Monday, May 30, 2016

Please Cook This (and be Thankful)

Today I submitted a manuscript for publication and another one is close.  It is Memorial Day, a holiday where we are not supposed to be at work, but I was so happy to spend my day in the office with people from my lab.  We also met with a prof from another department.  We might have a solution for those antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  You'll love this...  More to come. 

On my way home I stopped at the one big grocery store in town  and saw "Green Cooking Banana" in the produce section.  I've learned that 400 million people eat this every day.  When the guy at the checkout told me that the bananas were really small and hard, I told him, "That's just the way I want them."

His eyes rolled. I told him that "400 million people eat this every day." 

When I returned home I read horrible things about me on Twitter. Seems that Natural News has re-posted the garbage showing up on GM Watch last year. Again, it is designed to harm my reputation, and clutter search engines with more negative nonsense.  

I could get upset and fire back.  Instead, I cooked bananas. 

It does not get better than this.

I cut the ends off of the green bananas and slit the peel all the way down. I boiled them with some salt and oil for 20 minutes.  Then I dumped them into the sink, pulled off the peel, cut them into chunks, and fried them with diced onion, garlic, and mild wax pepper.  Salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of wine vinegar-- tossed together until brown, and then upon serving threw in some fresh cilantro.

It was fantastic. 

People all over the world eat this as a food staple, every night.  For me, a relatively affluent scientist with running water and a climate-controlled home, it was a rare opportunity.  

I could have written a blog on how this Twitter brutal idiot was a brutal idiot. 

Instead I wanted to share two ideas.  1. How you can enjoy something delicious.  And 2. How we should be grateful for the options we have, and always be thankful for our food.  Many do not share the luxury of a beautiful meal like I had tonight, even though they have the same basic ingredients. 

Thanks everyone, best wishes always.  And if you ever are in North Central Florida, call ahead.  I'll make you some fried bananas. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

My Real Job, My Needed Focus

Readers of this blog may think that my whole professional career is dedicated to debunking bad science and teaching about biotechnology.  The funny part is, that is probably 5-10% of what I do.  I'm the Chairman of a fruit/veg crops department that is among the world's best.  I lead a great research program in how light can make plants more nutritious and how different genes shape plant flavor.  I mentor postdocs, grad students and undergrads, along with many visiting scholars. 

This weekend five things happened:

1. Friday, another FOIA request for my emails. 
2.  A note that one of my former undergrads that she is now Chief Science Officer for a company in neurogenomics.
3.  A Facebook post from another former undergraduate that she has completed veterinary school.  
4.  A post from my current undergrad saying that she is heading off to Haiti to help run a youth leadership camp, and that she's doing a fundraiser. 
5.  An undergrad researcher in my lab stuck around for the summer after graduation.  He working super hard for almost no pay, and I think I found a great place for him to chase a Masters Degree. 

The annoyances of evil people that want me to stop teaching are far offset by the joys of my successes from teaching.  Ashley, Kiona, Sofia and Paul... all undergrads in the lab at one time that celebrated successes this weekend. 

You see why I'm disturbed.  On one side, hateful acts of malice that wish to destroy my reputation and career.  On the other side, heartwarming residues of my efforts, seeing undergrads that passed through the lab use that experience as a stepping stone to achieve their dreams. 

In my 14 years at University of Florida I have mentored over 110 students through meaningful undergraduate research.  Ten are named authors of peer-reviewed manuscripts, and just about all of them have appeared on a poster or presentation at a scholarly conference. 

One of my central jobs is to inspire and train young scientists. I'm proud to say that the vast majority have been women. One in particular comes to my mind.  She was a lost soul, truly wrestling with some personal baggage.  The lab environment, particularly the influence of strong female role models just a few years older than her, changed her. 

It did not save her.  She achieved a Masters Degree, found a productive career, but later would take her own life.  One profound tragedy that still makes me cry when I think about it. I have a picture of her on my desk and one in the lab. 

This is what it really is all about. It is about how education changes people.  It is about how experience and building skills opens the best doors. It is about how science is a vehicle to teach and build curiosity.  The task now should be how to bring more students into science so they can enjoy such benefits.  

It makes me think that all of the hassles brought about by activists, dangerous NGOs and hack journalists really belong on a back burner.  They have consumed me for sixteen months, and that's enough.  I was so agonizingly disturbed on Friday night with the new FOIA request, yet so utterly thrilled by the other victories of my former, and current, students. It is much more pleasant to bask in the successes of my students than to cringe at the evils of charlatans. 

It is why I will never quit, and why I need to refocus.  One minute spent on the Food Babes, USRTKs, and their legions of trolls is one minute pulled from my real mission.  I can trade the things that hurt for things that heal.  I can trade regressive angry people for enlightened young scholars.  I can stop debunking bad science and invest the same energy in training new scientists.

Not sure why it took me so long to get here. 

It was a good weekend.  It is Sunday.  I'm meeting a student today at 2 pm and tomorrow (Memorial Day) I'll be in working with another on designing his next projects to complete his first paper.  I'll also be setting up experiments for another super ambitious undergrad that could be real game changers. 

