Internet Bias and Antibacterial Soap

by on 2014/01/25 updated 2014/01/25

antibacterial soapMany professions have long displayed a bias against online information even as they themselves put more of their work product online. Lots of us encounter this bias when questions or information found online is brought up in conversation.  This is changing a bit now as the internet is available at almost everyone’s fingertips and dismissing offhand something found online is becoming more difficult.   I know that when I now encounter these dismissive attitudes from people, rather than feel frustrated and compelled to challenge, I usually chalk it up as a lost cause, an unimportant issue not worth pursuing.

Some professionals, like doctors, are getting a lot better about listening to and discussing information brought to them from patients researching their concerns on the internet. And today if you feel your doctor is dismissive when bringing up information you have found online, it is very easy to find another doctor why will listen, and compassionately discuss, what you may be concerned about.  However, even though progress has been made in many professions, there is still one that frustrates me on at least a weekly basis…. main stream media and journalism.

Have you ever heard the sarcastic retort: “Oh they read that online, it must be true”?  This dismissive attitude does not serve well at all what I considered to be the main purpose of our media, to educate and inform.  Media professionals, even for a big company, need to have an open mind towards the smaller voices on the internet, viewing those voices not so much as competition, but as sources of information that can be researched and then brought before the much larger audience of a big media outlet like Time magazine.

Right now you may be thinking where is this going?  What prompted this topic in one of this site’s infrequent blog posts?  Well, while reading an issue of Time magazine from a few weeks ago, (yes I do still read print magazines), I found this article:  Antibacterial Soaps Could Be a Total Waste.  It prompted some frustration, not because Time seems to restrict online reading of their content at that link to members only, but because it seemed like very little research had been done for the article I read in the magazine itself.  Like so often is the case, the tone of the article is that Time is breaking some big news.

Many other outlets also wrote about the issue at the same time and all of the ones I found followed the “breaking news” approach.  This happens so often now it is very frustrating.  This specific topic, the ineffectiveness and possible dangers of antibacterial soaps, is so old it is almost comic that it could treated as news.  Even I was writing about this almost 7 years ago!  And I have written about it many times since.  A Google search on the topic, restricted to just the month of June, 2008, returns many other related articles.

If journalists were less dismissive of what can be found online when researching their articles, we would be much better served.  Yes there is a lot of garbage and nonsense online.  But there are also a lot of people writing on issues that are cutting edge and eventually destined to become mainstream knowledge.  Professional journalists could help speed the process by keeping an open mind when writing their stories.  Don’t ignore something in the research just because it was written years ago by an unknown blogger.

In an age where news can be almost instantaneous no matter where you are in the world, it is sad that an issue like the dangers and ineffectiveness of antibacterial soap can be right where it was in 2007.  And even sadder still to realize, that because of this journalism bias, it may very well be in the same place in 2017.

Will Sig

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A small image of the earth taken from space.This post was originally published a while ago but has recently been the target of an increased volume of visits.  It was prompted, in part, by a question on a now defunct site asking: “Tell us your feelings about earth, as it hurtles through space and time….. Is it in imminent danger right now? If yes, are we too late to save it? Is all the concern only unjustified paranoia?”

As readers of this site will know, I am certainly a fan of treating Mother Earth with all the respect we can. My reasons for this are a bit different than you might think. I optimistically have absolutely no fear that Homo sapiens, now the dominant species on the planet, will do any serious, long term harm to the Earth itself. The only reason many people think we as a species may permanently damage our planet is because of our biological tendency to see ourselves as the center of everything. The truth is we are too insignificant to the universe and even to the earth to be more than the proverbial fly on the camel’s back, always in danger of being swished off by the coarse tail of Mother Nature.

The reason I have been a supporter my whole life of the philosophy now trumpeted as “being green” has nothing to do with the ultimate preservation of the planet and everything to do with our responsibility to the other inhabitants of earth, human and otherwise, now and in the future. This responsibility means that we should not be contributing any more than is necessary for our survival to changes that affect the community of inhabitants of the earth. It is this community we have the awesome power to disrupt, not the planet itself.

