Saturday, August 22, 2015

Bringing My Dead Mother to their Disgusting Cause

Just when you thought they could not get any lower. 

Now someone is posting truly evil information on the Gainesville, FL Craigslist page.  

Tomorrow would be my mother's birthday, she'd be 69 years old, if she was still alive.  She died a few years ago, way too young, and we all still miss her tremendously. 

So imagine my joy when someone directed me to this on the local Craigslist: 



To call these people scum is an insult to scum.

It is bad enough that they are posting personal information online, but now they are sifting through my history.  It is a sick kind of stalking that shows the delinquency of this movement.

Shame. 

And if Ginnie was here right now she'd tell you that she wished I worked for one of those companies, that I would make "real money", work 40 hour weeks, and stop wasting my time around universities. 

She never really understood what I did or why I did it.  

But she would absolutely be amazed at the hate I endure to be an interpreter of science, and the lengths that people go to hurt others. She'd be particularly disturbed that some sick little tart scoured the web for information that could be made personally harmful or injurious to me. 

She had a kind heart and was good to everyone.  She would not understand this kind of evil.  

s

Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Now Posting in Craiglist

Now there are messages showing up on Craigslist.  They are false and defamatory and foment local fervor that could translate to physical harm to my family, home or laboratory. 

These people are scum. 

Please share this post EVERYWHERE.  We need to expose the heinous tactics of the anti-GMO movement.  This shows their disgusting approach to harm those that simply teach science. 

This has been reported to Craigslist. 

(and note how they don't really get the science terribly correct either)




Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Retraction and Apology. Do the Right Thing.

I'm furious about the false and defamatory statements made by Paul Thacker and Charles Seife in this August 13, 2015 article on PLoS Blogs. There are several key take-home points:

1.  While they have since tacked on a clarification in a footnote, it was not complete. Thacker and Seife's allegation implication that I was a paid advsor to the Monsanto Company to defeat California Proposition 37 still stands, and has been cited elsewhere. The anemic correction leaves false statements available for maximum damage. Mission Accomplished.

2.  USRTK claimed that the FOIA request was to test relationships for why I, and other authors, answered questions for individuals on GMOAnswers.com. The article by Thacker and Seife shows that this is not the real intention. The email released has nothing to do with GMOAnswers.com.  Plus, why would a hostile activist-funded organization release that resource to authors unless it was to advance reputation damage to those communicating science?

These are two important questions that clearly demonstrate the intent and the strategy.

What should have happened?  The authors and PLoS should have made it right. 

1.  PLoS should have immediately demanded the article be changed to reflect factual information, or else pulled down the article.

2.  PLoS should have offered me equal space to clarify the real situation.

3.  Thacker and Siefe should have provided a public apology. However, Thacker has dug in, and on Twitter now accuses my actions of being orchestrated by a PR firm. 

Over the years I've made some mistakes in my blogs.  Even when I criticized Vani Hari, I heard that she left my university in a limo, and reported that. When facts came out otherwise, I was petrified. 

I felt so bad that I misreported information based on what a credible source told me, and the minute I had internet access I made the correction, and apologized. 

This is what should have happened here too.

Instead, the authors are defensive and digging in.  PLoS stands by their decision to publish harmful, false claims.

It is a bad time to be in a controversial area as a scientist.  The career that took you a lifetime to build, can be destroyed overnight by activists, and with the help of your friends in scientific publishing,

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Transparency Weaponized Against Scientists

(re-published from Science 2.0)

