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Experts find climate-skeptic and anti-GMO studies are scientifically flawed


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Experts find climate-skeptic and anti-GMO studies are scientifically flawed
Thursday, September 7, 2017
By Mark Lynas

Although many papers have been published claiming that genetically engineered (GMO) foods are harmful and that humans aren't changing the climate, not a single one of them stands up to rigorous scientific scrutiny.

With the recent uptick in extreme weather events around the world — exemplified by catastrophic flooding in Nigeria, Houston and India, all in the same week, followed by multiple hurricanes in the Atlantic — climate change is back in the headlines, and with it a resurgence of skeptical claims denying the existence of an international scientific consensus on global warming.

Responding to these denials, and allegations that skeptical research papers have been “suppressed” and thereby prevented from being published in scientific journals, climate scientist Katharine Hayhoe responded with a Facebook post pointing out that numerous studies purporting to falsify the mainstream view of global warming have in fact been published over the last decade.

Hayhoe wrote that "over the last 10 years, at least 38 papers were published in peer-reviewed journals, each claiming various reasons why climate wasn't changing, or if it was, it wasn't humans, or it wasn't bad. They weren't suppressed. They're out there, where anyone can find them."

However, she also pointed out that when analyzed from scratch, "every single one" of the skeptical papers "had an error — in their assumptions, methodology, or analysis — that, when corrected, brought their results into line with the scientific consensus."

In support of her statement Hayhoe pointed to a paper that she co-authored in 2015, entitled "Learning from mistakes in climate research" and published in the journal Theoretical Applied Climatology. The lead author of the paper was Rasmus Benestad, of the Norwegian Meteorological Institute in Oslo, Norway.

Benestad, Hayhoe and colleagues developed an open-source analytical tool to replicate and test the results and methodologies of these 38 selected climate-skeptic papers, thus revealing "a pattern of common mistakes." These included ignoring inconvenient contextual information or “cherry-picking.” For example, one study made recent climate change look like it fitted natural cycles only by throwing out 6,000 years of inconvenient data.

Example of how climate change skeptics fudged data. Source.

Other errors arose from biased or inappropriate experimental setups, false dichotomies (such as the implication that any identification of natural climate cycles must necessarily invalidate human influence on climate) and the use of inappropriate statistical methods.

Climate change is not the only area of controversy where skeptical studies challenging scientific consensus have received great play in the media and among ideologically-motivated interest groups. GMOs offer another example of where an international scientific consensus that genetically engineered crops are no less safe than their conventional alternatives is constantly challenged by anti-GMO activists.

Echoing the 2015 paper on climate skeptical analyses, a review of GMO skeptical literature published by two biologists last month similarly concludes that studies purporting to show that genetically modified crops have health dangers suffer from numerous methodological flaws and statistical errors which likely invalidate their claims.

Writing in Plant Biotechnology Journal in a paper entitled "Characterization of scientific studies usually cited as evidence of adverse effects of GM food/feed," Miguel Sanchez and Wayne Parrott analyzed in detail 35 papers published in scientific journals, all of which purported to show health risks arising from genetic modification. These papers were selected because they had either been cited in scientific reviews, or had been highlighted on anti-GMO websites such as GM Free USA and GM Watch.

One point of note was that many of the studies were written or co-authored by the same people. Altogether 87 percent of the GMO-skeptical studies came from just two groups based in Italy. Giles-Eric Seralini was another name appearing on more than one paper. Although all 35 papers declared no conflicts of interest, Sanchez and Parrott found on closer examination that "fewer than half" actually had no financial or professional conflicts of interest. Most were supported by anti-GMO activist groups, organic interests and even Greenpeace. This is analogous to the conflicts of interest alleged for some climate-skeptic authors supported by the fossil fuels industry.

In terms of their scientific quality, Sanchez and Parrott found that all the papers they analyzed violated "at least one of the basic standards for assessment of GM food/feed safety." Like the climate-skeptic studies, these primarily involved the inappropriate use of statistics, including changing statistical tests in the midst of an experiment to try to get a more desirable result.

Most animal feeding studies had insufficient controls, and the GMO/non-GMO diets fed to animal groups were mostly not nutritionally analyzed, making any purported comparisons meaningless.

Many papers also misrepresented the literature that they cited, claiming negative effects from genetic modification when the original authors had drawn no such conclusions. In addition, virtually all the GMO-skeptic papers were published in low-impact journals, sometimes in journals that have no listed impact factor because they rank as predatory or “pay-for-play” and do not have any real peer review.

Altered images in GMO study. Source: PubPeer submission

Several studies claiming to find negative effects on animals consuming diets of genetically modified feed have been retracted by the journals that published them (these were not included in the 35, having been retracted). Seralini's 2012 paper claiming that rats fed with GMO corn suffered tumors is a notorious example. One of the prolific Italian groups had two of its papers retracted amidst allegations of fraud when it was found that digital images had likely been repeated and touched up.

It should be emphasized that neither the climate nor the GM-skeptic studies are very numerous in the context of the overall literature. According to Sanchez and Parrott, the 35 GM-skeptic papers they assessed "represent fewer than 5 percent of all published studies assessing GM food/feed safety."

Following the conclusion of a 97 percent consensus on climate change, the 38 papers that Benesdad and co-authors selected can be seen as an attempt to look at the remaining 3 percent. However, as with the GMOs study, the sample was picked selectively based on contrarian papers with high visibility rather than being statistically representative of the scientific literature as a whole.

