I’ve been extremely critical of Vani Hari, aka “The Food
Babe”. She freely demonstrates, without
humility, her complete disregard for science and evidence when vilifying food,
chemistry and farming. She has amassed a substantial group of venomous followers
that subscribe to her leadership.
As we attempt to illuminate products,
technology and method to feed a growing population, Hari’s shameful resistance
to reality needs to be met. We've done that, and I'm proud of the push back from Steven Novella, Kavin Senapathy, John Coupland, David Gorski, The Chow Babe and the Food Hunk. Well done.
But when scientists take the time to show her errors, she lashes
back with a string of lies and allegations that are truly curious. She’s stated in her recent writings that I’m
just a pawn doing the bidding of corporate ag, which of course, is supported by
It turns into two groups. One that manufactures the trash, and another that points a finger at manufactured trash. Do we ever change anything?
What if the charismatic Hari could be convinced to teach the science of food and farming?
Could she be a powerful ally?
Conflict and debate are time consuming and they don’t change
true believers. Can we shift Vani Hari herself?
Instead of working against her, can we look at what she does well, and
maybe help her come to science?
Let’s say some good things about her. She’s clearly gifted at communicating a
message that resonates. She has a huge
following that hangs on her every word. She does a good presentation live, and can connect with an audience.
What if Hari were to take a long look in the mirror and
decide that while scaring people into boycotts and book buying pays the bills, the
legacy associated with it is embarrassing.
Time will frown on Hari, and it already is happening. While adored by internet fans, scientists,
physicians, the food industry, farmers and science fans see her clearly as the empty information vessel she
I’d welcome her change.
I’d be glad to help her with that change. Can we as a scientific
community reach out to Vani and welcome her into our fold? She’s got a lot of learning to do, but we’re
Recently I’ve given a number of talks and interviews where I’ve
been described as the “guy that stood up to the Food Babe”. While standing up for science is important, I’d
rather be described as the guy that changed her mind because I took the time to teach the facts.
We know that we’re not going to change hearts and minds pounding people with
the science fist. We need to share our
ideas, revise her way of thinking, and educate her about science.
She’s wrong, but I don’t think she’s stupid. She bought into her own mistakes and was
picked up by the momentum. Can we
#reachouttovani and build trust, teach science, and motivate her to work with
us to shape the future of food?
I started to think about the little bottle of shampoo that I'd get in a hotel. I'd use a little goob of it, but then would think about where the rest of the bottle would go next. Certainly they don't have people spending time on refilling them....
My guess was that they went in the garbage, an assumption confirmed by discussions with housekeeping. So I decided that I was going to cut my soap-suds footprint by taking the little bottles home and using them there.
Now a new first-world problem.... I accrue close to one-hundred little bottles.
So I decided to marry them into a common container, a strategic shampoo reserve. Here the many fragrances and colors combine into a delightful mixture that feels weird, smells awful, and doesn't work well.
An addition of Citron Essence hotel shampoo to the strategic shampoo reserve.
I'm glad to report that as of 12/7/2014 the reserve stands at about 120 ml, and with a spring of dense travel will probably reach close to 500 ml soon.
I'm also thinking that conditioner, mouthwash and hand moisturizer might have occasionally found their way into the mix too.
So if you are on a plane or in an elevator and smell citrus, hemp, basil, passion fruit, almond oil, green tea, avocado extract, saddlewood, musk and saskatoon berry mixed together in a twisted produce cocktail that's more like daiquiri vomit than an attractive essence of nature, look for me. You might be smelling my head.
Food Democracy Now quotes Dr. Huber about sacrificing our future and children.
He claims now for almost a decade to have an organism in his hands that contributes to a suite of human disease, illness and death.
He will not release it to the scientific community.
How many must die before he will stop sacrificing our children and our health? Dr Huber, when will you release information on the deadly pathogen? What are you waiting for?
One year ago on November 12, 2013, Dr. Don Huber, Emeritus Professor at Purdue University stood in front of an audience here in Gainesville, FL and told them about his research. He claimed to have isolated an organism, a new "entity" that exudes from GMO soybeans. It infects cows and causes abortions and causes many diseases in humans.
The audience gasped with every picture of dead calves. They were in shock about his findings. Dr. Huber had unveiled proof that the GMO industry and Monsanto were killing us all.
So they thought.
The whole story is here. After his talk, where I sat silently. Marty Mesh, the moderator, pointed me out in the crowd and said, "I know you disagree with everything he said, but we only have time for a question or two."
I didn't have a question, but instead an offer. Huber claims to have cultured the organism to purity. He says it obeys Koch's postulates. Still, its identity is unknown.
I simply said, "Dr. Huber, I would be glad to help you by sequencing the DNA of your culture. I could tell you exactly what the organism is by the New Year (it was Nov 12)".
(all of this was recorded, without his knowledge)
I continued, "You get all the credit, we solve this problem, and we end GMO agriculture-- All data will be open access-- public data. Can I count on you to share the culture? "
He then spent 15 minutes telling us why the culture could not be DNA sequenced, and that the organism has no DNA.
This is quite a departure from his position on Genetic Roulette where he claims to have isolated DNA from the organism and it is being sequenced.
That's a screenshot from Genetic Roulette. New Organism.
When I ask to help sequence it, he claims no DNA!!!
My kind offer was turned away. No DNA. He then moved the goalpost to a "prion" or "biomatrix" in subsequent talks, both which could still be sequenced using proteomic and protein-sequencing methods.
His facade is crumbling.
Huber Tries to Get Me Fired
A few days later he objects to my request and sends a scathing letter full of lies to my boss, the Senior Vice President at the university I work at. You can read Huber's allegations against me here.
He made claims that were not true, that my recordings showed where not true, and were 100% legally actionable!
I chose not to go after him for libel and trying to get me fired with lies. I'm bigger than he is. It is better to let him twist in the wind of his own lies. If I sue him, I'm a bully. If time goes by and we just remind the world that he is letting people, plants and animals die for his own gratification, then that's even better.
Such a great reputation too. Everyone wonders what happened to him. Many of my colleagues had him as a teacher and now wonder why he's just gone goofy. Some have said, "He always was nuts".
What Does the CDC Say?
The Centers for Disease Control would certainly be aware of a novel infectious agent that was killing humans, cattle and plants. I submitted a question about it to the CDC website. I only got a generic auto reply.
I then submitted a paper letter via certified mail. I got this email response:
Well the CDC has no record of Huber's deadly agent either.
Somehow he knows more than the folks that know everything about infectious diseases.
So Huber is going around talking about this deadly infectious agent that is killing people, livestock and plants, and it is a threat to food security-- BUT he has kept it from the CDC? He claims, on recording, to have exported it to China and other countries.
