Tuesday, August 20, 2019

Plagiarism, Misconduct Running Rampant

Last week I saw an awesome Twitter post.  Dr. Elisabeth Bik posted a figure from a recently published paper in a cancer journal.  The caption simply read, "What's wrong with this image?"

I looked at it carefully for two solid minutes.  It was images of baby mice, "pinkies" in the reptile feeding trade, all lined up on their sides with military precision. Some had tumors, some didn't and the figure looked legit. 

Until I saw her annotated photo.  She circled examples of how the same little mice babies were cut-n-pasted multiple times, appearing over and over again in different rows.  It was manufactured data.

Dr. Bik does a remarkable service to science.  A trained molecular biologist with a substantial CV, she now voluntarily spends her eagle eye scouring the literature for things that don't look quite right.  Like duplicate mice in a manufactured figure. 


I had the pleasure of interviewing her for the Talking Biotech Podcast, and she'll be featured on September 1 (Episode 203). 

Her Twitter feed is a gem (@microbiomdigest) so give her a follow. 

In the interview she said that plagiarism runs rampant.  I've read a really well-turned phrase once and realized it was my own, borrowed without permission or citation.  Dr. Bik says that it is remarkably common, and that the huge numbers of new journals with flimsy editorial and review processes only fuel the problem. 

This morning I read a post on The Garden Professor's Blog, a site on Facebook with content from Washington State University Extension Urban Horticulturalist Dr. Linda Chalker-Scott.  She noted that her work had been lifted, word for word, by an author team from India. She contacted the journal, but they were unresponsive or out of business.  How to correct this?

The first appeared in HortTechnology in 2013.  The second, in the International Journal of Multidisciplinary Advanced Research Trends.  Talk about a word salad.  


Read carefully. Sreelatha and Sandhya didn't even try to rewrite, except for some typos. 






 I looked into this a bit more and found that "K. Sreelatha" has published in areas of physics.  Here is another published article in the journal Pranama Research


Here is an excerpt from Volume 8, Issue 12, 2018: 





Here is an article I found online when I searched with a random block of text (you can see the page here)



There are more as well, and it took me about 15 minutes to find a handful of examples. 

The worst part is the authors didn't even try to revise the work.  It is a direct clone of the website or published work. I've written about this in 2015 in the area of genetic engineering as well, but I feel this effort was more lazy than deceptive. 

These are not papers in Science, Nature or any journal of impact.  However, they remain published evidence of someone's fraudulent scholarship and scientific misconduct. And it appears to be at a religious women's college, so that's funly ironic. 

It also serves to erode the public's trust in published science.  If anyone can publish anything, even articles that are stolen or hodgepodged together from multiple websites, can we trust the claims that are made? 

When the public is asking questions about the veracity of the scholarly literature, these trends are indeed dangerous, and an indicator that we need new measures of scientific rigor in publication. 


Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Revised Social Media Strategy

I discontinued use of Twitter on June 19, 2019.  The account was deactivated, which means I had 30 days to re-activate it before it is permanently deleted. 



The clock was winding down, and I had to do a cost/benefit analysis of Twitter.  Certainly permanent deletion would mean no more harassment through the medium (that I'd know about). There are about six people and a few 'bots that no longer would harass me. 

The problem is that I'd break a connection with 22,000 people that volunteered to receive content.  

Today, two days out from permanent deactivation I have a nice article at AgDaily, and a sweet one coming out in The Conversation.  I'd love to share those widely. 

The podcast is reaching 1 million downloads with 3,500 per week and almost 200 episodes.  New episodes are not downloaded as much without the Twitter push. 

Best of Both Worlds?

So it is a necessary evil and I'll have to live with it, but I have to play with different rules. 

1.  Block the haters, one strike and out. 

2.  No back-and-forth, no engagement.  

3.  It is a message in a bottle for me, throwing content into its stupid sea, and seeing where it goes. 

I'll always be available by email and my professional Facebook page, so reach out if I may be of assistance. 

Kevin

Saturday, June 22, 2019

The Dark Side of Harassment



My entire life I always questioned people that would take their own life or hurt others in rage.  It did not compute for me.  It seems no problem is that big, and there are so many ways to find solutions between the law, social services, and other mechanisms. 

But after enduring endless daily harassment from Michael Balter and GM Watch, I deeply empathize with these feelings. It is a dark part of human psychology, and a program in the brain that is triggered from feeling helpless.  It is a reptile brain taking over; backed into a corner with no other choice.  It is the extremes of fight and the extremes of flight, life and death, and I'm feeling that. 

I have so much to be grateful for.  I have a wonderful wife, and we hope to have a child on the way soon.  We both were robbed of that opportunity in previous relationships by combinations of tragedies and apathies, and now we are fixing that.  I have a great job, wonderful students, respect in my field, and a good future in leadership. 

But that is being challenged and in some ways affected.  People long dedicated to my personal and professional demise have concentrated their vicious efforts in a #MeToo onslaught.  They are characterizing me as a drunk spouse abuser, over and over again in social media and on websites.  It is an unfortunate residue of an important sensitivity to abusive behavior, and ironically, manifests as abusive behavior.  These individuals have appointed themselves as judge, jury and executioner, and they are working hard to ensure that I am punished hard --- for teaching science. 

