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.