Monday, January 18, 2016

Forward.

Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter. 
-- Dr. Martin Luther King


Dr. King would not be proud of me.  I'm not proud of me. My decision to disappear from an important discussion was made from misery and expediency, pragmatism and convenience. I experienced many pressures to seek silence, from evil people and friends alike. Much of it was being sick of fighting. Some of it was the threats and hate. Much of it was being tired of reading about myself on posts with thousands of likes and shares-- knowing that what I was reading was not true.

The time off was valuable in that it taught me to refocus. Teaching the science of agricultural innovations is not going to happen in discussions with Vani Hari, Mike Adams, Nassim Taleb or Jeffery Smith.  These folks have empires built on misinformation, and accepting science harms their brands. 

The changes will not come from rehashing tired fables spread by lazy or corrupt journalists that want to cash a check before accepting reality, even if their spin hurts real people.  I will not talk about Monsanto, donations to my communications program, Vern Blazek or any other failed experiment. 

It also is nice to be able to say that I now have absolutely no relationship with Monsanto, at least outside of a few friends that work for the company.  Big Ag is running from science communicators, thanks to the abuse of important transparency laws, and deliberate misinterpretations of emails. 

Someone told me that they were at a dinner with Big Ag company people and someone said, "The irony is that science communicators like Folta are worth more to us if we make sure they are 100% independent."  Essentially they are saying that communication efforts should be done on the public dime, despite the potential benefit of an informed public to their industries.

Back to King's quotation above.  Forced silence destroyed me more than participation in a vicious dialog. It broke my heart to know the answer and not be able to respond.  It was horrible to get my wrist slapped when I thanked someone publicly for a kind comment.  

Most of all, it was painful to not be able to interpret new, cool science.  I wrote a dozen blogs over the silence period, all about breakthroughs I wanted to share.  I don't know that they'll ever be published here.  I had to write about science, because that's what I do, even if I was the only audience. 

The silence did teach me to use the "mute" and "block" buttons, as well the joy of not feeding a troll.  I learned that some folks can't be changed and that there is sweet peace in remaining above a mindless fray.

What you can expect from me going forward:

Improved podcasts with great guests on the Talking Biotech Podcast.  Not a day has passed where I didn't hear its theme song or think of a cool topic.  The new ones are wonderful, starting February 20. 

Big, visible outreach around plants and food.  I'm planning to send test tubes and seeds to kids, along with experiments they can do.  They'll watch seeds develop into plants and then foster their care into the garden, then hopefully will care for the plant and enjoy the products. MyScienceGarden.com starts soon, and will be done with some donated materials and other costs I'm personally covering.

Continuing unprecedented transparency.  It was not enough to be compliant, I have to be obvious. All of my speaking activities, reimbursements, etc will continue to be posted online and updated quarterly. 

Sustained leadership.  Working as Chair of a leading department in crop sciences, I work with the world's best scientists doing top-flight research. 

More articles about food and farming in popular press, helping the public understand their food, its genetics, and challenges to production. 

Big research, and a surprise!  My students and postdocs will keep working on improving flavors of fruits and vegetables and finding ways to improve product quality and nutrition with light. BUT we have a new technology that will make waves.  It is somewhere between trash can and Nobel Prize, probably closer to the former. However, there is enormous potential that hopefully will be published in 2016. 

***
I just returned from a conference where dozens of scientists asked me how I survived the abuse, and why I want to continue in science communication.  It is clear the community is not interested, maybe avoiding it.  However, we need to remember that we're telling the truth and that time will be kind. 

It also is good that 2015 had a few solid mistakes that I learned from, and won't repeat going forward.  I'll leave that open for new mistakes!  

The last year has been a challenge, posed mostly from evil people with a despicable agenda.  But for every mean email I receive, every hate-filled tweet, there are a dozen kind messages of support. The words of complete strangers have been comforting and revitalizing.  That has been amazing.

After all of this, I am not a victim.  This attack was a strange gift, giving me a bigger stage and refined message. We will create the changes we want to see together.  While silence was painful, it was helpful, and going forward I think I will be more effective as a scientist, communicator, and person. 

Kevin Folta




69 comments:

Unknown said...

I am one of those voices that support your work and the public face you put out there on a very important technology that can help so many people around the world. Happy to see you back! :-D

Anonymous said...

Welcome back! You were missed! I would have loved to hear your thoughts about Campbell's Soup last week. Anyway, looking forward to the future and for more podcasts!!!!!

Kim Morton said...

So glad you're back, Dr. Folta. I give talks on GMOs to civic groups around Chicago. In addition to your science your civil tone as been an inspiration to me when confronted with completely misinformed, but stubborn, people. Remember when people feared the radiation from microwave ovens? Here's to hoping this fear of biotechnology goes the same way. In the meantime, I tell my audiences the GMO battle is no longer about the American farmer. US Ag will survive without them. But the world's most vulnerable people cannot. And it's for them that I do the talks. Wishing you all the best & grateful to have you!