Today we need to be sensitive to abuse, and I think we are better because we recognize when politicians, celebrities and Joe Six Pack cross the line. I love that we don't tolerate harassment of others, that we fight for fairness and kind treatment of others. 

But that same sensitivity has weaponized.  Allegations of abuse by the "Me Too" accusers is a wonderful weapon to destroy people they disagree with.  The internet is the festering cesspool used to perpetrate this action. There are numerous examples of people that have been falsely accused, and allegations retracted.  It is unfortunate because it dilutes the power of these efforts.

In my case, 5 months after my ex filed for divorce, she solicited statements from her friends to help destroy me. And they obliged.  Now those notes are making the rounds in a relentless assault on me and my reputation.  They are retweeted and augmented by anti-science organizations and a hateful former journalist named Michael Balter.

CLAIMS.


I could go through each letter and tell you about the people that wrote them.  She convinced others that I was trying to screw her out of a reasonable settlement (she demanded 80% of my take home) and she claimed she needed letters for court.  She assured them that they were for court and her attorney only. 

So people provided ugly statements. You can judge their veracity on many levels. They often did contain a seed of truth because we had a difficult and very private relationship for long time. In the hopes that it would heal and change I kept my pains and our marital business private, even from friends.  Yes, I said things that were off base to my ex, and I even apologized for them.  But the letters are  a gross mischaracterization.

The letters were provided, along with other documents, from my ex to GM Watch, an online museum dedicated to smearing me and my reputation.  
In May 2017 my ex gave papers from my private, personal file cabinet to GM Watch.  I could not get my things from the house because she told me that "If you come in this house I will say that you are physically abusing me and call the police."

My attorneys said to stay away from the house, and I did.

She then found a reimbursement stub from the Monsanto Company, from 2014.  The story is well known, but again, Monsanto  reimbursed me for the exact cost of coach airfare, a rental car, and a hotel when farmers in Colorado (that were Monsanto customers) asked to speak to an independent scientist about the technology.

My ex KNEW that the check was a direct reimbursement with nothing in it for me personally, but she gave it to GM Watch and claimed it was one of many under-the-table payments.

Of course this made headlines at GM Watch.  Another torpedo to my name, another thing to show up in a google search, and more false information.  The letters she solicited "only for court" soon were in the hands of those that need to stop science communication and those that do it.

LETTERS


She solicited letters from her friends that were designed to help her in court.  She harvested those letters and gave them to GM Watch. Now Balter uses them as concrete proof that I was a drunk, physically abusing wild man.  He does not use the word allegedly. He never spoke to me.  He claims to be a journalist, by the way.

I had coffee with one of the letter writers yesterday after she saw the fallout in social media.  She told me that she felt "used" by my ex and apologized.  She said that the letter was only to be used in court and she did it because she was told that I was being unfair in the settlement.

FALLOUT. 


Balter continues to make my private information public. He put my bank account number online (it is still on his website).  I had to get a new account, I had no access to funds when I was traveling, and I had payments bounce because setting up my auto pay again didn't work right.   He posted confidential documents between me and a law firm, describing my work on my vacation time as a professional witness as "consulting for Bayer"-- knowing  that it would foment a pitchforks-and-torches response among his evil followers. 

This is harassment. It is bullying, it is intimidation, and  we should not tolerate it.  In a world where we claim to want to stop abuse and harassment, Balter is the master of abuse and harassment.  I have hundreds of screenshots. 

The man is obsessed, he is insane, and he is relentless.  Together with GM Watch they now share the letters that my ex released to them-- purely with the interest of defamation.  They want to hurt me, my career and my family. That is their intent.  That is their intent.  That is their intent. 

INTENT.

What do they want?  They are going after my reputation, a good one forged from 30-some years of public service and kindness to all.   I have provided opportunities to anyone that asked, helped students find jobs, thrive in their careers.  I'm proud of that and would continue that kind of work for the rest of my life. But Balter needs to stop this.  He wants to destroy my career, and together with malevolent fake accounts online, they want to destroy me. They want to hurt my wife and my ability to support a family.  This is what they want. 

REPERCUSSIONS.

I've spoken to law enforcement.  I've spoken to lawyers, detectives, others.  There is nothing  can do about the relentless cyberbullying and harassment.  There is nothing I can do.  One police officer in New York City told me, "What he's doing is wrong but legal, what you need to do is right but illegal." 

That was a reflection of the state of things, that someone can slander you without redress, and even the police are powerless to stop the onslaught.

Twitter leaves his account active.  His hate is entirely within community standards.  I've reported it dozens of times with no action.  My account has now been deactivated. 


REACTION.

 This is where reptile brain dark places are triggered.  I have had so many dark thoughts of what I would do to that guy if I saw him in an airport or on the street. It is that bad. Luckily I can control myself and I don't have that gear to execute what the reptile brain wants.  I'm so grateful that I have a wonderful wife and friends that I can rely on for a reality check. The anger and want to lash out is extreme when you are backed into a corner and threatened.

ODD RELIEF. 