    How could you destroy someone with their own words, if their words present no evidence of wrongdoing?  It actually is amazingly simple, and illustrates the danger of limitless access to personal emails through public records requests.  In this post I will show how two writers for a PLoS One Blog* blatantly misrepresent content obtained through such a request. This is how scandals are manufactured from nothing. They fail to fact-check information with a non-opaque effort to harm the reputation of a public scientist.
    I know, because that scientist is me.  Here’s the story.
    Back in February I received a Public Records Request from a California activist group that demanded my emails back to 2012.  This was the first time I ever heard of such things.  After 27 years in public science I’d never thought that my emails were anyone’s property other than my own.  I had to comply, and did. The story has been covered here and here.
    My central fear was not revealing incriminating or proprietary information, as the activities of a Professor in a Horticultural Sciences Department aren’t terribly exciting.  I was comfortable with university I.T. pulling three years of email from university servers. However, I had one suspicious fear—that this venture was nothing more than a way for activists to spin my statements, and manufacture devious and defamatory narratives, a suspicion that would come true.
    Why would they target me?  I am well trained in transgenic technology, familiarly, “GMOs”.  I teach science communication to farmers and scientists, and explain to them how to discuss issues in biotechnology, the risks and benefits, strengths and limitations, with concerned public audiences—something they historically have not done well. 
My desire to synthesize and teach the scientific literature has drawn the ire of anti-GMO activists, that feel a scientist speaking about science, must be some puppet of an agricultural conspiracy.  That is why my emails were requested by the group US Right to Know.
    My fears of context manipulation blossomed this week. An entry at PLoS* Biology Blogs, written by Paul D. Thacker and Charles Seife, shows the danger of releasing public records to individuals set to attack professors because they dare to teach a facts in a subject steeped in emotional angst.
In a smear campaign not unlike Cilmategate, Thacker and Seife make assumptions, bend the truth, or are ignorant of information lacing an email they somehow obtained. 
    This email was provided from the activist group targeting me, and it smacks of journalists asking the activists for a little something to satisfy some ideological agenda. Why else would US-RTK furnish these coveted resources?
    In a breach of journalistic ethics, this author team published false and misleading information. While Thacker contacted me about other information regarding this FOIA request, neither author contacted me for clarification about this email prior to this vicious blindsiding. 
    A fail of Journalism 101.   So what did they say?  Here are some of the words from the PLoS Biology Blog (I’ll address the omitted portions next time):

Last week, Nature reported that the University of Florida had provided them with emails that U.S. Right to Know had FOIA’d on one of their researchers.(citation) … the story noted that the researcher has received money from Monsanto to fund expenses incurred while giving educational talks on GMOs….  The article does not report that the scientist has repeatedly denied having a financial relationship with Monsanto. (citation) The article also does not report on an email titled “CONFIDENTIAL: Coalition Update” from the researcher to Monsanto in which the scientist advised Monsanto on ways to defeat a political campaign in California to require labeling of GMO products (citation).

    Sounds pretty devious!  First, it has never been a secret that my science communication outreach program is sponsored by numerous individuals, companies and associations, including the Monsanto Company. Private funding covers the costs of site rental, portions of my travel and coffee, donuts, subs for participants that attend this half-day science communication workshop. No salary is furnished, for me, or anyone.  I still don’t consider a donation to an outreach program a “financial relationship” any more than my donation to my local NPR station a financial relationship. Monsanto does not fund my research or salary, and they have no influence on workshop content.
    However, the last line of Thacker and Seife's bogus interpretation is the most damaging.  Here two journalists deliberately ignore facts and disregard reality to take a hatchet to a public scientist they don’t want teaching science. Again, a cyber lynching Climategate proponents would be proud of.
    I never had any role as an advisor for Monsanto's policies and I had no idea where they could have possibly got such ideas. I would never start an email with "CONFIDENTIAL", so it seemed fishy.  I asked them to provide the email they reference, which they kindly did:


This is the email where the authors claim
that I "advised Monsanto on ways to defeat a political campaign in California to require labeling of GMO products" The redactions are mine, as I do not feel it is my place to share email addresses of those corresponding. 

