Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Kauai II -- The Evil Edge of Activism

Last week I was in Kauai answering questions about science and county bill 2491.  It was a good opportunity to learn of the concerns of a community, the industry on an island, and the sticky interface between the two.

I got a lot of negative attention over there, as evidenced as an organized smear campaign in the social media. I'll write about that later.  This blog is about email. I was on KKCR (anti-GM, anti-science) radio and gave out my email address.  I don't hesitate on such things.  It is all about being accessible and transparent.   At the airport, all the way to my home, I got to view the Lazy Susan of Hate. 

Of course, those that know me know that for every threat you get a kiss if you are female and a beer if you are male. That's my version of Fonzi Code.  The return email...

Next I got a few nasty ones like this: 

I don't know who the "Brothers" are, but in the words of Spicoli, as long as they make me disappear to a place with some tasty waves, a cool buzz, I'm fine. 

Finally, there' this tasty treat...
Personally, I give the guy a major downgrade on going to "douchebag".  If he would have gone with "douche(insert other noun here) I would have given him some good cred.  "Douchebag" is so 2008. The only  thing lamer would have been "GMO" (pause) "NOT".  

The funny part is that I did reply and after a few back-n-forths calmed the savage beast... 

And good day to you sir. 


In these cases (and a few more I'll probably post later) angry people used the cloak of the internet, sometimes with obvious pseudonyms (not the last guy) to try to intimidate me.  The funny part is that difficult people want a difficult and defensive response, and I (usually) don't have that in me. Plus, I can't be intimidated. 

They waited until I was on the way home, not in the public forums where I was happy to meet. 

Kindness and love overpower anger and fear.  The people of Kauai have lots of kindness and love on both sides.  The trick is sharing it with each other and trusting good science-- and trusting those that teach it. 

Mahalo.  And I don't use that ever.  Here it just fits. 


Sarah [NurseLovesFarmer.com] said...

Again, thank you for your efforts - they are not lost. "Kill them with compassion" as they say - taking the high road isn't easy, but it's better for the blood pressure!

Alexander Huszagh said...

Mahalo, and although antiscientism runs strong, you have done so much wonderful work and it is wonderful to hear at least some kind comments overall.

Also, killing them with compassion generally eventually works, or the other alternative is, as Max Planck said:

"A new scientific truth does not triumph by convincing its opponents and making them see the light, but rather its opponents eventually die, and a new generation grows up that is familiar with it."

At worst, your work is protecting a wonderful new technology for a future generation to profit from. Thank you.

Steve Savage said...

I was there with Kevin in Kauai. He folows the "Golden Rule" (treat others as you would like to be treated) extremely well under difficult circumstances with difficult people

Joni Kamiya said...

Yes, many of the activists here need a good reminder of the Golden Rule or even better, the 5 Rs being taught in elementary schools... Respect, Responsibility, Resourcefulness, Resilience, Relationships...

Kevin M. Folta said...

Thanks everybody. I think it was forcing interaction that rubbed people the wrong way. Chasing them down to talk, etc. Also, giving out my email address on the radio was probably the biggest catalyst. We had a decent, kind conversation for 20 min, followed by 20 min of pummeling.

Sara Van Rooy said...

I think you have experienced the effect of cognitive dissonance. These people are passionate and believe they are doing what is right. They expected you to be a) evil, b) working for the evil corporations, and c) full of crap. What they found was that you were a) surprisingly nice, b) independent (though they really tried their best to prove otherwise), and c) what you said made sense to them. They could not easily dismiss you or your information. Their angry reaction to you should be taken as evidence that you made a real, positive impact. You did get through to them. Some actually listened. It's just that it's very hard for them to accept what you are saying because it may mean that what they believed, with so much passion, was flawed. The missing element is time. This just happened and people need time to evaluate new and contradictory information. When they sort it out, I expect some will have changed their opinions. Perhaps not to a completely opposite opinion, but in a subtle way for many. Maybe you have taught them how to be better activists; not strictly based on ideology, not dismissive of evidence and reason.

KatieH said...

Mr. Savage, was hoping to get another shot to conclude my question that was so rudely cut off after your lecture.

So, your calculation, and the focus of your lecture of the "tiny" amount (18 tons) of pesticides used on Kauai was based on a "guess" of corn acreage? Can you please comment on the scientific accuracy of a guess? 12,000 acres would also incorporate all of the tons of pesticides not categorized as restricted as well.

Please advise.

KatieH said...

Kevin, the catalyst was the condescending tweet you sent out mocking the people of Kauai and the Kauai County Council insinuating that Kauai is run by "mob mentality."

I spoke to you. I listened to how you said you would help us against the big corporations. I said "thank you for taking the time to listen" contrary to your blog rants.I promptly threw your card in the recycling bin after you revealed what you really think about the people of Kauai and our leaders.

Anonymous said...

