Saturday, May 31, 2014

Rebuttal to "Genetically Modified DNA transfers from food to blood" (or "How Bt corn can cause the Zombie Apocalypse")

This is part 2 of a series looking at papers that have used next generation sequencing (NGS) technology, which are used as examples of how eating DNA from a GMO could be harmful. If you missed the previous post, you have to go back and read it. There are a lot of cookie analogies in here that will be completely lost on you unless you've read it. If you HAVE read it, make sure that you have some chocolate chip cookies in the house. You may find yourself craving some.

The first paper that we’ll examine is entitled "Complete Genes May Pass from Food to Human Blood". The paper was published in July 2013 in PLoS One, and is highlighted in this article from Collective Evolution entitled "Confirmed: DNA from Genetically Modified Crops can be Transferred Into Humans Who Eat Them" (the graphic in that article is nightmare-inducing). In this paper, they examined the content of DNA outside the human cell, known as "cell free DNA" or cfDNA. As a reminder, the DNA we inherit from both our parents is packed up nicely and tucked away within the nucleus of the cell. The paper outlines that the source of DNA in our plasma (i.e. the stuff that's in the space between our cells) is thought to originate from cells that have died. However, there are also foreign sources of DNA in plasma from bacteria, viruses, and from our food. Fetal DNA can also be detected in maternal plasma and is the basis for non-invasive prenatal testing (NIPT).

File:AntiMonsanto March GMO Corn.jpg
March Against Monsanto
New Orleans, May 2013
The authors of the paper took 200 blood samples from 4 different types of patients who had different intestinal diagnoses, and included patients with no symptoms (i.e. negative control). They separated the blood from the plasma, they extracted the DNA and they pooled the DNA from each group. So, for example, if there were 50 patients with irritable bowel syndrome and 50 control patients, each group of 50 was pooled into a single tube so that there were only 2 samples at the end: one sample representing the irritable bowel syndrome patients and another representing controls. I can only think of two reasons why they'd do this: 1) sequencing each individual patient was too expensive (next generation sequencing is pretty pricey) or 2) they didn't have enough DNA since there's so little floating around in the plasma. I'm leaning towards #2, because they also concentrated the sample (i.e. removed water content so that there was more DNA in less liquid). Then, they sequenced the pools of samples using next-generation sequencing technology (for the NGS gurus, they used SOLiD with 50nt reads).

The authors threw out all the DNA sequences from vertabraes because a) they weren't interested in human DNA sequences and b) it would be difficult to tell what organism the DNA came from due to similarities in DNA sequences (after all, we're more similar to chickens that we'd like to believe). Then they took the remaining DNA samples and compared them to a database of sequences of chloroplast DNA. Chloroplast DNA is unique because it is separate from the DNA found in the nucleus of the cell. It is circular and there are multiple copies of chloroplast DNA in each plant cell (sounds a bit like mitochondrial DNA, if you're familiar with that from 23&Me and other ancestry DNA sequencing services). The authors found that there were quite a few sequences that matched chloroplast DNA, particularly the DNA sequences for potato and tomato chloroplast, and actually got more data of tomato DNA than human DNA in some regions.

Then, they wanted to determine the original size of the DNA fragment. It is generally thought that most DNA gets fragmented during the digestion process, so if they could demonstrate that the DNA that was sequenced was long, then you might be able to make a case that entire genes could be floating around. However, this is pretty difficult to do because during the process of preparing a sample for next-generation sequencing, you generally chop up the DNA into bits and pieces. If we go to a cookie analogy, imagine that you make chocolate chip cookies with walnuts. You buy a bag of walnut pieces, which may contain a few whole walnuts. The recipe calls for throwing the walnut pieces into the food processor before you add them to the cookie batter. So it's pretty tough to figure out how many whole walnuts were in the bag by eating the cookies.