When does this guy stop being an anti-GMO hero and start being held accountable as a terrorist, or even more, someone that is letting people and animals die, and endangering our food supply, because he has some ego issue? He obviously does not want us to know what his organism is!
Did he create it? Is he going to hold the world hostage with it? When will others start to get upset?
People scream for justice against Monsanto for no confirmed deaths. Huber claims an organism that is killing people and animals daily, and jeopardizes our food supply.... for the last ten years! When can we decide that he needs to seek additional scientific assistance to end this problem?
Or maybe, when will his supporters and the anti-GMO community decide to hold him accountable for his charade?
I'm not holding my breath. As long as he says something they find palatable, they won't ask for evidence. Sad that a credentialed academic went this direction.
My hope is that he'll come clean. It never is too late to grow, and his legacy as a decent scientist has been overstepped by him being a footnote in a joke book, claiming harm from a fictional being, and trying to punish the scientists that only ask for him to show evidence. Shame.
I was really excited to watch the Intelligence Squared debate. I've been looking forward to it for seemingly ages.
Bottom line-- it was as predicted. Fear, questions, and magical thinking against science, reason and evidence. And science won. Not only did science win, the fear-based empty fact-free claims from the other side are permanently stored online for everyone to enjoy forever.
I'm not going into too much post-event analysis, but I will take the time to point out some of the major things we all need to take note of.
Mellon has no clue. Here's someone that is so out of her league. Her antiquated talking points are no match for reality. She did a nice slam on conventional breeders, people that are working very hard to improve crops using cross breeding-- and she seems to believe they are not doing a very good job.
She also seems to think that Europe is this wonderful place that has ag all figured out. Of course, they import massive amounts of food from the USA, Brazil and Argentina because they are not self sustaining! Here's a nice article by Steve Savage on those not-European-food eaters.
And she keeps saying how the technology has not lived up to its promise. No kidding. If people like her were not standing in the way of every innovation, blocking every life-saving potential breakthrough, and tarnishing the reputation of every scientific technique-- maybe the technology would exceed expectations!
The card got a good beating! I think I did hear Benbrook say "antibiotic resistance" and we came close on Starlink!
Chuck Benbrook really started to unwind in his final statement. Defeated and called on his own errors, he spent the last 2 minute conclusion time on glyphosate. Not GM crops, not technology, but the herbicide. He made the claim that "its in our blood and in our hair", and I think we need to demand some evidence for that. Earlier we exchanged a pointy tweet about umbilical cords, or else he might have rolled that out too.
As usual, he combines pesticides as herbcides and insecticides. It is the only way to massage the statistics to get the conclusion he wants. Clearly these products cut insecticides, and yes, herbicide use is up, but glyphosate has much lower impact on health and environment. Shame.
Most importantly the results show what we know. Most people that are undecided will gravitate toward science when they are offered facts over fear.
I also hope they do this again, only next time it should be Alison and Robb against Jeffrey Smith and Stephanie Seneff.
I received an email yesterday from someone I had not spoken two in probably six months.
Back in April I gave a presentation to the postdocs at the University of Florida. It was advice about communicating their science, sharing their science, and thoughts on job interviews.
Such things are sorely needed. We produce way more Ph.D.s than the number of jobs to support them, so we end up with a large number of postdocs in circulation. These folks are professional scientists, as good as they get.
We just don't have enough jobs for all of them, so it is not unusual for a Ph.D. scientist to be making $35,000 a year, six years after the degree is over, with no hard promise of a job. Interviews are ultra competitive and skilled scientists often fail at that last critical moment-- impress the committee on paper and get the interview, but fall short in person and don't land the job.
After the seminar I was approached by a 5th year postdoc. We can call him Dr. S, since he has a very distinct name and I don't want to embarrass him. He said that he has a great record on paper, that he gets interviewed for every job he applies to, but never gets selected for the position.
Clearly, Dr. S has some academic firepower but was lacking tools and coaching on how to communicate his science.
We spent three sessions going through his job talk. The first one revealed why he was never chosen. He talked over my head, lost me in the first slide, and his entire presentation was good, but didn't connect. I didn't fall in love with his science and didn't imagine him as a good colleague.
Over two more sessions we adjusted the talk. We changed his approach to the talk, developed a sense of audience, helped him connect as a person, built a new philosophy toward the interview, and talked about how to answer questions.
I received this yesterday:
One of the many days lately where I need a science kleenex.
This is just a reminder that science needs to flow in order to work. How many talented scientists are trapped in jobs they don't want because they simply lack the courage and training to tell others about their passions and ideas in a human way? How many could land the job if they realized that a job seminar is not about beating scientists to death with data-- they want a clever colleague, a friend, a solution maker, someone to complement their department's expertise.
It is a classic case of forgetting why you are doing a job talk and who the audience is. They want you to succeed, they want a new colleague, they asked you to try out for that part! Rather than blinding them with brilliance and science-- simply share the work you care about.
Don't be the unreachable scientist on a stage. Be the clever friend down the hall.
It worked for Dr. S, and maybe it was just his time and had nothing to do with my help. However, I was grateful for the letter. It turns out to be probably the best three hours I invested in 2014.
A few weeks ago I wrote a note to Bill Nye about his incorrect opinions on transgenic technology. No response. Sort of.
I got an email and was told I could share the content, but not the name, and no screen shots or direct quotes. Apparently this is someone that knows about Bill Nye, his production group and his handlers. The feeling is that it is from someone close to him, or someone on his team. It could be completely false too. I'm about 50/50 on authenticity.
I would just post the whole thing. But, he said I could use only paraphrased information in a blog, and asked me to not use his name, so I won't. The note says that if I play by these rules maybe I'll get more info, and that as a science fan he's hoping for the debate. Weird.
The note said that Nye's associates seek to use him as a political wedge, and that Nye himself is right on board. It is apparently a transition of Nye from a media science communicator to a political figure to work against right-leaning causes like creationism and climate change denial. Those are his new political issues.
This note also told me that his group is a cluster of Hollywood advisors that have strong feelings about GMOs and actually have encouraged him to speak out for labeling and against the technology.
According to the short note, Nye does what his people tell him to do, and that is defusing climate and creationism. They want the GMO issue to go away fast. Apparently he will not make public comments on this going forward, even though a complete ban is what his handlers want.
So there you go. It may be complete crap, but let's see what the next communication looks like. No news from Nye's camp, so the thoughts in the email are consistent with what is unfolding.
Today while flying home from a scientific conference I could
not help but remember the Food Babe’s warnings about commercial aviation. Her recent post warns of recirculated filth
and high amounts of nitrogen, somewhere like 50%. Of course, that’s about 30% less than ambient
air. Her claims were widely, and
Today I took a good look at the inside of that cylinder in the sky and
noticed hazards that Vani didn’t catch. She failed to account for other airborne dangers
on the plane, problems that likely contribute to the deadly quality of cabin
air more than anything she may ever fear.
