Marching Off a Cliff Against Monsanto

[Note: The following images are screen caps of actual comments found in a single afternoon on March Against Monsanto’s Facebook page. -Merkolovic]

satanic I love the idea of March Against Monsanto. I really do. A grassroots movement of concerned citizens rallying together to do battle in the fight between corporate interests and public good–I honestly wish there were more groups that had this kind of fire and passion for standing up to corporate bullies and pressuring elected officials to act in the best interest of the people rather than big business contributors.communism

The problem is that March Against Monsanto is based on a misunderstanding. This problem is exacerbated by the fact that the movement has been hijacked. What was once a movement of well-meaning-but-misinformed activists has turned into a crackpot train-wreck of conspiracy theorists, snake oil salesmen, and people whose utter divorce from reality makes them difficult to categorize.conspiracy bingo

March Against Monsanto was formed in response to the failure of a 2012 California ballot initiative that would have required labels on any food made from genetically modified organisms, commonly referred to as GMOs. At it’s core, M.A.M. aims at both removing GMOs from the food supply and taking down the Monsanto corporation.morgellons chemtrails

The misunderstanding that makes this all possible is the idea that there is something inherently unsafe about GMOs. My first objection is that it isn’t useful to lump every GMO under one umbrella, as each specific organism is subjected to its own battery of testing. Being against all GMOs because one might be harmful is comparable to being against all electronics because some computers might be used to commit identity theft. That being said, there is a clear scientific consensus on the safety of GMO products currently on the market. This consensus is solid enough that pundits rightfully refer to GMO fear-mongering as the climate change denial of the left.doctors all in on it

Where does the misunderstanding come from? Many anti-GMO activists will point to a study from 2012 led by Gilles-Eric Séralini which concluded that both genetically modified maize and glyphosate (the active ingredient in several herbicide formulas including Monsanto’s popular Round-Up products) caused an increase in tumors in lab rats. That paper has since been retracted due to a lack of statistical analysis which makes the paper’s conclusions indefensible and general sloppiness which doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. Rather than dismissing these debunked results, many of the anti-GMO faithful cite the retraction of the paper as evidence of a world-wide conspiracy between scientists, governments, and Monsanto.fertility

So how do you convince someone that lack of evidence is not, in and of itself, evidence of a conspiracy? How do you point out the lack of logic in simultaneously believing both that 1) Monsanto “terminator seeds” won’t reproduce and 2) that Monsanto is suing farmers whose crops have accidentally reproduced with Monsanto’s (supposedly non-reproducing) plants? [Neither is true. See Myths #1 and #2 here.] Or the contradiction in believing 1) that GMOs haven’t been tested enough to ascertain safety while simultaneously believing 2) that there has been adequate testing to prove that GMOs are harmful? [Again, neither are true. Here and here.]this doesnt help either

It becomes even more difficult when heroes of the March Against Monsanto movement such as “The Food Babe” Vani Hari, “The Food Ranger” Mike Adams, Dr. Mehmet Oz, and “Dr.” Joseph Mercola intentionally muddy the waters in order to carve out careers selling pseudoscience books and website ads for sketchy nutritional supplement companies. These four horsemen of quackery command a disturbing amount of web and media attention despite being unqualified, debunked, or in Dr. Oz’s case, even admitting there is no science behind the crap he’s promoting. These charlatans present a clear danger to people who need proven medical treatments but are recklessly convinced that doctors and scientists aren’t to be trusted. All of this brings up a third set of self-contradicting beliefs held by many anti-GMO-ers, 1) that Monsanto can’t be trusted because its profit motive, but 2) that The Food Babe/corporate organic farms, et al., have our best interests at heart.the mire they spray

Finally, as if there wasn’t already enough misunderstanding and misinformation, March Against Monsanto has fallen into the same predicament as other inclusive grassroots movements without central leadership. The extreme elements of an already fringe movement are making more noise and drawing more attention than the folks attempting a rational and intellectually honest pursuit of the truth. I already mentioned conspiracy theories related to collusion between scientists, governments, and big business money. As ridiculous as that sounds it’s just the tip of the iceberg. The comments on March Against Monsanto’s Facebook page are a minefield of conspiracies, woo, and delusion. Google “Monsanto chemtrails.” I dare you. Try “Monsanto depopulation” when you’re done. Add “illuminati” or “JFK” or any other conspiracy buzzwords. I’m not going to dignify such obvious nonsense with any more discussion.illuminati nickelodean

The ironic tragedy of it all is that March Against Monsanto has unwittingly become exactly what it set out to kill–Misinformation, capitalist greed, and a danger to public health. There are legitimate concerns related to GMO science and corporate accountability in developing these technologies. Unfortunately, March Against Monsanto’s pseudoscience circus sideshow has proven itself incapable of sitting at the adult table for that conversation. The fervent focus on non-issues and imaginary threats leaves other corporations free to commit any manner of atrocities behind these activists’ backs.