This is what I do.  I think that Vani, Gary, Claire, Carrie, Evil Mikey and the rest of the vicious critics might want to take a step back and think about who they are really harming when they strive to harm me.  

Thanks for reading.  Have a great extendo-weekend.  I will.  I'll be in my safe place, in the lab, teaching the next generation of scientists how to be their best, and contribute to a mission that is truly important. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Talking Biotech 38 GMO Cheese Enzymes, Nat'l Academies Review

In this week's Talking Biotech Podcast:

Chipotle proudly serves it.  The Vermont GMO labeling rules exempt it. Still 95% of cheese is manufactured from enzymes created through recombinant DNA technology. These GMO-derived enzymes are tremendously beneficial to the process.  Young cow stomachs are not needed and the prices are lower because the enzymes are abundant.  Levi Gadye is a graduate student in neuroscience and science writer.  He recently wrote an article on cheese enzymes in Gizmodo, and joined us in talking about cheese.  Kavin Senapathy co-hosts.

In the second part of the podcast I cover the continued FOIA requests for my emails and do a quick review of the National Academies of Science scholarly review of genetic engineering released last week.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Harassing Scientists- Coordinated Troll Attacks

Another often-used tactic to harass scientists is the creation of multiple accounts in social media by one person.  These are then used to create the illusion of multiple interests with a common theme of a unified argument against a scientist or idea. They are used to post defamatory and false information and propagate it using Twitter's powerful reach.

These highly coordinated troll attacks are likely orchestrated by a single person that creates a series of accounts that interact and reinforce each other.  It creates an illusion of a codified message, when it is just one nutcase stirring the pot. 

It happened before, and after years of abuse an internet sleuth figured out who it was.  She is a professional in California. When I was out there I met with her and she told me all about how it was a guy she was renting to that would use her computer. Sure. I've never posted her name or taken legal action.  Both are still on the table.

Stupid High Road. 

This week a whole new set of fake accounts popped up and unleashed their vitriol.  You can monitor them here.    

Why it is clear it is likely a single person:

  • All accounts are new and were started at the same time.
  • All accounts make harassing me a central focus.
  • All accounts have minimal followers, and follow each other.
  • All accounts are followed by each other and Dr. EnaValikov, the vet in California that has notoriously cyber-stalked my threads for years, and she follows all of these accounts and retweets their vile messages, making her complicit in the defamation.
  • They also love to throw around the word "shill" but are equally challenged in spelling it correctly:

If you google the words "Monsanto Schill" you can find a good candidate for who this likely is. 

In conclusion, it is more of the kind of harassment we see as scientists that simply stand up for evidence-based interpretations of popular assertions.  It is another volley with the intent to create more harm toward my reputation and record by propagating defamatory memes and misinterpretations.

I guess a silver lining is that they tell the world I run GMO Answers. Not sure why they'd give me credit for such an enterprise. And no, I could not name a Monsanto product. I don't work in agronomic crops. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


What started as a joke between friends has gone a little haywire.  SciBabe Yvette is a friend and she was shocked that her personal emails were being sought by The Food Babe Vani Hari. The idea was a simple one.  Florida has loose laws, so the FB wants to exploit that to get personal info on others, using me as the weak link. 

So when Yvette threatened to send me a cat picture every day I thought it was funny.  I sent one back to her.  If our personal emails are Public Records... 

This ended up being discussed elsewhere online.  Yvette and I had a short conversation about it on her Facebook page and then things sort of took off. 

It is good to share niceties with a friend.  Sad that they become part of a record handed to activists. 

I'm at a conference and have been barely present online.  Today I opened my emails to find hundreds of pictures of cats. 

That's fine, but maybe cool it.  Most of all, please don't put nastygrams to VH in here.  Cats?  No big deal.  But please take the high road on VH personally. 

I would advise folks to not do this, it can be taken the wrong way or made into something it isn't.  It was a joke between friends, just one of those friends has a following to w lot of cool people. 

Thanks for not sending me cat pics.  It is a lot weed through to get my real emails.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Another Vani Hari FOIA Request

First, some rules.  Please do not retaliate or harass her.  Respect her privacy for one reason-- I can tell you personally how horrible it is to have someone not respect mine. I do not want her to feel the way I do, because of her.  There's some Sunday irony. Thanks.

On Friday afternoon most folks watch that clock as the minute hand clicks toward five o'clock.  Last Friday, I got the email that my university had filled another public records request, again from the Food Babe, Vani Hari, and spent the next few hours going through what they plan to send to her. 

Why is she going after me?  Did I say something wrong?  Is something in my publication record not panning out and she suspects undue influence? 

No.  This is a personal, malicious, expensive attack for one reason-- It is because I corrected her.  I stood up when she visited my campus and lied to the students I am responsible to teach. 

The most recent request includes names of friends like Kavin, Vance, Yvette and Joe. Mark and Mark wrote the book with Kavin and I've never even had an email with either one, I don't think.  The top two names-- no idea. 

I hate like hell giving her any more attention, but this needs to be part of the narrative.  She wants personal emails, my personal conversations with friends.  This is just sick.  It is none of her business. It is the law, so I will will be in full compliance. 