To get around this conundrum, the authors physically filtered the DNA according to size. They had 3 filtration sizes which became 3 different samples. Each sample was then chopped up and when it was sequenced, you could infer that the DNA's original size was larger than the filtration cutoff (for the science-y people, they ran a gel and cut three bands from the smear: >10kb, 10kb-200bp, and ~200bp). If we go back to our walnut analogy, imagine that you take the bag of walnut pieces and pass it through a 1/2 inch sieve. Everything that gets caught goes in one bowl. Then you take the stuff that went through and you pass it through a 1/4 inch sieve. You repeat the process with a 1/8 inch sieve. Then you take the 3 bowls of walnuts and you put each one of them through the food processor, make the cookie batter, and end up with 3 batches of cookies. All 3 batches will have roughly the same walnut size, but you can infer that the original starting size of the walnut pieces was >1/2", 1/2-1/4", and 1/4"-1/8" (BTW, I honestly don't understand this whole Imperial measurement system. The Canadian AND Venezuelan parts of me are shuddering as I write this).

The authors infer that a lot of DNA sequence came from the largest filter size from patients diagnosed with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The filter size that they used was 10 kilobases. If you consider that the average size of a human gene is 10-15 kilobases, then this implies that most of the cell-free DNA in patients with IBS is large enough to have a gene in it.

The authors then wanted to confirm their findings. They searched publicly available DNA databases and found 909 samples of cell-free DNA, representing 907 individuals. They also found non-human DNA in the electronic data, but noted that the amount that was present had "large variations" from person to person. They followed the same data analysis workflow as before. The DNA in the public databases came from 2 projects: one project was studying patients with an autoimmune disorder and the second was trying to detect fetal DNA in pregnant women. Here's the breakdown of the DNA from the two studies.
  1. Autoimmune disorder: The most common matches were to chloroplast DNA from Brassica rapa, as well as orange. The machine used to sequence these samples was not the same as the one used by the authors. The authors state that there's a lot of plant DNA in these samples when compared to control. Since this is the same observation noted in the patients with irritable bowel syndrome, the authors state that high levels of plant DNA circulating in plasma may be associated with inflammation. I'm holding my tongue on all criticisms of this paper till I'm done with the description, but I can't help myself from saying "wha-aaaat? how did you jump from here to there???"
  2. Pregnant women: There wasn't much sequencing data from these samples, but the authors were able to determine that the most common match to chloroplast DNA were from soybean. Additionally, since these samples weren't actually pooled together (i.e., each sample was sequenced independently), the authors were able to identify differences in the abundance of plant DNA in these samples, which represents differences in the diets of the pregnant women. For example, if I had been a participant in this study, I have no doubt that the authors would have identified an abnormally high level of chloroplast DNA from pomegranates. This finding suggests that the plant DNA detected in these samples are not actually contaminants.
The authors conclude that the presence of foreign DNA in the plasma is not unusual, that its concentration is highest in patients with inflammation, and that these findings should lead us to revisit our views on the degradation and absorption of DNA/RNA in our bodies.

I think that the finding that there is plant DNA circulating in our bodies isn't a big deal. The paper provides several references for studies that have examined this issue and have found DNA from our food in our organs and tissues (see here and here). However, it's always been chopped up. This paper suggests that full genes are floating about, which is what raised the alarm flags for activists. So I'm going to focus on this unique finding from the paper. 

