Monday, May 24, 2021

Creating False Consensus with Bots

 The discussion around Twitter bans is hot, mostly with regard to specific accounts that provide dangerous false information. 

But what about accounts that appear to be legitimate users, but somehow are coordinated accounts posting false or misleading information?  One false-information source alone is not much influence, and one can be singled out, reported or appropriately banned without consequence.  

But does the mass posting of a common false claim from dozens of accounts provide a false sense of consensus where none really exists? 

It's right from the Goebbels playbook-- tell a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.  It works because repetition and the perception of broad support from a number of supposedly independent accounts provides the illusion of truth. 

This barrage occurred following news that Oxitec mosquitoes were being released in the Florida Keys. 


Repetition of a common message from multiple accounts that appear to be independent provides the illusion of consensus about a common theme where none really exists. 

This deceptive spamming appears to happen through legitimate accounts. So either these are well-crafted fake online personas, or a careful coordination between individuals in a "phone tree" type of distribution of an identical message.  Either way it is deceptive, and the second one is highly unlikely. 

I'm going to look at this more closely.  My guess is that this all boils down to a common organization that is trying to manipulate public opinion around biotechnology.  Stay tuned....

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Allegations of Threats

 Over the last week the trolls are back, and polluting social media with more anti-Folta nonsense. 

I won't even touch on it.  Nobody has looked at it, nobody really cares.  It gets few likes, retweets, etc., and those that do show some love to the filth are in the defamation network.  It's dead.

But sadly I need to always play defense.  Now that these allegations are forever placed in findable space, I must reluctantly respond. I teach students, I work with kids, I lead community initiatives, and when someone claims that I'm issuing "threats" I unfortunately have to provide my perspective.

First, Carey Gillam.  She tweeted this, this week:


Carey is one of very few people on my "do not Heimlich" list.  She is one person that I believe is truly evil, and takes pleasure in harming others.  When I begged her to leave my family out of some online slander, she doubled down and went after someone very close to me.  I appealed to her as a mother and a human being to please just stop-- but she dialed it up.  She is a monster. 

Over the last decade she has trashed my work, made false claims about me and my motivations, and has been generally horrible.  She is paid by USRTK, the organization sponsored by industry to  endlessly harass me, so she gets a paycheck to post defamation like the above.  That's her job. 

If she had "bizarre and oddly threatening emails" from me she would have posted them, or paraded them around the internet. 

And if I would have made threats, they would have been very much deserved. 

Threat Capacity

I'm not one to make threats.  I'm a diplomat.  We work things out. However, I am one to describe the constellation of outcomes if a given path is taken.  Big difference. By talking about "here's what happens if..." is an important point for me to present to others. 

I make no threats, and nothing I say could ever be remotely construed as a personal threat-- like physical harm or unfair retribution.  I don't have that gear.  Frankly, I wish the trolls would leave me alone, and I ignore them for the most part. 

Where It Started

This week a story emerged online about how Karl Haro Von Mogel claimed that I threatened him in a 39-page psycho complaint to my University's Dean for Teaching.  

Think about this.  If someone were to threaten you in a non-work related context, legitimately, would you run crying to their employer?  

Karl does this because he knows that there are no legitimate threats from an ethical or legal perspective, and people that know me, and know him, understand that I don't operate that way.  They see what he has done to cause me personal and professional harm, along with stark personal betrayal, and understand that I probably am justified in feeling a little prickly towards him. I just ignored him until his wild complaint package surfaced.

But universities are extremely risk averse and must take all claims very seriously.  That means universities can be exploited to do your dirty work, and trash the reputation of your target academic from within their institution. 

At the same time my University Administration knows me better than anyone, and also knows the praise I receive for good work in teaching, service, research and outreach. They know a troll when they smell one. 

The other major problem here is that the alleged threats were not communicated through a university email account or in my role as a professor at the university.  I was a private citizen protecting my privacy and reputation, and discussions with Karl were personal and through non-work channels. Now von Mogel took it upon himself to drag in my employer and make his claims public, making my personal, private emails public without my knowledge or permission, or the courtesy a carbon copy.  Shame.

He produced an email from me that contained this excerpt, interpreting it as a threat: 



At the time, my personal property and files were being distributed to the internet, including the ever-hostile GM Watch for malicious and incorrect re-interpretation. I wanted to know how that material was getting out of my home and file cabinet, and I suspected he may be part of that pipeline. I already knew that he broke my confidentiality on some highly-sensitive work I was doing with a law firm and was meddling in my divorce by providing false statements to my ex-wife's attorney. 

I simply told him, we can discuss this privately, or make it public, you pick.  That's not a threat. This is me kindly offering to work it out together privately, rather than having it blow up publicly and have to explain it, like is happening here.  I don't want to wreck the guy's future like he wants to wreck mine.  

Keep in mind that this was several years ago. I just learned of this complaint last week (5/2021) when it went public, and if it didn't go internet-wide I would never have said anything publicly. They guy has enough problems and could still sort it out and be a good contributor. 

But to accuse me of threats is something I must directly address. 

