Friday, February 24, 2017

Food Babe Vani Hari Attacking Public Scientists Again

When I hear that Vani Hari is bashing me again my eyes roll back in my head.  We have a significant citrus crisis in my state, I have lots of great science happening in the lab, and I sadly regret not being able to take many potential speaking engagements because I simply don't have the time. 

It pains me to have to respond here. My rule is -- she's irrelevant, let her write what she wants, nobody really listens to her anyway. 

But let's use this opportunity to talk about something important-- Trust.  I've worked very hard in public science for 30 years. My paycheck, and for the most part my research, has been funded by State or Federal sources.  I work for you. 

I have worked hard to earn your trust.  Her recent libelous post is an exercise in eroding the trust I have earned.

I address her most recent allegations because I want scientists, and the general public, to start standing up for science and taking away her trust.  She is an internet sell-ebrity, and when we speak science, she loses market share.  That's why she has targeted me for years. 

Keep in mind that Vani Hari used the Freedom of Information Act to harass me and my university.  She asked for, and received without resistance, over 20,000 pages of my private email, at a cost to the taxpayer of probably $50,000.  Every page must be read by an attorney. Student names, proprietary information is redacted. 

She boasted about it online, about how it will show how company influence is the basis for my criticism of her. 

No Vani. It is that you present ideas that are inconsistent with science.  You are not an expert, I am an expert, so I corrected you when you tried to deceive people.  That's my job. 

Nothing has come from those emails.  

Nothing illegal, nothing unethical, nothing.  Nothing. 

So now she's going after me again after a long hiatus. 

It comes from when she published a report that Food Democracy Now! provided saying that there was glyphosate identified in lots of different food products.  They provided numbers, no methods, no statistics.  It was not how we discuss science. There were no details. 

Snopes first presented that the information might be credible, and I notified them that it was not from a scientific report.  It was from an anti-GMO group that has a history of not exactly getting the facts right.  That's where the story begins.... 



ANALYSIS:

1.  "Monsanto's operative"-- really Vani? 
2.  "Bullying a reporter" -- you mean, politely pointing out that the work cited was not a scientific study, but an activist flyer? 
3.   This is a polite and cordial conversation between a scientist and a journalist.  

SYNTHESIS:  That Hari would think of this as bullying and coercion speaks a lot to her view about how people enjoy polite conversations. 

Now she posts, to re-hash this nonsense: 


ANALYSIS:

1.  I was never "discredited".  Nothing I ever did or said was found to be illegal, unethical, and there were no questions about scholarly integrity or scientific malfeasance. 

2. "Secret dealings"-- so secret that they were spoken about at my workshops and you can get the emails.  Some secret. 

3.  I always have been an independent researcher, I work on strawberry flavor and indoor agriculture. My funding record is here.  My research publications are here.  You can see that I do no work in industry-related areas. 

4.  I have never been a lobbyist and never will be.

IMPORTANT. 5. The email presented above.  This is important. Look at how she twists this. In 2014 there was a video campaign by anti-science types where they showed a TV commercial of a man (Ray Seidler) holding two handfuls of corn. One had seed treatments, so they were blue.  He made comments about how this was GMO seed that you were feeding your family and that it was covered in "agent orange".  

This enraged scientists and farmers because it was deceptive and false. Lisa Drake was someone I knew in Monsanto. As plant biologists, we all know people in the companies.  Lisa knew that I was active in cataloging anti-GMO lies and helpful in responding to them.  

She told me that a group was organizing a Letter to the Editor in the town where the commercial aired.  She also said that someone was organizing a petition to take that deceptive, lying commercial off the air.  She asked me if I could help.

VANI DID NOT SHOW YOU THESE EMAILS.

She just showed you the one where I kindly replied, "I'm glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like."

That's exactly what I said, and I meant it. 

IN CONTEXT-- THIS IS IMPORTANT-- this is not what Vani Hari claims.  She is cherry picking through my personal emails to bring me personal and professional harm, and to erode the trust that I have as a 30 year public scientist.

SYNTHESIS:  Vani Hari takes an email out of context and highlights a key phrase that out of context can present the perception that I am happy to do the bidding of a company.  That is not the case at all.  I share the disgust of a misrepresentation of science and was prepared to provide my energy to correcting mistruth.  

Here she uses my words out of context to put me in a libelous false light.  Why would you trust her? 

NEXT...



ANALYSIS:  After many years of speaking to public audiences and paying for workshops on my own dime and small donations, Monsanto offered to help provide funding for outreach. 

I provide seeds to school gardens.  I speak to retirement homes.  I help with science fairs.  This year my outreach program is Veg-A-Sketch (please check it out) and My Science Garden is coming soon.  I pay for this out of my pocket or with donations. Just the shipping is thousands of dollars. 

Monsanto made a sizable donation of $25,000.  It was welcome. It would allow me to do a lot of great work. 

It was written here in the email as an "unrestricted grant".  Again, cherry picking. 

When donations come to the university (not to me, to the university) they must come as "unrestricted gifts".  That means that they are no-strings-attached funds.  Monsanto has no control of what they go for, how I use them. They must be used within university rules, because the university rules the account. 

Ultimately, not a cent of this money was used.  Vani Hari neglects to note that the funding was taken, by the university, and was donated to a campus food bank.  They tried to return the money.  It was to protect me, as I received numerous reputable death threats and the university had to act.

The FBI was involved and the Domestic Terrorism Task Force had to work with the university to protect me, my lab, my office and students.  

Because a company made a donation so I could buy donuts for workshops and seeds for kids. 

Thanks Vani for rekindling this sad, hateful story. 


NEXT:




ANALYSIS:  This letter was also the "secret" everyone knew about and could access by asking me. 