    Now it was crystal clear. The original email was not written by me, despite what Thacker and Seife imply.  I did not write “CONFIDENTIAL : Coalition Update”.  The note was sent from someone in the No On 105 camp to Lisa Drake, a government affairs person for Monsanto, which the email clearly reveals!
    It was clear that this was a hit piece. There is no way that any of this shows this email to be my work, and my paragraph in there was critical of Monsanto, hardly "advising". 
    In September of 2014, Farmers north of Denver had questions about GM technology, safety, and the labeling bill. They didn’t want to hear company led discussion. So Ms. Drake reached out to me, to come speak to the farm group at a private dinner as an independent scientist that knows the topic. She forwarded this “CONFIDENTIAL” email to me, unsolicited.
    It was confidential because the dinner and discussion were by invite only. And how confidential was it if it was forwarded to me, someone outside of the intended recipients? 
    To address Thacker and Seife’s claims of collusion, it was not a case where “the scientist advised Monsanto on ways to defeat a political campaign in California.”  First of all, it was Colorado.
    Nice job, guys. Even the softball facts seem to be a problem. 
    Second, do you really think that my notes to a Monsanto employee are “advising” the company? 
    In any opinion I’ve written on labeling, I have been disgusted by the lies, distortions and fear mongering promoted by the pro-labeling efforts.  However, I have always also been highly critical of the anti-labeling (Monsanto's side) use of fear (higher prices, etc) in associated media to scare people into voting against labeling initiatives. I even wrote about that here in Science 2.0
    This is my point my message to Ms. Drake—I want the discussion pro- or anti- to be science-based, and perhaps that message would resonate (in the last year I've adjusted that dumb thought, as I now understand that facts don't matter).
    This email was my criticism of the anti-labeling rhetoric with a person that works for Monsanto.  It was hardly me providing strategic campaign advice to defeat labeling as the authors state.
    So Thacker and Seife fail to ask questions, and instead manufacture a false interpretation that paints me as some sort of confidential-email spin meister with a master plan on defeating a bill that had been voted on two years before this email string took place.  They also cite the date as 2011, prior to the California vote, when it was clearly dated 2014. Agenda, gentlemen? 
    Wrong author of the email, misrepresented content, wrong date, wrong state, and portraying me as a stooge of the company, when I was criticizing the company. Did they get anything right? Why would they do that?
    Because truth would not reinforce the rest of their article. They had to destroy the truth to fit their thesis. 
    And there is the intent to destroy the reputation of a public scientist. In the age of the internet, the truth does not matter.  The message you want to propagate can be told, and it will spread like wildfire.  And spread it did.

“One email from Folta reportedly was entitled “CONFIDENTIAL: Coalition Update,” and contained advice from Folta to Monsanto on ways to defeat a political campaign in California requiring the labeling of GMO products.” 

    The false statements now were oozing from their primary factually bankrupt cesspool and now were becoming part of others' research, assuming that Thacker and Seife’s smear article was based on actual facts.
    My alleged monkeywrenching of the California GMO labeling initiative as a Monsanto secret PR agent has now spread Twitter and is now installed as a permanent part of the “can’t trust scientists, can’t trust Folta” narrative. It promotes irresponsible, unethical, hack journalism that Thacker and Seife should be ashamed of. They were able to get my emails from activists, so clearly they have a relationship there, and this speaks volumes about their justification.
    Now their distortion and lack of diligence becomes my history, as told by the internet.
    In a broader sense, it illuminates the danger of these unencumbered public records requests.  This is only one email of thousands, and I am the just the first person compliant of forty subjected to this invasive sweep. 
    In conclusion, what good is it to have a mechanism to uncover the truth, if the truth is twisted into a lie, and unabashedly used to damage the credibility, reputation, and careers of scientists that simply defend science and teach inconvenient facts?  When scientists are guilty until proven innocent, and written realities are manipulated to create false narratives from public records, how do we stand a chance?  



* I contacted PLoS and requested equal space to refute Thacker and Seife's false statements.  PLoS refused to provide equal space. Their representative said, "Respond in the comments section".
 I have published in PLoS journals. I reviewed for PLoS journals.  and have a paper in review there now that I'm strongly considering pulling. While PLoS blogs has a disclaimer that they do not control content, they do offer a visible, reputable brand to host this fact-challenged attack on a public scientist. 
Researchers should consider this event when deliberating publication or reviewing with PLoS journals. 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Trottier Symposium Abstract

I'm speaking at the Trottier Symposium in Montreal and was asked to submit an abstract. The symposium topic is "Trusting Science- Do You"

So I prepared this:



Marketing a Mistrust of the Safest Food Supply in History


Breakthroughs in breeding and genetics have radically improved plants and animals used for food. Introduction of modern technology to production practices makes farming more efficient.  Improved chemistries allow us to produce more with less, with greater sensitivity to the environment. However, in the midst of the safest, most abundant and most diverse food supply in human history, there is a rising perception of its danger.  The suspicion has not been driven by science. Instead it is a well-funded marketing ploy to push food dollars to boutique choices, and sell lifestyle-oriented selections that promise, but don’t necessarily deliver, improved health and performance.  A multi-billion dollar industry has emerged to provide these higher- cost, health-halo alternatives. These efforts are promoted by television doctors, celebrities, best-selling authors, activist documentarians, and other self-appointed experts.  This problem results in higher prices for consumers, and slows development of new, useful genetic and chemical strategies that could help the farmer, the consumer, the environment and the needy.  Scientists engaging an evidence-based discussion are maligned as corporate patsies, typically through conduits benefiting from generous corporate support. The most substantial issue is a well-bankrolled mistrust of food, farmers and scientists, which is a tremendous problem on a planet with a growing population and dwindling resources. Today scientists, dietitians and farmers are learning to communicate these issues more effectively, and borrowing from the activist toolbox to enhance the understanding and perception of food.

Monday, August 10, 2015

The Radical Activist Attack on a Teacher

You'd swear by the hate-filled rhetoric that I just threw a pillowcase of kittens and an Ivory-Billed Woodpecker into a wood chipper. 

Why? 

A scientific paper with manipulated data?   No.

A public presentation with information contrary to the scientific literature?  No. 

Statements to the media that are untrue?   No.  

What did I do to earn their ire?  I found some funds to teach science. 

For the last 12 years science communication has run parallel to my research and teaching.  Every year I provide a talk to our grad students about how to not just do science, but then how to share science. 

In 2012 I was traveling to quite a few places and answering lots of questions.  I was turning down lots of gigs because I had no budget to do it.  So when a group would offer an honorarium (big organizations can afford to do), I would not accept it personally.  Instead it would go into an outreach account to pay for future outreach opportunities. 

When asked about my speaker fees I always just say, "Take what you think would be customary and donate it to my outreach program."  We're talking thousands of dollars here. 

In Fall of 2014 the Monsanto company offered support for the program, and I thought that was great.  Love 'em or hate 'em, my workshops were teaching everyone from kids to scientists, so I was glad to welcome their support. 

It never was a secret.  At universities, our records are public, and people know where our funding is from.  You can probably find it online if you look  hard enough, but just ask and I'm glad to tell you about who sponsors my research or who sponsors my outreach. 

Last week the public information voluntarily hit the right activist ear, and they went ballistic. Screams of "Shill!" could be heard everywhere from drum circles to the Whole Foods Gluten Free Bisque Repository. After all, $25K is a lot of money, so to most people this was the smoking gun of high collusion they always suspected.  Heck, anyone that talks about science must be getting paid off. 

But alas that's a relatively small sum in perspective. Sure, I'm grateful for it and we're doing some good things.  This last year I did a few public education workshops for students/postdocs (including Iowa State, NC State, Arizona State, others).  Plus we put on two huge workshops- one at University of Florida (5/11/2015) and one at ASPB's National Conference (7/26/15).  Just to rent the venue at the second one cost $2500.  

Still, there's $16,000 or so left in the account. I'll make the specifics public this week.  You can see the $56 I spent on Jimmy Johns subs at ASU and the doughnuts I bought at Iowa State.  They were delicious.

So how much does Monsanto's contribution (no salary, no dollars to me, just for science communication program costs) matter in the big scope of things? 




This is what they are so upset about?  You mean that line that I had to draw on because it didn't show up on the graph on it's own? 



Various donors from very different industries have recognized the utility of my program in raising the scientific literacy of key groups in our nation. That is precisely why activist groups need it to stop.  

My research program NEVER was funded by Monsanto. Never. Probably never will be.  However, how to activists portray me?  How do they twist reality? 


 And Einstein's quote on the bottom could not be more fitting. 
I have no research money from Monsanto, and never personal compensation for any talks. At least they got that right.




  I'm Monsanto's lil' slave on the plantation. Talk about low class metaphors.   Paid to "promote" GMOs?  You mean, provided funds to pay for costs associated with teaching science? 


On top of all of this I received lots of other hateful messages, and notes from Gmail and Yahoo that my accounts were experiencing suspicious activity at sign in.  Good times.

Please share today's blog far and wide.  It shows what is happening here.  I was teaching science, a company allowed more science to be taught, and activists need that enabled scientist marginalized and reputation destroyed.  This is the length they will go to-- harm a scientist that has won awards for outreach and mentoring, because he dares to teach effective science communication.   