Getting back to the paper. I have several issues with the experiment the authors performed in their lab (i.e not the data analysis work on the plasma samples from autoimmune disorder patients or pregnant women):
1) Contamination. As I stated at the beginning of this piece, the authors are sequencing the DNA in the space between our cells. There's very little DNA in there so the risk of sequencing a contaminant is high. To recap from last week's piece, it's a matter of abundance: if you had actual cellular material, all that plant DNA would get drowned out by the vast amount of human DNA that you'd end up sequencing. As mentioned last week, like having 1 cup batter of chocolate chip-raisin cookies with a handful of cranberries that your kid threw in versus 1 gallon batter of chocolate chip-raisin cookies with the same amount of cranberries. Since the authors probably had very little DNA when they started, any DNA from the environment or from their equipment could be mistaken for DNA from their samples.
Since the risk of contamination is higher, the authors should have included a negative control. Going back to the cookie analogy, to determine if the cranberries are part of the chocolate chip-raisin mix in the cookies or not, there's a very simple test: make a batch of cookies with no chocolate chips or raisins. If you end up with cranberries in there, then you can conclude that the cranberries are a contaminant (i.e. your kid walked by and threw a handful in there). If there are no cranberries, then you can conclude that the cranberries were part of the chocolate chip-raisin mix. The authors failed to do this simple test.
I was happy to see that this point is also noted in the comments section by a scientist who has published a rebuttal. I'll review this further below. 
2) The authors find high levels of tomato and potato DNA in all their samples. This doesn't make much sense to me. Why would the authors find the same two DNA samples to be of highest abundance in all the different patient types and filtration sizes? As seen in the study with pregnant women, there should be variation between the different groups. I know that tomatoes definitely don't make up the biggest part of my veggie/fruit diet, so this is really weird.
3) The authors find abnormally high levels of plant DNA in the irritable bowel syndrome patients, but only for the largest filtration size. The authors conclude that foreign DNA in plasma is elevated in patients with inflammation. As such, you'd expect to see increased levels of foreign DNA in every filtration size. However, the medium and small filtration sizes have plant DNA levels equivalent to the patients with no symptoms. There's one thing that I think you can agree with: concluding that "plant DNA is elevated in patients with inflamation" is a HUGE conclusion to draw from a single sequencing run.
4) Ummmmm... Filtration controls? Where are you? The authors infer DNA size based on physical separation of DNA. However, they have no controls. It would be fairly simple to just spike in DNA of different, but known, sizes (the use of a "ladder" in DNA size separation is very, very, very, very, very common, so it would have been trivial to do). This size control would have also helped determine contamination: if you find some of the large DNA control in the small DNA results, then you know that some sort of contamination may have occurred during the filtration process. It would be similar to placing a brazil nut, a hazelnut, and a peanut whose sizes you've measured into the walnut size separation. The brazil nut should filter out with the large walnut chunks, the hazelnut with the medium chunks and the peanut should end up in the small bits and pieces. If any pieces of these nuts appear in the "wrong" cookie batch, then you could conclude that there was contamination. Maybe you didn't wash the blade on your food processor well enough. Or maybe you got carried away by the music you were playing in the kitchen and made an inadvertent mistake. Seriously. Anything is possible, and if you don't have controls, you'll never know. 
5) Choice of NGS technology. As I mentioned in the first installment in this series, different NGS companies have different chemistries, all of which have pros and cons. The technology that the authors of this study chose required the DNA to get chopped up to small bits and pieces, leading them to infer that the DNA was long, but not measuring the length directly. They didn't have to use that specific chemistry. I would have chosen a technology that would have allowed them to sequence longer lengths of DNA (for the NGS geeks, I think that PacBio might have been a better fit). It depends on how much DNA they had to start with, and they don't really elaborate this point. However, given the fact that they pooled together DNA from 50 patients, I think it might have been possible.
6) Why chloroplast DNA? I think it's odd that they focused exclusively on the  analysis of DNA from the chloroplast, and not the DNA from the nucleus of the plant cell. Is this truly reflective of all the DNA in the cell? Is it possible that due to the circular nature of chloroplast DNA, it can avoid degradation more readily? Since there are more copies of chloroplast DNA in each cell, how does this affect their findings?

But, let's imagine that the findings of the paper are not an error and that someone else actually replicated these findings. What does it mean?

