Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Talking Biotech - Five Years Ago...

Five years ago today I started the Talking Biotech Podcast.  




Everywhere I go I'm amazed to find listeners.  When I don't post an episode exactly at 5AM EST on Saturday morning I get emails complaining. There have been greater than 935,000 downloads. 

One guest (who knows me pretty well) learned about the podcast from someone at a wedding, and didn't know that I was the host. Another person stopped me in the airport and asked if I was the host of Talking Biotech-- because he recognized my voice!  

Back in 2014 it was a questionable experiment in a new medium.  I didn't want to do it.  But looking back I'm glad I did.  We have created a durable archive that shows where we were, made predictions about where we are going, and then closed the loop with seeing those predictions become realities in many cases. 

So thank you to the listeners, the guests, and everyone that shared this experiment with friends.  I appreciate your support of my passion -- communicating science. 

I look forward to five more years. 

Kevin

Monday, June 10, 2019

800 Pound Gorillas?

Social media has been noisy with folks referring to me as a drunk wife abuser and teen harasser.  This is especially prevalent on Twitter from Michael Balter and Paul Thacker (read their threads!) as well as GM Watch.  These three will do anything to block my mission of participation in public outreach around science communication and biotechnology. 

They've said it before, they'll do it again.  If you have any concerns about the things you read about me, please reach out and contact me directly. Debating hostile allegations online just gives visibility to something that does not deserve it.

The good news is that they have a nice little love circle where they retweet/share each others' filth.  But that's it.  These guys are even too slimy for the usual mudslingers to endorse. 

I've made the strategic decision to not engage it, not give it any oxygen.  That's the best move. The problem is that it leaves questions unanswered for those that have concerns.  After all, these are very serious allegations. 

So, if you find their allegations concerning or problematic, please contact me at kfolta at gmail dot com.  I would be very happy to schedule a phone call and discuss your concerns. 

There are easy answers to everything. The problem is, good people have been used by bad people here, probably unknowingly.  I don't want them to suffer any hardship from being connected with GM Watch/ Balter/ Thacker/ others, or have their careers or organizations sucked into the negative vortex of social media assassination.   

With that in mind it is best to just yet allegations fly. They have been levied for ages and will continue as long as I continue to connect with the public and share information that changes hearts and minds.  

The day they finally stop I better check to make sure I'm still effective. 

Thanks.    

Thursday, June 6, 2019

What Is Their Goal?

I'm in my eleventh day in Europe.  I taught a wonderful science communication workshop, enjoyed time with many students and postdocs.  I mentored early-career faculty and reviewed the work and provided guidance to shape the future of a rising-star of an institution.  I was honored to speak at Brain Bar, a wonderful conference about the future. 

All of this came on my departure from social media, particularly Twitter. I've been watching and reading.  I also took down the majority of this blog.  I need to get my head down.  My mental health is taking a hit and the personal and professional inconvenience of being doxed and harassed is getting extreme. Here's what is happening now. 

Bank Accounts, Retirement Doxxed.

Somehow a former journalist turned hate-monger named Michael Balter obtained my personal records.  It is not hard to do.  Paul Thacker and University of California San Francisco posted my social security number a few months ago.  Once you have that, you find my birthday and mom's maiden name and you can pretty much have access to my private everything. Couple this to FOIA laws and you have access to my life. Every single word. 

I had to change my bank account number two days before going to Europe, meaning no debit card or access to cash. All autopay had to be reset, and of course is screwed up and bills are late.  Just a pain. 

Now he has posted my personal financial information concerning my retirement holdings. 

I don't come from money.  My father is still working at 72.  I had student debt until I was 40-something.  I also worked in public science, starting with a Ph.D. plus 5 years of experience at a wage made by a good librarian. 

I don't have a pension. My retirement is self-financed, and it is on the horizon.  My wife is not a Wall Street banker.  She's a fruit and vegetable farmer that sells at farmers markets. We are comfortable, but not wealthy.  We live in a double-wide mobile home in the country (town of 1000) and our costs and expectations are modest.  We buy a lot of plants and go out to dinner on Saturday night.   We have about 40 fruit trees. 

