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The Baffled Biologist

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Calling shenanigans — again — on Morton’s junk graph

Alexandra Morton has decided to make 2014 the year of the Salmon Food Scare, and she’s trying as hard as she can to stir up the masses using half-truths and emotion.

She’s no doubt trying to recreate the panic from 2004, when one highly-publicized study was used to suggest farmed salmon was dangerous to human health. Ah the good old days, eh Alex? When the gullible masses would believe anything you said without checking your claims? Must be tough these days, judging by the “DONATE NOW” button on every one of your websites. 

For a good overview of how that 2004 panic all shook out, including an enlightening look at the millions of dollars invested in slagging farmed salmon, we recommend you read this opinion piece by Vivian Krause.  

Oh, and by the way, there’s no reason to be concerned about dioxins or PCBs in any food sold in North America. None.

Eat a balanced diet, get some exercise and be excellent to each other and you’re shiny.

But that’s not stopping Morton, who knows how to play on people’s fears like a cheap fiddle.

A while ago we blogged about a ridiculous graph she is using to try and claim that farmed salmon contains dangerous levels of dioxins.

Apparently, ashamed to have been caught in the act of deliberately misrepresenting the facts, she has revised this graph with an explanation in the fine print on her new website. She says:

Please note the source data for salmon is provided in pg/g wet weight, while the other values were provided in pg/g fat. NIFES reports farmed salmon is 15.6% fat and so the conversion to pg/g fat = 41.6

Yeah, no. This is just stupid, Alex.

Wet weight is a common distinction made in weighing fish, because so much fish sold is smoked, cured, salted or dried. Wet weight is merely a measurement of fish with the water content in, i.e. before being processed. The non-fish products on this list are always weighed with their water content included: their default measurement is wet weight.

What you’re doing here is like assuming that if your car can go 160 km/h before the governor kicks in, and the speed limit is 80 km/h, it should only take you half an hour to get where you’re going.

But since you aren’t inclined to provide people with facts, we’ll do it for you.

Here’s a comparison of the limits on dioxins in food set by the EU, versus the amounts that are actually in said food.


Facts hurt, don’t they Alex. There’s no reason to avoid any of these foods because of dioxins.

Want to check our math? Feel free. Here’s the data table we used to make this graph, complete with comprehensive citations.. Which is more than activists like Morton will give you.

Oh, and by the way, if the anonymity on our blog bothers you? Feel free to check all the links in the document above and retrace our steps. Thinking for yourself: does a body good.

Junk science attack on processing plant gets its facts totally wrong

Just because a study is peer-reviewed doesn’t necessarily mean it’s good science.

Here’s a perfect example. A new paper published by John Volpe, Michael Price and Alexandra Morton — who have published more than a few studies among them with spurious claims and questionable data — suggests that farmed salmon from Nootka Sound processed on Quadra Island are threatening wild salmon with sea lice and diseases coming out the processing plant’s effluent pipe.

But there are some serious flaws with this paper that suggest it should be retracted.

For one thing, at the core of the study’s premise is the claim that “Walcan Seafood only processes fish from open-net salmon farms on the west coast of Vancouver Island (Dill 2011); therefore, the sea lice we recovered undoubtedly originated from infected Atlantic Salmon that were farmed in a distant region.”

Most people in Campbell River and on Quadra Island know that Walcan processes a lot more than farmed salmon. Walcan processes farmed salmon and wild sockeye. They process shellfish. They process whatever people pay them to process, and they do a great job of it.

Here’s an article from 2010 several months after Morton collected data for this study, featuring Walcan president Bill Pirie talking about how great the record sockeye run was that year for business.

Walcan workers are running off their feet, putting in 12 to 14-hour days, seven days a week as Campbell River area fishing boats bring in the sockeye for processing.

Here’s a video of the plant, taken around the same time Morton was collecting data for this study, showing the plant processing oysters.

But wait, there’s more. The source this paper cites says nothing that backs up the author’s claim. Click on the “Dill 2011” link above and look on page 29. Nowhere does Dill say that Walcan only processes farmed salmon from the west coast of Vancouver Island.

That’s a serious flaw in this paper that the peer-reviewers missed.

According to the four nitwit authors of this study, Walcan only processes farmed Atlantic salmon. Therefore, this photo is a lie.

And it’s important, because again, the paper’s central premise is that “Marine salmon farms and their processing facilities can serve as sources of virulent fish pathogens; our study is the first to confirm the broadcast of a live fish pathogen from a farmed salmon processing facility into the marine waters of Canada’s Pacific coast.”

This begs the question: What comes out of the effluent pipes of processing plants which process wild salmon? After all, there are well over 100 of them in BC.

Why didn’t the authors of the paper do a comparison with at least one of these other processing plants?

The answer is because they knew the comparison would disprove their hypothesis instantly.

Wild fish carry sea lice and diseases, too. They have done so since long before the first people came to BC and they continue to do so. Anyone who denies this fact is either lying to you, or just plain ignorant.

It’s guaranteed that if you go test the effluent pipes coming out of wild salmon processing facilities you will find stuff.

