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.