Just some cool stuff from twitter today!
CauseScience Blog (@CauseScience1) March 17, 2016
VERY COOL!! 3-D technology enriches human nerve cells for transplant to brain nih.gov/news-events/3-…—
CauseScience Blog (@CauseScience1) March 17, 2016
Debunking 11 popular GMO Myths: Part I: Frankenfoods and Franken-corporations || Part II: Do GMOs pose health and ecological dangers? by Michael Hess & Peter Hess
Think your banana has only normal natural ingredients?? THINK AGAIN – chemicals are everywhere!! EVEN NATURE
Inoculating against science denial
Science denial has real, societal consequences. Denial of the link between HIV and AIDS led to more than 330,000 premature deaths in South Africa. Denial of the link between smoking and cancer has caused millions of premature deaths. Thanks to vaccination denial, preventable diseases are making a comeback.
Denial is not something we can ignore or, well, deny. So what does scientific research say is the most effective response? Common wisdom says that communicating more science should be the solution. But a growing body of evidence indicates that this approach can actually backfire, reinforcing people’s prior beliefs.
When you present evidence that threatens a person’s worldview, it can actually strengthen their beliefs. This is called the “worldview backfire effect”. One of the first scientific experiments that observed this effect dates back to 1975.
A psychologist from the University of Kansas presented evidence to teenage Christians that Jesus Christ did not come back from the dead. Now, the evidence wasn’t genuine; it was created for the experiment to see how the participants would react.
What happened was their faith actually strengthened in response to evidence challenging their faith. This type of reaction happens across a range of issues. When US Republicans are given evidence of no weapons of mass destruction in Iraq, they believe more strongly that there were weapons of mass destruction in Iraq. When you debunk the myth linking vaccination to autism, anti-vaxxers respond by opposing vaccination more strongly.
In my own research, when I’ve informed strong political conservatives that there’s a scientific consensus that humans are causing global warming, they become less accepting that humans are causing climate change.
Brute force meets resistance
Ironically, the practice of throwing more science at science denial ignores the social science research into denial. You can’t adequately address this issue without considering the root cause: personal beliefs and ideology driving the rejection of scientific evidence. Attempts at science communication that ignore the potent influence effect of worldview can be futile or even counterproductive.
How then should scientists respond to science denial? The answer lies in a branch of psychology dating back to the 1960s known as “inoculation theory”. Inoculation is an idea that changed history: stop a virus from spreading by exposing people to a weak form of the virus. This simple concept has saved millions of lives.
In the psychological domain, inoculation theory applies the concept of inoculation to knowledge. When we teach science, we typically restrict ourselves to just explaining the science. This is like giving people vitamins. We’re providing the information required for a healthier understanding. But vitamins don’t necessarily grant immunity against a virus.
There is a similar dynamic with misinformation. You might have a healthy understanding of the science. But if you encounter a myth that distorts the science, you’re confronted with a conflict between the science and the myth. If you don’t understand the technique used to distort the science, you have no way to resolve that conflict.
Half a century of research into inoculation theory has found that the way to neutralise misinformation is to expose people to a weak form of the misinformation. The way to achieve this is to explain the fallacy employed by the myth. Once people understand the techniques used to distort the science, they can reconcile the myth with the fact.
There is perhaps no more apt way to demonstrate inoculation theory than to address a myth about vaccination. A persistent myth about vaccination is that it causes autism.
This myth originated from a Lancet study which was subsequently shown to be fraudulent and was retracted by the journal. Nevertheless, the myth persists simply due to the persuasive fact that some children have developed autism around the same time they were vaccinated.
This myth uses the logical fallacy of post hoc, ergo propter hoc, Latin for “after this, therefore because of this”. This is a fallacy because correlation does not imply causation. Just because one event happens around the same time as another event doesn’t imply that one causes the other.
The only way to demonstrate causation is through statistically rigorous scientific research. Many studies have investigated this issue and shown conclusively that there is no link between vaccination and autism.
The response to science denial is not just more science. We stop science denial by exposing people to a weak form of science denial. We need to inoculate minds against misinformation.
The practical application of inoculation theory is already happening in classrooms, with educators adopting the teaching approach of misconception-based learning (also known as agnotology-based learning or refutational teaching).
This involves teaching science by debunking misconceptions about the science. This approach results in significantly higher learning gains than customary lectures that simply teach the science.
While this is currently happening in a few classrooms, Massive Open Online Courses (or MOOCs) offer the opportunity to scale up this teaching approach to reach potentially hundreds of thousands of students. At the University of Queensland, we’re launching a MOOC that makes sense of climate science denial.
