About a week ago, I wrote one of my usual meandering posts in which I pointed out the similarities between two different anti-science movements. On the one hand, there are anti-vaccinationists, who fetishize the naturalistic fallacy (i.e., the belief that anything “natural” is better and that anything human made or altered by science is dangerous) and use misinformation, pseudoscience, and bad science to demonize vaccines. On the other hand, we have the movement that is opposed to “genetically modified organisms” (GMOs), who fetishize the naturalistic fallacy, and frequently use misinformation, pseudoscience, and bad science to demonize GMOs. In all fairness, I’ll concede that there is probably somewhat more basis to be critical of GMOs, but not so much on the science as on the implications of business practices that companies like Monsanto engage in. In terms of apocalyptic language, in which the object of each group’s fear is portrayed not just as not as safe as advertised but rather as downright dangerous and even evil, antivaccinationists and anti-GMO activists are pretty close to being equal. All you have to do is to read a few Mike Adams screeds on vaccines and then compare them with his anti-GMO posts, and you’ll see what I mean. Indeed, you’ll find vaccines represented as an evil plan by a shadowy cabal of global elite to “depopulate” the planet right alongside posts representing GMOs as an evil plan by a shadowy cabal of global elite to—you guessed it—depopulate the planet.
One quack in particular, Joe Mercola, is a major supporter of California Proposition 37, which would require the “labeling” of foods containing the products of GMOs. Indeed, he’s donated $1.1 to the cause. That’s why it is amusing to see him bringing together two antiscience movements that taste crappy together, antivaccine and anti-GMO in a hilarious post entitled Are You Concerned Over Genetically Modified Vaccines?
Of course, virtually all vaccines are “genetically modified” in one way or another; so the question itself is downright silly in its current form and should be rephrased as simply, “Are you concerned about vaccines?” the answer to which would of course be for antivaccine advocates like Mercola, a resounding yes because, well, they’re antivaccine. To demonstrate that, Mercola interviews Vicky DeBold, PhD, RN, who just so happens to be the director of research and patient safety with the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC). Now, one thing I would point out is that if you have a title like the director of research and safety at an organization devoted to the promotion of pseudoscience, like the NVIC, after having gotten an RN and a PhD, your career has taken a seriously wrong turn somewhere. You need to reassess. Actually, it’s rather scary, because according to the NVIC website:
Dr. Debold has been employed in the health care field for more than 30 years as an ICU nurse, health care administrator, health policy analyst and research scientist primarily focusing on pediatrics and patient safety. Currently, she is a Research Scientist and Affiliate Faculty member at George Mason University in the Health Administration and Policy Department where she teaches Health Services Research Methods and Introduction to the US Healthcare System.
She even mentions her NVIC affiliation on her faculty web page. George Mason University, it would appear, has a problem.
Be that as it may, let’s take a look at what she says to Joe Mercola:
Joe frames it right off the bat to appeal to the anti-GMO crowd:
If you’ve ever had qualms about eating genetically modified (GM) foods, you’d likely be deeply concerned about receiving a GM vaccine as well.
Such vaccines are already being produced – some are even on the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) recommended vaccine schedule – even though, as is the case with GM foods, we know very little about their long-term effects.
In the interview above, Vicky Debold, PhD, RN, director of research and patient safety with the National Vaccine Information Center (NVIC), spoke with me about the many reasons to be very wary of this new technology, which is far more intertwined with other biotech “innovations,” like GM food, than you might think.
Oh, noes! The same techniques used to produce GMOs are also used to make some vaccines! Horrors! Yes, Joe, it’s molecular biology and biotechnology. The techniques behind biotechnology are indeed the same, because that’s all they are: Techniques. These are techniques that have a broad utility to a wide variety of applications. These techniques allow the introduction and alteration of DNA to useful ends, be it to modify bacteria or other cells to make proteins in large quantities, to study cell function, or, yes, to make food or vaccines. Whether the products of these techniques are safe or not is not a function of the broad technique of “genetic modification” (GM) but a function of what is done with it.