But before I start, we all know that commercial aviation is
plagued with funny odors. While we sit
in a chair in the sky the nose is treated to a parade of organic funk, wafting
through the cabin. Whether it is the
chronically unshowered and unsleeved, the woman that insists on taking off her
shoes and putting her feet all over everything, or the folks that secrete
gaseous effluvia, the plane's atmosphere is a sea of tasty gases.
To combat plane stink I get into my seat and build the “Odor
Free Cone”. I direct the air jet
directly on me at full blast, constructing an impenetrable current of air that
no random air biscuit can cross.
My air travel strategy- careful positioning of the overhead air nozzle provides an
invisible cone free of olfactory insults.
It occurred to me that I need to alert Vani to a threat she had not anticipated. Pretzel Gas.
From here I’m
going to really exercise Food Babe Logic here so bear with me.
Every bag of pretzels contains about eleven pretzels in a
slightly puffed, airtight package. There
is no reason for a company to actively inject some pretzel preservative gas
into the package, so it must be composed of gases emitted from the pretzels
themselves. A quick read of the package
say that they have been fortified with Folic Acid, so it could be a gas
The tiny pillow's puffiness should remind you that there is a colorless, odorless substance inside that bag-- and it has not been proven safe in long term studies.
When released into the cabin atmosphere, the salty air may be linked to many health problems.
Since the advent of commercial aviation pretzel service we have seen a rise in autism, Parkinson's and Alzheimer's Disease.
When the package is opened and the gas escapes, the air of
the cabin is skewed toward higher pretzel gas concentrations, concentrations that
have never been proven safe!
And lest we forget, if you actually eat the pretzels your insulin levels will rise, showing clear evidence of hormone disruption.
The vast airline-snack food conspiracy knows this. It is why you are not given pretzels while boarding (or pre-boarding) the plane. Everyone would sit and open them at the same time. Instead a flight attendant, moving at the
speed of a tree sloth, pushes her Cart of Death down the aisle, handing out
packets of doom to the unsuspecting passengers.
To make this worse, the carbonation in soda raises the CO2
levels in the cabin, and carbon dioxide is almost the same thing as carbon
monoxide, and we all know how dangerous that is.
The tiny bubbles in your soda raise cabin carbon dioxide levels potentially leading to exogenous semiotic entropy. If you are getting sleepy, it is because carbon dioxide in your beverages is displacing air in the cabin and causing a micro-greenhouse effect.
So when Vani flies she must be a wreck, and hopefully she’ll
read this and start to think of more things to complain about. Maybe she’ll get the Food Babe Army to boycott Big
The most frightening part is, I can almost be a better Food
Babe than the Food Babe.
Or I can save you 1:21 of your life you'll never get back.
First of all I can say that I totally predicted this. I predicted exactly what this would be, that it would start out with some neutral and credible (well, undeniable) science and then degenerate into a scientific abortion ending in a rallying cry for food labeling and a "right to know".
I'm like a damn psychic. It is pretty amazing. Not really. These things are incredibly predictable, and while I warned them, they suggested that 'teaching all sides' is a good move. Ugh.
Hey dude, science is whatever you think it is, your opinion is as good as evidence!
After all, science is about hearing all viewpoints.
The part that just makes me so mad is that a "Science Center" supported this. It is an appeal to fear, ignorance and the typical trash. Some of the quotes are priceless, and make me wonder what kind of half-cocked science you have to poop out on a test to be an RD in Florida.
Really? ""If some of the bigger chunks of protein are still left over chances are they could be an allergen."
Science Center, don't we turn off a microphone at this point?
Read Anna's comments... You guys are doing great work. Keep fueling misinformation!
From 29 min to 39 min of her 25 min allotted time she goes off on labeling. No evidence, no science, just her political, activist rant.
When she finally provides references, not one is peer reviewed, and GMO Myths and Truths is her major source, and activist rag that has been completely discredited by mainstream science.
Another major reference for evidence was, well, JURASSIC PARK! The movie. Yes, everything we know about science can be discounted by a campy horror flick.
Then if you watch the question and answer section you'll see an activist grab the microphone and spew on without moderation about Monsanto, Monsanto, Monsanto. Nobody stops her. She goes on about the well discounted claims about Indian suicides and other myths.
I'm blown away. Can we please remove "Science" from your name?
There is a fine line between a Science Center and Junk Science Center. You just crossed it.
If it seems like I'm being too harsh it is only because I see how these solutions have helped farmers and the environment, and see what we can do going forward. When a Science Center promotes an event where a non-scientist is allowed to make false statements and force a political agenda (as predicted), it destroys their credibility. We need Science Centers. Unfortunately this one has a lax idea about what science actually is.
Today was interesting in that the angry emails and a few phone calls have come in to me and the hire-ups where I work. Seems some folks are not happy that I've recommended, as a scientist, that a Science Center might best serve its reputation and credibility by endorsing events that have a basis in science-based evidence.
They still are moving forward with the Science on Tap event, where a local dietitian with apparent intentions will grace the audience with her interpretations of transgenic crop science.
To review, last week I
was alerted by a South Florida farmer that the South Florida Science Center and
Aquarium (SFSC) was hosting a “Science
on Tap” talk, held at a local bar. The
topic was entitled, “GMO’s (sic) Exposed” and was to be delivered by Michelle Parenti Lewis, a local dietitian. I wondered what she might be exposing.
The original story was posted on my blog, Illumination. After I was notified of this event, a little
google search revealed that the event was being billed to show “potentially harmful effects”, and likely would be an
anti-GMO fear fest. Which is fine. Anyone that wants to make crazy claims is
welcome to do so, and do it with a bullhorn and on a high mountaintop.
problem here is that what appears to be a veiled political endorsement of food
labeling is being billed as a scientific event. Worse, it is being endorsed by SFSC. Hitching their wagon to a presentation not
backed by science is a dangerous place for a scientific venue to go. My blog detailed the problem with a science
center sponsoring a political event masquerading as a scientific talk.
hours social media carried the story and several folks from the SFSC reached
out. They noted how important it was to
“hear all sides”, in essence, let someone provide a non-scientific viewpoint
because it is important to the debate (that those of us in science know does
not exist). You know, “Teach the
Controversy”. Creationists must be salivating.
recommended it be cancelled until they were sure it was a scientific
event. After a few polite exchanges and
some good dialog they did not cancel the event, but agreed to change the
name. Yes, the SFSC will still allow
what likely will be a biased talk that uses fear and uncertainty to promote an
agenda to label foods. That’s just my
guess from her previous talks and posts.
science center did reach out and asked me to join, but I’m busy with a visiting
speaker in Gainesville and “Science on Tap is four hours away.
others have been identified to step in.
Chris Miller, an outstanding extension agent from Palm Beach County will
be in attendance. Chris has seen my
recent presentations and he knows farming.
