Biology Pseudoscience Science Skepticism/critical thinking

Bad science about GMOs: It reminds me of the antivaccine movement

Ideologically motivated bad science, pseudoscience, misinformation, and lies irritate me. In fact, arguably, they are the very reason I started this blog. True, over time my focus has narrowed. I used to write a lot more about creationism, more general skeptical topics, Holocaust denial, 9/11 Trutherism, and the like, but these days I rarely write about topics that don’t have anything to do with medicine. Sometimes, it even seems that I’ve narrowed my focus to the point that all I write about is antivaccine nonsense. That doesn’t mean that I’ve lost interest; rather it’s that over time I’ve realized what my strengths are and tended to play to them. Even so I need a change of pace every now and then, and leave it to that quackery promoter to rule all quackery promoters, Mike Adams, to give me just the opportunity to write about a topic I rarely, if ever write about. I’m talking about “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs), baby, and Mike is in a fine lather about them, with multiple posts in the last few days with titles such as The GMO debate is over; GM crops must be immediately outlawed; Monsanto halted from threatening humanity and, just yesterday, The evil of Monsanto and GMOs explained: Bad technology, endless greed and the destruction of humanity.

Hyperbole much, Mikey?

Not to be outdone, that other quackery supporter vying with Mike Adams to be the quackery supporter to rule all quackery supporters, Joe Mercola, also weighed in over the weekend with a post entitled First-Ever Lifetime Feeding Study Finds Genetically Engineered Corn Causes Massive Tumors, Organ Damage, and Early Death. It also turns out that Mike Adams had pontificated about this very same study a couple of days before Mercola with a title equally ominous, Shock findings in new GMO study: Rats fed lifetime of GM corn grow horrifying tumors, 70% of females die early. Whenever I see the cranks pile on a study like this, my curiosity is piqued. I noticed that Steve Novella had already discussed the study that had this not-so-dynamic duo in such a frothy lather. Of course, as you know, that a blogger as awesome as Steve Novella had covered a topic never stopped me from pontificating about the very same study before (well, actually, it has, but in this case it wasn’t enough). Besides, these sorts of studies are right up my alley, given that I’m a cancer researcher, and the study being touted as “smoking gun” evidence that GMOs are pure evil is such a steaming, stinking turd of a study that it actually irritated me more than the usual bit of bad science that I discuss on occasion.

Besides, there’s a lot in common between anti-GMO activists and antivaccine activists. Perhaps the most prominent similarity is philosophical. Both groups fetishize the naturalistic fallacy, otherwise known as the belief that if it’s “natural” it must be good (or at least better than anything man-made or “artificial”). In the case of antivaccine activists, the immune response caused by vaccines is somehow “unnatural” and therefore harmful and evil, even though the mechanisms by which the immune system responds to vaccines are the same or similar to how it responds to “natural” antigens. That’s the whole idea, to stimulate the immune system to think that you’ve had the disease without actually giving you the disease, thus stimulating long term immunity to the actual disease! In the case of anti-GMO activists, the same idea appears to prevail, namely that, because GMOS are somehow “unnatural,” they must be harmful and evil. That’s not to say that they might not have problems and issues that need to be dealt with, but the apocalyptic language used by many of the anti-GMO activists like Mike Adams and Joe Mercola is so far over-the-top that it is very much like the language of the antivaccine movement. In fact, not surprisingly, antivaccinationists are often anti-GMO as well, and vice-versa, an example of crank magnetism in action. Indeed, Joe Mercola himself is one of the biggest backers of California Proposition 37, which would require the labeling of GMO-based food, having donated $1.1 million so far.

This particular study was done by a group in France led by Gilles-Eric Séralini at the University of Caen with a history of opposition to GMOs. Also, as Steve pointed out, Séralini et al did not allow reporters to seek outside comment on their paper before its publication. If there’s a red flag that a study is ideologically motivated crap and that the authors know it’s ideologically motivated crap, I can’t think of one. Even if Séralini et al didn’t know their study was weak and were somehow afraid that the nefarious Monsanto scientists would plant negative sound bites into news stories about the study, I’m sorry, but trying to control initial news reports like this is just not how scientific results should be announced, period. It’s cowardice and an unseemly attempt at spin:

“For the first time ever, a GM organism and a herbicide have been evaluated for their long-term impact on health, and more thoroughly than by governments or the industry,” Séralini told AFP. “The results are alarming.”

Meanwhile, at his wretched hive of scum and quackery Mike Adams writes:

As a shocking new study has graphically shown, GMOs are the new thalidomide. When rats eat GM maize, they develop horrifying tumors. Seventy percent of females die prematurely, and virtually all of them suffer severe organ damage from consuming GMO. These are the scientific conclusions of the first truly “long-term” study ever conducted on GMO consumption in animals, and the findings are absolutely horrifying. (See pictures of rats with tumors, below.)

What this reveals is that genetic engineering turns FOOD into POISON.

Meanwhile, Mercola writes:

The research was considered so “hot” that the work was done under strict secrecy. According to a French article in Le Nouvel Observateur,2 the researchers used encrypted emails, phone conversations were banned, and they even launched a decoy study to prevent sabotage!

One wonders if they mixed up the “decoy” study with the real study, if the quality of the final published study is any indication. Let’s take a look. This study, by Séralini et al, was entitled Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Here’s the abstract:

The health effects of a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize (from 11% in the diet), cultivated with or without Roundup, and Roundup alone (from 0.1 ppb in water), were studied 2 years in rats. In females, all treated groups died 2–3 times more than controls, and more rapidly. This difference was visible in 3 male groups fed GMOs. All results were hormone and sex dependent, and the pathological profiles were comparable. Females developed large mammary tumors almost always more often than and before controls, the pituitary was the second most disabled organ; the sex hormonal balance was modified by GMO and Roundup treatments. In treated males, liver congestions and necrosis were 2.5–5.5 times higher. This pathology was confirmed by optic and transmission electron microscopy. Marked and severe kidney nephropathies were also generally 1.3–2.3 greater. Males presented 4 times more large palpable tumors than controls which occurred up to 600 days earlier. Biochemistry data confirmed very significant kidney chronic deficiencies; for all treatments and both sexes, 76% of the altered parameters were kidney related. These results can be explained by the non linear endocrine-disrupting effects of Roundup, but also by the overexpression of the transgene in the GMO and its metabolic consequences.