They only survive if science literacy fails. 

Sunday, August 9, 2015

Silencing Inconvenient Science -- Vavilov


After yesterday's interactions there is no question that the recent events by USRTK and activist groups are simply a drive to fight scientific literacy, and dissuade students and newly minted academics from entering the discussion.  The libel, defamation and reputation harm we endure, along with veiled threats and undue criticism, stand to repel scientists from simply teaching science, and most of all, from participating in a public dialog. 

Facts sometimes can be inconvenient to activist agendas, so they must eliminate or marginalize the teachers.  Here on a sunny Sunday, I present a story you may not know... but it has eerie parallels to today's discussion about the attacks on science and reason. 

Nikolai Vavilov was a brilliant scientist and gifted geneticist, years before genetics was even a discipline.  His tireless collections of plant species, incredible observations and excellent science were decades before his time.  His collections of seeds are among the world’s greatest and his botanical tenets remain underpinnings of modern crop biology.

Nikolai Vavilov, brilliant botanist and plant collector.  He was murdered for his science that was not accepted by those that held "alternative" views in science. 


Here’s the punch line.  Vavilov would be arrested and tried by the Stalin regime for his views on science.  He would die in prison for his science.  He remains to this day a hero among academics in plant breeding, and a martyr of science.

Nikolai Vavilov was born in 1874.  He attended fine academies and quickly found himself among Russian luminaries of science.  In 1917 he became a professor at Saratov University, and quickly gained attention as one of the world’s foremost experts in plant biology. 

He attained this distinction because of his expeditions and collections.  He traveled the globe, identifying new species and trends of diversification within plant populations.  He traveled into uncharted areas of the world to better understand plant biology and plant diversity. During his travels he documented skirmishes with bandits, and bouts with malaria and typhus.  Throughout his career he traveled to 64 countries understanding plants, taking massive collections (160,000 cataloged under his direction), careful documentation and generating huge amounts of data.  He wrote many books and scholarly papers, spoke fifteen languages, and introduced ideas that were revolutionary in a time where the concepts of the gene were just bubbling to the fore. 

He would rise to the position of Deputy Director of the Soviet Bureau of Applied Botany.  At the peak, the institute was home to over 20,000 scientists and 400 research laboratories.  Some concepts, such as the Law of Homologous Series of Variation (1920) are still taught in contemporary breeding and evolution classes, and as far as traits go, typically hold up to modern molecular scrutiny.

Vavilov lived during the transition to Stalinist Russia.  Lenin died in 1924, and Stalin took charge of the country.  With this change came a frank denial of Darwin and his fundamental principles.  Vavilov, being a scientist and witnessing living examples consistent with Darwin’s ideals, held views consistent with the emerging concepts of genetics.

T.D. Lysenko claimed that species changed because the environment "trained" next generations. His data were limited, he was criticized by scientists worldwide, but those in charge in his country accepted and lauded Lysenko and his "science" because it fit communist ideology better than Darwinian ideas. 

Coincident with as Vavilov’s ascendance, a young scientist named T.D. Lysenko began working under his direction.  Lysenko examined vernalization, the process of inducing flowering by subjecting plants to cooler temperatures.  This is an important agricultural trait to understand, as it governs when food will be produced.  Lysenko became a prominent voice in plant science, and was appreciated by the Soviet government because his ideas of Lamarckian evolution fit the government’s preferences over Vavilov’s Darwinian slant.

Lysenko had narrow training and rejected Mendelian genetics and Darwinian evolution. He was opposed to the use of hybrid maize, a concept that was gaining acceptance at the time.

The contrast was becoming more clear.  Lysenko pushed a concept that conditioned changes could be inherited.  His hypotheses were based on a single plant, and he was seriously criticized by the wider scientific community.   On the other hand, Vavilov adhered to Darwinian concepts, indicating that traits were inherited and predictable in populations.  (Sound familiar in the modern context?)

Meanwhile, Vavilov invited American-resident Russian scientist Georgi Karpechenko to return to his home country.  Karpechenko was well known for his studies of speciation in plants, particularly in examination of polyploids (plants that possess too many sets of chromosomes). In 1940 Karpechenko eventually returned to Russia.  

