Anti-GMO-Labeling Bill Advances in Senate: Few issues show as great an opinion divide between scientists and the general public as the safety of genetically modified organisms (GMOs) in food. For instance, in a 2015 Pew Research Center poll, 88 percent of surveyed American Association for the Advancement of Science members considered genetically modified food generally safe, compared to only 37 percent of non-scientist US adults. This divide extends to support for mandatory labeling bills: While advocates of mandatory labeling claim the measure will afford consumers more choice to make decisions potentially affecting their own health, critics claim GMO labels unnecessarily stoke fear, offer no real information about the processes that produce GMOs in the first place, and will ultimately restrict consumer choice. (This Scientific American editorial offers a good rundown of the downsides of labeling.)
Yet while still regularly attacking conservative politicians for their own anti-science positions, the left has wholeheartedly embraced opposition to GMOs despite overwhelming scientific consensus. Case in point: a Senate bill aimed at blocking states from issuing mandatory GMO labeling laws that passed 65-32 on Wednesday was slammed by Democrats, including Senator Jeff Merkley of Oregon and Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont. (Sanders in particular seems distressingly intent on spending his remaining pre-convention political capital on this fight.)
Frigate Birds, Flying Since (Nearly) 1492: Frigate birds are two- to four-pound seabirds in the genus Fregata with a seven-foot wingspan and a reputation for flying ability that dates at least back to Columbus, who claimed the birds do “not alight on the sea nor depart from land 20 leagues.” Now researchers from the Chizé Center for Biological Studies in France have shown this bold claim was itself an underestimate. Using solar-powered GPS transmitters, Henri Weimerskirch and colleagues tracked individual frigate birds in the Indian Ocean that remained aloft for as long as 185 days and traveled up to 280 miles per day, using favorable winds and strong convection to avoid expending energy. Their study, published this month in the journal Science, is introduced by University of Washington’s Ray Huey and Curtis Deutsch, who provide additional insight and historical context to the work.
On the Coming Fire Season: Though the Pacific Northwest’s unusually cool and wet start to summer
is keeping vegetation damp and unlikely to burn, wildfire season is in full swing elsewhere across the West, with InciWeb listing 82 active blazes. We’re unlikely to be spared for long, as highlighted in a post on Climate Central last week, the average number of large fires in Washington has increased five-fold since the 1970s.
ICYMI: An internal investigation at the University of Washington has found Department of Microbiology researcher Michael Katze, a highly public face of research into Ebola and HIV/SIV, violated the school’s sexual harassment policy and misused grant money. Katze—accused of an unbelievable number of offenses that range from watching porn on lab computers to paying an employee for oral sex—sued the school to prevent the results of the investigation and a Buzzfeed News article on his misconduct from going public. He lost, and Buzzfeed’s extraordinary investigation into Katze’s was published last week.