Monday, August 22, 2016

Musings: Manufactured Perception

It's been some time since the Joint Fact Finding Group released its report on Kauai agricultural pesticides, but the spin shows no sign of abating.

Fact-finding consultant Peter Adler recently appeared on TechTalk with host Sen. Russell Ruderman, who asked him, “Did everybody leave shaking hands?” To which Adler, displaying a remarkable capacity for selective memory, replied, “Yes, I think so.”

Huh? Shoots, three of the nine JFFG members resigned in protest, disgusted both by Adler's own behavior and the bias they saw in other panelists. For example, member Doug Wilmore contributed $500 to the campaign of Gary Hooser, who introduced the pesticide/GMO regulatory bill that led to the group's formation,

Yet Adler never mentioned that unflattering outcome, even as he pumped the group's “diversity.”

Adler also urged folks to read the beginning and end of the report, “and then go to the recommendations and ask the question, do these recommendations make sense?”

Well, that's a convenient way to ignore the meat of the report, which doesn't actually support the recommendations. Indeed, one of the biggest complaints was that the recommendations don't make sense, given the scant evidence that pesticides are migrating off-site in anything other than trace amounts in isolated incidences.

But the recommendations do allow Adler and his fellow travelers to grind their shared ax:

We didn't see real evidence of harm. To make a link between those trace amounts and health impacts is pretty challenging. But the caveat is, we all felt the state hadn't done enough surveillance and studying of this. If the state wants higher levels of certainty it will have to do more investigation.

How exactly do you get "higher levels of certainty?" Either you're certain, or you're not. It's not a word that lends itself to gradations.

The interview was yet another reminder of how the report, conducted at taxpayer expense and now given undue credence as a “government study,” failed to ease community concerns, heal the rift or plot a reasonable path forward. Instead, Adler has used it as a promotional tool for his consulting services.

On a related note, The Risk-Monger blog has an interesting post about activist strategies employed in Europe. It turns out they're the same tactics used by anti-GMO and “environmental” groups in Hawaii:

NGOs have been successful over the last decade in presenting small groups as parts of big networks, pretending to speak on behalf of the “people” when in reality they are only a couple reactionaries in a room with a laptop and a web-designer, accountable to no one and driven by a self-centred emotional zeal.

Social media allows small organisations to make maximum noise at a low cost by exploiting the viral structure of online networks.

There are many tricks for these minnows to deceive clueless policymakers and the media. This is manufactured perception, what I have called “commonality” — the deceitful manufacturing of reality to create a perception that everyone agrees with your strategic message. Previously it was called brainwashing or propaganda; in the activist Age of Stupid, it is considered as “advocacy”.

[It is] a communications manipulation lacking in truth or integrity … but until now, it has worked. Kudos to the ethically challenged!

Which is why I could only raise my eyebrows when I read this newspaper comment from master-deceiver Gary Hooser:

Historically, my issue focus and core values have been based on environmental protection, slow growth and honest, open government.

One of the most effective ways for Kauai to achieve “honest, open government” is to eliminate Hooser's role in the process. His actions against the seed companies and agriculture have been grounded in fear-mongering and lies.

Speaking of seed companies, Syngenta has invited folks attending the IUCN World Conservation Congress next month to visit its Kunia farm and learn about the sustainable agricultural practices it's using around the world.

Though people like Hooser and the aforementioned activists love to portray the seed companies as craven corportions bent on poisoning paradise in the single-minded pursuit of profit, the reality is quite a bit different. But then, they wouldn't know, since they studiously avoid visiting the farms.

As I previously reported, the DuPont-Pioneer farm at Waialua employs cover crops, natural insect control, erosion control measures, farmer training, sub-leases and other sustainable ag practices.

Similarly, Syngenta has adopted a “good growth plan” that outlines “six commitments to increase the productivity of crops without using more water or inputs; to enhance biodiversity and rescue farmland on the brink of degradation; and to help improve the health and well-being of people working in agriculture and rural communities.”

It's hosting field tours at its Kunia farm on Sept. 6 so people can see its progress in meeting those commitments and learn more about crop rotation, cover crops, vegetative barriers, erosion control, nutrient management, water use optimization and other sustainable practices.

The tours are free, with sessions offered in both the morning and afternoon. If you have an interest in what really happens on a seed farm, and plan to be on Oahu that day, you can register here. The deadline is today.

As Ruderman noted on Tech-Talk, it's disturbing to see so many people accept someone else's take on things because "people will always tell you what you want to hear." 

Heck. Seems like Ruderman, an organic grocer who pushes self-serving anti-GMO/anti-ag legislation in the Senate, should go.


Anonymous said...

Syngenta a soon to be Chinese Co. Wonder how they'll deal with the GMO/pesticide crowd.

Anonymous said...

"Shares in Swiss agribusiness group Syngenta have risen 12% after its takeover by ChemChina was given the go-ahead by a US regulator.
The $43bn (£33bn) deal is set to be the biggest ever foreign takeover by a Chinese company."

