies that try the best to alienate the poor for purely aesthetic reasons (43-47).

Finally, he dedicates some of the text to the serious issue of inequity in society, the gap between the wealthy and the poor, and how it creates social problems and struggles. As we all know, he is not a friend of “trickle-down” economics, something in which he is right on target. In fact, just this week, a group of economists in the International Monetary Fund released a report slamming “trickle-down” economics. So, this document and the Pope’s encyclical couldn’t have been published more in time than those.

Also, he links the cry of the Earth with the cry of the poor, something that is reminiscent of Leonardo Boff’s book on this subject, giving me the impression that he also read it. Although I like the fact that the Pope wishes those two problems addressed, I think it is a mistake to link them in a way that gives the impression that they are uniquely correlated, which is not necessarily the case. I will elaborate that in the section of my differences with the Pope. The same goes with his portrayal of the increase of world population and economic development. Despite these differences, I wholly agree with the Pope’s suggestion that rich countries have an ecological debt with poorer countries, because much of the waste produced by rich countries is imported by poorer ones, practically turning them into junk yards, obviously harming the environment and the poorest in the world (48-52).

I wish to say that one of the greatest virtues of this encyclical is that it states that there is not one solution to this problem, but a variety of alternatives that we have to consider to make a holistic and integral program for the world.

In the second chapter of the encyclical, he makes a wonderful exposition of Christian theology of creation. I will not discuss it, because I’m more interested in the social, the technological, and the scientific. However, I will say briefly that he despises and dismisses the absolute anthropocentric view of nature (one which regards the Earth as something that we can do what we arbitrarily will), and favors a view of humanity as a guardian and laborer along with creation, as it was portrayed in the Yahwist account of creation. All creatures have a dignity of their own. They are our responsibility, because we are the intelligent moral beings who can be aware of the consequences of our actions (67-69).

We enter in the third chapter, which deals with the causes of our ecological crisis. He finds a lot of it in the technosciences and the particular dynamics of techniques and the economy. They tend to look at their own unique interests, without having an integral view of the consequences of their actions outside of their respective spheres of action. Such dynamics wrongly suppose that the planet’s resources are infinite, and an absolute anthropocentrist world to do what we want (102-111, 115-123). The Pope does not suggest the elimination of the technical or economic spheres, but reconfiguring them to serve humanity from an integral perspective, where we see humanity connected to everything else (112, 119, 139).

Finally, at the very end of that chapter, he talks about biotechnology, and genetic modified organisms (GMOs). Actually, his approach to the subject is very reasonable. The Church cannot condemn it wholeheartedly or approve all of it. It all depends on what it is used for, especially whether it respects nature or not. In many ways, he recognizes that nature itself promotes genetic change in all organisms (that’s why species evolve). He also points out, correctly, that there is no evidence whatsoever that GMOs harm anyone or anything, and has promoted economic welfare (as we seen India, Bangladesh, Hawai’i, among others). In this way, Pope Francis reassures his readers that he is in full agreement with the widely held consensus on science, especially regarding GM. Still, he says that this technology has made possible the concentration of land on the powers of the few (namely corporations), diminishes biodiversity, and many people end up moving from rurality to the cities (134). Although I recognize that this is a real concern, I want to mention that this is not necessarily the case, especially with GM developed by the public sector. Second, we have to remember that this dynamic predated GMOs. This has been the dynamic of the whole agribusiness since the industrial revolution. In Puerto Rico we experienced that very heavily with the sugar cane industry during the first 40 years under US rule (1898-1938). Biodiversity is a concern, which makes necessary to create as little impact on nature as possible. In “My Differences with the Pope” section I talk about the need for a second Green Revolution that should solve much of these problems, and where GM is clearly part of this solution. I do agree wholeheartedly with the Pope that we must address the ethical concerns regarding GM openly and honestly (135).

In chapter 4, we find the Pope’s proposal for an integral ecology. I think that my favorite quote from this chapter is the following:

Economic growth, for its part, tends to produce predictable reactions and a certain standardization with the aim of simplifying procedures and reducing costs. This suggests the need for an “economic ecology” capable of appealing to a broader vision of reality. The protection of the environment is in fact “an integral part of the development process and cannot be considered in isolation from it”. We urgently need a humanism capable of bringing together the different fields of knowledge, including economics, in the service of a more integral and integrating vision. Today, the analysis of environmental problems cannot be separated from the analysis of human, family, work-related and urban contexts, nor from how individuals relate to themselves, which leads in turn to how they relate to others and to the environment. There is an interrelation between ecosystems and between the various spheres of social interaction, demonstrating yet again that “the whole is greater than the part” (141).

One of the reasons I like this quote is that it refers to the inherent emergent nature of Reality, that homogeneization should not be taken too far, and should take into consideration the importance of different emergent spheres of life on Earth (142). He states very well, that cultural ecology is as important as the biological, and that there is a need to preserve the richness of cultures around the world (143). As a Puerto Rican whose culture is constantly modified by the current colonial relationship with the United States, this assertion by the Pope means a lot to me. He also advocates for designing cities and all of every-day life to be more harmonious with ecosystems around the world and respects human dignity (144-155).

There is also a very important discussion regarding the principle of the common good as being supreme over the good of particular interests.  This includes the intergenerational dimension of this, determining what kind of world we want our children and grandchildren to live in (156-163).

Chapter 5, talks about what we should do.  Most of this chapter is focused on clarity, transparency, and honesty in dialogue about these important subjects. In this section, he advocates for an increase of state regulations of technologies and economic means that might have a substantial potential for harm, and stimulate those that make possible the conservation of human needs and the planet’s welfare. Then, he says something I totally agree with:

Politics must not be subject to the economy, nor should the economy be subject to the dictates of an efficiency-driven paradigm of technocracy. Today, in view of the common good, there is urgent need for politics and economics to enter into a frank dialogue in the service of life, especially human life (189).

This is the right model to actually address much of the issues in case by case basis, but also looking at them as a whole. He rightly criticizes the overwhelming power and excessive competition in the financial sector, which has condemned humanity to a new cycle of economic collapses, and that requires a serious limitation by juridical and political power (191-192).

A very significant (not in quantity, but in quality) part of the chapter is directed at the necessity for religions to have a sustained dialogue, among themselves with scientists on the welfare of the planet (199-201). This seems to resemble Hans Küng’s proposal for a minimal basic consensus for a Global Ethic among religious figures and other sectors of society, founding themselves on the objective situation of the Earth, and objective ethical values.

The final chapter is dedicated ecological education and spirituality. For the Pope, education is the key for changing our collective lifestyle within our respective economic, political, and social spheres. This also requires a higher level of collective consciousness to act more in unison about it. For that we need a collective conversion for this to happen that will not see this exclusively in terms of cost-benefit analysis (in the financial sense), but modify our activity to serve the planet better. This should be based in the aspiration of creating a “civilization of love” (as Pope Paul VI used to say).

After all of this exposition it is difficult to disagree with most of what he says. With the exception of the theology (which is undeniably beautiful),  I think that most of these proposals should be embraced by everyone.

My Differences with the Pope

As you will notice some of the differences are not really differences, but more things that we should be careful about. In other cases, I point serious flaws in the Pope’s analysis.

One of the things that bothers me about what he says, is the level of generalities which he deals in the abstract. Take this paragraph:

There is also pollution that affects everyone, caused by transport, industrial fumes, substances which contribute to the acidification of soil and water, fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins in general. Technology, which, linked to business interests, is presented as the only way of solving these problems, in fact proves incapable of seeing the mysterious network of relations between things and so sometimes solves one problem only to create others (20).

I think that out of necessity the Pope has to touch this subject very briefly. Yet, he fails to notice that a lot of the fertilizers, insecticides, fungicides, herbicides and agrotoxins have been becoming a less severe problem (regarding their levels of toxicity) as time has gone by. I do recognize that this is still a problem coming from both conventional and organic farming, and that it affects the Earth as a whole. Yet, also many of those interests (in both forms of farming) have been very successful in creating technologies to reduce considerably, and in some cases, eliminate, the use of many of these toxins.

Another related problem is the fact that he seems to imply that the overall tendency of humanity is to intervene in nature, and, again, he uses the example of agriculture:

Often a vicious circle results, as human intervention to resolve a problem further aggravates the situation. For example, many birds and insects which disappear due to synthetic agrotoxins are helpful for agriculture: their disappearance will have to be compensated for by yet other techniques which may well prove harmful (34).

I can agree that many techniques developed can sometimes be more harmful than before, but the tendency of agriculture the last six decades is to intervene less with nature. As a matter of fact, the Green Revolution has made it possible to produce far more food per hectare than before. Even though it is based on the use of nitrogen and herbicides and insecticides, it is fair to say that it saved more land for nature than anything else. It has saved between 18 to 27 million hectares of land. Another broader study has shown that apparently the Green Revolution has saved up to 1.7 billion hectares of land from being used for farming. That does not mean that it does not create problems, the excess of production impoverishes the land, and the constant use of nitrogen create dead zones. Yet, these problems are much milder  when compared to what would have happened if we didn’t have the Green Revolution, and the misery that would have meant. Today we have about 800 million people dying from hunger, but without the Green Revolution, it would have been 2.1 billion. In certain places, the big threat to deforestation and animal habitats is cattle, something which is true in South America’s Amazon (see this article), which is mentioned by the Pope (39). Of course, as a recent study has been published (regarding humanity’s agency in causing mass extinctions), despite all of these efforts, what we have been doing is not enough, we need to do more. (Again, the timing of this study’s publication along with this encyclical’s couldn’t be better!)

It is also necessary to point out, that the Pope wrongly assumes that the only form of harmful human intervention in agriculture is the use of synthetic agrotoxins, forgetting totally the huge problems caused by natural agrotoxins such as spinosad (which turns out to be a bee killer), copper (which contaminates soil), rotenone (a known neurotoxin which has actually killed animals and humans). All of these are used in the organic industry, and they also threaten the environment in big ways. There might also be an allusion here to neocotinoids (neonics) and their possible effect on bees. Neonics may or may not affect honey bees (the evidence is equivocal, although their population decline seems to have a variety of factors, and, in general, their population has been increasing). Neonics could affect other species of bees, and we must be mindful of them. Yet, historically the industry has been moving towards pesticides that are each time less harmful to the environment (something that is not true of organic farming’s use of natural pesticides, here is an example and also here). With GM, some of the administration of pesticides (such as Bt) has substantially decreased.

The same can be said in this case:

Account must also be taken of the pollution produced by residue, including dangerous waste present in different areas. Each year hundreds of millions of tons of waste are generated, much of it non-biodegradable, highly toxic and radioactive, from homes and businesses, from construction and demolition sites, from clinical, electronic and industrial sources (21).

