Thursday, May 20, 2021

What's the Actual Story of the 39-Page Complaint?

Yesterday a story was published about me that was largely silly, defamatory and the continued rant of a mad activist that has special hate for me. When you see "Monstanto" in the title you know it is someone stretching for clicks. No big deal. 

But he bases his rant on a 39-page complaint that was prepared by a former colleague who decided to spend years targeting me personally and professionally.  The complaint went to my university, who just ignored it because I first learned about it yesterday. 

Clearly this malicious postdoc knows about FOIA, and knew that his complaint would make its way into the hands of enemies of science and innovation that have targeted me forever.  Who's side is he on? 

The funny part is, a colleague that has also worked with him on several projects said, "Thirty-nine page complaint!  That's the first writing project he's ever actually completed!" 

For the most part I ignore it.  I'm not going to broadcast that this blog entry even exists, I'll just leave it here.  My only point is to add my perspective to the mix, now that they have decided to make a personal situation public.  

I'm always glad to answer your questions, so send me an email at kevinfolta at gmail dot com and we'll schedule a phone call.   

*****

This is a tough one for me.   Someone I genuinely appreciated threw red meat to the people that seek my personal and professional demise. It caused immeasurable harm, mostly because I feel it was pivotal in removing me from public service and university service. 

Karl Haro von Mogel was someone I first met as Karl Mogel.  He applied to our graduate program in the early 2000's and when I met him we bonded instantly. I appreciated his interest in science communication and the fact that he did a podcast interviewing folks like Michael Pollan, long before podcasts were a thing. 

I was one of few that supported his admission.  Most felt he was flighty and unprofessional. The fact that he overslept meeting times and needed special rides didn't help either, as we weigh the opinions of our staff heavily, and they were not impressed. We did not offer him admission, and I was sort of disappointed. 

He went on to pursue a Ph.D. degree at Wisconsin, and I remained an ardent supporter of Karl. In the subsequent years we connected via common interests in producing media for discussing biotechnology, and had some very nice times. 

He always had critics, but I stood by him firmly. He was a good guy at his core, and I still believe that even after he has dedicated endless energy to harm me personally and professionally.  He's one of the folks that someday probably will apologize. 

Where Did the Problem Happen?

Together with Anastasia Bodnar, Karl and I set up a project on Experiment.com.  It was needed, simple and meritorious work, a project to be conducted in the spirit of Citizen Science. The goal was do debunk the tired claim that squirrels and other wildlife would not consume GMO corn.

Karl grabbed the reigns.  He contacted a Monsanto (who you'd have to use for such things to have impact) seed contact and arranged for corn to be grown and treated in Hawaii that would comprise the best test of the hypothesis that "Squirrels won't eat GMO corn".  The foundational lines were grown next to the GMO equivalent- and airtight experiment. All of those docs have been paraded in social media from FOIA requests, so I won't bore you with them here. 

We crowdsourced the project via Experiment.com, and within a very short time we had exceeded our funding requirement two fold, for postage, testing and packaging within 24 hours. 

Early on, Karl did a great job. He was the point person. he sent out the kits and did the majority of the leg work.  It was really great, and I appreciated his leadership in this important, simple campaign.  Kids were getting kits, running experiments in school, doing tons of work.  It was an exciting time.

The experiment was supposed to run for two weeks.  

After two weeks, I told him that we should shut it down and analyze the data.  He said no.  He still had some kits to send out and more data would be nice.  I fundamentally disagreed, end points are end points, but he was the boss. 

Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and I drafted the Introduction and Discussion, with a pretty good idea what the results would be. 

But this is where Karl checked out.

We accepted crowdfunding to do the work, he did the hard part, but it languished without completion. This was 2015 into 2016.

Light at the End of the Tunnel? 

As the crowdsourced experiment bled from late 2015 into to 2016, and the calendar turned to 2017 I became increasingly sour about accepting money to do a simple experiment and not delivering. The kids that put out the corn and diligently took pictures in 7th grade were now off to high school.  It was a major problem for me.

Now, part of the problem was my slow progess on the analysis.  I was going to develop a machine vision program to analyze the % consumed, but it didn't work well when compared to manual counts. I can't solely blame someone else for the lack of progress, as it was easy to put it away and not think about it. Nonetheless, we all sat and hoped someone else would drive the completion. 