I am not religious, but I was raised with religion. Some of the greatest lessons were those where Jesus was being destroyed by others, tortured over his beliefs, and refusal to back down. 

"Forgive them father for they know not what they do."

"But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also."

These deeply ingrained messages help me pull back.  I am being  tortured by Twitter, being painfully drawn and quartered by someone's misappropriated revenge, being taken apart by those that hate. 


WHY?

When it all comes down to it, Balter and GM Watch hate me for one reason-- because I'm a teacher that teaches science they disagree with.  A search of my name will forever bear their twisted allegations.  I'm guaranteed to lose opportunities, be looked over for positions of service, and be always tagged as a dangerous offender to some. 

I was a very effective leader of the 9th rated plant bio department on the planet for almost 6 years.  I made great hires and did superb mentoring of 59 faculty in 7 locations, all the while running two internationally recognized research programs and effective science communication outreach.   I had a good future in public service. That is gone now. 

SO WHAT?


My wife asked me today, "Would it be so bad to just be a good lab scientist and the best husband and father?"

She's got a point.  All of this ends when I drop out of communication, when I stop podcasting, writing and interacting with a public audience.  Maybe not podcasting.  That's a passion I might not be able to compromise.

Right now I'm broken.  I'm sad, disgusted and dying inside. I can't fight back.  I'm being disassembled mentally by the most brutal and evil harassment I can imagine-- taking apart my reputation because I tell the truth about science.

EMPATHY.


All of this is important because it shows how harassment is accepted, encouraged, and fostered.  GM Watch and Michael Balter engage in hate and slander that would not be tolerated in any forum-- so why are they tolerated here?

The feelings cut deep.  I will never question someone that feels harassed and intimidated to where they are so helpless that they hurt themselves or hurt others.  Those feelings are real, very real.

I need to get well and away from the hate. I'm going to plant six trees, work on a grant proposal and have a beer tonight with friends.  I hate what people have become.  I never thought I would quit, but I'm afraid I'm done.  For my mental health and for my family on the way, I need to be away from that hateful vortex.


Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Talking Biotech - Five Years Ago...

Five years ago today I started the Talking Biotech Podcast.  




Everywhere I go I'm amazed to find listeners.  When I don't post an episode exactly at 5AM EST on Saturday morning I get emails complaining. There have been greater than 935,000 downloads. 

One guest (who knows me pretty well) learned about the podcast from someone at a wedding, and didn't know that I was the host. Another person stopped me in the airport and asked if I was the host of Talking Biotech-- because he recognized my voice!  

Back in 2014 it was a questionable experiment in a new medium.  I didn't want to do it.  But looking back I'm glad I did.  We have created a durable archive that shows where we were, made predictions about where we are going, and then closed the loop with seeing those predictions become realities in many cases. 

So thank you to the listeners, the guests, and everyone that shared this experiment with friends.  I appreciate your support of my passion -- communicating science. 

I look forward to five more years. 

Kevin

Monday, June 10, 2019

Eroding Trust : A How-To Guide to Stopping Science Communication

When you teach an inconvenient science there are many that don't want that story heard. Their arguments fall flat, they have no basis for their beliefs- so how does someone derail the freight train of factual information, especially when delivered by a compelling and trusted speaker?

It is a special kind of ad hominem-- disqualify the speaker by eroding their earned trust. 

And it is easy to do.

Trust is an important basis for communication, and it takes a long time to earn.  There are strategies to build trust, and I teach these strategies to fifty audiences a year. 

It starts with the Trust Equation.  I didn't make this up, this is well known by psychologists and sociologists. 




Trust is a perception an audience feels based on a speaker's competence, reliability, and intimacy-- divided by self-motivation or self-interest.  Different aspects are targeted by those that want to harm a speaker's trust with an audience.

How do they do that?  If you look at any online conversation where an expert is being criticized for explaining a subject of their expertise, you see opponents resort to attacking aspects of the Trust Equation.

1.  Competence -  It is very common for a scientist operating in public space to have their competence questioned.  That is done in a variety of ways. 

2.  Reliability -  

3.  Intimacy --

4.  Self-Motivation -- This is the big one. It is the basis of the notion that communicating science must be motivated by some other factor.  Ulterior motives. There must be some reason that someone would want to communicate a scientific perspective beyond the reality that facts are our currency as scholars and we become teachers because we want to share them.

As professors our self-motivation is rather low. Our goal is a stronger society with an educated population, trained in critical thinking and situational analysis. We value independence and desire to not have others defining our research avenues. In return, we take jobs that require years of training for substantially lower salaries than we'd find in the private sector.  Our participation in discussion of climate change, vaccination, genetic engineering and other topics is important because of the impartiality we bring, with minimal self interest. 

In fact, self interest is generally so low to a learned scholar that they are willing to change their position when confronted with additional evidence.  Pursuit of the Truth is the goal, whatever that takes.

800 Pound Gorillas?

Social media has been noisy with folks referring to me as a drunk wife abuser and teen harasser.  This is especially prevalent on Twitter from Michael Balter and Paul Thacker (read their threads!) as well as GM Watch.  These three will do anything to block my mission of participation in public outreach around science communication and biotechnology. 