Earth has undergone many cataclysmic changes in the past and will survive many more in the future. At some point in the future one of the changes will eliminate humans from the earth’s community. It is likely that before our final day, the species will face challenges of survival unthinkable to most people alive today. Whenever the ultimate end of the planet occurs, we humans will be insignificant contributors.

Fortunately, the human instincts of optimism and survival are not perceived on the incredibly huge scope of time involved with earth changes, but on the scale of the present and the coming few hundred years. Because of this, I believe we, as a species, will ultimately survive anything we can do to harm ourselves. (There is my optimism.) And, we will survive as a species because even if something happens that crushes the human population, any survivors will make the best of what is left in order to go on.

In our ultimate end, we will disappear because of some change well beyond our control. Current global warming trends are concerning and we need to address them so that we delay effects as long as possible. This will give us time and technology to help cope with the climate changes that will eventually come, human contributions or not. Eventually most of the current coastal cities of the world will be under water. At another point in the future, many of these same flooded areas will be under a mile thick sheet of ice. These futures seem long on the scale of human time, but they are short and repetitive on the scale of earthly time. Most sobering is that these things will eventually happen regardless of anything we humans do.

We are temporary occupants of earth. Our significance, and our responsibility, is to our fellow humans, both present and to come, and to all other species currently sharing the planet with us. The earth will survive into the unfathomable depths of time without us. However, by political, environmental, and religious responsibility, we can positively shape our part of the coming trip.

Will Sig

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This subject of this previously published post has recently been back in the news, (and even on Facebook), so I thought it good to re-visit the controversy. Is organic soy milk guaranteed free of genetically modified soybeans? I asked the question of Nigel Tunnacliffe and he was nice enough to write the following answer. Nigel studied risk communication and public policy of GE foods at Simon Fraser University. He runs GE-Free Solutions, a certification and labeling company for non-GE foods. He is on the steering committee for the Society for a GE-Free BC, and covered the Pacific Rim Summit on Biotechnology and Bioenergy on behalf of the Canadian Biotechnology Action Network (CBAN).

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Are Organic Soybeans GMO Free?

Photo by “Stuck in Customs”

Before I answer Will’s question, I need to state that I am not an expert on organic certification, and have no experience with American legislation. My experience is with genetically engineered foods in Canada, but I hope that while I approach the subject from a Canadian anti-GE perspective, I can shed some light on the question in as relevant a way as possible. I should also state that I am in the business of certifying non-genetically engineered foods, so please understand that I do approach this subject from a slightly biased point of view.

Can organic soy be genetically engineered? The answer is yes and no. It depends on your definition of “can”. If you mean is organic soy “allowed” to be GE? Then the answer is no. Organic certification requires that a crop be non-GE. BC Certified Organic, Pro-cert, Ecocert, “Transgenesis (modification of a genome through introducing DNA fragments, genetic engineering) is incompatible with the principles of organic production.” Quality Assurance International “Organic refers to products that are produced without using conventional pesticides … or bioengineering.”  USDA National Organic Program: “A variety of methods used to genetically modify organisms or influence their growth and development by means that are not possible under natural conditions or processes and are not considered compatible with organic production, (are not allowed). Such methods include cell fusion, microencapsulation and macroencapsulation, and recombinant DNA technology (including gene deletion, gene doubling, introducing a foreign gene, and changing the positions of genes when achieved by recombinant DNA technology).”

Clearly genetic engineering is not part of organic agriculture, so I believe this far we are all in agreement. The tricky part comes with how the standards are enforced.