If we did something wrong-- fine.  But this is a vanity request because people criticized her.  She knows that I don't separate personal and business email, I don't have the time or desire to do that. I never will. 

My university job is a researcher, teacher and department chair and my email used for business in those capacities is certainly hers to search.  Go for it.  That's the law and I'm glad to abide by it. 

But to request private emails between friends?  For no reason other than Yvette and Kavin have criticized her, and she's gone after Vance before too.  

She wants to know what we say about her, our secret plans.  Guess what?  Nobody really cares.  You'll see us talk about other things, maybe a joke, maybe someone coming to town. BFD. 

It is FOIA not being used for its intent-- to solve a crime or investigate wrongdoing.  It is taxpayer funded witch hunts to see if anyone said anything bad about Vani.  Damn egomaniac. 

People are sick of it and in social media many started posting her personal information.  I asked them to stop.  I even blacked out her email address in the above graphic.  Unlike her, I respect the privacy of others. 

The way to stop her is to tell the story of her attacks on public scientists far and wide.  Destroy her brand by showing that she is the bully, that she does not have science on her side and need to harm those that do. 

She is a horrible, wretched, self-absorbed woman.  I always gave her the benefit of the doubt.  However, she's wasted enough of my time and university resources, caused me massive anxiety and hassle.  Please share this story.  

Please share this story. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

TB#37 Gene-Edited, Virus-Resistant Pigs

This week's Talking Biotech Podcast... The African Swine Fever Virus is a devastating pathogen that leads to fatal disease in domesticated swine.  Scientists at the Roslin Institute led by Prof. Bruce Whitelaw have made an important advance for domestic pig health and welfare.  Wild African pigs like warthogs do not get the disease.  Researchers at Roslin have studied the genes associated with viral infection, and found what is likely a critical difference between the wild and domestic pigs.  Using new gene editing technology, the change in wild pigs has been created in domestic pigs, and they will be tested for resistance to the virus this year.  This example is one of may that is coming in animal, plant, and fungal genetic improvement through gene editing.

Friday, May 20, 2016

Standing With Hilborn through Manufactured Controversy

Ever since the brutal treatment I received last fall, and continue to receive, I have vowed to never let another researcher stand alone in fighting misplaced activism. Your public scientists are under ideological interrogation with personal attacks that seek to destroy reputations and careers. Here is the latest round in this fight of pseudo-religious-belief against the inconvenient truth offered by an independent, academic scientist. We must take control of this narrative. The truth must dominate this narrative. 

Greenpeace has waged a vicious attack on a leading researcher and environmental advocate.  Dr. Ray Hilborn, a University of Washington Professor and a recognized leader in fisheries conservation for decades, has drawn fire from this activist organization because he reported data that were incompatible with their agenda.  

A researcher does good research.  Activists don't like the outcome. They trash the researcher because industry funded work in his program. No evidence of misconduct was ever implied. 

Today if you are a scientist and you present data that don't fit the story activists demand that they do, the default assumption is that you must be the puppet of a major corporation that has influenced those research outcomes.  We've cataloged this well in climate, vaccines, GMO crops and other areas.   

Hilborn is the latest public scientist forging his way through this dangerous new trend-- well-funded activist groups impeaching the careers of lifelong academics that present research incompatible with activist beliefs. Organizations like Greenpeace use the internet to attack a scientists' credibility, acting as merchants of doubt. They do not question Hilborn's published data or its scholarly interpretations. They don't know enough to do that. Instead they attempt to tarnish the man with personal attacks. 

Why is Greenpeace so green and non-peaceful?  Hilborn used a bit of corporate money to perform scholarly research. If that money supported research outcomes that aligned with Greenpeace's agenda they would not care.  However, some of the sponsored research was in conflict with Greenpeace's opinion, so they must defame the scientist that threatens their (thin) credibility and thus, financing.

Hilborn studies fish populations.  He has an incredible publication record and is amazingly prolific. As of today, 32073 people have cited his work in the peer-reviewed literature.  His work uses modeling and measurement to examine fish populations in discrete areas and  has published an evidence-based dissection of various fisheries all over the world. 

The reason he has drawn the ire of Greenpeace is his sober, numbers-based interpretation of the state of the world's oceans. In one summary article he wrote:
"To be fair, there are some places where such severe (fish population) declines may be true. A more balanced diagnosis, however, tells a different story — one that still requires changes in some fishing practices, but that is far from alarmist. But this balanced diagnosis is being almost wholly ignored in favor of an apocalyptic rhetoric that obscures the true issues fisheries face as well as the correct cures for those problems."

Overfishing denier?  Nah, just a guy that chases the evidence.  He was second author on a 2009 paper in Science that stated that while many fisheries were in crisis, others were recovering or were not threatened. He says the often-cited statistic that 70% of the world's waters are overfished simply is not supported by data. 

In short, if you are not sounding an alarm, someone must have paid you off to not pull the lever.

To amplify the activist cause, they find complicit journalists that are willing to report their claims in biased articles that tell part of the story.  This too fits the formula.  In this case Hilborn's story was picked up by NPR, because reporters smell blood in the water and don't know enough to realize it's just cherry Kool Aid. 

