Skepticism of research is frequent here

A problem with scientific research on controversial themes is that those who do the research are suspected of being paid mouthpieces of whatever special interest group is involved.

Sometimes this is true.

Stanford University historian  Robert N. Proctor said this about cigarettes and cancer:

“Cigarette manufacturers disputed this evidence, as part of an orchestrated conspiracy to salvage cigarette sales. Propagandizing the public proved successful, judging from secret tobacco industry measurements of the impact of denialist propaganda. As late as 1960 only one-third of all U.S. doctors believed that the case against cigarettes had been established.”

A.M. Costa Rica, itself, has been critical of the scientific lockstep involving reports of the impact of global warming.

Today distrust in government and institutions is widespread, and perhaps justified in some cases. North American expats in Costa Rica frequently are highly skeptical due to life experiences. No more is this true than in the case of Monsanto Co. and genetically modified plants.

There are a group of expats who react every time an article is published in A.M. Costa Rica about genetic modifications or the impact of Roundup, the company’s weed killer.

The evidence shows that there has never been a single case of documented injury from Roundup and its principal ingredient, glyphosate.

Yet Monsanto remains a dirty word, to some extend based on its history with Agent Orange in Vietnam and the popular prejudice against chemistry and science.

The opponents quickly reject anything related to Monsanto, even though the company is the one institution that has the deepest interest in researching the chemicals.

Such was the case Friday when A.M. Costa Rica published the report of a breast milk study at  Washington State University. Some readers noticed that a Monsanto laboratories in St. Louis, Missouri, had done some of the work.

The study found that glyphosate, the main ingredient in the herbicide Roundup, does not accumulate in mother’s breast milk. That was contrary to a disputed report by the advocacy group, Moms Across America, said the university

Michelle McGuire, an associate professor in the university’s School of Biological Sciences, is the lead researcher of the study, the first to have its results independently verified by an accredited, outside organization.

Professor  McGuire is well aware of these type of controversies. “As you probably are well aware, academia-industry collaborations are so often scrutinized to a level of nastiness . . . ,” she said in an email interview

She said that the sampling of mother’s milk was free of cost because she and her colleagues “piggy-backed the collection of the samples and surveys on a National Science Foundation-funded project focused on better understanding microbes and carbohydrates in milk. Thus, the collection of the samples cost us nothing and wasn’t funded by anyone other than (indirectly) the National Science Foundation.”

She said that Monsanto’s role was to develop and validate very, very sensitive and specific assays for milk and urine glyphosate and a certain nervous system chemical, As such, Monsanto internally funded that part, she added.

Monsanto also paid for the independent analyses by the Wisconsin-based Covance Laboratories, she said.

“However, please understand that we shipped the milk samples directly to Covance, and the folks at this independent laboratory communicated only with us in terms of the results,” said the professor. “Thus, they provided us (not Monsanto) with the data. We also did the statistical analyses in house and did not involved Monsanto in this phase as well. The conclusions were ours alone, not Monsanto’s.”

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