Re: “So… You Think the Book of Mormon Isn’t a Fraud?” Well, Since You Asked…

A certain blog titled “So… You Think the Book of Mormon is a Fraud?” has been circulating amongst the Mormon faithful’s social media pages and has made it’s way onto the Merkolovic radar. I LOVE what the author is trying to do here–he’s attempting to present an argument and providing evidence to support his claims. Fantastic! I wish more people would attempt to address their own faith with some level of critical analysis.

The problem, however, is that he doesn’t seem to have taken a very critical look at the evidence he’s presenting. He gives a list of ten points (plus a bonus 11th) to support the idea that the Book of Mormon (heretofore abbreviated as BoM) cannot possibly be a fraud. I’ve posted each of his 11 points below with my own critique.

Before we start I want to be clear that my intent is not to bash on my Mormon peeps. Rather, I want to pay homage to those faithful LDS members who are able to reconcile faith and reason in an intellectually honest way. My opinion of my LDS friends and family is too high for me to accept that any of them would prefer to base their beliefs on inaccurate or incomplete information. Similarly, I’m not trying to suggest that Mr. Trimble is in any way being intentionally deceitful in his position. Having been raised in a Mormon cultural bubble myself I know firsthand how the LDS culture promotes a certain church-friendly version of the facts that lacks what I would now consider a healthy dose of skeptical inquiry. Ok, here we go.

1. “Could an uneducated boy come up with 531 pages of ancient scripture on his own that was historically accurate and prophetic in nature?” No, which is likely the reason that the Book of Mormon is NOT historically accurate by any objective measure, nor prophetic in nature. The historical inaccuracy of the Book of Mormon is well documented. The massive body of archeological discoveries in the Americas has failed to turn up a single shred of evidence supporting the existence of the people, places, or events detailed in the BoM. Furthermore, the BoM consistently refers to flora and fauna which are known not to have existed in the pre-Columbian Americas. The BoM also mentions technologies that are known to have not existed at the time. Developments in the science of genetics have verified that the indigenous people of the Americas trace their lineage from people of central Asia, which clearly contradicts the BoM tale of native American civilizations springing up from Middle Eastern immigrants. All the alleged”prophecy” contained in the book deals with predictions of things that had conveniently happened by the time Joseph Smith wrote it,  predictions that were conveniently fulfilled by the act of writing the BoM itself, predictions that conveniently haven’t happened yet, and predictions which are just plain wrong.

2. “Would it be possible for that boy to understand and include ancient Hebrew literary writing styles such as idioms and Chiasmus, some of which weren’t even discovered until long after Joseph Smith was gone?” Purposely or not, this is a disingenuous question. Chiasmus may not have been called “chiasmus” in Joseph Smith’s time, but the Bible was still full of examples of this writing style. Anyone familiar with the Bible or trying to replicate a biblical style of writing could easily do this. Despite the daunting academic weight of an obscure word like “chiasmus,” it’s actually a fairly simple device. JFK used it in his quote “Ask not what your country can do for you—ask what you can do for your country.” It might be noted that JFK was also not known to be a Hebrew language scholar. (More discussion on chiasmus and the BoM.)

3. “How would Joseph Smith have been able to know so much about the Middle East, especially the Arabian Peninsula where Lehi and his family traveled? The book includes findings in that region that no one had discovered yet.” Here is an excellent discussion of the pseudoscientific leaps one needs to make to come to the conclusion that recent old world discoveries are evidence of BoM validity. To summarize, the BoM is very vague in describing these areas. It gives a general sense of which direction Lehi’s party walked and how long they walked (eight years?!), so that there are thousands of square miles that fit the description. Since a quarter or more of the Arabian Peninsula fits the description given in the BoM, it’s not surprising that previously undiscovered ruins have been found in those area.

