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.