They've said it before, they'll do it again.  If you have any concerns about the things you read about me, please reach out and contact me directly. Debating hostile allegations online just gives visibility to something that does not deserve it.

The good news is that they have a nice little love circle where they retweet/share each others' filth.  But that's it.  These guys are even too slimy for the usual mudslingers to endorse. 

I've made the strategic decision to not engage it, not give it any oxygen.  That's the best move. The problem is that it leaves questions unanswered for those that have concerns.  After all, these are very serious allegations. 

So, if you find their allegations concerning or problematic, please contact me at kfolta at gmail dot com.  I would be very happy to schedule a phone call and discuss your concerns. 

There are easy answers to everything. The problem is, good people have been used by bad people here, probably unknowingly.  I don't want them to suffer any hardship from being connected with GM Watch/ Balter/ Thacker/ others, or have their careers or organizations sucked into the negative vortex of social media assassination.   

With that in mind it is best to just yet allegations fly. They have been levied for ages and will continue as long as I continue to connect with the public and share information that changes hearts and minds.  

The day they finally stop I better check to make sure I'm still effective. 

Thanks.    

Thursday, June 6, 2019

What Is Their Goal?

I'm in my eleventh day in Europe.  I taught a wonderful science communication workshop, enjoyed time with many students and postdocs.  I mentored early-career faculty and reviewed the work and provided guidance to shape the future of a rising-star of an institution.  I was honored to speak at Brain Bar, a wonderful conference about the future. 

All of this came on my departure from social media, particularly Twitter. I've been watching and reading.  I also took down the majority of this blog.  I need to get my head down.  My mental health is taking a hit and the personal and professional inconvenience of being doxed and harassed is getting extreme. Here's what is happening now. 

Bank Accounts, Retirement Doxxed.

Somehow a former journalist turned hate-monger named Michael Balter obtained my personal records.  It is not hard to do.  Paul Thacker and University of California San Francisco posted my social security number a few months ago.  Once you have that, you find my birthday and mom's maiden name and you can pretty much have access to my private everything. Couple this to FOIA laws and you have access to my life. Every single word. 

I had to change my bank account number two days before going to Europe, meaning no debit card or access to cash. All autopay had to be reset, and of course is screwed up and bills are late.  Just a pain. 

Now he has posted my personal financial information concerning my retirement holdings. 

I don't come from money.  My father is still working at 72.  I had student debt until I was 40-something.  I also worked in public science, starting with a Ph.D. plus 5 years of experience at a wage made by a good librarian. 

I don't have a pension. My retirement is self-financed, and it is on the horizon.  My wife is not a Wall Street banker.  She's a fruit and vegetable farmer that sells at farmers markets. We are comfortable, but not wealthy.  We live in a double-wide mobile home in the country (town of 1000) and our costs and expectations are modest.  We buy a lot of plants and go out to dinner on Saturday night.   We have about 40 fruit trees. 

Early on I learned to invest in myself.  I started investing in my retirement at the age of 16 when I spent part of my summer work money on the company that marketed Jolt Cola.  A brilliant move it would turn out.  That company is now part of InterBev the international giant. 

Over the years I sacrificed many things to plan for the day I would not work.  I invested in diverse interests, all with high dividends and low risk.  I saved a large part of my income.  Years later I would lose half of what I invested in a divorce, which severely affected my plan. So it goes. 

Now Michael Balter is distributing my personal financial information on the web, and it is being further distributed by the anti-GMO world, nice folks like GM Watch. 

They note that I own shares of Bayer.  Damn right I do.  I bought them right after their price tanked when the glyphosate decisions came down.   I still have faith in science and reason, and believe that this reaction is temporary and a company's true value will ultimately be realized. Plus a great dividend.  I'd recommend it! 

But this brings us to two important questions-

1.   Why do they feel that my family's retirement is their business?

2.   Why do they think it is appropriate to distribute it on the internet? 

It is a profound sense of violation.  It disgusts me that people hate me so much, and want to stop me so much, that they use this kind of tactic to intimidate me.  That's what this is.  They can't stop me with lies, distortions, or threats.  They manufactured newspaper articles based on lies and spread their filth in social media. 

But hacking your family's retirement information and making it public?   It is purely to intimidate, to remind me  that I have no privacy and will never have privacy until I resign from science and hide somewhere.  This is their goal. 

At this point I am unsure what to do.  I need help.  The rage I feel is immense and I have to fight every impulse to strike back.  I'm not a religious guy, but I think of the lessons from when I was a kid, and find them very poignant right now.  

Forgive them, for they know not what they do. 

Then the words my therapist gave me, "Time will be kind."


 MAMyths and Kavin Senapathy

These folks hate me so much and I'm not sure why.   Allegedly science-friendly types are using the same tactics used by the science hate groups.  Last night I read on Twitter that MAMyths was organizing a page about me.  I saw it in a tweet and clicked the link. 

I could not believe what I was seeing.  It was a page dedicated to me, all hateful news, allegations, and everything they could find that was negative.  And Kavin was fishing for more dirt.  They since took down the page, but luckily I grabbed screenshots. Unbelievable. 


I saw this link and clicked it-- a hateful page dedicated to me.  What is wrong with these people?  What do they want?  Science Justice? 