Regarding radiation in particular, even though, this has been a concern regarding disasters such as Chernobyl and Fukushima, we have to take into account that although one person’s death because of nuclear meltdowns is one too many, they are not as disastrous to the environment as many people seem to think. For example, contrary to what people have been hearing or reading for so many years, Chernobyl’s radioactive explosion has been linked to no more than 60 deaths, 4000 cases of thyroid cancer in adults and children. Most of the radioactive contamination in Europe is so beneath the safety margins that practically has not affected the population dramatically. Even in the case of Chernobyl, there are people living in towns close to the nuclear plant (they ignored the authorities’ warnings and since 1987 they returned home), and developed no symptoms of cancer whatsoever nor have they had deformed children. Here is a reliable study on this issue by the best authorities on the matter. The Fukushima incident was another major disaster, but unlike Chernobyl we can say that no one died from radiation poisoning. Actually, more people died trying to run away from the whole meltdown, than from the meltdown itself. Also, unlike Chernobyl, most of the safety measures adopted by the plant worked, and contained the vast majority of the meltdown. The environmental impact of Fukushima on the oceans has been mostly minimal, and in most cases almost non-existent. Unfortunately, there has not been a full study by the authorities (including the United States) on the effects of the fallout on the Pacific Ocean. Fortunately for us, there is an organization called Our Radioactive Ocean, which I consider the most important project on this issue, completely comprised of citizens and scientists working together to pick up samples and analyze the data regarding the presence of radioactive Iodine-131, Cesium-134, and Cesium-137 in the Pacific. The project’s conclusions indicate that the presence of these isotopes are far too low to really affect humans or marine life. You can see its findings here.

On the other hand, we have now the technology to totally prevent meltdowns, while at the same time we can recycle nuclear material (including nuclear waste) through breeder reactors, like the one that was going to be used for the wrongly terminated IFR. Breeder reactors with a proper cooling mechanisms can neutralize even the worst case scenario. Needless to say, the virtue of these reactors is that they provide clean energy, leave very small amounts of waste, recycle radioactive waste, and emit no greenhouse gases.

So, of the list of everything the Pope mentioned, radioactive contamination should be the least of anyone’s concern (although we should be mindful of it). Besides, more people have died from the creation of solar panels (whose process of creation is highly toxic) than from nuclear plants (see another essay with scientific studies about it here). Also, we need to point out that the burning of coal has led to people, animals, and plants dying of more radiation, needless to say of poisoning by the absorption or consumption of heavy metals.

I wish to say a word or two about the relationship between ecology and poverty. It is true that they are somehow related. A poor ecological environment has the poor as the usual victims. Yet, their improvement not necessarily intersects in all aspects with a better ecology.  This is what the ecomodernists have been trying to say for some time now. Even with all of the problems in the world, it is true to say that there is proportionally less people who live in misery now than many decades ago. There is an all time low on people suffering from hunger (791 million (2014), down from 991 million (1992)). A lot of countries formerly condemned to poverty and misery are getting out of it. A lot of what contributed to this is that people are gaining more access to electricity and food. That implies both, an exponential increase in energy, farming, and livestock. These three components are of special concern when addressing the environment. If we still consume a lot of fossil fuels, even backing renewable but intermitent renewable resources (solar and wind), this reduction in poverty will aggravate environmental problems such as climate change. So, in a very real sense, we have to be careful with the “cry of the Earth, cry of the poor” speech. Although I do believe it, they are not correlated in all cases. They are two different problems and should be solved in an integral manner (as the Pope has suggested).

To solve both, we really need to turn to technology. We need a second Green Revolution that will keep the best of the first one, but solving its problems. GM technology has been shown to be great for this. Not only it has been efficient for reducing a great quantity of pesticides administered in farms, but its virtues also include the bioengineering work on plants that need much less nitrogen, and the creation of enviropigs (pigs that can metabolize phosphorous more efficiently, which would prevent it from ending up contaminating the water). Both would minimize the problems of water pollution and dead zones (see this article too). The creation of GM plants that are drought resistant is an urgent need in many African countries, or areas that are suffering from droughts right now (such as many areas of North America and Asia). Finally, we need food that provide more nutrition to alleviate the problems of the poor, such as golden rice, purple tomatoes, crops resistant to a variety of viruses and bacteria, lesion resistant crops, among others. The use of cover crop techniques (often used in organic farming), recycling of fertilizers, and others should be integrated in order to keep the soil fertile and minimize the use of insecticides and herbicides. Contrary to what the Pope would seem to imply, a lot of the scientists who work in these areas (especially independent scientists), and sometimes companies, have submitted themselves to serious scrutiny, and have carefully measured the consequences of all of this. In the end, this technology (with the proper regulation) will do more good than harm to the Earth and the environment. Although this is big power, scientists are also aware of the big responsibility. We must also be careful when misusing patents in a way that will not serve the public good.

Also, in the encyclical there is a very strange claim, which is often repeated by people, but seldom questioned:

Work is a necessity, part of the meaning of life on this earth, a path to growth, human development and personal fulfillment. Helping the poor financially must always be a provisional solution in the face of pressing needs. The broader objective should always be to allow them a dignified life through work. Yet the orientation of the economy has favoured a kind of technological progress in which the costs of production are reduced by laying off workers and replacing them with machines. This is yet another way in which we can end up working against ourselves (128).

This claim is one of the strangest that you might ever find when you look at this from a statistical standpoint. For instance, a lot of the work has been substituted by machines since the Industrial Revolution. Still, in the XIX century there were 2 billion people in the world, in the XXI century we have 7 billion. Despite the fact that there has been an explosion of world population, and that machines increasingly substitute humanity’s manual labor, the vast majority of humanity actually does some kind of labor. As a matter of fact, if anything, the only explanation possible is that technology has exponentially multiplied labor during all of these years, otherwise you would see a significant statistical collapse of labor force rate (see the data of labor force participation rate world wide here). This is because when a new technology appears, jobs multiply around it. A layoff of a worker here, may mean hiring him or her for something else. This may change dramatically in the future, but it is not the case today. Also, the more efficient production of wealth that technology represents also is redistributed economically in many ways that present better wages for a laboral activity that was not previously recognized as valid (e.g. a stay home mom).

Finally, related to everything that I have said above, is the problem of the increase in global population is not really a problem that we should be too worried about. As more people get out of poverty (as we have indicated) and have a better quality of life, the tendency will be to marry less, or have less children (or none at all). Although there is a concern about the number of people by the year 2050, we have to realize that it won’t be the same explosion that we have seen in the XX century.  Yet, in this, I have to agree with Lawrence Krauss, that the Pope’s suggestion that population control is contrary to the interests of the Earth is seriously misguided by Catholic traditional views on reproduction and contraception. This doctrine was functional in situations previous to the prevalence of Keynesian economics, which was marked by much less certainty, continuous cycles of economic collapse, less health quality, etc. Today, it is maladaptive.

Things that the Pope is NOT Saying

Earlier this week, with the leak of the encyclical, some anti-GMO groups started to use it as a campaign against transgenics. Of course, I don’t know how to read Italian, and was unsure of what I was trying to read at the time. But, I predicted that the anti-GM articles about the encyclical were picking and choosing.

The reason for this conviction is that I knew already that Catholicism has a fine group of Bioethicists who knew all about GM, and practically endorsed it with no problem whatsoever. I’ve read Bioethical literature coming from Comillas’ Pontificial University which already praised GM food (even when it advises for caution) and the Green Revolution (e.g. read the book Genética y bioética). As a matter of fact, the scientists of the Vatican joined together with the rest of the scientific community around the world declaring that GM food in general was safe for human consumption. This is the official position of the Pontificial Academy of Sciences. Finally, I knew that the Pope didn’t make a blanket condemnation of GM food for the simple reason that he himself blessed one particular GM food, golden rice! Don’t believe me? See for yourself!


The guy you see at the right is Ingo Potrykus, the inventor of golden rice. The Pope made a personal blessing, not an official one by the Church, but it shows that he couldn’t declare an absolute rejection of GM food or technology.

When the encyclical was published, I saw that the Pope himself agreed with the scientific consensus regarding GM food, that there is no evidence of harm to animals, humans, or the environment. He also points out that GM food has greatly improved the economy of the countries that produce it (134). His worries are not so much technological, but rather social. He is concerned that companies might use their patents in order to alienate poor farmers and concentrate their dominion of great amounts of land in few private hands. Again, he rejoices on biotechnology in general as a way that has made the world better (102).

So, please, let’s not make the Pope say what he is definitely NOT saying.

[UPDATE] Something Awfully Missing from the Encyclical

One of the things that I am very surprised that wasn’t discussed at all in the encyclical is the whole fever now to use biofuels, specifically those which come from food. The reason why I am so concerned about it, is that they have been the main reason for the rise of the price of food in recent years. The fact that Brazil and the United States have gone into this market of using food as source for fuel is a sure sign that this is becoming a fashion, supposedly to reduce the dependency on oil.

Yet, this has done little to reduce greenhouse hases, because it requires more land in order to increase the amount of biofuels, while considerably reducing the availability of food. It is one disastrous policy in which the poor and the environment will end up worse off.

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Partes de la serie: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, inter1, 4c, inter2

Cordialmente dedico esta discusión al PIP

Correlación no es lo mismo que causación

Dicho: “Hay tres tipos de mentiras: las mentiras, las malditas mentiras y las estadísticas“, frase atribuida o a Benjamín Disraeli, exPrimer Ministro del Reino Unido, o a Mark Twain.

Engañar con estadísticas es fácil. Desentrañar los misterios de datos estadísticos o la formulación de una teoría adecuada que las interprete es un trabajo largo, engorroso y muy difícil (al menos para la mayoría de nosotros). Mediante las estadísticas les puedo probar a ustedes lo que sea.

Ahora mismo se me ocurre una propuesta:

Ignacio Rivera, uno de los panelistas del programa de radio Fuego Cruzado, causa cáncer.

Sí … suena una tesis descabellada que, personalmente, no la creo. Pienso que es 100% falsa. ¿Cómo se podría probar que Ignacio Rivera da cáncer? Piénsenlo.

Ignacio Rivera ha conocido a muchas personas. Sin embargo, da la casualidad que, a medida que pasa el tiempo (¡y cuidado que en su caso SÍ ha pasado MUCHO tiempo! … pregúntenle a Carlos Gallisá), él se da cuenta de que mucha de la gente que conoció se está muriendo o han sido diagnosticadas de cáncer. Primero uno, después dos, tal vez algún familiar suyo, después alguna amiga y así por el estilo.

Podemos preguntarnos sobre esta incidencia de cáncer entre los amigos y familiares de Ignacio Rivera. Lo miramos desde un punto de vista estadístico y descubro una correlación perfecta entre las incidencias de estas pobres víctimas del cáncer con Ignacio Rivera. Es más, sin temor a equivocarnos, podríamos decir que hay un denominador común a todas estas personas … el mismo Ignacio. Tal vez Ignacio les dio la mano, le dio un beso a sus familiares, abrazó a queridos amigos suyos … y así les pegó el cáncer.

¿Me equivoco o no me equivoco? Como siempre, el asunto de las estadísticas es bien “tricky“. Las probabilidades (incluyendo las de 100% de probabilidad) dependen en gran medida del número de variables involucradas en una incidencia particular. Nuestra hipótesis explicativa de esta incidencia sería 100% correcta si esas fueran las únicas variables. Sin embargo, como es bien sabido, las causas del cáncer incluyen a otra variedad de variables, a veces no detectadas por ningún estudio científico en casos singulares: predisposición genética, exposición al asbesto, sustancias en el medio ambiente, exceso de suplementos, exposición a radiación, entre muchos otros. Si incluimos todas estas variables, esa tasa de 100% de seguridad de que Ignacio haya sido la causa del cáncer empieza a reducirse dramáticamente.

Sin embargo, hay otros elementos que no solo reducen sino que eliminan totalmente la posibilidad de que Ignacio cause cáncer.

