Medicine, Money, and Mortality Rates

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There’s an epidemic of irrational fear and hatred in America today in regards to modern medicine. The ideology is that “Big Pharma” is doing everything it can to keep us sick so they make a larger profit. There’s talk about some big conspiracy between “Big Pharma” and government to perpetuate illness so they can make more money off of the poor, unfortunate citizens.

We hear this often as a justification for turning to “supplements, complimentary, and alternative medicine,” or, as Mark Crislip puts it, SCAMS. This same ideology often fuels the anti-vaccination movement as well, because they are under the impression that vaccines are a massive, money making scheme.

Now, this isn’t to say that the pharmaceutical industry isn’t driven by money. Of course is, like every other industry. The thing is, so is the alternative medicine industry, and they aren’t helping you in the slightest.

Let’s look at the numbers and see for ourselves.

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Follow The Money

The global pharmaceutical market is a roughly $300 billion per year industry. It’s anticipated to grow to $400 billion per year within 3 years.

The current development from the US pharmaceutical industry has over 5,000 new medicines and 3,400 new compounds currently being studied, more than any other region around the world.

It employs 810,000 people directly, and support 3.4 million jobs in the US alone.

In total revenue for all products, not just drugs, in 2013, the top 50 pharmaceutical companies reported $792 billion gross.

The alternative medicine industry is a $34 billion industry, with an expectation to reach $115 billion by 2015.

Only about one third of alternative medicine treatments being marketed have been tested.

The average profit margin for pharmaceutical companies is 16.4 percent.

There’s very little made public on the profit margins of SCAMS, however, consider that they don’t need to pay for testing, trials, or any of the safety protocols that medical companies do. The profit margin for TrueHope, a company maketing an alternative treatment for schizophrenia gives us a great idea of what that looks like, showing a profit margin of around 95%.

OK, so let’s look at vaccines in particular. The top 50 pharmaceutical companies bring in $791 billion per year (more than a trillion dollars for the industry). Of that, they can expect a net profit of $2.5 billion from vaccines. That’s a drop in the bucket.

Let’s compare with the cost of not having the vaccine. Before it was developed, we were looking at around 147,000 cases of pertussis per year. Let’s break down the costs of that.

8000 of those resulted in death. With the average funeral cost of $8,000, the total expense of those 8000 deaths would be around $64 million in that year.

Now, without death, the average cost per case for treatment would be around $6,000. That would equate to around $882 million dollars in treatments.

That would mean that a single vaccine, of the 14 or so standard childhood vaccines, if not provided, would equate to around $946 million dollars spent to the medical industry. That’s 37% of what the companies make from vaccines.

Spread that as an average across the 14 illness being vaccinated for, and you’d have a total of $13.2 billion in revenue for treatment of illnesses. That would be the medical industry is losing out on $10.7 billion in revenue thanks to vaccines.

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A Bit About Death

People talk often about deaths attributed to medicines and hospital errors, and that they are a good reason why people should use alternative treatments.

Now, errors happen. It’s not a good thing, and it’s something that the industry is always working hard to prevent, but in the end, they do happen.

The deaths range from 210,000 – 440,000 patients each year.

That sounds like a lot, I know.

Consider, though the deaths prevented thanks to modern medicine and vaccines.

Measles used to kill 150,000 people very year.

Pertussis killed 8000 per year in the US alone.

There used to be countless things that could kill you that no longer do, in general, and we have modern medicine to thank.

For most of human history, the life expectancy was about 35 years of age. As late as 1900, it was 48 years of age. Today, it averages 77.7 years of age, much of which is due to advances in health and medicine.

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The Corporate Trail

OK, let’s add to this a bit.

A large portion (70% or so) of the alternative medicine industry is owned by the major pharmaceutical industry anyway.

“Responsible companies put in very strict” manufacturing practices voluntarily, before the FDA acted, said NBTY’s president, Harvey Kamil. His company makes 50 billion capsules and tablets a year, plus extracts, aromatherapies and nutrition bars. It sells mostly to mass-market retailers who want to see certifications and “seals of approval” by the Natural Products Association and other such groups that set quality-control standards, he said.

The big exception, of course, is GNC, who reported $2.63 billion in revenue by themselves, making them “Big Pharma” themselves.

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In closing, there are a couple important truths to understand here.

Yes, the pharmaceutical is a large, money making industry.

The alternative medicine industry is also a large, money making industry, with a far higher profit margin, and the majority of their treatments have no studies to show safety or efficacy.

Yes, people die from medical malpractice and mistakes, and this is something that needs to be improved upon greatly.