Wow. Sounds really disturbing, doesn’t it? Certainly, at first glance it did to me, but something seemed fishy. Although some have pointed out that the rat strain used (albino Sprague-Dawley rats from Harlan Labs) have a high propensity for tumors to develop as it is, initially I didn’t really consider that as big a problem as some do. You want a certain baseline of tumor development, and it’s not entirely unreasonable to pick a strain that develops tumors at a rate that is frequent enough that it’s likely that the strain will be sensitive to carcinogens. On the other hand, if the baseline rate of developing tumors is high enough, there’s not much room to go up further, and it’s harder to detect effects that result in an increased incidence of tumors. The problem with this particular rat strain is that the rate might well reach that point, which is why the control group size is a really big problem.

Indeed, what seemed fishier to me were two things. First, there were only 20 rats in the control group. In actuality, in practice it was less than that, because the authors looked at both males and females; so there were 10 male controls and 10 female controls, which struck me as a rather small number for a study of this type. Then there were nine other groups, with twenty mice in each group, 10 males and ten females each, making for a very complicated experimental design. Indeed, I agree with Marion Nestle, the Paulette Goddard professor in the Department of Nutrition, Food Studies and Public Health at New York University who supports labeling of genetically modified foods on a national scale, when she said, “It’s weirdly complicated and unclear on key issues: what the controls were fed, relative rates of tumors, why no dose relationship, what the mechanism might be. I can’t think of a biological reason why GMO corn should do this.”

“Weirdly complicated” doesn’t even begin to describe it. I found the experimental design unnecessarily complicated to a ridiculous degree, with too few mice in each group. In fact, these were the groups (the number of animals in the group is in parentheses):

  1. Controls (20)
  2. 11% GMO (20)
  3. 22% GMO (20)
  4. 33% GMO (20)
  5. 11% GMO + R (20)
  6. 22% GMO + R (20)
  7. 33% GMO + R (20)
  8. R(A) (20)
  9. R(B) (20)
  10. R(C) (20)

The percentage means the percentage of GMO corn in the rat chow, specifically the Roundup resistant strain NK603, and “R” means that Roundup had been applied to the corn. R(A) through R(C) are different concentrations of Roundup in the rats’ drinking water. This is way too many groups to have a high likelihood of producing interpretable data, particularly with only 10 females and ten males in each group. In essence, there were 20 experimental groups with ten rats in each group. Most problematic is the small number in the control group. There’s an old study on this line of rats published in 1979 that looked at the spontaneous development of endocrine tumors. After two years, 86% of male and 72% of female rats had developed tumors of the sort described by Séralini et al. Note that the time period of this 1979 study was the same as that of Séralini et al, two years. In other words, the “treated” rats developed as many tumors as expected for this particular strain of rats allowed to live to their natural lifespanand in fact the control groups arguably had an unusually low incidence of tumors.

Elsewhere, biologist Andrew Kniss ran a simulation (for which he provides the code) based on this study and found:

Let’s assume that the Suzuki et al (1979) paper is correct, and 72% of female Sprague-Dawley rats develop tumors after 2 years, even if no treatments are applied. If we randomly choose 10,000 rats with a 72% chance that they will have a tumor after 2 years, we can be pretty certain that approximately 72% of the rats we selected will develop a tumor by the end of 2 years.

In our very large sample of 10,000 simulated rats, we found that 71.4% of them will develop tumors by the end of a 2 year study. That’s pretty close to 72%. But here is where sample size becomes so critically important. If we only select 10 female rats, the chances of finding exactly 72% of them with tumors is much less. In fact, there is a pretty good chance the percentage of 10 rats developing tumors could be MUCH different than the population mean of 72%. This is because there is a greater chance that our small sample of 10 will not be representative of the larger population.

In other words, large numbers matter. In a group of 10 mice, each with a 72% chance of developing tumors after two years, there’s a much higher chance that the number of rats in the control group that develop tumors will be a number other than 7 (72%). Also curious is that the rate of mortality didn’t appear to be related to the dose of GMO corn. The authors attribute this to the GMO corn being so nasty that it was a “threshold” effect, where the observed effect maxed out before the lowest percentage of GMO corn was even hit, which, if true, would imply that a followup study was warranted looking at, for instance, 0% GMO corn to 11% GMO corn. However, more modeling of the study revealed:

But here’s the important part: Simply by chance, if we draw 10 rats from a population in which 72% get tumors after 2 years, we have anywhere from 5 (“t2″) to 10 (“t1″) rats in a treatment group that will develop tumors. Simply due to chance; not due to treatments. If I did not know about this predisposition for developing tumors in Sprague-Dawley rats, and I were comparing these treatment groups, I might be inclined to say that there is indeed a difference between treatment 1 and treatment 2. Only 5 animals developed tumors in treatment 1, and all 10 animals developed tumors treatment 2; that seems pretty convincing. But again, in this case, it was purely due to chance.

It’s even worse than Dr. Kniss demonstrates.

What do I mean? The investigators measured numerous parameters in each group, some of them at multiple different time points. An experiment with this many groups and this many parameters measured this many times is virtually guaranteed to generate multiple “positive” results. How did they control for all these multiple comparisons? I’ve read the study a few times now, and I still can’t figure it out. An experiment with this many groups in which this many parameters are measured is guaranteed to produce “statistically significant” differences in a number of variables by random chance alone. Heck, in Figure 5, I counted 47 different parameters measured, and in some tables thirteen different parameters recorded curiously as percentage changes. Even worse, for the mortality data (arguably the most critical data), no confidence intervals are reported, and there appears to be no discussion of how the mortality data were analyzed, as Michael Grayer points out in an excellent takedown of the statistical analysis (or, more appropriately, lack of statistical analysis) in this paper. I would only add to this a couple of questions. First, why was there no power analysis reported to justify the number of mice per experimental group and the number of experimental groups chosen? What was the statistical power of this design to detect significant differences? This is some very basic stuff here. Second, who the heck was the statistician on this? He or she should be fired for gross incompetence.

And don’t even get me on the lack of blinding of observers to the identities of the experimental groups. That’s just single blinding, which is the absolute minimum that could be acceptable in an animal experiment. Double blinding would have been better. Apparently, the researchers used neither.