In spring of 2017 I assembled a team of about 30 volunteers. I made standards and we showed images, and the team rated the percent consumed against a standard. It took a good 3-4 hours on a Sunday, but I eventually tallied and assembled all of the data and it was analyzed by an expert statistician. I moved toward writing, but he insisted that he had it under control. 

Karl presented the work at Plant Biology 2017 in the education session.  I was glad to see it. I had a talk in the same session and it was good to see the project move forward.  I had  feeling that it was on the way to completion, and we were making good on our commitment to the students and citizen scientists that did the work. 

But interest died there. 


Violation of Conference Code of Conduct? 

A year later I was attending Plant Biology 2018 in Montreal, mostly to showcase my postdoc's work and a new project we wanted to roll out on an international stage.  

I saw Karl at a distance in the poster session.  He'd dart around here and there, I was excited to talk to him about the corn project and how we'd make good on our commitment. 

I could understand why he was being evasive.  We were now a year past his presentation at Plant Biology 2017, the kids that did the study in junior high were well in to high school. Online criticism abounded about the lack of follow through, and I was not happy about progress.  I never could seem to get in the same place as him, and in the 39-page complaint he sent to my university about me (below), he explains that he was trying hard to avoid me.  I get it. The crowdsourced project was a total disaster, he collected $13k in funds and there was no accountability. 

I was standing in the lobby of the convention center in Montreal talking to an old friend when I saw Karl walking in my general direction.  I got his attention and quickly asked him if we could get together sometime and discuss the corn experiment.  I explained how I understood that both were busy, but we really needed to finish the crowdfunded work.  We didn't set a time, but I advised that we'd follow up by email. 

The next day I got an email from the leadership of ASPB, the American Society of Plant Biologists, the group holding the conference.  They told me that I was under investigation for violation of the Conference Code of Conduct.  I could not figure it out!  What did I possibly do?

I agreed to speak with the CoC enforcement panel from the conference. These are people I know from the discipline, some for over 20 years. We didn't meet in person because I was leaving that day and I wanted to figure out what the heck was going on, so I requested a phone call and we all got together shortly thereafter. I was excited to get to the bottom of this. 

What could this possibly be? 

They said that there was a complaint levied against me for harassment at the conference. I still was clueless. If I harassed someone I surely would know about it, and I'm very careful in what I say. In fact, harassment is not my way of dealing with anything. I'm a good diplomat that values good ol' persuasion.  

They were reluctant to say who the complaint was from, but after several minutes of discussion they told me "Karl Haro Von Mogel." 

"Oh, that guy!" I exclaimed.  

I was blown away.  I told them that I simply asked him to kindly schedule a professional discussion about completing work we said we'd do, to make good on our commitment to a crowdfunded project. 

"That's not harassment, that's me simply requesting a meeting," I said. 

And I'll never forget the words that came through the phone and into my ear.

"If he says he felt harassed, then he was harassed," one of the people on the committee said.

Ho-Lee-Sh*t. 

The call concluded with them saying that they'd consider the evidence and make a decision about the consequences of harassment. 

I told them that they, and the conference CoC was being used intentionally as a harassment tool, that I was not the harasser, I was the harass-ee!  I suggested a lifetime ban, that Karl was the one that needed a firm retribution for using a conference committee to inflict harm on someone else. 

I was told not to discuss it, but that is not their decision. I was the one being harassed by someone reporting me to a professional organization I've belonged to my entire professional career.  I was not taking this lightly. 


My Confidential Outside Work

In 2017 I accepted a job as a Subject Matter Expert working for a law firm.  They had some old data that they felt told a story in a case they were working on and wanted a professional analysis.  Time would show that I was well suited for the role, and spent a lot of time sorting it out. I was compensated well for my time.

In the summer of 2017 I didn't know much about the job and exactly what it would entail, but it was a lot of fun thinking about it.  I had to keep all of the information strictly confidential by contract.  I was not to talk about the work, those involved, etc. 

To do the work I have to file with the university for outside employment.  I'm allowed to do work that does not conflict with university function or funding, so I had to disclose to the administration who the law firm was and something about the nature of the work, even before I understood exactly what it was. 

There is a boiler plate form.  It gave me several options of what to pick as a Subject Matter Expert.  What box would you pick? 