Countless more would die without modern medicine and vaccines.

How many of you would be expected to already have died before the invention of modern medical practices?

Another thing to keep in mind is that the people who work for and run these companies are all human beings. They have friends, families, spouses, children, all of whom they’d like to see live a long and healthy life.

These aren’t monsters who don’t care about the value of human life. These are employees and doctors who are in the business of saving it.

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References

“2014 Market Research Report on Homeopathic & Alternative Medicine Practitioners Industry.” 2014 Homeopathic & Alternative Medicine Practitioners Industry Statistics Market Research Report. Web. 21 June 2014.

Allen, ProPublica Marshall. “How Many Die From Medical Mistakes In U.S. Hospitals?” NPR. NPR, 20 Sept. 2013. Web. 18 June 2014.

“Alternative Medicine.” – RationalWiki. Web. 21 June 2014.

“Alternative Medicine Industry Market Research & Statistics.” Alternative Medicine Industry Market Research & Statistics. Web. 19 June 2014.

“Big Pharma Supports the Antivaccine Movement–the Real Conspiracy.” Skeptical Raptor’s Blog. Web. 21 June 2014.

“Complementary and Natural Treatments – Schizophrenia.com.” Complementary and Natural Treatments – Schizophrenia.com. Web. 21 June 2014.

“GNC Reports 8.2 Increase in Revenue for 2013.” Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. 13 Feb. 2014. Web. 21 June 2014.

Helmuth, Laura. “You Used to Get One Life. Now You Get Two. #NotDeadYet.” Slate Magazine. Web. 21 June 2014.

Mahar, Maggie. “Who Is Making the Biggest Profits From U.S. Healthcare? You Might Be Surprised . . .” Health Beat by Maggie Mahar. Web. 20 June 2014.

“Many Vitamins, Supplements Made by Big Pharmaceutical Companies.” Fox News. FOX News Network, 10 June 2009. Web. 21 June 2014.

Nuwer, Rachel. “Alternative Medicine Is a $34 Billion Industry, But Only One-Third of the Treatments Have Been Tested.” Smithsonian. 8 June 2013. Web. 21 June 2014.

“Pharmaceutical Industry.” WHO. Web. 21 June 2014.

“SelectUSA.” The Pharmaceutical and Biotech Industries in the United States. Web. 18 June 2014.

“Top 50 Big Top Pharmaceutical Companies Deals | Current Partnering.” Top 50 Big Top Pharmaceutical Companies Deals | Current Partnering. Web. 21 June 2014.

Tuteur, Amy, MD. “Comment Navigation.” Longing for a past That Never Existed « Science-Based Medicine. 18 Feb. 2010. Web. 18 June 2014.

“Vaccines.” Pertussis (Whooping Cough) Vaccine and Immunization Information. Web. 21 June 2014.

 

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Bioethics and Ethical Philosophy student at Cleveland State University, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes. He writes about science, technology, politics, human rights, feminism, religion, and any other topic that catches his eye.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.

Why People Don’t Take the Anti-GMO Movement Seriously?

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I hear, fairly often, from those who are against GMO technology, that they’re tired of all the mean “pro-GMO” people not being very nice to them, or not being willing to answer their questions. Now, some of the reason that people often reach that point is that they get tired of the same questions that depict a severe lack of knowledge of the topic, over and over and over again. Often, these questions are so easily answered with a quick google search, and it shows that the people asking haven’t bothered to research the topic. They typically spit off sound bytes that we’ve heard a thousand times.

Another big reason, however, is that people in the rational community, those who value logic and evidence, and understand science, often see the actions of these people akin to the actions of other extremist groups, as they have, as shown above, led to what can only be referred to as eco-terrorism. Groups that are vehemently anti-GMO have burned and destroyed GMO test fields all over the world, really helping to discredit their ideology even more.

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Another all too common cliche is that most of the anti-GMO sites or postings all over the net use an image like this, tomatoes being injected with a syringe. First, there are no GMO tomatoes on the market. Second, this shows a huge lack of understanding of how genetic modification works at any fundamental level.

Then, of course, you get extremely disturbing, bizarre, fear-mongering, and fundamentally dishonest imagery like this.

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When I see that, I see an ideology that doesn’t care about facts, logic, or evidence. They only care about spreading fear.

And let’s not forget that their protests look way too much like the Westboro Baptist Church.

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Even with all this, however, that wouldn’t be enough to stop the conversation. The problem is that a large portion of those conversations involve an anti-GMO person ranting and yelling and throwing out cliche after cliche, while ignoring evidence and refusing to have an adult conversation. Don’t look at the following conversation and think that it’s a rare occurrence. This happens more often, by far, than civil discourse on this topic.