  1. Tiene que haber una teoría de cómo causa cáncer. Sencillamente no hay teoría alguna de cómo Ignacio causaría cáncer a sus amigos y familiares. Al contrario, todas las teorías disponibles en torno al cáncer descartan tal posibilidad.
  2. Aun si no haya tal teoría, pero se postula como mínimo algún vínculo causal, tendría que formularse alguna hipótesis que considere una o varias variables en cuestión. En tal caso, solo los experimentos controlados pueden establecer la relación causal. Si hay una correlación, debería haber un alto porcentaje entre la muestra razonablemente grande de gente que conoce a Ignacio (grupo experimental) y otra muestra grande de gente que no lo conoce (grupo control). Si la tasa de incidencias de cáncer en el grupo experimental es significativamente más alto que el del grupo control, entonces aumenta la probabilidad de que Ignacio sea la causa. Si los dos grupos coinciden porcentualmente o muestran la llamada “curva de la campana” (coincidencia estadística), entonces no habría tal relación causal.

Soy filósofo … no soy científico. Todo científico debe sentirse libre para corregirme si así lo desea, pero hasta donde sé, esta es una descripción bien “en arroz y habichuelas” de cómo los científicos trabajan con estadísticas.

Sin embargo, hay gente en este mundo que establece correlación sin pasar por el trabajo arduo estadístico de cualificar los datos, o de estipular alguna hipótesis causal lo suficientemente específica como para que pueda ser contrastada con un experimento controlado o hacer el experimento y cualificar los resultados.

Como siempre indicamos los filósofos de las ciencias, toda hipótesis que no pueda ser contrastada con la experiencia no cuenta como ciencia genuina. Si alguien reclamara que dicha propuesta es científica, entonces se convertiría en pseudocientífica … y eso es de lo que queremos hablar.

El glifosato causa  … TODO

El autismo es la fiebre de discusión del momento. ¿Quiere usted alguna manera eficiente de causar interés, intriga y temor? ¡Nada mejor que el tema del autismo! Forma parte de toda una ristra de temores contemporáneos comunes: el autismo, el cáncer, el mal de Párkinson, la enfermedad cilíaca, el Alzheimer, la obesidad, la demencia, la diabetes, etc.

Imagínense mi sorpresa cuando, por primera vez, encontré un estudio que indica que el glifosato es responsable de que mueran las bacterias de los intestinos, aunque también causa …  el autismo, el cáncer, el mal de Párkinson, la enfermedad cilíaca, el Alzheimer, la obesidad, la demencia, la diabetes … en otras palabras … ¡TODO! O al menos “todo” lo involucrado con el metabolismo (¿demencia, depresión?).

Samsel, A. & Seneff, S. (2013). Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases. Entropy, 15, 1416-1463. doi:10.3390/e15041416

En el abstracto de este artículo, afirma:

Here, we show how interference with CYP enzymes acts synergistically with disruption of the biosynthesis of aromatic amino acids by gut bacteria, as well as impairment in serum sulfate transport. Consequences are most of the diseases and conditions associated with a Western diet, which include gastrointestinal disorders, obesity, diabetes, heart disease, depression, autism, infertility, cancer and Alzheimer’s disease.

Si esto es verdad, debería considerarse un trabajo fantástico. En otras palabras, cualquier cosa que tenga que ver con problemas metabólicos.

¿Quiénes son los autores?

De Anthony Samsel no he podido obtener mucho, excepto que es un “consultor de ciencias” retirado que se especializa en productos agrícolas. Sin embargo, parece que la gran estrella responsable de esta joya es Stephanie Seneff (quien es la que más ha dado la cara en cuanto a este artículo académico). Hay que aclarar que Seneff no es una experta en biología ni en ninguna de sus ramas (medicina, toxicología, biotecnología, bioingeniería, genética, etc.), sino que es profesional de ciencias de computación. La razón de por qué ella ha sido la figura más saliente en todo este suceso es que ella es científica de computación del Massachusets Institute of Technology (MIT). El nombre MIT tiende a dar prestigio a la persona que lo usa.

Vale la pena indicar que Seneff tiene un historial bastante cuestionable en lo que respecta a las ciencias, ya que hizo un estudio de igual “calidad” que este en torno a las vacunas y el autismo.

¿Cuál es la evidencia?

Hay tres propósitos del trabajo:

  1. Mostrar cómo el glifosato inhibe las encimas CYP y el proceso metabólico en el que participan. Se extiende bastante discusión técnica al respecto, en la que (por alguna razón) discute el decrecimiento de las abejas a nivel mundial (pp. 1425-1427). El problema con esta aserción (traída por los pelos) es que no hay estudio alguno que muestre que dicho descenso se deba al glifosato. En experimentos hechos con abejas, se pueden rociar hierbas adyacentes (hasta tres veces más de lo normal)  y entrar en contacto con este sin efecto alguno (véase a Burgett y Fisher, 1990)). Además, el descenso poblacional de las abejas tiene un historial complejo. El descenso dramático de la población de las abejas más reciente partió del 2004 o 2005, no del 1996 (como alega el estudio), por ende, no hay correlación alguna entre el colapso de las colonias de abejas y la adopción del glifosato.
  2. La inhibición de las encimas CYP, afecta las bacterias en nuestros intestinos que cumplen un rol en nuestro proceso metabólico.
  3. La evidencia de ello es la cantidad de síntomas creados por esta falta de metabolismo … y de ahí la ristra de síntomas.


La reacción de la comunidad científica

Cuando se publicó este artículo, causó sensación cuando Reuters le hizo publicidad. Las críticas de la comunidad científica y de periodistas de las ciencias no se hicieron esperar. Keith Kloor (reportero de ciencias para Discover) mostró las siguientes reacciones en su artículo al respecto:

Reacción de Kevin Folta

El agrónomo Andrew Kniss, de la Universidad de Wyoming, cuestionaba por qué todo el mundo le llamaba “estudio” al artículo en discusión, si era totalmente carente de datos. Es más, decía que tenía el mismo grado de credibilidad del creacionismo.

Hubo una enorme sospecha de su alegato: ¡qué casualidad que todos los temores contemporáneos que prevalecen en la mente del público son “causados” por la sustancia más asociada a Monsanto, la compañía más irracionalmente odiada del mundo!

Una de las primeras personas en reaccionar fue Tamar Haspel, una periodista y bloguista de la sección verde del Huffington Post (no es exatcamente amiga de Monsanto), autora de una columna cuyo título es bien elocuente: Condemning Monsanto with Bad Science is Dumb. Entre las cosas que resalta es un nuevo neologismo inventado por Samsel y Seneff: entropía exógeno-semiótica. Si no logran encontrar el significado de la palabra en la literatura científica, no se preocupen. El término no existe en la ciencia. Sin embargo, esta es su definición: la interrupción de la homeostasis por toxinas ambientales (pág. 1416).

Según Haspel, el alegato de que el glifosato inhibe la encima CYP se basa en dos estudios que no están relacionados para nada con este tipo de encima (véase los dos estudios aquí y aquí). Nótese que ambos estudios involucran a G. Séralini (cuyo experimento ya hemos discutido). Ambos estudios son especulativos (solo hablan de la “potencial” toxicidad del glifosato en el caso del sistema endocrino y en cuanto a las células de la placenta). No hay evidencia alguna de este tipo de toxicidad con el glifosato. Para un estudio más completo y claro al público en cuanto a la toxicidad del glifosato, véase esta exposición.

Peor todavía, el estudio de Samsel y Seneff solo alude a otros estudios para establecer una correlación con cada enfermedad que atemoriza al público en general, pero sin establecer causación. En palabras de Harper:

The evidence for these mechanisms, and their impact on human health, is all but nonexistent.

No hay ningún experimento que demuestre que el glifosato realmente esté vinculado causalmente a cada uno de los males enumerados por Samsel y Seneff. Haspel menciona que ninguno de los estudios para formular su hipótesis de la inhibición de CYP es realmente específica a esa encima. Sin embargo, sí hay estudios que vinculan a 18 toxinas (ninguna de ellas glifosato) que sí inhiben la encima CYP.

Creo que las palabras de Haspel al final de su artículo son muy elocuentes:

There’s real danger in bad science like this. Industrial agriculture has created a lot of environmental problems. We have to find ways to reform our food system, but shoddy research only helps Monsanto. If we base our objections on papers like this one, we won’t — and we shouldn’t — be taken seriously.


Si no es el glifosato … ¿qué causa estas enfermedades?

Creo que la obesidad es causada por gente que come mucha grasa y azúcar y no salen a caminar o hacer ejercicio.

Creo que la diabetes se debe al consumo excesivo de dulces y bebidas azucaradas y falta de cuidado corporal.

Y así podemos ir una por una de las enfermedades para ver cuál es el vínculo causal de cada enfermedad.  Sin embargo, hay unas que son más fáciles de identificar que en otras.

Por ejemplo, las causas del autismo son complejas. Ciertos experimentos de gemelos separados al punto de nacer parecen sugerir que el autismo puede ser de origen genético (aunque hacen falta algunos estudios al respecto, véase también este estudio). Puede también deberse a la interacción entre predisposiciones genéticas y ambientales (aun desde el útero). La búsqueda del gen, o conjunto de genes, o el conjunto de genes con los factores ambientales, continúa en una madeja de modelos complejos que esperamos que nos lleven de alguna manera a solucionar este enigma.

Sin embargo, lo que sí le preocupa a muchos es el notable aumento vertiginoso del autismo alrededor del mundo. ¿Se debe al glifosato? ¿Las vacunas? ¿El WiFi? Lo más probable es que no.

Parece mentira, pero la realidad es que el aumento drástico del autismo a nivel mundial es por … las estadísticas. Este fue el resultado de una investigación extensa en torno a este tema que se publicada este mismo año. Aunque el estudio se circunscribe a Dinamarca, documenta, evalúa y cualifica el aumento de los casos de autismo en ese país (más de 670,000) desde 1991 al 2011. Aparentemente, el 60 % del aumento de los casos reportados como autismo se debe sencillamente a que se ha redefinido el término “autismo” por la comunidad científica para incluir gradualmente a una población que previamente no se diagnosticaba como autista. Esa ha sido la opinión de varios expertos que han estudiado el fenómeno. Este artículo sobre el autismo en Dinamarca solo confirma la sospecha.

¡Eso es todo! El aparente aumento se debe a dos cosas: el aumento de la población a nivel mundial y al cambio de definición de “autismo” en la comunidad científica.

Ante tanta crítica en torno a la incompetencia del artículo de Samsel y Seneff viene la próxima pregunta: ¿cuál revista académica arbitrada permitió que se publicara?

La revista académica desprestigiada …

Como hemos visto ya, la inmensa mayoría de estos los científicos que usualmente publican estos temas antiOGM y antitransgénicos tienen la malísima suerte de que sus estudios son tretractados por incompetencia, son publicados por revistas fraudulentas, o no arbitradas, o no publicada por gente de especialidad en el tema. Este es uno de esos casos … ¡otra vez! …

Seneff quiso publicar sus estudios antivacunas y antiglifosato en la revista Entropy. Esta es una revista “académica” de libre acceso en torno a física.  Repito, la revista se fundó con el objetivo de hacer accesible artículos de física … no biología, ni toxicología ni medicina. ¿Qué hacen dos artículos de toxicología publicados en una revista de física? Sencillamente porque esta revista no es arbitrada (o al menos hace un “aguaje” de que es arbitrada). Ninguna revista arbitrada de física dejaría publicar artículos en medicina o toxicología, no importa cuan buenos sean, porque no son su área de especialidad.