The main allegation is that he "failed to disclose" industry money.  Sound familiar?  If personnel and materials for a given paper were funded by a certain organization, they were mentioned appropriately, with fully disclosure, in the acknowledgements of that particular paper.  That's normal and customary. 

What Greenpeace wants is for him to mention ever speck of funding for all projects because they feel that those sponsors actively manage the outcomes.  The funny part is, he gets buckets of money from environmental and conservation organizations.

Hilborn's funding is mostly from foundations and government. Yes, some fishing industries are glad to fund research with a recognized expert that understands impacts on sustainable fishing.  from:

His CV is available online and offers an extensive list of funding sources, from corporations and conservation groups.  In a recent NPR interview he states that the fishing industry is interested in funding studies on over-fishing and development of sustainable fishing populations. There's a surprise.  Where I live the citrus industry is in collapse and is funding huge amounts of research at the university to find a cure. That's who should be paying for it.  

Hiborn's story is a little like mine in that he disclosed funding sources where and when appropriate. If he could do something better it is to engage in radical transparency going forward. In an age where evil people are poised to destroy everything you worked for in public research, you have to go one step further and be beyond transparent

My recommendation to Dr. Hilborn-- put a link to your CV on everything, even direct link in your pubs, or provide a semi-annual report that is publicly touted as a leading example of transparency. Then ask Greenpeace to do the same.  Good luck with that. 

Hilborn is a magnificent example of what public science should look like.  Work on the public dime, work financed by foundations, and some work that is done for industry.  The data don't care who paid for them.  

Integrity is what matters and what will shine here.  Prof Ray Hilborn is an asset to his university and to academic science. We better all start standing up and making some noise when people like him fall under attack simply because he had the nerve to publish science. 

Hilborn's response to these terrorists is here. 

Tuesday, May 17, 2016

National Academies of Science- Synthesis on GE Crops

Last year the National Academies of Science convened a panel of experts to discuss genetically engineered crops.  The panel listened to a huge range of testimonials and opinions.  They hosted everyone from Jeffery Smith, to Jon Entine, to a pile of scientists spanning many disciplines. 

The discussion was vetted against the scientific literature, and you know what we learned? 

This image has nothing to do with the article. 
Anyone know a good tattoo artist?

We learned that GE crops pose no special risks over conventional breeding, that they help farmers by cutting costs and marginal effects on yields, despite no yield-associated genes being installed.  There is no evidence of effects on health for humans and animals, and environmental risks are understood and should be addressed. 

We learned what we knew, and what we already teach. 

The report also speaks of new ideas for a regulatory framework that makes a lot of sense. Every crop/gene combination should be weighed on its own merits and risks. 

Is the report useful?  Yes. 

The report synthesizes the existing science well and is an excellent reference. Scientists will find this extremely useful and the public will applaud a resource for accurate, vetted information. 

But will it change minds?  No.  

I think you are more likely to see the anti-GMO machine sift through the funding histories of the people on the panel, and a single sponsored program from Big Ag will be used to cognitively negate the entire effort. They might even FOIA the folks on the panel to see how Big Ag fed them the report, and when they don't find any evidence, they'll just make it up.  Business as usual.

The committee should be applauded for their efforts and sacrifice. This was not a trivial piece of work and represents a great milestone in condensing the breadth of work into a single, conservative, scientific, and evidence-based work.  As an agent of social change-- all the evidence in the world won't change the minds of people that don't care about evidence. 

Saturday, May 14, 2016

What is Citrus? Can it be Saved With Breeding?

“Citrus” is a term applied to a variety of popular and nutritious fruits, including oranges, grapefruit, lemons and limes.  Citrus breeders are tasked with improving the varieties, which takes decades.  Still, great progress has been made in fruit improvement. 

 However, over the last twenty years a disease called Huanglongbing, or “HLB” (also known as “citrus greening”) has emerged in the USA and threatens the citrus industry.  Today the focus is how to grow improved citrus varieties that can survive this insidious disease.  Dr. Fred Gmitter is a seasoned citrus breeder that has  produced improved fruit varieties, but also is working to identify new varieties to combat HLB.

Friday, May 13, 2016

Sweet Irony: The Environmental Impacts Of GMO Sugar Science Denial

Several times a year I find myself exiting the Florida’s Turnpike at Yeehaw Junction and heading south.  When I get to the small town of Okeechobee I take a left and head down Route 98 through Florida’s extensive agricultural backyard.  Flanked by Lake Okeechobee on the west and the affluent cities of the Atlantic coast off to the east, the small towns nestled in this sliver of land support vibrant production of sweet corn, cattle, lettuce, and sugarcane. Cane-derived sugar ends up in many cupboards as table sugar, and also is found in many consumer products.  

As reported on NPR, candy companies are caving in to consumer demands that the sugar they consume does not come from a GMO plant.  To the scientist this is curious, because table sugar coming from sugarcane (which never was a GMO) is chemically identical to table sugar from GMO sources like sugar beets—it is sucrose.  

Sugarcane and sugar beets are partners in pleasure, together satisfying America’s sweet tooth. However, the demand for non-GMO sugar is exciting news only to the sugar cane sugar industries, as their product has become increasingly more valuable with the no-GMO demand. 

