Wednesday, July 27, 2022

A Response to Carey Gillam

The general rule is not to engage those that seek to malign you as a scientist.  But this is a textbook case of how they respond to legitimate criticism-- by trying to disqualify the critic. I thought it would be worth a read so you can understand how these folks work, and why scientists are hesitant to engage disinformation. 

Last week I prepared a critical, scholarly response to an article by Carey Gillam in The Guardian. Her work was a horrible distortion of data to manufacture a sense of risk where none actually exists. 

In response, she published a textbook ad hominem fallacy argument against my scientific response, personally impugning me with selective editing, out of context quotations, and misrepresentation of situations. All of her comments are based on documents (mostly my emails) freely obtained through transparency laws I abide by as a public scientist.

I then commented thusly on her website. To her credit, it has been allowed to stand, of course with her comment: 



"If you care to read an unchallenged set of claims against a scientist you can pay me for them, because he's a shill that makes up things for money." 

Check out her article, and read my response: 

59 min ago·edited 38 min ago

Hi, Dr. Kevin Folta here, the guy in the article. I usually don't respond to such things, but it is kind of important as a teaching tool. As in the article in question, she continues to mislead. Here are my responses to her claims.

1. Note that Gillam does not address the criticisms levied against her article. She attacks the scientists that levied the criticisms. Because we appropriately called out the distortions, she's angry and needs to disqualify expert opinion.

2. Her claims that a 2014 (snooze) donation from Monsanto to my university to help defray the costs of a science communication program were not disclosed is not true. The VP of my university clarified that, and be because of the threats, hassles and fallout from her social media (and others) the university moved the funds to a campus food bank. None went to me and they were never used for science communication. https://www.forbes.com/sites/davidkroll/2015/09/10/what-the-new-york-times-missed-on-kevin-folta-and-monsantos-cultivation-of-academic-scientists/?sh=57fe4f32619a

3. I did not "allow my name to be used on columns posted on an industry website that were written by industry PR teams." When the website GMO Answers came out I was asked to answer questions. Awesome. That's what I should do as a public scientists. In a conference call with all independent, unpaid writers, I asked about the scope and depth expected for answers. In response, the folks running the website provided a sample answer to one of the 72 questions I answered on the site. The answer was quite good, it was accurate. So I edited it, changed things around, clarified other aspect of it, essentially using that one as a template. That was one article of the thousands of things I've written. It gave red meat to those that want to cancel my voice, and that was a huge mistake I should have never given them. And that answer is 100% accurate and supported by a scientific consensus to this day.

4. In thousands of pages of emails etc provided and information subpoenaed in legal discovery, there was no place that I 'defended" "questionable activities in defense of Monsanto". I'm a scientist that discusses the strengths and weaknesses of technology. I don't care about the companies.

5. I did write a (freely available) email to a friend of mine that works for Monsanto (it's hard to be a plant scientist and not have old friends that end up there) "I'm glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like." What was the context that Gillam omits to make this look nefarious? There was a blatantly false and deceptive television commercial going on in Oregon and Colorado around the 2013 (?) labelling ballot initiatives. Lies, total disinformation. My friend and someone else (and you can go back and read those emails online) were soliciting scientists to respond to the false information. They suggested an op-ed or a petition. I replied, "I'm glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like." Context matters, but do you see how Gillam pulls quotes from context to make it appear nefarious?

6. The line "I'm grateful for this opportunity and promise a solid return on investment" is absolutely 100% correct. I didn't make that statement to a "Monsanto executive". I made it in an email to Charla Lord who is on the communications team at Monsanto. She was the one that sent the donation to my university to expand the science communication program. I was really grateful for the donation because it would allow me to teach more, hold more workshops where I trained scientists, farmers, academics, etc on the nuances of science communication. It would have been a great return on investment. I always over deliver. It's how I roll.

7. And yes, I published it in GLP. I appreciate GLP a lot as a source of scientific information and always am glad for the space they give me.

8. And I'm paid 9 months a year by a public university, also from a software company to do my podcast and by various websites that pay me for freelance content. I have no funding from Bayer, Monsanto (dead now 4 years) or any ag or biotech company. If there are factual problems with that content I'm always glad to discuss.

