Wednesday, December 21, 2016

I'll Turn 50, Where's My Free Stuff?

On January 11, 2017 I will turn 50.  To many this chronological milestone represents a harsh reminder of beer-soaked sand clumping through life's hourglass, a grim reminder of aging and the unpleasantries of human senescence. 

I look at it as a way to start cashing in my chips for free stuff and early bird discounts. 

Frankly, I think it is all crap. It doesn't phase me a bit, but I'll take the bonus goods for eclipsing an arbitrary chronological metric.

I spent my first 35 years in school and postdoc time, scrounging for change, and taking any job that would give me five bucks or a sandwich. I could never figure out why the elderly got the discounts. Not only did they have all of the money, they also had social security. 

Senior discounts seemed wasted on the old.  I was the one that really needed the free bagel. 

I was taken back to January 10th, 1988, the day before my 21st birthday, and how the next day I'd be magically responsible enough to buy the alcohol I had been enjoying for four years already.

After the milestone of 21 years old my auto insurance rates dropped at 25.  Big deal.  Then I set my sites on 50 and put a big red X on the calendar, 25 years in the future. 

Now that marked date happens next month.  Many places consider 50 as eligible for certain discounts and freebies.  I'm interested in nailing those down now so that I can plan a 2017 filled with discount shit.  I've paid my dues, now I want them refunded. 

First stop, "senior coffee" at Arby's.  Mine. And then I'll bench press more than anyone that works there. 

So-- what do you know internet?  Where do I get something for free, just because I somehow managed to avoid the dirt nap for half a century?

What I've found so far:
  • Steak ‘n Shake: 10% off every Monday & Tuesday (50+)
  • Bealls Outlet: 15% off on every Tuesday (50+ or “fifty & fabulous” as customer service told me)  verified
  • Peebles: 20% off with 50+ card on Tuesdays (50+)
  • Traditions Restaurant (East TX): Senior platter meal for $4.71 (50+) verified
  • Tea Room Cafe: 10% off for seniors (50+)
  • Kagle’s Barbecue: 10% off (50+)
  • American Discount Stores: 10% off every Monday (50 +)
  • Jitterbug: $10/month cell phone service
  • Chili’s: 10% off
  • Dairy Queen: 10% off
  • Krispy Kreme: 10% off

Monday, December 12, 2016

Comment on Natural News

I needed a picture of myself to send to organizers of an upcoming conference. I found this in Google images and was curious what it was:

So I clicked the link and it took me to a Natural News story that talked about how I "receive bribes", "run scams", engage in "corruption".  It says that Monsanto provides me with money to take luxury vacations in Hawaii.  It was all assembled from cherry-picked comments in my personal emails that I willingly handed over to USRTK.

Of course, none of that is true. 

it is simply an opportunity to hurt someone, so Mike Adams used his reaching website to produce a (well, one of many) story that was false and potentially very damaging.  

When you read the comments section you see how this hateful rhetoric whips people into a frenzy.  This is just one example.  Five likes! 

I thought that since it has been a year I could provide a factual synthesis of the situation and maybe at least have the proper story out there in space. So I wrote this in the comments section:

Hi Everybody, it's me, the guy that is the subject of this piece. I stumbled upon now, more than a year after it was posted. It was a sad attempt to harm my credibility as a researcher and scholar that helps the public understand science. A couple of quick notes. I run a science communication workshop. When someone offers to pay me to do a lecture or seminar, that money could go in my pocket-- but instead goes to the workshop. I financed this for years, along with organizations that would donate (farm bureau, etc).

Monsanto offered to do the same thing. That's great. It is expensive to rent a venue, travel somewhere, put out coffee and sandwiches, provide media/materials. They did the right thing. They didn't give me a script, not even a hint. They said, "We think your program in teaching scientists how to speak to the public is a good thing."
And for that, I was very grateful, and promised an excellent return on their investment-- that return being a scientific community more likely to engage the public about science.

All of this was public record (that's why it was in the emails too), all above board. Zero went to me. Zero went to my research. Zero. In the end my university took it and put it into a campus food bank because of threats against me, my lab, and my family. We had police presence in the building and the
Domestic Terrorism Task Force involved.

Because of articles like this. Read the comments below. This stokes hate.

There was no bribe, no scam, no corruption. It was a manufactured story produced from my emails which I freely provided.

Luxury hotels in Hawaii? Ha! Motel 6 in Columbia, Missouri! "Unrestricted gift" is university accounting language for "no strings attached" or "no delieverables." That means that the donor gets nothing in return. Zero.

The good news is that Adams' hateful rhetoric and the comments below are all screenshots that will be used in upcoming books, documentaries, etc about how activists try to destroy scientists' careers in vaccines, climate and genetic engineering.

The other good news is that this kind of hate brought a scientific community to my defense. I've won awards and earned tremendous respect for weathering such a vitriolic, personal attack.

Of course, all of my funding, reimbursement, etc are all public record and can be seen on my website at any time. Check it out. Not a cent from Monsanto was ever seen for research or to me personally, and not a cent was ever used for the workshops. Reach out if you ever have questions, I'm always glad to answer them.