Science of inheritance and chromosomes discussed by Vavilov and Karpechenko did not resonate well with Stalin-regime leaders. They were described as "Mendelist-Morganist enemies of the people" (Mendel being the monk that made the primary observations of inheritance, Morgan being the scientist that initiated chromosomal theories of inheritance and genetic linkage).  Lysenko’s ideas of nurture being more powerful than nature matched well with the communist doctrine, as they found the idea that change could be installed to be consistent with their philosophy.  Stalin’s government then would dictate the rules of biology, and how they were applied.

During the late 1930's in a roundup USRTK would be proud of, geneticists were arrested and tried.  Many of them were murdered for their acceptance of Darwinian evolution.  

Among them would be Vavilov and Karpechenko.


Vavilov was the director of a prestigious scientific institution, so his arrest would bring great public attention.  He was invited to an excursion in what is today western Ukraine, and in 1940 he was arrested.   The collecting excursion was designed to get him into a place where there would be little news, little controversy when arrested.  Vavilov was returned to Seratov where he was tried and convicted.  He was supposed to have been executed by firing squad, but he was spared to twenty years in prison.

Arguably the greatest scientist of the time and one of the best plant scientists ever was then incarcerated in the Seratov Prison, a hideous gulag where he suffered in horrendous conditions, sustaining himself on moldy flour and cabbage.  

He died 2.5 years later in 1943 of cardiac failure at the age of 55, malnourished and wasting in solitary confinement.

Fellow scientist Kapechenko, along with some of his colleagues, were arrested and executed by firing squad in 1941 for practicing "forbidden sciences of genetics"

*****

During his confinement, Vavilov stood by his science, stood by his understanding,  eventually to his demise. He wrote, with reference to The Inquisition, "We shall go to the pyre, we shall burn; but we shall not retreat for our convictions."

To stand with 40 other scientists that are preparing for a public reputation execution based on contrived narratives hyperbolic claims of corporate collusion, is not to directly compare to Nikolai Vavilov.  He sits aside Borlaug and few others in his scientific stature and in his impacts on modern plant science.  

The point is to compare where ideology violently overrules science.  It is relevant again as we witness a new war of anti-scientific ideas, along with an orchestrated intimidation and harassment of public scientists, and even threats of violence.  The suspicion generated by USRTK  foments anger and hate, as even an innocent outreach program's funds are deemed high collusion by those that need to silence scientists. 

Sometimes it is good to review where denial of science led to tremendous backslides in progress.  It is critical to review the instances in history where ideology made irreversible errors that harmed innocent stewards of science, and without question slowed progress in the future of food. 

Saturday, August 8, 2015

A Crisis Building

I just received this from an undergraduate student at University of Arizona.  I redacted the specifics about her research work as an undergrad, but I will add that she's a Hispanic female interested in graduate school in my lab. This is the saddest damn thing I've read in a long time, and a symptom of what comes from Ruskin's digital McCarthyism. 



Dear Dr. Folta, 

I recently saw your AMA on reddit concerning the USRTK group, and how their obtaining of your personal and private communications has begun to influence your life, and the narrative that has been developed by them concerning your work. Being somewhat familiar with your work, it was shocking to hear the lengths that any group would go to in order to give your work a bad name....


this was the part about her research, so I'll omit that for her privacy. 

....Your experiences that you have shared make me worry for the future of this area of science. I think that outreach and public education in scientific topics is extremely important, and the lack of public understanding is really what allows groups like this to be successful. Transparency is also important, but seeing what groups with a malicious intent can do with it is worrisome. Do you see these trends changing at all in the future? Are there any groups doing the opposite of what USRTK is doing, or are any attempts at rebuttals being made? Do you feel that there is a need for rebuttals, or do you believe that your work and your personal life should be allowed to speak for themselves? I was previously considering University of Florida as a possible institution for my graduate studies. Do you see groups like this having an effect even at the graduate student level?


Speechless.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Contributions, Funding and Outreach

Over the last few years, in addition to my job as a researcher and a department chair, I have been fumbling through the Talking Biotech science communication program.  It started as a series of talks to "teach the teachers" designed to help students, faculty and staff become conversant in how to talk about, and teach, biotechnology concepts.