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So, the next time you wonder why no one is paying attention to your anti-GMO message, well, remember that there are some very good reasons for that.

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Bioethics and Ethical Philosophy student at Cleveland State University, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes. He writes about science, technology, politics, human rights, feminism, religion, and any other topic that catches his eye.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.

Fraud, Misinformation, and the GMO Labeling Law in Vermont

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In May of this year, Vermont passed a GMO labeling bill that flooded the national news media. It was such a huge event since similar legislation had been defeated in places like Washington and California leading up to it. Those opposing the genetic modification of seeds, who have found quite a bit of support in Vermont, began to celebrate, while hinting at the backlash they knew would come. Of course, they pointed at Monsanto, their usual target of ire, regardless of whether it’s deserved.

The bill, H. 112, titled AN ACT RELATING TO THE LABELING OF FOOD PRODUCED WITH GENETIC ENGINEERING, has several glaring problems that should be looked at from the start. Let’s take a look at the “Findings” section, which sets the premise of the bill.

U.S. federal law does not provide for the necessary and satisfactory regulation of the safety and labeling of food that contains genetically engineered ingredients, as evidenced by the following:

This part alone is demonstrably false, even before they list their reasons for coming to this conclusion. The process itself takes years just to get a new GMO to be approved by the FDA.

U.S. federal labeling and food and drug laws do not require manufacturers of food produced with genetic engineering to label such food as genetically engineered. As indicated by the testimony of Dr. Robert Merker, a U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Supervisory Consumer Safety Officer, theFDA has statutory authority to require labeling of food products, but does not consider genetically engineered foods to be materially different from their traditional counterparts to justify such labeling.

Alright, this is a very common argument used against GMOs, and it’s “not even wrong,” that is, it’s not based enough in reality to be wrong.

Currently, all seeds leaving the biotech firms to the farmers are clearly labeled. The FDA requires labeling on food only if the nutritional value of the food is changed. Since GMO is a process, and not an ingredient, no change in nutrition typically occurs. With the exception of Golden Rice and the new banana, most are engineered with traits to aid farmers in the growing process. They have no effect on the final product.

So, safety, again, is not at issue here.

No formal FDA policy on the labeling of genetically engineered foods has been adopted. Currently, the FDA only provides nonbinding guidance on the labeling of genetically engineered foods, including a 1992 draft guidance regarding the need for the FDA to regulate labeling of food produced from genetic engineering and a 2001 draft guidance for industry regarding voluntary labeling of food produced from genetic engineering.

The FDA regulates genetically engineered foods in the same way it regulates foods developed by traditional plant breeding. Under its regulatory framework, the FDA does not independently test the safety of genetically engineered foods. Instead, manufacturers may submit safety research and studies, the majority of which the manufacturers finance or conduct. The FDA reviews the manufacturers’ research and reports through a voluntary safety consultation, and issues a letter to the manufacturer acknowledging the manufacturer’s conclusion regarding the safety of the genetically engineered food product being tested.

The FDA does not use meta-studies or other forms of statistical analysis to verify that the studies it reviews are not biased by financial or professional conflicts of interest.

The FDA is not responsible for any safety testing. They rely on the science that has been done.  Currently, there are a substantial number of independent safety studies that have been done.

That said, this still represents a distinct lack of understand of how science works. Science self corrects for bias. When a study is done and submitted to a journal, it gets peer reviewed. This is an often brutal process, where any holes can and will be poked in your paper.

Even if a bad study somehow makes it through that and gets published, the scientific community continues to scrutinize the study, and other labs attempt to replicate it.

Whenever you look at making a scientific claim, you have to rely on a body of evidence, rather than a single study, for this very reason. In the end, the funding source makes no difference, because all of these safeguards are built into the process.

There is a lack of consensus regarding the validity of the research and science surrounding the safety of genetically engineered foods, as indicated by the fact that there are peer-reviewed studies published in international scientific literature showing negative, neutral, and positive health results.

There have been no long-term or epidemiologic studies in the United States that examine the safety of human consumption of genetically engineered foods.

The “long-term studies” assertion has been floating around for a long time. The studies done on genetically modified technologies are equivalent to those that have been done on other types of crops and have shown that they are just as safe as other types of agricultural goods.

As far as consensus, there are over 2000 studies thus far on GMOs. A massive review in 2013 showed the consensus clearly with the following: “The scientific research conducted so far has not detected any significant hazards directly connected with the use of genetically engineered crops.”