I hit the button to post my reply, only to find out that it is "...waiting to be approved by Natural News."

It is amazing. Not only do they publish falsehoods that stoke vitriolic response, they don't afford their target to even present the factual interpretation.

Oh well. At the same time mine would be the first comment posted in a year, so maybe nobody cares anyway.

But I'm glad I saw this Adam's hit piece. It reminded me of where we were a year ago and how far we have come, and how far they had to sink. It reminds us of the anger, hate, and slander we have to endure when we simply teach science.

Amazing times.

**** Irony Alert! --for what it's worth, 20 minutes later the comment was apparently not approved, as it was removed. The people that scream for a 'right to know' are the first to censor what they don't want you to know. ****

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Mythbusting "Terminator Genes"

The discussion of the concept of Terminator Genes is important.  Many people feel that this technology is a reason to not adopt genetically-engineered crops.  Vandana Shiva speaks of the technology as though it is present in every plant. 

However, the story is much more interesting and is the subject of today's podcast.  The technology only existed in concept, maybe in a few plants that never left a greenhouse.  It was originally devised to limit gene flow, one of the issues that critics raise today.  However, it was never even close to commercialization. The story is told by Dr. Mel Oliver, the USDA scientist that developed the idea. 

The story is important to know.  Why do people claim that this technology is widespread?  The answer is that it is a way to create fear.  Why does anyone them, when their claims are not true? 

Thursday, November 17, 2016

Glyphosate Detection- Making Claims from Noise

There is a central rule in the anti-GMO world--  scare them at any cost.  

It is amazing how ethics are disregarded in the interest of peddling a fearful message.  It has long been part of the anti-GMO industry and a weapon of its foot soldiers.  If something sounds scary and supports your beliefs, then promote it, run with it.  No matter how weak the evidence is, claim it is real. 

Such was the case with the "Stunning Corn Comparison" where fake data in a soil test table were claimed to represent biological samples-- that were not remotely biological.  Still the authors and pundits stood by it as a legitimate test. 

They also claimed to find glyphosate in breast milk.  However, an actual study by a real scientist with properly reported methods did not show any evidence of detection. Of course, anti-GM folks shouted down this legitimate report as unreliable.  

Fake data, finding positive signals in noise, and wrongful interpretation of good data are cornerstones of their strategy.  Over the last couple of years we've endured report after report, claiming to find glyphosate (well, claiming to find "Monsanto's Roundup") in everything they report. 

Everything.  Nothing has ever been reported as zero-- and that's important. 

This is mostly because they misuse a commercial test for detection of glyphosate.  They use it with an untested solution that likely would inhibit the reaction, rendering a false positive.  To them, that's gold.  A false positive is still a positive! 

But the latest round is a series of tests that claim to use LC/MS to detect glyphosate (I mean, "Monstanto's Roundup") in everything from breakfast cereals to organic cookies

The alleged detection was commissioned by Food Democracy Now.  It was not peer-reviewed, but instead presented in a flashy brochure intended to scare.  This is critical, as the methods are incomplete, there is no evidence of replication, there is no statistical treatment presented, and the effective limit of quantitation was not calculated for extraction for specific matricies. It is not peer-reviewed because it would not survive peer review.

However, last year they hammered the actual peer-reviewed report that did not detect glyphosate in human breast milk.  The work was done by Dr. Shelly McGuire of Washington State University, properly developing an extraction protocol for breast milk and then using proper LC/MS detection methods, replication, statistics, and independent replication of the results. 

Of course, FDN didn't exactly appreciate the findings. They promote soft science in their brochure, yet trash a legitimate piece of work done by a real scientist. 

When you don't find glyphosate, it's "Slack Science".  It also was not a "Monsanto" study. 

The company that  performed the FDN work was Anresco. They place information on their website and in their literature that seems legit, claiming to use LC/MS to detect the compound faithfully.  That's all good.  They discussed concepts like how the sample was derivitized and the use of HPLC etc that all seems kosher.  When doing the detection you should see results presented like these where they analyze glyphosate quantitatively in water. 

However, they never discuss extraction.  This is a big deal.  They say water and methanol, with no further explanation. If you dig into the report, they show a method developed for beer and barley tea. Hmm. 

They are dealing with complex matricies like ground oreos and other food.  Perhaps they can detect glyphosate and AMPA, but it can't be described as linear and reliable until they show that the extraction protocols do not affect faithful detection of spiked samples to show that there is a relationship. 

This becomes an important issue when you perform derivitization. Targets to be detected are best visualized when they have certain chemical characteristics.  Derivitization can be thought of as a process that chemically optimizes compounds for detection in this technique. This is important because if there are a mixture of similar compounds, they could take on similar characteristics after derivitization, causing noise in the assay. 

All is well and good until you start to attempt to detect a given compound that was pulled from different starting materials. Cheerios are not Oreos. Do all compounds isolated perform the same after derivitization?  Not necessarily. This is why scientists performing LC/MS prepare specific extraction and validation tests for individual matricies (Cheerios, Oreos, Stacy's Chips, etc). 

