Environment

If you read a headline declaring that scientists had discovered that up to 75 percent of human food samples were found to be contaminated with some scary-sounding substance, like arsenic, what would you think? (1)

You'd be worried, and rightfully so. But if you then found many paragraphs into the story the scientists admitting that the scary substance is in such minuscule trace amounts that it can't possibly pose a risk to human health, how would your feelings change? In an era of "fake news", you'd feel like that's just what you got.

Two recent studies on the health of bumblebees and links to neonicotinoids were published simultaneously last month in sister publications of the prestigious science journal empire Nature.

Both examined closely similar scientific questions, with somewhat different experimental methodologies. They had one big difference: The study that found that neonics caused no serious issues was ignored by the media while the one suggesting a bee-apocalypse was widely played up as “definitive.’

Let’s unpack what these studies actually showed, and reflect on why the studies have been reported on so differently.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture Office of Inspector General recently did an audit of the National Organic Program, which is part of its Agricultural Marketing Services group.
The President has declared he is against the Estate tax, and he is not alone. For decades it has seemed punitive to levy a special tax on wealth people already paid taxes on just because the person who paid the taxes died. 

In North Dakota, President Trump said he would "protect small businesses and family farmers here in North Dakota and across the country by ending the death tax" and that would ease the "Tremendous burden for the family farmer, tremendous burden. We are not going to allow the death tax or the inheritance tax or the whatever-you-want-to-call-it to crush the American Dream.”
There is ongoing concern about species extinction but it isn't just the fact that 99.999% of species have never been cataloged, so it's impossible to know how many are extinct, it's that Mother Nature may cause it long before we could.

A new study suggests nature's ecological web is so tenuous that it's amazing anything survived this long; even the smell of a predator can have disastrous effects in populations of small size in flies. They spend less time eating, more time being vigilant, have less sex, and produce fewer offspring. 

Stephen Hawking celebrated his seventy fifth birthday on the 2nd July. We can all be delighted that he lived so long, and continues in robust health, after he was diagnosed to survive only three years. May he continue to "live long and prosper" as the fictional Vulcans say in Star Trek (a UK man can expect to live another 12 years if he reaches his 75th birthday, other things being equal).

Last night was the premiere of "Food Evolution", a documentary on the science in our dinner, and I saw it with a large audience for the second time.

Wait, premiere? Second time? Which is it?

It's both. And that is how it became a tale of two cities. And maybe even a metaphor for the two Americas we now live in.

Two weeks ago I moderated a panel on communicating science and, more importantly, risk, at the University of Guelph, Canada's most prominent agriculture school. In the evening, there was a showing of "Food Evolution" in an auditorium there. I don't know how many people attended, it was packed, and before the movie there was a show of hands on how many people were okay with GMOs, how many distrusted them, and how many were unsure.

The nighttime satellite photos of the Earth reveal much about the population distribution of the developed world through the intensity of the artificial lighting being observed.