There’s another fishy thing about how the results are reported. Steve Novella noted this, too, but it’s more pervasive than he pointed out. In fact, never before in a scientific paper have I seen a line like, “”All data cannot be shown in one report and the most relevant are described here”—that is, until this paper. Steve wondered whether the authors were cherry picking the results they were presenting. I more than wonder. I strongly suspect. In particular, I noticed that Roundup and the GMO corn appeared to have the same detrimental effects.

Then there are the graphs. Oh, God, there are the graphs. I was half tempted to reproduce the graphs here, but in reality I found Figure 1 (which contains them) so confusing. It consists of six graphs, three for males, three for females, each graph consisting of four curves for different percentages of GMO corn in the rat chow. Not only that, each graph had a shaded area stated to represent the mean lifespan and beyond. But not only that, each graph had an inset graph representing “cause of death” for mice who died before the lifespan of the gray area. That’s basically a total of twelve different graphs, in which it’s hideously difficult to directly compare the experimental groups that I would want to compare to each other. It’s almost as though the authors were trying to make it hard to interpret the results of this study. However, considering that, in essence, this was a study of 20 different groups (two controls and eighteen experimental groups), the results are well nigh uninterpretable to the point of meaninglessness. Besides, Emily Willingham went to the trouble (and it was a lot of trouble, I bet) of graphing the data in a much more standard way that makes it easier to interpret. Guess what? The differences mostly disappear. She also speculates whether BPA was a confounding factor, although I’m not particularly convinced by her arguments for that. She is correct, however, in pointing out how crappy the statistical analyses were and deceiving the graphs were. In fact, if you want an idea of why Figure 1 is so deceptive, you can find it in, of all places, this Tweet.

Finally, there is a question of whether the control groups were exposed to GMO corn. Tim Worstall, a blogger at, looked into the issue of whether there is GMO corn in normal rat chow sold for use in feeding laboratory rats. He contacted Harlan, the company that supplied the rats for this study, and asked about GMO products used in rat chow. The company told him that “we do not exclude GM materials from rodent diets.” He also points out that, if the findings of this paper were accurate, because there is a difference in the use of GMO corn in the U.S. and Europe, we’d expect to see a massive change in the incidence of tumors in this mouse strain in the U.S. but less so in Europe. He has a point, but I think he overstates his argument. If the incidence of tumors in these mice is really 72-86% by two years, it could very well be difficult to detect a significant increase in a number that is already so high. On the other hand, his point that the control mice might well have been exposed to GMO corn is valid. Certainly, there is nothing in the paper that demonstrated that the control group’s feed was free of GMO corn.

The bottom line is that this study is about as bad as studies get. The editors of Food and Chemical Toxicology, the journal in which this pitiful excuse for a study was published, ought to be ashamed. As it was so aptly put:

But it could more simply mean the GM maize and the herbicide had no measured effect, and that is why the dose made no difference. “They show that old rats get tumours and die,” says Mark Tester of the University of Adelaide, Australia. “That is all that can be concluded.”

Indeed. That is about all one can say about the study. Certainly we can’t say whether the GMO maize increased the propensity for tumors. It’s also interesting how the authors included so many photos of the rats and their tumors, photos that quacks like Mike Adams and Joe Mercola eagerly post on their websites, but failed to include photos of the control rats.

So why should we care? As I said before, I despise ideologically-motivated pseudoscience and bad science. It’s the same reason I come down so hard on antivaccine “researchers” like Andrew Wakefield, Mark and David Geier, and various other “researchers” who pump out bad studies that support the long-discredited hypothesis that vaccines cause autism or that vaccines cause a whole host of problems. This bad science has real implications. Already, Séralini’s risibly bad study has motivated the French government to order a probe into the results of the study, which could result in the suspension of this strain of genetically modified corn. Moreover, one can’t help but wonder a little bit about the timing of the release of this study, given that Proposal 37, which would require the labeling of GMO-based food, is a big issue in California right now, and a study like this might just influence the election.

When it comes to GMO, I don’t really have a dog in the hunt, so to speak, but brain dead studies like this one certainly prod me towards the view that much of the “science” behind anti-GMO activism just doesn’t hold water, and the easy acceptance of such nonsensical results as valid by “progressives” is just plain depressing. I mean, seriously. Even the worst depredations of pharma and Monsanto in terms of lousy studies don’t match this biased, incompetently performed and analyzed experiment. There might be valid reasons to be wary of the proliferation of GMO-based foods, such as concern over the control that large multinational corporations like Monsanto might exercise over the food supply, but the studies purporting to find horrific dangers of GMO-based food strike me as having the methodological rigor of a typical Andrew Wakefield or Mark Geier study. Perhaps that’s why I wasn’t too surprised when one of my readers pointed out that one of the authors of the study is also a homeopath and acupuncturist; so maybe the better comparison to make to this paper would be papers by homeopaths trying to show that homeopathy works. Either way, this is bad, bad science, and it’s sad to see how many people who should know better (but apparently do not) lap it up so credulously while applying much greater skepticism to science that doesn’t damn GMOs as pure poison.

Next up, I anticipate that someone, instead of calling me a “pharma shill,” will call me a “Monsanto shill.” It’s coming. You know it is. Just wait. Maybe I can generate a new revenue stream by adding all that filthy food industry lucre to all the filthy pharma lucre that antivaccinationists and quacks think I’m getting.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

327 replies on “Bad science about GMOs: It reminds me of the antivaccine movement”

Thank you for this. I got into a discussion about this at work and made roughly the same points.

People increasingly seem to conflate issues of corporate power with a distrust of science.

I hate being first, but I’m tired of waiting for someone else to say something…!

Great take-down. Even if I was left wondering if the ’10 mail controls’ were done by postal delivery! 🙂 (Goodness knows, I write worse on an hourly basis…)

There’s something similar on the local scene too. While not quite as dramatic perhaps, we’re fighting fires on a local scientist’s report published opposing Australian work on a GM wheat that increases yield of resistant starch via RNAi that was issued just before the story Orac relates broke.

One element is that the researcher behind this report took it straight to media, via the
Safe Food Foundation & Institute website (a video is hosted there), rather than to the relevant regulatory group. Naturally, that created some fuss that was echoed in local media. (I’ve no idea how it fared internationally – I imagine the Australian media at least would have also taken it.) To compound it, the researcher took part in a media “debate” of two opposing views on-line with following “voting” (readers were obliged to vote in order to comment).