The fact they claim to detect the compound in non-GMO verified crackers and pita chips says that there's something wrong here. When you are detecting glyphosate where it should not be found, that means that you need to evaluate the detection method more carefully, or at least show some statistical representation of the range of alleged detections. 

But what did the report say? 

Here is a table from the actual report from the analytical lab:

The results show that the compounds are either not detected, or that "samples exhibit very low recovery (meaning from extraction) or response (meaning detection).  The above amounts found are rough estimates at best and may not represent an accurate representation of the sample."

The analysis seems legit, certainly they are detecting amounts on the edge of nothing with no replication and using methods developed for beer and barley tea.  Is it wrong?  Can't say. Is it actual detection?  Can't say.

And in the thin method section in the FDN brochure, why is "derivitized glyphosate and its metabolite AMPA" being injected?  I thought they were testing food extracts?

Of course, these borderline claims from single samples that could very well be noise are beyond convincing for the anti-glyphosate crowd:

However, this report does exactly what it sets out to do, scare people and create what appears to be a legit report. It provides a slick brochure that a rabid anti-glyphosate movement was quick to snatch up and promote.  The above is from Google News.  If you don't like reality, you can manufacture it!

It is also important to note how it is being reported, as is reeks with agenda.  

Important.  *** Look how it says, "Monsanto's Roundup Herbicide" and that should tell you all you need to know.  The test claims to find glyphosate.  Thousands of companies make glyphosate, an herbicide off patent since 2000.  You cannot tell the origin of the company that made it by such detection.  For them to say that with such authority is dishonest, and shows you that they are not to be trusted. 

All of this shapes up to one conclusion:  A non-peer-reviewed brochure from activists claiming to detect an herbicide at levels approaching the limit of detection, from highly variable matricies (foods in this case) using an extraction and derivitization protocol for beer and tea.  The tests were not done in replicates and so we have no idea about the variation within the detection.  

The reason it is not peer-reviewed is because it would not survive peer review. 

But it certainly passes Food Babe review and her critical muster! 

The Food Babe, Vani Hari, not only sees these results as legit, she places them into the context of a conspiracy! 

So there you have it.  Activist groups are making sweeping claims from single samples that are likely just noise from an assay that is not done 100% correctly.  The company that did the analysis says the numbers are not reliable and they certainly cannot be published, the gold-standard of such claims.  But the claims are made with strong conclusions juxtaposed next to pictures of babies and other heart-wrenching pathos.  It is disgusting, dishonest, and they should not be trusted.  

It would be great if these companies actually decided to take legal action.  However, it is just making cranks look like victims and legitimizes their claims.  The best strategy is to share the legitimate criticisms and let this report disappear into obscurity with the rest of the irreproducible claims of glyphosate in umbilical cords, beer, wine, breast milk and every other place they seek to find it.  

Most of all, if it is not peer reviewed it does not count. 

If it is peer-reviewed and never independently verified or expanded upon, it should be considered carefully. 

What does it say about them to use marginal numbers, that would not be a real risk if they were true, to scare parents?  This is the hyperbole of our time, and it is wrong. 

Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Irony in a Political Piece

Those who know me understand that I've never been a big fan of politics.  I've voted both D and R (and L and G too) over the years, depending on the office and issues. I get to know my Representatives in DC and the state. I really like my Representative now (he's an R by the way) and will be glad to vote for him in November. I cannot think of the last time I voted for a presidential candidate. I've voted against one several times, mostly because I worry about the composition of the Supreme Court and federal benches.  I'm registered as N - no party affiliation.  I don't get to vote in primaries. 

In a country of sharply divided political opinions, don't criticize leadership. You'll tick off 50% of people. That's sad, because we should always hold our leaders most accountable. 

Yesterday I posted an article over on Huffington Post that has sent Trump supporters fuming.  I can't believe the angry emails, the screaming tweets-- especially from friends.

In short, the article was a fictitious speech by Trump, stating that his whole campaign was a sham, that he wanted to teach Americans a lesson-- that national leadership is important and must not be taken lightly.  This act of analyzing our leadership was his genius way to make America great again. His continued abrasive nature and poor discretion were part of his ruse, to see how far he could get based on citizens' loyalty to a party over criticism of a candidate.  Period. 

That is a very important message. Over my voting lifetime both Democrats and Republicans have fielded less-than-stellar choices for the highest office in the known universe.  I especially find family dynasties a bit annoying, both George HW Bush as much as Hillary Clinton.  

Americans make a bad mistake.  They look the other way when their candidate or office holder does something wrong.  We make excuses for them, claim conspiracies, and defend the undefendable. 

It is Cubs-Sox, Ford-Chevy, Coke-Pepsi.  Create a dichotomy, pick a time and blindly defend it. No matter what. 

I think it they know what they are doing, that D's and R's create the divide so that we don't notice what is really happening. I've said that for years.  

