My Books of 2013

It’s the end of the year again. Maybe it’s just me, but each year seems to go by quicker than the year before (perhaps I’m getting old). Anyway, it only seemed like last week that I signed up to Goodreads.com and was presented with the challenge of setting a goal of reading X books this year; I just had to–eerily reminiscent of school–find (choose, rather) X. The Kindle fiend that I am (as well as my lack of employment in the opening months of the year) conspired to set the target of books to read during 2013 at fifty. And two days ago, I finished my 50th book and got this nice screenshot to show off with.

You’ll notice a few books haloed by a coloured border. The green bordered one with the larger star is my favourite fiction book, while its smaller starred cousin is the runner-up. Same for red which indicates non-fiction. Blue-bordered books deserve honourable mentions.

My 50 books of 2013 - with favourites

How many books did you read?

From Anti-GMO to pro-science: A Layman’s Guide to GMOs

My latest article on biotechnology has been featured on The Genetic Literacy Project website. It is now featured on the home page. The opening paragraphs are below, but be sure to head over to the GLP the rest. Enjoy!

From Anti-GMO to pro-science: A Layman’s Guide to GMOs

Knowing whom to trust on the touchy issue of GMOs (biotechnology) is a thorny issue—especially on the Internet, where tensions flare to a 100 with an absence of nuance and body language. Leaning on an authority is, of course, a shortcut. Who has the time these days to understand a field as diverse and comprehensive as biotechnology? Very few of us; in that light, it is a perfectly reasonable shortcut—provided one seeks out the correct authorities, that is.

That is why appeals to authority are the main weapon on both sides of the e-divide on GMOs. However, in many ways, many such arguments fall flat on their face as they exhibit fallacious reasoning (often called the argument from authority fallacy). The trick, of course, is finding an authority one can trust and that is right—no easy task.

What happens if one picks the wrong authority and psychologically ties oneself to a person expressing an argument, rather than to the evidence—doing just that is a quirky trait of human psychology. Over the past few years, this is the dilemma that I faced. The authorities I trusted in were wrong. Thus began the project that led to my book.

Read more…

And don’t forget my latest project: The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science has been released as a free eBook featuring contributions from molecular biologists, plant pathologists, farmers, journalists, and authors on the what the evidence concerning GMO actually says. Go grab it.

You can read reviews of the Lowdown here, here, and here.

The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science eBook

I’d like to announce that my project at which I’ve been working on since April has finally sprouted its wings and made its way into the digital ether. The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science features chapters from the likes of plant geneticists, plant pathologists, molecular biologists, farmers, professors, journalists, renowned authors, a couple of bloggers and even a historian. The subject matter tackles fear-mongering, gene commonality between species, knowledge discrimination, how GMOs reduce farming inputs, the myth-making ability of the human brain, and many more.

Lastly, I haven’t mentioned the best thing about the eBook: It’s FREE. You can download it for Kindle, Nook, iOS, or as PDF here at Smashwords.

I have an upcoming guest post at Genetic Literacy Project which should come online later today. In it, I’ll be discussing the role of the authority in an argument from authority, specifically when it comes to arguments of the scientific type in promotion of The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science. In the meantime, there are two reviews below. And, if you’d like to share the pro-science message, click here to tweet about the eBook.

Get The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science for free

“I enjoyed the synthesis provided by “The Lowdown on GMOs According to Science”. Janabi recombines writings from researchers, farmers, former anti-GMO activists, science writers, and consumers into an operon that expresses a lot of great information about genetically-modified organisms. It’s hard to find this level of quality discussion on this topic around the internet, where murky misinforming fearmongers overwhelm the discussions.

Scientists, farmers and folks who had the drive to learn more about the issues provide a variety of perspectives on GMOs. Their grasp of the historical context, the present directions, and the current and future benefits will help anyone to understand why GMOs are tools that people who have experience with them *want* to use.