In the days of disinformation it is good to illuminate how we as public scientists are maligned by folks like Gillam. Those of us that discuss the science of chemistry, genetics, climate, vaccines, abortion, etc are targeted by these folks She's been on me for a decade, and while she's paid to write books and articles to trash the science and scientists, my work appears in scholarly journals with peer review.

It's why I bothered to reply.

Monday, May 16, 2022

Your Evidence Means Nothing- Time to Disengage

 As usual, I was being berated by an anonymous "GMO-free" account on Twitter, and also as usual, responded with kindness and tact. 



Another nameless account joined in the Folta pile on, responding to my tweet about Vandana Shiva being invited to give a talk at the FAO.  He reminded me about the "terminator" seeds that never were actually commercialized.  



I offered a few words about my knowledge of the subject, but that was met with disdain. I sent a link to my CV so he could understand who I really was and what I really do. 



I guess I was not surprised to get such a response. I asked about why someone would listen to aggressive hate groups over a pubic scientist's actual record. 


It was the best response I could have imagined.  It was the line I needed to drop engagement, block, mute, etc.  When people do not accept evidence and instead trash others based on what they think, they don't deserve your time and attention.  Trolls.  Spend your time influencing others that are willing to learn, and at least consider evidence before making decisions. 




Thursday, March 31, 2022

Blackmailing Small Business

 Thanks to my friend Freida for bringing this to my attention.  I'm glad to discuss it here, so that others can understand that this is happening. It is extortion. 

According to Freida, Corner 17 Noodles and Bubble Tea is an exceptional small restaurant in St. Louis.  They offer authentic Asian cuisine, and are apparently the "real deal" according to Freida.

They were contacted by a social media personality that offered them the opportunity to be reviewed for a $100 food credit.  The owners politely declined. 


 

A polite response from the owner didn't sit well with "influencer" Antonio Malik


Self describing as an "influencer" suggests a certain level of confidence that you do in fact influence others.  It also comes with a certain sense of entitlement that people actually care about what you do or give a damn what you think.

In response to the owner's kind decline of the offer, Malik decided to write the review anyway. Apparently without actually visiting the establishment, or perhaps after actually visiting, he wrote a review that trashed the restaurant. 




Maybe he actually went there, but such an unprofessional treatment of the business appears to be retaliation for them declining his "influencer" services.

It is "retailiation"

Small business operates on thin margins, and restaurants are probably the thinnest. There is not $100 in a budget that spreads its quality and practice by word of mouth. 

Malik might consider a softer approach, because he certainly is an influencer-- a negative influencer. He's someone I'd never follow or associate with. 



Wednesday, February 9, 2022

Center for Media and Democracy Smears Scientists

 At a time when democracy is threatened by a number of sources and media is a potent remedy or problem, the Madison WI based Center for Media and Democracy could be especially relevant. Their cause seems reasonable, and as an independent academic scientist, consumer and American I applaud some of their efforts. 

Sadly, they have targeted me and other scientists for harassment.  They have posted pages that use omission, innuendo and inference to portray scientists they wish to defame in a false, negative light.

Their website about me does not mention what I actually do, awards won for teaching/research/outreach excellence, pursuit of opportunities of under-represented students, and my efforts to coach and promote faculty career progression. 

Look at the  manipulation- the omission, the twisting, the extrapolation. This is what Center for Media and Democracy does to target a scientist they don't want teaching inconvenient science. 

I have contacted CMD with kind requests to amend the information for several years. It is something I do now and then. No response from them. 

I only posted this again because CMD's web page is being used by anti-vaccine, anti-5G, anti-GMO trolls to attempt to remove me from important conversations. 

Take a look below. Here are CMD's wild fabrications and silly extrapolations that time has proven to be false.  Let's look at this point-by-point.  

Why would anyone trust them?  Why would anyone donate to support this? 

Click on image to enlarge. 













Monday, October 25, 2021

Hey Goofballs, Science is Not a Popularity Contest

Starting a few weeks ago the European Commission began a public feedback period on the regulation of gene edited crops.  Gene editing is a relatively non-invasive, rapid way to make precise genetic alternations of crops to improve specific traits. Changes made frequently emulate natural variations. 

The EU has had excessively harsh restrictions on transgenic technology, not approving any new genetically engineered crops in decades. Activists wish for the same hyper-rigorous repression of technology to be applied to new plant genetic improvement techniques. 