Elise said...

A wonderful message. As a fellow ag/science communicator, I appreciate your work and can learn from it. I'm glad you will be writing and podcasting and sharing what you know and are passionate about.

Mike Callahan said...

Coming out pro GMO is like coming out of the closet for my gay friends. My friend demographic includes many northern California earthy hippies and many were shocked shocked that someone they knew was not hysteric about evil GMOs. As a biology lover and ag lover too I can't wait for the podcasts to resume. We need more like you Kevin.
I believe the CRISPR technology is what you are referring to in your letter. There is going to be an explosion of new avenues for applied genetics. Bring it on.

John Johnson said...

Great to see you back in the public eye. Thank you for sharing your science with us, and I look forward to seeing how your innovations can improve lives.

Mike Lewinski said...

I learned that some folks can't be changed and that there is sweet peace in remaining above a mindless fray.

The only mind I have the power to change is my own, and still you helped me to do that. Thanks for taking a break and then coming back.

Lee Kovacsevics said...

Thank you Dr. Volta glad you are back. Admire your integrity through all of this.

Anonymous said...

"Volta" is a pretty cool name, not sure if he's going to charge though.

Lauren said...

Welcome back, Kevin! We missed you.

Mike Drake said...

Very glad to see you're resurfacing - I don't think anyone blames you for taking a break, and honestly it would have been understandable to most if you'd never really come back, given the anti-science vitriol you were enduring directly. You're entitled to "watch out for you" and IMHO you don't really need to apologize for it.

But it's great you're coming back, as you're one of the few people poised to really make a difference. And i'm glad you're going more transparent - not because you've ever done anything shady of course but this will strip the anti's of any tool to use against you in the future (barring their invention of something new, but we can only do so much against that).

Looking forward to the new podcast episodes!

Jesse Traub said...

Sending you all the love! It is quite understandable why you would want to disappear in the face of such abuse, but I'm so glad that you're back again! The sciences need as many clear communicators as they can get.

Bridget said...

When one of our local ecologists in Trinidad came out as pro-GMO, the backlash for him was horrible. Luckily he kept his head up and did not engage the trolls. He explained his reasoning and kept his message consistent. I was so happy that I was able to contribute (he had asked a couple of months earlier for sources and I had shared biologyfortified as well as Dr Folta's blog and his email address).

Unknown said...

Welcome back, nice blog post. Keep up the good work!

Joanne Barnard said...

Welcome back!

Anonymous said...

I am very glad you are back.

Dr. Charles Payet said...

Kevin, I can't begin to describe how happy I am to see you back. I sure hoped your silence was just temporary but would have understood if it weren't. Thank you for your strength and resilience and willingness to keep fighting the good fight.

Ben Nichols said...

Welcome back, Dr. Folta. I think we're all glad to have you back on the front line. Looking forward to new podcasts!

Unknown said...

You are my hero! Reading your blog has me interested in going back to college to learn more about plant science. Cant wait yt? O listen to your new podcasts. Stay safe.

JSterritt said...

Welcome back! Your post today made me truly happy. It is heartening, too, to see Taleb's name nestled so comfortably where it belongs, between the likes of Food Babes and Health Rangers.

Anne Lindsay said...

Thank you for your persistent efforts to fight ignorance. You make a difference.

Nandunandini said...

Dr. Folta, this gave me goosebumps while reading. Welcome back. No matter what the obstacles are in our path, we have to move forward. Here is to wishing you a pleasant and peaceful year ahead. Stay safe and take care.

James Connolly said...

So glad that you're back!

Mary M said...

I knew they couldn't keep you down. Thank you for persistence.

Sherry Nouraini said...

Glad you are back!

Barbara Fletcher said...

It looks as though you have survived the tsunami of ignorance which threatened to swamp you; everyone needs a break every now and then to recharge.
Keep up the good work.

Barbara Fletcher said...

And...that pun was *totally* unintended!

Anonymous said...

I feel like this is your true calling in life Kevin. If you can remain in the "sweet peace ... above a mindless fray" everything will fall into place. Good work

KimR said...

Welcome back, Kevin! I was worried you'd been beaten down. Glad to see you emerge.

Sean Gallagher said...

Welcome back, looking forward to reading more of your pieces!

Kevin M. Folta said...

It is one of the blogs I wrote. Genius move! I'm very happy they did what they did.

Kevin M. Folta said...

Kim, Did you know I was from Chicago? If you ever need good connections there I have many. David at Vegan Chicago is a great person to know.