The two blog articles are both hosted by sciblogs, which I also write at. The first is by Assoc. Professor Deardon, a local geneticist, and the second a reply by the scientist who wrote the report, Prof. Heinemann:

Anyway, if anyone here wants more to get their teeth into, the debate there is still on-going so join in if you feel so inclined.

I was hoping you would talk about this article.
I went from distrust of the article, to second-guessing myself, to distrust again as more capable scientists than me started tearing apart the article.
Eh, I did have some good hints, so maybe I’m not that bad a scientist.

To my shame, the French journalists swallowed this whole bait and hook. And just yesterday, of course, obligatory poll resulting in 80% of my compatriots distrusting GMO “because off their toxicity”.

I read the commentaries, then went back to the abstract.
Why can’t people write decent abstracts anymore? Surely it isn’t just the fact that the authors are writing in their second language – english is the universal language of science and anyone published world-shattering research could at least have someone look the paper over first? Why write such a clumsily-worded, inept, imprecise abstract?

“were studied 2 years in rats”

“In females, all treated groups died 2–3 times more than controls, and more rapidly.”

“Females developed large mammary tumors almost always more often”

“the pituitary was the second most disabled organ”

“Marked and severe kidney nephropathies”

“Males presented 4 times more large palpable tumors than controls”

Almost every sentence is mangled in grammar and in meaning. If the whole paper is like that, I don’t think I could get through it without harming myself.

Bad science on GMOs: It reminds me of the antivaccine movement


Oh, God, there are the graphs. I was half tempted to reproduce the graphs here, but in reality I found Figure 1 (which contains them) so confusing. It consists of six graphs, three for males, three for females, each graph consisting of four curves for different percentages of GMO corn in the rat chow. Not only that, each graph had a shaded area stated to represent the mean lifespan and beyond.

You can actually learn quite a lot from Figure 1 if you look long enough.

By example, the paper’s authors have been touting urbi et orbi how the rats started dying of cancer at 4 months, i.e. 1 month after the end of usual “official” testings (apparently, toxicology testing are generally limited to 3 months).
Look at the graphs. Number of rats dying at 4 months: two.
Only two out of 200.
Next time any rat goes down: after 240 days. (although, unknown for controls)

Number of male rats dying during the selected adult lifespan (before the right-handed grey area, representing “old age”): between 1 to 5. Control: 3.
Remember me, chance of rats getting tumors? 43%? Oh, like about 4 in 10.
But I swear, there is a difference between control and GMO/round-up feed..

Number of female rats dying during the same period: between 1 to 7. Control: 2
Ah, 7 to 2. Maybe there is something.
But look at the cause of death. In grey, spontaneous death. Black, euthanized to stop its suffering.
Male rats: a minority, 9 of them, were euthanized, most of the others were left to die by themselves.
Female rats: it’s the opposite. Almost all of them were euthanized, including, to be fair, the two from the control group.
In other words, the females were more likely to be put down.
If they had left the female rats to die by themselves, however sadistic this may sound, a few of them may have lived long enough to step inside the “old age” side of the graph, and thus would not have been accounted as “killed by the GMO’ or whatever.

Something I didn’t found in the method is if the rats were feed and observed in a double blind manner. If the observers knew which rats received the “poison”, I’m afraid that may have influenced their decision as to when a rat with very obvious tumors has suffered enough and should be euthanized.

Thanks for the brilliant smack down, Orac. I was pulling my hair out trying to read this paper. This isn’t the first time Seralini has tried to do some non-standard stats with toxicology data. (It’s here, if people are interested:
Seralini has also spoken out against French high school students doing plasmid transformations in biology prac class; apparently it’s too risky. There’s definitely an agenda.

Grant: As far as I’m aware, the GM wheat story hasn’t really made the rounds in the Australian media. (I can’t find mention of it in the major newspapers.) I’d only gotten wind of it because my Supervisor had been told about about it and went into a rant.

Almost every sentence is mangled in grammar and in meaning. If the whole paper is like that, I don’t think I could get through it without harming myself.

The whole paper reads like that.

By example, the paper’s authors have been touting urbi et orbi how the rats started dying of cancer at 4 months, i.e. 1 month after the end of usual “official” testings (apparently, toxicology testing are generally limited to 3 months).
Look at the graphs. Number of rats dying at 4 months: two.
Only two out of 200.
Next time any rat goes down: after 240 days. (although, unknown for controls)

One might think that the authors were actually trying to obfuscate this by making the graphs unnecessarily complicated and hard to read…


“and went into a rant” Oooo 🙂 It’d be nice if the damage was limited, i.e. mainly covered only by NZ media. The story Orac covered has been everywhere. He points at French journalists, but one pet gripe of mine is that ‘downstream’ publishers (e.g. newspapers) like those in NZ have an opportunity to criticise the earlier reporting but rarely do. Instead they just paste up the AP copy or whatever. I’d love to see science editors in place. (There’s recent news that the Daily Mail and the Australian have just dropped their science editors. Great. Just what we need, etc…)

It sounds from the description that the Roundup-no GMO groups had a higher rate of cancers too. How did they distinguish the effect of GMO from the effect of Roundup?

Where did they get Roundup-ready wheat that hadn’t been exposed to Roundup? How did they know it had not been exposed to Roundup? The whole point of buying Roundup-ready wheat is to be able to use Roundup on it. Did they grow it themselves?

It seems to me that their elaborate division of rats into groups might not be meaningful because they can’t account for Roundup exposure.

Sorry, it’s Roundup-ready corn, not wheat. In my part of the country we mostly grow wheat so my mind just slipped a cog.

@ Orac

One might think that the authors were actually trying to obfuscate this by making the graphs unnecessarily complicated and hard to read…

The thought occurred to me. Surely, I’m too cynical.

Apparently, people are wising up in my country, but the damage is done.
On a personal level, my dad, who initially bought it, eventually sent me an article from a news website debunking the study (it was mostly a translation of an article from Sciencemedia).
My mom, who is usually the more skeptical and rational of my parents, still half-believe in the article. The pictures of the rats and their giant breast tumors were too shocking.
One wonders what is the scientific point of these pictures. On the other hand, these pictures have been joyfully reproduced with every press release, and they certainly have a emotional point…

@ Billy D. #1

People increasingly seem to conflate issues of corporate power with a distrust of science.

Spot on.
Point the defaults of the study, and people start ranting about Monsanto’s hegemony. Which is a different debate than GMOs’ supposed toxicity. Not totally unrelated, but still.

