Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Biofortified: Write First, Ask Questions Later

This blog post is a revision of a yesterday's that you can read here. 

At the time I was amazingly disappointed, betrayed and angry.  It provoked an overly emotional response that I don't like in retrospect.  I leave it here in the interest of transparency. 

Today's article on Biofortified makes a number of false claims, and they have made a tremendous mistake. 

They made a very public admonishment of me and alleged conflicts of interest that they construe as  ethical misconduct.  However, a simple analysis of the facts provides a very different view. 

Sadly, we live in an age where the first response is to erect a punishing website, rather than reach out and have a discussion about the situation.  Karl Haro von Mogel and Anastasia Bodnar really missed an opportunity to raise a higher discussion about the fine line between commitment to transparency and the commitment to confidentiality. 

Here are the facts:

1.  In May of 2017 a law firm contacted me and asked about my willingness to analyze some data as a "Subject Matter Expert". It fit perfectly into my area of expertise, but was not work consistent with my appointment at the University of Florida, and I would be compensated for my time.

2.  Because it was not university work, I filled out the forms for outside work.  There was no check box for the nature of the work I was planning to do (as a subject matter expert),  so I checked "consultant". It was not professional witness work as it was not for a trial.  In an attached letter I would clarify the nature of the work with my university administrators in a letter (that Biofortified also has) that says explicitly that the work was not consulting.

I explain it this way:  The ballistics expert that matches the bullet to the crime scene and presents his data in court is not a consultant for Smith and Wesson. 







While Karl and Anastasia had clarifying documents, they decided not to show them.  They also never reached out in a meaningful way to have a reasonable discusison. 


3.  Under my retention agreement with the law firm, the work was to remain confidential.  I could not discuss the nature of the work, the parties involved, or the type of analysis.  I was a subject matter expert, providing analysis toward an outcome.  This was analysis of public university data within my expertise. A dozen experts or so were sorting out a private matter. 

4.  I inquired with my Associate Dean that handles outside work.  She was glad to provide some guidance and how to be in compliance.  I followed her direction.  Thes fact that I was working as a paid expert for a law firm was clearly presented on my website.    

5.  About two months ago Karl started asking me questions about consulting for Bayer.  This was shortly after the article emerged on GM Watch, where my private information was either hacked or stolen and distributed to anti-GMO websites, possibly by Biofortified or their associates.  I told him that I was not consulting, and not consulting for Bayer.  Because I never was. 




The work I did was bound by confidentiality.  I will not breach that agreement. 


6.  Karl and/or Anastasia obtained university documents (ANONYMOUSLY) from the University of Florida via a Public Records Request that we happily filled.  

7.  Instead of picking up a phone and asking questions, they interpreted the situation based literally off of the documents-- which were drawn up before I even understood the nature of the work.  This is a dangerous space for misinterpretation.

8. They have posted internal documents between me and my superiors that describe what I think the work will be.  Unfortunately I didn't always know ahead of time what I'd be doing, and just provided the best guess information.  My superiors need to know what kind of work I am doing generally to grant my request for outside work.  

9.  The Biofortified website says this:



No information was provided because I had a contract that said the nature of the work, the parties involved and the outcomes would remain confidential.  This was a private matter, not in courts, not in the public. 

10.  There are only a handful of people that know what I interpreted from the data and if they favored one party or another. It does not matter.  I just objectively analyzed the data and gave my report. 


Why is Biofortified Hostile? 

Beats me.  My guess is that this is a tie-in with MAMyths and their buddy Kavin Senapathy, who was quick to jump in on this story.  She's been especially hostile toward me lately in social media, and the folks at Biofortified are probably happy to throw me under the bus and get credit for the next big reveal in Folta's lack of transparency.  That's my best guess. 

It is especially surprising because I always have promoted Karl and Anastasia.  I'd offer them opportunities when I was too busy,  I'd write letters of recommendation, and help promote their careers. I appreciated Biofortified, and actually liked it more before I had anything to do with it.