And since I chose "consultant" I sent a note accompanying the document stating that it was not consulting (below), as I really was not giving any advice or direction on current business or scientific practices. I was analyzing old data using modern tools so a law firm could make some decisions. 


It was fun and intriguing work, and one of the highlights of my scientific career. It was truly satisfying to definitively solve a very challenging question that nobody else could unravel. 

I had to walk a very fine line between transparency, disclosure and confidentiality.  Letting out too much information could jeopardize the issue the law firm was working on, and it was critical to keep it confidential (even today I don't talk about it and removed certain details that Karl was happy to divulge). 

I spoke to the Associate Dean that handled disclosures and outside activities.  She helped me write a sufficient disclosure for my website that spoke of the nature of the work without giving the specifics that could harm the case. We consulted with ethics folks and distilled a reasonable disclosure.  It stated that I was involved in non-university work as a subject matter expert for a law firm. That's 100% correct and does not jeopardize the sanctity of the case.

Now keep in mind that this is why Karl is so angry-- He's sat on the corn project for over a year and my life goes on.  His sloth created the environment for the perception of a conflict of interest. I can't not accept new opportunities because old business will never be finished. 


Re-interpreting Partial Information

In the 39-page document Karl makes reference to a trip I made to Germany, to Bayer.  It was freely discussed in social media, etc. 

In December of 2017 I spoke at a conference in St. Louis.  It was a weed biology conference, and I spoke about the need for clarity and accountability around the dicamba situation. 

One of the people in the audience was from Bayer, the company poised at the center of that discussion. I was approached by a scientist that indicated there was a conference in March 2018 that they'd like me to speak at-- not so much a conference, as much as a meeting of scientists and weed experts, and that I'd speak on strategic communication around the dicamba situation. 

My talk was not favorable to the companies, but that's what she found attractive.  

"Our managers need to hear this," she said. 

So I flew to Germany, did  my talk, had a great time visiting.  I think I raised a few eyebrows and was quite critical of how the situation was handled and how it should go forward. 

In his complaint he brings up this event as part of "working for Bayer" when I was actually there as a university professor teaching communication strategy.

I was reimbursed exact costs of travel, with no honorarium or other compensation. 


Grant from Bayer

In March of 2017 I applied to the Grants 4 Targets program at Bayer. They fund pilot projects less than 50,000 euro, and I had a very good one for them.  I submitted it. 

They called me a month later. Whereas normally the process moved into June, my project fit so well that they were willing to fund it at about $57,000 USD, enough to hire a postdoc for a year. Awesome. I got that news in March 2017, months before I began speaking about Subject Matter Expert work with the law firm.

The work started in September, I hired Dr. Lilliana Martinez and she worked on it for a year.  In 2018 the Grants 4 Targets program was dissolved so that was the end of funding, even though the scientists we were working with there felt the project had great promise. 

The grant had nothing to do with the law firm, the law firm had nothing to do with me speaking at a Bayer meeting, and the Bayer meeting had nothing to do with the grants. However, Karl finds it impossible that this is true.  It is true. 


Confidential Information Travels Fast

Personal and confidential information was being leaked from my home to people interested . People would ask me about it, I would tell them to check my website. I was not allowed to talk about it. 

Now at this time the "GMO Corn" experiment was getting stale. We were two years out and no sign of completion, or interest in completion.  Karl starts to grill me on, "Are you consulting for Bayer?"

I told him that I was not (because I wasn't) and that I was involved in confidential work for a law firm (which is true). 

He needled me and needled me, and eventually dismissed me from the failed GMO Corn Project.  It was bittersweet because I had invested substantial time and energy, as well as the time and energy of people I sourced to analyze the data.  It was not reasonable to be eliminated from the project, but at the same time I felt like the captain of the Titanic was offering me the last life boat. 

I understand. Karl does not publish, he doesn't understand the rules of authorship, and that you can't really just cut loose people from projects because of a personal problem.  We separate business from unprofessional and unproductive personal squabbles. 


Leaked Documents and Personal Information

While professional life was going great, I was going through some tough times personally.  I was not living at home, but all of my personal property and information was-- and it was slowly being leaked to hostile entities such as GM Watch and Kavin Senapathy, who made it their business to decorate the web with it in the interest of defamation. 