As I said, antivaccine activists and anti-GMO activists share one thing (actually several things) in common, and that one thing is how they fetishize the “natural.” They also share another trait, and that is what I like to call the Jack D. Ripper trait. For those of you who don’t know who Brigadier General Jack D. Ripper was, he was a fictional character in a classic Stanley Kubrick Cold War black comedy, Dr. Strangelove, or: How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb. Commander of the Burpelson Air Force Base, which houses the SAC B-52 airborne alert bomber force just hours from the Soviet border, Ripper starts the movie by ordering his strategic bombers to begin an attack flight on the Soviet Union. The rest of the movie is an increasingly bizarre and black comedy about how the President, Ripper’s assistant, and the Joint Chiefs of Staff work furiously (and run into many problems, not the least of which is a “doomsday device”) to try to abort the attack before U.S. bombers turn dozens of Russian cities and targets into molten blobs of radioactive debris, resulting in World War III and the destruction of both the U.S. and Soviet Union in a full-scale nuclear conflagration.
Here are a couple of classic scenes featuring Ripper. They are the scenes that inspired me to refer to this particular bit of naturalistic fallacy favored by anti-GMO and antivaccine activists. You’ll see why very quickly:
Notice Gen. Ripper’s obsession with the purity of his “precious bodily fluids.” Back in the day, Gen. Ripper was a parody of the common fear that fluoridation was a Communist plot to “sap and impurify all our precious bodily fluids.” To him, it’s all about a “loss of essence” that “contaminating” his “precious bodily fluids” with fluoride supposedly causes.
Anti-vaccinationists and anti-GMO activists are a lot like Brig. Gen. Ripper. They fear the contamination of their “essence.” Don’t believe me? Take a look at what DeBold says:
Well, I think there’s a lot of danger, because we don’t know what portion of the DNA can be incorporated into our own genome. We don’t know what portion could be heritable to our children. We also don’t know what happens when the immune system is exposed to DNA that has been recombined in lots of ways that the human body, through the course of time, has never had any exposure to, and what diseases – diseases of the immune system – may occur because of these exposures.
I think the use of foreign DNA in various forms has a potential to cause a great deal of trouble. Not only because there is the potential for it to recombine with our own DNA, but there is the potential for it to turn the DNA’s switches, the epigenetic parts of the DNA, on and off. I think that we’re still in a place where there’s a lot of work that needs to be done to figure out what the short and long-term effects of this type of DNA are on people who have lots of different genetic makeups.
Yes, DeBold is protecting her child’s “essence” from contamination by those evil genetically modified vaccines and organisms!
I’ve discussed this issue in depth on multiple occasions. For instance, it’s become a meme among the antivaccine movement that DNA “contamination” of the anti-HPV vaccine Gardasil. Indeed, Helen Ratajczak has published a ridiculous review article that claims that “foreign DNA” from vaccines can undergo “homologous recombination” in neurons and thereby invoke autoimmunity. As I explained, only someone who doesn’t understand anything about how DNA gets into cells, how its expression is regulated, or even what DNA is in the various vaccines being demonized could say something like that with a straight face and believe it. Indeed, Harold Buttram even speculated that childhood vaccines could result in genetic hybridization from alien and animal DNA. As I said at the time, if we’re to believe Buttram, those evil vaccines are turning your baby into some sort of animal-human hybrid; that is, if the horrific toxins don’t fry their brains and making them autistic first!
More recently, antivaccinationists have been claiming that there is “microcompetition” between DNA contaminants in Gardasil (which can apparently only be detected by super-sensitive nested PCR assays), in which this DNA gets into cells and “competes” for the cellular machinery for turning the genetic code in DNA into proteins. They’ve even gone so far as to blame this mechanism for the death of a teenager. There’s one huge problem. It takes enormous amounts of DNA to compete for those proteins, and even the worst case scenario does not suggest that there is anywhere enough DNA in Gardasil to result in such “microcompetition”; that is, even if that DNA could get into somatic cells in adequate quantities to “compete.” It’s all nonsense that DeBold is laying down, and, more than anything else, it reminds me of Brig. Gen. Jack D. Ripper drinking vodka instead of water to avoid contamination of his precious bodily fluids. Or maybe, if Dr. Strangelove were remade today, it would be GMOs instead of water fluoridation (or maybe it would be both), and Ripper would be injecting DNase into his bloodstream in order to chew up all that evil vaccine and GMO DNA and protect his “essence” from their contamination.