@ LW

Not wheat, maize. Variety NK603 from Monsanto.

From the article’s method, they actually cultivated the maize they needed in a field next to their lab, both the transgenic one (with or without round-up)and a closely-related non-GMO strain used to make the control feed.
As far as I could read it, nothing on how many harvests, or how they stocked it (hence these questions about potential contamination by mycotoxins in the event of bad stockage).

Thank you! The study just sounded like it was designed to be anti-Monsanto & no good science.

I’m no fan of large corporations in general (apart from my Big Pharma paymasters, of course), but it does strike me as odd that in Wooville, Monsanto is widely thought of as part of an evil Illuminati conspiracy to reduce population, when much of their work aims to allow us to feed a larger world population.

Their tactics to protect their intellectual property rights seem more than a little unsavory to me, but that’s how business works in our current economic system, and it seems likely that this kind of technology is the only hope we have of ending world hunger, especially with the disruption to food supplies that seems likely with climate change.

There is good evidence that Roundup, for example, is not carcinogenic, has low toxicity*, does not adversely affect reproduction or development of a wide range of organisms, is not an endocrine disruptor, does not bioaccumulate, and rapidly breaks down in the environment. I cannot imagine any way that the genetic modification that makes plants resistant to Roundup could possibly make Roundup-Ready crops in any way toxic. It’s a natural mutation in a gene that codes for an enzyme only found in plants and bacteria.

In short it seemeth to me that Roundup is as close to a perfect herbicide as anyone could hope for. Are the Luddites and yoghurt weavers celebrating this remarkable product? Of course not.

* The surfactants in Roundup are more toxic than the glyphosphate itself. Note that vast quantities of surfactants are splashed liberally around environmentally-aware households every day – check out your favorite ecological detergent and see what the active ingredient is if you don’t believe me.

I’m not sure if it’s correct but I remember having read that the rats wich got de GMO food only got the maize, while the control group got a more varied diet.

I wonder if there is any Skeptical around the internet who has tackle with overpopulation denialist. Can anybody point me to him/her in case?

@ Grant:

Disappointing, isn’t it? And with the departure of the science editor from The Australian, there are no dedicated science writers left at News Ltd. Not that I believe News Ltd had the most robust science reporting to start with…


I don’t see “overpopulation” denialists as much as I see “limited resource” denialists.

Their basic argument is that if we use the existing resources more efficiently, we can feed everyone. The biggest problem with this argument boils down to one word: water. (unintentional word play)

Water is essential for food production, food processing and sanitation. Water is also essential for other things such as manufacturing and energy production. Limited water supply creates limits on most essential products and services. While dry foods such as grain are relatively easy and economical to move around, water is not.

Denialists will insist we have enough FOOD to feed everyone, but tend to ignore other essential resources.

Study authors: If science doesn’t support your desired conclusions, ur doin it wrog.

Its like the science behind this took lessons in spin from American politics. It is essential (maybe) to set some expectations but to steamroll the data or design the study to make it easy to misrepresent the data to fit those expectations is not science.

As was said earlier, Monsanto’s business model leaves a lot to be desired but our political system allowed their patents. They could have chosen to partner and build community support but they chose the bully beatdown method of IP protection. I hope the IP lawyer crap hurts Monsanto in the long run but it should have no impact on scientific research.

@ Anj
I suppose your comment was adressed at T.

Overpopulation is a different subject, which has several sides, which makes the discussion even more difficult than it already is, if we are just talking about the amount of food, water and other supplies.

You describe the design of the experiment as “weirdly complicated”. As a statistician, I would simply call it complicated, but acceptable. The dates that the rats died in this design could be analysed using Cox regression analysis, a typical statistical method for survival analyses. But a quick look at figure 1 in the paper of Seralini makes it clear that such analysis would find that there is no statistically significant difference between ggo and non-ggo feed. Which makes me wonder: did they do this analysis, but don’t report it because it doesn’t fit with their beliefs? Or did they not know about this type of analysis? The statistical section of the paper is such gobbledegook that it could simply be that they don’t know enough about statistics, and never really understood how to properly analyse their data!
BTW, the same journal recently also published a review of the long-term health impact of gmo plant diets by another French group ( They found no effect at all!

I’m also dubious about a study that purports to find such wide-ranging problems associated with GM maize and/or Roundup. It’s not just tumors – but widespread “organ damage”, results not noted in previous work, by mechanisms that don’t make sense.

I’m reminded of classic claims for a woo treatment that supposedly heals all ills – this time it’s a feared technology that _causes_ all ills.

Never mind how small all these experimental groups were and the other problems pointed out with the study design; it’s guaranteed anti-GMO people will be whooping it up based on this report for a long time to come. If they only realized that their goals have actually been compromised by the poor quality of this research.

I got the feeling from this study that they really had absolutely no idea what influence GMOs had on their rats, but went ahead and wrote up the paper anyway. It’s just appallingly bad science that does nothing to advance the discussion whatsoever.

I am reminded a little bit of a study that my dad described one of his classmates doing, in biology. To test the deadliness of dishwashing detergent, the student carefully watered plants with solutions of water and detergent — 20% detergent, 40% detergent, 60% detergent, 80% detergent, and 100% detergent. They all died, of course.

Over the past year, Mikey and Gary have certainly ramped up the crazy about GMOs- it should be noted that one of them also sells ( and takes adverts for ‘heirloom seeds’) and today he continues perseverating on this topic. Mike is also BFF with Jeffrey Smith, an anti-GMO activist.( Their websites are rife with articles and videos on the subject).

You see, as proponents of the Back-to-Nature/ health freedom/ natural medicine movement, they often extoll the benefits of living in the country: existing simply on a farm, raising chickens and organic vegetables- being off-the-grid and off the customer list of entrenched corporate oligarchia.

Now it appears that the bread basket of their native land shall be contaminated by monstrous Monsanto mechanations ( 3M?) and they rail against the injustice of this horrid innoculation. The Great Midwestern Virginal Plains will become inseminated with the Monster Seed of mutant maize and woeful wheat. Corporatised Rape! The future looks grim indeed.

But an even larger threat to natural-living nature children ( and their children) awaits just beyond the eastern horizon, soon to arrive in the heartland of purity and grace: according to Ed Arranga ( AoA), the Great Dark Lord of SB Journalism himself will speak about his part in the martyrdom of St Andy in Wisconsin. Imagine the horror and uproar that shall prevail as the armies of light gather in protest!