Early on I learned to invest in myself.  I started investing in my retirement at the age of 16 when I spent part of my summer work money on the company that marketed Jolt Cola.  A brilliant move it would turn out.  That company is now part of InterBev the international giant. 

Over the years I sacrificed many things to plan for the day I would not work.  I invested in diverse interests, all with high dividends and low risk.  I saved a large part of my income.  Years later I would lose half of what I invested in a divorce, which severely affected my plan. So it goes. 

Now Michael Balter is distributing my personal financial information on the web, and it is being further distributed by the anti-GMO world, nice folks like GM Watch. 

They note that I own shares of Bayer.  Damn right I do.  I bought them right after their price tanked when the glyphosate decisions came down.   I still have faith in science and reason, and believe that this reaction is temporary and a company's true value will ultimately be realized. Plus a great dividend.  I'd recommend it! 

But this brings us to two important questions-

1.   Why do they feel that my family's retirement is their business?

2.   Why do they think it is appropriate to distribute it on the internet? 

It is a profound sense of violation.  It disgusts me that people hate me so much, and want to stop me so much, that they use this kind of tactic to intimidate me.  That's what this is.  They can't stop me with lies, distortions, or threats.  They manufactured newspaper articles based on lies and spread their filth in social media. 

But hacking your family's retirement information and making it public?   It is purely to intimidate, to remind me  that I have no privacy and will never have privacy until I resign from science and hide somewhere.  This is their goal. 

At this point I am unsure what to do.  I need help.  The rage I feel is immense and I have to fight every impulse to strike back.  I'm not a religious guy, but I think of the lessons from when I was a kid, and find them very poignant right now.  

Forgive them, for they know not what they do. 

Then the words my therapist gave me, "Time will be kind."


 MAMyths and Kavin Senapathy

These folks hate me so much and I'm not sure why.   Allegedly science-friendly types are using the same tactics used by the science hate groups.  Last night I read on Twitter that MAMyths was organizing a page about me.  I saw it in a tweet and clicked the link. 

I could not believe what I was seeing.  It was a page dedicated to me, all hateful news, allegations, and everything they could find that was negative.  And Kavin was fishing for more dirt.  They since took down the page, but luckily I grabbed screenshots. Unbelievable. 


I saw this link and clicked it-- a hateful page dedicated to me.  What is wrong with these people?  What do they want?  Science Justice? 


Again, I don't care about Kavin, Stephan or Karl or any of those folks.  They can do their thing, I'll do mine.  But why do they feel that they need to harm my ability to do good work, especially when it helps others understand science? 

Fake Troll Accounts
Look at the Twitter accounts @RailaerAouy (you are a liar backwards) and @EvelynGreenburg.  Both are relatively recent accounts, the people behind them are using FOIA to harass me, and the Twitter feeds are dedicated to my harassment. 

These folks should get a life.  I'm not that important. 



Conclusion. 

I was very torn about writing this.  I don't want to give them the attention they crave.  But I feel that there is no other recourse other than exhibiting their disgusting behavior.   Are these the folks that represent you?   Your ideas?   People you find represent your values and superb ethics? 

I've had to do a lot of soul searching and frankly don't want to do this anymore.  But that's what they want.  Their goal is to harass and intimidate me out of teaching, research, outreach, social media, or all of the above.  

The way forward will be decided soon.  I just hate what an important discussion about food security, farming, and technology has become.  I never thought it could get any worse, and indeed it has.  

Friday, May 24, 2019

Last Few Words

Where do I go from here?   A good direction for sure.  I will continue to host the podcast and post weekly episodes here and on Twitter.  I will no longer be engaging in social media. I'll be creating a lot more media and sharing a lot of innovative research.  Stay tuned.  Here are some parting thoughts on the topics du jour

Posting Private Information and Hacked Documents

Throughout my professional career I have been asked to sign confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements. I must abide by those agreements. The problem is that others will use FOIA, hacking, stealing, or other methods to obtain your confidential files and distribute them-- breaking confidentiality and also screaming non-transparency.