Anonymous said...

Really interesting post, Joan, thank you.

I hope that all of those reading your blog (not just your supporters) will open their minds and make the time to use your helpful links to read for themselves the really good information that you dig up and consolidate for us.

There's a reason that Joan has a lot of supporters. And it's not because we're all shills.

John Kauai said...

What a bummer. The one day I can't possibly make it Syngenta has an open house. Thanks for the pointers Joan. If there's another one I'm sure you'll advertise.

Don't get the impression I'm supporting Adler. Unfortunately, the conclusions of the report make sense to me. Not because it has been proven that they are needed, but because it just seems like the precautionary principle applies. After all, it is generally recognized that glyphosate is no longer working as well as it used to. Can't there be some kind of compromise.

On a different tack:
The pointer to the "Size doesn't matter" article also applies to the propaganda (advertising?) put out by the GMO companies. But they are much better financed. For instance, the only reason the Tea Party exists is because the Koch Brothers financed them.

In a world where the only thing that matters is money, and there are so many souls who are willing to sell themselves for that money, how do those of us who are not directly involved know "the truth"? Even for those of us who are just (for lack of a better word) pawns, how do we know our employers are telling "the truth".

Mike Pence (surely everyone knows who he is) doesn't believe in Global Warming. We installed A/C 4 years ago in anticipation of global warming. Used it once last year. This year, about 4 times. It is on right now. When I lived on Oahu around '80, there was no A/C in any of the 4 houses I bought and sold. (It was a economic slump that I was able to take advantage of. Just Luck.) The Climate is changing, but the Kochs don't want you to know that because they are in the oil business and they have more money than God to buy politicians who will promote their policies.

Anonymous said...

Why is Syngenta downsizing its operation on Kauai? ADC says Syngenta trying to get out of their lease. Prediction: Partly because of the China buyout, partly because of the political climate and partly because the fall-out from their pesticide exposure incident has not yet cleared - Syngenta will announce their exit from Kauai within the next 6 months.

Joan Conrow said...

Thanks, 11:51. Thoughtful readers like you help me ignore those who are not, as evidenced all too often in comments.

Anonymous said...

Poor Joan. You deserve a sock shoved down your throat with all the shit you talk. Your full of venom and wonder why you get negative comments?

Joan Conrow said...

No, 6:10, I don't wonder at all. I know that some visitors to this blog can't handle the truth, consider me a threat and project all their own ugliness -- your comment just oozes venom and is nothing but "shit talk" -- onto me.

Anonymous said...

6:10 stfu, go elsewhere to read if you don't like what you read. Joan you deserve a medal for putting up with that kind of harassment.

Anonymous said...

Joan- You are great. Shazaam! You are pretty much on the same wave length with the Fistees on many issues. IE TVRs, development, beach erosion, clean ocean/reefs etc.
But once you dare speak about GMOs, their true colors come out.
Your blog is discussed in the the strangest places and one thing for sure, you are well read.
Thank you.
It has strangely quiet in Hooserville lately. Even his personal PR machine the Garden Island seems to have lost sterling quotes or headlines for the poor fella.
Everyone hopefully realizes that this island would be a better place without JoAnn or Gary on the Council. JoAnn is a nice lady, Da Hoos was once a pretty cool cat, but has morphed into a estrogen laced, mainland immersed, shrill voiced nut job. A one issue candidate, who refuses to acknowledge that there is more to Kauai than some corn fields.Hopefully his anti-local, anti-ag and anti-housing agendas will take him far away from the the ivory towers in Lihue.

Anonymous said...

Try reading “Doubt is Their Product” by David Michaels (2008). Michaels is an epidemiologist, a veteran of Washington politics, and currently head of OSHA (,
Mr. Michaels clarifies the work of “product defense” consultants. Over and over again, various industries have employed exactly the same defense strategies that constrained and frustrated JFF in its study of pesticides on Kaua'i.
Starting with Big Tobacco, Michaels documents case after case where industry supported research consultants have cherry-picked results and repackaged and reinterpreted “problematic” data sets to support contradictory findings. Anything to cast doubt on health and safety research that supports regulations and restrictions.
JFF was criticized for not having an epidemiologist in the group. However, Mr. Michaels summarizes the challenges of epidemiology:
“It is vital that those charged with protecting the public’s health understand that the alleged desire for absolute scientific certainty is both counterproductive and futile. To wait for certainty is to wait for forever. The fundamental paradigm for public health is and must be to protect people on the basis of the best evidence currently available. The manufacture and magnification of scientific uncertainty endangers both the public’s health and programs to protect that health and compensate victims. It is time to return to first principles. Use the best science available, do not demand certainty where it does not and cannot exist.” (p.265)
JFF was given the futile task of searching for certainty with scarce data on environmental and health impacts by pesticides on Kaua'i. There were only "snapshot" pieces of data, with no long-term studies available from any governmental agencies. "The best science" was not available for any local data, only the vast amount of literature that pesticides can and do cause harm. In addition, JFF did an amazing job of navigating data that was the product of "manufacture and magnification of scientific uncertainty" by the industry.
The recommendations set forth in the JFF report are a first step to creating data. Yet, even with the simple JFF recommendations for data collection, there will never be "certainty". Hence, the "precautionary principle" that is employed in many places throughout the world in regulation of pesticides and other industrial chemicals.