Our approach draws upon inoculation theory, educational research into misconception-based learning and the cognitive psychology of debunking. We explain the psychological research into why and how people deny climate science.
Having laid the framework, we examine the fallacies behind the most common climate myths. Our goal is for students to learn how to identify the techniques used to distort climate science and feel confident responding to misinformation.
A typical response of scientists to science denial is to teach more science. But that only provides half of what’s needed. Scientific research has offered us a solution: build resistance to science denial by exposing people to a weak form of science denial.
If you didn’t already know about the anti-science activist Vani Hari, commonly known as ‘The Food Babe,’ you may have seen her name over the last week. ‘The Food Babe’ is popular for fear-mongering and sounding off about invented dangers from just about everything – including GMO’s, vaccines, additives, food, and anything else she can make up. Check out this terrific NPR piece exploring why Hari should be labeled a fear-monger – exploiting the fears of the ignorant, uneducated, or those prone to conspiracy theories. Also check out this great post by Keith Kloor that looks at Hari and how science should deal with her. Twitter and scientists have had enough of Hari, and are now openly mocking her all over twitter – and calling out her anti-science drivel.
Case in point… the hilarious twitter handle @ – some of my favorites below![tweet https://twitter.com/foodbabefacts/status/586457892082941954] [tweet https://twitter.com/foodbabefacts/status/586454992178913280] [tweet https://twitter.com/foodbabefacts/status/586454992178913280] [tweet https://twitter.com/foodbabefacts/status/586401176180002816] [tweet https://twitter.com/foodbabefacts/status/586385272620711936] [tweet https://twitter.com/foodbabefacts/status/586290793398276096]
Also check out this great post about Hari from fellow WordPress blogger – Violent Metaphors
Not all GMO plants are created equally: it’s the trait, not the method, that’s important
Many people have strong opinions about genetically modified plants, also known as genetically modified organisms or GMOs. But sometimes there’s confusion around what it means to be a GMO. It also may be much more sensible to judge a plant by its specific traits rather than the way it was produced – GMO or not.
This article is not about judging whether GMOs are good or bad, but rather an explanation of how plants with modified genomes are made. (There are non-plant GMOs, but in this article we will only refer to plant GMOs.) First of all, it’s necessary to define what we mean by a GMO. For the purposes of this discussion, I’m defining GMOs as plants whose genetic information (found in their genomes) has been modified by human activity.
Humans have changed the genomes of virtually all the plants in the grocery store
If we think of GMOs as plants that have genomes modified by humans, then quite a lot of the plants sold in any grocery store fit that description. But many of these modifications didn’t occur in the lab. Farmers select plants with superior, desirable traits to cultivate in a process known as agricultural evolution. Thousands of years of traditional agricultural breeding has changed plant genomes from those of their original wild ancestors.
Broccoli, for example, is not a naturally occurring plant. It’s been bred from undomesticated Brassica oleracea or ‘wild cabbage’; domesticated varieties of B. oleracea include both broccoli and cauliflower. Broccoli, along with any seedless variety of fruit (including what you think of as bananas), and most of the crops grown on farms today would not exist without human intervention.
However, these aren’t the plants that people typically think of when they think of GMOs. It’s easy to understand how farmers can breed better plants on farms (by choosing to plant seeds from the biggest or best-yielding plants, for example, imposing artificial selection on the crop species) so even though this activity changes plant genomes in ways nature wouldn’t have, most people don’t consider these plants GMOs.
Creating “lab” GMOs
Once plant genes had been studied enough, researchers could turn to backcrossing. This technique involves breeding the offspring back with the parents to try to get a desired, stable combination of parental traits. Genes previously linked to desirable plant traits, such as higher yield or pest-resistance, could be identified and screened for using molecular biology techniques and linkage maps. These maps lay out the relative position of genes along a chromosome, based on how often they are passed along together to offspring. Closer genes tend to travel together.
Researchers used molecular markers – specific, known gene sequences, present in the linkage maps – to select individual plants that contained both the new marker gene and the greatest proportion of other favorable genes from the parents. The combinations of genes passed to offspring are always due to random recombination of the parents’ genes. Researchers weren’t able to drive particular combinations themselves, they had to work with what arose naturally; so in this marker-assisted selection approach, there’s a lot of effort and time spent trying to find plants with the best combinations of genes.
In this system, a laboratory needs to screen the genomes, using molecular biology methods to look for particular gene sequences for desirable traits in the bred offspring. Sometimes a lab even breeds the plants in cases using tissue culture – a way to propagate many plants simultaneously while minimizing the resources needed to grow them.
