Thursday, June 2, 2016

Musings: Silencing Critics

It's becoming clear why the Joint Fact Finding report on Kauai agricultural pesticide use is such a muddle. Consider the belief system that drove it, as articulated by facilitator Peter Adler to the state Board of Ag this week: “Everyone is entitled to their own facts.”

Ah. No wonder we see high school science projects given the same weight as those conducted by professionals. But if facts are equal to beliefs, what is the value of a fact-finding process?
Too bad we weren't warned about the limitations of such a process before the state/county signed on to this $175,000 project:

Yet joint fact-finding is not appropriate for every conflict scenario. Where there are drastic power differentials, extreme mistrust or hatred of the other side, or volatile social/political concerns, joint fact-finding may be impossible. The process must involve a relatively even playing field so that one side cannot dominate the fact-finding efforts.

So then why did Adler stack the group with those who favored Bill 2491?

Meanwhile, experts shared numerous concerns with Adler and the JFF, but their comments were never incorporated into the group's final report.

Consider this critique by F. DeWolfe Miller, MPH, PhD, Professor of Epidemiology, John A. Burns School of Medicine, University of Hawaii. First he takes apart the health monitoring proposals:

These recommendations were clearly made without professional epidemiological consultation and are typical of many other communities in the US and elsewhere in the world who have tried to link various health outcomes to some geographic marker as a proxy for some kind of potential environmental hazard. There is an abundance of literature on this subject.  An example of a local study is by Kirkham (1987)[1]. 

Linking health outcomes (cancer/BD) to zip codes is not recommended for two reasons. One is statistical. There will not be enough events per zip code to reach “statistical significance”, especially in Kauai.  In spite of this, there seems to be an irrational obsession with using zip codes for various useless data mining endeavors.

Even if statistical significance could be achieved, zip codes are not exposures. They are zip codes. Exposure to environmental hazards – in this case pesticides - has to be demonstrated and linked directly and quantitatively to an individual or individuals.

Linking cancer, birth defects or other health outcomes geographically is called by epidemiologists  “ecologic study designs”. Inferring the results from ecologic studies, i.e. from groups (zip codes for example) to individuals is termed an “ecological fallacy” and is by definition, flawed.  Investigation of birth defects is in the arena of research that should be separately funded though peer reviewed funding sources such as NIH.

The Hawaii State Department of Health should not be bound by this recommendation.

Miller also dismantles the proposal to test workers for pesticides:

The Rationale for this recommendation is confusing: “Pesticides migrating off of their target site has been documented”. This is not a rationale for medical monitoring of agricultural workers.  In addition, applicators and field workers are not necessarily the most at risk of exposure. This would depend on many factors.

It would be more cost effective to monitor and test all those who handle and apply pesticides for knowledge, skill, practice and mandated documentation. When a worker tests positive for exposure it is too late.
Unprotected farmer applying paraquat to eggplant in India.
Miller also dismisses the recommendations to initiate surface water, air, soil and dust monitoring/sampling:

[T]he objectives are not sufficiently clear nor the finding of the report such to justify the costs of testing potentially thousands of environmental specimens from water, soil, and air. Such programs are a costly waste of resources.

What is important is compliance with application methods, rules, and regulations.

The Department of Health has an excellent Hazard Evaluation Program and Director of Health. They routinely update their knowledge on published research for any new health risk factors for exposures to a wide variety of environmental agents including pesticides. Due to budget cuts there is not an environmental health epidemiologist in the Department of Health. A crucial state function is to have in house expertise to assess and evaluate health impacts from environmental sources, including pesticides.  Adding this capacity to Hazard Evaluation and Emergency Response office will strengthen the ability of the state to address public health concerns from potential pesticide exposures.

Miller then states what has been obvious to so many — except Adler and the JFF group:

[S]ome of the recommendations made are not entirely consistent or follow logically with the findings, given the lack of any documented negative health impacts. Moreover, the recommendations given are not without impact in terms of cost, resources, expertise, and interpretation.  On the face of it, it would seem that the recommendations made were for yet unforeseen or yet to be established events.

Yet none of Miller's thoughtful assessments found their way into the final report. Why?