4. “How could Joseph Smith come up with roughly 200 new names in the Book of Mormon and then have them turn out to be Semitic in nature?” Good discussion here. Many of the names Joseph came up with were coincidentally found on maps, particularly maps of the area around his home of Palmyra, New York. It’s also worth noting that Hebrew names and words in general are easy to link to unrelated names since written Hebrew doesn’t include vowels.

5. “If you think Joseph Smith couldn’t have written this book, then where did it come from? If one says the devil put him up to it…then why would Satan want to publish another testament of Jesus Christ and a book that does nothing but promote righteousness. Jesus said that a house divided against itself would fall.” The only people arguing that Joseph Smith couldn’t have written the BoM are the Mormons themselves. There isn’t any evidence that the BoM contains anything that Smith couldn’t have known, plagiarized, or just made up.

6. “Who were the “other sheep” that would hear Jesus’s voice in John 10:16?” Like a lot of the Bible, this comes down to a matter of personal interpretation. There is no evidence that Jesus even knew the Americas existed.

7. “Why are there volumes of books written by non-LDS authors stating that Christ came and visited the America’s a couple thousand years ago just like it says in 3rd Nephi? (See Example “He Walked The America’s”) How would Joseph Smith have known this when at the time no one even considered it?” Why are there volumes of books saying that the Earth is hollow? That 9/11 was an inside job? That Bigfoot is a space alien? The existence of books doesn’t prove that the premise of the books is true. Harry Potter told me so. There’s no evidence that Jesus was ever in the Americas. There is no evidence that Joseph Smith knew there would be volumes of books about Jesus in the Americas.

8. “If we have the stick of Judah (record of the Jews or the Bible), then where is the stick of Joseph that is referenced in Ezekiel 37:15-20? The Book of Mormon is the only explanation for this scripture. Lehi was a descendant of Joseph. Think Joseph Smith could have gotten that right by sheer chance?” Actually, if you read the rest of the chapter, it becomes pretty clear that the two sticks are metaphors for reuniting the kingdom of Israel. Verse 22: “And I will make them one nation in the land upon the mountains of Israel; and one king shall be king to them all: and they shall be no more two nations, neither shall they be divided into two kingdoms any more at all.” In the context of the chapter as a whole it seems really strange to interpret this as a reference to the BoM. Classic case of apologists assuming the conclusion and going back to look for supporting evidence after the fact.

9. “How could there be so many witnesses of the Book of Mormon and the plates and not one of them deny their testimony even when some of them became bitter toward Joseph Smith? With so many people involved…a hoax of this magnitude could never go uncovered.” Where to start on this one? Of the original three witnesses, two later clarified that they didn’t _literally_ see anything at all. All three of them were excommunicated from the church at some point. You’d think seeing angels and hearing gods would have more of a long-lasting impact on someone. Harris and Cowdery both returned to the church later, but that seems inconsequential compared to the fact that they had a falling out with a guy who showed them angels and let them hear the voice of God himself. I don’t know about you, but if someone demonstrates enough God-given authority to summon angels and the voice of God I probably wouldn’t want to pick a fight with that guy. Furthermore, we have the strange case of James Strang. Strang claimed to be the true heir to the prophetic mantle after the death of Joseph Smith. He produced more samples of ancient writings and translations, which he, unlike Smith, allowed the public to examine. All but one of the surviving BoM witnesses accepted Strang’s legitimacy and the authenticity of his plates and translations. This seems to cast considerable doubt on the reliability of these witnesses. Unless you’re a Strangite, which is apparently still a thing. (Bonus weird story to check out: The Kinderhook Plates.)

10. “How could the Book of Mormon never contradict itself while being an extremely complex book? After all these years…someone would have found something…but no.” We’re setting the bar pretty low here if we’re accepting internal consistency as evidence of divine providence. Not being self-contradictory is usually a bare minimum requirement for any book. Literary “complexity” is a difficult concept to quantify, but there’s no objective reason to think that the BoM is any more complex than, say, The Lord of the Rings trilogy. LotR also manages to avoid contradicting itself but that doesn’t seem like evidence supporting a literal interpretation of its events, characters, or divine origin. One might note that while the BoM may not contradict itself, it does seem to contradict other Mormon scriptures including the Pearl of Great Price, Doctrine and Covenants, and the Bible itself. Not to mention that the BoM _does_ contradict everything we’ve learned from new world archeology, genetics, etc (see item #1 above).