One can’t help but wonder if any antivaccinationists are diabetics and whether they use insulin. The vast majority of insulin used in the US is manufactured using genetically engineered bacteria.
DeBold also commits the fallacy that so many other antivaccinationists and anti-GMO activists commit, and that’s to invoke epigenetics as though it’s some sort of magic that can mysteriously turn genes on and off. It’s not. We might not understand epigenetics as well as we understand other aspects of genetics and gene regulation, but that doesn’t mean that the magic fluoride—I mean, DNA—can magically reprogram the gene expression profiles of human cells. In fact, when it coms to alternative medicine and quackery (but I repeat myself), the term “epigenetics” has become every bit as protean in its use as a form of magic that can do anything as the term “quantum” has as a justification for homeopathy and other forms of magic. Of course, if it isn’t the evil foreign DNA from vaccines that’s sapping and impurifying your baby’s precious bodily fluids or the evil foreign DNA from GMOs that threatens to sap and impurify your precious bodily fluids, then it must be the vaccine adjuvants. So sayeth Vicky DeBold, and Joe Mercola not only is antivaccine, but anti-GMO.
There is an amusing side to all this fear mongering about “contamination” with vaccines and GMOs, particularly GMOs. I was highly entertained to learn the other day that there is one unexpected group that is opposed to California Proposition 37. Given the fact that Mercola is the single biggest donor to the pro-Proposition 37 forces and that Mercola makes his money selling supplements, you probably wouldn’t expect that the Natural Products Association would be completely opposed to Proposition 37, but it is.
While NPA supports the consumers’ right to know about the foods they purchase and appreciates the transparency Proposition 37 offers regarding genetically engineered foods, we cannot support the California Right to Know Genetically Engineered Food Act. NPA is very concerned with the enforcement provision as well as the limited definition of natural included in the language. Proposition 37 places every supplier, manufacturer, and retailer of food products at risk of unreasonable and frivolous litigation. We are concerned the restrictions on natural foods in the proposition language could create a difficult business environment in California and further hinder the ability of our members to sell natural products.
The NPA’s objection to Proposition 37 boils down to this:
The Natural Products Association has come out against California’s Proposition 37 GMO labeling proposal, in part because it would prohibit members from marketing thousands of foods as “natural”—even if they do not contain any genetically engineered ingredients.
Under the proposal, which will become law in July 2014 if Californians vote “yes” this November, a food cannot be labeled as “natural”—regardless of whether it contains GMOs—if it is a “processed food,” the definition of which includes “any food produced from a raw agricultural commodity that has been subject to processing, such as canning, smoking, pressing, cooking, freezing, dehydration, fermentation, or milling.”
This would mean scores of products from salted almonds to apple sause that have not been genetically engineered would no longer be allowed to call themselves “natural,” NPA chief executive John Shaw told NutraIngredients-USA, adding that the “road to hell is paved with good intentions.”
The NPA has yet to decide whether products featuring its “natural seal” for foodstuffs should be allowed to contain genetically engineered ingredients, said Welch.
Given that 94% of all soy, 90+% of sugar beet and canola and 88% of corn in the US is grown using GM seeds, securing non-GM alternatives is becoming increasingly challenging.
Hmmmm. Maybe Proposition 37 isn’t so bad after all. If the NPA and other supplement industry representatives are correct and it really would be devastating to the supplement industry (given that nearly every supplement is highly processed) and “natural” food sellers, one consolation if the antiscience silliness that is Proposition 37 passes is that it might cause supplement manufacturers considerable agita. In fact, it would be a good thing if fatuous advertisements touting how “natural” various highly processed food products and supplements are were eliminated because the term has become utterly meaningless. It also just goes to show how artificial the whole distinction between “genetic modification” and other forms of processing are. After all, nearly every plant grown for food has been genetically modified over centuries by selective breeding, hybridization, and other techniques. All the new genetic techniques allow us to do is to speed up this process and make it a lot more precise. With proper safeguards, it’s no more dangerous than what farmers have been doing all along. Moreover, what supplement manufacturers do to make their supplements is at least as “unnatural” as any genetic modification.
Freeze-dried animal glands, anyone?