Friday, September 11, 2015

The FOIA Babe, and the New Abuse of Vanity Harassment

I’ve been a critic of the Food Babe for a long time.  Actually, I’ve been the critic of anyone that attempts to manipulate the public perception of science, while presenting zero scientific evidence.  Especially deplorable are those that use fear to force a message, and scare people about safe food while profiting in the process.

It’s an old story now, but when ‘Food Babe’ Vani Hari visited my university to sell her science-blind worldview I was not exactly thrilled.  We professors are tasked to teach from evidence, with foundation in a scholarly literature.  Why would we subject our students to the daft rants of a dim food activist that lines her pockets by frightening people away from safe food?

I have always been an appropriate critic.  I’ve addressed her specific points with evidence and even have been complimentary at times.  She certainly is a gifted communicator, and can mobilize the drones that exploit social media to blackmail corporations into aggressive change, not based on science, but based on coercion.  That is not a fair way to inspire change.

Because I teach facts of a controversial public concern, I’m currently enduring multiple invasive, expensive public records requests. Three years of personal, private emails have been confiscated by US-Right To Know, an activist organization led by Gary Ruskin that harasses public scientists that teach the inconvenient truth about agricultural biotechnology.  For 15 years I’ve spoken about genetic engineering with the public, helping concerned citizens to understand this scientific tool.  They’ve been trying to stop me for ages. FOIA laws are their new weapons.

I complied without hesitation.  I had nothing to hide.  But as I anticipated, when you give 5000 pages of email to people paid well to silence you, they will find little nuggets of manufactured pseudo-guilt that they’ll parade in the interest of destroying credibility.  I happily turned over my personal records, and activists started immediately misinterpreting them in public places.  Even Pulitzer Prize winners skillfully threaded sentences together to customize damaging false narratives which were more unethical than unfair.

Not to be outdone, Vani Hari needed some of that attention.  “What did that evil professor say about me?”  Now the laws made to help dissolve barriers to resolve cases of malfeasance and wrongdoing were mobilized as an underhanded discovery tool, a way for a marginal celeb to try to regain some of her ill-gotten traction at the expense of a scientist that simply teaches science.

This is FOIA abuse.  She will cost my university tens of thousands of dollars to weed through my private correspondences one by one, making sure that the emails they provide to her do not contain student information.  It is an arduous and expensive undertaking.  Why?  Well Vani likes Vani, and while she can’t point to anything I’ve done wrong, she wants the emails.  Just like Ruskin.

I can hear it now from Food Babe headquarters, “He didn’t do anything wrong, so let’s find some things we can make look wrong—just need those emails!”

More importantly, she wants to sift through my emails in a sick cyber voyeurism, a pathetic, vain and egocentric glimpse into a professor’s daily interactions.  Just because she can.  This inconsistent with the spirit and intent of these important laws. It is an unwarranted burden to taxpayers and a deliberate and unfair means to inflict harm on a decorated public servant.

So what do the prying eyes need to see?  Secrets to clandestine corporate collusion? 

Nah, Ruskin beat and buried that dead horse, extracting a few lame-o quotes and funding to a science literacy effort.  Oh, the humanity.

What can Vani learn?  Gosh, the things she cares about most – VANI !  Here’s your tax dollars at work.  She wants:


You will be glad to know that high-priced lawyers will search for “babe” as directed.  Tax dollars will unearth a copy of my Amazon review of that crappy talking pig movie.


Well, Vani, a quick check of my account and you were not mentioned much at all.  You are not relevant outside of Infowars and your adoring fans. 

This is all pretty simple.  Vani Hari is a self-consumed amateur that is determined to discredit her critics.  Why?  She sits atop a multi-million dollar empire of corporate slander and internet sales.  

Why would she possibly exploit expensive public records requests to delve into the emails of a professor dedicated to public education?

Because he teaches facts, and more facts translate to fewer profits for Vani.

So instead of meeting him head-on about the science in a visible and public space, she uses a public records request to sneak a peek through his private correspondence in the hopes of…  not sure what.

In fact, I deliberated whether I should even write this.  But it is not about me, not about Vani Hari—it is about abuse of a system to harm others that don’t share your stupid opinion. It brilliantly illuminates the trendy abuse of the FOIA system.  Here, out of curiosity, out of vanity, Vani Hari ignites an expensive, invasive system designed to resolve criminal investigations--- to see if someone said something unbecoming about her.  

I could have told her that stuff for free.  Sorry Florida taxpayers!

It is a mockery of this important transparency system.  Most of all, this exemplifies why these rules need immediate revision.  Here a doomed food personality with no training and no scientific credibility bandwagons on to a popular trend of abusing rules to damage professorial reputations of reasonable scientific critics. When you can’t raise your own argument, find some sleazy loophole to tear down the credibility of others.

We have entered the era of vanity harassment and fact-twisted internet assassinations of public scientists. 


And who better to accelerate that trend than Vani Hari?  

4 comments:

Dan Andrews said...

For a moment, you had my hackles up when you spoke about that crappy talking pig movie, but I was thinking of Charlotte's Web (which made me cry several times when I was a kid), and obviously not the crappy movie to which you refer. :-)

Much more seriously, I'm sorry you have to go through this. In climate science, scientists and friends have a legal defense fund to help scientists with FOIAs and court matters. The legal defence fund says, "The Climate Science Legal Defense Fund was established to make sure that legal actions are not viewed as an attack against one scientist or institution but as attacks against the scientific endeavor as a whole. " Is there anything similar for scientists in your field?

Based on how know-nothings have banded together to attack inconvenient climate science, I'm fairly certain what you're seeing now is just the beginning and the know-nothings will broaden their attacks. A similar legal defence fund for scientists working in the GMO field or in public education is probably going to be a necessity. It is easy to attack one scientist or institution (the Serengeti Strategy), but a Defense Fund would mobilize many resources for you and others, and let the attackers know that the individuals they've targeted are not alone; and that in attacking a reputable scientist they're actually attacking "the scientific endeavor as a whole".

Anyway, just an idea. Thank you for stepping up and doing public education despite the risks. I wish I could do more than just words--if there is a defense fund, I'd donate money.

Here's the fund for climate scientists: http://climatesciencedefensefund.org/

smalljude said...

You.... you don't like Babe? sniff sniff... it's such a nice movie!

The other 'babe' is a legend in her own mind. Sigh...

njank said...

Did she include the part of most requests stating why she thinks she shouldn't have to pay any of the information processing costs? I recall the USRTK text claimed that it was 'for the public good by a non-profit', glossing over the fact that they're pretty much an OCA front using it as an Org marketing tool. What's her reason? or did she just leave that out?

TheOldTechnician said...

About FOIA fees
http://www.foia.gov/faq.html#cost

And see page 60 on at: http://myfloridalegal.com/webfiles.nsf/WF/RMAS-9H6K6F/$file/2014LEGuide.pdf