Eventos como este ocurren frecuentemente en Entropy, hasta el punto que esta revista está desprestigiada ante los ojos de la comunidad científica.

El investigador británico Ariel Poliandri utilizó este artículo académico de Samsel y Seneff como un claro ejemplo de cómo identificar revistas fatulas o fraudulentas.


ADDENDUM: En torno al glifosato y al cáncer

Mientras estaba investigando, encontré un reportaje de El País en torno a la toxicidad del glifosato y su vínculo al cáncer. De acuerdo con El País, hubo un estudio hecho por profesores de Medicina de la Universidad de Córdoba, España, donde encontraron un vínculo fuerte entre estas dos variables.

Desgraciadamente, las noticias más sensacionalistas salen primero, pero fallan en publicar o darle mayor notoriedad a las que las desmienten. Por ejemplo, he aquí una declaración de la Facultad de Ciencias Médicas de la Universidad de Córdoba (gracias a J. M. Mulet).

CDLyotkWMAAr6J7(denle click a la imagen)

Así que no hay manera de sustentar este vínculo entre el glifosato y el cáncer con base en ese estudio.



Burgett, M. and Fisher, G. (1990). A review of the Belizean honey bee industry: Final report prepared at the request of The Belize Honey Producers Federation. Corvallis, Oregon: Department of Entomology, Oregon State University.

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Partes de la serie: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b, inter., 4c

Recientemente, me he dado cuenta que hay una noticia que ha estado circulando mucho en las redes sociales, especialmente en el mundo hispánico y es esta:


Esta noticia se titula: “Sin transgénicos. Agricultores en la India obtienen récord mundial de cosechas“. De acuerdo con el escrito, existe una nueva metodología de siembra que no requiere el uso de transgénicos ni la agricultura convencional con químicos, pesticidas o herbicidas.

Este nuevo método se conoce como SRI (siglas en inglés de System of Rice Intensification) y que tiene como aliado importante a la Universidad de Cornell. El SRI fue inicialmente una contribución de un sacerdote jesuita Henri de Laulanié en Madagascar y que fue recientemente adoptada en la India inicialmente para la producción de arroz. De acuerdo con el artículo del Diario ecológico, el método SRI se basa estrictamente en abono orgánico, lo que lleva al “respeto a la naturaleza”. Este método aparentemente ha logrado rebasar los límites de producción agrícola frente a las alternativas convencionales agrícolas por mucho.

Lamentablemente, el Diario ecológico parece no haber hecho su asignación, o recibió una noticia mal transmitida o intentó ocultar la verdadera información al respecto. Uno de los comentaristas del Diario ecológico mencionó el artículo de donde se recogió esta noticia.

M. C. Diwakar, A. Kumar, A. Verma y N. Uphoff. (2012, June ). Report on the World Record: SRI Yields in Kharif Season 2011 in Nelanda District, Bihar State, India. Agriculture Today, 54-56.

En dicho artículo se dice bien claramente lo siguiente (resaltaré lo importante de la cita):

Sumant Kumar planted the Bayer hybrid variety [Arize]-6444, while the other four farmers used Syngenta’s hybrid 6302. These are medium duration varieties with usual crop cycle of about 150 days, but in this season, Sumant’s SRI crop reached in 142 days. Upland nurseries of 100 m² were established, with a seed rate of 5 kg/ha for the SRI nursery compared with the usual rate of 35-40 kg/ha. Both the SRI and the regular nursery were sown on June 20, 2011, with the seeds for both nurseries were treated with Carbendazim (2 g/kg) for protection against seedborne diseases.

Both the SRI and the normal-practice fields received the same amounts of inorganic fertilizer, added as basal doses the day before transplanting … During the season, some N[itrogen] was applied as urea, at a rate of just 40kg/ha, in split doses on July 18 and August 22, a relatively low rate of N supplementation.

Y para mantener nuestra discusión honesta y ser justos con nuestra crítica, el artículo también dice esto:

The main weed problem for these farmers were broad-leaved weeds, and in the regular field a herbicide (2, 4-D) was sprayed to control these, applied at a rate of 1.5 liters/ha. In Sumant Kumar’s SRI field, there was no chemical weed control –only soil-aerating conoweedings done at 13 days and 26 days after transplanting. No chemical crop protection measures were taken as no insect pests or diseases or rodents were observed in either the SRI or regular fields.

Ahora bien, ya establecido lo que el artículo dice, podemos ver que se en la siembra se utilizaron arroz híbrido de Bayer y Syngenta, dos compañías que activamente trabajan con transgénicos. Estos híbridos son patentados por estas compañías y su objetivo es el de la mayor producción de arroz (véase el artículo de Bayer y el pequeño comentario de Syngenta sobre su híbrido).

En cuanto a los fertilizantes, el uso del nitrógeno en forma de químico (tan repudiado por la comunidad a favor de la comida orgánica) es notable. De hecho, como muy bien establece la misma página de internet del proyecto SRI:

The majority of farmers complement the organic matter amendment with chemical fertilizers, most often urea, in order to achieve a balanced fertilization of the crop.

Según el artículo, no hubo necesidad de pesticidas debido a que ninguna de las plantaciones fue atacada por ratas o insectos. ¿Qué hubiera ocurrido si eso hubiera pasado?

En cuanto a los hongos, se utilizó el fungicida Carbendazim, un fungicida artificial, que es altamente tóxico y que causa infertilidad en los animales y, en algunos casos, destruye sus testículos (ver este estudio). Se ha visto también como muy dañino para la salud humana (véase este estudio de la Organización Mundial de la Salud y este otro estudio británico). Es catalogado por Friends of the Earth como uno de los pesticidas “filthy four”.

Finalmente, no se está claro que este método realmente funcione en todas partes del mundo. En la agricultura hay gran variedad en cuanto al clima, la disponibilidad de agua, la disponibilidad de fertilizantes, la calidad del suelo, el tipo de suelo, entre otros factores (véase esta crítica). Hay también dudas en cuanto a la contabilidad de la cantidad de arroz (y otros productos) generados mediante el método, principalmente por la imprecisión en muchos de los datos (véase este artículo y este).

Si el SRI resulta ser bueno o no está bajo debate. Suponiendo que lo fuera para aumentar exponencialmente la producción agrícola es de notar que esto parece más bien una mezcla de agricultura orgánica con tradicional (incluyendo a veces químicos altamente nocivos como el Carbendazim).

El método SRI no es orgánico. Todavía no usa transgénicos (al menos según el artículo original), pero los agricultores no tuvieron reparo alguno en usar semillas creadas por Bayer y Syngenta para una mejor producción. Mañana podrían encontrar semillas transgénicas de alta productividad para estos agricultores y podrían usarlas.

Mi punto: Una vez más, no me opongo en lo absoluto a los alimentos orgánicos. El que quiera comer orgánico, que lo haga. Pero, por favor, dejen de circular esta “noticia” del SRI como agricultura alternativa a la convencional y como no transgénica que no usa tóxicos ni químicos. En el mejor de los casos es una noticia falsa y en el peor de los casos,  fraudulenta.

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Cordialmente dedicado a todos los que
decidieron marchar hoy contra Monsanto.

Partes de la serie: 1, 2, 3a, 3b, 4a, 4b e inter.

Nota preliminar: Si lo que les interesa es toda la discusión sobre el glifosato, pueden saltar la primera sección.

Cuando la gente no entiende el mundo de las toxinas y le hacen caso a revistas fraudulentas …

La ventaja de presentar la discusión de las toxinas desde un punto de vista evolutivo es que pone en perspectiva muchos aspectos que no se están discutiendo con el tema de los pesticidas, herbicidas y los transgénicos en general. También revela los miles de problemas que podemos ver con su comprensión por parte de mucha gente del público. Por ejemplo, ¿se acuerdan del enlace que discutí en el artículo pasado en torno al Bt y su uso por los agricultores orgánicos? Podemos ver muy claramente la confusión de la autora del artículo: por un lado recomienda el Bt como un pesticida eficiente a usarse en la comida, pero, por otro lado, dice que su consumo en los transgénicos (e.g. maíz Bt) es peligroso … no explica por qué, solamente asume de manera bien vaga que la lluvia u otros factores “limpiarán” el Bt rociado de los vegetales, pero no de los transgénicos. No menciona nada de la posibilidad de que el Bt rociado llegue con el producto al consumidor.

La histeria contra el Bt por parte de los que favorecen alimentos orgánicos no se comprende a ningún nivel. Sin embargo, a pesar de su uso amplio por la agricultura orgánica, se ha denunciado el uso de transgénicos con Bt debido a este estudio:

Mezommo, B.P., Miranda-Vilela, A. L., Barbosa, L. C., Albernaz, V. L., Grisolia, C. K. Hematotoxicity and genotoxicity evaluations in Swiss mice intraperitoneally exposed to Bacillus thuringiensis (var kurstaki) spore crystals genetically modified to express individually Cry1Aa, Cry1Ab, Cry1Ac, or Cry2Aa. Food and Chemical Toxicology, 12 nov. 2012. doi:10.1016/j.fct.2012.10.032. (Para propósitos de acceso al estudio utilizaré la versión de libre acceso de la que hablaré más tarde).

Aquí se usó un tipo de Bt que está creado explícitamente para atacar a ciertos insectos sin que haga daño a otros tipos de insectos (como por ejemplo las abejas o las mariposas) ni a las aves ni mamíferos. Según este estudio, esta variante del pesticida Bt enfermaba a ratones suizos utilizados en un experimento de laboratorio, especialmente una serie de desórdenes en células de la sangre (leucemia). Sin embargo, la falla del experimento radicaba en que no investigaba el Bt en ratones en cuanto a la dosis que generalmente se encuentra en el ámbito agrícola, sino más bien se les dio a ellos un exceso de Bt (que no se encuentra en el ámbito agrícola). Se les dio a tres pares de ratones (tres machos y tres hembras) unas dosis de 27, 136 y 270 mg/kg correspondientemente. Según estos científicos, en los seis casos se mostraron efectos negativos.

Como podrán sospechar, la muestra de ratones es demasiado pequeña, lo que constituye el primer problema con el experimento. En segundo lugar, los resultados de este estudio explícitamente contradicen cientos de estudios que se han llevado a cabo en torno al Bt y sus variantes. Myles Power, el famoso escéptico británico, utiliza como ejemplo este estudio de la Environmental Protection Agency en 1995, en que se le dio a ratones cerca de 3,289 mg/kg a uno de ellos en una sola dosis, sin efecto adverso alguno. Según Power, imagínense a un hombre de 84 kg comerse 276.3 gramos de esta toxina sin problema alguno (pág. 5). Esto se debe a que este tipo de Bt no solo es inofensivo para los mamíferos en general, sino que está dirigido solamente a un pequeño grupo de insectos.

Finalmente, aunque los científicos que hicieron este experimento alegan que hubo un efecto adverso en el Bt en los ratones, sus propias gráficas muestran claramente coincidencia estadística (la curvatura U de la que hablan en la pág. 7), no un claro vínculo entre el Bt y las enfermedades de los ratones.