The writers here use their own experiences, their years of work, and their own due diligence to assess the issues. They explain the framework of misinformation and how it clouds attempts to see the facts. And it might be a perspective you haven’t heard much before. Overall it is a compelling plea for people to look at the real evidence and decide.”

~ Mary Mangan, PhD (Cell, Molecular, and Developmental Biology), President and co-founder of OpenHelix LLC

“The use of biotechnology in agriculture is a topic you hear  a lot about these days: farmers in distant regions of the world, looking to improve their yields, receive two versions (this will save you/this will poison you); voters in conditions altogether more comfortable than those small holder farmers weighed down by debt, are driving up to vote on whether products should be labeled to let consumers know they were grown using biotechnology. All of this and more is contained in 3 letters GMO (Genetically Modified Organisms). But what exactly does this mean? To anyone advocating for food policy issues, the superficiality of information (or, in some cases, complete misinformation) which form the basis of debates on GMO are held is worrisome.  So I am happy to be the bearer of some good news: “The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science” is here and is going to be an excellent source of information for anyone seeking to learn more about this issue.

The book is put together with articles from a range of experts in this domain: molecular biologists, Alan McHughen and Kevin Folta; plant pathologist Steve Savage and plant geneticist Anastasia Bodnar, among others. The scientific viewpoint, often so frustratingly opaque to those of us who were relieved to be done with science on high school, is presented here in clear terms and the reader can come to their own conclusions.

Also interesting are the accounts of the journey of those who started out as skeptics but after doing the research became convinced by the actual facts to support the use of biotechnology in agriculture. This is especially useful because it resonates with those of us who may still be educating ourselves but feel intimidated by all the noisemakers into taking up a hasty position. This perspective is a nuance often lost in the noisy and often vicious debates that characterize this topic. It also helps that one of these journeys is that of Mike Bendzela who is a farmer. That farmers’ voices are not heard often enough in the food debate is something I have often blogged about. You may think you know all that is there is to about Monsanto, but after reading Brian Scott’s views on using Monsanto’s products on his farm; you might look at the picture differently. Of particular note is the piece by Mark Lynas, the British journalist and environmentalist who recently changed his viewpoint and came out in strong support of GMOs. 

In his own piece, Fourat Janabi replies to the “Nature does it best” argument that the anti-GMO lobby is so fond of, pointing out that nature is full of experiments which created our diverse world; also drawing our attention to the fact that the Big Ag lobby is matched by a robust Organic lobby!. He also takes up the question of how to feed 9 billion people in a time of climate change and it is here that biotechnology is going to prove crucial. The use of biotechnology can increase yields, enable climate resilience and improve health outcomes through biofortification of crops. It is not the only or perhaps even the most important tool but it is a crucial one and throwing it away on the basis of misinformation and fear mongering would be a grave mistake.

The conclusion consists of an impressive list scientific bodies from all over the world that have found that biotechnology is no more risky than any other conventional breeding technology and is safe for human consumption; hopefully this book will convince many people of that point of view.”

~ Arpita Bhattacharjya, Formerly worked in developing Economic Policy for Agricultural and Rural Development

Spread the pro-science message by tweeting about The Lowdown on GMOs: According to Science.

The Art of Differentiation

S3 v2.0 is out…WARNING: contains even more science!

If you have previously purchased S3: Science, Statistics, and Skepticism (thank you, by the way!), then you should soon receive the below email from Amazon informing you of the update. The updates to the book are substantial, so allow me to enumerate three:

1 – Whereas before S3 was some 15,000 words long; it is now 25,000 words

2 – Whereas before I hired a sub-par editor; it has now been edited professionally by the fine folks at Command + Z (seriously, they’re awesome!); difference is night and day (night and supernova might be more accurate)

3 – Whereas before some of the chapters contained far more information than others which disrupted the flow; all the chapters have been updated with more science, explanation, and content to even out the flow and distribution of information and balance

All in all, the differences between the old and the new almost make it an entirely new book. However, you have to opt into the update as it will overwrite any notes and highlights you have made.