  • This has little to do with GMOs. I feel the need to reiterate that if a full gene for a transgenic food is floating in our system, so is a full gene from a traditionally bred crop. Additionally, scientists haven't gotten smart enough to invent new genes/proteins, so whatever gene is in a transgenic crop, also comes from nature. The only difference is what you ate in order to get that gene into your system. This fact alone should debunk titles of articles such as "Genetically Modified DNA transfers from food to blood" (also, now that you've gone through this post, you know that it's not actually blood that was studied here)
  • As I said at the beginning of this post: then what? Somehow these whole genes that are floating about have to make their way through the outermost layer of the cell (cell membrane), avoid getting degraded by proteins that chop up foreign DNA, and make their way into the nucleus. Within the nucleus of our cells, it would then somehow have to "trick" regulatory proteins so that they think that the foreign gene has to be turned on, so that it gets made into RNA. An alternate option is for the foreign DNA to get integrated into the cell's DNA (i.e. act like a virus), even though it doesn't have any of the viral proteins/genes. But let's say that somehow one of these scenarios were to play out, and the gene that was floating about was the transgenic gene from a GMO corn (the odds of this alone are 1 or 2 in 32000, since there are only 1-2 transgenic genes added to corn, which has 32000 genes), and that this DNA somehow managed to defy all odds and get made into RNA. The RNA will then be made into a protein. And let's pretend that this happens stably: meaning that this protein keeps getting made. That's 1 cell out of the 46-68 trillion in our body that is making a foreign protein. The two most likely fates for this protein produced by this single cell in your body is a) your immune system will take care of matters or b) the protein will just fade away (all proteins have a half life; they don't just float around forever). If you want to lose sleep over that, go right ahead.  I'm more worried about the zombie apocalypse, and the CDC thinks you should be too.
There has been a rebuttal paper written to the PLoS paper, however, it is in peer review and has not yet been published, so I'm hesitant to add its findings. I'll update this post once the paper is accepted.

Well, that's paper #1. Next week, we'll review a controversial paper that found that small RNA from rice can regulate a protein in our bodies and all the subsequent papers that attempted to replicate the findings.

Friday, May 23, 2014

An Intro to Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS) - Part 1

A few months back, I wrote a post about the alleged dangers of eating DNA from a GMO. In summary, our bodies don't know the difference between DNA derived from a transgenic crop or a traditionally bred crop. We've been eating cellular material for quite some time now and we haven't become green from eating veggies. (I wonder if the Creation Museum has a display of a caveman chomping down on some delicious dinosaur ribs.)

However, I still see many arguments about how we've now found DNA from our food circulating in our blood or how we've found RNA from rice inside us. Many of these studies have been enabled through a technology known as Next-Generation Sequencing (NGS). In the spirit of full disclosure, this is my field of work: I've worked in companies that develop NGS technologies for 6 years: the last 4 have been in internal product development, and this last year has been in the R&D lab itself. In this series of posts I'm going to explain the controversies about a few papers that have used NGS technologies and are used as examples of how eating DNA from a GMO is dangerous.

This post gives an overview of the technology and the considerations in experimental design. Next week (or sometime after), I'll post reviews of the papers.

Let’s begin with a brief history of DNA sequencing: prior to NGS, you generally had to know what you were going to sequence. You couldn't just randomly take a DNA sample and tell a lab: “tell me what's in here”. You had to know what you were looking for in order to do your experimental design. Even in forensics, which has yet to adopt NGS, they look at very specific and well characterized regions of the genome. There were ways around this to allow for discovery, but the processes were long and very expensive, which was why the sequencing of the human genome took 13 years (1990-2003) and cost 2.7 billion dollars. The most popular technologies behind next-generation sequencing follow the same general principle: you take your DNA, you chop it up, you amplify it so that the machines have enough to work with and detect, then you put it on a machine that “reads” each DNA base and tells you what’s there. There are several different chemistries for sequencing, each patented by a different company, and each of which has its pros and cons. With the advent of NGS, scientists found that they could virtually sequence anything. There have been a lot of exploratory experiments going on in the past decade based on this technology. Not only that, but you aren’t necessarily restricted to the analysis of DNA. You can indirectly sequence RNA, DNA modifications and structures, as well as DNA bound to proteins.

