Last night while browsing twitter, I happened across this tweet from Vandana Shiva.
Which is linked to this page:
Needless to say, my potential bullshit detector went off the charts.
Reactions on twitter seemed to range from “Oh my God!” to “If this is true, than this is really messed up!”. But (as of last time I checked) no one seems to have seeked any outside information.
Which is fine since, that’s where I come in!
Let us begin our journey. Starting with the article itself.
Dr. Stephanie Seneff, who made these remarks during a panel presentation in Groton, MA last week, specifically cites the Monsanto herbicide, Roundup, as the culprit for the escalating incidence of autism and other neurological disorders. Roundup, which was introduced in the 1970’s, contains the chemical glyphosate, which is the focal point for Seneff’s concerns. Roundup was originally restricted to use on weeds, as glyphosate kills plants. However, Roundup is now in regular use with crops. With the coming of GMO’s, plants such as soy and corn were bioengineered to tolerate glyphosate, and its use dramatically increased. From 2001 to 2007, glyphosate use doubled, reaching 180 to 185 million pounds in the U.S. alone in 2007.
This gives us 2 starting points. First off, who is this Stephanie Seneff. And 2ed, is the obvious (is this legitimate science?)
1.) When it comes to Stephanie’s credentials, there are problems (BIG SURPRISE!).
Seneff, it turns out, is an MIT scientist, but she is not a scientist with any expertise in autism, epidemiology, or, for that matter, any relevant scientific discipline that would give her the background knowledge and skill set to take on analyzing the epidemiological literature regarding autism. Indeed, she is in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory at MIT, and herweb page there describes her thusly:
Stephanie Seneff is a Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. She received the B.S. degree in Biophysics in 1968, the M.S. and E.E. degrees in Electrical Engineering in 1980, and the Ph.D degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1985, all from MIT. For over three decades, her research interests have always been at the intersection of biology and computation: developing a computational model for the human auditory system, understanding human language so as to develop algorithms and systems for human computer interactions, as well as applying natural language processing (NLP) techniques to gene predictions. She has published over 170 refereed articles on these subjects, and has been invited to give keynote speeches at several international conferences. She has also supervised numerous Master’s and PhD theses at MIT. In 2012, Dr. Seneff was elected Fellow of the International Speech and Communication Association (ISCA).
In recent years, Dr. Seneff has focused her research interests back towards biology. She is concentrating mainly on the relationship between nutrition and health. Since 2011, she has written over a dozen papers (7 as first author) in various medical and health-related journals on topics such as modern day diseases (e.g., Alzheimer, autism, cardiovascular diseases), analysis and search of databases of drug side effects using NLP techniques, and the impact of nutritional deficiencies and environmental toxins on human health.
So what we have here is a computer scientist interested in artificial intelligence who thinks she can switch her expertise to medicine, biology, and epidemiology. Let’s just put it this way. An undergraduate degree in biophysics in 1968 does not qualify one to do this sort of research, and, as I discussed in her foray into autism and vaccine epidemiology, it really does show. Badly. The paper was so embarrassingly incompetent that I’m surprised any journal was willing to publish it.
Off to a good start, aren’t we!
2.) The previous link is a goldmine, as they to have fact checked this hypothesis. And (big surprise), found issues.
I must admit, when I clicked on the link to the “correlation,” I couldn’t stop laughing. It was one of the most hilarious examples of confusing correlation with causation that I’ve ever seen.
Take a look:
As I’ve pointed out time and time again, if you look at two different variables that have shown an increase with time, you can almost always make it look as though there’s a correlation. Only occasionally does that correlation equal causation.
The next part is important for both believers of the Roundup/Glyphosate myth and the vaccines leading to autism myth.
It was that claim that the “autism epidemic” began (i.e., autism prevalence started increasing dramatically) beginning in the early to mid-1990s and that that correlated with an expansion of the vaccines in the vaccine schedule or, in the US, that it correlated with the addition of mercury-containing vaccines to the vaccine schedule. From these observations, it was claimed, that it had to be the vaccines, or the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal used at the time in some childhood vaccines, that was causing autism. Lots and lots of epidemiology since then has confirmed that there is no detectable link, epidemiology that I’ve written about time and time again, but that hasn’t stopped the antivaccine movement. What the increase in autism prevalence corresponds to is really the expansion of diagnostic criteria for autism spectrum disorders that occurred in the early 1990s as well as increased screening for the condition, which, as I’ve pointed out, will alwaysincrease the prevalence of any condition.
One thing I like to do to demonstrate how correlation usually does not equal causation, particularly for looking at things like vaccines and autism, is to point out other things that have increased dramatically since the early 1990s or before. For example, in 1990 cell phone use was generally reserved for the few who could afford it, given the expense, who lived in cities where cell phone networks were available. In the 25 years since then, cell phone use has gone from uncommon to ubiquitous, where almost everyone has a cell phone, over half of which are smart phones. Why don’t cell phones cause autism? Obviously, it’s because babies don’t use cell phones, but there is a strong correlation between cell phone use in the population and autism. What about Internet use? Back in 1990, you accessed the online services using Compuserve or AOL. In the early 1990s, particularly after 1994 when Netscape was introduced, more and more people used the Internet. Why doesn’t Internet use cause autism?
