From Manhattan Contrarian: Unifying Themes Behind Pseudoscience

Most of the coverage of pseudoscience at this site has been of two things, the climate scare and the high-fat diet hoax.  But in a column in yesterday’s Times of London, Matt Ridley reminds us that there are plenty of more examples of big-time pseudoscience out there.  His column covers two more that are also the subject of recent news:  (1) glyphosate (“Roundup”) weed killer, and (2) DDT.  That makes four.  Do all of them seem to have some unifying themes?

Why is glyphosate in the news?  If you are in the U.S. you may not have seen much news about it lately.  But Ridley notes that just last week the European Parliament voted to ban it for “non-professionals” — that is, gardeners — while also “allowing” its use for another counting-down seven years for farmers while the matter is “studied.”  So what’s the problem with glyphosate?  It certainly has some big positives.  Besides having a large role in increasing crop yields and reducing famine around the world, it is much less toxic than prior-generation weed killers:

Dose for dose, glyphosate is half as toxic as vinegar, and one tenth as carcinogenic as caffeine. Not that coffee’s dangerous — but the chemicals in it, like those in virtually any vegetable, are dangerous in lab tests at absurdly high concentrations. . . .  Roundup is probably the safest herbicide ever, with no persistence in the environment.   

But Ridley gives several reasons why glyphosate has come to be hated by what he calls the Green Blob:

[T]he Green Blob hates it for three reasons. It’s off-patent and therefore cheap. It was invented by Monsanto, a company that had the temerity to make a contribution to reducing famine and lowering food prices through innovation in agriculture. And some genetically modified crops have been made resistant to it, so that they can be weeded after planting by spraying, rather than tilling the ground: this no-till farming is demonstrably better for the environment, by the way.   

But what’s the state of the science?  Is glyphosate dangerous?  On that subject we have the U.S. Agricultural Health Study, which has been tracking 89,000 farmers and their spouses for 23 years.  The results:

The study found “no association between glyphosate exposure and all cancer incidence or most of the specific cancer subtypes we evaluated, including NHL [non-Hodgkins lymphoma]. . .”   

Numerous other studies reach the same results.  So why isn’t that the end of the matter?

The rest of the article can be read here.

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