Independent scientists are limited from conducting safety and risk-assessment research of genetically engineered materials used in food products due to industry restrictions on the use for research of those genetically engineered materials used in food products.

                This is another very common assertion. There IS a seed agreement that farmers sign when they purchase seeds. The question is, when determining the safety of a food product, what lab is going to grow it from scratch? They can freely purchase the food products to conduct the studies, and they do, as is evidence on the previously linked body of scientific work on the subject.

Genetically engineered foods are increasingly available for human consumption, as evidenced by the fact that: it is estimated that up to 80 percent of the processed foods sold in the United States are at least partially produced from genetic engineering; and according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, in 2012, genetically engineered soybeans accounted for 93 percent of U.S. soybean acreage, and genetically engineered corn accounted for 88 percent of U.S. corn acreage.

That’s pretty accurate, as far as it goes, and only further reinforced the concept that we’ve been using GMO originated foods in abundance with no ill effects.

Genetically engineered foods pose potential risks to health, safety, agriculture, and the environment, as evidenced by the following:

Independent studies in laboratory animals indicate that the ingestion of genetically engineered foods may lead to health problems such as gastrointestinal damage, liver and kidney damage, reproductive problems, immune system interference, and allergic responses.

They do no such thing. No study that has not been retracted (Example: Seralini) has shown any such thing.

The genetic engineering of plants and animals may cause unintended consequences. The use of genetic engineering to manipulate genes by inserting them into organisms is an imprecise process. Mixing plant, animal, bacteria, and viral genes through genetic engineering in combinations that cannot occur in nature may produce results that lead to adverse health or environmental consequences.

First, no animal genes are currently being used in the genetic modification of seeds.

Secondly, they’re making an interesting assertion here. Let me explain the difference between choosing a trait through genetic modification versus choosing it through other methods, such as selective breeding or radiation.

Other methods equate to cutting butter with a club. It’s messy, and there is a LOT of room for error, because you can’t precisely control what you’re selecting for. This was evidenced in the case of the poison potato, long before GMO.

Using genetic modification is like cutting butter with a surgical scalpel. It’s extremely precise, and there is very little room where error can occur in what you’re selecting for. This makes it exponentially more precise than traditional methods.

The use of genetically engineered crops is increasing in commodity agricultural production practices. Genetically engineered crops promote large-scale monoculture production, which contributes to genetic homogeneity, loss of biodiversity, and increased vulnerability of crops to pests, diseases, and variable climate conditions.

Genetically engineered crops that include pesticides may adversely affect populations of bees, butterflies, and other nontarget insects.

All crops use pesticides, even certified organic. Here’s a chart showing organic approved pesticides, and their toxicity to bees.

Organic Pesticides

As for butterflies, there hasn’t been an issue of toxicity towards them. The issue is the destruction of milkweed, which again, has nothing to do with GMO. It has to do with agriculture in general not wanting milkweed in their fields.

Cross-pollination of or cross-contamination by genetically engineered crops may contaminate organic crops and prevent organic farmers and organic food producers from qualifying for organic certification under federal law.

Cross-pollination from genetically engineered crops may have an adverse effect on native flora and fauna. The transfer of unnatural deoxyribonucleic acid to wild relatives can lead to displacement of those native plants, and in turn, displacement of the native fauna dependent on those wild varieties.

Cross pollination can happen, yes. That said, there are simple ways to solve the problem for organic farmers, as evidenced in a Plos One paper in 2013.

Even then, however, this has nothing to do with labeling GMO foods. This is the organic industry complaining about a challenge they “might” encounter while trying to the marketing advantage that is a certified organic label. It shouldn’t be part of this bill, since it’s not relevant to it.

For multiple health, personal, cultural, religious, environmental, and economic reasons, the State of Vermont finds that food produced from genetic engineering should be labeled as such, as evidenced by the following:

Public opinion polls conducted by the Center for Rural Studies at the University of Vermont indicate that a large majority of Vermonters want foods produced with genetic engineering to be labeled as such.

Public opinion shouldn’t dictate scientific policy. Public opinion has zero bearing on scientific conclusions. Legislating science based on public opinion is poor policy.

Because genetic engineering, as regulated by this act, involves the direct injection of genes into cells, the fusion of cells, or the hybridization of genes that does not occur in nature, labeling foods produced with genetic engineering as “natural,” “naturally made,” “naturally grown,” “all natural,” or other similar descriptors is inherently misleading, poses a risk of confusing or deceiving consumers, and conflicts with the general perception that “natural” foods are not genetically engineered.