And now for my favorite part. 🙂
Or, better yet, why doesn’t organic food cause autism:
Obviously, this evidence is just as strong that organic food must be responsible for the autism “epidemic” as Seneff’s “evidence” that GMOs.
Actually, it’s not the GMOs per se that Seneffseems to be blaming here, but rather the glyphosate, which is the active ingredient in the herbicide Roundup:
Dr. Seneff noted the ubiquity of glyphosate’s use. Because it is used on corn and soy, all soft drinks and candies sweetened with corn syrup and all chips and cereals that contain soy fillers have small amounts of glyphosate in them, as do our beef and poultry since cattle and chicken are fed GMO corn or soy. Wheat is often sprayed with Roundup just prior to being harvested, which means that all non-organic bread and wheat products would also be sources of glyphosate toxicity. The amount of glyphosate in each product may not be large, but the cumulative effect (especially with as much processed food as Americans eat) could be devastating. A recent study shows that pregnant women living near farms where pesticides are applied have a 60% increased risk of children having an autism spectrum disorder.
Note that I discussed that study before. It’s total crap.
Here is the study referenced:
I thank David Gorski (blog pen name Orac) for all of that helpful data.
But because I like to be thorough, I will confirm this elsewhere as well.
Steven Novella (mentioned by the previous author) has a page on the subject as well. Which covers both the hypothesis mentioned and some other details not relevant here, but relevant to other pieces I have written.
As pesticides go, glyphosate has very low toxicity, and any dose a person is likely to get exposed to is well below the safety limits. A 2012 review looking specifically at reproductive and developmental effects found:
In conclusion, the available literature shows no solid evidence linking glyphosate exposure to adverse developmental or reproductive effects at environmentally realistic exposure concentrations.
This includes exposure of farm workers spraying glyphosate, as the chemical is very poorly absorbed through the skin.
This is applicable to both Monsanto Cancer Lawsuits and Monsanto Taken To Court Over Crimes Against Humanity.
As for the Roundup/glyphosate autism connection:
In short, there is no evidence for any significant glyphosate toxicity. It breaks down quickly in soil, and can get into ground water, but environmental levels are orders of magnitude lower than accepted safety limits.
The current article spreading fears about glyphosate cites the work of Stephanie Seneff, making a clear argument from authority:
For over three decades, Stephanie Seneff, PhD, has researched biology and technology, over the years publishing over 170 scholarly peer-reviewed articles. In recent years she has concentrated on the relationship between nutrition and health, tackling such topics as Alzheimer’s, autism, and cardiovascular diseases, as well as the impact of nutritional deficiencies and environmental toxins on human health.
Seneff, however, has not actually performed any research into glyphosate. She is “a Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory.” She is also an anti-GMO activist. That does not mean she is wrong – it just means it is misleading to cite her as a researcher and authority. She has published only speculations and gives many presentations, but has not created any new data.
The dramatic claim she is currently making, the one prompting many scary headlines, is that “Half of All Children Will Be Autistic by 2025.” This is not based on any new research. It is simply a naïve extrapolation of current trends indefinitely into the future – which is always dubious. Seneff is also naively equating correlation with causation.
Otherwise known as, typical quack science from a reactionary anti-GMO dimwit.
She also has found a connection between gluten sensitivity and glyphosate.
She makes further claims based purely on correlation as well, including blaming glyphosate for celiac and gluten sensitivity.
The article also repeats a common anti-GMO claim, that wheat in the US is routinely sprayed with glyphosate just prior to harvest. There is never any source given for this claim, and a careful investigation reveals that it is untrue.
I am satisfied.
Having barely scratched the surface and come face to face with a steaming pile of horseshit, I am confident in assessing this whole glyphosate/autism connection as a load of horseshit.
And I am also confident in labeling both Stephanie Seneff and Vandana Shiva as biased, lying hacks that are pathetic for promoting this garbage research to the ignorant.
As for the article that initiated my journey:
If you don’t consume corn- on- the -cob or toasted soybeans, however, you are hardly exempt from the potential affects of consuming glyphosate. Wheat is now sprayed with Roundup right before it is harvested, making any consumption of non- organic wheat bread a sure source for the chemical. In addition, any products containing corn syrup, such as soft drinks, are also carrying a payload of glyphosate.
According to studies cited by Seneff, glyphosate engages “gut bacteria” in a process known as the shikimate pathway. This enables the chemical to interfere with the biochemistry of bacteria in our GI tract, resulting in the depletion of essential amino acids .
While it makes a great ad for the organic industry, that is about all this is good for.
For one thing, the Snopes article utilized earlier debunks the claim of the claim of the glyphosate soaked wheat. As for the other, this stuff does not interact with your gut bacteria, because its not designed to. While the long scientific terms are unfamiliar (but available in both articles above!), I understand enough to know that the pathways affected by ghyphosate agents are only in plants.
We come back to what is defined as harmless. While it IS a chemical that should not be labeled harmless as compared to (say) water, its a whole lot better than . . . . ANYTHING it replaced.
This article is nothing but fear mongering organic promoting trash. And Vandana Shiva (and others like her) are nothing but fear mongering quacks for promoting this dreck.
Though I am not actively a member of the academic community, even I admit that having such people as these labeled as scholars brings shame to the institutions therein.