But more importantly, this failure to criticize leadership is the undoing of our republic, and that is the point of the piece.  It concludes with an important statement-
"The way to make America great again is to demand more from our leaders. Don’t blindly defend those in your party ― be more critical because they represent YOU."

This is the thesis of the piece that so many found so offensive. Some friends found it unthinkable that I'd criticize Donald Trump, or those in the Republican Party that let the guy destroy the perception of the party itself.  

It is not about Trump, not about Clinton, not about Republicans or Democrats.  This is about a fundamental cornerstone of our representative republic.  It is about the need to hold our leaders accountable for their words and actions.  It is not about free speech-- it is about the necessity to exercise free speech.  We must point out where our leadership (or potential leadership) crosses the line. 

So when Trump trashed McCain about "not being a war hero" I found that horribly offensive.  I thought that he was toast at that point. 

But instead, people stood up and defended him. We've seen it over and over again, he does something that contradicts the alleged Christian values that Party officials claim to be their cornerstone. Even the Republican Party platform states, "Americans also deserve a president who will speak for our nation's history and values..."   I'm not feeling that he is representing mine when he disrespects a war hero or mocks a reporter with a disability.  

Again, we need to hold our leaders accountable.  That was the point of the piece.  It was this spirit that was in the room that laid the foundation of the Constitution. 

So when I criticize Trump, Clinton, Johnson or whoever-- don't send me hate mail.  Tell me why you think my criticism is unwarranted.  Help me see why McCain is not a hero or we should mock the disabled.  I'm open to change, but it will take a lot of convincing in those cases. 

Or better yet, review the words of our Founders. Don't circle the wagons around bad behavior because the letter after their name matches the one on your voter registration card.  They are the ones you should hold most accountable because they represent you.  

That was the point, and I can't believe so many missed it, instead taking this as some sort of political, personal, attack on them and their beliefs.  The guy on the beer bottle got it right. Turns out, I think I'm a patriot.  

"If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin."
Samuel Adams

Thursday, June 30, 2016

The Door is Cracked Open, Jump Through Greenpeace!

This morning I was fortunate to have breakfast with Mark Lynas in Belfast, Northern Ireland.  He discussed his idea for a blog, based on the idea that 107 Nobel Laureates have asked Greenpeace to change their position on Golden Rice. He prepared a nice piece with a quick turnaround. It's here!

Go read that now if you haven't.  I'll wait. 

I could never put that so eloquently.  So instead, I'll focus on the idea that changing one's mind is not a bad thing, and maybe Greepeace should do that.  While politicians scream of "flip-flopping" and "waffling", in reality changing one's mind is an act of courage. It comes after a time evidence re-evaluation.  It is a sign of growth, a sign of personal improvement.  

Head toward the light!!

Greenpeace is in a difficult spot.  They do some things well and have a solid brand to inspire change.  However, they are not taken seriously because of their denial of fundamental science, and their trashing of scientists.  It is especially damaging when their science denial disadvantages those in impoverished nations that could benefit from the technology they block. 

For Greenpeace to be sustainable they must grow with the times and move with the evidence. 

Now is the time to do that. 

Imagine if they said, "The 107 Nobelians are correct, and we've been rethinking this position for a long time...  while we still do not agree with multinational companies and note clear ecological impacts of GM crops, we side with science in stating that there are no known health effects of these technologies, and that they may even be helpful in combating nutritional deficiency, land lost to changing climate, and in fighting ever changing pests and pathogens."

Imagine if they said that.  The world would give them a pass on the regressive former stance, and applaud their acceptance of science.  Their credibility would soar, and dollars would roll in, and their perception as an anti-science organization would dissipate a bit. 

The door is cracked open.  Jump through, Greenpeace.  The spotlight is on you, and what you choose to do in response to the 107 signatories may just re-define the trajectory of your organization. 

Monday, June 27, 2016

Office Broken Into

Sometime early Sunday morning my office suite was broken into.  My office has two areas, my assistant's area, and then my office.  The two are connected by locking doors, and there are two keys to the offices, mine and my assistant's. Nobody has access to these areas because they contain sensitive personnel records and other student information.

My assistant came in at 7:30 on Monday morning to find coffee spilled everywhere, files a mess, and all of the drawers gone through. Someone was at the computer and records show an "unknown device" was hooked to her computer at 1AM on Sunday.  We do not know what was up- or downloaded.

We see how they broke in.  It was a rather simple move that probably took place during business hours.  They basically rigged the locking mechanism so that it would be easy to enter after hours. 

My office is an adjacent room, and there's no evidence yet that it was entered.  We're still examining the contents and computers.  It is not clear that they could easily breach the second door.

My interpretation is that this is someone searching for the smoking gun they are not getting via email inquisition.  I have been served, and filled, weekly FOIA requests and the critics do not have anything to go on.  

So whether they have directly commissioned a robbery or perhaps just inspired it, this is what happens when evil people make up false narratives about what I do. 