Kevin, I work for one of the seed companies on island and I just want to tell you how meaningful your trip was to me and many of my colleagues. You were able to witness firsthand what it is like to be in the middle of this mess. It’s not pretty… and it seems the harder you try, the more you get shot down. There are local businesses that supported us that are now receiving poor reviews on their consumer pages. There are employees who are being demonized on social media and threatened when they have tried to reach out to share what they know with the community. There are people in the public who have had their thoughts and emotions twisted in knots trying to wade through fact and fiction. And then, in the midst of this turmoil, there was you and Dr. Savage. You stood up for the science behind biotechnology and you reinforced to the agricultural community (seed industry) that the work they do has value. You reminded 600+ employees that they are not evil trolls out to harm Kauai and its children. In closing, if a few arrogant and insensitive folks couldn’t be reached by your kindness, truth, and teaching– please know that the hearts of those in the seed industry have been lifted by your words, your work, and your visit to Kauai. Thank You - Leslie

Anonymous said...

Aloha, What seems to be going on is that many people are acting out their anger and frustration, some of them in ways that are not kind, compassionate, loving and forgiving. We must show them all what compassion means.....that if they are hurting...then we are hurting too. Then we can look at the real root of the problem....suffering.....and how to ease it. When business methods seem to be causing disruption and negative reactions in a community....then it is good for those businesses to address the community with real compassion.....then the negative reactions of the community will turn towards the positive. What do you think?

Andy Parx said...

You still keeping up your passive aggressive, answer-a=different=question and lie=until-they-catch-you and then change the subject campaign Folta? Still hiding who paid for your Hawaiian vacation saying "I wasn't paid to testify" atill with the "I don't know who finds my department" and "I only do two or three studies a year" business?

Michael said...

Sara Van Rooy, that was very nicely said, and I hope you are correct.

I had a sort of casual acquaintance with the anti-GMO camp when I worked for the organic industry, but a glaring instance of cognitive dissonance did its work on me very quickly:

I learned that the Humulin my partner takes to control his diabetes is a GMO.

Goodbye crappy ideology!

KatieH said...

Ahhh Leslie hit the nail square on the head! This lecture was not designed to change the minds of those who have done enough research to know that pesticide use is toxic. They were not flown in for testimony that was discarded as industry propaganda by the council. No, the whole point was to reassure their EMPLOYEES that what they are doing is not hurting their community. Well it looks like you have achieved that. Congratulations -they are singing tunes of propaganda! They are hugging the chemicals. You have not however convinced anyone who was not already on the payroll.

Unknown said...

Wow. As the programmer of that show, I am blown away that you received such e-mails. I will say that is a first for me to have ever heard about. I am sorry that was your experience. With better coordination, I would have guided you toward a more palatable message.

Mostly, the anger is at the insensitive industry bootprint on the island that refuses to disclose the chemicals that are sprayed at experimental levels on a fragile ecosystem. People are fearful, distrustful and angry at being in the chemicalized dust of this industry.

The dis-information campaign and aggressive robo-calling that Hawaii Crop Improvement Association had launched on Kauai had people island-wide very incensed. Your important call-in was not scheduled. I did my best to allow you an unplanned opportunity to communicate with the community. As I explained to you prior to the show in which I was trying to schedule you, you would be speaking with a hostile audience. A call-in appearance versus an in-studio appearance is far harder to manage. People were so deeply angered by your testimony, one literally walked into the studio and sat down at a microphone. He is a surgeon who has held teaching positions at UCLA and Univ. of Ariz with product development experience with regulators. He had copies of the studies produced by court order from the industry. The bill under proposal is about disclosure of the restricted use chemicals being applied. You are a plant scientist speaking about the technology of genetic engineering. The issue that is important is the application of pesticides. People did not want to discuss gmo's. They wanted to know if the chemicals were causing the seizures, cancers etc. The anger came through the constant misdirect toward the plant science. They don't care about the plant science. They wanted to know about the chemicals. That was the big miscommunication.

Anonymous said...

If the industry you came to stand up for were better neighbors and more forthcoming they wouldn't be in the position they are now. What kind of person makes the decision that schools and hospitals don't need buffer zones from dangerous chemicals in a place where the wind blows almost all the time?
The truth is that you claim to care about Kauai, yet every single act by biotech here has proven otherwise.

Angela Flynn said...

How can anyone believe a word you say? Anti science, indeed. We all know that anti science is what the GMO companies use to show safety of their products. Please get a grip on yourself and open your eyes to reality, not dollar signs.

Anonymous said...

I'm not sure who the we in "We all know..." above are. Some of us, born an raised here during the heyday of sugar and pineapple,do not know what the the "we" in the forgoing rant know. And we may actually be better acquainted with the scientific method than many of the people who follow Vandana Shiva, Jeffrey Smith, et al- even if we did our undergraduate work in the social sciences. The title of this blog is "Illumination" If you can not respect that and shed more than a half baked opinion harvested from from the social media on the issue, you should post elsewhere and not waste our time. You will convince no critical thinker with your kind of cant.

Kevin M. Folta said...

Okay running down the list:

Katie, at the forum I chased you down and tried to connect with you. I read the rotten things you said about me on GMO-Free Kauai, so please don't play innocent here.