While molecular biology and transgenic crops are not his specialty, he’ll
keep it real. A number of faculty from
the Biotechnology Program at Palm Beach State University will be in attendance
also, and they have been excellent communicators of the technology.
presentation will be posted online, and I’m going to make a prediction
here. Her talk will mirror those from
Michael Hanson of the Consumer’s Union.
She’ll talk about the technology with some accuracy and then key on the
vague language that can be twisted to satisfy agenda.
"Monsanto owns all the scientists and regulates all the research"-- which is complete garbage, but the refuge of those that like to make statements without seeking evidence.
consultation” - Opponents of biotech key off of this
statement, suggesting that approval is a rubber stamp, not noting that this is
a lengthy and expensive process.
from Ignorance, like “we just don’t know…” = We see these every time. Of
course, they don’t acknowledge safe use for almost 20 years and no evidence of
have been no long-term tests on humans.” – Not noting that we don’t do any
tests on humans unless there is substantial reason suggesting potential for
you want to know what your children are eating?” – The appeal to the Middle
Moms that are manipulated with fear and uncertainty.
foods have not been proven safe” -- Of
course, nothing in the history of the world has been proven safe. We can only demonstrate evidence of harm.
whole thing will conclude with a call for labels and this will somehow be
interaction with SFSC has been pleasant and I’m grateful that they’ve attempted
some corrective action. Maybe Ms.
Parenti-Lewis will nail the science and give an evidence-based presentation on
transgenic plant technology, why farmers use it, and a complete coverage of
benefits and limitations. That would be
the other hand, if she uses the credibility of SFSC to make sweeping
generalizations to build fear of sound science, it will be a major fail for
SFSC. My prediction- they've been duped,
and are now attached to an Earth and Water Watch surrogate using this
opportunity to misrepresent agriculture, twist science, and trivialize a
rigorous approval process. She’ll
promote a position of denigrating transgenic science and push for food labeling
that is not supported by science and reason.
Yesterday's letter on Keith Kloor's Collide-a-Scape Blog was intended to illuminate inconsistency in Bill Nye's application of science. While many critics hammered at his credentials and trashed him as a kid's entertainer, I defended him. I respect Bill Nye and his ability to connect science to people. It is something I wish I did better and something I am learning by watching experts like Nye.
This is why I challenged him. I need him to survive. I need the Bill Nye brand to be successful. We need him to be the friendly and approachable stuff in the interface between the public and the science.
My letter to Nye was out of respect -- to help sharpen
his impacts and protect his brand.
Right now there are many not happy with Nye, and they come from positions in climate denial and creationism. They need Bill Nye to fail. They seek to erode his credibility.
What better way to harm his reputation as an objective science steward than to show that he has taken a position that is not backed by data or the scientific consensus? What better way to harm his brand than to show that it is not consistent with the world's leading scientific organizations?
Nye's Next Steps
In a perfect world Bill Nye might seek some experts out in LA to sit down and help him understand why his comments were incorrect, and maybe how they have damaging effects. Maybe he'll come out and clarify his remarks and change his position, or else succumb to exogenous semiotic entropy.
That would be the best move. He could show the world that scientists are humans that make mistakes, stand up when challenged, and accept evidence to adjust their views.
This post is here because earlier today someone asked me to think of a reason to build a scholarship. I thought of Jessie.
Jessica Justice was a dishwasher that became a scientist. This is what I wrote about her, and it was published on April 7, 2010 on Skepchick. Make sure you read the next post tomorrow. If this moves you at all, tomorrow will bring tears.
The topic is important today as it was then, and your note is still priceless Jessie.
Science Needs Women
Kevin M. Folta
In three weeks I will put on the cap-and-gown professor outfit I bought on Ebay and witness something that probably never should have happened: the graduation of a self-described dumb blonde. Jessie came to my laboratory looking to make some extra cash as a dishwasher. Little did she know that she would be remolded, repackaged and refocused by a cadre of women that identified a change that needed to happen, then took the initiative to make it so.
In my laboratory the ratio of X to Y chromosomes is traditionally skewed to about twelve to one. The reason is not clear, but the majority of the technicians, postdocs, grad students and undergraduates in my program are female, and it has always been that way. One residue of the phenomenon has been that I get to observe the powerful influence that strong women have in shaping the career, and sometimes personal, choices of young women entering science.
It happens every semester, but Jessie was the most stunning example. She would take on simple tasks like dishwashing and lab maintenance with a certain care and precision not seen in most twenty year olds. But when I asked her if she’d like to take on a laboratory project all she would say is, “I probably can’t do it, I’m not smart enough.”
That sentiment was echoed every time she was assigned a task. She had self esteem that was so low it defied accurate analogy. Yet every time I would show her a technique, computer program or protocol she would execute it flawlessly after a flurry of “I probably can’t do it” and “I’m not smart enough.” I don’t know why she was so eternally self-deprecating, but it was sad to see her downplay, if not completely discount, her inherent talents and abilities.
The women in my lab took special notice of this situation. At the time there was a technician and three graduate students, all balanced, opinionated and strong. Most of all they were complete, with good relationships overlaid with conspicuous hint of glamour. They were maybe four years older than Jess, making their influence especially strong. They dug one layer deeper into Jessie than I would want to; discovering her dysfunctional relationships with males, her horrendous daily decisions and the penetrance of her miserable self perception that negatively impacted many facets of her life.
Leading by example, they showed her that women could drive science and lead a high-powered research team. They cultured her talents, supported her good decisions and taught her flawless execution of advanced scientific tests. Their influence would escape the walls of the lab, as they’d reprimand her when she’d talk about the dopes she’d date and the poor decisions she’d make at home. Soon, the growth was visible and rapid. The self-described ugly duckling was changing.
After a year in my lab with Dawn, Stef, Denise and Thelma, Jessie left to pursue advanced training within her major. She wrote up her work, turning in a graduate-level synopsis of the literature and her results. She had a visible sense of confidence, a new maturity and poise that contrasted so starkly against that of the “dumb blonde” that started in my lab only a year before.
Last week, years after she left my lab, I received a tiny card in my university mailbox buried amongst the junk mail. Inside was an invitation to a graduation. From Jessie. Adjacent to the time, date and event details was a handwritten note. “Thank you for teaching me how to think critically.”
One of the most important messages I ever received.
Sure, maybe I had a hand in it, but the best thing I did was mentor four stellar women scientists that took the initiative to guide her.
The rare success of a grant funded, a scholarly paper accepted, or putting the hood on a new Ph.D. are all wonderful, memorable moments in the life of an academic scientist. However, this victory was especially sweet. I folded that card inside-out, permanently wedged it into the frame of my office bulletin board, and then sent congratulatory emails to the four women that changed Jess’s thinking, influenced her decisions, and maybe even saved her life.