Por estos serios defectos y otras razones, la revista Food and Chemical Toxicology retractó ese artículo. Sin embargo, más adelante se publicó en la revista Journal of Hematology & Thromboembolic Diseases, bajo una licencia de Creative Commons para su libre acceso. Esto parecería ser algo bueno. Personalmente fomento la diseminación de obras y artículos profesionales bajo licencias libres. Sin embargo, el entusiasmo de una persona debe desvanecerse cuando se fija en la parte de abajo de la página donde se ve este logo.

OMICS International
¿Quiénes son OMICS International? Los creadores de esta revista de acceso abierto, pero también tienen un poco de mala fama. Wikipedia los describe de la siguiente manera (presento aquí la información más interesante para mí):

Academics and the United States government have questioned the validity of peer review by OMICS journals, the appropriateness of author fees and marketing, and the apparent advertising of the names of scientists as journal editors or conference speakers without their knowledge or permission. As a result, the U.S. National Institutes of Health does not accept OMICS publications for listing in PubMed Central and sent a cease-and-desist letter to OMICS in 2013, demanding that OMICS discontinue false claims of affiliation with U.S. government entities or employees. OMICS has responded to criticisms by avowing a commitment to open access publishing and threatening a prominent critic with a US$1 billion lawsuit. … As of 2012, OMICS Group had more than 200 journal titles, about 60% of which had no content. …

It was also suggested that OMICS provides lists of scientists as journal editors to create the impression of familiarity or scientific legitimacy, even though these are editors in name only and are not involved in the review or editing process. An editor-in-chief who was contacted by Science stated that he had never handled any papers; in an interview with The Hindu, another said he had not been informed of his purported editorship. The company has been slow to remove the names of editorial board members who requested to terminate their relationship with OMICS activities. Some observers have described the publisher as “predatory”, insofar as authors who have submitted papers have been sent invoices after their manuscripts were accepted for publication despite the lack of a robust peer review process. Charges may be as high as US$3,600. One author received an invoice for US$2700 after her paper was accepted; this fee was not mentioned in the email message OMICS sent her to solicit a submission.

Other criticisms of OMICS include the publication of pseudoscientific articles, deceptive marketing practices, targeting of young investigators or those in lower income regions, and the advertising of academic or government scientists as speakers or organizers for OMICS conferences without their agreement. In 2012, an OMICS journal rejected a paper after the reviewer noticed it was plagiarised from a paper he had previously co-authored; another OMICS journal published the same paper later that year. The paper was removed from OMICS’ website in 2014.

¡Ay Dios mío! ¡A la verdad que los antiOGMs y antitransgénicos tienen TANTA mala suerte buscando algo legítimo que soporte sus puntos de vista! (Vean los artículos anteriores de nuestra serie).
El glifosato … the mouse that roared

Esto es más lamentable, aun cuando uno está perfectamente consciente de que estos temas despiertan mucha pasión hasta el punto de no verificar la información. Por ejemplo, se ha afirmado que el glifosato ha causado malformaciones en cerdos poco tiempo después de nacidos y que se mostraba una alta contaminación de glifosato por todo su cuerpo. Esas conclusiones aparecen en este estudio:

Krüger, M., Schrödl, W., Pedersen, I. y Shehata, A. A. (2014). Detection of Glyphosate in Malformed Piglets. Environmental & Analytical Toxicology, 4: 230. doi:10.4172/2161-0525.1000230.

Sin embargo, cuando investigamos cuál revista es Environmental & Analytical Toxicology, vemos que aparecen de nuevo nuestros queridos “amigos” de OMICS (vean la parte de abajo de su página aquí), la publicadora experta en fraudes. Lo que me encanta de este estudio es que vuelve a repetir la tendencia de los pésimos estudios que hemos visto de Séralini y Carman, de poner fotos para impresionar al público y prácticamente no hacer experimento controlado alguno.  Este artículo ha sido desmontado en su totalidad públicamente por el biólogo Kevin Folta.

¡No me malinterpreten! Parece que un laboratorio que hacía pruebas para la compañía Monsanto, intentó falsificar datos en torno a los efectos tóxicos del glifosato. Así que podría argumentarse que hay falsificación de parte del mismo Monsanto o de algunos de sus asociados. Sin embargo, como se desprende del mismo documento, la misma EPA se aseguró de que los datos de Monsanto estuvieran al día y fueran fidedignos.

Hay muchos que argumentan que no se han hecho suficientes datos en cuanto al glifosato y que deberían hacerse experimentos serios al respecto. ¡¿De verdad?! No es que no quiera que haya más experimentos para comprobar toxicidad (siempre harán falta), pero creo que la gente que dice eso no se ha dado cuenta de ya se han hecho cerca de dos mil experimentos con glifosato, especialmente en lo que concierne a su toxicidad.

Aun cuando se alegue que Monsanto “sabía” que el glifosato era un “posible cancerígeno”, no se puede estirar mucho el chicle de la hipótesis conspiratoria, de cómo Monsanto ocultó la información al respecto. A fin de cuentas, una vez el RoundUp estuvo disponible en la calle para uso de todos, NADA impidió a los científicos de todas partes del mundo llevar a cabo experimentos en torno al glifosato para conocer sus posibles consecuencias. Ningún científico (especialmente los independiente) se hallaba impedido de examinar distintos ángulos de toxicidad: si era carcenígeno, las dosis que podrían impactar el cuerpo humano, etc.

Hoy día se sabe a saciedad (aunque no de manera completa) las consecuencias del glifosato gracias a los científicos corporativos, los laboratorios del gobierno y los científicos independientes. Tanto los científicos que trabajan para distintos gobiernos del mundo y los científicos independientes en general han llegado a las siguientes conclusiones en cuanto al glifosato:

  • Para todos los efectos, el consumo actual de glifosato vía los alimentos rociados con este no representa ningún riesgo para la salud humana. Los científicos de la Unión Europea coinciden con esta conclusión.
  • El glifosato no es una toxina muy potente para los seres humanos. De hecho, la cafeína es mucho más potente como toxina que el glifosato. Algunos de los incidentes del daño de glifosato a humano tienen que ver con intentos de suicidio mediante el consumo de RoundUp. Aunque algunas de estas personas murieron, la mayoría solamente tuvo síntomas leves.
  • La inmensa mayoría de los daños al ser humano que se han reportado por el uso del glifosato son leves: irritación de los ojos, quemas leves en la piel, e irritación de piel o de garganta. Esto usualmente ocurría con personas que no tomaban las debidas precauciones con el RoundUp o fueron víctimas de administración irresponsable de RoundUp.
  • Hubo muchos estudios importantes en torno al glifosato han mostrado que no es carcinógeno, para ahorrar espacio, solo mencionaremos tres de los considerados más importantes:

    • Primer estudio: Publicado en agosto del 2012, titulado “Safety Evaluation and Risk Assessment of the Herbicide Roundup and Its Active Ingredient, Glyphosate, for Humans”, publicado en Regulatory Toxicology and Pharmacology.  El estudio concluye de la siguiente manera: “It was concluded that, under present and expected conditions of use, Roundup herbicide does not pose a health risk to humans.” (Abstract)
    • Segundo estudio: Publicado en 1993, señala que el glifosato parece no tener la estructura química semejante a la de otras sustancias que sabemos que son cancerígenas.
    • Tercer estudio: Publicado en el 2013, tal vez el estudio más comprehensivo que se ha hecho del glifosato utilizando artículos arbitrados a nivel mundial llevado a cabo por la Bundesinstitut für Risikobewertung (BfR), en Alemania. El que no quiera leer el informe larguísimo y que requiere registro, léase más bien este documento que explica todo el asunto en “arroz y habichuelas” como diríamos los boricuas. Finalmente, en diciembre del 2014, la BfR publicó una revisión de su informe, afirmando categóricamente, con mucho mayor respaldo empírico, que el glifosato no era cancerígeno.

Sin embargo, ha salido a relucir un nuevo reporte este mismo año, el informe de la Agencia Internacional para la Investigación de Cáncer (IARC por sus siglas en inglés), una rama de la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMG). Este es un informe muy corto y que determina que el glifosato puede ser catalogado “2A”.  Esto se ha tomado en los medios a nivel mundial como una certeza absoluta de que el glifosato es carcenígeno.  En realidad, lo que intentaron decir los científicos del IARC era algo un poco más complejo.

En primer lugar, tenemos que entender que la IARC no hace ninguna investigación ni experimento original para determinar si una sustancia da cáncer o no. Lo que sí hace es reseñar los estudios ya disponibles al respecto y catalogar la sustancia en cuestión de acuerdo a su sistema de gradación. Veamos dicho sistema detenidamente:

  • Grupo 1: Carcinógeno para los humanos.
  • Grupo 2A: Probablemente carcinógeno para los humanos.
  • Grupo 2B: Posiblemente carcinógeno para los humanos.
  • Grupo 3: No se puede clasificar adecuadamente
  • Grupo 4: Probablemente no carcinógeno para los humanos

En otras palabras, el glifosato no ha sido identificado categóricamente como carcinógeno (Grupo 1). La razón por la que la IARC determinó el grado “2A” se debe a que algunos estudios parecen indicar evidencia muy limitada de que el glifosato se haya correlacionado al linforma no hodkiano, aunque este vínculo todavía no se ha demostrado. También afirma que hay evidencia “convincente” de que el glifosato genera cáncer en los animales (este punto lo discutiremos más tarde). También el informe aclara que este riesgo de cáncer se limitaría solamente a la práctica agrícola (acumulado por años y sin las debidas protecciones), no al consumo o exposición ocasional.

Sin embargo, hay dos cosas sospechosas de este estudio. Primero, por alguna razón no incluyó el estudio comprensivo del BfR (el de diciembre del 2014), por lo que no debemos sorprendernos de que esta institución fue la primera en reaccionar ante la publicación del informe del IARC. Segundo, y lo que parece más sospechoso todavía, es que aparentemente la IARC tuvo en cuenta el experimento de Séralini como válido como “evidencia convincente” de que el glifosato genera cáncer en los animales. Ya hemos visto lo “fiable” que fue ese experimento, y no falta quien denuncie a la IARC por ello. No nos olvidemos tampoco que en el pasado la IARC ha sido criticada por apoyar conclusiones falsas sin suficiente evidencia. Hay muchos que denuncian a Monsanto por haber solicitado a la IARC a que revisara su conclusión a la luz de la evidencia científica actual. Aunque no soy fanático de Monsanto, si queremos verlo objetivamente, esta compañía tiene toda la razón del mundo.