What is sugarcane?  Sugarcane is a tropical grass, tall and lush. It grows meters high, forming tremendous oceans of green that wave and flow with the gentle breezes. It is a sight to behold.  Usually my trips through sugar cane country happen in early morning, just as the sun kisses the sky, and the cane fields present a soft peaceful backdrop.

But environmentalists see these fields through a very different lens, and have targeted sugar cane production for decades.  Their main objection is the burning of the cane, a counter-intuitive practice for crop production.  These massive fields are literally lit ablaze to produce the final crop.  The fire removes the majority of leaves, leaving the sugar-laden canes behind for harvest.  About 150,000 acres of sugar cane are burned each year, and environmental groups have vehemently opposed this practice.  They claim that the practice generates greenhouse gasses, and puts thousands of tons of pollutants into the atmosphere that drift into the population dense cities of Florida’s east coast.

It seems like these environmental groups would welcome a low-impact alternative.

“Table sugar” is sucrose, a molecule containing a molecular fusion of fructose and glucose.  Fructose and glucose are products of plant metabolism, and provide the basic building blocks of cellular structures.  Plants manufacture glucose and fructose and then enzymatically link them to form sucrose.  Sugarcane simply stores lots of sucrose.

Other plants also concentrate sucrose in storage organs.  Fruits are a good example.  Sugar beets have been bred to store massive amounts of sugar, approximately 20% of total weight, in a central root.   They grow well in temperate climates and account for about half of sugar production.

One innovation made sugar beet production more attractive to farmers— glyphosate resistance generating “Roundup Ready” sugar beets. These plants are started from seed, and as they grow along with the field’s weeds for a few weeks. Then farmers spray an herbicide (glyphosate) over the top that kills the weeds and leaves the crop alive and well.

This works because the beets have been genetically engineered with an enzyme that resists the effects of the herbicide on disrupting plant physiology. The plants survive just fine, allowing them to grow without competition, and they eventually shade out emerging weeds. In many parts of sugar beet country a single application of glyphosate herbicide (usually about two soda cans per acre) does the trick.  If weed pressures are heavy, they can go as high as 2.5 liters by law, but it is expensive and only used under extreme need.  Plants are harvested months after application.

Sugar beet farmers find this technology amazingly helpful.  One farmer I spoke with says that it saves him the tremendous costs of hiring crews for hand weeding, which runs about $500 per acre.  Application of glyphosate—labor and other costs included, is $25 per acre.  Hand labor is harder and harder to find, so this technology also allows growers to shift away from other herbicides which don’t share glyphosate’s minimal risk and low environmental impact.

“Glyphosate allowed us to streamline beet production,” said Suzanne Rutherford, a California sugar beet grower. “It is hard to find labor to weed many acres, so with Roundup Ready we don’t have do that anymore.”

It seems like the shift to GM sugar beets would be a positive move for farmers and the environment.

But over the last decade there has been a rise in anti-GMO hysteria.  It has been fueled by misinformation from the internet, low-quality one-off scientific reports, and multi-billion dollar industries that thrive when conventional agriculture solutions can be cast as questionable or dangerous.  Consumers are easy to scare, and the demands of a vocal minority have resonated with food producers, that now seek to source non-GMO ingredients for their products. 

One great example is Hershey’s, a company synonymous with health food.  As reported in the NPR piece, the Hershey Company is transitioning to all non-GMO ingredients, meaning using cane sugar over beet sugar.  The empty calories of sugar-saturated candy now can be consumed without concern for what plant produced the sucrose.  Again, cane sugar (C12H22O11) is chemically identical to beet sugar (C12H22O11). 

The demand for non-GMO sugar has driven up the price of cane sugar and decreased the interest in GMO sugar beets.  To cash in on that momentum, some sugar beet growers may soon gravitate to non-GMO varieties that require use of chemicals that lack glyphosate’s health and environmental safety profile, including cocktails of many herbicides that must be applied frequently and in perfect conditions.  The alternative weed controls carry significantly more potential health risk to workers and potential environmental impacts.

In this blazing case of backwards thinking, consumers are demanding the worst choice for farmers and the environment.  Technology was installed in GMO sugar beets to produce the same end product in a different time of year, in a different part of the country. They did so without voluminous black clouds of smoke, costly hand labor, or the use of old-school herbicides.  This was an advance in science that enhanced worker safety and environmental stewardship from other practices.

It is another reminder that standing against genetic engineering is oftentimes standing against the best options for people and planet.  The sugarcane and sugar beet each produce the same final product.  It is truly troubling that companies are being coerced into costly decisions that have no effect on what the consumer eats, other than raising its cost, and producing it with greater environmental impact. It is what happens when we turn a blind eye to science, and accept marketing scams and activist campaigns over sound decisions made from evidence. 

Originally published on Science 2.0 

Tuesday, May 10, 2016

Blowing the Lid off the Conspiracy

Last week I was spending a lot of time on flights, so I picked a few podcasts outside of my normal queue to fill my head with new ideas.  I read on Twitter about Take Out, a podcast hosted by Robyn O'Brien and Ashley Koff RD, so decided to give it a listen. One of the episodes features Carey Gillam. 