Quake in your overpriced boots, fellow and sister minions, because we’re on the same list as His Darkness!

Ohhh…. you called Marion Nestle “he”…. I hope SHE doesn’t kick your butt!

Nice takedown of a crappy paper.

Surely it isn’t just the fact that the authors are writing in their second language – english is the universal language of science and anyone published world-shattering research could at least have someone look the paper over first?

You have to pay extra for editorial services in this Elsevier title (which also has no page charges); I don’t know whether this is their model across the board. But, speaking as an editor, you might be surprised at what can appear in the guise of the “universal language of science.”

You sheeple can eat all the frankenfoods you like. I’ll be over here with my all-natural, non-modified bananas, apples, potatoes and sweet corn, petting my all-natural, non-modified dog.

Hmm? What’s that? Breeding…uh huh…oh. Oh my.

Nevermind, folks! Carry on!

I couldn’t resist the urge to crap on it too. It’s a bad paper. Much of the focus has been on figure 1, 5 and table 3, but every other figure is weak or pointless.

Has anyone seen a supportive article on this turd of a paper from any science bloggers with any chops? As far as I can tell, it’s been pretty one-sided so far. Sure the Stenographers wrote a bunch of uncritical stories, but as far as I can tell the science blogosphere smelled this turkey a mile off.

I was also struck by the lack of any mention of blinding. Despite all of the loose talk (mostly from nonscientists) about scientists being biased based on pecuniary considerations, the biggest source of bias is that we all like to be right, and it is very easy to fall into unintentional bias–i.e. being more critical of data that don’t fit our hypotheses than data that seem to confirm our expectations. For that reason, good scientists try to blind everything that they can. Certainly which group was being fed what should have been blinded.

I also find the statistics suspicious. There is a standard methodology used for studies of this sort: Analysis of Variance (ANOVA for short). It is well-validated. In particular, methods of adjusting for multiple comparisons (which can easily lead to false positives if not handled properly) are well established. Instead, the authors use a complicated multiple regression model. They don’t explain why they did not apply the standard method of analysis, and the citations they provide for it are not for this kind of work. My immediate guess is that they tried doing it by ANOVA, and nothing came out significant, for the reasons that Orac has articulated, so they chose the multiple regression approach to obfuscate this. Incidentally, “statistical test shopping,” in which you try multiple statistical tests on your data until you get one that gives you a result that you like, also elevates the likelihood of false positives, and is another manifestation of bias. The correct way to do it is to pick a test before you start, and then stick to it whether you like the results or not. Certainly, if you apply multiple tests, you are obligated to disclose that. I find it impossible to believe that this rather arcade approach was the authors’ first choice.

I’m frankly amazed that this passed peer review. At the very minimum, a competent reviewer would have demanded a better justification for the choice of statistical technique (or even, better, made the authors do ANOVA as well, and report that analysis as well). Perhaps the authors had a friend on the editorial board or else the editor was unsophisticated enough to accept the authors’ suggestion of “friendly” reviewers who would provide a noncritical review. It is certainly a black mark for the journal, and also for the publisher Elsevier, who publishes some good journals but who has also gotten into trouble for publishing “phony” journals that were essentially vanity press for Big Pharm.

In fact, never before in a scientific paper have I seen a line like, “”All data cannot be shown in one report and the most relevant are described here”—that is, until this paper.

Well, in this day and age, I could forgive that.

If they had a link to a place where you could download every byte of raw data to look at.

I can imagine cases where there’s a whole lot of data (the high-energy physics guys, for instance, generate terabytes – and needless to say they don’t publish all that in their papers), for a real, honest, well-designed study, and just too much to put every last bit of it usefully in a report (if only for size reasons if it’s ever published on paper).

But publish it somewhere, so that anyone can investigate it, and that’s not a big problem.

Not publishing it at all? Bad juju.

Sorry to be a copy editor type, but if you meant to say, “if there is a bigger red flag” rather than just “if there is a red flag” could you please fix this part, as I would like to quote it in public.



Ears with kernels that won’t release is therefore a plant that requires human intervention to reproduce? Yep.

Thanks for linking to my post. What I wrote about the polycarbonate cages and BPA is certainly speculative, but the literature actually supports the effects of cage-leached BPA exposures in rodents, which is more than I can say for their convoluted construct for laying the blame for any hormesis here on GM corn. I tied in the polycarbonate because, well, if I had been doing this study in the days I was doing endocrine disruption studies, I would *not* have housed rats for two years in polycarbonate cages. We didn’t use *any* plastic, particularly polycarbonate, because of the endocrine-disrupting leachates that unquestionably influenced outcomes. We even avoided plant oils as solvents for gavage, for the same reasons. Non-PC cages are available, and I don’t know why this team–which appears from their own work to have an awareness of endocrine disruption studies–didn’t avoid this potential route of exposure.

It was not discernible from the videos from their labs, but if the water bottles were not glass … then what I wrote moves beyond the speculative.

snoey, kind of like most tree fruit like apples, peaches, pears, etc. Or seedless varieties of grapes, bananas, oranges, etc. They are cloned by graphing.

@ trrll

Incidentally, “statistical test shopping,” in which you try multiple statistical tests on your data until you get one that gives you a result that you like, also elevates the likelihood of false positives, and is another manifestation of bias.

Apparently, the main author of the study has been know to go “statistically fishing” before.
It looks like it’s not a bug, but a feature.

Go ahead and eat those GMO foods you sheeple. This study clearly* shows that if you eat GMOs and I avoid them then my risk of developing cancer is reduced as long as you continue to eat GMOs. If you stop eating GMOs then my risk of developing cancer will go back up to baseline.

*statistical significance is just a phrase used by Big Science meanies to dismiss THE TRUTH!!!!

… with a salad that included tomatoes, cucumbers and pears that I grew (Orcas pears on a tree that also has Comice and Bosc).

snoey, many hybrid food plants need human intervention to reproduce. That is not limited to genetically engineered corn. If you want to keep seeds from your veggie plants, you have to make sure to control where the pollen comes from. Even the heirloom Tom Thumb popcorn I grew this summer (which was eaten by raccoons!).