Again, I don't care about Kavin, Stephan or Karl or any of those folks.  They can do their thing, I'll do mine.  But why do they feel that they need to harm my ability to do good work, especially when it helps others understand science? 

Fake Troll Accounts
Look at the Twitter accounts @RailaerAouy (you are a liar backwards) and @EvelynGreenburg.  Both are relatively recent accounts, the people behind them are using FOIA to harass me, and the Twitter feeds are dedicated to my harassment. 

These folks should get a life.  I'm not that important. 



Conclusion. 

I was very torn about writing this.  I don't want to give them the attention they crave.  But I feel that there is no other recourse other than exhibiting their disgusting behavior.   Are these the folks that represent you?   Your ideas?   People you find represent your values and superb ethics? 

I've had to do a lot of soul searching and frankly don't want to do this anymore.  But that's what they want.  Their goal is to harass and intimidate me out of teaching, research, outreach, social media, or all of the above.  

The way forward will be decided soon.  I just hate what an important discussion about food security, farming, and technology has become.  I never thought it could get any worse, and indeed it has.  

Friday, May 24, 2019

Last Few Words

Where do I go from here?   A good direction for sure.  I will continue to host the podcast and post weekly episodes here and on Twitter.  I will no longer be engaging in social media. I'll be creating a lot more media and sharing a lot of innovative research.  Stay tuned.  Here are some parting thoughts on the topics du jour

Posting Private Information and Hacked Documents

Throughout my professional career I have been asked to sign confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements. I must abide by those agreements. The problem is that others will use FOIA, hacking, stealing, or other methods to obtain your confidential files and distribute them-- breaking confidentiality and also screaming non-transparency.

So when people are somehow acquiring private documents you never shared and making your personal banking information known, it is time to back away from the discussion. My address is being posted next to phrases like "poison peddler" and "he gives children cancer".  The goal is to ignite mob action, to inspire one crazy soul to harm me or my family.

At 2:38 AM the night that Balter posted my home address and the internet  my dog was going ballistic.  Maybe he does that every night.  Maybe it was a coyote or deer near the house.  

But my wife and I have to think, is this someone coming to harm us?  Are we going to get a jar of flaming gasoline through the bedroom window?   This is terrorism, and Michael Balter knew exactly what he was doing when he puts my private information next to claims from his errant interpretations of private documents. 

How do people get documents you never distributed?  Why did he redact them?  What didn't he want you to see?  Why are stolen, hacked, manufactured or otherwise obtained private documents celebrated?  How is it even legal? 

Having to close bank accounts, re-establish auto bill pay and cut up debit cards is a colossal hassle. It was especially awful because I have to travel abroad and can't get a new debit card in time. So it goes. 





Consulting.

Here is the last thing I will say on the "consulting" issue.

1.  I was hired by a law firm to analyze some old data. 


2.  I was bound by confidentiality to not reveal any information about the nature of the work or the parties involved. I respect that commitment to this day. 

3. This was work on my vacation time, it was approved by the university, and has no direct connection to my job, my research or my outreach programs.

4.  In these activities (mostly held in Denver, as shown in the receipt posted by Balter) I never met with anyone currently working for the companies in question.

5.   In these activities I never visited a company in question.


6.  I had a wonderful time working with brilliant attorneys to sort out a long-standing question that settled a dispute between two parties.  It was one of the most intellectually exciting times of my life. 

7.  I was one of many expert scientists involved.  None of them have special disclosures on their websites and none of them have been harassed about it. None of them consider the work "consulting"- we were subject matter experts in a private mediation. 

8.  I was paid well for my time.  I did not want to do this job, I did not have time for it, but it was firmly in my area of expertise and I was probably the best person on the planet to do the work (time would show that I figured out something none of the other experts on either side could figure out, so that was really cool).  I gladly accepted the generous amount they offered. 

9.  I disclosed outside confidential work on my website.  After consulting with the Associate Dean who handles outside work disclosures she told me how to properly disclose that I was working for a law firm while still maintaining confidentiality. The website stated that I was working for a law firm as a subject matter expert in a confidential, private arbitration. 

10.  These are the facts.  Some call me a liar because my words don't match boilerplate letters and their conspiratorial  interpretations. If you think this was "consulting for Bayer" then fine, think that.  My account here is an exact discussion of what my job was.  If you think it is consulting for a company when I never visited the company for this matter, never spoke to anyone with the company, or dealt with science in the company, then think that. I do not consider that consulting. My website and all public disclosures will reflect these truths. 

11.  And I would LOVE to consult for Bayer or any other company that understands my capacities in research or communications.  I'm particularly adept at communications and messaging, so reach out if there is any special project that falls outside of my normal work responsibilities.     

And by the way, this is old news.  We discussed transparency and confidentiality a year ago on my podcast. 




Forward.   My research is going great, I'm working on a number of books and other projects.  I love my life at home.  I have 40 fruit trees, and tons more of you count bananas (that makes me happy). I am surrounded with beautiful friends and colleagues. I'm running well again even though a doctor told me that I'd never run again on my screwed up knees (ha ha).  My lab will probably publish 8-10 papers in 2019, and I think we're going to create quite a stir in how we farm in urban environments. 