As to the "mob" comment, certainly the anti-GM folks have no appreciation of nuanced language and have been craving a "gottcha" the whole time I was there. My point was simple. Mobs of people should not dictate scientific policy. I saw two groups, one in blue shirts one in red. That was my point.

I did apologize for the term and I do feel bad that it offended so many. I'll be careful going forward and use much more simple language so that it is clear.

If you read the whole blog you'd see what I think about Kauai's people and leaders.

Leslie-- Thank you. Your note is appreciated and I want to know more about the bad reviews to businesses supporting biotech. That sucks.

Anonymous-- I agree. There needs to be more sensitivity toward concerns. Even if the concerns have no scientific merit, they are concerns so they are real to someone. The trick is to teach the science. That's what we tried to do, well, we did.

Biotech and Big Ag have not been good at outreach. It has been a stone wall and a black box in many cases. Compassion and understanding are the first step of teaching.

Then good ol' Andy Parx, the guy with a fixation on the fiction in his head and how he may try to take pot shots at my credibility with it. It is boring.

I don't know how much biotech funds my department nor do I care. It does not fund me, and perhaps a lab here and there (maybe two out of 58 researchers, it is all public) have some funding from the Big Six. I don't track that. No reason to.

And if this was Kauai's version of a vacation then I'm claiming tourist abuse. I've been 100% always forthcoming that HCIA paid my ticket, hotel, most meals and a rental car (cheap one!). I don't know what else you want.

Michael-- yep. Lots of GMO medicines. If its all poison then someone better let someone know soon. Maybe you haven't seen the data. Everyone that takes these meds dies within 120 years.

Katie, I connected well with a number of council people. I was able to edit the video of testimony and provide hard science evidence to debunk the liars that made claims against biotech that were just wrong. I also connected well with plenty of people not on the payroll, including many in favor of 2491.

Unknown-- Thanks. The radio call in was really useful. I agree, you guys need pesticide people to discuss this, but if GMO is on the bill, then that needs to be discussed too. In fact, it is the Achille's heel of that ordinance.

I was treated very fairly for the first 20 minutes for sure. After that it was a Gish Gallop of GMOs that I could not respond to. Thanks for getting me on, and I'm always happy to join again.

Angela Flynn, Again, I actually lost money by doing this and caused an massive backlog of work-work I'm still sorting out. This was for education only. Why should you believe me? Because you can fact-check everything I said and it will be consistent with the scientific consensus on this topic.

Anonymous... you again! I appreciate your thoughts here, but do you think this was a rant? If anything it is funny, maybe sweet. What really constitutes rantiness? I like you smarties and respect all thoughts. I always could be wrong. The point of this blog entry was to show how bad it is. A neutral, independent scientist gets this kind of reaction. That's scary.

KatieH said...

Kevin you won't quit. If quoting you is saying rotten things then I think may just agreed with you for the first time. I've had enough of your condescending tone for a lifetime.

Anonymous said...

Could you talk to the workers in the blue shirts who harassed a 12 year old child at the hearing? That was really disturbing that grown men would do that.

Chuck Lasker said...

Dr. Folta - Mahalo (I use that all the time) to you and Dr. Savage for taking the time to come to Kauai, to meet with anyone who asked (including me), and to answer every single question asked at the two public forums.

I have received many similar threats, which is maybe a bit more disconcerting while living on the same tiny island as those who threatened me. And all I've said is I believe Bill 2491 goes too far and that we should trust science. But I know passions where high as some local and nonlocal instigators felt hate and emotional blackmail were the best ways to get a lot of people to the Council hearing for Bill 2491. Things have calmed down quite a bit for now.

Know that most of Kauai is not like this. There is a very loud minority that are easily frightened and believe every conspiracy theory around. Killer ChemTrails, Killer Smart Meters, Killer GMO frankenfood (not cute like Frank N. Food), weather modification, coordinated worldwide population reduction efforts (through GMOs), bee killers, Monsanto owns everything, and some even aliens controlling governments. They believe they are the targets of all of these conspiracies as well as conspiracies to silence them, spy on them, etc. This is not an insult or mocking them, this is just from actual conversations with many of them on a regular basis. And I often say, you gotta be crazy to live on a tiny rock in the middle of the Pacific, so we're all crazy here in one way or another!

I believe your efforts here paid off in ways we can't measure but will become more apparent. You brought science into the conversation, and that's always a good thing.

TheOldTechnician said...

@Chuck Lasker;

I find the anti-gmo movements wild claims of all the ills they charge GMO's with to be eerily similiar to the charges leveled at innocent men and women as witches and warlocks during the middle ages. I even wrote as such to the Councils of Hawaii and Kauai as my testimony to this matter.

TheOldTechnician said...

Kevin Folta, You're the man ! In spite of the rampant S.A.S., Shill Accusation Syndrome, gripping the anti-gmo movement, you're still able to get the science out.

Nathanael Johnson of grist.org is planning to write a piece as to whether scientists who find problems with GMO's are unduly bullied. Perhaps you can show him the above real life bullying you just experienced as a scientist who finds GMO's to be a positive critical development.