Then there was this, from Dr. Barry M. Brennan, UH Emeritus Extension Specialist for Pesticide Safety and Agrosecurity:

My major concern is the composition of the SG [study group] and the failure to include articulate and knowledgeable experts like Drs. Lyle Wong and Po-Yung Lai as consultants or volunteers. Pesticide investigations can be highly complex and both Wong and Lai have the requisite experience, knowledge, and understanding to address questions and concerns of the SG. Without their input and guidance the SG may be unaware of how pesticides are managed, where and why environmental and human health impacts are most likely to occur, and what changes might be needed to improve Hawaii’s pesticide laws and regulations, inspection process, educational programs, licensing and registration policies and programs.

I am concerned about the appearance of bias. First, because of the lack of input from individuals like Drs. Wong and Lai, and second because of the appended comments from Milton Clark regarding the origin of MITC [stinkweed at Waimea Canyon Middle School]. (At the very least, Dr. Li should have been asked to respond to Clark’s comments.)

Secondly, while you involved a long list of people in your acknowledgements (myself included) how and why were these individuals picked to participate in the SG discussions? Why weren’t authorities like Drs. Lyle Wong, Po-Yung Lai, and Mike Kawate included as resources? Both Drs. Wong and Lai have working knowledge of the environmental fate of pesticides, the registration process and state and federal pesticide laws and regulations. Both have served as Pesticide Branch Chief, Head of the Plant Industry Division and as UH faculty or administration. Did your Project Team have a strong science background related to pesticide use and how did you define “strong science”? Having a professional degree in one area of science or medicine does not make you a professional in an unrelated field.

Indeed. Why did Adler engage biased consultants, like Surfrider's Carl Berg, rather than ag and pesticide experts? 

Brennan continues:

It is unrealistic to compare pesticide use by the corn seed companies in Hawaii with pesticide use in major corn growing mainland states. Hawaii grows foundation seed; mainland states grow sweet, field, feed, and seed corn. The weather systems, ecology, insect and weed pests, soils, and economics are also different. Foundation seed is a specialty crop and therefore considered a high cash crop like flowers, fruits and vegetables. Foundation seed production is far less tolerant of pest damage than mainland corn production.

Relative to California, Hawaii’s Pesticide Branch is greatly understaffed. Several states have attempted to duplicate California’s pesticide regulatory framework with little success despite investing considerable financial resources.

Determining the “chronicity” of pesticides used in Hawaii is the responsibility of EPA as defined in the oft amended Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act and the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act.

Adler and JFF members owe both the Kauai community and the Hawaii taxpayers who funded this project an explanation as to why these and other relevant, legitimate critiques were completely ignored. 

In closing, I'll return to the essay that started this post:

Ultimately, though, the greatest benefit joint fact-finding can achieve is an improved relationship between the conflicting parties. When a group gathers together to achieve a common goal, members become more familiar. Trust is improved. The other side becomes more human, their concerns more readily validated. The act of deciding to work with individuals formerly considered "the enemy" is really an act of good faith, one that fosters mutual respect and understanding.

Considering that the three members who didn't support Bill 2491 were driven to resign, and then derided as "petulant" seed industry shills, I'd say Adler scored an epic fail.


Anonymous said...

Joan, you have hit the nail directly on the head. How this report can be taken seriously in any way is utterly baffling. If Peter Adler had done his job and held all parties to the facts, there is no doubt in my mind that all or most of the other six members would have resigned. So it was destined to fail for the reasons you point out. Adler just took the path of least resistance and the path that mirrored his own beliefs. Hopefully we won't waste any more taxpayer monies on Adler's flights of fancy and ego-feeding work.

Anonymous said...

They should have been called the Joint Fear Finding Group.

Anonymous said...

Hindsight is 20/20. The project should have been given to those knowledgeable in appropriate disciplines and not to those with predictable (biases) views. It should not have been viewed as a conflict but what it was intended to be "fact-finding" study. Hawaii would have been better served had the project been given to candidates pursuing advanced degrees in appropriate disciplines with the $175K in the form of a grant. Only then would the project findings be valid.

Anonymous said...

At the very least, this charade was a monumental waste of $175,000.

Anonymous said...

Even more outrageous is that they chose to ignore the instructive comments from accomplished professionals that Joan highlighted, but they DID make changes based on a comment received from a resident who encouraged them to make the statements of non-evidence less conclusive. Example: The draft states - "The Kauai health data examined does not show a causal relationship between the pesticides used by the seed companies and the health problems experienced on the Westside or any other part of Kauai.” That statement in the final was changed to: “The Kauaʻi health data is very limited and by its very nature, cannot be used to provide any information on the subject of causality or even on the possible association between the pesticides used by the seed companies and the health problems experienced on the Westside or any other part of Kauaʻi.” There are several more examples of this type of wordsmithing in the final document.