**** This post was first online in April of 2010. In January 2012 we would suffer a tremendous loss. The next post details that tragedy ***
I was blown away to see that the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium was sponsoring "Science on Tap" an event at a local bar that featured a speaker on a scientific topic. However, the speaker for November 13th was a local dietitian with clear activist leanings, planning what appeared to be a baseless criticism of transgenic crop technology in her talk "GMO's (sic) Exposed". My analysis of the speaker and the situation here. A few emails and notes on social media brought a first wave of responses that suggested bringing in "all views" was the job of science and that her talk was appropriate. My head almost exploded. Since when is a "science center" promoting "teach the controversy"?
Science Center endorses a local dietitian to speak on the dangers of GMO foods.
Zero illnesses or deaths in 18 years. 88,000 deaths a year from alcohol.
Finally tonight I received word from their CEO that they'd be "pushing back the start date of the event until we have secured an appropriate speaker who can represent the other side of the issue." The other side (head hits desk). They still don't get it, but we're moving in the right direction. Creationists everywhere got excited that the science center is now accepting talks for scientifically defunct ideas in an effort to hear all sides.
From their website, a changed title, no notice that the event has been postponed.
I advised to simply uncouple the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium from the event. That's the best move. They'd never bring in a psychic, a UFO expert, or a moon-landing hoaxer, or a Holocaust Denier, and then bring in a real expert to show "both sides". It falls directly into the creationist scheme of teach the controversy, when science clearly shows there's no controversy to teach. We'll see what happens next. It is hard to believe that a Science Center needs to be reminded about how science works. It is not about presenting opinions of anyone that has one. It is about hypothesis-driven data, good experiments, solid statistics and hard data. It is not what a dietitian thinks and how she'll advance an activist agenda. That's the stuff for the Whole Foods Community Room. Go there and spew nonsense. However, the endorsement of a Science Center must only be used to endorse science backed by the scholarly literature and the scientific consensus. As it is said, you are entitled to your own opinion, but you are not entitled to your own facts. Period.
If you are planning to visit the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, you might not see Jesus riding a T. rex, or a model of the earth with expanding glaciers. These are the things that crackpot pseudo-science museums might promote. Nothing like that could happen here... or could it?
An event next week was brought to my attention. The South Florida Science Center and Aquarium is sponsoring Science on Tap- GMOs Exposed!
November 13th you can go hear about how GMOs are 'exposed', whatever that means... Maybe we should dig a little deeper...
The presenter is Michelle Parenti Lewis, a local RD. So what can an apparently trained RD "expose"?
A quick google search shows that the South Florida Science Center and Aquarium has been duped. They have scheduled what will likely not be a scientific talk, but an activist parasite posing as science. This is the most disgusting of all scams. And they fell for it.
A little poking around shows that Ms. Lewis is an anti-GMO advocate. In a local promotion for the same event on SouthFlorida.com they show the event's true colors:
Blinded by Science? But the $3 Irish Car Bombs will "kill any GMO in a radius of 17 feet from the food on your plate." Science is awesome? Sounds like something a Science Center might endorse?
The promotion claims that Lewis will describe "their potentially harmful effects", which is code for "these have no documented health effects over 17 years, but that's not scary so we'll talk about potential effects". This sure looks like an activist rant posing as a scientific presentation.
*** and alcohol kills 88,000 in the USA every year. That's exactly 88,000 more than GMOs in 17 years ***
There still is no hard evidence that this is a credulous activist talk posing as science. It could be a typo, or the work of some intern that has been since fired for besmirching science. Or not.
It does not take too long to see that Ms. Lewis is steeped in naturalistic fallacy, and uses that platform to raise activist issues. The website dietbalance.net cites the November 13th event and provides a brief dossier. It seems reasonable at first, but then gets to "She is an advocate for locally sourced organic food production and the labeling of genetically engineered foods and cloned foods".
Cloned foods? I guess those organic bananas, strawberries, citrus, and dozens of other crops are off the table.
A little more digging and it's clear that she's in cahoots with Food and Water Watch, an activist hive that spends a lot of time trashing sound transgenic technology. She has spoken at several events in support of food labeling. Read this and weep, science lovers:
Wow, same old junk.
And if you poke around more you can find even more evidence that the proposed speaker adheres to the naturalist fallacy, and therefore has to deny, and fight, the science of biotechnology.
So congratulations South Florida Science Center and Aquarium, you've been bamboozled by activists posing as scientists. You've been tricked by someone with a lot of letters after her name that chooses to ignore the scientific literature, and that should be frightening.
I would strongly recommend canceling the event, or at least taking away your endorsement and leave that to the crystal rubbers and ear candlers. This is not science and you are being used.
Of course, if you like this kind of thing I can get a Jesus on a T. rex stature for your foyer...
Hearts fluttered and hearts sank. Election returns brought some to ballrooms and others to bathrooms. Others remained too close to call.
It appears that the ballot initiatives mandating labels on foods containing ingredients derived from transgenic crops did not pass. But it is no victory.
Many will disagree. Grocery manufacturers, seed companies and farmers will claim victory because voters will not mandate what seed they use, or force unneeded hassles of separating products depending on if they contain a single gene or not.
However, the anti-farmer, anti-scientific voters that use a ballot box to vote on if science is true will return to the drawing board for two more years. That's a temporary victory to those that spent (wasted) millions to push them back. It should never have gotten that far.
Once again a comma defines the sentiment.
Worse in watching the persuasive ads for YES and NO, both camps manipulated fear and emotion to influence voters. There was no education, no reason. Voting decisions were driven by an appeal to the lesser of two non-existent evils.
No matter how these results fall, it is not a victory for science and reason. It reminds us that those of us that work in education have a long way to go.
It also deteriorates my faith in the wisdom of our nation's citizens. When they fall for the lies of activists over the evidence of science, it says we don't deserve a democracy. These votes should have been 100% NO, 0% YES, if we were listening to science.
The fact that it is 50-50 is tremendously disheartening.
How can we trust our fellow citizens to make good choices on complex issues like healthcare, taxes, foreign policy and other intricate issues when we half of people think their food is poison and that farmers are killing them-- and there's not a shred of science to support that claim?
And I'm not letting the other 50% off of the hook, as a large portion of that group voted based on a commercial that scared them about what would happen if "YES" passed.
Can we please have a national science-based dialog? Can politicians have the backbone to bring science and scientists into this conversation in a big bold way? Can we make some hard federal law that just puts this nonsense to bed?
The amount spent on defeating these measures would pay for a lot of research. It is a shame it is spent on television ads to scare someone into voting a certain way. This needs to change, and change now.
I just get sick when I hear proponents of Oregon 92 and Colorado 105 claim that they demand food labeling because they deserve a right to know.