The only thing weighing me down is the endless harassment online and the train of onerous public records requests that steal my time and waste enormous public funding. 

So I am going to shed that part of my public face. I'll still maintain my public Facebook page and run the podcast.  

In conclusion, is this a victory for Balter, Biofortified, Thacker, USRTK and the rest of the folks that want me eliminated from an important conversation? 

No.  They just created a more focused, disciplined and committed proponent of public advocacy of science, and I will use that platform with new media, new ideas, and more effective science communication. 

Thank you. 




Monday, April 29, 2019

Seed School Debacle - Postmortem

Anger and frustration turned to disappointment and sadness.  People asked me why it mattered, why I didn't just let it go and do nothing on a beautiful Sunday rather than teach a class.  Because to me my favorite job is as a teacher. I love to help others understand.

I'm also saddened about the divide that happens when we discuss agriculture. I hate the organic/anti-organic, GMO/anti-GMO, chemistry/hate chemistry divides because they unproductively hurt everybody-- mostly the food insecure. There are real problems to solve, and I'm a huge fan of all tools on the table. I'm trying to heal a divide, and I know I make at least a little progress every time. 

I do feel that being excluded at the last minute was an unfortunate residue of social media, matched with the ammunition provided by others to ensure I was deplatformed.  What was really shocking was the acceptance (and condoning) of this by the MAMYTHS folks, and the silence of the March for Science leadership. I pinged them on this, no response. If a climate scientist was eliminated from a discussion on glacier melting at the last minute it would have been national news. 




How to Fix

So how do we make that difference if we can't speak to such audiences if we are censored from reaching them personally?  It requires exploitation of the same networks they used in the take-down, coupled to pushing content through many levels of media. 

In response to the recent events:

1.  We will hold a Plant Breeding and Genetics for Gardeners and Seed Savers in Fall 2019.  It will be streamed live and also be recorded and distributed on YouTube. 

2.  There will  be an accompanying manual that will be free for download.

These two steps are already well underway, tentatively scheduled for August 31, 2019.  They will be free to the public.

Lemons to Lemonade

Life is 10% what happens to you, 90% how you respond to it.  I'm going to turn a deplatforming into a stellar event that is helpful and widely appreciated, advancing the mission of helping plant enthusiasts understand plant genetics and modern genetic improvement. 

Saturday, April 27, 2019

POSTPONED. Here's the Story


The event scheduled for Sunday will not happen. We will do it in the Fall, and it will be sweet. 

I was scheduled to teach in a local class for gardeners, but was removed from the schedule at the last minute. It is unfortunate censorship to keep me out of a classroom. 

I arranged a room for their class in the building where I work.  I figured that the good alternative would be to teach my sections anyway right after their class was over, so participants could still enjoy the content I prepared, if they wanted to.   

The event was going to be open to the public.

However, I learned tonight from other faculty in the program that the Seed School moved the venue, and they are no longer on campus.  

So at this point I'm not compelled to teach those lectures because they were designed for the class participants. 

It opens the opportunity to do it bigger and better. We will organize something in the fall, free, and everyone invited. This is how we will create the changes we wish to see. 

Thank you to everyone for the kind words and thoughts. It has been a hard week.  

Kevin

Friday, April 26, 2019

The Class Will Be Taught


When they tell you you're not welcome to the party, throw one next door and invite everyone!

It was a sad time to be uninvited from teaching science to a group of local gardeners.  I had three modules that were really exciting, and organizers of the 3rd Southern Seed School caved to complaints about having me in the classroom teaching students. It is a sad censorship that is the residue of targeted harassment, and how people actually believe the false information that they've been fed. 

To say I was angry is an understatement.  I was livid. I barely slept, I thought about it a lot, and just became more angry.  To be eliminated from a program because people in my community feel I'm somehow toxic to a scientific curriculum is something I took very personally. 

So what to do?  

Teach the content anyway!  I organized the room for their class, and they'll be here in the building.  My class will happen in the same time slot where I was originally installed, so students can opt to come here the content that the organizers didn't want them to hear. 2318 Fifield Hall! 

I will present two 45 minute lectures. 

1.  Plant Breeding and Genetic Improvement  2-2:45
2.  New Crops for Florida  2:45-3:30

Those interested can continue the conversation at Swamphead afterwards, and I'll encourage the folks from the Seed School to join.  

Meet in front of Fifield Hall on the University of Florida campus before 1:50.  The building will be locked so we'll have to all enter together.  Contact me at kfolta@ufl.edu if you have any questions. 

Thursday, April 25, 2019

CANCELLED - Science Silenced

I volunteered to teach this Sunday, on my time, pretty much all day.  I was going to be speaking at the 3rd Southern Seed School here in Gainesville FL.  Because of complaints to the organizers, I have been removed from the program. It is McCarthy-style removal of someone deemed "controversial" when there is no controversy.

I was originally slated to speak in three sessions. 

1. The History of the University of Florida Fruit and Vegetable Breeding Programs. I had neat old photos, cool history. 

2.  Plant Breeding and Genetic Improvement -- a topic with a lot of confusion among local seed-saving enthusiasts.  We were going to cover genetics and the need to understand pedigree and if seeds were saved from hybrids. We were going to touch on breeding and genetic improvement techniques from mutation breeding to the future of gene editing. 