Here are some examples of the amazing things that have been done with NGS (and why):

Pretty awesome, eh? The possibilities are seemingly endless. I actually want a sequencer in my garage, but I’ve been deterred by the thought that my employers would notice if one went missing… (and a shout-out to the spouse for cleaning out the garage for Mother’s Day!! Don’t worry. I won’t turn it into a lab. For now).

Hopefully, you can imagine the applications and experiments that could be performed in agricultural biotechnology, as well as studies pertaining to transgenic organisms. As I've mentioned before, companies use NGS to determine if there were any unintended consequences of the transgenic event. Studies could also be performed to determine the impact of glyphosate on the gut microbiome or on bacteria in the soil, or to determine what happens to the DNA of the food we eat. In another possible application, the mysterious pathogenic organism that Dr Don Huber claims to be enriched in GMOs could also be sequenced, if he were to release the organism (outlined eloquently by Dr Kevin Folta in this petition).

There are a few more concepts that require explanation. One of the key questions in an NGS experiment is “how much sequencing do I have to do”? Here’s an analogy: imagine you’re baking oatmeal cookies with chocolate chips and raisins. You make a big batch of cookie dough. Your kid walks by and throws in a very small handful of dried cranberries. Then you bake cookies. For the sake of this analogy, we have to imagine that the number of cookies you could bake was infinite (i.e. you had an endless amount of cookie dough).

How many cookies do you have to bake and eat in order to determine the ratio of chocolate chips to raisins? If you bake 10 of them, you probably get a good enough idea, right? What if you want to know if there are any raisins at all. You might be able to get away with baking a single cookie. But what if you want to know how many cranberries your kid threw in. Do you bake 20? 30? 100? The number of cookies that you bake depends on the question that you’re asking.

The same is true in the world of NGS. If you’re looking for a mutation that you inherited from your mom and is present in all your cells, you can do a “standard” amount of sequencing for the technology you’re using. But what if you suspect that you might be HIV positive, and the event that led to this suspicion occurred very recently? How much DNA do you have to sequence in order to detect the presence of the virus? The answer will be very different. It's basically a question of abundance. Looking for something that is present in every cell will require much less sequencing than looking for something that is much more rare.
File:Chocolate Chip Oatmeal Cookies detail.jpg
Oatmeal chocolate chip cookies.
Beware! You may become a chocolate chip
oatmeal cookie by absorbing its DNA!
From Wikimedia commons.
But I wish it was from cookies in my pantry.
The next concept is that of input material vs contaminant. In our cookie analogy, imagine that you make 2 batches of cookies: a 1 cup batch and a 1 gallon batch. Since the toddler in this analogy is of the “up-to-no-good-variety”, he manages to throw the same amount of cranberries in both batches without you noticing. For the small batch, odds are that you’ll have a cranberry in every cookie you bake. You might even conclude that the cookies weren’t chocolate-raisin, but were chocolate-raisin-cranberry. However, for the second and larger batch, you could probably eat a full dozen without coming across a single cranberry. If you do come across a cranberry, you’d probably say “Huh… What’s that doing in there?”

In the world of NGS, the same is true. If you start with a lot of DNA, you can exclude contaminants more easily/readily than if you start with a small amount, and the inclusion of appropriate controls is a key element. Contamination does happen, however, its impact on your experiment depends on the amount of sequencing you perform and the question you're trying to get answered. For example, the world's first next-gen sequencing diagnostic assay actually allows for 10% contamination before the experiment is deemed a failure. However, the assay's accuracy is still incredible because it does a lot of sequencing and is asking a simple question (i.e, it's only looking for chocolate chips and raisins, not cranberries).