In fact, you will probably find more stuff than this paper shows, because farmed salmon processing facilities in BC — including Walcan — have spent more than $4 million installing effluent treatment and collection systems, which are not even required. They installed them because they believe it’s the right and responsible thing to do, and to show BC that salmon farmers and processors are doing everything they can to make sure there is no risk to wild salmon from their operations.

There’s another reason why farmed salmon processors have spent millions on these systems — so they can achieve the Global Aquaculture Alliance’s Best Aquaculture Practices standard, assuring customers that salmon from those facilities are among the safest, most environmentally-sound and safest sources of seafood in the world.

In contrast, most wild processors discharge untreated effluent and bloodwater directly into the ocean.

The authors of this junk science paper fail to acknowledge any of that, instead building on a flimsy (and false) detail to construct a spurious conclusion, unsupported by any data — even their own.

This should never have been published. The authors should be ashamed of themselves for trying to fool people with such an obviously biased, flimsy piece of junk science and at the very least it should be retracted, corrected and the data compared with data collected from a wild salmon processing plant.

Then we might have some useful science that can actually tell us something instead of what this says, which is “We, the authors, hate farmed salmon and are willing to say anything to get you to agree with us.”



Read the full paper here.

Science without data is scientific malpractice

We kind of figured the “Stand up for Science” rally in Vancouver yesterday would end up like this.

While some legitimate scientists did get up and speak, most of the rally was about how Stephen Harper and pipelines are bad.

Fair enough. But there’s plenty of other venues for that. We get it, Fin Donnely and the federal NDP. You hate Harper and the Conservatives. But for a rally that was supposed to be about keeping politics out of science, it was pretty damned political.

Too bad Morton wasn’t wearing duct tape over her mouth too, it would have spared the audience from a barrage of nonsense.

Of course, our favourite pseudoscientist was there to spout her litany of lies about salmon farms. Here’s what she said, according to the Vancouver Observer.

In 2011 we had the Cohen inquiry into why our biggest population of wild salmon is declining and I read the records of a government scientist who said he saw the evidence of European viruses known to kill massive numbers of salmon, he saw evidence that those diseases that are in the farmed salmon that are in the ocean in British Columbia.

No. Wrong. This is NOT WHAT HAPPENED and the vet who wrote those records, Dr. Gary Marty, has repeatedly corrected this lie. He puts it bed quite effectively in this letter published last spring in the Association of Professional Biology’s official newsletter.

“Alexandra Morton’s article did not mention that every fish in my database was tested for ISAV using highly sensitive and specific RT-PCR tests, and that all results were negative–no virus,” Marty writes (see page 5).

However, Morton continues to ignore the science in favour of furthering her conspiracy theory opinion.

This changed my life. I responded. I have organized a national salmon sampling program.

Really? A national sampling program? Where is the data, Alex? For all we know, you’re taking donation money people think you’re spending on tests, and socking it away in your RRSP. We have no idea, because you publish none of your test results, you just expect everyone to take your word for it. That’s not science. That’s taking advantage of your cult of personality.

The laboratories and I published in Virology Journal, the top journal on viruses. We published that the virus had come to BC in approximately 2007 and it matched a virus in Norway. How did that happen? Viruses don’t fly.

Um. No. Again, no. That’s not what the study really says. What it really says, is that PRV in Canada is a very close (but not exact) match for PRV in Norway. The paper states:

It is not known how the virus could have been transmitted from Norway to Canada since there have never been any authorized direct imports of Atlantic salmon eggs from Norway since 1985; recent imports have been from Washington State-USA (2001) and Iceland (2004–2009) [36]. There is no information about the PRV situation in Washington State or Iceland. Horizontal spread and/or introduction of virus through wild fish migration are not reasonable routes of transmission.

Morton continues with another lie.

The lab I’m using was stripped of its international authority, humiliated amongst his peers. Nobody will say why.

I’ll take “Bullshit” for $1,000, Alex. The OIE (World Organization for Animal Health) published its report online last year explaining why. They pulled the lab’s reference status because they had many concerns, not least of which was that “the cramped, untidy conditions of the laboratories, particularly the general laboratory [room 329(S)] where both sample preparation and post‐PCR analysis were performed in close proximity to each other… The panel believes that there is a serious risk that the integrity of the test samples will be compromised.”

…. I am taking up the role of regulator…. People ask me how I will get the government to accept the results of my research. I don’t have enough years left in my life to get them to accept the results. I need you to accept the results, to stand by my findings.

Perhaps, Alex, you could start by holding yourself to the same level of transparency you demand from everyone else. Publish your test results. All of them. Show your work

Because, to paraphrase, science without data is scientific malpractice.

Someone’s lying: an infographic, and putting it to a vote

Every time someone disagrees with Alexandra Morton, she adds them to her conspiracy theory. She honestly believes that BC salmon farmers have so much political influence that they have managed to perpetrate a cover-up involving tens of thousands of people in government agencies, universities, and in foreign government bodies.

Salmon Farms are gatekeepers

Wow, it’s amazing the little BC salmon farming industry, which only produces about 75,000 tonnes of fish per year and creates far fewer economic benefits than sport fishing, can have such power. One might even conclude that it’s a ludicrous conspiracy theory.

Because it is.

Someone’s lying though. Who is it? Consider this infographic and decide for yourself.

Who is lying

Let’s put it to a poll, purely for the sake of interest. Cast your vote below.