If the question “can organic soy be GE?” Means “when I buy organic soy, is it possible that it is contaminated?” then the answer, unfortunately, is yes. It all comes down to the actual requirements under organic certification schemes. The Ecocert (a French multinational certifier) policy, sums it up the best:

a) Operators shall ensure that materials and products used do not come from genetic engineering. A written guarantee from suppliers shall be provided to the certifier whenever there is a variety from genetically modified produce, according to the official list available on the Health Canada Website.

b) As of April 1st, 2007, for reasons of prevention, all agricultural firms must specify in the production plans they submit annually for approval by the certifying body, any possible risks associated with the potential presence of GMOs. These plans must include measures to be put into place by the firm to control and overcome them, and must be updated whenever any changes occur regarding external or internal factors that might influence the organic integrity of the firm’s products.

The requirements stated are not so much of a concern as the conspicuous exclusion of a critical component…TESTING! And with testing, comes maximum allowable contamination. Our North American standards are woefully behind the times, leaving our producers vulnerable to having their exports turned away from European ports, where testing is sometimes done. There was even a case last year where a processor received a shipment of organic soybeans that were 20% GE.

What’s more, there are common ingredients found in organic processed products which can come from genetically engineered sources. For example, both vitamin C and xanthan gum are allowed in organic food. Vitamin C is commonly produced from the skins of corn kernels, and xanthan gum is produced by bacteria which are most commonly fed corn. Corn, of course, is one of the largest GE crops, and there is widespread contamination.

There is a growing movement to require testing for GMOs in organic food. There was a meeting back in March of all major players in organic agriculture and processing to call for GMO testing, but there was no follow-up press release, so the outcome is unknown. The promised report has also yet to surface. There are also organizations such as the Non-GMO Project and GE-Free Solutions, which carry out testing and certification for organic and conventional food.

So, what does this mean for you? First of all, there is no replacement for consumer education. If you are really concerned about eating GE foods, as I am, you read the ingredient panel even if a processed product is labeled as organic. With the exception of Hawaiian papaya, you are safe buying anything in the produce section (GE corn tastes bad, and is almost never sold as corn on the cob). For processed food, watch out for corn, soy, canola and their derivatives (of which there are many), and cotton seed, which is used in vegetable oil.  Some testing is being done to verify non-GE status of certain products.

However, despite the occasional contamination, buying organic is currently one of the safest bets, and definitely the safest alternatives to reading about every possible derivative of soy and corn, you can make as a consumer for avoiding GE ingredients.

Will Sig

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Wheat

by updated 2012/08/26

Wheat field



Will Sig

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Eggs are Bad For You Again

by updated 2012/08/15

Chicken laying a deadly egg

Twister arrested for attempted murder!

Poor Twister. Her eggs are back in the news and… stop the presses…  that news is not good.

For years it was said that eating eggs was bad for you, raising your cholesterol level and clogging your arteries. One recommendation was to eat 3 or fewer eggs per week and maybe even eat only the whites. Egg consumption dropped a bit during that time until a few years ago when newer studies seemed to show that eggs really were not bad for you after all. In recent years there has even been an explosion of “high omega” eggs which are touted as actually being beneficial to your cardiac health.

Well, just like debate over is coffee bad for you, and countless other health recommendations with conflicting advice, eggs are back in the news. This time the news harkens back to the “eggs are bad for you” days. Supposedly a lifetime of egg consumption is almost as damaging to your heart health as a lifetime of cigarette smoking! What?!?!

The average U.S. citizen eats 6-7 eggs per week but like any other statistic, we need to think about the numbers. Since not everyone eats eggs, the average number of eggs consumed by actual egg eaters is higher. I was not able to find out if this new study recommends a “safe” level of egg consumption. I suspect not since if eggs are as bad for you as cigarettes, and even one cigarette a week can be deadly, it stands to reason that the best advice is to eat no eggs.

Really??? This is not what I want to hear. I eat a basically healthy diet, pretty much all vegetable based and non-processed. I am not a fanatic though. If I could say anything to these diet researchers, it would be “please lay off the cigarette scary headlines and for **&&%%$# sake let me have my occasional 3-egg omelet in peace. Even going to websites like the Mayo Clinic, there is no recommendation for a safe level of egg consumption. All advice in that regard does not make for good headlines and is as bland and uninteresting as well, an egg white omelet.

Will Sig

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