3. Future Crops for Florida, a topic I have researched extensively and even designed and taught a course on this topic. We were going to cover pre-breeding, domestication, and adaptation of other plants to Florida cropping systems. 


I have been removed from teaching at the Southern Seed School. Thanks haters, you removed a teacher from a classroom. 

I reserved the rooms, organized other speakers for some of the other sessions, and prepared all of my presentations.  I made a really cool card game to demonstrate hybridization and genetic segregation, an important topic that seed savers should understand. 

Last night I learned that I have been cancelled from the event.  One of the organizers, someone I truly respected, says it is because of my "baggage" and that I need to get beyond my "ego" and just let it go.  My blood is boiling.  

My baggage. My full time job is research, teaching and extension. I volunteer in schools (taught 84 kids on Wednesday, each took home plants that I prepared), volunteer in retirement homes, public groups like Rotary, you name it.  I never turn away an undergraduate looking for lab experience and open my lab to scholars from every corner of the globe.  I volunteer to teach classes when I have no teaching appointment.  That is my baggage.

And it was a few evil reporters, "science friendly" bloggers (you know who they are), GM Watch, US-RTK, several others, and legions of Twitter trolls -- they created a very different narrative that now stops science from being taught.  Baggage Installed.  Mission Accomplished. 

And of course, I blame myself too.  I blame myself for making human errors and having lapses in judgement at times that left me vulnerable to the anti-science interests.  Now I don't make those mistakes.  In a hateful world surrounded by character assassins, I'm not going to pass out the ammunition. 

Also I thank Twitter for giving fake accounts that target scientists a forum for their dirty work.  Even when reported, the new anonymous accounts that target me are within "community standards".  They started a flurry of false information that started the momentum towards my removal. I wish everyday that your support of targeted harassment causes an exodus of users, and that you revise your policies.




A Twitter account dedicated to my harassment was instrumental in shaping the decision to remove me from teaching a class on a Sunday, volunteering my time. 



Over the last few years I have worked hard to extend science education to non-traditional audiences and speaking to a seed school of local gardeners about breeding, genetics and crop improvement would appear to be something consistent with that mission. But in a world where scientists are barred for saying "climate change", where doctors that teach principles of immunology are threatened with violence, and where pseudoscience runs rampant, I suppose this is only to be expected. 


Saturday, April 20, 2019

Talking Biotech 182 – Insect Resistant Cowpea in Africa

The link to this week's podcast is here. 

Cowpea is a critical crop in Western Africa.  It is consumed by millions daily, but also feeds livestock, all the while providing important nitrogen fixation for the farm.  Cowpea cultivation is threatened by Maruca vitrata, a butterfly who’s caterpillar stage feasts on the beans within the cowpea pod. Scientists in Nigeria have implemented a strategy using the Bt protein to fight against this pest.  Today’s podcast interviews Francis Onyekachi, Program Manager for the West African Maruca Resistant Cowpea Project.  He talks about the crop, the technology, and the strategy to ensure its continued efficacy.  Co-hosted by Nigerian native and University of Florida graduate student Modesta Abugu. 

Saturday, March 23, 2019

Does High Fructose Corn Syrup Cause Colon Cancer?

Results of a recent study in mice need a little clarification.
The article caught my eye because it said that high fructose corn syrup (HFCS) “enhances tumor growth in mice” and it was published in the top-notch journal Science. The article mentions soft drinks and sugar sweetened beverages (SSBs) right in the abstract. It is no wonder that the general media got quite a rush from the story.
But is that what the data really showed?
The study by Goncalves et al is a nice piece of work. The researchers used mice missing a key tumor suppressor as a model. Colorectal cancers develop from a well-described progression of genetic changes before cells become malignant. Researchers have developed mice that are missing some of the biochemical hardware that keep cells from becoming cancerous. They possess errors in a gene that represses one major step toward cancer, so they are prone to develop tumors. The researchers used these mice to perform the experiments, as the tumor-prone mice would be potentially more responsive to the treatment if there was a biological effect.
Researchers allowed the mice to chow down as much HFCS as they wanted, so the mice loaded up and got fat. They developed metabolic syndrome and tumors.
But were the tumors a function of obesity and metabolic syndrome? To test this the researcher raised the same mice on a more restricted diet, and delivered HFCS via oral gavage (force fed). Those mice maintained normal weight but developed more, larger tumors than controls.
The author do a nice job tracing glucose and fructose and looking at how they influence metabolic processes in intestinal cells. That’s all good stuff.
The problem is that throughout the report they hammer on SSBs and HFCS. I understand that because the Big Gulp is a potent HFCS delivery device. But free fructose is more prevalent in organic apple (>60 g/L) or grape (>80g/L) juice, the fanfared agave nectar (85% fructose) , or a good serving of health-haloed Manuka Honey. Soda (~50–60 g/L) may be a contributor, but it is not the sole culprit — the problem is that we consume a lot of sugar in everything from BBQ sauce to salad dressing, and we also consume a lot of fructose. The study shows that fructose is the problem, and it likely does not matter if it comes from HFCS, table sugar, or some sacred bee extract.
The take home lesson is that we should enjoy sweetness from whole fruits, not necessarily juices. The fiber of fruits slows their progression through digestion and the sugars are absorbed in the small intestine, long before they get into colon-cancerville. If we do drink juices (they are rich in vitamins and minerals) consider using the classical juice glass (1 serving of fruit, 4–6 fluid ounces) rather than the 2-liter commuter mug. This nice report should not be vilification of soda, it should be a reminder that fructose is ubiquitous, it can have health impacts independent of obesity and metabolic syndrome, and should best be limited in the diet.