So when people are somehow acquiring private documents you never shared and making your personal banking information known, it is time to back away from the discussion. My address is being posted next to phrases like "poison peddler" and "he gives children cancer".  The goal is to ignite mob action, to inspire one crazy soul to harm me or my family.

At 2:38 AM the night that Balter posted my home address and the internet  my dog was going ballistic.  Maybe he does that every night.  Maybe it was a coyote or deer near the house.  

But my wife and I have to think, is this someone coming to harm us?  Are we going to get a jar of flaming gasoline through the bedroom window?   This is terrorism, and Michael Balter knew exactly what he was doing when he puts my private information next to claims from his errant interpretations of private documents. 

How do people get documents you never distributed?  Why did he redact them?  What didn't he want you to see?  Why are stolen, hacked, manufactured or otherwise obtained private documents celebrated?  How is it even legal? 

Having to close bank accounts, re-establish auto bill pay and cut up debit cards is a colossal hassle. It was especially awful because I have to travel abroad and can't get a new debit card in time. So it goes. 





Consulting.

Here is the last thing I will say on the "consulting" issue.

1.  I was hired by a law firm to analyze some old data. 


2.  I was bound by confidentiality to not reveal any information about the nature of the work or the parties involved. I respect that commitment to this day. 

3. This was work on my vacation time, it was approved by the university, and has no direct connection to my job, my research or my outreach programs.

4.  In these activities (mostly held in Denver, as shown in the receipt posted by Balter) I never met with anyone currently working for the companies in question.

5.   In these activities I never visited a company in question.


6.  I had a wonderful time working with brilliant attorneys to sort out a long-standing question that settled a dispute between two parties.  It was one of the most intellectually exciting times of my life. 

7.  I was one of many expert scientists involved.  None of them have special disclosures on their websites and none of them have been harassed about it. None of them consider the work "consulting"- we were subject matter experts in a private mediation. 

8.  I was paid well for my time.  I did not want to do this job, I did not have time for it, but it was firmly in my area of expertise and I was probably the best person on the planet to do the work (time would show that I figured out something none of the other experts on either side could figure out, so that was really cool).  I gladly accepted the generous amount they offered. 

9.  I disclosed outside confidential work on my website.  After consulting with the Associate Dean who handles outside work disclosures she told me how to properly disclose that I was working for a law firm while still maintaining confidentiality. The website stated that I was working for a law firm as a subject matter expert in a confidential, private arbitration. 

10.  These are the facts.  Some call me a liar because my words don't match boilerplate letters and their conspiratorial  interpretations. If you think this was "consulting for Bayer" then fine, think that.  My account here is an exact discussion of what my job was.  If you think it is consulting for a company when I never visited the company for this matter, never spoke to anyone with the company, or dealt with science in the company, then think that. I do not consider that consulting. My website and all public disclosures will reflect these truths. 

11.  And I would LOVE to consult for Bayer or any other company that understands my capacities in research or communications.  I'm particularly adept at communications and messaging, so reach out if there is any special project that falls outside of my normal work responsibilities.     

And by the way, this is old news.  We discussed transparency and confidentiality a year ago on my podcast. 




Forward.   My research is going great, I'm working on a number of books and other projects.  I love my life at home.  I have 40 fruit trees, and tons more of you count bananas (that makes me happy). I am surrounded with beautiful friends and colleagues. I'm running well again even though a doctor told me that I'd never run again on my screwed up knees (ha ha).  My lab will probably publish 8-10 papers in 2019, and I think we're going to create quite a stir in how we farm in urban environments. 

The only thing weighing me down is the endless harassment online and the train of onerous public records requests that steal my time and waste enormous public funding. 

So I am going to shed that part of my public face. I'll still maintain my public Facebook page and run the podcast.  

In conclusion, is this a victory for Balter, Biofortified, Thacker, USRTK and the rest of the folks that want me eliminated from an important conversation? 