So thanks to USRTK, Vani Hari, Mike Adams, Brooke Borel, Eric Lipton, Paul Thacker, Charles Seife and the rest of those that failed to tell the truth of a scientist dedicated to public science and public education about science.  They have all written narratives that create false impressions, and sometimes outright dangerous lies. They have said made claims that I am an agent of Big Ag companies that can't be trusted to discuss science. They have painted me as a hated shill of a hated company, with no evidence that I ever broke a rule or did anything illegal. 

Yes, words do matter, and tragically false narratives can inspire harm those targeted. As planned. 

From Twitter:  "The extremists don't burn the witch, they just pass out the torches."

This is what happens when you treat a scientist like a villain. Whether financed by US-RTK, Organic Consumers Association or any of the other anti-science groups, or whether they are just lone-wolf losers looking to create problems, someone is carrying out their bidding.  This is why these are hate groups. They cannot accept the science, they hate scientists that teach it, and want us all to back down with this kind of intimidation. 

My wife says that this is going to far and I should quit. My assistant, a thirty-five year, loyal, dedicated, underpaid and overworked state employee, has never felt so violated. 

I feel quite differently. This kind of nonsense reminds us of who these people are. They have only heightened my resolve.  Education is winning.  People are changing.  Opinions are siding with the scientific like never before.  These are desperate times for these folks.  It is a pathetic turn on a sick story, and they are to blame for creating hate against a public scientist that does not deserve it. 

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Science March- A Stage for the Illegitimate

I've taken a lot of heat for my criticism of the planned Science Marches. Getting scientists to coalesce around anything is a rather monumental task akin to herding cats-- if cats were on Segways programmed to move randomly at high speed. Taking a united stand against the erosion of science funding and science standards is a good thing. 

But as I mentioned earlier, is this the best investment of our energy?  Maybe, and we should probably do it.  But let's do two other things:

1.  Stand up for science by making a commitment to durable, sustained efforts to fight science illiteracy and teach the wonders of our physical world. 

2.  We must label, criticize, ostracize and shame the pseudoscientific organizations that will co-opt the Science Marches nationwide. 

"Partner Organizations" contain some great organizations, but also a few that actively fight against science they find inconvenient or helpful in fundraising. 

A Mess on the Horizon

I can see this shaping up to be a stage for anti-Vaxers, March Against Monsanto, and creationists.  

They don't need a lab or peer-review to legitimize their science-- all they need is a stage and a camera and someone claiming the dangers of vaccines, glyphosate or GE corn has as much instant social media cred as Paul Offit or Norman Borlaug. 

There clearly will be an element of Trojan Horse, as these organizations are poised to potentially be a bigger presence than the scientists themselves. Remember, they have time and money, things scientists don't have. 

Already On the Inside

Organizations that espouse less-than-scientific positions have already permeated the organization. They are riding the credibility and visibility of this event to advance their own causes, 

Environmental Voter Project- Not sure what they actually do, they seem to be interested in climate, but have Annie Leonard from Greenpeace Executive Director featured as "Leader"

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Why This Recognition Means More than You May First Believe

The news that I was the recipient of the 2016 CAST Borlaug Agricultural Communications Award added a new extreme to the wild emotional dynamics of the past twelve months.  Celebrate, suffer; dance, cry; hurt, heal. Quit, start, refresh, retreat. Lather, rinse repeat.

Back in August and September 2015 I read in disbelief that I was part of Monsanto’s “inner circle”, one of their “strategic advisors” with “close ties” that “took money to lie about science” and “used undisclosed funds to thwart labeling efforts.”  I read the websites, I read the articles.  The person I was reading about was not the person in the mirror.

But in the day of the internet, the person in the mirror is forced to take the yoke that the most devious person installs.  You become, in perception, who they decide you are.  You lose control of your own persona—that is left to those that want to destroy you.

There is nothing you can do if you are a mostly unknown public scientist that has a minor social media presence.  The opponents have money, agenda, personnel, and a mission-- as well as access to some of the nation’s loudest media megaphones.

The title of the Buzzfeed article was pure hyperbole, designed explicitly to harm the reputation of a scientist. It was soon after changed to "Seed Money" after the defamatory clickbait title did its intended job.

It does not matter what is true.  If you read Google's top 100 entries when you search my name, you won't read about Kevin Folta, 29 years in public academic laboratories, research funded almost 100% by public sources. You won't read much about they guy that minted a dozen Ph.D. graduates and gave lab experiences to over 120 undergradutes. You won't read about the work in strawberry genomics and how specific light wavelengths can improve plant nutrition.

Instead you'll be treated to the story that US-RTK, Gary Ruskin, Paul Thacker, Mike Adams, Charles Seife, Eric Lipton, Vani Hari, Brooke Borel, Joe Mercola, Allison Vuchnich, and many others wanted told—  that Kevin Folta is a “corporate lobbyist” and “Monsanto apologist”, that is, when he's not conspiring with PR firms to bully 15 year-old girls. These words were written in prominent places only to be gleefully grabbed and propagated by activist organizations sworn to at least destroy my credibility, or at most, end my career in science.

