Sunday, February 22, 2015

Manufacturing a Turning Point

When US-RTK filed the public records request on the #science14, they didn't realize they were creating a turning point in public perception.

The public is sick and tired of those that waste limited public funds to abuse important transparency mechanisms, or even hacking, to silence or harass scientists. 

The public sentiment sees this as slimy, expensive, and an undue attack on their public scientists, just like ClimateGate. 

For instance, two days ago there was a post on's facebook page that claimed that I was "afraid" of the public records request and gave the impression that I was somehow refusing to cooperate.  

I posted that I have always been 100% in compliance, and to their credit, they let my post stand.  Within a day, that post had 1000 "likes" and over 1000 supportive comments.  I have obtained screen caps of all of it from Philip Crews and others, and will immortalize that thread on this blog in the coming days. 

My response to their allegations of obfuscation. 944 "likes" when this was captured.  The site was eventually taken down, as their smear campaign was not shaping up the way they wanted it to.

The Facebook Post was Removed- Why?

1. Fear of litigation. I asked them to kindly cease and desist.  Their comments were defamatory and certainly libelous, as they suggest that I am hiding something and refused to comply.  That is patently false, suggests I am not following the law, and absolutely damaging, as it was shared on hundreds of other sites.  Their lawyers probably blew in their ear that they crossed a line.

(MORE LIKELY) 2.  Overwhelming Fail.  Just about every comment on that thread was supportive of me and of science.  It was amazing.  There was nobody able to defend their position that I was not in compliance, and if anything, it came across as repulsive and slimy.  This smear campaign is one that did not go their way.

YOUR Scientists need YOUR help!

Look how your involvement changed an entrenched activist website!  YOU created a turning point in this discussion. 

Remember, I am YOUR scientist.  Whereas they want to paint me as a some back-pocket Monsanto lackey, I'm proud to work in public science.  I'll ALWAYS maintain relationships with these corporations and maybe someday I'll be fortunate enough to talk Monsanto into sponsoring YOUR research. 

The difference between this being an isolated victory and the turning point in public perception is how public YOU help make it.  Let's face it, this attack on YOUR public scientists is wrong, and it is backfiring.  

What you need to do now. 

1.  Use email or Facebook to contact any magazine, paper, whatever, (especially science ones) and bring this to their attention-- a case of public scientists being interrogated and libeled for teaching science. 

2.  Post a note on media websites, facebook pages, include them in tweets.

3.  Go to science-friendly websites and podcast websites, like Skeptics Guide to the Universe, Talk Nerdy, Radio Lab and Science Friday.  Show them how YOUR scientists, the #science14, are being harassed by an expensive nuisance public records request-- because they taught science on a science website!

I've said from the beginning, we must not let US-RTK and activists control this situation. We should not play defense.  Some researchers involved have been told to remain silent. I won't do that. 

This is time for us to go on offense, as people demanding the truth,  as a scientific community, as a concerned citizenry, and as people standing up for science, reason, and THEIR scientists.  


Mark Brittingham said...

It is just wonderful to see you prevail in this case!

Tsu Dho Nimh said...

If the law allows you to bill them for the cost, please do it.

How much does a FOIA request cost?
Three types of fees may be charged for FOIA requests -

* The costs of searching for the documents
* The costs of reviewing the documents to determine if they should be released
* The costs of duplicating the documents

The fee will depend on what kind of request you are making:

For "commercial use," you can be charged all three types of costs
For Non-commercial use, you will only pay search and duplication costs
On behalf of "an educational or non-commercial scientific institution" or as a "representative of the news media," you will only pay duplication costs. (Any person or organization which regularly publishes or gives out information to the public can be considered as "news media." Many public service organizations, therefore, meet this definition.)

Because they are presumably funded by the Organic food industry and working on their behalf - I'd start by charging them for all three.

Kevin M. Folta said...

Mark, for years we have been wondering how to win the middle, the folks that don't know about, or care about science, but are subject to manipulation with fear.

These folks actually created the solution. Show the middle how disgusting these folks really are. That's the turn off.

But, we need to get the news out there. Send a note to Science Friday now!! Get the #science14 hastag out there!

Kevin M. Folta said...

Tsu Dho,

USRTK has noted that they will not pay for this request. YOU get to pay for it!

I'm glad to send you a copy of their letter. It is stated that since it is for the public good...

Anonymous said...

GMO Inside certainly has been busy deleting and blocking people from commenting. I posted nothing but civil comments and now have been blocked.

Something the anti's don't seem to get, both in their dogma and their PR smear campaigns, is their fear mongering generalized language targeted at nonspecific entities (which can't defend themselves largely because they don't exist) is effective in attracting attention, but once they make a statement specific enough to evaluate their house of cards crumbles. There is always a need to one up the last effort. Eventually the claims will be so over the top only the most religiously convicted will ascribe.

While the organic/non-gmo industry will always be around because some consumers will buy into the perceived health halo benefit, eventually their market share will fall like all fads unless they change course. The question for the organic's industry is, do they want the long term consumer base to be the tinfoil hat crowd?, that will be all that's left after the trendy elite types move on to the next fad. People want to feel good about their purchasing decisions, demonizing the other guy is one way to make your product standout, but that doesn't make the consumer satisfied. In the long run this type of marketing will not work as the average consumer will not want to be part of a spiteful, negative, hostile, conspiracy pushing brand. Most people just want a decent product at a fair price, not a bunch of drama. Maybe OCA will figure this out, maybe a change in leadership of the organization is needed.