Ms. Gillam works for US-RTK, the activist organization claiming to be looking for crimes and collusion between Big Ag and university scientists, while they really are a well-financed front group for Organic Consumer Association that is out to facilitate the libeling of scientists that teach about evidence-based food technology. While serving on the activist payroll, she writes for several outlets trashing scientists and technology, ironically, calling them paid shills. 

She's been especially harsh on me, reiterating especially Eric Lipton's lies from his article.  But that will be fixed with time.  Let's see what's up here... 

The Take Out podcast makes claims designed to erode confidence in public scientists, without evidence. 

She makes a lot of claims that universities "support one industry" and plays the same boring cards that are not simply true. My department, and certainly my lab, work with dozens of industries, and almost all of them are in the conventional/organic specialty crop (fruits and veggies) space, and there's little/none done with Big Ag.  However, they like to paint us that way.  

But I was interested in what Gillam was saying. She made a lot of claims that pointed to conspiracy. It was the same indictment of public researchers made solely to erode public trust in what we do.  I work with a very dedicated group of professionals that could have double the salary and much more access to resources if we did actually work for industry. We chose public science to serve a greater mission. The parking lot here is full, seven days a week.

Let's focus on two of the claims that were made:

@24:00   One claim was that someone in a University of Illinois  "grad program" was apparently conducting research that provided one result twenty times, but the funder, Monsanto, "didn't like" the result, so they kept repeating until they got the results the company wanted. Then they'd publish the one result "that promotes corporate interest". 

@24:50  Someone in the University of Missouri working for USDA found negative information about glyposate and that was allegedly not allowed to publish the work. 

So my question is:

US-RTK has stopped at nothing to obtain public records from any scientist that speaks publicly about the science and technology of genetic engineering.  Why do they not use the same FOIA laws to obtain the records associated with these two allegations? 

I'll make Ms. Gillam a promise to work with her to address the issue at University of Illinois.  If companies are forcing, coercing, or influencing graduate students to perform academic misconduct and scholarly fraud, then this needs to be discovered, reported widely, and remedied. Anyone associated with such misconduct is to be identified and driven from public science. 

I ask for cooperation between Ms. Gillam, her contacts, and anyone else necessary to investigate this fully, and obtain any and all protections for any whistleblowers involved.  If students were threatened, then the scientific community will get behind them. It would be unethical for Ms. Gillam to not report this, and for the future of these students, I'm glad to work with her to expose these facts behind this allegation.

Next, the allegation about the University of Missouri person with the USDA.  Ask them to provide me with the data that show clearly that glyphosate is dangerous or has some negative effect.  They may do this through Gillam without exposing their identity.  

If the data are real and experiments sound, I'll publish them under my name.  Then once published, we'll expose the conspiracy.  The scientist will be protected from his/her agency and when the work survives peer review, they will have a tremendous lawsuit on their hands against their employer. 

Frankly, I don't think these stories are true.  However, if she is telling the truth then it is necessary for all of us to stand up, stand with her and these suppressed/harassed researchers.  I promise full cooperation.  It would not bother me to have a common interest in exposing the truth.  I don't think she'll warm to this offer, nor do I think there every will be any evidence to support these allegations. 

This is not the first time I've made such offers. In 2010 or so, I was at the TAM8 Conference and a speaker claimed to have a friend with definitive evidence that climate change was a hoax, but his data were suppressed, and he was not allowed to publish them.  I offered to publish them under my name. Nobody could not suppress me-- his "friend" would just have to give me the data and assist in writing the paper.  We'd do the test and expose the suppression!

I'm still waiting. 

My guess is that both of these cases are "well I heard" claims that frame scientists as weak pawns of corporations, and stooges that put financial interests ahead of the truth. It fits with the theme of Take Out and their parade of guests that aren't scientists or accepting of science. 

But let's give her the benefit of the doubt, which is more than they ever do for me.  If either of these cases is true, then they need full attention, fast remedies, and appropriate disciplinary action.  We need to take such allegations extremely seriously, and I promise to do my best to work with her to expose such cases.

We should do everything we can to expose bogus claims, and chastise those that make them. 

*** Ms. Gillam has been invited to discuss on the Talking Biotech podcast, and I'd be glad to discuss this, and any issue with her. 

Monday, May 9, 2016

Done with VH.

She has my emails, I held up my end of the deal in full transparency and compliance. It is in her court. Will she do the right thing?  One follower over on Facebook does not think so, and provided the most eloquent statement about the situation. I'm done now.

Let's focus on science. 

Sunday, May 8, 2016

My Letter to Vani Hari

Public records requests are an important tool for journalists and other investigators to obtain information to check public employees' for episodes of wrongdoing.  Today there are two alarming trends. 

1. Politicians with deep pockets and plenty of attorneys find ways to make sure the records are not made public.

2. Scientists that do not have deep pockets and attorneys are seeing abuse of the system for elaborate witch hunts, expeditions that find no evidence of wrongdoing, yet result in potentially career-damaging manufactured narratives.  In other words, when you teach a scientific topic or do research that some find objectionable, your records can be used to harm your career. It has been seen by researchers in climate, vaccines, animal research, genetic engineering, and most recently, fisheries.  