Activist organizations like Natural News, GMO Free USA, and GM Watch danced with joy as reputable writers spun these tales from carefully-chosen words from my emails, willingly released under public records laws. Words and sentences pulled from context, plucked and reassembled into weapons. They took the manufactured narratives of legitimate journalists and twisted them to impart maximal damage.

Gary Ruskin of USRTK gave it a whole 12 minutes before trying to downplay the gravity of this recognition.  He posts a link to the hit-piece he commissioned when he sent my emails to Eric Lipton at the NYT with a story for him to tell.  We're eight months out and everyone sees that it was a cheap shot at harming a public servant. 

Trolls on the internet, and even professionals like Dr. Ena Valikov reviewed my every online interaction, and took every opportunity to trash my sentiments with vicious interpretations.  I’ve saved every one, and there are well over one thousand.

I remember last September, I was in tears sitting with Brooke Borel, a writer I once really appreciated, begging her not to hyperbolize a comedyparody podcast mocking Coast to Coast AM. I told her that the internet trolls would punish me hard and her words would forever be used to harm me. She was cold and unswayed. The article ran with the catchy “Confessions of a Monsanto Apologist” headline, that later was changed perhaps when a moral calculus, or a legal adviser, finally weighed in.  She is one person I will never forgive. I hope it was a big check.

The damage was done. The internet's slander machine kicked into high gear, leading to days of articles shared tens of thousands of times, claiming I was a "psychotic", that I was "mentally deranged" and "should never be teaching in a public university." Global News writer Allison Vuchnich assembled a tale that I was paid by Monsanto to harass 15-year old Canadian activist Rachel Parent. 

Whether by coincidence or cause, my invitations to talk about science at elementary schools went from twelve a year to zero. Now nobody does it. 

Those intent on my demise posted my home address and phone numbers. My office phone had to be changed, and messages were re-routed to the police and Domestic Terrorism Task Force. My email accounts experienced numerous cases of “excessive logins”. I had to scroll through thousands of pages on Craigslist to find, and have removed, the postings in my community that inspired violence against me, listing my home address and phone number.

Once my normally-closed office door was open, and police were called to check for bombs and booby traps. I just must have left it open. A package showed up with no return address, and it sat outside, unopened for weeks, until I found out that a friend just sent me a book. Your life becomes living in terror.

This is what USRTK and their cadre of complicit journalists inspired— their constructed narratives fueled defamation of a lifelong public scientist, along with threats and harassment.  It provided dangerous fodder for an emotionally-motivated movement that has a history of burning down laboratories and threatening scientists. I still watch my back.

My good work remains in space, unquestioned and still recognized as important by the scientific community.  But awards for mentoring students, caring for postdocs, publishing work to advance science, and giving endless service, seven days a week, all day, every day, is just not as public-interest-exciting as the story of the shill lobbyist traitor with an alter ego, who takes money from companies to lie about science and bully high school girls.

Through all of this, through all the criticism, it was all attacks on me, the person.  There was not one shred of wrongdoing, and absolutely no evidence of scientific misconduct, despite what some of the authors imply.  Not one hint.

I learned of many things that I could have done better.  I took actions to be beyond aggressively transparent. I've tried hard to de-snarkify and be a better leader in communicating contentious issues with grace. I still have a long way to go.

But living as me, knowing that the perception of who I am is in control of horrible people that want to destroy my career, and using the media to destroy me personally — nobody could handle that.

I didn’t handle it.  It changed me.  I suffered with gyrations between overwhelming runaway anxiety and devastating depression.  I neglected myself, quit my almost religious gym habits and interest in exercise.  I didn’t care anymore, and still am not completely back to where I was before this all happened.  

I don't know that I ever will be.

One day in September I sat in a plane on my way to another something out of town, and I remember thinking to myself, “If this plane were to crash, I would be okay with that.”

I would break down all the time.  If I gave a talk about my work, I’d get choked up when I’d describe our clever experiment, and I’d have to stop and lose tears when I put up a picture of the scientists in my lab, sweet, dedicated professionals that I am so blessed to share my days with.  I would have quit if it was not for them, for the faculty I work with, and for a bigger mission serving the agricultural interests of my state and nation.

It all changed me.  My hair started going grey and I aged a decade in the last year.  My breathing is slow and shallow, I don’t sleep well.  I’m forgetful.  The toll has been harsh. My eyes swell with tears when I even think about what I have been through.

But I wear a convincing mask.  The whole time I haven’t missed a beat at work.  We’re doing good research, we’re publishing, I’m speaking all over the country about research and science communication. I’m taking care of business as the Chair of a leading department in our discipline.

I answer almost every email from every high school or college student that is doing a report.  I answer the emails from concerned moms.  I read and try to respond to every comment on my public Facebook page and on Twitter. 

I survived, but I’m dragging an anchor. I can feel it.

Others say, “Screw ‘em, who cares what they think,” and I get that.  But to know that there are still wicked people laying landmines in my path and trashing my reputation, that's hard to live with.