Mary M said...

If you want more evidence of a turning point, check out the Union of Concerned Scientists posts:

As a result, these requests to the genetic engineering researchers, just like other overly broad open records requests that seek excessive access to scientists’ inboxes, are inappropriate.

I was pretty stunned, because in the past they have not been friends of GMO science. But even they see this for what it is.

[and also Ena goes over to harass everyone, which is super funny on a post about harassment]

Kent Wagoner said...

I posted much of the following over on Facebook, and Dr. Folta asked that I pass it on here.

In addition to my regular employment at a university agriculture research station, I write a weekly ag column for our small, local newspaper which serves a primarily agricultural community in southwest Idaho. Our circulation is less than 1,000, but the majority of our readers are not involved too closely with farming.

My last column was on the FOIA request made of Dr. Folta and 13 others. I gave an introduction to the topic, and followed up with basic facts of the story, including a few published quotes by both Dr. Folta and Dr. Van Eenennaam. What follows is my concluding comments on the matter. Please keep in mind that other developments have transpired since I wrote this on Feb. 11.

"I wanted to ensure that everyone knows the rest of this is my opinion, because I'll admit my view is probably not very objective. I work for a university. But this kind of abuse of a good system makes me absolutely livid. While none of the professors involved work for my employer, I imagine what it would be like for one of them to have to endure this.
And I would think taxpayers in those states should be up in arms as well. Dr. Folta is currently estimating that the cost to the University of Florida will exceed $100,000 by the time they have finished examining, redacting, and delivering all the requested correspondence. Do we really want tax dollars paying for an activist fishing venture instead of helping provide a quality educational experience?
It's not even an issue with privacy of the professors involved. Both Dr. Folta and Dr. Van Eenennaam have offered to have open, up-front discussion with USRTK, which were flatly turned down. Neither are they worried about what is actually in the correspondence. It's all just normal correspondence with stakeholders, in spite of what the conspiracy theorists choose to believe.
Dr. Folta may have stated it best in an online discussion posted Wednesday. “The activists can't get the research they want, so they have to stop the flow of information by going after scientists that break down information for the public. That's all this is.” Well said."

If anyone here has any further comments, I'd love to hear from you!

Scout said...

This is such a waste of public funds, they are just trying to plant seeds of doubt in the public's mind. I'm very happy their attempt at a passive aggressive smear campaign did not work and the public is seeing through it.

It really shows how low they must stoop to try and stop any information that the do not like from becoming public. I for one do not want my tax dollars spent this way. Why doesn't the USRTK just meet with these scientist and publicly discuss or debate the issue? It's because they do not have the studies or reviews to back up their claims and Drs. Folta and Van Eenennaam do
Keep up the good work Dr Folta and Dr Van Eenannaam, thank you for making yourself available to us.

smalljude said...

Thanks Mary, for pointing out the UCS post. It surprised me.

The lovely Ena used two different handles to comment there. That's really quite odd - feels a little unhinged.

Ena Valikov said...

I post as Ena Valikov from my cell phone and as dogctor from my computer at the office. If u scroll through the Disqus history you will find my real name. Unlike too many people I have absolutely nothing I feel compelled to hide. And presentation of viewpoints different from yours is only framed as harassment at institution of conformity. Sorry...if I was a conformist Id be living somewhere in Ukraine right now.

smalljude said...

Just in case you weren't aware, you can use the same account on different devices.

Ena Valikov said...

Thanks. I am computer incompetent and this just isn't that important to me in the grand scheme of things. But I appreciate the thought.

smalljude said...

No worries, I'll take back my unhinged comment as that I can see it wasn't intentional. I have encountered people who made several accounts for less than honest reasons, so if you don't want to give that impression, it might be worth consolidating.

Anonymous said...

Florida Open Records Law (FOIA is Federal) allows for the collection of reasonable costs associated with staff time and copying, if applicable.

Mike Drake said...

I know you've already seen and commented, Dr Folta, but I think their followup post needs to be linked here for record. At least they haven't deleted your comment (and those of at least one or two other supporters).

Ed Rybicki said...

Dude! Respect! As one who has taken anti-Monsanto flak in the past - without ever having had a cent from them, I might point out - I know just how frustrating it can be to deal with these Luddites and actively malicious morons.

I think passive resistance does not work; the ONLY way to deal with these folk is to get back in their faces and challenge them.

It is also fortunate that I do not live anywhere where they can hassle me like they do you. Power to the arm!

Carl Hannah said...

An important scientist like Dr. Folta should never only have 2 bars of wifi. Step it up, Florida.

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Anonymous said...

Just found your blog from an article about the Food Babe. I will be coming back. And I will do what I can to support public science. Thank you.

Anonymous said...

I think the reason a lot of people choose to buy organic is because it doesn't use synthetic fertilizer, which is overloaded with nutrients and these excess nutrients are known to be damaging to the environment. The dead zone in the gulf of mexico is a direct result. last year it was the size of connecticut

Andrew said...

Do you have any suggestions when public scientists are misrepresenting data, studies and research to further their position on a public health issue? I ask because there has been some evidence of scientists deliberately misleading officials and government bodies to further their agenda and reinforce their own ideological stance.

Thank you.

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