Finalmente, tenemos que señalar que aun si este vínculo entre el glifosato y el cáncer fuera cierto, tenemos que tener cuidado en dos sentidos:

  1. Aun si fuera cierto que el glifosato causa cáncer en los animales, eso no significa que le daría cáncer a los seres humanos. Ejemplo de ello es el aspartame. Se ha podido mostrar en experimentos controlados de laboratorio que el aspartame genera cáncer en los ratones de laboratorio, pero no en los seres humanos. De hecho, se han hecho experimentos de largo tiempo (hasta veinte años) y transgeneracionales con humanos en relación con el aspartame y el resultado muestra que no es cancerígeno para los humanos. En cuanto a esto coinciden cerca de 100 agencias de regulación en el mundo (véase este estudio y este).
  2. Y aun si fuera cancerígeno, eso no significa que el glifosato deba evitarse a toda costa. Hay sustancias que sabemos que son cancerígenas y que los seres humanos necesitamos para funcionar, por ejemplo, el estrógeno, el beta-caroteno (en calidad de antecesor de la vitamina A), la vitamina D, entre otros. La dosis hace la diferencia (en toxicología se diría: “la dosis hace el veneno”). Una pequeña dosis de beta-caroteno que nuestro organismo convierta en vitamina A es buena. Ahora bien, si tomamos demasiado beta-caroteno, hay un riesgo real de desarrollar cáncer como han mostrado repetidos estudios. De hecho, contrario a lo que sugieren muchos naturistas, un régimen dietético que incluye sustancialmente suplementos vitamínicos puede llevar a facilitar, desarrollar enfermedades como el cáncer y otros o puede llevar a la muerte.
    La dosis que usualmente consumimos de glifosato es realmente una minucia. Hay gente que se alarma porque hay estudios que indican que se ha encontrado glifosato en la orina humana. Sin embargo, este dato confirma que el glifosato no representa una amenaza a la salud humana, ya que no se acumula en el cuerpo humano sino que se expulsa debido a su diminuta cantidad. Hay otros estudios que se han hecho sobre el nivel de glifosato en la sangre y en la orina han encontrado un nivel demasiado alto de glifosato … en personas que se han intoxicado a propósito. Supuestamente, hay un estudio que se ha tomado muestras de orina humana en 18 países del mundo, que ha encontrado un alto contenido de glifosato.  Sin embargo, el dichoso estudio falla en no discutir su metodología en cuanto a la toma de muestras, el método usado para analizar la orina, etc. Además, este estudio no es independiente ya que está subordinado en fondos a Friends of the Earth, una organización en principio antiOGM y antitransgénica.

Pero … ¿y qué hay en torno al glifosato y su relación con el autismo, el Alzheimer, la enfermedad celíaca … y prácticamente todas las enfermedades de la faz de la tierra (o eso casi lo que alegan)? De eso se tratará mi próximo artículo …

… ¡Y realmente no puedo esperar a escribirlo! En fin, se va a tratar de artículos de revistas predadoras tipo OMICS en la que sus autores no hacen experimento alguno (ni controlado ni no controlado) para llegar a estas conclusiones …

¡Hasta entonces!

Tagged with:

El comienzo de este artículo parece salirse de todo el problema que está en discusión, sin embargo, manténganse ahí … prometo que llegaremos al tema.

La evolución por selección natural y lo que somos

En la Universidad de Puerto Rico en Cayey tengo el honor de enseñarle el curso de ética a mis estudiantes. Sin embargo, soy un profesor de ética bastante inusual.  No hablo solamente de las discusiones normativas y metaéticas predominantes hoy día (la teoría de las virtudes, la deontología y la teleología o consecuencialismo), sino también introduzco una discusión breve, pero medular, de la teoría de la evolución y lo que eso implica en cuanto a la comprensión de los seres humanos, nuestro comportamiento y el manejo individual y colectivo de nuestra naturaleza humana en dirección al beneficio de la humanidad y de nuestro planeta.

La razón de ello creo que puede explicarse mejor nuestra naturaleza humana con esta ilustración.


Esta caricatura revela una verdad que a veces se nos pasa por alto cuando pensamos en la evolución. No solo la ilustración nos presenta como resultado de cambios morfológicos de nuestros ancestros hasta hoy día, sino también algo mucho más fundamental: lo que nosotros somos hoy no es sino un cúmulo de resolución de problemas biológicos que enfrentaron nuestros ancestros por millones hasta nuestra especie hoy día. Solo es dentro de estos últimos doscientos mil años (el 0.000044% de la historia de la Tierra) que aparecimos los seres humanos, pensadores del significado de la vida y buscadores de su supervivencia inteligente en el mundo. Todo lo que nosotros somos es un resultado hermoso y a la vez violento de nuestro pasado, algo que no podemos olvidar en nuestra discusión.

Esto no es solamente comprender que descendimos de primates ancestros ni es meramente una búsqueda explicativa de por qué existen fósiles de dinosaurios. La evolución es algo que nos afecta todos los días. ¿No me creen? Cuando le pregunto a mis estudiantes cuántos de ellos sufren de dolor de espalda, especialmente cerca del área del coxis … la mitad levanta la mano. ¿Cuál es el problema? Que los ancestros nuestros, los primates que aprendieron a caminar en tierra usaban lo que llaman en inglés “knuckle walking” (caminar con los nudillos), lo que curvó sus espaldas. Esto lo podemos ver en nuestros primos evolutivos los chimpancés y los gorilas. Después vinieron aquellos ancestros que supieron caminar erguidos, lo que representó un ahorro considerable de energía (nosotros ahorramos un 33% más energía que un chimpancé que camine con sus dos patas). Con esto y la falta de pelo, comenzamos a sudar, lo que nos facilitó nuestra actividad de cacería. Sin embargo, esa enorme ventaja tuvo y tiene un costo. Ese es el hecho de que nuestra columna vertebral esté propensa a problemas de dolor de espalda, a pillarse los nervios, entre otros problemas muy especialmente en el área del coxis.

¿Por qué tenemos bacterias dentro de nuestras células (las mitocondrias)? Según Lynn Margulis, porque en un periodo crítico de contaminación del ambiente con oxígeno, ciertas bacterias entraron en una interacción endosimbiótica que originó las células eucariotas (células con núcleos), convirtiéndose cada bacteria en organelo de dichas células de más alto nivel. En el caso de las plantas, no solo hay mitocondrias, sino que hay también otras células bacterianas como los cloroplastos, que contienen la clorofila y que hace posible el uso de la energía del sol con el que acumula energía, absorben el bióxido de carbono y despide oxígeno. Todos somos resultado de esta organización celular, cada vez más compleja, en lo que somos hoy. Gracias a las plantas, los animales obtenemos energía directa (comiendo de ellas) o indirectamente (cuando comemos otros animales). Otras características de nuestro cuerpo y comportamiento se explican por el hecho de que descendimos de peces (como nos lo revela Neil Shubin).

Como podemos ver, todos los organismos vivos estamos hermanados por el árbol de la vida evolutivo. No quiero sonar como Mufasa, en The Lion King, pero esto revela que formamos parte del círculo de la vida. Por esto y otras cosas más, todos los días vivo agradecido a Dios por la evolución. Es más, tenemos todo el relato épico del universo en cada molécula de nuestro cuerpo y lo compartimos con los demás organismos en nuestro planeta. ¡¿No es eso fascinante?!

La violencia del proceso evolutivo

Aun con todo lo hermoso y fascinante que es el proceso de creación de vida por el gran relojero ciego, el Universo, y la magia involucrada en ello, no debemos olvidarnos que el proceso evolutivo es brutal. La mayoría de los procesos evolutivos involucraban toda serie de organismos que eran totalmente amorales: ni las bacterias, ni los protistas, ni los hongos, ni las plantas ni la inmensa mayoría de los animales tienen los mismos valores morales que nosotros. La lucha por la vida es usualmente atroz entre todos ellos. La historia de la naturaleza no es una historia pacífica, estable o tranquila. Debido a ello y dados los cambios ambientales y alimenticios, por vía de selección natural, las plantas, los hongos y los microbios en general desarrollaron diversos mecanismos de defensa. Por otro lado, desde nuestros ancestros hasta nosotros, por selección natural, también desarrollamos mecanismos de defensa contra esos mismos mecanismos de defensa, para poder sobrevivir al ingerir plantas u otros animales.

Toxinas: resultado de un proceso violento de selección natural

¡Y ahí está uno de los grandes problemas con el movimiento antitransgénico (y con el movimiento pronaturista y proorgánico en general)! Desde los años sesenta hubo un incremento notable de preocupación por la cantidad de pesticidas y herbicidas sintéticos se echaban en los alimentos (especialmente después del invento del DDT). Sin embargo, hubo un artículo publicado en PNAS que no se reportó mucho, pero que cuantificaba la cantidad de toxinas que consumimos en nuestros alimentos todos los días. Se mencionaron toxinas que causaban muertes a animales, a seres humanos, algunas de ellas cancerígenas. Sin embargo, lo distintivo de este artículo era la noticia de que cerca del 99.99% de las toxinas ya provienen de nuestros alimentos sin intervención humana, todas ellas eran naturales. ¿Por qué tantas toxinas en las plantas? Contestación: porque por vía de evolución por selección natural, por la lucha por la vida, ellas desarrollaron ese mecanismo de defensa contra insectos, hongos u otras plantas. Tengamos en cuenta que esto es solo los alimentos que nosotros consumimos, y ninguno de ellos está en su estado “natural” (ni los guineos, ni el trigo, ni el maíz, ni las papas, ni el arroz, ni las habichuelas, ni la calabaza ni la sandía … etc.) Todos ellos fueron genéticamente modificados por nosotros vía selección artificial por miles de años. Nosotros coevolucionamos con nuestro alimento (vegetal y animal). Las toxinas en esos alimentos son legado de sus ancestros en su estado natural. Al coevolucionar con estas toxinas, por selección natural, sobrevivieron aquellos humanos (o ancestros nuestros) que tenían la capacidad de resistirlas. Sin embargo, resistían la dosis provista por ese alimento, cualquier dosis mayor y el resultado hubiera sido letal para quien fuera.

A veces, mucha gente expresa que favorece un sistema donde no haya toxinas de ningún tipo. Eso sería lo ideal, pero no caigamos en lo que Francisco Catalá Oliveras denomina el Síndrome de Funes y pensar  en un mundo “perfecto” donde no haya toxinas en ningún nivel. No hay manera alguna de hacerlo sin que como resultado se cree una plaga de insectos, hongos y malas hierbas que también buscan alimento y buscan sobrevivir donde les sea conveniente.

Ahora bien, como animales inteligentes, sí podemos remediar bastante esta situación. ¿Y cómo se remedia el problema de toxinas o sustancias cancerígenas naturales en nuestro alimentos? Como animales inteligentes, los seres humanos tenemos los mecanismos y la tecnología para ello. Por ejemplo, la Food and Drug Administration (FDA) acaba de aprobar una papa OMG (no es papa transgénica) producida por la compañía Simplot, ¡y enhorabuena! (No … no fue producida por el hijo del diablo, Monsanto 😛 …. ). El problema con las papas “naturales” (¿podemos llamarlas “naturales” si nosotros las hemos modificado por selección artificial por miles de años?) es que cuando se fríen por demasiado tiempo, ellas producen acrilamida, una sustancia neurotoxina que se ha podido mostrar en laboratorio que crea más alta incidencia de cáncer en los ratones. De hecho, para desgracia mía, se ha podido detectar acrilamida en mi sustancia favorita (y la de muchos boricuas) … el café (véase aquí el estudio original). Si es una amenaza para los ratones, ¿es una amenaza para los seres humanos? Por ahora, nadie sabe y hasta ahora no se ha podido enlazar la acrilamida al cáncer en humanos (véase esta declaración de la Sociedad Americana del Cáncer,  la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS) está creando la infraestructura para investigar esta sustancia, y otras agencias a nivel mundial están pendientes).

Aunque hay muchos estudios qué hacer en estos días al respecto, el consejo de la FDA por ahora es evitar la acrilamida lo más posible. Ahí, Simplot (que no es compañía de mi simpatía) utilizó una tecnología para silenciar uno de los genes que es el que es el que lleva a la papa a producir acrilamida. Aquí, un comediante de The Daily Show entrevista al geneticista molecular Walter DeJong quien explica la tecnología. (Por cierto, ¿se acuerdan de que hablamos de Jeffrey Smith, del llamado “Institute for Responsible Technology” y que no es científico? Véanlo admitirlo en el vídeo.)