We have had collegial yet pointy exchanges about the fate of the doomed GMO Corn Experiment and the lack of progress.  I find this unacceptable, as we took money form a crowd sourced effort and owe something.  It should have been done two years ago.  Maybe this sparked their retaliation. 

Conclusion-- 


  • I was compensated for my time as a subject matter expert in a private legal matter. 

  • I consulted with university officials to ensure proper compliance and documentation.  I did this on several occasions to ensure that the details were correct. 

  • I analyzed some university data for a law firm.  The data were derived from experiments that I am extremely familiar with and I was the perfect person to interpret them.

  • I did not "consult" for Bayer or any of the companies mentioned.

  • I was bound to confidentiality about the details of the work.  It was fully disclosed that I analyzed data for a law firm, which is what I did, and what I could disclose while maintaining confidentiality.

  • Karl and Anastasia should be ashamed.   





And then they celebrate.








27 comments:

Kavin Senapathy said...

"Anastasia also wrote letters to my university and a family attorney that I was illegally bugging the home where my ex wife lives. WTF?"

I don't understand. Their post said nothing about bugging your ex wife's home. Why would she do that?

ZombieHero said...

This is your Athiesm Plus moment Kevin.
Looks like I'll be turning off my Amazon Smile to Biofortified now.

Wzrd1 said...

That's laughable, both on terms of payment and on "contract".
I've worked under hundreds of contracts, employment is by nature, a contract in Western society. The rate depends upon expertise, number of potential staff being involved in gathering data, physical resources, the amount of time and effort involved and more.
As a hint, I charged $135/hour in the 1995 - 2003 period, for company/corporate support for mixed desktop and server/network support. Pains in the ass got hit with $250/hour, hoping they'd abandon us. Once, the company owner asked me to offend a problematic client we *all* wanted to be rid of, which gave me great joy.
Dr Gregory House was a gentleman, compared to me in full offense mode, especially with people that I've long wanted to vent my spleen.
That my spleen contains antimatter, well, enough said.
Client lost - finally. ;)
Damned contracts! :/

Contracts are either good or bad, depending upon an amazing number of factors. One can have a classic Daniel Webster contract, easily dismissed, or a horror. I suggest for the latter, examine via your favorite search engine, small business contracts and Donald Trump, within quotation marks.
Which, laughably, was something he complained about yesterday. And then, he continued onward on how he could regulate the very first amendment.

Long and short, a lot of BS against the good Dr, loads of BS added on and occasionally edited to look bad, loads of ad hominem idiocy.
Loads of BS, utterly uncomposted, and hence, useless until composted, but served up as a happy meal.
Unlike the good doctor, I am accustomed to using my mind as a weapon. Indeed, in the military, I was infamous for utilizing it thus. Complete with General Officer's comment of, "I never thought of that" far too many times to count.
I also fight "dirty", fight for your life, there are two end points, survival or death, in that near 30 year experience.
I'm good at the getting to go home thing and bringing my teams home with me alive. We had losses, but they weren't common, they were rare.
One thing I learned early on is, selecting a subject matter expert, one that isn't a BS artist.
I was good enough at it that the US Army tolerated me, the eventually, championed me.
Recalling that which I had early adopted, "hearts and minds".
Yep, people on the internet aren't quite anonymous or easily grouped.
And to be honest, at certain salary levels, I'm uncomfortable with, due to the income disparity.
Laughably, I'm the senior network/systems guy that champions end users and figured out various lawful modification issues to accomplish their desired goals.

Kevin Folta said...

Good. You'd think someone could pick up a phone. Karl has not returned emails in forever. I keep asking him about when he's going to do something with that GMO Corn data we had finished over a year ago, and I already did substantial writing on. Poor form for what was an okay information source.

Kevin Folta said...

and all of your correspondence with her will be public soon. It just got subpoenaed.

Wzrd1 said...

I laughably offer my support.
While denying both FOIA and subpoena.
FOUA is a very real thing, classified remains classified, unless the data owner releases it.
Hence, in the very real world, that and a quarter won't get you a telephone call home.

Anonymous said...