Anyone interested in this subject should listen to the lecture by Dr. Toby Bradshaw. It was because of his research that Center for Urban Horticulture was firebombed.

Of course, the “brainiacs” who did that targeted him for “genetically modifying” trees. Which he was doing through plant breeding methods that have been used for thousands of years, not genetic engineering. The “brainiacs” also (from the article above:

For example, approximately one-fourth of the world’s supply of an endangered plant species, the showy stickseed, went up in flames. A specialist on endangered plant species, Forest Resources Research Professor Sarah Reichard, was trying to understand stickseed biology to help restore the species to its Cascade environment.

Dr. Bradshaw now works with trangenic research. He says if he is going to be targeted for it, he might as well work in it. His department moved him into a brick building. His talk on plant research and the fire is excellent. It is also funny, especially when he posts the picture of the gigantic SUV that was driven by one of the arsonists.

Apples etc. are cloned because the exhibit far to much variability when they reproduce naturally, not that they are incapable of it. Seedless bananas and oranges are sports that occur in naturally reproducing populations.

Corn was selected from a teosinte and has a significant % of genes added to it from other teosinte races. There is no naturally reproducing plant that resembles it.

My point, such as it was, was that those who recoil in horror at adding “foreign” genes to corn are already dealing with a plant that has foreign genes added.

Well, they say that ‘three’s the charm’ and yes, Mikey has produced another GMO opus ( Natural News today):

From Zyklon B to GM Corn..

It gets even worse, GM corn is presented as the ultimate weapon of genocide, something that H-tler himself would use to annihiliate those he considered Untermenschen. It is nearly as bad as Gates’ work to sterilise Africans with vaccines.

As an alternative, Mikey presents a plan to save mankind from destruction through organic food, supplement, sunlight and avoidance of SBM at all costs. He advises that we “share wisdom with others”.

Despite what you may suspect, I DID NOT make that up. Seriously.


oops..that should have been “rather *arcane* approach”

I am not so sure – I think “arcade approach” may be more appropriate.

A homeopath/acupuncturist doing bad science and engaging in statistical shenanigans – I am shocked.

This was mentioned briefly already in the comments but I thought I’d bring it forward, as it’s a strong point in quelling hysterical responses.

What is the causal variable supposed to be, GMO or Roundup? I can’t see any semblance of ordinary experimental design to address that. If you want to study Roundup’s effect, hold the other aspects of food (and everything else) constant; if you want to study GMO effect, feed’em GMO vs. non-GMO equivalent, with no Roundup present. If you can’t separate two causal variables (sometimes the case, but not here, I think) then run a two-factor experiment in which the levels of each are varied (low-low, low-high, high-low, high-high) and test for interaction prior to single-effect tests.

Um, right? Does this mean I shouldn’t have teaching stats all these years? If I’m not crazy (for present purposes), then I think the profusion of other, also valid criticisms becomes secondary to a very basic flaw that makes the whole thing gibberish at the outset.

snoey:,blockquote>Corn was selected from a teosinte and has a significant % of genes added to it from other teosinte races. There is no naturally reproducing plant that resembles it.

Which is very different. There is a display garden growing it nearby, and it is very different.

Perhaps, snoey, if you wish to not be misunderstood you should try using longer sentences.

My first thought was, “How much of the corn did the rats eat?” The corn was added to the chow (pellets), so it would have been easy to measure. It may be that they animals picked out the corn (or chow). If I actually believed the study, that would explain why there was no dose effect. But 10 animals per group where 72% of all animals get tumors normally? That’s lousy.

trrll you’re dead on about the statistics. I forgot to include that in my post but in my first read it i remeber looking at their stats and saying, “waaaaa?”. Half of their stats tests i had never even heard of, and I’m not exactly a biology/stats novice.

ANOVA would have been more than adequate for this type of data.

We may never overcome the pitfalls of internet communication. It looks like my joke fell flat too. Transgenic? Contains genes from other organisms? A plant with ears? Please yourselves…

You have reminded me of claims that since there is no wild ancestor of maize, it must have been designed by the space aliens. Or its ancestor has died out.

BTW, I do know that maize does have a wild ancestor, and that it wasn’t aliens (it was time traveling taco-fiends from the future). I think that claim is from Lyall Watson’s ‘Supernature’ and is also mentioned by Lloyd Pye as I recall.

@ Chris

Ah, luddites at work. Aren’t they cute?
I was somehow sympathetic to my French compatriots’ own brand (like Jose Bove), but that stopped a few years back then these self-righteous “volunteer reapers” made an habit to go around wrecking crops of supposedly GMOs, including fields sowed for research by French labs or companies, to the point a few labs gave up on it.
And then these vandals complain that Monsanto is in a monopoly position or that no “independent” research has been done.

It is also funny, especially when he posts the picture of the gigantic SUV that was driven by one of the arsonists.

That’s different. This guy obviously needs a big car, his inflated ego wouldn’t fit in a smaller one.


BTW, I do know that maize does have a wild ancestor, and that it wasn’t aliens (it was time traveling taco-fiends from the future).

At the first Bradshaw talk I went to, he showed a picture of teosinte (I might someday learn to spell and pronounce it), as an example of how humans have changed the look of certain plants. I see now it may not be the actual ancestor.

There is some growing in a demonstration garden a couple of miles from here, along with some millet, buckwheat, spelt and a couple of other grains. I have been wandering over there during the summer to see it grow. I saw little husks. I went back last week and I can’t really find them. Maybe the raccoons got them too.

Heliantus, that guy was finally arrested in China and deported back to the USA.


And then these vandals complain that Monsanto is in a monopoly position or that no “independent” research has been done.

At the last Bradshaw talk I went to I learned that university researchers are not too happy with Monsanto’s patented vice grip on materials they would like to research. They are especially upset that they patented something that was developed at a university, and restricted even that university’s use (details muddled due it being verbally conveyed to my ears and my faulty memory). Which is why many research universities now have departments to patent research.

Here some further comments on the same topic, including one where I was co-author

Genetically modified corn and cancer – what does the evidence really say? by Ashley Ng
Modifying the message: how tricks masked home truths about anti-GM science, by Rick Roush and David Tribe

I kind of wonder if this study might have something to do with the new book/documentary coming out. My French isn’t the best, but from what I can gather, Séralini has a book that is to be released in two days titled ‘Tous cobayes!’ (All Guinea Pigs) which deals with GMOs. There is also a documentary of the same name premiering on the same date that, from the looks of it, was made while this study was being conducted (how fortunate for them that the study arrived at the conclusion ‘All Guinea Pigs’ was promoting!). I somehow think that the release of this paper was meant to coincide with these. Nice publicity.

that guy was finally arrested in China and deported back to the USA.