In reality, there is no need for a right to know, at least as imparted by a clunky, expensive, and scientifically invalid law or amendment. The right to know begins with a desire to learn. A right to know begins with a willingness to listen to, and understand science.
As it stands, proponents of the ballot initiatives hope the right to know is a punitive tool. It does not teach, it does not inform. It simply provides a means to distinguish food produced from certain farmers that chose specific seeds. It will be a way for them to conjure fear around perfectly safe foods, based on no real information. That's some powerful right to know. What good is a right to know, if you know nothing, or worse, know false information?
What good is a right to know if you use it to harm farmers, consumers and the environment, let alone the needy that could benefit from advances in biotechnology?
Is it was really about a right to know?
It if was, one could simply pick up a book and learn.
The problem with demanding a right to know is that there is no "know". There's no knowledge. There's no education. It is plunging into idocracy where loud mobs of the uninformed shun independent, reproducible science, clinging tightly to the flimsy claims of one-off reports and activist fear tactics. But the TV doctor and the guy selling the book say these foods are dangerous. Why are they dangerous? Doesn't matter. It fits the construct they want to believe, so that's good enough.
Nobody really wants to know. They want to hear what reinforces their beliefs.
So it is not about a right to know. It is about a right to not know, to retain ignorance, to continue in darkness of fear and distrust. It is about a desire to shield from science, a hard choice to shun facts and trust beliefs of charlatans that profit from manufactured fear.
The beauty of the internet is that these reports should be rather durable and history will write itself around these events. My hope is that we'll use these corny social demands for non-scientific changes as benchmarks of our primitive ineptitude. We'll remember that we had many among us that voted if science was true or not. We can see who is behind the stigmatization of good science as evil, and maybe quantify the body count and suffering they caused by fighting science.
It is not about a right to know. It is about a want tonot know. It is about sticking fingers in the ears and shutting out science. The well fed and the affluent want a right to know, which is ironic, because they think they know everything already.
One big difference between scientists and activists is that the latter have no problem using manipulating language to scare the public. The former uses information to help the public make sound decisions.
Here's a stellar example from GMO Awareness.com. It features fossil biotechnologist Dr. Theirry Vrain, a guy that used to work on the genetics of nematodes and used some molecular biology tools in the process. Since his retirement, he's enjoyed the stage as one of the handful of sort-of-scientist darlings of the anti-scientific, anti-GM movement.
It bothers me when guys like Vrain and Huber use their former credentials to perpetuate bad science today. Maybe I'm a little pointy because I was asked to analyze his YouTube video and it cost me an hour of my life I'll never get back.
However, it did help me understand who he is and why the anti-GMs love him so.
The sure love Thierry. He tells them what they want to hear, and aside from a good 1980's understanding of molecular biology, almost all of it is wrong, and packaged to be cleverly deceptive.
At least he starts out by saying "I refute" rather than making statements that claim to represent broader science. Of course, the data show that yields are often better (despite no genes added to increase yield) require fewer insecticides and safer herbicides, which are of positive impact for the environment.
No evidence has ever shown them to be unsafe to eat.
The last line is the winner-- Yes, they have been shown to contain allergens, the same allergens as in non-transgenic corn and soy! Plants make allergens! In this little blurb it is cleverly stated to induce the freak-out factor, to manipulate the malleable mommy middle that will make decisions on fear over logic.
So why does the anti-GMO movement love Vrain? Simple. He has some technical knowledge of the techniques, that's quite clear. He's the closest thing they have to a scientist with a clue, and he tells them exactly what they want to hear.
So where did he go goofy? According to web-based sources, about 10 years ago he retired and "reinvented" himself. He now lives with his herbalist partner, and they teach workshops on organic farming. So there you go. Cultural Cognition 101. If you are into curing your problems with herbs and organic farming, then you have to hate transgenic technology.
Here's an excerpt from a radio interview that 'splains it-
An online bio gives some sense of where this nonsense all comes from.
The good news is that the dollars of the credulous will finance his appearances well into the next decade, as they line up to hear him slam good technology. The bad news is that carefully crafted deception as seen above, will continue to plague scientific decision making, clouding the atmosphere on this important issue.
It was 6:30 pm in the lab and I was just thinking about the last things I'd need to get done before I could go home. Typical night. Usually I'm riding home about 7 pm, but an email popped up asking me if I was going to go watch the Food Babe. A click on a link would take me to the note on a UF Dean for Students Good Food Revolution Events website. Vani Hari would be spreading her corrupt message of bogus science and abject food terrorism here at the University of Florida. Oh joy.
There's something that dies inside when you are a faculty member that works hard to teach about food, farming and science, and your own university brings in a crackpot to unravel all of the information you have brought to students.
She might have started from honest roots. Her story says she was duped by an organic yogurt stand (join the club) into buying taro toppings that were filled with artificial, non-organic colors. She realized that she could use social media to coalesce affluent consumers in a formation to cyber-slander change from businesses. Shove this dookie through a conduit of the science illiterate and...
An entrepreneur was born!
She found that a popular social media site was more powerful than science itself, more powerful than reason, more powerful than actually knowing what you're talking about. Her discussion was a narcissistic, self-appointed attack on food science and human nutrition. There is a vein in my head that pulses when I hear someone deliberately misrepresent science for personal celebrity, and it was pounding.
She went on about her exploits against Chik-fil-A, forcing them to change their formulation. She spoke about how she and her army of online vandals slammed Subway into removing a safe and useful food chemical from their bread. She spoke of her "5 million person army" with a sly and knowing smile. Vani likes Vani.
Who do you trust for real scientific information?
This is why scientists go nutso.
Fallacy and deception.
She went on about labeling GMO, making the argument ad populum that '64 countries label them so why don't we get the same rights?"
She explained transgenic crops (of course not using that language) as dangerous, and untested. There were claims about how the crops were linked to cancer and autism. She also claimed that "GMO crops cause an increase in pesticides" which is completely false-- and she knows it. Her words were cleverly chosen, carefully stated, so if someone holds her accountable she can weasel out.
Hari then went on to talk about her successes in strong-arming Chick-fil-A, Budweiser and Subway into reformulating their foods and beverages. She's proud that she was invited to corporate headquarters to force change, proud that a know-nothing with a following can affect change simply by propagating false information via the internet.
That's not healthy activism or change based on science. That's coercion, fear mongering and (yes) terrorism to achieve short-sighted political non-victories in the name of profit and self-promotion, ironically the same thing she accuses the companies of.
Luckily, Starbucks didn't fold. They refused her assault on Pumpkin Spiced Lattes and the demand for organic milk. Unfortunately it was not corporate cojones it was likely simple economics. There's no way that they could source that much organic milk. Otherwise, Hari would have blackmailed them too.
