Saturday, August 23, 2014

University of Florida's Deep Monsanto Ties

Last week I was so happy to answer a thousand thoughtful questions on Science Reddit.  Many questions were moderator blocked (which I discouraged), so angry queries found a home over on the "Kevin Folta Monsanto Cheerleader" reddit thread.

Monsanto cheerleader?  And then they put the word scientist in quotes.  They are convinced I"m a corporate cheerleader and not a scientist.  Shows how well they know me and what I do.  

I'm really proud to say that I'm a Professor at UF.  I work with some of the best science minds out there and am always humbled by the amazing work going on here.  That's no secret.  But Monsanto Cheerleader? When I told them that I had no formal connection to Monsanto (other than visiting there last week to talk about how they could improve their outreach, first time ever there), GM opponents scoured the web, searching for any morsel of evidence to connect me to deep financial collusion with the Big M.

They were certain they had me busted. Clearly, billions of dollars were flowing from Monsanto right into my lab and into my pocket, and in return I'd sacrifice my life's duty, 30 years of training, reputation and legacy to lie about science on an obscure website that calls me a cheerleader.  Makes perfect sense.

Here are their claims:

They EVIDENCE!  SMOKING GUN!  Here they have utilized high-end web sleuthing to undeniably connect me to the Monsanto Corporation!  

Let's look at those brilliant connections. 

But first, let's start with reality.  I work for the University of Florida, we are the State's Land-Grant University. There are 4,000 faculty. Our central job is to educate the public, perform cutting-edge research, and communicate that research to citizens in our state.  That's the Land Grant mission. 

Our area, IFAS, receives about $80 million a year in research support. Most of that is federal and state, with 3% coming from corporate sources. Of that, maybe $200-400k come from Monsanto annually to specific research programs.  In other words, they pay for work to be done here in a lab (not mine) and finance maybe a postdoc to two.  This is small potatoes. Nobody sees any of that money outside of the lab that is being compensated for the work. 

To his claims:

1.  Cargill Inc, Dow Chemical and Monsanto give millions to the University of Florida - SMOKING GUN!!  Not so much. The first page goes to a dead link.  I guess that still convinces some of the Monspiracy.

2. U of F Scientists Collaborate with Monsanto -- SMOKING GUN!!  Not so much.  The article is about two UF researchers that worked in collaboration with Monsanto in 2011 to develop public-domain software to help model corn growth in the southeast.  These simulation models help farmers make choices in a changing climate.  From what I can tell, I can find no evidence that there was any funding to UF associated with this relationship.  It is not on Dr. Boote's CV or in the UF grants database.

3.  Monsanto supports a professorship in his department -- SMOKING GUN.  Not so much. That evil Monsanto had the audacity to provide funding to hire a new professor.  Fifteen years ago. The nerve.  In the days when budgets are cut, faculty hires are few, and students need more science training, it is shameful that they'd actually provide a way for us to expand service to the citizens of out state. 

Yes, Monsanto did put up part of the funding for Mark's appointment.  The funny part is, he has no associations with them and his research is not of direct impact to Monsanto's interests.  

Plus it happened two years before I joined UF.  BUT... that's the best they can find...

4.  Folta claims he's an "independent contractor" for the State of Florida -- SMOKING GUN.  Not so much.  Here the author of the post cherry picks a line from a comment thread and tries to use it to discredit me on the page.  The exact quote is: "I'm an independent contractor that works for the State of Florida.  They give me a paycheck and a lab space. Every test tube, person, bag of soil, etc. comes from grants that I apply for. Period.

This is how we sometimes represent ourselves in university science. There is no magical funding that comes from the institution that pays for our research.  We pay for it, from grants.  We're small business operators. We have employees, tight budgets, and expected deliverables.

Sure, our paychecks for teaching and research come from the state, but they give nothing toward our research work.  In fact, from a 3-year $500,000 NSF grant our institution gets about $250,000 of it for "administration and facilities" to keep the paperwork straight and the lights on. 

Finally, it is sad to see someone dig through the web in an attempt to discredit someone that works for them. Rather than ask for information, explanations, assistance in learning, they want to tear down scientists that don't subscribe to their warped views (which is all of the scientists). 

I guess it should be noted that Monsanto and other companies sponsor websites like where I answer questions.  For free. Maybe that's a connection. 

Sad.  At least he didn't go after the "hot chick with the lip ring" (last line of image above, in reference to Cara Santa Maria on the HuffPo video).   Maybe if I get a lip ring he'll give me a pass too.

They missed the most damning evidence.

Glyphosate and School Lunches