Beth Tokioka

Anonymous said...

What unique health problems are they experiencing on the west side?

John Kauai said...

Again, I say I take a more nuanced approach to this GMO issue which has conflated so many different issues under a single banner that it is impossible to discuss each of them without being forced into a useless, purposeless discussion of one orthogonal to the point being made.

Anyway, you might find this article beneficial.

Food Industry Enlisted Academics in G.M.O. Lobbying War, Emails Show

Perhaps this group can enlighten me on why Dr. Kevin Folta should be any more believed (or ignored) than Dr. Tyrone Hayes.

I hope that we can at some future date disentangle these issues and address them more intelligently than we do now.

Anonymous said...

John "Kauai" you have got to be kidding?

If you care enough to do any in depth, critical reading about these two gentlemen there is no question who should be believed or ignored. Replicable research, peers doing associated research and commentary, etc etc....

You would do yourself and all of us a service to read and think through more and write less.

John Kauai said...

No I am not kidding and your ad hominem attacks do little to change my mind. I could just as easily throw the "if you care.." BS back at you, but that hardly make me feel any more informed or better than you.

If you insist on being "anonymous" there is little reason to give any credibility to your statements.

So, here are a couple more articles. I suppose you might take the Clinton supporter tack and insist that the money spent by Monsanto has no effect on CTAHR, but then you surely know how I'll respond to that. And on the second article, I suppose you'll insist that the source publication is biased (which it probably is, but how is that not the case with TGI or the Star-Advertiser?) and so should be ignored. Yet, everyday we see the MSM cover up stories that should outrage us.

Anyway, I repeat the point I made earlier that the issue cannot be intelligently discussed under a single rubric of GMO (good or bad). And unless we figure out a way of widely separating the issues we are doomed to this continued silly name-calling that is so prevalent here and in the TGI comments.

Lest you complain I do not post any pro-GMO columns, Joan fills in that responsibility just fine and needs no cheerleading from me.

Monsanto funds education and research at CTAHR

The Silencing of Hector Valenzuela

Joan Conrow said...

Really, John, you need to read more widely and deeply. And frankly, your comments never do anything to further the intelligent discussion you claim to seek. Also, please don't pretend that you're not anonymous. Lol

Anonymous said...

JK wastes our time. The man throws up walls of links to things no one is bothering to read because he thoughtlessly cuts and pastes off topic crap. I've seen both Folta and Hayes in action. Folta is a self effacing, down to earth and and outstanding educator. It's hard to tell which Hayes is more full of- shit or himself.

I rather doubt anyone here gives a rat's ass about changing your mind, JK; we're just worried about the awful waste of electrons your posts represent. Sorry it's ad hominem, but I resent all the scrolling I have to do to get past you to some content.

Anonymous said...

John Kauai,

If you've been involved in agricultural research or any part of ag in Hawaii over the past 30 or so years, like some of us who comment on Joan's blog, you would easily recognize the names you mentioned and the ones Joan has quoted.

I wish I had the time to explain to you the difference between apples and oranges, good and evil, credible and laughing stock. But I don't.

However, if you do some reading to educate yourself, you will learn that Tyrone Hayes' work has been thoroughly discredited, even by EPA. And Hector is an embarrassment to UH, but they can't easily get rid of the unfortunately tenured professor who screams that he's been retaliated against as a whistleblower. Same goes for DOH's Lorin Pang (not mentioned here today, but another perfect example).

Conversely, experts like Drs. Folta, Wong, Lai, Brennan, Miller, etc. have done so much to further our knowledge and better our practices in the fields of food production, safe use of modern agricultural technology, public health actions to prevent human suffering, and much more --- there is NO COMPARISON. These wonderful people are the humble, hard-working do-gooders who the rest of us rely upon to make the world a better place.

Anonymous said...