The UF Audience Reaction
There was a silver lining on that cloud. I was really proud to see that the student audience was not buying it. Throughout her presentation that was about Hari in the spotlight and "me-me-me", students got up and left. She left gaping pregnant pauses where previous performances got applause-- only to hear nothing. Not even crickets. This audience was not buying it, at least as a whole it was not excited by it. Maybe they just wanted a Chick-fil-A and Starbucks.
No Question and Answer Session
While microphones stood ready in the audience to answer questions, there was no public Q&A period where a scientist that knows the research could publicly challenge her false assertions. The audience filed out of the building, and apparently she may have stuck around to meet with individuals. However, I wanted her answers in a way students could hear, helping them to critically assess the arguments of scholars vs. self-appointed celebrities. Questions like:
Why am I blocked for posting hard science facts to your websites?
How do you feel about transgenic solutions to citrus greening?
What is your evidence for higher pesticide rates?
... and a dozen others.
It was disappointing. If this is a charismatic leader of a new food movement it is quite a disaster. She's uninformed, uneducated, trite and illogical. She's afraid of science and intellectual engagement. She's Oz candy at best.
I guess I'm just angry because I didn't get to lock science horns with The Food Babe. I would have liked to have asked a few questions that she could never answer. Moreover, the funds my university spent to bring her here would have bought a lot of seeds for school gardens county wide, field trips to real farms, and the opportunity to visit functioning labs and ask questions of actual scientists.
But who needs actual scientists in lab coats with lifetime dedication to science, when you can have a fly-by-night activist profiting from ignorance? After all, she is a (self described) babe...
I have to put a lid on this post. I have an undergrad spending her first morning in the lab tomorrow and I need to meet her at 7 AM. If I teach her well, maybe she'll get to stand up and hold the Food Babe accountable for her junk science someday. That would make me remarkably happy.
Dr. Don M. Huber was hit by a car on October 8, which prompted Robyn O'Brien to write a glowing assessment of his mission and claims in her Healthy Bites page at Prevention. The title is Dr. Huber's Brave Crusade Against Biotech. I thought it would be appropriate to share a scientist's perspective, and show his angry crusade against science, reason and a certain public scientist that made him accountable for his claims.
Of course, I do wish Dr. Huber well and hope for a speedy and complete recovery. The burdens of injury in the elderly can be a challenge to the injured as well as to the family, so I hope he is well soon and without long-term consequences. This is a difference of ideas. Relative to science, it is critical that we find the truth about his mysterious pathogen. If it is true, the first Edible Arrangement on his porch will be from me, and I will happily assist in further study in any way possible, as I have offered already. If it is not true, and he has been using this ruse to frighten concerned audiences for a decade-- then I want him to admit that. Whatever the outcome, science inevitably will shine its light on the truth, and I'm thrilled with either outcome.
O'Brien's report is consistent with my understanding of Dr. Huber through 1990 or so. He is a father and grandfather many times over. He maintained the title "Colonel" for 40-some years. He was a recognized plant pathologist and an expert in his area with international reputation. I know many people that were his students, co-authors and colleagues. They think he's lost his marbles now, and are sad to see it happen.
The Prevention article only exists because Huber makes claims, without data or evidence, that confirm O'Brien's non-scientific synthesis. Plant pathologists, like any plant biologists, are unknowns to the public, and only those (well, the one) that throw their support behind the anti-GMO movement are welcomed into their big goofy tent of misinformation.
Her article on Prevention's website is a technical train wreck. She/Huber don't have a clue how glyphosate works (that it inhibits the activity of the enzyme 5-enolpyruvylshikimate-3-phosphate synthase (EPSPS) and is well understood). It is not functioning by chelating divalent cations like manganese, magnesium, etc as she/he claim, at least in no major way. The math just does not work, I could easily explain it all here, but that's science, and silly to use to counter non-scientific claims. Basically, the scientific rigor of her piece leaves lots to be desired.
Nonetheless, a picture of Huber is painted as a tireless retired academic treading against a current of angry paid-off critics and paid dupes of the agrochemical industry, and she does so with her usual effective writing and careful words that manufacture perception of risk where little, if any, exists.
Where it Starts: November 12, 2013
Dr. Huber was invited to give a talk in Gainesville, FL where I live, and I could not wait to go. I went with another professor who specializes in organic and sustainable crop production. We're friends and lots of her local clientele would be there. Huber gave his talk. I recorded it on a pocket digital recorder and it was video recorded by the organization hosting him. I took 22 pages of notes, feverishly. Science was deceptively shown and carefully contexted to scare the bejeebus out of those in attendance.
And it worked. The audience emitted audible gasps when he showed grotesque images of aborted calves. The audience winched when he showed Seralini's lumpy rats. He gave a compelling and credible presentation from a platform of a Ph.D. scientist-- and it made me furious because science was being used to satisfy an agenda, not to teach or inform. My blood boiled.
The whole story is here. Briefly, when the presentation ended the organizer from Florida Organic Growers and Consumers recognized me in the audience and made a comment about how I'd disagree with everything Huber said, but could ask a question.
I didn't ask a question. I offered my assistance. Huber claims to have cultured this mystery thingy (he used to call it a micro-fungus, then it was a new pathogen, now it is a prion or "biomatrix") so I asked politely if he'd be willing to share it with the broad scientific community. My lab sequences DNA all the time, and we could sequence and assemble the fundamental genetic code from his mystery pathogen in a few weeks. I offered to pay for it personally, make all data public, and do everything in an open access format- where he would receive all the credit (as revealed on the recordings- below he'll insinuate that I demanded his organism so I could in essence steal credit from out from under him).
For the next 9 minutes and 7 seconds rambled about how the self-replicating organism has no DNA (contrary to what he says in Genetic Roulette's updated version where he says, "The DNA is being sequenced" @~32 min), that his Chinese collaborators are doing it, and then telling me "why don't you just culture it yourself?" I also asked him about specialized containment for safety and he said that there was none.
Bottom line-- Busted. After this point, in all of his subsequent presentations, his organism would have no DNA.
About 31 minutes into the updated version of "Genetic Roulette" Huber and Jeffrey Smith discuss the "New Organism" that exhibits "filamentous growth in pure culture". Shortly after this time he even says that DNA has been isolated and is being analyzed, yet when asked to help sequence it-- it has no DNA!
Huber Tries to Inspire Administrative Action Against Me
Being publicly called out in front of his credulous supporters didn't sit well with Dr. Huber. A five-page letter showed up in the office of those that I report to, and ends up with our Senior Vice President. I was called to his office.
Page 1 of 5. Pages of false information that can be verified as false against the recordings. Unfortunately nobody knows where the video disappeared to. Still, audio was sufficient to verify my position and demonstrate Huber's malicious intent to harm a public scientist.
The first line reads:
This is his opening salvo. The only ethics being breached here are a letter fully of legally-actionable lies that were intended to harm my career. If questioning extreme scientific claims and offering assistance is an "ethics concern and unprofessional conduct" then Huber knows less about science than I give him credit for.
