Thursday, February 28, 2019

Blog Post from September 6, 2015

In light of recent events, I decided to visit my blog from September 6, 2015, the day that Eric Lipton's article was published.  Here it is again for you to compare and contrast against claims made by Lipton and others. That is all. 



1. What is your relationship with Monsanto?

I have no formal relationship with the company.  Friends, former students, colleagues from previous jobs work there.  They once made a relatively small donation to my university to cover travel/production costs of my science communication program in August of 2014.  The entire original amount was reallocated to a campus charity. Monsanto does not fund my research and never has. I have spoken at the company twice about science communication and enjoyed collegial hospitality.

As is clear by emails, I'm glad to share thoughts and opinions with them on science communication. I hold no formal capacity in this regard. I do this with any company and show no special favor to Monsanto.

2. What is your relationship with Ketchum?

Ketchum runs the GMO Answers website. As an educator, I’m always excited about new ways to communicate science, and am especially eager to harness the reach of well-designed and promoted electronic media. The GMO Answers website was a great opportunity to answer questions for a concerned public using scientific evidence.  The website remains extremely useful, and is an recognized resource for a curious public to have questions answered. I still answer questions for the public via that medium, and will do so until there are no questions to answer.  I receive no compensation for my answers, and all reflect strict interpretations of the scientific literature. 

3.  Did you receive reimbursement for travel from anyone?

Absolutely.  As an expert in my area of research (fruit genomics, LED light in controlled environments) I am frequently asked to travel to companies (such as LED light companies or greenhouses), fruit companies (Driscoll’s etc), or universities (many).  I provide a seminar about my lab’s research and interact with companies to aid in their research directions and designs.  It is customary for those requesting the presentation to cover the related travel and lodging costs.

I'm a cheap date. I don't want anything special, basic creature comforts.

Similarly, if a company wants me to speak on biotech communication, they pay my associated costs.  If politicians request to hear from an expert, the companies, professional societies, or industry groups may be willing to cover my costs.  That is normal and customary.  The university does not cover travel costs and my laboratory has no travel budget outside of grant-sponsored travel specific to the project.

It is important for these parties to hear from scientific experts, and the scholarly literature should be the central driver of policy decisions.  Therefore, my voice is important in these cases, and I'm grateful for anyone that is willing to cover my minimal costs to participate in such discussions. 

4. Do you receive speaker fees or honoraria?

Occasionally I am offered fees for my time, again, which is customary and appropriate.  Those funds could go to me personally, but I recommend they are directed to fund my outreach program. In essence, funding to me, goes to fund outreach. 

5.  Did Ketchum write your answers on GMO Answers?

Early in the first months of GMO Answers a Ketchum employee provided scientifically precise answers as samples for what I might choose to write.  They were offered as a guide.  I can find two cases where I read and modified their template. I answered the other 65 with zero prompting. 

It is not uncommon for scientists, politicians, journalists and others to have staff prepare draft documents.  I am not compensated for my time, and these are lengthy answers, so the well crafted answers from Ketchum were used as a starting point to produce a hard answer that was scientifically correct.  This is a common and acceptable practice, as busy people work from outlines framed from others. Hence the occupation, "speechwriter".

However, I pride myself on documents generated from a blank page. I just like the way I write. These two examples were uncharacteristic conveniences, and will be replaced with answers that are completely my own words.  They provide an identical message.  It is not an admission of guilt. It is my way to say, that only my words appear online. 

6. What did you mean by "I'm glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like"?  

Simple.  I appreciate opportunities.  Out of context this sounds nefarious, but it is what I say to anyone that extends me an opportunity to speak, write or participate.  I make this statement daily, and it is my job to provide scholarly interpretations of the literature, relate science to schools, and aid our state extension personnel in communicating this science.  I am glad to help anyone that offers me an opportunity to write or speak, if it means better understanding of science.

Cherry picking a quote from industry emails neglects the thousands of interactions I have with school groups, retirement homes, statewide non-GMO fruit industries, nationwide industries and the many other places I help teach science. 

7.  Has a company's financial or other influence ever influenced the science you communicate? 

No.  These are my words and no company has, or ever will, influence what they are.  They are interpretations of the scholarly literature, and in agreement with a vast scientific consensus.

I guess we could say that support allows me to do it more often, thereby influencing the frequency of the communications events.  However, only I provide content. All of my talks, lectures and workshops are available online at Slideshare.net.