Sauron said...

Dear Mr Folta, please keep up your great work ! The world needs people like you: talented, engaged, persistent, that won't give up to the evil doers.
Cheers.

Erwin Blonk said...

Dear mister Folta,

allow me to say "YEAH BABY YEAH!! WOOHOO!!"

Regards,
Erwin.

Cory Hamel said...

Good news to hear.

Robert Foster said...

Welcome back, Dr. Folta! I look forward to learning more from you, sir.

Jake said...

Welcome back, Kevin. Glad to see you are moving forward and upward - rather than the opposite.

Praktik said...

Wonderful news Kevin - you made a semi-crappy day better - what a mood lifter!

Matthew Heuett said...

There's nothing wrong with taking a much-needed respite. It sounds like you're returning with renewed energy, and that's something you were never going to gain if you'd chosen to tough things out in the media spotlight. Welcome back, Dr. Folta.

Gabe said...

Glad to have you back, Dr. Folta.

Kaldek said...

Welcome back mate. Love your work.

H30mel said...

Hooray! So glad you found your way back! Looking forward to learning again.

Stacey H said...

Welcome back! There are plenty of us in the world that appreciate your voice - You are my go to when the only thing I'm sure of is that something someone said to me is ridiculous and I need to find verified truth. Thank you for educating us - we really do care.

Anonymous said...

So glad you are back!

BT said...

Dr. Folta, I never knew about you until taking part in Banned by Food Babe threads. It is trivial to say I was sorry to see what happened to you- only you know the extent of grief brought on by the haters. There is terrible irony in the plight of a hater, though: these people cannot create, only destroy. If people like you did not exist, if the technological products that make our lives possible did not exist, the haters would be least among mankind, left only to pick up scraps, or worse, to plunder the work of others, for lack of the knowledge and skill to create value themselves. It is hard for me to understand the place of parasitic organisms in nature; that is, to destroy one's host seems the ultimate act of self-destruction. However, we see human parasitism every day, in the form of those who are able only to take, to consume, to criticize and to blame. As one who benefits from technology, from my fine glasses, my titanium knee, the few drugs that extend my life, the wonderful computers that connect me to the rest of the world, I can only say Thank You for your effort. If some tiny fraction of my taxes go to funding your research and teaching, Amen to that as well. Welcome back. Regards, Bob Topp

Larry said...

Where do we donate? I will do so immediately.

HotMessSundae said...

You rock, Mr. Folta.

Chuck Lasker said...

Anyone who has gotten to know you cares more about you as a person than as a science communicator. You needed to step away, and we understood. If anything, it helped science communication as a whole because it pissed off many folks like myself, where I had become silent for similar reasons, and got us to step back up.

I have heard over and over the corporate line, "The irony is that science communicators like Folta are worth more to us if we make sure they are 100% independent." What it really means is, "we don't give a shit about science, we only care about our short term bottom line." And that's fine, if only they didn't continually act like they're somehow more altruistic than other multinational corporations. The true irony is their leaving science communicators out to hang has turned the only people who had been defending them against them. As Monsanto, Syngenta, Dupont/Pioneer, etc., merge and celebrate their short term profits, the next level of small innovators will take over the markets, with us being their loudest supporters.

Randall Kramm said...

Dearest Kevin,

I am sorry for the abuse you have received, no one, in this day and age, an age that came about entirely from the fruits of the labors of scientists, no one should be trying to abuse our thinkers.

Keep them honest, yes, but that is an entire other conversation about the process of peer review, education into how scientists watch each other, and so on.

No, no one should abuse our scientists, from the researchers to the appliers, it is only on the backs of these giants that the world is as good as it is, that we have billions of people who are able to eat, thanks to the green revolution, and people like Norman Borlaug, polio nearly extinct thanks to Jonas Salk, and this great machine I am writing this on, and so many others use to deride the very science that made it possible.

So, in closing, I simply wish to say I am sorry for what happened, and thank you, and those like you, in the field and in the lab. Truly scientists are the unsung superheros of our world, and it saddens me, every day, that there are people who do not trust in science.

Randall Kramm

Chris Preston said...

Kevin,

Well this is a pleasant surprise. I had really worried that you were departing from this sort of communication permanently.

As a poster on this blog who has probably annoyed you by giving gratuitous advice about the personal attacks on you, I am pleased to see your new mantra. Having been round that wringer a couple of times, I take personal attacks as a badge of honour. It means they cannot refute what you have said. Whenever I start to feel a bit down about what people are saying, I go and talk to a couple of farmers about the work I am doing. It is always a good fillip.