Desde cualquier perspectiva que se pueda ver este asunto, esta nueva papa sería netamente beneficiosa para el público. Sin embargo, la campaña irracional contra los OMGs ha hecho que varias compañías decidan no utilizar ninguna de estas papas genéticamente modificadas. Aparentemente, para algunos, es mejor consumir un carcinógeno natural que consumir una papa modificada artificialmente para que no dé cáncer. ~Rostro de confusión~ ¡La vida te da sorpresas!

Ahora bien, yo acostumbro ir a Starbucks. Me encantaría que alguien elaborara un café que no tenga el potencial de formar acrilamida para estar más tranquilo cuando tome café.  Sin embargo, lo que yo no le perdonaría a ninguna compañía es si preparara café sin mi pesticida favorito … la cafeína. Una dosis de café con ese pesticida me hace funcionar el resto del día. ¡¿Qué sería de mi mundo y el de muchos puertorriqueños sin ese pesticida?!

El problema de los herbicidas y pesticidas en el mundo orgánico

Desde mucho antes de la Revolución Verde se ha planteado el problema de la utilización de pesticidas y herbicidas en la agricultura. Esto no es exclusivamente en el área de la agricultura convencional, sino también la orgánica. La mayoría de los alimentos cultivados, sean orgánicos o no, padecen exactamente del mismo problema: cuando se empieza a ampliar el terreno significativamente, no importa cuantas medidas externas se utilicen para proteger las plantaciones, siempre serán víctimas de malezas, hongos, bacterias, virus e insectos. ¡Es parte del sistema evolutivo natural que discutimos! Por eso, desde que la agricultura es agricultura, siempre se han usado herbicidas, fungicidas y pesticidas (y todo lo que termine en -idas).

Muchos cambian a una dieta orgánica con el propósito de evitar este tipo de sustancias. Sin embargo, la dieta orgánica también implica el consumo de este tipo de sustancias, excepto que son las producidas por la naturaleza, aunque sean bastante dañinas, y, en ocasiones, algunas producidas sintéticamente (las que la USDA determine que son consistentes con su definición de “orgánicos”). De hecho, algunos agricultores de alimentos orgánicos quieren incluir más herbicidas y pesticidas sintéticos bajo la definición de la USDA, muy a pesar de los alegatos infundados de Consumer Reports (vean la lista).

Por años se solía echar pyrethrin sobre árboles frutales y se sabe que puede ser tóxico a los humanos bajo ciertas circunstancias, aunque vale la pena señalar que es uno de los pesticidas menos dañinos en el mercado. La rotenona, una conocida neurotoxina, también es utilizada en varios cultivos orgánicos, y la Organización Mundial de la Salud (OMS) la ha clasificado como “moderadamente peligrosa”. El Bt (un pesticida producido naturalmente por bacterias) también es altamente popular entre los cultivos orgánicos, muy a pesar de las oposiciones de los antiOGM a los productos transgénicos maíz Bt y al algodón Bt que son más inofensivos que, por ejemplo, lo que hacen muchos agricultores orgánicos, como rociarles Bt cinco o seis veces a la planta naciente aunque afecte la calidad del suelo y su salud. Si no me creen que esta es su práctica, léanlo con sus propios ojos. También se utiliza polisulfuro de calcio como pesticida en el mundo orgánico, que sí causa daño a los seres humanos, hasta el punto en el que la Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) decidió regular su uso en el 2008.

Desde esta y otras perspectivas, ¿es comer orgánico más saludable que comer convencional? Aparentemente no, cuando se comparan varios estudios publicados en relación con el tema se muestra que no hay diferencia alguna (e.g. compárense este estudio con este, este y Blair 2012). Eso no exime a la comida orgánica de ciertos estragos a nivel mundial por otras razones. El término “orgánico” no se refiere en lo absoluto a la metodología para llevar a cabo la agricultura, sino a productos que supuestamente no tienen toxinas sintéticas. La realidad es que los productos orgánicos que se venden en los supermercados a veces provienen de diversas partes del mundo usando metodologías distintas. Recientemente la World Health Organization está preparando un informe de un estudio que encontró cerca de 582 millones de casos de enfermedades relacionadas con los alimentos en el 2010 y que contribuyeron a 351,000 muertes. Entre los brotes más comunes se hallaban la sarmonela, el E. coli y el norovirus. Miles de estos casos tienen que ver con productos orgánicos que crecen mediante estiércol como fertilizante y que muchas veces no se toman las medidas de limpieza adecuadas.

Donde se ve más claramente la diferencia entre venta orgánica e inorgánica es en el precio.  Debido a ello, los alimentos orgánicos se hacen inaccesibles a los pobres. Las razones para ello son muchas, pero, en general, tienen que ver con que algunos agricultores orgánicos rehúsan utilizar medidas eficientes para el crecimiento de sus cultivos y aumentar su nivel de producción. (Este es el caso de solo algunos agricultores orgánicos, no todos, ya que algunos utilizan tecnología bien avanzada). Tal vez también tenga que ver con algunos de los métodos adoptados por algunos agricultores a nivel mundial —que ya hemos discutido arriba— lo que lleva a una alta tasa de devolución y desperdicio de comida por contaminación con virus y bacterias (véase este reporte sobre China, este estudio y este). También el bajo ritmo de producción en relación con la agricultura convencional implica precios altos. Debido a la escasez de alimentos orgánicos creados por todos estos factores, muchas compañías hacen negocio con los productos orgánicos precisamente por sus precios altos. Desde esta perspectiva no nos extraña que Whole Foods sea tan grande en ingresos como Monsanto aun cuando sus activos sean menores (los ingresos de Monsanto en 2013 eran de $15 mil millones, mientras que los de Whole Foods eran de $13 mil millones).

Sin embargo, si el resultado de la siembra orgánica no es distinta al convencional, la pregunta es, ¿debería todo el mundo comprar orgánico? Hay quienes lo piensan.  Vivienne Westwood, que se dedica al mundo del modelaje dijo en el 12 de noviembre del 2014 que aquellos que no puedan pagar comida orgánica simplemente deberían “comer menos”.

Mi punto es …

Mi punto no es que no se coma comida orgánica. Una vez más me reitero, la comida orgánica sí tiene un lugar importante en la provisión de alimentos al mundo, aunque también creo que la comida convencional deba continuarse a menos que aparezca alguna mejor alternativa. El problema de la comida orgánica podría remediarse parcialmente si parte de los agricultores que se dedican a sembrarla cambian sus métodos de cultivo por unas prácticas más saludables para los consumidores.

Mi punto sí es el de despertar a la gente de la ilusión de que la comida convencional es una mayor amenaza para la humanidad porque contiene herbicidas y pesticidas. Comer orgánico no garantiza mayor calidad de salud ni la ausencia de herbicidas o pesticidas dañinos a la salud (aunque sean naturales). Es más, como vimos arriba, tampoco garantiza la ausencia de herbicidas o pesticidas sintéticos y algunos de ellos pueden ser bastante nocivos para los seres humanos bajo ciertas dosis.

¿Por qué hago este punto? Porque los favorecedores del crecimiento de alimentos orgánicos no quieren utilizar estas sustancias en lo absoluto, pero no tienen más remedio que hacerlo ante la realidad evolutiva que hemos expuesto en este artículo: los insectos, las malezas, las bacterias, los virus y los hongos también luchan por su supervivencia y destruyen los alimentos en ese proceso. Recuérdese lo que dijimos, que hasta algunos agricultores orgánicos están pidiéndole a la USDA que amplíe la definición de “orgánico” para permitir el uso de ciertas sustancias sintéticas que aparentemente son más eficientes que las naturales.

… Y como veremos en el próximo artículo, el glifosato es, de entre los herbicidas, tal vez el más inofensivo para el consumidor, al menos comparado con las alternativas existentes. Escribo esto consciente de que una de las legisladoras que más he admirado, María de Lourdes Santiago, ha radicado un proyecto de ley contra el uso del glifosato para controlar las malezas en la propiedad pública. Sí estoy muy de acuerdo con ella de que la manera en que se administra esta sustancia se hace muchas veces de manera irresponsable (de eso conozco mucha gente que es testigo). Sin embargo, no estoy de acuerdo con ella en cuanto a su total prohibición. Si se prohíbe el glifosato … ¿cuál sería la alternativa para el gobierno? ¿Y queremos un gobierno que legisle por histeria, sin ponderación cuidadosa y calmada en torno a los alegatos de Monsanto? Discutiremos este tema muy pronto.



Blair, Robert. Organic Production and Food Quality: A Down to Earth Analysis. Oxford, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2012.


Partes de la Serie: 1, 2, 3a, 3b y 4a

Si el experimento de Séralini es sumamente dudoso por no haber sido debidamente controlado, el otro experimento que mencionaré en este artículo es extremadamente risible. La situación sería más cómica si no fuera porque, al igual que el experimento de Séralini, estos también terminaron reforzando los ataques injustificados contra los organismos genéticamente modificados (OGMs) y los estragos que esta campaña contra los transgénicos conlleva (como explicamos al final en la parte 4a de esta serie).

Esta vez, el problema no son enfermedades de ratas ni ratones, sino de cerdos. De acuerdo con este estudio, alimentar a cerdos con maíz y soya transgénicos, como se ha estado haciendo por años, representa una amenaza real para esos animales y su sufrimiento extremo. Entre los alegatos que se han levantado es que se les ha provocado daño a su estómago y sistema digestivo. Cuando yo era antitransgénico, solía creer en estos reportajes y veía, una vez más, a la malvada y todopoderosa Monsanto creando más sufrimiento innecesario de los animales no humanos. El experimento también mostraba una serie de fotografías de los estómagos de los cerdos que parecían confirmar este alegato.

Sin embargo, cuando empecé a cuestionar todos estas aserciones, gradualmente me empecé a dar cuenta de que no podían ser ciertas. Supongamos, para efectos del argumento que es cierto, que los transgénicos provocan daño digestivo a los cerdos. Sin embargo, a los cerdos se les ha estado alimentando con transgénicos por un periodo de cerca de 30 años. Si los transgénicos provocaran este problema masivo entre los cerdos, ¿no habría una reducción considerable de la presencia de carne de cerdo en el mercado? ¿No entrarían las granjas y ganaderos, especialmente los independientes, en una crisis sumamente seria a nivel económico y salubrista? ¿No hubieran ellos vuelto a las semillas no transgénicas para resolver este problema? Y la industria, ¿no hubiera entrado en crisis? Precisamente la contestación negativa a todas estas preguntas me hizo sospechar que la campaña antitransgénica tenía que ser falsa de alguna manera. Hoy día, más del 90% del maíz que consumen los cerdos criados en ganaderías y granjas en Estados Unidos (corporativas e independientes) es transgénico.

¿No sería esto una señal implícita que, para los ganaderosm el maíz y la soya transgénicos son buenos para su negocio, para su salud y la de su ganado?

Y si este es efectivamente el caso, ¿qué hay que decir de los experimentos en torno al llamado problema de salud de los cerdos?