GMO based foods are as “natural” as any other food we eat. We’ve been modifying our crops from how they would naturally occur since the invention of agriculture, about 12,000 years ago. Labeling anything we eat as “natural” is meaningless, because all of it “natural.”

Persons with certain religious beliefs object to producing foods using genetic engineering because of objections to tampering with the genetic makeup of life forms and the rapid introduction and proliferation of genetically engineered organisms and, therefore, need food to be labeled as genetically engineered in order to conform to religious beliefs and comply with dietary restrictions.

There is no religious doctrine in any established religion that dictates genetic modification. Even if there were, it would then require that its adherents eat none of the food of the modern world, as it has all been genetically altered from its original form.

Requiring that foods produced through genetic engineering be labeled as such will create additional market opportunities for those producers who are not certified as organic and whose products are not produced from genetic engineering. Such additional market opportunities will also contribute to vibrant and diversified agricultural communities.

This is key, right here. This states explicitly that they are legislating GMOs to aid competing parts of the industry in gaining a higher market share.

Labeling gives consumers information they can use to make informed decisions about what products they would prefer to purchase.

It gives them no information that is relevant to the health, safety, or content of a food. It only tells them that a specific process was used prior to the food being grown.

Because both the FDA and the U.S. Congress do not require the labeling of food produced with genetic engineering, the State should require food produced with genetic engineering to be labeled as such in order to serve the interests of the State, notwithstanding limited exceptions, to prevent inadvertent consumer deception, prevent potential risks to human health, promote food safety, protect cultural and religious practices, protect the environment, and promote economic development.

This final statement just reiterates the points addressed above.

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So, we’ve established here that the premise of the bill is entirely faulty. There isn’t anything in it that is relevant to enforcing labeling. Given this fact, it’s no wonder that a lawsuit HAS in fact been filed against the state of Vermont over the constitutionality of this piece of legislation. Only…it wasn’t filed by Monsanto.

Let’s look, first, at the plaintiffs.

GMA – Grocery Manufacturers Association

The GMA is an organization representing the interests of the food and beverage companies of America. They have initiatives such as The Healthy Schools Partnership and Keeping the Industry Green.

Of course, since members of theirs aided in defeating the labeling initiative in Washington, they’ve already been demonized.

Mercola names then the “Most Evil Corporation on the Planet,” which, you know, isn’t hyperbole or anything. Occupy Monsanto asks you to boycott their entire membership list, which does include Monstano, as one of hundreds of companies.

 

NAM – National Association of Manufacturers

NAM is an organization that represents small and large manufacturers in America. They include a huge membership all over the country, in many industries. They’re a pretty active organization on the national stage, and are transparent to the point of publicly stating their positions on a myriad of issues.

 

IDFA – International Dairy Foods Association

The IDFA is comprised of the Milk Industry Foundation, National Cheese Institute, and the International Ice cream Association. They’re members are entirely dairy producing companies.

 

SFA – Snack Food Association

The SFA resents about 400 companies worldwide that are snack manufacturers and suppliers. They’re active in education and research globally, and reputable.

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So, looking at these four plaintiffs, aside from membership in one (amidst hundreds of other companies), Monsanto isn’t even an aspect. They are certainly not suing Vermont, as the headlines are continuously claiming.

This is pretty telling, actually, because a non-profit by the name of Sum of Us is currently raising money to fight against Monsanto. They’ve gotten over 21,000 donors so far, to help them fight the evil Monsanto.

Now, there are a couple of interesting things to this.

First, Monsanto is one of thousands of companies represented by the four plaintiff organizations, yet they are using Monsanto as the focus of their fundraising, but naming them as the company leading the charge. They’re essentially lying to their donors to raise money, which constitutes willful fraud.

Also, they are a non-profit actively raising money to aid in the legislative process. While a non-profit is allowed to lobby, they aren’t permitted to financially influence the legislative process.

OK, so let’s look at the lawsuit itself.

They’ve filed it based on the following.

Vermont passed Act 120 to require food manufacturers to change the way they label and advertise foods containing ingredients derived from genetically engineered crops. Plaintiffs represent manufacturers who are subject to the Act, who fundamentally disagree with the message it forces them to convey, and who must now take immediate steps to change their labeling and advertising to comply with the Act’s enforcement deadline. Plaintiffs bring this suit to declare invalid and enjoin Act 120 on the ground that it violates the United States Constitution.

That’s pretty pointed. Do they have justification for it?

                The operative provisions of Act 120 take effect July 1, 2016. That is a difficult, if not impossible, deadline for Plaintiffs’ members to meet. They must revise hundreds of thousands of product packages, from the small to the super-sized. Then, they must establish Vermont-only distribution channels to ensure that the speech Vermont is forcing them to say, or not say, is conveyed in that State. To comply by the deadline, some companies may have no choice but to revise labels for all of their products, no matter where they might be sold in the United States.