Keone Aloha said............
There can be no more an "anonymous name" than John Kauai.
Out of the blue, experts rise and fall and yet, the island goes on forever.
Hopefully the Fistees will understand that GMOs and Herbicides can be separate issues.
I hope to see "John Kauai" at the next Gary Hooser/Fern Ānuenue Rosenstiel/Mason Chock fund-raiser.
Wear a name tag, please.
Keone Aloha AKA Keoki Kekaha (Nameless Psuedo-Whatchamallit)

Anonymous said...

Well done, Joan. Again, TGI fails to cover an important story. Sad. Maybe we'll get another running story.

Anonymous said...

Who is behind this conspiracy? Hooser cannot be the manipulator on this as I don't think he could have gotten to Hellen Cox of KCC who selected the 9 JFF originals. Peter Adler is also too experienced to fall for fistee manipulation. Is it money? Was there a payoff? What is your theory Joan as to the source of this what looks like a vast left wing fistee conspiracy?

Joan Conrow said...

Helen Cox did not select the 9 JFF originals. She was part of a committee that suggested people to Adler, but in the end, he chose the group members. He also chose the consultants and advisors they used, he created the structure, and he and his colleague, Keith Mattson, wrote the report. My take is this: Peter initially was somewhat naive about the issues and political dynamics at play. But as he got into it, he saw an opportunity to conduct social engineering that reflected his own belief system, and that's when he went off the rails.

Anonymous said...

The council wants to legalize Hanamaulu by turning the rest of Lihue into a Hanamaulu like slum? Outrageous.

Anonymous said...

Cox is tied to Knutzen. This is the Knutzen that both served on the economic board and planned the green energy plant 20+ years ago by planting the invasive trees (Jurassic Park Forrest for the movie).

What are their hidden agendas in this? Inquiring minds would like to know.

Inquiring minds would also like to know if there is a serial arsonist on Kauai that's burning up thousands of acres on koke'e. The trees are being sent right to the green energy plant in the Knutzen gap. Knowing that Albizia is not dense enough to sustain the power plants output, puts a legitimate question about the more dense trees being set on fire then transported to the power plant for fuel.

Conspiracy theory?

All sounds fishy to me.

Anonymous said...

9:10 am - your imagination is getting away from you. Eric Knutzen had nothing to do with the JFF.

Anonymous said...

Big land doesn't have nothing to do with the report is like leaving out Hawaii Life and their land/housing grab then flip land to grow Pakalolo and sell for faux medical use.

A few years from now when the money is good and the time is ripe for their push for Pakalolo rec use will be implemented.

This is bigger than tobacco, real estate, AG land and sugar money.

They've hit the jackpot. These no locals just pimped Kauai and found that their tricks worked.

Each case and everyone if you have been fooled.

And the flow of harder drugs keep on arriving to Kauai destroying families and oppressing the locals.

Capitalism at its finest.

Anonymous said...

4:30 AM: Like

Mervyn Tano said...

Do you know about these folks?

Joan Conrow said...

No. But thanks for bringing it to my attention.

Anonymous said...

Why does our government subsidize millions of acres of GMO corn and soy and not our fruits and vegetables?

Anonymous said...

@12:56: Because fruits and vegetables don't stabilize the available base-load of nutrients that feed the world (people and livestock). Sure, more stable diverse crops would be wonderful, but there would be anarchy in that transition. Fruits and veggies don't dry well, don't have caloric density per acre, and subsidized commodities do well long-term stored in temperate regions.

Anonymous said...

It's the same as GE that sent half their jobs to other countries.

Lobbyists get the politicians to ensure corporate greed gets to double dip.

Just look at all the the companies including oil companies that were and still are making billions of profits per quarter get subsidized.

That's why there should be term limits for state reps and congress as well as county and state reps.

Anonymous said...

not only lihue but for all residential properties. zoning restrictions; no matter.

Anonymous said...

More like.

Anonymous said...

1:24, but what about our health and what's good for our diets too! Doesn't a strong/healthy population lead to a stronger nation?

Anonymous said...

Feed the world issues are different from subsidy issues. There was a segment in the movie King Corn about a man who was instrumental in the subsidy program and he said that when government tried to affect supply by paying for not producing in order to reduce supply and boost prices the result was one of the conditions that produced the Farm crisis in the 80's. Government policies transitioning to paying for production set the stage for cheap grain which allowed for ethanol production as well as cheap feed thereby subsidizing the ethanol industry as well as livestock industry. Storage of the oversupply of corn was done by piling the corn up in huge piles next to the filled silos.