Then over the last month or so my university turned over another huge set of my emails to US-RTK and the Food Babe, Vani Hari.   I went through them, nothing exciting there.  However, I sit waiting to see the news explode across social media of my evils and indiscretions, more manufactured stories that simply are not true, but now become part of my story, as told by the internet.

Throughout this ordeal there have been some rays of sunshine.  I get endless support from an online community of science enthusiasts that are fast to reach out and offer their thoughts.  I’ve seen scientists like Dr. Allison Van Eenennaam and my colleagues here at the University of Florida step up and admonish the relentless ad hominems I endure. My boss, Dr. Jack Payne, stepped into my defense with great authority, clarifying the issues in public forums and within the university. Drs. Steven Novella, David Kroll, and David Gorski have written brilliant rebuttals and supportive entries. I'm grateful to Dr. Maria Trainer for assembling the packet leading to this recognition. If it was not for the support of colleagues I would not be in science today.

This is why being recognized with the Borlaug Agricultural Communications Award is so amazing. It is a reminder that I am doing the right thing.  It helps me rebuild that record of who I really am, to put a different story in social space to contrast the cyber-slander of Food Babes and Health Rangers.

That is why this recognition means so much.  

When the sun sets on this mess everything will be okay.  Time will be kind.  Today’s announcement is a continuation of that redefining process. I have to go above and beyond to be more effective, more transparent, more prolific.  I need to find a new level of service, both in the scientific community and in the public eye.  That’s all happening.

I believe that in a strange way the invasive and libelous activist attacks are a gift.  They have provided me a visibility and platform that this marginally-relevant plant scientist would never have had otherwise.  Now the challenge is to use that momentum to do what Dr. Norman Borlaug would do-- advance science that can help people. That is the mission of this recognition, to use science, and science communication, to honor his legacy by ensuring that all people, especially those in need, have access to our best agricultural innovations.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

McGuire et al. Breast Milk Study Fallout, COI, and Sensationalism

Why I'm Standing Up.

Last year my email records were willingly released to activists without a lot of worry. I've been a public scientist for 30 years or so working in research about light and its role in plant growth and development. All public funded, except for a sprinkle of strawberry industry funds.  Nobody really seems to get too excited about that. 

But I always enjoy engaging the public in discussing any science topic, especially in agriculture and especially in genetic engineering. Some people get very excited about that. 

The organization that requested my records, US Right to Know (USRTK), is highly funded by elements of the organic movement. That's not organic farmers per se, or organic researchers. They like me just fine-- I support lots of organic research. 

The search was financed by a radical wing of the movement sworn to decry modern farming and its technological ornaments.  I took US-RTK at their word that they were simply looking to understand influence of companies in why scientists say and do the things we say and do. 

Therefore, I didn't really care.  While I have had interactions with companies and industries of many kinds over the years, nobody ever had any influence over my research or outreach.  Nothing to hide. No big deal. 

Shortly thereafter, USRTK filtered my emails for sentences that could be damning out of context, and systematically distributed them to willing journalists. Some journalists declined to do anything with my words-- they saw it as how they were being used by activists to lynch public scientists.

One popular science journalist even said, "I read the 5000 emails and this guy is a damn boy scout." 

However, a select few were enthusiastic to twist the stories of a public scientist that doubled as a key "inner circle" strategist and lobbyist for Big Ag, namely Monsanto.  They told false stories of how I was a central strategist in the defeat of the California labeling effort, cherry-picking emails that had no such information.  I read about how I was paid by Monsanto to bully a 14 year old girl.  

After I composed myself from laughing I realized the damage this would do, and endured, and still endure the wrath of hate from factions of the public sworn to harass public scientists, simply because they do their job. That job -- to perform the highest quality research and interpret the literature for a public that has questions. 

Why the Science Community is Weak

I've had many thoughts on the matter.  However, one was clear-- I was not impressed with the scientific community's response.  Our national organizations looked the other way, scientists ran for cover. A few spoke out, valiantly, but for the most part, the hush was deafening in support of career public scientist that was suffering.

The scars are permanent. It changed me as a person, it hurt my reputation, and anyone performing a Google Images search will see the smear that Lipton, Borel, Mike Adams, and a gaggle of others seeded, as they offered red meat of a non-story or manufactured narratives to an activist throng poised to destroy the career of a scientist. 

Well I survived.  Changed, but not out, focused more on my lab and my role as a leader in my field, especially in communication. My focus is not the radical wing of a scientifically bankrupt movement. My focus is to share the beauty of our findings with a public that desperately needs real answers, and does not know who to trust. 

I want to earn that trust, and I have. I will continue to do that. 

But one thing is for sure. I swore to myself I would not sit quietly when others were unfairly attacked.  Nobody should have to endure what I endured. 

No Glyphosate in Breast Milk EOM.

Dr. Shelley McGuire is a lactation specialist at Washington State University.  She was asked to test the activist claims, as she is an expert in analyzing breast milk-- a chemically-complex liquid that presents various challenges and caveats to analysis (that activists are free to ignore). 