De-Platforming. A Power Move

I'm interested in debate. I need to get it right. Despite what people may say, I'm not an out of touch, arrogant scientist.  I'm interested to learn more and understand other perspectives.  

That's why I give people the benefit of the doubt. I have learned from others, and I have changed my mind.  I have been wrong, and I'm glad to admit that. 

At the same time I've stood up for science. I've endured endless hassle and anger, hideous allegations and propagation of rumor and hate.  


Thacker is glad to use public records and distribute my social security number. I had to get it changed after he decided to make it public. 

I can take it.  I know the truth, and anyone with half a brain can see what is reality, really is. 

But there comes a time that you have to take the microphone out of the hands of the chronically delinquent.  In my case, Paul Thacker, Michael Balter, and some folks I met on Kauai have decided to make a daily spectacle of smear. 

It is heartwarming in a sense.  As a marginally-relevant scientist and okay science communicator, I guess I appreciate that some folks dedicate so much time to online defamation. Defamation = "the action of damaging the good reputation of someone; slander or libel." 

And that is exactly what they are about.  They don't discuss science-- they just tell you why I am a turd that can't be trusted. 

I'm at the point that our universities and other media are at, we can't continue to allow a forum for hateful speech, and we can't endorse rhetoric that is meant to hurt others, and not part of civil discourse.

It is unfortunately, time to de-platform them. 

It is a decision I make with a heavy heart.  I'd love to enjoy a fruitful conversation with Thacker, Balter, Taleb, Nestle and others. However, that is not in their equation. These are merchants of doubt, dealers of confusion. They don't have that gear. I defeat their agenda. 

I do invite them to the table of kind discussion, and promise to entertain their assertions.  However, I will not tolerate their abuse. Done. 

We have a lot of work to do.  We need to be stronger and faster, more agile and smarter.  There is no room for this in arguing the tired trolls with defunct messages. 

We go forward with light and love, and a promise to always leave a door open to alternative ideas.  But when those ideas are endless hate and misinformation it is time to take away their microphone. 



Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Words Used Out of Context

Over the last two decades I have endured daily hassle from folks dedicated to besmirching the reputations of scientists. What a proud existence that must be. 

One great example resurfaced last night.  I first wrote about it on September 7, 2015.  The image shows me and a quotation, pulled from nearly 50,000 pages of email voluntarily turned over to activist groups.  

There was no evidence of malfeasance, nothing unethical or illegal.  All they could do to make me look bad was pull a quotation from context.  Almost four years later that same graphic is being used by activists to impugn my integrity.  




The best part is, this is all they have, and it is a distortion of what was actually said. 

The email was not between me and Monsanto.  It was between me and a friend that works there.  As we go through our careers as plant scientists it is not unusual to connect with people in industry. We meet their spouses, see pictures of their kids, trade dog stories-- they are people just like us, they just work for a company.

That's just their first distortion. 

Back in 2014 prior to the "GMO Labeling" votes in Oregon and Colorado, both sides were ramping up the rhetoric and spending huge money on misleading advertisement.  There was no discussion of the science, it was all fear-based rhetoric. Yes, both sides, and I disapproved of tactics used by both sides. 

The pro-label side had a particularly egregious ad on television. It featured retired EPA scientist Dr. Ray Seidler, and he looked right into the camera and lied to viewers. You can see the whole video here.   Disgusting. 

Like most scientists, we were appalled by Seidler's misrepresentation, factual inaccuracies, and blatant lies (he knows better).  

In this ad, Dr. Ray Seidler shows corn and "engineered corn", he claims are made to "withstand large doses of pesticides"-- which is exactly not true. He also says that the blue corn has "five toxic chemicals that end up in your family's food" and draws parallels to agent orange.

A friend who happens to work at Monsanto felt the same way.  Farmers in Colorado (where she works) sometimes choose their products and find them useful.  She said that the ASA (American Soil Association) was organizing a petition that wanted independent scientists to voice their disapproval about this kind of false representation of science. 

They also were looking for someone to prepare an Op-Ed, hopefully a team of scientists that could condemn this kind of fear-based coercion. 

Of course, I was happy to sign the petition or participate in writing the Op-Ed.  

Here's my response:
Words have remarkably different meaning when they are used in context.


The good news is that when Twitter trolls are are cherry picking quotations out of context, they are desperate.  They were desperate four years ago when this surfaced and they are only getting worse now. 

It shows that they are not interested in an honest conversation, instead they are interested in harming the people that teach from evidence, share science, and debunk their fear-based messaging.