He continues: 


  If it is false, then we can talk about it and sort it out.  It was his refusal to discuss this important issue, and my need to get to the bottom of it that prompted my response.  It was not "social blackmail", as proven by the fact that he did not discuss it with me and I kept quiet-- I never made it public until now, when his complaint became public. 

The next "double down" on "threats" was:



This was after Karl reported me to a professional conference for violating the Code of Conduct, simply because I requested a meeting with him on how we were going to complete a project that was crowdfunded with >$13,000 of public money, where he dropped the ball and my name was attached to it.  I had every right to be angry, and I wasn't.  I just wanted to formulate a plan out of the mess, together. 

My reputation was on the line and I wanted a resolution. I either wanted a plan forward or was going to disconnect from the work very publicly in an act of self-preservation. 

Luckily he kicked me off of the project, along with lots of other people that did the analysis on my end, and did so very publicly, so I didn't have to do anything. 

Is it a Threat? 

The point is simple. These are not threats-- these are IF/THEN statements where I spelled out our options to completing a project or resolving a difference. I always was gracious in offering to do things the easy way first, and avoiding escalation that does nobody any good. 

That statement is shown to be true with time, as I did not receive a satisfactory solution that I asked for, and still never took the situation public.  I didn't want to affect his career and possibilities like he wanted to do to me.  I just let it disappear. 

Until now.  If the 39-page complaint didn't surface, then I would not have to state my explanation of the  situation.  He knows about FOIA and public records requests, he used that system anonymously to gather confidential documents of mine and distribute them.  He absolutely knew that he was planting a seed that would be discovered later and play a critical role in his malicious targeting. 

Again

If you have questions, ask me.  The situation is super unfortunate and my guess is that the other parties involved wish they had a do-over.  It makes them look amazingly sad and petty.  Rather than accepting an invitation in a private email (these were from my personal account, not subject to FOIA, and had nothing to do with university business) to resolve a difference with me personally, they run to conferences and my university administration and claim "threats". 

And now this long-forgotten annoyance has become very public, not by me, I'm busy working and teaching science. 

And I want to keep doing that.  These kinds of accusations do nothing to help me teach others as they are designed to harm my reputation.  

Which means I now need to work even harder at producing good media and better outreach. Good.  I needed a little fire to refocus my efforts in positive ways. 

I hope he finds his. 





Friday, May 21, 2021

Hang It Up Stacy

 In 2015 the anti-science, scientist slander machine called US-RTK provided my emails and a story to New York Times reporter Eric Lipton.  As stated by Lipton on the 9/17/2015 Kojo Nnamdi Show on NPR, (USRTK leader) "Gary Ruskin handed me a story and wanted me to publish it."

The result was a gross misrepresentation of me and my motivations to teach science. To them, it was all part of a corporate cabal to misinform the public in exchange for grant money. 

Time has shown that none of it was true.  Still the story lives on the internet, forever attached to me in a Google search. 

And folks from USRTK keep it alive and well.  Last week Stacy Malkan, a USRTK henchtwit, continued to post links to the Lipton story, at least to the documents that supported it, plucked from their context for easy re-interpretation.


Yes, that's what I do.  I talk to folks about communication, which has a significant component of psychology.  How do people process information?  What mistakes do they make?  How can we earn trust?  These are the things I teach. 

And as the article states,  "A Florida Professor Works With the Biotech Industry" they neglect to note that this is our job.  We are to be public liaisons with industry. That's part of the Morrill Act of 1862 that established the Land Grant University System. It is to take the knowledge generated and apply it to agriculture, which includes the ag-associated industries. 

Lipton and USRTK neglect to note that 95% of my research funding comes from federal and state sources. The industry funding for research came from the Florida Strawberry and vertical farm industries. In 2017 I hired a postdoc for one year on Bayer funds ($57,000 to hire a Ph.D. scientist for one year with benefits) to work on novel molecule discovery, which is one thing my lab does. 

Here's the Point

Over the last several years it is no secret that USRTK has lost relevance.  You can't slander scientists and attack science for years and not expect folk to catch on eventually. 

Their recent attacks on Dr. Peter Dadzyk brought them sharp rebuke by social media, and their website visits plummeted. 


Traffic ain't so hot over at USRTK. While the world tolerated their hate directed at scientists for years, the anti-COVID19 science work has flattened their curve.  Source.


At the Same Time... 

While I'm not speaking at conferences as much and have been living through the other hassles of hard defamation, things are going generally very well.  Research is fun, teaching is going great, and I'm investing time in other community leadership efforts. All good. 

The Talking Biotech Podcast is entering its 7th year, approaching 1.5 million downloads and 300 episodes. 


The Point.

When you are a hate group that targets scientists the world will catch up, and you will lose relevance.  When you do good work that grows with time, you gain relevance. 

Why do they beat a tired old story from 2015 that they created?  It got them what they wanted at the time, but in the rear view mirror of time it is clear that it was a targeted hit piece that ultimately proved to be bullshit. 

And their defamation page on me is alive and well.  My students visit it and laugh.  They know me, and that's not me.

In a world of important problems, why not focus energy and time on solving them?  What dig the heels into defamation of public scientists working for the good of others?  

It is a failed formula.  Stacy doesn't get that. Maybe she will when USRTK is out of business.  Coming soon. 



A Response to Carey Gillam