About Tanoro

Christopher "Tanoro" Gray is a web programmer and science advocate especially concerned with resource management technologies, biology, and artificial intelligence. He is a student of epistemology and philosophy as well as an Atheist competent in Christian theology.


HOME > Tanoro's Blog  >  Stephanie Seneff, Roundup, Leaky Guts
Stephanie Seneff, Roundup, Leaky Guts
Posted by: Tanoro - May 25, 2013 1:17pm

This morning, a friend posted an infograph on my wall referencing a study that showed Roundup weed killer caused a recent spike in leaky gut syndrome. The quote is by Stephanie Seneff, PhD, a Senior Research Scientist at MIT. Here is the graphic.

The first thought that came to mind was, "That is a correlation, not a causation, and appears to be an argument from ignorance. Can a credible research scientist really be that stupid?" I did some digging to try and locate the source of this claim and found it here, a paper called "Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases," published April 18, 2013 in the open-access online journal, Entropy. One will note that Stephanie Seneff is the second of two authors of this paper, so here we go!

First, let's talk about the author, Stephanie Seneff, PhD. The first thing I want to know is whether or not she has any credibility in the medical or biochemistry disciplines that would apply to this claim. She claims to have a PhD and 30 years of experience. A quick Google search provided the people search directory at MIT, where Seneff claims to work. Sure enough! She is there in the...Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory? Eh...

Stephanie Seneff is a Senior Research Scientist at the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. She received the B.S. degree in Biophysics in 1968, the M.S. and E.E. degrees in Electrical Engineering in 1980, and the Ph.D degree in Electrical Engineering and Computer Science in 1985, all from MIT.  For over three decades, her research interests have always been at the intersection of biology and computation developing a computational model for the human auditory system, understanding human language so as to develop algorithms and systems for human computer interactions, as well as applying natural language processing (NLP) techniques to gene predictions. She has published over 170 refereed articles on these subjects...

The people search at MIT is a bit like a user search at Wikipedia. You can decorate it with all kinds of stuff that you attribute to work there. Seneff's page has some research that is actually within her discipline, but she has a section set aside for her personal research into nutrition in disease for which she has no training, no experience, and no academic credibility. The page is full of information complaining about GMO's, so we're dealing with an activist here -- someone with a personal bias.

In other words, if you want to design a new system for human speech recognition, give her a call. She has no degree or experience in medicine or biochemistry. None! Seneff has stuck her fingers into medicine and health before and got her hand slapped by Dr. David Gorski for being out of her element. She is not a medical doctor. She is not a biochemist. She is a nobody in the field in which she is making claims about Roundup and health. She has, in short, zero credibility and has no business running around and saying that her personally biased research is true. Science doesn't work that way. Dishonest pseudoscience does this ad nauseum.

But they got peer reviewed, right? Let's talk about the journal in which they published -- Entropy. Is it a medical journal? No! Is it a general science journal like Nature or Science? No! It is a multi-disciplinary journal that covers "general aspects of entropy and a few other thing like information theory, artificial intelligence, pattern recognition, evolution, and so on. Well, I think we've found our motive for the journal accepting a paper by Seneff, even though it discusses a topic they do not address. Among some of those topics, a paper written by her would give the journal some credibility. Wait! The journal has no credibility!? Well, it has a little bit in a few very specific topics. Let's examine the impact factor compared against the more prestigious medical journals.

The Lancet - 38.278
Cell  - 32.403
Brittish Medical Journal - 13.471
Entropy - 1.183

Not even close. As many of my readers should already know. Peer review is a necessary, but insufficent, step in a research topic being declared scientifically accurate. The next step is for me to check the citations. Has anyone cited this paper in further studies? This is important because citations serve as independent endorsements of a paper's content. Since this paper is very newly published in a very obscure journal, it has zero citations.

While I was finishing up, I wanted to do a search for the paper's other author, Anthony Samsel, and found that Huffington Post has done a similar dissection of this "paper" and also concluded that it was bunk -- simply made up.

So what is my personal stance on GMO's? Well, I am no friend of Monsanto or their business practices. I won't buy any of their products if I am able to identify them. That means that I am in favor of labeling products. As far as Roundup goes, the EPA views it as one of the safest weed killers there is. I know a wildlife biologist personally and he has informed me that you can literally drink the stuf (though I wouldn't recommend it). Neither of these endorsements amount to an objective scientific endorsement, so all of you really need to read the actual science on these topics and I am not talking about Youtube videos or blogs. I mean reputable peer reviewed journals utilized by the community of experts that contribute to them.


Someone pointed this out to me in the paper's citations.

55. Wakefield, A.J.; Puleston, J.M.; Montgomery, S.M.; Anthony, A.; O’Leary, J.J.; Murch, S.H.
Review article: The concept of enterocolonic encephalopathy, autism and opioid receptor
ligands. Aliment. Pharmacol. Ther. 2002, 16, 663–674.

She is citing Andrew Wakefield! Wow! Talk about a credibility crasher right there.

Update Aug 28, 2017

Some of you feel that I did a poor job debunking Seneff's claim. I show very little science to the contrary and only attack her lack of credibility and piss poor publishing status. I want to direct everyone to the disclaimer right below this blog. I'm not a scientist nor am I in the habit of claiming authority I do not possess. I'm just a consumer doing his diligence to assess scientic claims with what little knowledge I have. A researcher with no authority published in a nowhere journal is not worth any consumer's time. If I want to make a positive claim on an issue, I cite other sources of authority because that is the honest thing to do. This point is apparently lost on many of you because Seneff has made a positive claim on authority she doesn't have -- yet you criticize me for pointing it out. If you want a detailed breakdown of where Seneff got the science wrong, Dr. David Gorski does a much better job than I possibly could -- because he is a real expert with real authority while Seneff and I are not.

Oh, no! GMOs are going to make everyone autistic!
Pesticide exposure during pregnancy increases autism risk in the child? Not so fast…

While we're on the topic, I want to also recommend science journalist, Peter Hadfield, who discusses the topic of proper science publishing. He doesn't specifically go after Seneff, but he will correct some of the practices that she is using to exhibit the appearance of authority without actually having it.

This blog is an editorial and contains only the opinions of the author. The author claims no expertise on most topics of discussion and this blog is not to be cited as an alternative for properly vetted journalism or scientific sources.

comments powered by Disqus

Powered by Insty-Site! 2007-2017 Shreveport Web Design by Bandwise LLC