So you see that there are many considerations on how to use the technology depending on the experiment, and every experiment needs to use different controls even though the technology used may be the same. However, such considerations can be often overlooked.

Make sense? Alrighty! I hope to see you here next week when we start reviewing the papers.

BTW, my husband wanted me to change cranberries to walnuts. But I pointed out that walnuts belong in a cookie and would never be mistaken for a contaminant, whereas cranberries don't belong in there. He has seen the error in his views and now agrees.

Monday, May 19, 2014

In Defence of Science

I haven't written for a month because I've been binge watching Homeland. But something came up today that I have to write about. Plus, I finished Homeland this week (seriously can't wait till the next season starts...)

In yet another departure from my usual format, I'd like to address my fellow scientists out there, particularly the ones in life sciences. And despite an ongoing feud with my brother about PhDs vs MDs and who the real doctor is, I'll even reach out to medical doctors.

Hey there. How's work? How's the family? Hope everything is going well.

I know you spent a good chunk of your life preparing for the moment in your life when you have a job, you're settled down, and you can work till your heart's content. It's awesome, isn't it? I consider myself absolutely fortunate to have a great job where I'm nurtured, I'm paid well, and have a nice work-life balance. Yup. I know I'm lucky. But in the last year, I've become obsessed with scientific literacy, so much so that most of my time from the moment that my toddler, Mr Chubby-Cheeks, is in bed till the moment I can no longer see straight, is spent either reading papers or writing. It's weird, eh? I specifically chose a career in industry so that I wouldn't have to spend my life writing grants, but here I find myself engaged in the exact behaviour I so wanted to avoid.

So, why is it that I do this? It's a long story, but I specifically chose to learn and write about GMOs, because I felt that there was a lot of misinformation and I wanted to evaluate the scientific literature on my own. I'm not a plant geneticist nor do I work in Ag. However, I'm in a position to be able to read scientific literature and evaluate if it's any good. And if I do not know enough about the topic to understand the details of what I read, I know where to find the information that will help me understand it better or can ask someone in my network of friends and colleagues. I consider this skill the most important one of a PhD in science. The knowledge that we gained throughout the course of our theses is important, but unless you continue working in that field, your knowledge becomes quickly obsolete given the ridonculously rapid pace that life sciences moves at. What we're left with is the ability to evaluate and understand data.

You, too, have this skill.

The second reason why I write is something that I also share with you: we both got into this disastrous mess of a career because we wanted to make a difference, we wanted to help others, and we have a deep passion for science. Why else would we spend 10 years of our lives on a career path where we earn significantly less than MDs, lawyers, or engineers?

If you combine these two items (an ability to evaluate scientific data and the desire to make a difference), then you have two inescapable responsibilities: to correct a scientific wrong and to promote a scientific truth. Both are achieved through communication.

I know. Most of us hate it. Many of us suck at it. It's why marketing teams exist. It's why many of us aren't necessarily good bosses or managers. Many of us just prefer data over people. Data is clean. It's pretty. It doesn't have a hidden agenda. But we need to get out of our cocoons and start communicating. I don't necessarily mean standing in front of a huge audience or getting a TV show like Bill Nye. I believe that you can make a more substantial change by doing small things. Like when your mom sends you that article about how deodorants cause breast cancer? Write to her and tell her it's a myth and back it up with the article from the American Cancer Association. Or when your friend posts that article on Facebook about how using a microwave changes the molecular structure of water? Write to him and tell him that it's a scientific impossibility and send him the lay-explanation from Snopes. Or when your aunt tells you that you should eat organic because you're poisoning your family? Tell her that organic produce also uses pesticides and that it's all in the dose, and follow it up with the example of how peaches have cyanide. These small conversations are more impactful, because our family and friends trust us and some of them actually believe in us, even though you may lose a friend or two along the way.