11. “And the most important question to ask yourself is ‘How do I feel while I read the Book of Mormon?’ Don’t let anyone tell you that you can’t trust your feelings. We are spiritual beings, and if we can’t trust our feelings, then what do we have?”One of my favorite stories about Mormon feelings involves my mother as a young coed at Brigham Young University. On multiple occasions she was approached by earnest young men claiming to be moved by the spirit to ask her out. These clean-cut former missionaries were convinced that they had received affirmative answers to their prayerful queries about a romantic future with my mom. I honestly feel bad for these guys as victims of a culture that tells you that a warm feeling in your heart is an affirmative answer from God. They must have been extremely bummed out when my mom walked away each time. Other notable anecdotes about Mormons being wrong about their feelings include people living on the sun, death penalty for interracial marriage, that Jesus would come back by 1891, and that the US government would be overthrown after it’s mistreatment of the early church. Several more are just a Google search away.

I would suggest to Mr. Trimble that we have a lot beyond just our feelings. We have facts. We have logic. Facts and logic suggest that feelings are a particularly horrible way to discern the truth about anything. Many people feel that vaccines cause autism. Many people feel that humans have never set foot on the moon. Many people feel that Caucasians are a superior race. When feelings and facts run afoul of one another, we ought to first consider why our feelings are so out of line with reality, and second consider changing our beliefs to fit more accurately with what the evidence suggests.

World Cup 2014 Stats: UEFA Sucked and So Does Rob

For some reason my dear Dutch-ruddering, er, I mean Dutch-loving friend Rob took my World Cup prediction very personally. I simply said that UEFA teams wouldn’t do as well as most people are expecting, mostly in response to nay-sayers arguing that team USA couldn’t progress in a group with Portugal and Germany. Tensions spilled over into social media. Rob called me out. Unfortunately for Rob, by the time he called me out for being wrong I was already right.

As a point of clarification, let me say Rob is one of the most awesome people I know. I love him like a brother. Like most brothers, Rob can be a real butthole to argue with. Exhibit A: Consider the following Facebook post.

Identities have been hidden with orange out of respect for Rob's dumb love of the Netherlands

Identities have been hidden with orange out of respect for Rob’s dumb love of the Netherlands.

You’ll notice the date, July 8th, shortly after Brazil got waxed 7-1 by Germany in the first semi-final. In Rob’s fantasy land, one brilliant German performance had apparently proven me wrong. Nevermind that we had just witnessed shocking first round exits from Italy, England, Portugal, and defending champs Spain. Nevermind that only 6 out of 13 UEFA teams advanced to the knockout round. 2014’s knock-out-round-qualifying rate of 46.2% tied UEFA’s worst-ever World Cup performance since the implementation of the current format in 1986. Contrast this to CONMEBOL’s 83.3% group stage success rate in 2014 (CONMEBOL advanced five out six teams, making us wonder where Rob came up with the idea that there were S. American teams that everyone knew would under-perform), the second best CONMEBOL performance in the same time frame. For context, UEFA’s average rate of second-round progression in all prior World Cups since 1986 is 66.3%. Rob must have anticipated the use of such statistics would annihilate his dumb argument, so he immediately engages in moving the goalposts to save face.

Oh, I see what you did there. Let’s ignore that UEFA as a whole performed poorly because A) some UEFA teams did well, and B) everyone knew in advance that certain UEFA teams were going to suck.

He then elaborates further. i know the  anon

So there you have it. Everyone knew that Spain was less talented than they were in the last cycle, and that they wouldn’t progress regardless of host country. The only problem with Rob’s explanation is that it’s complete bullshit. Spain was one of the top four favorites entering the tournament. Other first round dropouts Portugal, Italy, and England were also in the top ten.

Rob’s obvious mistake here is that he refuses to recognize the value of home field advantage. Prior to 2014, zero European teams had won World Cups in South America, and only one South American team had won a World Cup in Europe. Home advantage extends beyond the host country and benefits the entire home continent. 68.4% of all World Cup winners have been host countries or countries located within the same continent as the host. Predicting that Europe wouldn’t do as well in South America is an absolute no-brainer. Only a complete turd would argue the point, especially after UEFA teams’ performances had already proved me right. What next, Rob? Are you going to say I’m wrong if I predict that UEFA teams will perform much better in Russia 2018?

In conclusion, Rob sucks and I was right. Help teach him a lesson by leaving a comment about how great Mexico is or how much Arjen Robben cheats. LOVE YOU ROB!!!!! ❤

He changed his name from Floppity McDiverson when he was 13.

He changed his name from Floppity McDiverson when he was 13.