Judy Carman y su gente

Judy Carman es una investigadora australiana con unas credenciales impresionantes, por lo que no estamos tratando aquí de una persona que no sabe lo que hace (al menos si prestamos mucha mayor atención a sus credenciales).

Sin embargo, ella es también creadora de una sitio de Internet: y que ha sido centro de investigación para todas aquellas personas que están en contra de los OMGs. Tal vez, parte de la razón para ello es que la misma Carman es abiertamente activista contra los OMGs y, de hecho, es apoyada por Séralini, el autor del experimento fatulo que discutimos la última vez.

Sin embargo, es precisamente estas credenciales lo que nos hacen preguntarnos cómo es posible que una científica de su altura haya hecho un experimento peor que el de Séralini. Si alguien hubiera llevado a cabo un experimento semejante que no involucrara a los transgénicos, creo que no sería tan valorado o propagandizado. La persona hubiera sido sumamente desprestigiada por toda la comunidad científica sin excepción. No obstante ello, como el trabajo de Carman muestra que los transgénicos son negativos para la salud de los cerdos, los únicos que le dan credencial son los grupos están en contra de los transgénicos (¡qué casualidad!). Para el resto de los científicos, el experimento no vale ni el papel en que está escrito.


El experimento

El artículo sobre el experimento nos dice todo al respecto. Ella escogió 168 cerdos de una granja en los Estados Unidos y les dio lo que corresponde a la dieta típica para ellos. Por ende, ella les dio soya y maíz por un periodo de cinco meses. La mitad de los cerdos parecía ser el grupo “control” y el otro grupo el “experimental” … y aquí es donde comienzan los problemas.

En primer lugar, ¿qué es lo que se quiere explorar exactamente? ¿Se exploran los daños potenciales del maíz transgénico o el de la soya transgénica? Si se les da el maíz y la soya transgénicos a la vez y solo uno de ellos es el que le hace daño a los cerdos, ¿cómo se sabría cuál de ellos es?  El diseño del experimento no nos deja saberlo. Es más, de acuerdo con el mismo estudio, Carman afirma que se utilizaron “múltiples variedades” de maíz y soya genéticamente modificados (pp. 38, 41). ¿Cuál de estas “variedades” sería la causante del problema? Al multiplicar las variables innecesariamente de esta manera se hace imposible saber cuál de los transgénicos es la causa del problema o, incluso, si los transgénicos son realmente el problema.

Todavía la situación es peor. Mientras crecían los cerdos, ella alteraba la dosis de maíz y de soya considerablemente, lo que añade más problemas de variables. El razonamiento para esta movida es que esta alteración corresponde a la tasa de consumo de soya y maíz que comen los cerdos cuando crecen. Esto trae a colación nuevos problemas. ¿Se hizo algún modelo teorético o matemático para tener en cuenta esta alteración? Parece que la respuesta es negativa.

En segundo lugar, uno diría que al grupo experimental se le daría maíz y soya transgénicos y al otro no, precisamente porque parecería el grupo control. Sin embargo, a ambos grupos se les dio maíz y soya transgénicos. Al grupo “no OGM” se le dio OGM en menor grado (0.4% maíz transgénico y 1.6% de soya transgénica, pág. 40) que es, según Carman, lo que uno encuentra típicamente en el maíz y la soya disponible comercialmente. Esto es porque ella no estaba comparando la soya y maíz transgénicos que comen los cerdos con los que no son transgénicos, sino que estaba evaluando los efectos de la soya y maíz transgénicos que comen los cerdos con los que comen los humanos (pág. 41 ….¡¿?!).

Como podemos ver, este experimento es peor que el de Séralini, ya que al menos este establecía algún tipo de grupo control … muy mal hecho, pero estaba ahí. Sin embargo, el experimento de Carman no fue controlado en lo absoluto. Para todos los efectos no hay grupo control.

El “resultado” del experimento se ha circulado por la Internet, ya que, al igual que Séralini, ella se aseguró de sacar fotos a los estómagos inflamados de los cerdos.


¿Cuantificó y cualificó Carman estos estómagos? Sí, de manera muy superficial: determinaba que los estómagos con mucha rojez estaban inflamados, aquellos que mostraban un color rosado, menos inflamados y aquellos sin la rojez, en buen estado. No examinó estos estómagos en el microscopio. No hizo ningún análisis de muestra de estos estómagos de ninguna índole.

Para Carman, la “mejor explicación” de esta inflamación era que fue causada por el maíz y la soya transgénicos.

La reacción de la comunidad científica

Para todos los efectos, la comunidad científica terminó rechazando rotundamente los resultados de Carman.

Mark Hoofnagel, médico escéptico estudioso del tema de los OMGs, clasificó al estudio de Carman como totalmente carente de sentido. Food Standards en Australia no fue convencido de la fiabilidad del estudio. El Prof. Robert Friendship de la Universidad de Guelph estuvo en total desacuerdo con la metodología y los resultados obtenidos por Carman. Nos dice él:

… it was incorrect for the researchers to conclude that one group had more stomach inflammation than the other group because the researchers did not examine stomach inflammation. They did a visual scoring of the colour of the lining of the stomach of pigs at the abattoir and misinterpreted redness to indicate evidence of inflammation. It does not. They would have had to take a tissue sample and prepare histological slides and examine these samples for evidence of inflammatory response such as white blood cell infiltration and other changes to determine if there was inflammation. There is no relationship between the colour of the stomach in the dead, bled-out pig at a slaughter plant and inflammation. The researchers should have included a veterinary pathologist on their team and this mistake would not have happened. They found no difference between the two experimental groups in pathology that can be determined by gross inspection.

 El Science Media Centre consideró al experimento irrelevante para determinar si los alimentos genéticamente modificados causaban problemas.

Tony Peacock, presidente corporativo de la Co-operative Research Centres Association, también afirmaba que el experimento estaba muy probremente diseñado y que no se podía sacar de allí nada concluyente.

Ignorar evidencia y otros factores ambientales

Si no fuera poco todo lo que acabamos de decir, se ha mostrado a saciedad que Judy Carman y su equipo aparentemente ignoró algunas de las consecuencias de sus propios datos. Por ejemplo, si hubiera alguna correlación entre los OMGs y las inflamaciones, entonces debería haber más inflamaciones estomacales en este grupo que en el que se le dio poco alimento transgénico. Para sorpresa de todos, fue al revés. Hubo más cerdos con estómagos inflamados en el grupo que comió menos soya y maíz transgénicos (95%) que en el grupo que se le dio más (89%).

También el experimento mostraba que si se toma más maíz y soya transgénica, se mostraban menos anormalidades en el corazón (véase la Tabla 3, pág. 47).

En cuanto a las fotos, solo se tomaron aquellas de estómagos de los pertenecientes del grupo que se le dio más transgénicos y no al que se le dio menos, lo que muestra un sesgo obvio a la asociación de la inflamación del estómago de los cerdos con los alimentos transgénicos. Una vez más, esto no es un estándar en las ciencias, sino que, como Séralini, estas fotos se tomaron con el objetivo de impresionar al público.

Sin embargo, varios estudios ya han señalado que desde un punto de vista estrictamente estadístico no se muestra ninguna diferencia entre los estómagos inflamados de ambos grupos de cerdos (véase este artículo, este, este y este). Por ende, no hay correlación alguna entre la cantidad de trasngénicos que se consume y la inflamación estomacal de los cerdos.

Y si no fuera suficiente, al momento de matar a los cerdos, prácticamente la mitad de cada grupo estaba sufriendo de pulmonía (Tabla 3, pág. 47).

Finalmente, aunque esta es una falta de menor grado, por alguna razón, Carman decidió no utilizar las unidades de estándar internacional (SI), sino más bien las medidas británicas.

Conflictos de intereses

Si este estudio tiene tantos problemas, la pregunta es, ¿por qué la revista académica no retractó ese estudio como la otra revista hizo con la de Séralini? La revista que publicó este estudio, The Journal of Organic Systems, es de mala reputación en la comunidad científica, en parte porque se dedica a publicar muchos estudios de esta misma calidad. Es publicado por la Organic Federation of Australia, cuya agenda ideológica se dirige a favor de los alimentos orgánicos. No hay problemas en cuanto a promover o no promover alimentos orgánicos, sino más bien el problema es de la fiabilidad de sus artículos. Por esta razón, la comunidad científica y médica ha rehusado incluirla en PubMed, el motor de búsqueda de la National Institutes of Health con la colección más importante de artículos de revistas académicas en relación con la salud.

El artículo alega que no hay conflictos de intereses en la investigación (pág. 52). ¿Quién le pudo proveer fondos para la investigación? Pues, si  vemos la pagina de la portada, podemos ver varias entidades, entre ellas la Institute of Health and Environmental Research (IHER) (pág. 52) que ella misma fundó y de la que formaba parte (pág. 38). Además de proveer algunos fondos, este grupo es abiertamente sesgado contra los OMGs. El estudio también fue financiado por Verity Farms de los Estados Unidos. Esta es una compañía que se dedica a proveer vegetales y carne orgánica y no transgénica. El segundo autor que aparece en la página de la portada del estudio es Howard R. Vlieger, Presidente de Verity Farms. ¡¿No hay conflictos de intereses?!

Experimentos semejantes en la comunidad científica

Mientras el experimento de Carman sigue siendo ensalzado como una prueba contundente de que los transgénicos son un peligro para la salud de los cerdos y de los seres humanos, los siguientes experimentos controlados se llevaron a cabo para este mismo tiempo (gracias a David Tribe, para ver más detalles vayan a su artículo aquí).

Como podemos ver, la inmensa mayoría de los experimentos con cerdos en la época de Carman señalaban prácticamente poco o ningún efecto del maíz transgénico en los cerdos. Es más, ninguno de ellos apuntaba a un daño serio a su salud.

Digamos que tenemos que ir un poco más allá de los cerdos. Aquí hay un listado de los experimentos más notables que se han llevado a cabo hasta el 2010 en torno al ganado en general, todos llegan al mismo sitio: los OMGs no representan ningún problema para los seres humanos ni para los animales.

Es más, en el año 2014 (¡el año pasado!), Alison L. Van Eenennaam y Amy E. Young publicaron un artículo donde estudiaban 29 años de investigaciones en torno a los transgénicos y sus efectos sobre la productividad y la salud del ganado y las aves. Este estudio representaba un estudio sobre una variedad de investigaciones de sobre cien mil millones de animales desde antes de 1996 (el punto de comienzo de la alimentación de animales con transgénicos). Resultado: No ha habido ningún efecto nocivo para los animales.

¿Y sobre los seres humanos? Han habido más de dos mil estudios que han mostrado que tampoco han perjudicado la salud del ser humano.


Todos estos estudios muestran, que hasta al menos el 2013 o 2014, no hay ninguna amenaza de parte de los OMGs. Como hemos dicho en repetidas ocasiones, esto es una histeria sobre nada. Lo único que se puede decir del experimento de Carman es lo que dicen Mark Lynas y Karen Batra … el experimento de Carman es ciencia basura (“junk science“).

En nuestro pŕoximo episodio … hablaremos un poco del metaanálisis llevado a cabo por el IARC y por qué casi nadie en la comunidad científica está convencida de que el glifosato esté ligado al cáncer.

¡Hasta entonces!

P.D.  Y la persona que diga, tras la evidencia ya mostrada, que “no hay suficientes estudios en torno a los transgénicos” está en un mundo que definitivamente no es el nuestro.

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