When I first received this it had to be returned to Monsanto because they didn't word it right.  The university foundation requires the exact words, "unrestricted gift" when the university receives such funds.  If it is not an "unrestricted gift" it is a "Sponsored Research Agreement" and at least 28% goes to the university for overhead.

I never had a Sponsored Research Agreement with Monsanto.  

But that doesn't stop Vani Hari from posting the letter in an attempt to further try to harm my reputation, making it look like I'm working with Monsanto in some insidious secret context. 

Why would anyone believe her? 

NEXT:



ANALYSIS:  This letter actually precedes the other ones, but Vani strategically uses them out of order to suit her story.  Again, cherry picked. In a previous email I discussed with the administrative assistant at Monsanto that I need the letter to state "unrestricted gift" or else it is a research agreement and subject to overhead.  It is not a research agreement, it is a gift.

Yes, I'm grateful for this opportunity and promise a solid return on the investment.  Think about this.  To Vani Hari this sentence of gratitude is a tacit agreement to do the bidding of Big Ag.  What it was, was me being thankful that someone was going to help me pay for my passion-- sharing science with the community, teaching children, providing outreach, teaching communication. 

To this day, even though I didn't use a cent, I am grateful for their faith in me, and the fact that they recognized my service to schools and service to the commnity as worthy for funding.  

NEXT:



ANALYSIS:  Well, she found this on my transparency page, where everything is open and on the table, a standard she could never meet.  

"He receives funding from..." -- ALL of this money, 100%, goes to fund outreach in community service and school activities.  Zero goes to me.  Zero goes to research.  100% goes to funding projects for schools, mailing seeds and science kits to kids, and teaching workshops for scientists and farmers. 100%.

It is really sad that Vani Hari is so hateful of education and science that she must act like this.  She also does not note the over 300 other talks, articles and appearances I've done over the last three years (yes that is one every three days in addition to my normal job) that help people understand science, and are done for FREE, or paid for out of this fund. 

By the way.... She got $6,000 to speak at my university and lie to students for an hour.  I occasionally am offered a speaker fee and it goes to my outreach projects, not to me.

Yes. I am remarkably independent. Always have been.  Now even more, because major companies will not fund anything I do.  After this fiasco they have no interest in contributing to anything I do. 

NEXT:

  

ANALYSIS:  This is great.  

First she lists Eric Lipton's libelous New York Times article that has since been shown to carry no weight.  He said I "trade grants for lobbying" yet never showed I got a grant or lobbied.  

I am pursing legal options here.

The next articles were from Brooke Borel, one of the most evil and cold people I have ever met.  She deliberately wrote the pieces she wrote out of some weird personal vendetta, and used hateful, inflammatory language in a deliberate attempt to harm my career.  A comedy podcast is a "scandal"?  Stay hot.  

GM Watch?  They have no cred with anyone in science. 

US Right to Know? -- Ironically, they are funded by industry to harm scientists. They actually receive money from corporate overlords to make claims about scientists that don't receive money or have corporate overlords. 

So Vani puts GM Watch, Right To Know, Lipton and Borel in the same pile.  I can live with that. 

NEXT: 


ANALYSIS:  A journalist relies on science to correct a mistake.  That's how it works.  That's science, something Vani Hari does not understand. 

I'm at the end of this and seriously at the end of even considering Vani Hari.  She is an irrelevant figure with no gravity in the scientific community, and no audience outside of late-night conspiracy radio.  

I almost regret writing this. 

I've reached out to her on many occasions and suggested that I help her understand the science, and welcome her into being a science advocate at a time when we desperately need voices standing up for science.  Like it or not, she's an internet sell-ebrity, and could use her recognition for good things, like sharing science. 

I'll post this, but this is the last time I write about her.  

I have bigger problems.  A state of dying trees, faculty to help, students to mentor, student writing to edit and communication to teach.  I have outreach efforts to push. 

My research is 100% funded by state, federal and strawberry money.  My paycheck is 100% state funded.  My outreach is funded by organizations that ask me to speak, and I accept a donation to the outreach program in lieu of a speaker fee that could go to me directly. 

I'm done.  Vani Hari needs to be the victim because her declining relevance must be blamed on someone other than herself.  A hated company, an appreciated public scientist-- these are a perfect foil for her narrative. 

Please share this story.  This is how scientists are attacked for standing up for science.  Cherry picking, half-truths, and alternative facts are Vani Hari's weapons. 

Her failures are due to science's successes and how we are better than ever at speaking to the public.  

No wonder she wants to stop funding for science communication programs. 

Reach out if you ever have questions about my interactions with companies, my funding, etc.   kevinfolta@gmail.com.  I'm glad to answer your questions. 

Thank you everybody.  I appreciate your love and support. 

Kevin







Saturday, February 4, 2017

Talking Biotech #68 - Brassica oleraceae, the Dog of the Plant World

Today's podcast is about Brassica oleracea a species with many forms.  Broccoli, cauliflower, brussels sprouts, cabbage, kale and kohlrabi are all members of the species.  That's right, these very different forms have almost exactly the same genetics, with minor differences.  The differences were all installed by domestication.  Humans found a trait that they liked, and over the course of years they had a distinct form of the plant. 



Brassica oleracea is the species of plants that have many derived forms, all a product of human selection. In this case, can we say that any of these crop plants are "natural"? 




This week's discussion is led by Dr. J. Chris Pires and his students from the University of Missouri. 


It is a lot like the story of dogs, where they all descend from a common grey-wolf ancestor. 

Today's podcast is with Dr. J. Chris Pires and his graduate students Makenzie Mabry and R. Shawn Abrahams.