Sci Babe vs Food Babe

April 14th, 2015 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

An interesting and strong denunciation of a high profile US food blogger, by a science blogger. Some extracts:

Hari’s campaign last year against the Starbucks Pumpkin Spice Latte drove me to launch my site (don’t fuck with a Bostonian’s Pumpkin-Spice Anything). She alleged that the PSL has a “toxic” dose of sugar and two (TWO!!) doses of caramel color level IV in carcinogen class 2b.

The word “toxic” has a meaning, and that is “having the effect of a poison.” Anything can be poisonous depending on the dose. Enough water can even be poisonous in the right quantity (and can cause a condition called hyponatremia).

We hear the same from anti fluoride people – they will always refer to something they don’t like as a toxin, relying on people to react to think that automatically means it is bad for you at any dose.

And what about that “carcinogenic” caramel color? Well, it turns out that it’s not the only thing in your PSL that’s in carcinogen class 2b.

There’s also coffee.

Another example:

Hari uses this tricky technique again and again. If I told you that a chemical that’s used as a disinfectant, used in industrial laboratory for hydrolysis reactions, and can create a nasty chemical burn is also a common ingredient in salad dressing, would you panic? Be suspicious that the industries were poisoning your children? Think it might cause cancer? Sign a petition to have it removed?

What if I told you I was talking about vinegar, otherwise known as acetic acid?

You can make almost anything sound bad.

This is Hari’s business. She takes innocuous ingredients and makes you afraid of them by pulling them out of context (Michelle Francl, in a review of Hari’s book for Slate, expertly demonstrates the shallowness of this gimmick). This is how Hari demonized the harmless yet hard-to-pronounce azodicarbonamide, or as she deemed it, the “yoga mat chemical,” which is yes, found in yoga mats and also in bread, specifically Subway sandwich bread, a discovery Hari bombastically trumpeted on her website. However, as the science-minded among us understand, a substance can be used for more than one thing perfectly safely, and it doesn’t mean that your bread is made of a yoga mat if it happens to contain azodicarbonamide, which is FDA-approved as a dough-softening agent. It simply means your bread is composed of chemicals, much like everything else you eat.

Hari’s rule? “If a third grader can’t pronounce it, don’t eat it.”

My rule? Don’t base your diet on the pronunciation skills of an eight-year-old.

Much better advice.

If you want proof that Hari doesn’t research anything before she puts it online, look no further than this article on airplanes, which she deleted from her site. She claimed that pilots control the air in an airplane, so you should sit near the front to breathe better air. She wrote that passengers are sometimes sprayed with pesticides before flights, and that airplane air is pumped full of nitrogen.

Please recall high school science, in which you hopefully learned that the atmosphere is 78% nitrogen.

There’s more in this vein. It is a good reminder to be wary of the anti-science fanatics.

The Food Babe has millions following her and believing her, Sadly few have seen this post she deleted:

Last by not least, Dr. Masaru Emoto, who is famous for taking pictures of various types of waters and the crystals that they formed in the book called “Hidden Messages in Water,” found water that was microwaved did not form beautiful crystals – but instead formed crystals similar to those formed when exposed to negative thoughts or beliefs. If this is happening to just water – I can only imagine what a microwave is doing to the nutrients, energy of our food and to our bodies when we consume microwaved food. For the experiment pictured above, microwaved water produced a similar physical structure to when the words “satan” and “hitler” were repeatedly exposed to the water.

Why do TV shows take her seriously and put her on?

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Organic Food

January 26th, 2013 at 7:00 am by David Farrar

One of may favourite podcasts is Skepticality, produced by the Skeptics Society.  They apply science and logic to a multitude of topics – from so called business success conferences, to health quacks, to religious claims to unusual occurrence odds.

The last episode I listened to have a great section on organic food. Their summary was:

  • The most dangerous bacteria in America’s food supply is E. coli, which is found in abundance in cattle manure, a favorite “natural” fertilizer of organic farming.)
  • The evidence for the superiority of organic food is mostly anecdotal and based more on irrational assumptions and wishful thinking than on hard scientific evidence.
  • Organic food does not offer special protection against cancer or any other disease.
  • Organic food is not “healthier” than food produced by conventional farming, using synthetic pesticides and herbicides.

A key useful line was that “natural” in no way equates to “safe” and “artificial” in  no way equates to “unsafe”. In fact often it can be the other way around. You can not generalise. Many poisons are natural, after all.

With that in mind, I saw this blog by Green MP Steffan Browning:

They do note, however, that the area of land certified as organic still makes up just 0.9 percent of global agricultural land. I am reading that as a good opportunity for a lot more growth in organics – the other 99.1%.

There is definitely demand for change. This month also saw 25,000 people demonstrating in Berlinagainst industrial agriculture. I particularly like their chant “If you persecute farmers, animals and bees, you won’t become MPs!”

I absolutely agree with the Association of German Dairy Farmers that only if “farmers and citizens stand up together for reform of agricultural policy can we keep our farms operating and ensure that at long last we produce healthy food under conditions of fairness.”

So Steffan Browning repeats the myth that non-organic food is not healthy. He also seems to imply he wants all agriculture in the world to be organic.

As is well documented (with scores of references) at the Wikipedia article on organic food, the vast scientific consensus is that there is little or any difference in taste, no significant difference in nutrients or heavy metals. A review of 50 years of evidence concluded “there is no good evidence that consumption of organic food is beneficial to health in relation to nutrient content” and “There is no support in the scientific literature that the lower levels of nitrogen in certain organic vegetables translates to improved health risk”.

There is also no evidence that organic foods carry a lower risk of cancer according to the American Cancer Society.

Now when it comes to issues such as climate change, the Greens insist that we must follow the scientific consensus and act to mitigate against global warming. And, they are right. We should accept the scientific consensus.

But when it comes to other issues such as organic food, they point blank refuse to endorse the scientific consensus, and preach fear and doubt and cherry pick the odd study to back their near-religious view that organic is better.

Now don’t get me wrong. I have nothing against organic food. If you want to pay 40% more for your food, and it gives you peace of mind – good on you. but I object to MPs and parties denigrating science by insisting that organic is safer and better.

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Blog Bits

April 22nd, 2008 at 9:44 am by David Farrar

Poneke has blogged a copy of his 2004 presentation to the Sceptics Society Conference, showing that the media generally are not sceptical of “alternative medicine” claims. It is an excellent read.

Stephen Franks points out that “that” ghastly song written by his rival Grant Robertson was intended for a fund-raiser at the Beehive for the Mary Potter Hospice, and that the Hospice has got damaged by the furore with donors threatening to pull funding if the song was used at the fundraiser. It was pulled, but really how on Earth did they ever think something like that would be suitable for a charity fundraiser.

To balance things up, I’ll link to Grant Robertson responding to Stephen on the issues of midwives and maternity care.  The response, missed the point to me. Women have basically lost the choice of having a GP deliver their children, as GPs have been driven out of the profession.

No Minister has this wonderful quote:

“Prince William landed his chopper in Kate Middleton’s back paddock.”

Heh Heh. Originally picked up by Iain Dale.

Whale Oil has discovered a new Helen Clark site. It gives a different message everytime. Just click reload.

The BBC has a homage of Donald Rumsfield’s best quotes.

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