Wow... When did BFI become The Food Babe? This is the same as when the anti GMO crowd calls you a "paid shill" for living next door to a Monsanto employee. What a shame. And to think that I recommended BFI as a trusted source to my students...

Anonymous said...

"3. Under my retention agreement with the law firm, the work was to remain confidential. I could not discuss the nature of the work, the parties involved, or the type of analysis. "

You revealed the parties to UF, so were you violating your agreement or are you exaggerating the limitations imposed upon you?

Anonymous said...

you think being paid by Bayer is the same as living next door to a Monsanto employee?

Wzrd1 said...

You've never signed or read an NDA, that much is obvious.
Those who have a valid need to know, such as an employer or owner of a lab, are allowed to know what was going on. Those with no valid need to know are not permitted access to the controlled information.
That's true of an NDA for scientific research and analysis or for government secrets.

Wzrd1 said...

If I lived next door to a US Army General, would that make me a tank?

Kevin Folta said...

I have to provide my superiors with an explanation of the work to be performed. I never knew these would be public documents. In the future, I will never provide such detail. So much for transparency. However, these docs would have been internal if Karl and Anastasia didn't parade them around the internet. I'm playing by the rules. Others use it for punishment and political gain.

Kavin Senapathy said...

I see you continue to skirt the question. Noted.

Anonymous said...

@Anonymous (5:39 PM)
You think being paid by a lawfirm that also represents Bayer is the same as being paid by Bayer?

Anonymous said...

you may want to consult legal counsel if you think "well I didn't think my disclosure would be public" is acceptable to a requirement of confidentiality. So either you violated your agreement or it isn't as strict as you imply.

Anonymous said...

"You've never signed or read an NDA, that much is obvious."

No I've just written hundreds of them for the largest tech companies in the world.

Wzrd1 said...

Then you'd know of employer notifications on what goes on on their property and activities of employees on their payroll.
Which makes your question rather odd and leading.
Especially, as a reasonable person wouldn't imagine that the agreed to sharing of information with the property owner/employer of a professor would then be released to the public via abuse of the FOI process and malfeasance of those who gained access to those FOI documents.

As another example. My SF86 information, along with background investigation findings, fingerprints and more were compromised during the breach of the Office of Personnel Management network. I have no expectation that that information would be criminally abused, as it was the action of an adversary nation's military. If the information from those files were to suddenly be published by an individual affiliated with that foreign agency, am I responsible for the loss of control of my most private information?
Obviously not.

Peter Olins said...

Kevin, I am both angered and saddened by the shabby way that you have been treated by your former colleagues at Biofortified, especially after all you have done for the organization. The statement from the board was totally inappropriate and cowardly—more typical of tabloid journalism, of which there is an abundant supply on the Internet. It calls into question the credibility of BFI and undermines the important work BFI has done in the past in the cause of education about the state of modern plant biotechnology. What a shame.

I have posted a more detailed critique directly on the BFI website:
http://disq.us/p/1vesncr

I hope that this irritating incident doesn't deter you from your unusual and courageous pro-science outreach.

My sincere sympathy, Peter.

Kevin Folta said...

Thanks Peter. It does change how I can engage, and I'll have to make some adjustments. I just think I'll be out of the direct conversation. I'll do good work, publish, train students and keep up public outreach. No more online conversations, especially with these hostile interests. Thanks for your support.

Kevin Folta said...

Kavin, I'm involved in a number of legal matters where such information is relevant. Please note that it is none of your business.

Anonymous said...

Kevin Folta, do your lawyers know you broke confidentiality? Clients are not to warn recipients of subpoenas. Kavin Senapathy, did your correspondences ever really get subpoenaed? Anastasia Bodner said it best: It's not about the science, it's about lying.

Wzrd1 said...

Well, being one with an operational brain, I know that I would call and report a mandatory, by law, required breach.
That an anonymous individual asks that question simply makes me want to, upon discovery phase of any potential legal action, want to look at the server logs and potentially, look a lot deeper.
And I happen to have resources, where if the situation was interesting enough, would even penetrate TOR and acquire the traffic and source of traffic.
Currently, the source IP is being investigated to ascertain if it's foreign or domestic.

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