I am worried regarding your comment "The irony is that science communicators like Folta are worth more to us if we make sure they are 100% independent." I can see why the agchem companies think like this now, but if they are not going to engage with science communicators, they are going to end up in a little bubble of their own. In my own activities, I am just as keen on influencing the messages of the agchem companies to ensure that farmers get good and consistent advice from all the participants, rather than the companies just focussing on what is best for them. This whole episode may lead to poorer advice for farmers and that would be a bad thing.

All the best Kevin and I look forward to hearing about this new results.

jude said...

Great news! Welcome back, and I hope 2016 is an exciting and rewarding year for you, in both your research and in your science communication. :)

ClutterDog said...

Welcome back! Both we who know and those who don't need you, though the latter don't realize it yet.

Anonymous said...

Wishing you the very best in your endeavors as you follow your heart. I very much enjoyed your talk at the Trottier Symposium in Montreal and was thrilled to learn about Norman Borlaug's work, whom you mentioned. Keep up the good work.

Sebastian Larsen said...

Welcome back, Kevin.

All this proves to me that the enemies of reason can't win. They have nothing but school yard bullying left. If we react like adults, we win. It's obvious what they are up to and the conversation is changing these days. The card house the antis have built since the 90s has to come down eventually. This organic nonsense is just another fad and once the fad is over, only a few handfuls of ideologues will remain in the anti-intellectual circle jerk that is the organic movement, and it will return to its place in the Steiner/Waldorf movement and pseudoscience health stores.

It does, however, need people to point out that the emperor is naked. Welcome back to pointing! :)

Igor Damic said...

Welcome back Kevin. Now go get em tiger!

Kat said...

So glad you're back! Looking forward to reading and learning more!

Anonymous said...

Just another voice of support for you. Truth and facts are all that matter and in time these fringes will be greatly reduced and ignored. Cheers!

A B said...

It's great to hear that you're back, Dr. Folta! Stay strong and don't let those anti-science bullies suppress you any longer! The dishonest denialist tactics of these cowards can be fought against with clear and honest science and data that scientists like you are so talented at teaching. Not everyone will listen but those who are willing to do so must be given a chance and it's great to see that you're coming back to do just that and push back against the influence and dogma of these anti-GMO activists.

Ian Walsh said...

It's excellent to have you back, Dr. Folta. Your intelligence, honesty, and dignified bearing will be remembered. Those who have tried to ruin you will be looked back on as ridiculous and petty. Know that your work - and your kindness in the face of savagery - are an inspiration to many.

Melissa Colfer said...

Dr. Folta, Your experience sent me down the rabbit hole of how 'belief' is a strong bond to break. Evidence alone is not enough to change dogma when human factors such as ego and fear are in play. Thank you for not giving up. You are an inspiration to many and as long as you don't go crazy, a la Linus Pauling, you can count on my continued support.

Unknown said...

Volta is his superhero alias.

Keith Edmisten said...

Great news Kevin!

Lynn said...

You go Kevin. Truth not fear. Always remember you have many fans and friends that support your endeavors.

Anonymous said...

So glad to see you back! I am disappointed to say the least in the amount of vocal support you had. Although I know people were telling you they supported you, they weren't telling the world. We did a shameful job at standing up for what we know is right, partly out of fear for ourselves. I hope that we all have learnt a lesson and are there to support those who may not be as strong and determined as you. Science will prevail and we are on the right side of history. Looking forward to your focused and refined message!

Simon said...

Sycophantic rubbish, you are or were a corporate shill, wish I could watch you drink a pint of Roundup!

Marc said...

Great to see you writing again!

Anonymous said...

Glad to see you back. It was a demoralizing day when you announced you were abandoning this blog. It just seemed to vindicate the ugliness that was directed toward you and seemed to demonstrate that that ugliness is a successful strategy for achieving an effective censorship. I very much welcome responsible criticism of biotech or any other technology. I have no desire and do not believe it is ultimately in anybody's self interest, from academic researchers to farmers and others around the world who could benefit from applications of the technology, to Monsanto, to squelch responsible criticism. But it is not in anybody's interest to intimidate expertise into silence because it advances an ideological agenda.

"After all of this, I am not a victim. . . " I was so glad to see you acknowledge this. Yes, you were the target of very vitriolic accusation and character assassination. But the sensible public will not see the central issue as being one of whether you personally were wronged, and continued focus on how this experience adversely affects you, will unfortunately be interpreted by many in the public as putting your own well-being above theirs. (Its not rational, its not right, it just is) Humility is your best defense.

Welcome back. I think you will be a much stronger voice because of the experience.

Rick Leonard

Giovanni Tagliabue said...

Welcome back dear teacher! :-)
I'd like to know what you think about this:
No biotech method is inherently safe - or unsafe. And this is irrelevant.
http://science.sciencemag.org/content/351/6275/824.1.e-letters
Best regards from Lombardy!

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