EU farmers and scientists almost universally feel that the technology could have some benefit, and should be part of the region's technologies. 

So when the European Commission opened a public comment period, it was spammed by an avalanche of identical and near-identical comments that were distributed by anti-biotech groups.  No thinking, just copying and pasting as they were told to.  


The European Commission asked for scientific, thoughtful comments and instead got slammed with spam. 

The part that anti-biotech groups and their lackeys forget is that science is not a popularity contest.  It doesn't matter how many people cut and paste your misguided rant into the form. It still only represents one opinion, zero data or citation, and in any "anti" movement you'll can always find a willing group of parrots willing to repeat exactly what you tell them. 

Cut/paste = LAZY.  The reviewers are not stupid. 

I watched this develop over the last few weeks, and while anti-biotech groups would not persuade anyone at the EC, they'd take a victory lap. After all, there were thousands of comments against the relaxed restrictions on gene editing. 

And true to form it happened. 



Leave it to the followers of Rudolph Steiner to get the science way wrong. During molecular biology class they were busy putting cow poop in a horn to harness cosmic energy.

It is amazing that the anti-biotech folks would claim victory after encouraging a campaign to spam a sincere effort to gather information about a new technology.  Luckily, the folks at the EC will hopefully be persuaded by this overt manipulation.

Those that have lost the argument raise their voices.  When you don't have the science on your side you have to spam the conversation in an attempt to minimize the actual science communicated.

If I was a regulator in the EC and had to weed through cut-and-paste nonsense to get to the nuggets of actual information, I would not be so happy with the anti-biotech folks.  My guess is that this will backfire. Ultimately decisions are made on actual evidence, and your opinion doesn't matter, even if pasted sixty thousand times. That's why the EC even asked for scientific comments. 

This is why I appreciate science and sports.  They are the last meritocracies, the last places where superior performance still ultimately wins.  That's why the EC opened the public comment period.  Change is happening. 

Don't take a victory lap just yet. 

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Seed Sovereignty? Not So Fast Farmers...

 For the last 25 years I've listened to the tired argument that Monsanto controls farmer seed choice.  Over and over again. Even since the hated seed company has ceased to exist, I still hear the same boring trope. 

This is the position of activist groups and their parrots, and others that never actually tried to tell a farmer what they would be allowed to grow on their space. 

Farmers choose what is best for their land, their schedule, their budget, input availability, and dozens of other factors.  Cotton, corn, soybean canola and sugarbeet growers oftentimes choose genetically engineered seeds containing the traits that serve their production system and support their bottom line. 

Farmers control farmer seed choice.

Unless you are a corn farmer in Mexico that wishes to use traited seeds. 


Anti-biotech activists feel that Mexican farmers should have the unrestricted freedom to choose any maize varieties they wish to plant -- from the list of  activist-approved varieties


Activist groups have decided that Mexican farmers should not have access to the elite corn technology, lines that contain engineered traits to aid in limiting weed pressure and cutting insecticide sprays. Despite farmer demand, activists have now pressured the government into not allowing these resources to be utilized. 

They claim that it is to protect native genetics near corn's center of diversification, but that's just not true. 

Farmers will be allowed to use hybrid corn without the GE traits. Those lines are just as likely to outcross with indigenous resources as any GE crop. If you want to preserve indigenous maize genetics, you need to have special programs to do that, and such programs are in place.

This is nothing more than activist groups using pressure to limit the acreage of genetically engineered crops. If that means forcing farmers to choose non-GE hybrids, increasing insecticide use, and returning to aggressive top-soil-sacrificing techniques to manage weeds, that's where they'll be. 

I don't ever want to hear any activists whine about companies limiting seed sovereignty. 

They are the ones restricting farmer choice to use proven, safe, and efficient genetics to suit the needs of their farms.

Thursday, September 30, 2021

REPOST: A civil conversation about the future of food

 The following article was printed April 7, 2015.  It was written by Iowa State student Kelsey Faivre after she attended talks by Vandana Shiva and me, Kevin Folta.  

Shiva was invited to Iowa State University by a student group. Fearing the usual barrage of bad information, another group on campus invited me to provide the scientific counterpoint.  My whole presentation from 3/25/15 can be seen here. 