That’s pretty important. They’re requiring actions from out of state companies that may be forced to affect how those companies operate in other states.

The proscriptions in Act 120 are beyond Vermont’s power to enact. The State is compelling manufacturers to convey messages they do not want to convey, and prohibiting manufacturers from describing their products in terms of their choosing, without anything close to a sufficient justification. The State is forcing the costs of this experiment on out-of-state companies and citizens to which it is not politically accountable, and it is undermining and impeding the federal government’s interest in uniform, nationwide standards for food labeling prescribed by duly authorize expert federal agencies.

                In each of the above respects, the Act exceeds Vermont’s authority under the United States Constitution. The Act should be invalidated and enjoined in its entirety.

                That’s the key to it right there. You have the state government legislating companies and people in other states, affecting interstate commerce, and overriding the federal government’s authority. It’s feasible that this could even ripple internationally, with our exported goods from these companies as well. By all appearances, Vermont has well overstepped its authority.

As James Cooper points out aptly in his article on the subject, “since this is much the same law as was overturned in International Dairy Foods v Amestoy case, it is likely to be overturned as well.”

So, we’ll keep watch on this legislation and subsequent lawsuit, and for those of us that follow the science, we’ll hope that more rational minds will prevail, and the law will be summarily overturned.

Rows of a Carrot Field

References

“A Built-In Strategy to Mitigate Transgene Spreading from Genetically Modified Corn.” PLOS One. 6 Dec. 2013. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.137&gt;.

“PDF: Lawsuit vs. Vermont GMO law.” Scribd. 12 Jun. 2014. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://www.scribd.com/doc/229432405/PDF-Lawsuit-vs&gt;.

Vermont State House. State. 2013. 18 Jun. 2014<http://www.leg.state.vt.us/docs/2014/bills/House/H-112.pdf&gt;.

Chaussee, Jennifer . “California GMO Labeling Push Fails A Second Time After Lawmakers Reject Bill.” Huff Post Food for Thought. 28 May. 2014.<http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/29/californi&gt;.

Cooper, James . “Vermont sued for its GMO labeling law.” Examiner. 16 Jun. 2014. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://www.examiner.com/article/vermont-sued-for-i&gt;.

Entine, Jon . “After GMO Labeling Bill Defeat In Washington, Will Anti-GMO ‘Witch Hunts’ Escalate In Next Battlegro.” Forbes. 6 Nov. 2013. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/jonentine/2013/11/07/a&gt;.

Ford, Dana . “Vermont governor signs GMO food labeling into law.” CNN Health. 8 May. 2014. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://www.cnn.com/2014/05/08/health/vermont-gmo-l&gt;.

Novella, Steven . “The Seralini GMO Study – Retraction and Response to Critics.” Science-Based Medicine. 4 Dec. 2013. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/the-seralini-g&gt;.

Pomeroy, Ross . “Massive Review Reveals Consensus on GMO Safety.” Real Clear Science. 1 Oct. 2013. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://www.realclearscience.com/blog/2013/10/massi&gt;.

Rebgetz, Louisa . “Genetically modified Queensland bananas to join fight against catastrophic results of vitamin A defi.” ABC News. 15 Jun. 2014. 17 Jun. 2014. <http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-06-14/genetic-bana&gt;.

Stockstill, Ellen . “Agricultural Biotechnology.” Curiosity from Discovery. 18 Jun. 2014. <http://curiosity.discovery.com/question/GM-crops-h&gt;.

Wendel, JoAnna . “With 2000+ global studies affirming safety, GM foods among most analyzed subjects in science.” Genetic Literacy Project. 8 Oct. 2013. 17 Jun. 2014. <http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/2013/10/08/w&gt;.

 

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Bioethics and Ethical Philosophy student at Cleveland State University, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes. He writes about science, technology, politics, human rights, feminism, religion, and any other topic that catches his eye.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.

An atheist that Believes

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That’s right, folks. You read it correctly. More to the point, a recent CNN article “Meet the Atheist … who believes in God” was published on 6/10/14.

 

Meet Frank Schaeffer and his opinion piece to CNN.  Mr. Schaeffer has written one of the most vocabulary challenged articles on the subject of belief and non-belief that I have seen in quite some time.

 

Let’s have an excerpt from the first twelve sentences:

 

“All the public debates between celebrity atheists and evangelical pastors are as meaningless as literary awards and Oscar night. They are meaningless because participants lack the objectivity to admit that our beliefs have less to do with facts than with our personal needs and cultural backgrounds.