From the entry, “a device, which consisted of a digital alarm clock wired to a 9-volt battery and a model-rocket igniter was placed in a filing cabinet in the offices of professor Toby Bradshaw.” This is… an odd choice.

The most perfidious way to harm a cause is to defend it with faulty arguments – F.Nietsche

I am all for good science. So read the following accordingly please.

In this study, if I recall correctly, the researchers used the same strain of rat and the same group sizes as the Monsanto research that attempted to demonstrate that these strains of GMO’s were harmless, except that their study was 90 days as opposed to 2 years.

I’d really like to read an objective critique of the Monsanto research by the poster of this article.

On a more personal note, I believe the onus of proof should lie with GMO manufacturers with independent peer reviews that are beyond doubt. Ideally it should have happened *before* their commercialization.

@ GH

Séralini has a book that is to be released in two days titled ‘Tous cobayes!’ (All Guinea Pigs) which deals with GMOs. There is also a documentary of the same name

As a French native, I confirm that your grasp of our language was good enough 🙂
Funny coincidence, isn’t it? A study getting published just in time for the book and the movie of the book.
Not to mention the press conference before the article’s publication with mandatory non-disclosure clause forbidding journalists from seeking confirmation – or criticism – from other scientists.
The Nouvel Obsservateur, the French journal who got first shot at the scoop, is certainly spending a good chunk of its activities sustaining the debate.
There is also a secondary movie/documentary (or is it part of the promised movie?) following the team’s activities, including their efforts to keep the operation secret.

If a seed manufacturer, or any “Big Pharma”, was doing this (and let’s be frank, sometimes they do), people would be rightly yelling Propaganda.

In today’s news, Séralini pulled out the Pharma shill gambit and the tu quoque fallacy. And he is still refusing to make his raw data public.
Oh, and these people are not anti-GMOs, they are pro-safe GMOs.
The more I hear about him and his fellows, the more they look like our usual anti-vaxers.

Speaking of this, are anti-vaxers aware that a number of vaccine are made by using GMOs? I’m surprised the Health Ranger, for all his wisdom and knowledge, didn’t make the connection.

Seralini has also published research where homoepathic medicines (although they are not called that in the paper) are shown to protect against the effects of floating cell cultures in Roundup.

The research has about the same level of quality as this piece.

@T- there are denialists on both sides of the overpopulation issue. There’s plenty of people, for example, that argue that Paul Ehrlich’s predictions weren’t mistaken. (If you look at what he said in context, they were.) The problem with overpopulation studies is that you have to assume what the birth rates and death rates will be in the future, and that has a LOT of room for error.

GMOs ARE a very bad idea. Instead of modifying our food, we need to ditch this latest lab based food, hybrid seeds, etc., and go back to some old seeds and start eating all natural again.

it would be nice if we could get hold of some old fashioned plants like watermelons, tomatoes, butterbeans, etc. that predate the 20th century. The seeds that it. I am quite sure the foods back then were healthier and more nutritious than today’s man made GMO crap.

GMOs need to be banned and everyone involved needs to pay restitution for damages done to the human genome because of this crank science.

I remember when i was a kid when farmers would save their seeds for corn, watermelons, etc. and regrow that crop again the next year. This was done for centuries up until modern marvel science minds got ther greedy paws in the mix and started conjuring up plants that were hybrid ina ponzi scheme designed to keep making farmers buy seeds every year instead of saving their own.

GMOs and hybrids are a scam, fraud, ponzi scheme, and adownright criminal. I move to arrested and permanently detain everyone involved.

I am so glad you took this on, and hope to see more of it. Too many of my fellow travelers on the left are so blinded by their loathing for big corporations – I myself think there ought to be some Wall Street types in the slammer, rather than running about buying political candidates – that they simply can’t separate the business practices from the science. Every now and then I attempt to explain that we’ve been genetically modifying crops since the dawn of agriculture, it’s just that the methods have been refined, but I usually get that deer in headlights look for my pains. Eeeeeeeeeek! Frankencrops!

Ed Compton, some hard evidence to back your assertions would go down well. Otherwise, I am just going to conclude you are repeating a load of made up stuff.

Damage to the human genome? really?

I assume you must be totally unaware that numerous old cultivars of crops are still available: called heirloom varieties. I have such tomatoes in my garden at the moment. Farmers rarely use them for the simple reason that they no longer perform – either due to modern genetic improvments to yield or disease resistance.

If you have an ideological objection to GMOs you can choose not to use them (unless you are diabetic or require HGH). It is that easy.

Ed Compton – you might be quite sure, but you’re also quite wrong.

Monsanto’s filthy business practices aside (and I agree that the Terminator gene is outrageous), human ‘meddling’ with crops is hugely beneficial and has literally saved billions of lives.

Even regular corn/maize is a weird hybrid grass, cultivated over thousands of years to give it (and us) monster-huge seeds. Never existed in nature before we got our paws on it.

Google ‘Norman Borlaug’.


Marion Nestle is a SHE.

I’ve known men with that name. It was actually the original birth name of John Wayne (the actor in the original “True Grit” movie). So it was an honest mistake. Women typically are named “Marian” with an “a” instead of an “o.”

Though for fun you should listen to last week’s Skeptic’s Guide to the Universe podcast where they correct the mistake of calling Dr. Frances Kelsey a guy. The male version of that name is often “Francis” with an “i” (like Francis Bacon).

I know it is confusing. I usually keep them straight by remembering “Mario” versus “Maria” and “Francisco” versus “Francesca” from Spanish.

And I never use my full name because I both hate it, and I like the gender neutral bit. I don’t even care when people guess wrong. And Dr. Novella includes an amusing anecdote about Dr. Kelsey getting a job in the 1930s in that podcast.

Ed — if you’re ever in SE Michigan in July, go to see the 19th century farm that has been re-created at Greenfield Village. Look at the cornfield, planted with heirloom corn. See how unevenly the corn has germinated and then grown. Count the bare patches.

Then drive south to Illinois and take a look at a modern cornfield. And remind yourself why you aren’t paying $10/box for cornflakes.

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