Last year my institution received a Public Records Request from Vani Hari, The Food Babe.  It was indeed curious, and it didn't take long to realize that this was retaliation for my scientific assessment and criticisms of her claims. On her website, she states that she feels Monsanto compelled my speech. She also publishes false information about me and my statements about a relationship with that company. 

Mega-extreme narcissism alert!  When a scientist objects to you lying to students at his university--- it must have been because he was paid off by a company.  Makes perfect sense. 

When offered an opportunity to win public sentiment, will she choose the path of harassment and slander, or use her talents in concert with the scientific community? 

My university compiled 2707 pages of my private email, redacting anything that had student information or proprietary information. She requested we search "Food" "Babe" and "Food Babe", "Vani" "Hari" and "Vani Hari" among other terms. 

No Monsanto smoking gun, because there was no gun to smoke. I just saw many private conversations that had nothing to do with her, but mentioned one of these terms. Consistent with the law, all of them are included. 

I read through them before our university lawyers did.  Nothing there. So I thought that I might do a test, extend a gluten-free olive branch to Ms. Hari. 

I sent her a letter telling here there was nothing to see, and suggested she repeal the request before it cost the public a small fortune.  That's a good gamble.  She'd be viewed favorably, win back some of the middle that sees her as a bully, and maybe ingratiate a scientific community that sees her as an annoying loon.

If she decided to proceed, and there's nothing to reveal (which there isn't), she just confirms everyone's beliefs that she's a profit-driven narcissist happy to waste public money because she knows more than scientists.  

Worse, if the records are released and she proceeds to fabricate stories like Thacker, Lipton and others did-- she'll look awful. 

I gave her a choice and welcomed her to embrace science. 

No response. I emailed it to the same email address where the record were delivered, so it was a legitimate email address. 

Here is the letter I sent. 

The disparity between my "1100 records" and the actual 2707 is because the university conducted their own search of my records. I did not include the full attachments, which are talks available on Slideshare, and other redundant documents. The university gives everything!

It is quite a concept.  Unfortunately the desire to push forward with the fishing expedition tells me that I best brace for Round II of manufactured, damaging claims. 

My letter was sincere. If she were to step to the science side, her star would rise to amazing heights.  She could be a science communicator rather than a shill for her own image and endorsements.

It will be an interesting couple of weeks. 

Saturday, May 7, 2016

TB35 Jayson Lusk and Unnaturally Delicious

This week's Talking Biotech Podcast features Dr. Jayson Lusk. We discuss his new book, Unnaturally Delicious and cover a huge range of topics from what "natural" means to GMO labeling.

Friday, May 6, 2016

The First Seized Emails- Your Tax Dollars at Work

I was not going to post any of the emails sent to Vani Hari, but I changed my mind.  Here is the first one.  It shows how screwed up this process is and how wide my personal correspondences are turned over to others, just because we had to search, at taxpayer expense, and turn over all emails with the word "babe".

This is number 1 of 2707. 

The BABE 2014 Conference looks like a hoot. Bioavailability and Bioequivalence!

Email 2 of 2707 was from a woman I never met. She sent me an unsolicited email looking for a position in my lab.  In her CV she shows that her MS advisor's name, and his first name is "Hari".  Her CV, her interest in my program, is now part of an email sweep that will be turned over to someone hostile to science. 

These are the first two.  Your dollars at work to satisfy nuisance, vanity requests-- because it is easier than discussing the science. 

Thursday, May 5, 2016

My Email Goes Off to Vani Hari

IMPORTANT.  I was reluctant to make this information public because I do not want anyone to harass, intimidate, troll, or give any grief to Ms. Hari.  That's her game.  Those who condemn her tactics are not to use them.  We must define the high road. 

I provide the information in this blog because I want everyone to understand the ongoing abuse of public records laws at incredible public expense.  I want everyone to see the scope of innocent people that will be potentially affected if/when she makes this information public. There are consequences of handing over 2707 pages of private correspondence to someone that has a goal to destroy you-- because you dared to challenge her with science and evidence. 

Share the story.  Don't flame her or her followers.  Share it with science journalists, science enthusiasts. Let others know that this is happening, but NO RETALIATION, NO ABUSIVE COMMENTS, please LET HER CONTINUE TO SINK ON HER OWN.

Today at 9AM EST over 257 MB of PDF, containing 2700+ pages of my personal email, goes to Vani Hari, aka The Food Babe.  

I was reluctant to write about this or even pay it a second thought. She is a small annoyance and has been a willing participant in propagating vicious lies about me. What do we expect?  I'm costing her lots of money!  When we talk about what science is, how technology works, and what chemistry does, her fear-based message becomes less influential.  Viva Educacion! 

But it is important to make this invasion of my privacy public.  Here's why. 

The Food Babe, Vani Hari, is convinced that I work for Monsanto.  She only has to check my statements against a scientific record, a scientific consensus, then check a mirror, and she'd see who really is making mountains of money from false claims.

