I remember going back to Chicago to visit my father just before Christmas in 2015. The previous months had been brutal, and I was finally healing after activists deliberately misinterpreted my emails and the New York Times made false accusations that I traded grants for lobbying time. The personal and professional fallout was awful, but subsiding.
It was perfect timing for those seeking my demise to pile-on, to take another shot at a career academic researcher that has dedicated his time to research in indoor agriculture lighting and the genomics of small fruit flavor. His efforts to communicate the science behind biotechnology still were not appreciated by many.
US Right to Know, a now irrelevant fossil of the anti-science crusade against biotechnology commissioned Allison Vuchnich of Global News Canada to drop the hammer in a carefully coordinated next phase of career assassination. After all, I survived a their claims of malfeasance, quid-pro-quo payoffs, and colluding with companies to lie to the world about science. They needed something totally toxic-- and a story from Vuchnich about my relentless attacks on a teenage girl would be just the ticket.
I remember opening my laptop that snowy morning in Chicago and seeing the article. My heart almost stopped. Not again. I was sick for three months after being hammered online, destroyed in my community, problems created at my university and home, threats and harassment, and almost quitting science altogether.
Now the cycle would be re-ignited, skillfully.
I never wrote about this or even explained it before, mostly because I was paralyzed by fear of more fallout at the time. Today, Feb 1, 2021, five plus years after the article first presented its dirty smear, it was revived with full intent to harm.
Someone thanked me on Twitter. She is a chef and would be working with high school students, and was kind enough to offer me thanks for my inspiration. That's nice.
Paul Thacker, a dirty player and gutter hitman journalist, responded.
The awful defamatory article was still being wielded as a way to harm my ability to teach, communicate, and build public trust, now around issues like COVID19, climate, and genetic engineering.
What did the article actually say, and how much of it was true? Let's look at it in chunks.
1. Catchy-Grabby Headline
2. Maliciously Taking Words Out of Context
During the Proposition 101 "GMO labeling" campaign in Oregon in 2014, a commercial ran that was a complete misrepresentation of science. It was deceptive, it lied to the audience and was an anathema to science and reason.
A friend of mine, who worked with extension in Colorado for the Monsanto company, asked me if I would be willing to write an Op-Ed or sign a petition with hundreds of other scientists, denouncing the disgraceful video.
I said, "I'm glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like... etc" a quote that is used out of contexts by scoundrels like Vuchnich to harm my reputation with a cherry picked sentence deliberately misinterpreted from my private email correspondence.
Of course, Gary Ruskin, the guy that collected the emails and parsed out stories to reporters, was happy to celebrate Vuchnic's compliance with his mission.
3. Allison, That's My Job.
A big part of the role of scientists in the US Land Grant University system is to communicate science with the public. I write articles, blog posts, blah blah blah.
I never "defend GMO technology". False.
I teach about the strengths and limitations of technology as given by the peer-reviewed research. To enemies of progress, I guess that could look like "defending" a technology, but it is simply sharing the science.
And no, I did not "lobby" Congress. It is illegal for me to lobby Congress. I have been asked on multiple occasions to answer questions for Congressional Committees, and it is my obligation as a federally and state-funded scientist to do so.
4. Scientific Independence, Damn Right.
I never had any research support from Monsanto. They don't care about my research.
The ad was in the Global News story. Sorry.
I'm a scientist that teaches science. No, I don't care about companies and my first allegiance is to the evidence, my students, the public, and to sharing science. It has always been that way.
6. Distortion, Distortion, DistortionIn 2013 I was contacted by a woman named Mary Beth (something) from some communications/PR company I can't remember, asking me to write an article about the impacts of misplaced activism and I was glad to oblige. That's my job as a scientist, to bust fake news and show its impacts.
This was on the heels of the horrible paper by Seralini et al., the paper that was filled with problems and made claims about seed and cancer that have not been reproduced to this day, nine years later.
That paper shut down seed technology in Kenya and had other wide impacts. Damn right I was excited to teach the evidence and show the impacts of damaging disinformation.
Again, Vuchnich frames this as a nefarious conspiracy. It was actually a scientist stepping into a public discussion to educate others about science.
7. The Anatomy of their "Attack Video"
I was happy to answer. Here is the video that was described as "targeting" and "degrading". What do you think? A polished biotech stooge attacking a Canadian teenager would at least fix his tie.
She considered my video "almost degrading", but apparently not degrading, because absolutely no degrading took place. I was pretty damn nice in recognizing her strengths and talents. But that message was twisted in Vuchnich's article, which makes sense, as I emphasized critical thinking and the importance of young women to be involved in STEM disciplines. That is quite offensive to those that fail to embrace science.
Years later the website (accessed 2/1/21) still makes claims about bans in most countries, crops "doused" and "saturated' with herbicides, and other false claims. The lower image above is a field of wheat, which is not genetically engineered.
Kids' Right to Know? Or sadly, Disinformation for Kids?
Allison Vuchnich's article used quotations out of context, distortion of information, and disinformation in an attempt to harm my reputation and my career. Today the attack piece on Global News stands as a forever-accessible defamation, guided by the hand of US Right to Know, and executed by another sucker journalist that saw a juicy story rather than the much more interesting actual truth.
The problem is that I have to ride this slander wave to the grave. I teach in the classroom, and every semester have to point to articles like Vuchnich's, telling students about the dangers of speaking up for science-- then imploring them to do it. I have to be preemptive in showing the disinformation to keep their trust as their teacher.
I have stepped into COVID19 discussions, eager to see a pandemic end, and stop the pain of families suffering from preventable loss of loved ones.
And anti-vaxers will post Vuchnic's article adjacent to my presentations and posts, using her distortion to steal the trust I have earned as a scientist and scholar, showing that I cannot be trusted.
And a scientific voice is diminished in a pandemic. Congrats Allison.
Her article was a gift to thugs like Ruskin and Thacker that will use it forever, especially when I'm educating kids.
The good news is that this article has not aged well. The claims I made back then are just as valid today as they were then. Efforts to frame biotech as a dangerous technology have dissolved with the advent of biotech vaccines and slick cures for insidious human disease.
And somewhere deep in my heart I somehow think that Parent and Vuchnich might be big enough to apologize. Even if they did, the problems they caused for me personally and professionally can never go away.
But it is not about me. Their part in the war on science and reason will have long-lasting impacts on many, especially those that rely on biotechnology or wish to adopt it in their operations. Time should not be kind to them.
This is what happens when you speak about science in a volatile climate where the internet affords easy assassination of those that present science that some find offensive. My hope is that this synopsis shows the anatomy of defamation.
A Canadian teenager was not the target. It was an American scientist.