Joan Conrow said...

@7:25 You quote: "The fundamental paradigm for public health is and must be to protect people on the basis of the best evidence currently available."

So the best evidence currently available on Kauai shows there is virtually no off-site migration of seed company pesticides, and the few times it was found was well below safety levels. Yet people continue to claim they are being harmed.

As for "best science," that would certainly not apply to the Surfrider-funded honey and glyphosate study, Doug Wilmore's undocumented take down of the Waimea Canyon Middle School stink and Howard Hurst's anecdotal report on owl deaths, all of which found their way into the mish-mash that is the JFFG report.

And no, the JFFG was not "given the future task of searching for certainty." It was charged with compiling data on what is currently known about the pesticide use of five companies on Kauai.

With regard to the precautionary principle, if you actually believed in it, and practiced it, you would not be driving, using wi-fi or cell phones, having kids, getting in the ocean, etc., etc.

I don't disagree that industry, especially tobacco, has obfuscated studies to protect its own interest. But that does not mean that people on Kauai are being poisoned and there's a concerted effort to cover it up.

Anonymous said...

To 7:25 AM today:

You've gotten it exactly right, but backwards.....
it was the activist JFF members (chosen to outnumber the 3 token neutrals ---read their resignation statements) who cherry picked and refused to accept data that shows not one shred of harm.

You're right about certainty because these people and their friends will never be satisfied even after the already planned and funded additional water and air studies are done.

As to the precautionary principle, the U.S. already uses it---- it's called: our extensive regulatory system ---- weighing benefits and risk using the best science.

Please tell me you don't drive a car, fly in planes, use elevators, eat raw seafood, drink Kauai's chlorinated (pesticide) water, and live in a building; all known hazards, potentially far more threatening to you than the agricultural practices used by the seed companies.

Anonymous said...

The JFFG had the futile task of inflating the use of 36,000 lbs of RUP per year into a need for an expensive regulatory regime unsupported by any likely level of public exposure- and certainly a dearth of actual evidence of harm. This is not a standard of absolute certainty; there just wasn't any credible evidence. They nevertheless managed to advance the "precautionary principle" in the face of available ongoing studies conducted by the California EPA in areas where RUP exposure use is 50+ times greater(Parlier and McFarland CA) than Waimea. The JFFG is just shucking and jiving us rubes- just like the Tim & Gary Show did.

Anonymous said...

No, but using the same line of thinking and lack of evidence to the contrary, it does not mean that there are no environmental effects or health effects. The "best evidence" was virtually no evidence because the appropriate government agencies (are these the "best scientists"?) have not collected evidence. As a case in point, the Waimea Canyon School Study was inherently flawed by its timing and the methodology was questionable. The DOH and DOA had a great opportunity to collect data at the time of the incidents and follow up with the health of those effected, but they did not. This does not necessarily mean cover-up, but it certainly indicates lack of protocol or insufficient attention to protocol which is another recommendation in the JFF report.

You cannot compile data that does not exist.

Mr. Hurst turned in all of the owl carcasses to the state, but the appropriate agencies did not test them for anything...disease or trauma or pesticides (as of the time the report was released).

The honey study by a stellar science student using accepted scientific methodology that was monitored by her science teacher and a phD in biology and sent to a lab in Europe for best analysis may not be the "best science". If this study could be repeated, by a "best scientist", who would you choose? Repeating results in all of the data that can be collected can allay questions and concerns.

There was no suggestion that the "precautionary principle" should apply to all activities of modern day life or to individual practices. Why does that arouse such a knee-jerk response? The author of the book, a fairly notable epidemiologist, gave a similar conclusion.

The task was "futile" not "future".

Joan Conrow said...

@8:26 If you think the honey study used accepted scientific methodology, you are either ignorant of the term or the study itself. Beekeepers collected samples and sent them in. There was no protocol for obtaining clean, consistent samples. Furthermore, the study was funded by Surfrider.

Similarly, you are making false claims when you contend that "government agencies have not collected evidence" and "You cannot compile data that does not exist." The departments of ag and health have indeed collected evidence, and JFFG compiled it, along with a lot of irrelevant stuff about pesticides in Europe. The JFFG went further astray — and its efforts became futile — when it tried to torture statistics and studies to show some correlation between pesticides and westside health conditions.

Why should the precautionary principle be applied to agriculture, but not to other activities in modern life or individual practices? That makes no sense. Why does pointing out the illogic arouse such a knee-jerk response?

Anonymous said...

Exactly, Joan (8:39 AM)!

Anonymous said...

There is currently a governmental agency killing barn owls because they are an invasive species killing endangered birds here on kauai. Fact.