No.  They just created a more focused, disciplined and committed proponent of public advocacy of science, and I will use that platform with new media, new ideas, and more effective science communication. 

Thank you. 




Monday, April 29, 2019

Seed School Debacle - Postmortem

Anger and frustration turned to disappointment and sadness.  People asked me why it mattered, why I didn't just let it go and do nothing on a beautiful Sunday rather than teach a class.  Because to me my favorite job is as a teacher. I love to help others understand.

I'm also saddened about the divide that happens when we discuss agriculture. I hate the organic/anti-organic, GMO/anti-GMO, chemistry/hate chemistry divides because they unproductively hurt everybody-- mostly the food insecure. There are real problems to solve, and I'm a huge fan of all tools on the table. I'm trying to heal a divide, and I know I make at least a little progress every time. 

I do feel that being excluded at the last minute was an unfortunate residue of social media, matched with the ammunition provided by others to ensure I was deplatformed.  What was really shocking was the acceptance (and condoning) of this by the MAMYTHS folks, and the silence of the March for Science leadership. I pinged them on this, no response. If a climate scientist was eliminated from a discussion on glacier melting at the last minute it would have been national news. 




How to Fix

So how do we make that difference if we can't speak to such audiences if we are censored from reaching them personally?  It requires exploitation of the same networks they used in the take-down, coupled to pushing content through many levels of media. 

In response to the recent events:

1.  We will hold a Plant Breeding and Genetics for Gardeners and Seed Savers in Fall 2019.  It will be streamed live and also be recorded and distributed on YouTube. 

2.  There will  be an accompanying manual that will be free for download.

These two steps are already well underway, tentatively scheduled for August 31, 2019.  They will be free to the public.

Lemons to Lemonade

Life is 10% what happens to you, 90% how you respond to it.  I'm going to turn a deplatforming into a stellar event that is helpful and widely appreciated, advancing the mission of helping plant enthusiasts understand plant genetics and modern genetic improvement. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

POSTPONED. Here's the Story


The event scheduled for Sunday will not happen. We will do it in the Fall, and it will be sweet. 

I was scheduled to teach in a local class for gardeners, but was removed from the schedule at the last minute. It is unfortunate censorship to keep me out of a classroom. 

I arranged a room for their class in the building where I work.  I figured that the good alternative would be to teach my sections anyway right after their class was over, so participants could still enjoy the content I prepared, if they wanted to.   

The event was going to be open to the public.

However, I learned tonight from other faculty in the program that the Seed School moved the venue, and they are no longer on campus.  

So at this point I'm not compelled to teach those lectures because they were designed for the class participants. 

It opens the opportunity to do it bigger and better. We will organize something in the fall, free, and everyone invited. This is how we will create the changes we wish to see. 

Thank you to everyone for the kind words and thoughts. It has been a hard week.  

Kevin

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Class Will Be Taught


When they tell you you're not welcome to the party, throw one next door and invite everyone!

It was a sad time to be uninvited from teaching science to a group of local gardeners.  I had three modules that were really exciting, and organizers of the 3rd Southern Seed School caved to complaints about having me in the classroom teaching students. It is a sad censorship that is the residue of targeted harassment, and how people actually believe the false information that they've been fed. 

To say I was angry is an understatement.  I was livid. I barely slept, I thought about it a lot, and just became more angry.  To be eliminated from a program because people in my community feel I'm somehow toxic to a scientific curriculum is something I took very personally. 

So what to do?  

Teach the content anyway!  I organized the room for their class, and they'll be here in the building.  My class will happen in the same time slot where I was originally installed, so students can opt to come here the content that the organizers didn't want them to hear. 2318 Fifield Hall! 

I will present two 45 minute lectures. 

1.  Plant Breeding and Genetic Improvement  2-2:45
2.  New Crops for Florida  2:45-3:30

Those interested can continue the conversation at Swamphead afterwards, and I'll encourage the folks from the Seed School to join.  

Meet in front of Fifield Hall on the University of Florida campus before 1:50.  The building will be locked so we'll have to all enter together.  Contact me at kfolta@ufl.edu if you have any questions.