In the letter Huber meshes some factual statements and flat out lies. He starts out correctly pointing out that I contacted Florida A&M University where he was giving a talk the previous day. I provided my input on his controversial claims. This is a copy of the email that I sent to FAMU Small Farms coordinator Yolanda Thomas, who apparently forwarded it to Huber. Fine with me, glad to see what side of the science she's on too.
This is my email to the FAMU person hosting his visit, appearing here as it appeared
in Huber's letter as 'Exhibit 1'
Threats and Malice? No, That's What We Call "Science"
My note to FAMU, followed by my offer to help him sequence his new self-replicating cultured organism that has no genetic information and is killing plants, cattle and humans didn't sit well with Huber. Personally, I think I was always rather soft, and that is verified by the recordings. However, he communicates to my superiors that my words were intimidation and threats.
I can read that email a thousand times along with my blog. Not sure how it could be considered threatening. But the victim must continue to paint himself as the victim, or Robyn maybe doesn't want to write, the speaking invites end, and he looks like some kind of nutty old dude making up stories of GMO unicorns.
Of course, after his talk I was the one that sought him out and shook his limp little paw as he was hustled out of the room telling me, "Go isolate it yourself" over and over again. No malice intended, never-- but I am calling for honesty and proper use of science, which a promulgator of scary science fiction might find a threat to their claims.
His letter then reports to my bosses a note from this blog. My lab had a submitted article that was declined for the fourth time, and I noted that in my blog on a rather rejection-heavy Sunday. He informed my superiors that I was "journal shopping" and impugned my scholarly credibility. Of course, he failed to mention that the paper was an edgy concept incorporating diverse areas of analytical chemistry, genomics and plant breeding that did not fit well in any one journal. Rejection was not the experiments or conclusions-- it was not a good fit for the best journals of our discipline. We sent it to Current Biology, PLoS Biology, and other solid journals before it found a home in a very good journal, BMC Genomics. The paper has been widely noted as fresh and innovative (E. Triplett, pers.comm.).
The Fun Just Keeps On Coming
Discussed in the next paragraph.
I don't know what his misunderstanding of photo or blog time stamps is.
In computers, Dr. Huber, we can ask them to post things at later dates.
If my kind offer was construed as a demand, then he really is off his rocker. He goes from talk to talk, claiming this dangerous and deadly pathogen and the critical need to stop use of GM crops and glyphosate. I simply asked him if I could help solve the problem. When you tell the emperor that he has no lab coat, the emperor's memory gets a little foggy. Luckily we have audio and plenty of witnesses (who were moved by his performance, but later were blown away when I showed them the Huber letter-- they saw what a malicious smear he intended).
I never "demanded" anything. I never said "prove it as a fraud" or anything of the sort, never would. That's not scientific. If his mystery organism is real, then I hope to contribute to a solution and illuminating the critical problem so that we can stop the use of products that harm plants, livestock and humans. However, until that point, we have only the words of a single retired professor that spews ancient claims with no evidence-- and conjures libelous hellfire to his critics.
No published competence? I asked if he'd share a sample of a culture for an open-source, public sequencing project, a place where I maybe have a little competence. I was one of the pilots of what turned out to be one of the first open access, public sequencing efforts.
Wow. Arrogance and ignorance. Glass houses.
Again, it is now him as a victim. He was caught in his own apparent deception. Usually his audiences are pie-eyed minions that buy into his unpublished garbage, dotted with concerned people genuinely seeking information about biotechnology. He's not used to someone qualified offering to lend assistance to help him with his science (in genome sequencing and assembly where HE lacks competence), he looked bad in front of his audience, and so he must lash out. I have never engaged in name-calling, abusive language, or a harsh disposition. I have maintained a critical skepticism of his evidence-less claims, and only got prickly once he started gunning for me.
The guy scaring audiences about a mystery organism wants me to get counseling. Remember, this went to my superiors. Who is demeaning and abusive here?
The next paragraph goes on about how I demand the pathogen be turned over to me so that I can publish it and get my name on a paper. I said, with no question, "Dr. Huber, you get all of the credit" and it is on the audio. Someday I will make that public too (it was fun listening to the audience turn on him and plead with him to share the pathogen cultures with the wider scientific community).
I think he get's it a little wrong again. I never made a demand, and the "blog slogan" (emphasis Huber's) actually is a quote from Norman Borlaug, a guy not really known for expectations of servitude and others for his glory.
And to put a lid on it... The only counseling I received was
rolled eyeballs and assurances of support.
I have always been clear about my feelings toward Dr. Huber. I recognize his accomplishments. To me his decorated past makes his current claims even more curious. I've never been out to damage him personally, as he is doing a fine job of that himself.
As a participant in the self-correcting discipline of science, I am obligated to both skeptically criticize claims, especially those made without evidence. I should intervene in public education, especially where the public is led astray by twisted science and again, claims without evidence. I should offer to use my capacities to help build evidence on his behalf if his claims do have merit and simply need additional expertise that I possess.
However, his note to my superiors crosses a line. What you see here are excepts from a letter he sent that are filled with (using his words toward him) false accusations in a malicious attempt to damage my person and discredit my science. Huber's no victim, he's on the attack. He's trying to damage my credibility and career.
I never wanted to write this note or reveal the letter's content. O'Brien's characterization paints a false picture of a kind scientist trying to fight the machine. Ironically, Huber is a major cog in a broken machine that spits out bad science and misleading information, paralyzing adoring audiences with fear, and confusing public discourse in biotechnology. And if any scientist of credibility gets in the way-- he won't address them directly. Instead, he sends a lie-laded communication to higher-ups, seeking someone to hush the scientist, find formal reprimand or even get them fired. That says a lot right there. If you can't address the science, take down the scientist.
It was almost a year ago that I offered to sequence Huber's mysterious self-replicating culturable pathogen that lacks genetic material. One year later, this breakthrough science, that could be wrapped up in weeks, remains a reality only to Huber and his legions of credulous true believers.
My hope is that he is well after his accident, that he recovers fully, and with his recovery finds an awakening to either provide proof of his claim via publication, or come clean and say he was just making the whole thing up. Let's put this issue to bed.
His followers will still love and cherish him, they'll make up claims of Monsanto's Blackwater special-ops hitting him with the car and then waterboarding him into recanting. He'll get a free pass from his followers, take back some reputation, and get some respect from his critics- including me.
Until then, we're still waiting. It was important to show he is not a kind-hearted grandfatherly victim fighting for the little guy-- not in the anti-biotech arena. Quite to the opposite, he is a credentialed scientist twisting science and creating myth to frighten people. He also showed here that he is willing to fabricate information to harm the careers of public scientists that simply request that he provide evidence for his claims.