Inserting non-plant genes into GMOs
In the early 1980s, the plant biotechnology era began with Agrobacterium tumifaciens. This bacterium naturally infects plants and, in the wild, creates tumors by transferring DNA between itself and the plant it has infected. Scientists use this natural property to transfer genes to plant cells from an A. tumifaciens bacterium modified to contain a gene of interest.
For the first time, it was possible to insert specific genes into a plant genome, even genes that do not come from that species – or even from a plant. A. tumifaciens does not affect all plants, however, so researchers went on to develop DNA-transferring methods inspired by this system which would work without it. They include microinjection and “gene guns,” where the desired DNA was physically injected into the plant, or covered tiny particles that were literally shot into the nuclei of plant cells.
A recent review summarizes eight new methods for altering genes in plants. These are molecular biology techniques that use different enzymes or nucleic acid molecules (DNA and RNA) to make changes to a plant’s genes. One route is to alter the sequence of a plant’s DNA. Another is to leave the sequence alone but make other epigenetic modifications to the structure of a plant’s DNA. For instance, scientists could add arrangements of atoms called methyl groups to some of the nucleotide building blocks of DNA. These epigenetic modifications, while not altering the order of the DNA or of genes, change how genes can be expressed and thus the observable traits a plant has.
GMO doesn’t mean glyphosate-resistant
Calling a plant a genetically modified organism means only that – its genome has been modified by the activity of humans. But lots of people conflate the idea of a GMO plant with one that’s been created to be resistant to the herbicide glyphosate, also known by the brand name Roundup. It’s true that the most well-known GMO crops currently grown contain a gene that makes them resistant to glyphosate, which allows farmers to spray the chemical to kill weeds while allowing their crop to grow. But that’s just one example of a gene inserted into a plant.
It’s sensible to evaluate GMOs not on how they are made, but rather on what new traits the modified plants have. For instance, while it can be argued that glyphosate resistance in plants is not good for the environment because of increased use of the pesticide, other GMOs are unlikely to cause this problem.
For example, it’s difficult see how the controversial golden rice, which has been engineered to produce vitamin A in the rice grains to be more nutritious, is worse for the environment than ordinary rice. GMOs have been developed to express a pesticide permitted in organic farming: Bt toxin, an insecticide naturally produced by the bacterium Bacillus thuringiensis. While this may reduce pesticide use, it may also lead to the evolution of Bt-resistant insects. And there are GMOs which have improved storage characteristics or nutritional content, like “Flavr Savr” tomatoes, or pineapples that contain lycopene, and tomatoes that contain anthocyanins. These compounds are ordinarily found in other fruits and are thought to have health benefits.
The so-called “fish tomato” contains an antifreeze protein (gene name afa3), found naturally in winter flounder, that increases frost tolerance in the tomato plant. The tomato doesn’t actually contain fish tissue, or even necessarily DNA taken from fish tissue – just DNA of the same sequence present in the fish genome. The Afa3 protein is produced from the afa3 gene in the tomato cells using the same machinery as other tomato proteins.
Is there any fish in the tomato plant? Whether DNA taken from one organism and put into another can change the species of the recipient organism is an interesting philosophical debate. If a single gene from a fish can make a “fish tomato” a non-plant, are we human beings, who naturally contain over a hundred non-human genes, truly human?
If you haven’t already seen the public and scientist opinion poll put out yesterday by AAAS and Pew Research Center, its a must see (the featured tweet above is satire based on a CauseScience hashtag)! If you’ve been paying attention, there isn’t anything overly surprising – scientists and the general public have differing views on many science-related issues. A nice summary of the poll is here at NBCNews.com. Some major highlights of the in-depth poll include:
– Should animals be used in research? 89 percent of the scientists said yes, as opposed to 47 percent of the public.
– Is it safe to eat foods grown with pesticides? 68 percent of the scientists agreed, compared with 28 percent of the public.
– Is climate change caused mostly by human activity? 87 percent yes from the scientists, 50 percent yes from the public.
– Have humans evolved over time? 98 percent yes from the scientists, 65 percent yes from the public.
– Should more offshore oil drilling be allowed? 32 percent yes from the scientists, 52 percent yes from the public.
– Should more nuclear power plants be built? 65 percent yes from the scientists, 45 percent yes from the public.
– Should parents be allowed to decide not to have their children vaccinated? 13 percent yes from the scientists, 30 percent yes from the public.
Science holds an esteemed place among citizens and professionals. Americans recognize the accomplishments of scientists in key fields and, despite considerable dispute about the role of government in other realms, there is broad public support for government investment in scientific research.
Get out and vote today![tweet https://twitter.com/CauseScience1/status/529722763519750144]