Why is this important? A recent study revealed that nearly half of Americans believe in some sort of conspiracy theory. And it wasn't among some fringe left- or right- leaning group. 35% of these individuals were liberal and 41% were conservative. In a piece in NPR, the author of the study explained that these individuals "aren't ignoring their health. Instead, they are normal people trying to make sense of complex issues."

And here is the key point that I'm trying to get at: "People who backed the conspiracy theories were less likely to rely on a family doctor. Instead they looked to family and friends, the Internet and celebrity doctors for their health information. And people who relied on celebrity doctors. such as Dr. Mehmet Oz and Dr. Andrew Weil, were most likely to favor conspiracy, with more than 80 percent agreeing with at least one of the theories."

80% of Americans believe in a theory from a celebrity doctor. 


That is just mind-blowing. And aggravating.

Because if you've watched Dr Oz you know that he's the best in the lot of these fear-mongering, conspiracy-laden shows. Did you know that gets 4 million unique visitors a month? Or that Dr Mercola's website has one million subscribers? Go ahead. Take a look at both of those websites. Peruse and then come back here and tell me that you're OK with someone telling millions of people a day about how they can control the methylation of their DNA or that you don't care if someone is selling probiotic supplements to help buyers take control of their microbiome. Because odds are that one of your friends is reading those articles and believes them.

You and I are generally quiet, introverted people. We don't like to make noise nor do we like to stand out. But while we've been quietly chugging along, minding our own business, the noise-makers have managed to convince the general public that we are not to be trusted and that we're in it for the money. Mommy Bloggers with no scientific background are deferred to on nutritional or medical health information, not because they know what they're talking about, but IMHO, because there's no one else to listen to or trust.

If you think that it doesn't impact you, think again. We've seen a rise in cases of vaccine-preventable illnesses, little action is taken against climate change, and funding for life sciences is less than ideal. These stem from a fundamental lack of knowledge about sciences and can be corrected. You may argue that there are lobbying efforts in play and you're powerless to exert any change. Yes, it's true and it does suck, but grassroots efforts have managed to pass legislation mandating the labeling of GMOs in Vermont and managed to get Subway to remove azodicarbonamide from their bread, despite the absence of a valid scientific argument for both these moves. If you read about the "yoga mat chemicals in bread" petition, knew of the error in the argument, yet failed to say anything, you're accountable to the 22-year-old version of you who used to raid conference rooms to get free Subway sandwiches and stash them for dinner.

But I know you care. If there was anything that came out from Jenny McCarthy's recent public shaming on twitter is that a LOT of you care, but seldom say anything until it smacks you in the face.

What prompted me to write this post is one of the people who has actually stood up and tried to promote scientific literacy is being threatened by a lawsuit by none other than the Health Ranger, Mike Adams, who is the editor at NaturalNews. Jon Entine, executive director at Genetic Literacy Project, had written a very thorough piece for highlighting the many conspiracy theories that Mike Adams subscribed to, with links and references to articles from NaturalNews itself. In what I consider an unfortunate decision, decided to withdraw the piece. But it has left me wondering how we are supposed to highlight frauds and exploiters, when those who try to bring these to our attention, are basically muzzled.

We live in an unfortunate time when poor research can get easily published for a fee. It has led to the ability to promote agendas through poor, but published, "research" and to shun those to highlight such corruptions by labeling them as "shills" or other such titles. I'm not exactly sure what the solution is, and somehow we all need to find a way to stop predatory (i.e. sham) journals. But there is one thing you can do: it's your responsibility to stand up and say something, write something, or comment on something that you know to be a truth or fallacy, and to do it without being a douche. If you don't think it'll work, I refer you to the sentence a few paragraphs back which states that people turn to "family and friends" for their health information, among others. Because to your friends and family, I'm just a person in a lab coat who knows the cure for cancer, but is holding it back because of lobbying by Big Pharma. But to your friends and family, you are "Helen" or "Juan Carlos" or "Nasrin" or "Insert your Name Here": a person they value, believe in, and trust, and can actually teach them a thing or two about their concerns.