If you haven’t bought it yet, the price is now $1.99 here. Alternately, if you buy the book and leave a review (positive or negative; 1-star or 5-star, I’ll give you your $1.99 back. (See conditions below.)

Thanks & Happy Reading!


The Lowdown on The Lowdown on GMOs

Who wants an update on my latest project? *crickets…* I’ll give you one anyway. 

The Lowdown on GMOs

I’m sure a few of my readers recall my Lowdown on GMOs interview series. The first, with a scientist, then with a family farmer, and finally, with the CEO of a biotech firm that will soon release a biotech fruit: the Arctic Apple.

The response to these interviews were huge (at least for me). My interview with a scientist, Kevin Folta, got 1,000+ shares on Facebook alone. So, I decided to combine them over at Medium.com into the The Fact-Based Lowdown on GMOs (arguably not as catchy). But still, I wanted to do more with it, and I got this idea…

There are plenty of succinct, authoritative, and accessible articles on GMOs out there that make the science and benefits clear. And I was of the persuasion that, as Mark Lynas put it at his speech in Cornell University that this subject has been one of the greatest science communication failures of the last half-century. So I had an idea: why don’t I collect those articles, with permission of course, and jumble them in with my Q&As into a GMO eBook. I, humbly, set it up so that I would receive a majority of the proceeds from the book; in true capitalist fashion, 90% of the sale price of each book ($0.00) will go directly into my severely stomach-inflamed, statistically significant piggy bank.


bound to happen

It Was Only A Matter of Time…

I got a bad review…It was bound to happen. To be honest, and after the primal gut reaction faded (which took some time, I’ll admit), I’m kind of glad it happened. It still doesn’t feel good from an emotional level, but rather I realize, from a rational level, its necessity. Here it is:

“On Giant’s Shoulders:

Those in the know will appreciate that Newton’s famous quip was intended as an insult first and a pithy saying second. It applies only in the first case to this self-regarding nonsense. Far from providing a ‘rational’ guide to anything the book merely trots out old knowledge without so much as a smattering of original insight, commentary, or critical thought to be seen. The result is little more than another purposeless blog transferred to ‘paper’ with no obvious justification and little to recommend it. Save your money for a book considerably less random and more rational.

Pretty hard-hitting. Upon reading it, I had 2 options. Ignore it and pretend all was dandy dory, and in time hopefully forgetting it was ever there, or learn from it. I chose, as hard as it is, to learn from it (or try very hard to with all my biases).

So, if anyone has read my book — all 7 of you — I’d like to ask a favour: tell me what you disliked about it. Either as a comment here, or as a proper review on Amazon (if it’s especially hard-hitting and you feel I might delete your comment — which I won’t, I promise, but the choice is yours). It can be as hard-hitting or soft natured as you like; use a pseudonym, or not; whether you are my friend, offline or online, or not, please tell me what you disliked, perhaps even hated, about Random Rationality: Expanded. (No comments about the 1st edition: I hate it just as much as you do! Trust me.)

I want to learn, even if that means getting my ego bruised, battered, and burned at the public stake in the short-term: indulge thyself at my expense.

free stuff

The Freebies Hundredth…And The New ‘Lowdown’

1-0-0….This is my 100th post! So to celebrate, I’m giving away Random Rationality: Expanded and S3: Science, Statistics and Skepticism free for the next three days. Get’em while you can

The below links will take you to the Kindle store where you can get them free until the 22nd June:

Get Random Rationality: Expanded for free – [The UK edition is here]

What people thought of it:

Author Catherine Tosko wrote of Random Rationality: “This book is as good as (the oft-quoted by Janabi) Carl Sagan’s “Pale Blue Dot.”

Writer Ryan Culpeper wrote: “It’s very informative, witty and well written. The author took a risk by committing to such a hefty scope, but he pulls it off quite eloquently.”

Get S3: Science, Statistics and Skepticism for free – [The UK edition is here]