The words we use to label ourselves are just as empty. What exactly is a “believer?”. And for that matter what is an “atheist?” 

Who is the objective observer to define these terms. Maybe we need a new category other than theism, atheism or agnosticism that takes paradox and unknowing into account.Take me, I am an atheist who believes in God.

Let me explain. I believe that life evolved by natural selection. I believe that evolutionary psychology explains away altruism and debunks love, and that brain chemistry undermines the illusion of free will and personhood. I also believe that a spiritual reality hovering over, in and through me calls me to love, trust and hear the voice of my creator.”

Mr. Schaeffer says that we need a new term that describes a person that doesn’t have a belief in a day to day, in your face, fire and brimstone, old testament god. But, this same person might also believe that there is a being behind the scenes. One that brought about the beginning of everything, but then decided to step back and just let things develop as they may . The question to the answer of 42 of Douglas Adams’ fame, if you will. Interesting and provocative argument for the academics to sit down and debate about a new term for this new and exciting concept that you have come across.

 

Of course, if you have made it to this point, you probably know exactly where I am going with this all. But in the interest of those that may have just stumbled across this post in your meanderings around the interwebz, there just so happens that there IS a term for people that believe as Mr. Schaeffer does: deism

 

Deism is: “not a specific religion but rather a particular perspective on the nature of God. Deists believe that a creator god does exist, but that after the motions of the universe were set in place he retreated, having no further interaction with the created universe or the beings within it. As such, there are a variety of common religious beliefs that deists do not accept.

 

As another bit of icing on the cake, Mr. Frank Schaeffer asked us to consider apophatic theology. Apophatic theology is an attempt to describe God by what cannot be said of Him. Many of the terms used to describe God’s attributes have within them an apophatic quality. For example, when we say God is infinite, we’re also saying is that God is not finite (i.e., not limited).” As Dr. Evil would say….”rrriight”. For those of you that having a working knowledge of logical fallacies, you may recognize the tautology inherent to that notion. For those a little less geeky about logical fallacies, a tautology (in formal logic) refers to a statement that must be true in every interpretation by its very construction. By defining God by what God is not, you can always arrive at the conclusion that you want to come to. Also, I find it highly dishonest by calling apophatic theology just “the theology of not knowing”. By being that ambiguous, the lay reader can all to easily draw a correlation between apophaticism and agnosticism. Although I cannot be 100% of Schaeffer’s motivation to word that as it is, but it smacks of an attempt to blur the lines between the two.

Here is one of Schaeffer’s claims that I found truly insulting:

“If you want to be sure you have “the truth” about yourself and our universe, then prepare to go mad. Or prepare to turn off your brain and cling to some form or other of fundamentalism, whether religious or secular.” As Tim Minchin put so amusingly in his song Storm:

“You’re so sure of your position
But you’re just closed-minded
I think you’ll find
Your faith in Science and Tests
Is just as blind
As the faith of any fundamentalist.

“Wow, thats a good point, let me think for a bit”
Oh wait, my mistake, its absolute bullshit.
Science adjusts its beliefs based on what’s observed
Faith is the denial of observation so that Belief can be preserved.”

Exactly. Absolute bullshit. I no more cling to anything in the secular world than I would to a deity. Nothing is truly beyond reproach. All it takes to change the mind of a skeptic is empirical data proving otherwise. A caveat though: the more fundamental the thing that is being questioned is, the greater the evidence must be. Pass that? Again, nothing is truly sacred to the skeptical atheist

And, at last, we come to the very LAST sentence in the article:

“You—like some sort of quantum mechanicals physics experiment—will always be in two places at once.”

Ahhhh, to bask in the glory of the bane of every religious or pseudo-scientific practitioner, quantum mechanics. If you are not one of the few theoretical physicists that have dedicated their professional lives to pulling apart that Gordian Knot, the instant you utter “quantum mechanics” in defense of or analogy TO your claim, I dismiss everything you have previously said and will be not be truly listening to anything that you will be saying.

Contributor: Jonathan Tindell

A native Floridian living in Pennsylvania, eight year veteran of the United States Maine Corp that is in support of responsible gun control, and salesperson in the Oil and Gas industry that believes in climate change, Jonathan is almost the definition of a dichotomy.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.

 

Dr. Carl Sagan, Prophet

I am about to piss everyone off for about a minute:
Dr. Sagan was a prophet.