After assessing the anti-GMO papers Sanchez and Parrott concluded: "Twenty years after commercial cultivation of GM crops began, a bona fide report of an adverse health effect due to a commercialized modification in a crop has yet to be reported."

A similar conclusion might be drawn with regard to climate change. No paper has yet been published that invalidates this conclusion: global warming is real, and humans are causing most of it.


TRIBE Member
Wow, great listen:

198 Jerry Taylor - A Paid Climate Change Skeptic Switches Sides

Cato institute and professional climate skeptic describes his reckoning with the fact his position and the position of his think tank was "shredded" by a combination of exposure to the right arguments, science and an ex Goldman Sachs partner who tore what was left of his position to shreds with an actuarial argument for climate activism

Great talker this guy
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TRIBE Member
It's not that humans are not contributing to change in climate. It's more about the fact that carbon taxes and credits are not the answer to the problem. These are just political slush funds to build bureaucratic self serving empires with.


TRIBE Member
Pricing carbon into the economy is absolutely necessary, each year we don't just raises the carbon debt we pass to future generations, giving rich companies and elites today a subsidy to burn more carbon.

Talk about slush funds! How about the billions in subsidies the oil and extraction companies get on top of paying nothing for the carbon their activities release!


TRIBE Member
It's not that humans are not contributing to change in climate. It's more about the fact that carbon taxes and credits are not the answer to the problem. These are just political slush funds to build bureaucratic self serving empires with.
You should listen to the podcast. Goldman Sachs exec sets this dude straight on risk: once you price risk, you can manage it.

If you don't put a price on risk, you ignore risk, and that puts your clients in jeopardy. Climate change is a non-diversifiable risk - means you can't invest in something that if worst case global warming happens, you make out like a bandit. If the worst case happens there isn't even a market to play in anymore.

In the market, people pay top dollar to avoid non-diversifiable risks to their portfolios (high cost insurance). Ignoring such risks?

Not an option for prudent investors.
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TRIBE Member
Good points:

INTRODUCTION Conservative opposition to governmental initiatives addressing global warming has become something of a “third-rail” in Republican politics.1 Many conservatives doubt that global warming is happening at all. To whatever extent that warming is occurring, conservatives doubt that it is caused primarily by human activity. Achieving the emissions reductions projected by many climate scientists as necessary to stabilize temperature increases at 2 degrees Centigrade would require global greenhouse gas emissions to be approximately 80-95 percent below 2000 levels by 2050, net zero by 2070, and eliminated altogether by 2100.4 This, conservatives argue, would impose devastating economic costs.5 Consequently, conservatives have nothing to say about climate policy other than “no.”

Even if conservative narratives about climate change science and public policy are to some extent correct, conservatives should say “yes” to a revenue-neutral carbon tax … so long as the tax displaces EPA regulation of greenhouse gas emissions and eliminates a host of tax preferences provided to green energy producers.6 If federal and state governments are going to act to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, better that they do so at the least economic cost possible. A carbon tax along the lines proposed above promises to do that by leaving the decision about where, when, and how to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to market actors (via price signals) rather than to regulators (via administrative orders). A carbon tax would also produce revenue that can be used to provide offsetting tax cuts. The implicit carbon taxes imposed by command-and-control regulation do not provide such an opportunity. Finally, a carbon tax can eliminate inefficient subsidies that distort the energy market. Those subsidies have proven difficult to remove in our present command-and-control policy world.

In the course of arguing that conservatives should make a carbon tax a centerpiece of their environmental policy agenda, this paper is organized as follows:

• Section I maintains that the alternative to a carbon tax is not a policy of nonintervention. The only political alternative to a carbon tax is command-andcontrol regulation. Those regulations are firmly entrenched in law, and there is no plausible scenario in which they are removed by conservative political force. Carbon taxes are a far less costly means of securing greenhouse gas emissions reductions than command-and-control regulation. To reject a revenue-neutral carbon tax is to implicitly embrace the regulatory status quo.

• Section II argues that, even were this not the case, conservatives should embrace some sort of greenhouse gas emissions constraints on their merits. Risks from climate change are real, and a policy of ignoring those risks and hoping for the best is inconsistent with risk management practices conservatives embrace in other, non-climate contexts.

• Section III discusses economist Adele Morris’s carbon tax plan and examines its economic implications. That plan suspends EPA regulatory authority over greenhouse gas emissions, eliminates green energy tax preferences, provides for revenue neutrality by cutting corporate income tax rates, and reimburses poor households to minimize the regressive nature of the tax swap.

• Section IV considers seven conservative objections to a plan along Morris’s lines; that unilateral action by the United States produces little climate benefit, that a carbon tax will expand the size of government, that a carbon tax is a regressive tax on the poor, that adaptation and geo-engineering is preferable to emissions constraint, that economists cannot confidently design a carbon tax that does more good than harm even if we could count on the legislature to leave the tax program unencumbered by political considerations, that the legislative process cannot deliver a carbon tax worth embracing, and that promoting a carbon tax puts conservatives on a slippery political slope that they will be unable to successfully navigate.

• Section V concludes with some final thoughts about the nature of the intellectual and political challenges faced by conservatives in the climate policy arena.​