I've dreaded today. I've been disturbed coming up to it.  The anxiety I experienced before is back, I'm on the edge of breaking down when I talk to people about it.  

Because I did nothing wrong.  

I did my job.

I helped people understand science and decipher popular web-driven myth, perpetuated in part by Hari. 

The huge stack of emails shows nothing inappropriate, nothing breaking rules, nothing breaking laws.  Nothing harming others.

But if history is a lesson, when you provide thousands of personal emails to people that want to destroy your three-decade career-- they will find a way to manufacture a narrative that is not true, purely to destroy you. 

One thing is for sure.  There's little about her, other than my discussions with reporters looking for a scientific perspective on her claims.  She was mentioned often, but nobody really cares about her personally.  But what will she turn it into in retaliation for my criticisms?

Here are some nuggets:

Prepping Fraley. 

For instance, there is email in there about Dr. Robb Fraley, Monsanto Chief Technical Officer, coming to deliver a public seminar on my campus. I was appointed to be the host.

That alone will be portrayed as high collusion between me and Monsanto.  

While he was here he was prepping for the Intelligence Squared Debate, and asked me if I knew the points that Chuck Benbrook (another debater) usually makes.  I did know.  I sat in two events with Benbrook in the previous few months and knew exactly what points he raised.  He has made many claims without any data (such as how "new science" says GE crops causing autism, food allergies, ADHD and asthma) I disagreed with him, but found him personally quite a nice guy.

I did refer to him and Margarent Mellon as "cold fish", speaking to their combined charisma and likability, which eventually played out true to prediction. 

So I gave Fraley a note on the things he might hear (you'll see it was not a priority, as they badgered me to send it for weeks).  That will be portrayed as additional evidence of my "strategic position as a key advisor to Monsanto's highest executives" if her previous posts about me are any guide.

Work-Related Discussion

The vast-vast majority of this stuff has nothing to do with her.  There are discussions between me and others about important personal issues, employee problems, or work related to my job as a Department Chair.  At the end of that business, someone would chime in with something like, "Read your note on that Subway-Food Babe thing, wow is she clueless..." 

That whole conversation, not about her, is now in her hands.

I had a discussion with a dean about a faculty member we were hiring and were trying to determine what the salary might be.  It's all in there!  Why?  My dean included a link to an article about Vani Hari at the end of one of the emails. 

That entire email is now going to her.  She may decide to make the personal info public to harm this other scientist or the dean for criticizing her. She may write to the new faculty member about how his salary was determined.  She has their names, their email addresses and phone numbers. They may even be subject to FOIA investigations. 

Students' Requests for Assistance

But the worst part-- students.  I received many emails from students after her talk here at my school. They were redacted if they were from my university, and there are many blacked out pages.  But if you were a student from Purdue, Berkeley, or University of Arizona (yes all of you, and many others), I'm so sorry to report-- you are in there. 

You must have mentioned her, like "Thank you for standing up to people like the Food Babe."

Your email address, your name and other personal information are now in her hands.  

I'm hoping she will defer to her higher angels.  

It is bad because with a posting on her website you may be harassed and taunted by the Food Babe Army.  She may smear you the way she did me-- all I did was criticize her too. 

But there's another problem.  I pride myself on being a professor that reaches beyond my university. I've offered career advice to thousands of students, just to respond to an email. I give career advice and guidance. 

If you were a student, and wanted help from Prof Kevin Folta, would you dare ask him, knowing your personal information will now be handed to those that want to destroy scientists? 

I think that is a problem. 

Discussing Books and Interviews

I saw a friend that works for Springer Publishing and he asked me if I had any good book ideas.  I told him that I had a manuscript started for Al Quesadilla- The Rise of Food Terrorism and that part of it was about Vani Hari.  He asked me for a proposal.  You'll see that. I didn't have time, so I never did it.  I used part of it for the work with Kavin Senapathy et al's book Fear Babe.  I also was in in places where I could stop in and talk about food, technology and farming and be a guest on radio, TV, podcasts, etc.  I always check if there's an interest to talk.  Some of those are in there too. 

My guess is that these will be described as some desperate attempt to market Monsanto lies for profit, if the past is a guide. 

Other gems in the pile--

Not much, pretty much nothing.  However, you'll see me use unbecoming language and other things that are not consistent with my usual professional demeanor, but are lapses I have when shooting a note to a friend. 

So here we go.  What do you think will happen?  Another Eric Lipton smear piece that can be twisted into visible claims of corporate fraud and collusion... or will she just read it and say, "This guy's a good dude"? 

Time will tell.  But if my blood pressure, heart rate and headache are any indication, I'm expecting the former.  Fight or flight has kicked in, and I'm afraid that because I spoke scientifically against a charlatan, I will be punished, hard.  

I don't want to go through that again. 

Perhaps I won't have to.  She may receive this package, look through it, see there's nothing there and toss it in the trash. However, her current website suggests that this will be a retaliation for speaking science and criticizing her.  I will be happily surprised and grateful if she opts to do the right thing, and will thank her accordingly.  

Based on her rationale and endless smear of me, I'm not holding my breath.

Glyphosate and School Lunches