If you have managed to not drop your phone or laptop in disgust, sent me an extremely hated filled email, or sought me down to execute me prisoner style between reading the above and now, I applaud your self restraint!
I deem Dr. Sagan a scientific prophet.
In this article, he makes a few specific “predictions” in the that have come true.
We now DO have a grade school lack of science education, we DO see the apathy bred into today’s youth in regards to STEM, we DO see the influence of religion on the laws and policies in our nation. Dr. Sagan seems to have proven that prophesies can be real, but only in the context of the right mix of science, critical thinking and skepticism.
To wax philosophical for just a moment, Dr. Sagan’s words echo down the halls of time from the past for us to listen to here in the future.

We might do well to heed them.

http://www.csicop.org/si/show/wonder_and_skepticis/m

Contributor: Jonathan Tindell

A native Floridian living in Pennsylvania, eight year veteran of the United States Maine Corp that is in support of responsible gun control, and salesperson in the Oil and Gas industry that believes in climate change, Jonathan is almost the definition of a dichotomy.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.

A disheartening experience with Dr. Lawrence Krauss

I recently attended the Northeast Conference on Science and Skepticism (NECSS). It was generally a wonderful experience. I loved meeting many of the people I have conversed with online in the real world and also meeting with many of my skeptical heroes ( I’m looking at you, SGU crew, George Hrab,Dr. Cady Coleman, and Julia Galef). But, I was also witness to a a bit of the disreputable side of our movement.

I introduce you to Dr. Lawrence Krauss. A prominent physicist and popular science communicator. Also, in my recent personal experience watching him talk at NECSS, a bit of a self absorbed curmudgeon. He also, in my opinion, is more than a bit sexist.

During his keynote speech, Dr. Krauss was correct in all of his science and physics,yet he came across as dismissive of the intelligence of the assembled crowd. With repeated statements like, “if you had paid attention in geometry class…” and, “had you listened to your physics teacher, you would remember this formula…”, I found him distasteful at the least and offensive at the most. Granted, we all might not have his aptitude to grasp physics at the level that Dr. Krauss can, but to demean his sympathetic audience? Not needed. Being smart does not give you license to be a smart ass.

The next day, He was the guest host of Rationally Speaking with Dr. Massimo Pigliucci and Julia Galef. This is where I had my biggest point of contention with Dr. Krauss. He all but ignored the two hosts. Dr. Pigliucci got polite (but sparse) conversation. Julia though, got none of this. Dr. Krauss either ignored her questions, only allowed her to get only barely into her question, or was nodding/shaking his head during her questions. It seemed to me, he was only tolerating her. I have listened to Julia during all of the RS podcasts. She is not worthy of dismissing and often asks questions that are true insights into the given subjects.

What really brought all of these thoughts into focus was my delving into the Skeptics Guide to the Universe archives.  The SGU crew had Dr. Krauss as a guest on episode #124. While listening to him speak back then, I can see why he became a popular science communicator. But it is amazing to see what seven years and popularity can do to a person.

 

Contributor: Jonathan Tindell

A native Floridian living in Pennsylvania, eight year veteran of the United States Maine Corp that is in support of responsible gun control, and salesperson in the Oil and Gas industry that believes in climate change, Jonathan is almost the definition of a dichotomy.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.

Mohammad Gad and Sexual Harassment in the Secular Community

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Mohammad Gad is someone who is active across the secular and skeptic online forums. He counts among his friends many in those communities. His Facebook friends list even includes those such as Richard Carrier and Susan Gerbic, as well as many, many others who would never abide by his behavior.

Today, he made a comment on the picture of a friend of mine’s 2 year old daughter that he would like to “eat her out.” This comes in the wake of a long history of overtly sexual and harassing remarks towards women on the various forums. This behavior should NOT be tolerated. I urge you to report his profile for harassment.

This was a horrible remark, and something we honestly rarely see. Few people tend to take things to that level. The systemic problem, however, is that we rarely speak out until it reaches that level. The level of overt harassment and sexism within the atheist and skeptic communities is overwhelming at times. NEVER should it take a comment that obscene for people to speak out. Given Mohammad’s history, he should have been called on the carpet and ousted long ago.

Why aren’t more working to solve the problem before it goes this far?

Contributor: Robert Sacerich

Robert is a Philosophy of Science and Bioethics student, as well as blogger and science advocate/activist. He has worked extensively within the secular community for various secular nonprofit organizations and public communication causes.

See his full bio!

Thank you for reading Rationality Unleashed! You can “like” us on Facebook or follow us on Twitter @rationalityunle. For any questions, concerns, or comments beyond what can be placed in the comments section of the blog, email us at admin@rationalityunleashed.net.