When Alice’s adventures in Wonderland were growing increasingly strange, she described them as “curiouser and curiouser.” That may be the best line to describe the Stanford study raising such a ruckus among those on opposite sides of the organics-versus-conventional debate.
Recently, I pointed out some of the flaws in the study. For example:
Whether or not corporate influence in this paper is direct, as some critics imply, Stanford has strong ties to some of the major beneficiaries and proponents of industrialized agriculture. Among them are Cargill, Caterpillar, British Petroleum and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (investors in and supporters of Monsanto). This is not to say all of Stanford’s donors set out to influence its researchers. However, corporate influence on university research is ubiquitous and influences outcomes.
Some critics of the study pointed to Ingram Olkin’s participation. NaturalNews fingered Olkin as “an ‘anti-science’ propagandist working for Big Tobacco.” They correctly pointed out that in 1976 he received $12,000 from Philip Morris to develop a statistical approach to risk analysis. Conveniently, his research contributed to the tobacco industry’s long fight to deny that smoking was a health issue.
Although more than 35 years have passed since Olkin’s tobacco-related study, OpEdNews considers his participation in this one tainted. They reason that the research team used Olkin’s meta-analysis to generate the results reported in the organics study. Therefore, the study is using poor methodology.
Researchers always quarrel about each others’ hypotheses and methodology, but Olkin’s meta-analysis should be supported or dismissed on grounds more solid than his statistics having helped the tobacco industry nearly four decades ago. After all, he may actually have refined his approach since then.
Beyond Olkin, the research team appears to have no particular ties to anything nefarious. Nor do they appear to have any particular expertise in food or food systems issues.
One final concern has been raised, the timing of the study’s publication. Californians will be voting on Prop 37 in November. Big Ag (including Big Organic) is firmly opposed to GMO labeling and is shoveling money into the campaign to defeat the proposition. Proponents are fighting hard but have a fraction of the resources.
Next: The Flawed Study Should Be Ignored
Photos 1 and 2: Thinkstock; Photo 3 from Austin Valley via Flickr Creative Commons
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