Ms. Faivre captured the contrast between the two events well.  Reprinted here without permission from Feedstuffs where it was originally printed and no longer available.



A civil conversation about the future of food

By Kelsey Faivre

DR. Kevin Folta, professor and chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida, recently came to lecture at Iowa State University.

The subject of his lecture was transgenic crops (also known as genetically modified organisms GMOs) — what they are, what they can do and how to communicate about them. Folta, who uses transgenic crops for research in his lab, has firsthand knowledge.

The main points of Folta's lecture were that transgenic crops have been determined to present no more risk than conventionally bred crops, there is an important place for them in the future of agriculture and that the debate surrounding them is not a scientific one.

With a clear majority of scientists supporting the safety of transgenic crops, the debate surrounding these crops "is a social one fueled by fear and misinformation," he said. Folta used a fungus-resistant strawberry and a citrus tree resistant to citrus greening as examples of future applications of transgenic breeding.   

Folta's lecture followed one by activist Dr. Vandana Shiva, which happened two weeks prior (Feedstuffs, March 23). Though the topic of Shiva's lecture was similar — she and Folta both discussed the impacts of transgenic crops — the two lectures could not have been more different. Not only did their content differ, but their communication methods and motives clearly were dissimilar.

Folta presented the scientific consensus regarding the safety of transgenic crops, explaining that plant breeding is inherently risky, but transgenic breeding methods present no more risk than conventional breeding.

Shiva rejected this consensus, claiming that there are health risks associated with GMOs despite the fact that no cases of GMO-related illnesses ever have been reported. In fact, Shiva supported her anti-GMO agenda with research that Folta noted was either discredited — like the work of Gilles Seralini — or distorted by the media — as in a study regarding placental cells and glyphosate.

Folta said he wanted to connect with people who are concerned about the safety of their food and are at risk of being swayed by activists who benefit from others' fear and mistrust. It was refreshing to hear from someone who is a primary source of information and is clearly passionate about delivering the facts.

After being in both audiences, I felt that there was a more obvious discontent with Folta's message. One gentleman in the crowd interrupted Folta twice — the second time proclaiming, "I think about 90% of what you've said could be proven false."

Despite this angry, cynical challenge, Folta remained calm and responded with grace and kindness. Folta then used the challenge to illustrate his point that anti-GMO activists sometimes make more noise than scientists and farmers and use fear to cover up facts.

After his lecture, Folta stayed for more than an hour to answer questions on topics ranging from the ethical issues surrounding transgenic crops to the research he is doing in his lab. When difficult questions came up, he agreed to look into things further and follow up with individuals, and in one case, he invited someone to participate in a study with him.

Folta set a great example of how we, in agriculture, can engage non-science audiences in conversation. One of his ideas on scientific communication is that we have to, as he said, "stop beating people over the head with science"; the public wants to hear the facts without needing a Ph.D. to understand them.

He also appealed to the values of every person in the room, acknowledging that "at the end of the day, we are all on the same page and want the same things; we just bring different toolboxes to the table."

Having listened to both Shiva and Folta, the biggest difference I could detect in their messages was the tone behind the messages. I fear that my fellow students left Shiva's lecture feeling scared, mistrustful and conflicted. I hope those who listened to Folta left knowing more about the science behind the technology and feeling more reassured about the future of food.

No matter how you feel about transgenic crops, one thing is certain: Using fear, blame and mistrust is not the way to start or end this conversation.

Folta and an audience member discussed her genuine concerns about transgenic crops for almost a half-hour, and it remained a conversation rather than devolving into a verbal battle. At the end of her questions, Folta asked if there were any type of transgenic crop she would accept. After several minutes of deliberation, she admitted that using a transgenic orange tree to stop citrus greening would be a good application. That is what I call a success.

In my opinion, Folta did an excellent job of delivering facts over fear while maintaining a civil, open and conversational atmosphere. That is something to be commended.

I left Folta's lecture feeling something I haven't felt in a while: hope. We can open up a civil conversation about the future of food. By sharing our agricultural and scientific stories, we have the opportunity to cast light on the facts of modern food production.

*Kelsey Faivre is a sophomore in agricultural communications at Iowa State University. She was raised on a row crop operation in DeKalb, Ill., and raises cattle.

A Response to Carey Gillam