The program used to be called Bio Talknowledgey, but I had to ditch that name because I could never remember how to spell it and sent people the wrong URL all the time.

But as time went on, this has evolved into a slick, effective and well in-demand program that is a lot of fun to deliver. 

It is not just biotech, as the same concepts have been applied to other areas as well, such as climate, vaccines and even evolution. The program is expanding to cover other aspects of communication training too.

The program and its funding were discussed in Nature today, by Keith Kloor, and I felt that some additional clarification might be helpful.


Communicating the Science of Science Communication:  this is Talking Biotech, my science communication program that was sponsored by contributions from a variety of sources, including the Monsanto Company. While some will point to this as some sort of influence, it is 100% used to for outreach and training in communications.  You are welcome to contribute too:  Follow instructions at http://www.talkingbiotech.com/support/



Part of the US-Right to Know public records request undoubtedly will reveal the interactions around this program, which is fine.  I've done the workshop at several universities over the last year and there is a lot of interest from industry in funding the program.  After all, helping people understand science is a good thing. Unfortunately, it is expensive.

I put the word out about this with friends, former students, whatever...  and I've found support from several corporate entities, including Monsanto.  That's cool.   One of their employees was at a student research and communication function at UF and he suggested they might be willing to even fund a conference for student participation.  That's really great.

So Monsanto provided funds for 12 of my outreach talks and to sponsor a larger multi-speaker workshop with many students and postdocs participating. Again, no control of content, no suggestions on what we'd teach, but funding for facilities charges, to provide lunch (it is a 3-4 hour workshop), and move speakers (airfare, hotel, taxi, etc).  Again, that stuff is expensive.

Monsanto does not, and never has, funded my research in any way. 

Who else funds this?   When I give talks I do not accept an honorarium.  I feel that it is my job to provide talks free of charge, as a public scientist. So when I do speak, I request that an appropriate  donation be made to my outreach program.  This account contains kind donations from the US Pork Board, an LED company, Manitoba Canola Growers, Mosaic Co, and others that don't come to mind at the moment, but there are a number of sources contributing.  I should make a "Thank You" page on my site for sure.

The slides are available online at http://www.slideshare.net/kevinfolta/presentations .  You can leaf through them and you'll see that they 100% supported by scientific evidence.


  • The program has nothing to do with my podcast, other than sharing a name. 
  • The outreach program also has an outreach component for extension agents and specialists. This will be available this year.
  • The outreach program includes a component for teaching citrus greening in grade schools. 
  • This program also will generate short videos on new transgenic crops that have not been commercialized, like citrus. 
I'm grateful to anyone that wants to fund science communication.  There is no federal or state support for such endeavors and any action must come from other support.  

If you are interested in having me come do a workshop for your school, please see www.talkingbiotech.com for details.  Coming up:  U. Maryland, U. Conn, and a few others.  Lots more in 2016.  

This is about teaching scientists how to talk about science. While it will be spun by many to be some source of undue collusion, it is easy to see that the content is factual, based on evidence, and 100% in line with the scientific consensus. 

As always, I'm glad to answer questions.  You certainly are invited to contribute.  No funds go to me or any personnel-- they go 100% to defray travel costs, buy a tray of subs for the students, and pay fees for facility rental. 




Saturday, August 1, 2015

Talking Biotech 011: Good Science Spun Bad; Bad Science Spun Gold

This week’s podcast is an important analysis of two published reports. First, the results from the famous Rothamstead wheat trial show that their transgene does not confer resistance to aphids, inconsistent with their laboratory findings.  While this outcome was considered to be a successful, reliable answer, it was billed as an abject failure on anti-biotech activist websites. Today we revisit the issues of publication and peer-review, and the story of the threats of vandalism against the experiment.  We then will speak with Prof. John Pickett from Rothamstead Research Institute. We’ll discuss the lab work the trials, and future directions.
The second part of the podcast discusses the recent publication from Adyydurai et al that claims transgenic soy produces abnormal amounts of formaldehyde, relative to non-transgenic controls.  The conclusion comes from a computational approach that was never experimentally validated.  Since, I have extended an offer to test their hypothesis, yet they have not accepted the opportunity to examine if their prediction is in fact correct.  Meanwhile, they are using this paper as a warning about transgenic crops.