The report examines breast milk from 41 women using a recently published LC/MS method.  The method of detection can take months to devise, so such work merits independent publication. 

This reputable report demonstrates that the high-resolution proper result are not consistent with the fearful claims on an activist website.  

But what is reported?  Let's analyze the piece that came out this week in Forbes online, by a credible journalist and respected science communicator --  Monsanto-Linked Study Finds No Monsanto-Linked Herbicide Glyphosate In Breast Milk

I'm not sure how many more times you can mention the word "Monsanto" in the title, so maybe a little tip to the bias of the piece going in. 

And also of note, many companies make glyphosate (the herbicide) not just Monsanto.  I'd guess that the majority of human exposures stem from residential use of glyphosate-based products, of which Roundup is just one.  I always buy the generic version at 1/3 the cost for use in my garden. 

But "Monsanto-Linked" is code for "you can't believe it" and the author knows that. 

The article states: 

The study, however, is weighted with conflicts of interest that include having three Monsanto employees as authors. The first two authors also have received grants from Monsanto, and the costs of the chemical analyses for the study were covered by Monsanto. This study is not, however, the only one reporting this outcome.

This really bothers me as a scientist.  The author is willing to discount the findings, or at least sees them as "weighted" (e.g. suspect) because employees of Monsanto are authors, and the company at least partially covered the costs of this expensive analysis. 

Classic. Right form the Merchants of Doubt playbook  While ultimately stating the outcome of the work correctly, the implication is that the work is tainted, somehow suspect, and worse, a victim of its own transparency!  She implies a conspiracy between the journal, a professional society, a respected scientist, and an ag-biotech company. 

Instead, can we please discuss data?  Can we discuss the methods?  What is it about the detection that you find inappropriate?  What is questionable from an analytical chemistry standpoint?  Why are the data not to be trusted?  That is what journalists should be asking! 

To imply that association with a company is tantamount to misconduct with the data/methods not discussed, is seriously off base, and impugns the integrity of Prof. McGuire and her research team.  

The validity of scientific results and their interpretation takes place in the peer-reviewed literature, not in Forbes.  Unfortunately the first salvo that necessitated this situation came from an activist group on a website that claimed to find glyphosate in breast milk using a noisy test and published on a website piloted by a team sworn against genetic engineering.  

McGuire's group took the risky task to pursue the truth and perform the proper test, scientifically testing the hypothesis that glyphosate in breast milk was detectable. They showed, using proper scientific methods, replication and dissemination, that it was not. 

That is the story.  Quality, transparent science, sound methods, and and independent lab show that the people that manufactured data for the Stunning Corn Comparison are likely not being honest here either. 

The real story for a journalist should not be that McGuire's work is suspect because of associations with a company.  It should be a comparison and contrast against the on-line report from an activist group's noisy assay with no controls versus a properly-performed study.  It should teach the public what the differences are, and how they can better equip themselves to understand what is legitimate science, and that activist drivel devised to scare them. 

But that does not get clicks.  

Sticking it to Scientists

Maligning a legitimate scientist due to associations, with no evidence of wrong-doing and complete transparency throughout the process is a much juicer story that fits the popular narrative that our best-- most respected public scientists are just dupes of Big Ag that should be shamed into silence, and eventually out of public service.

And this coming from an author that won the Maddox Prize 2014, awarded to someone standing up for science despite adversity. 

Of course, the author does step back and make it look like this might be one "lens" the public could use to see the situation, striving for a sense of objectivity.  However, the use of other terms, like calling McGuire's association with Monsanto a "slumber party" are highly disturbing, implying the popular quid pro quo myth. 

The original article has since been adjusted to remove some of the language first used to inflate the scientific collaboration to the intimacy of a corporate fluid-swap slumber party

McGuire was kind enough to be interviewed on the Talking Biotech Podcast -episode 30.    She explained that the association with Monsanto was because Monsanto houses the world's experts in glyphosate detection.  That's why she worked with them.  That's what we do in science. We find the best possible collaborators to do the job. 

Plus the results were all verified by an independent laboratory. 

McGuire was forthright and transparent with her associations, as it should be.  Only to be trashed by the internet's jury as a slumber-party stooge that can't be trusted. 

My Final Thoughts.

Our scientific integrity is not defined by cherry-picked emails and lazy journalists glad to smear a scientist to cash a check --- It is determined by our peers and the most rigorous scientific standards. 

Our legacy is determined on the advances that line the library shelves and seed new discovery-- The New York Times lines the bottom of the birdcage. 

Our impact is determined by the solutions we deliver that help people and the planet-- Their impact is measured in mouse clicks generated by sensational claims with thin facts. 

Our value is measured in the lives we touch, the students we train, the problems we solve. Critics' value is measured in how much they can stop us from doing it.  

Time will be kind to scientists they seek to defame.

Months ago, I literally repeated that over and over as I cried myself to sleep as I planned my exit from this discipline.

We don't need to earn journalists' respect. They need to earn ours. 

I wonder how many of them will have the courage and character to apologize someday.