Check stubs for travel reimbursement were portrayed as payments and satirical comedy 'zine I wrote in college to sell at bars was being paraded as my endorsement of drunk driving.  It was horrible, but the folks doing it had dense histories of targeted defamation, so it was all largely disregarded.  

That material  that was distributed existed in one place-- my old office at in my former home, and I did not have access to it. Long story. 

So someone was leaking it to someone else, and I suspected it was Karl and/or Kavin.  In an email conversation, I told him that I could figure out how my personal info was being leaked because I had access to a router and could see where info was leaving my old home electronically. 

Frankly, I have no idea how to do that or even if it can be done. My hope was to flush out the people that were distributing my personal information and misrepresenting it. 


Allegations of Spying

I told him that my wife and I had free access to each other's emails, texts etc, and that it would be easy to figure out where the leaks of my personal documents was coming from. 

He described this as "spying". 

During a divorce, he and Anastasia sent a letter to my ex-wife's attorney stating that I was spying on her electronically. 

Of course, my ex took this seriously and paid experts to comb the house looking for bugs and evidence of electronic surveillance, which there was none.  

At that time she told me about the letter and even sent me a copy. She was very kind, and told me that she needed to protect me from Karl and Anastasia, as they truly were out to cause me problems. 

I was amazed when I read the letter to the attorney. Karl and Anastasia now were not just targeting me professionally, they were going after me personally. 

I'm glad to supply the letter to anyone that wants to see it, but I won't post it here due to confidentiality with other parties involved that don't want to be involved. 


Karl's Note to my Dean About a Tiny Grant

Karl was going through the boxes of documents he received from the University of Florida at significant taxpayer expense. One of the docs was a small internal grant proposal to make short videos about biotechnology through the Public Interest Education Center at the University of Florida. 

The total was something like $3500, just enough to buy a few cameras and time on the equipment and do the editing, along with some professional distribution and other costs. Nothing to me personally.  

I had forgotten all about it.  It was not funded, and was only a vague recollection. 

Karl demanded that I be held accountable because I mentioned that he'd be reviewing the scripts for scientific accuracy. Back in 2013 when the proposal was written, Karl and I were on great terms. I respected his opinion and asked him if he could review the work. Of course, he agreed and I listed him in the proposal as a script reviewer. 

He now said that it was "fraud" and demanded action. 

When I was questioned about it I simply told my Dean, appropriately, that Karl was just causing trouble and that he was combing through documents, harassing me at conferences and causing me other grief.  

Quibbling over being mentioned as an authority in a tiny internal grant proposal was hardly misconduct as claimed.

The issue went away without incident. 

He'd later send a 39-page complaint (below) to my Dean, complaining about me, citing threats and harassment, none of which happened. In the complaint he also accuses me of  an "unacceptable breach of research ethics" which is a lofty allegation I don't take lightly.  He's trying to harm careers here. 


Falsely Described as an Industry Consultant

Sometime in early 2018 the University of Florida, my employer, received an anonymous request for documents pertaining to my outside employment. 

I'm no stranger to public records requests, as I get them constantly. Many are trying to figure out what would compel a life-long scientist to want to discuss science, do science podcasts, and post scientific media. 

This particular request was strange in that it was anonymous, but it was filled and went away.

Until it appeared on the front page of Biofortified, Karl and Anastasia's blog.  Without warning, or requests clarifications or questions, they posted and then misrepresented documents in a malicious and deliberate effort to harm me and my reputation. They strategically left out the documents that did not support their attack.

The documents were relevant to my approval to do outside work for the law firm, mentioned above.   

However, Karl and Anastasia billed it all as "consulting for Bayer" when the documents clearly stated that it was NOT consulting for a company and that it was simply analysis of old data for a law firm.  I never saw, met with, anyone from Bayer or any other company. Nothing relevant to modern business or science was ever discussed. 

They knew that packaging my work with a law firm as a high-paying consulting gig would give the reddest of the red meat to the anti-biotech activists.  They would then go on to try to destroy me personally and professionally using social media.  

Karl lights the fuse, walks away, and then watches the mushroom cloud and smiles.  Great strategy if you are unable to professionally engage someone in your field, and you want them gone. 

It worked to some degree, as I endured months of doxing, hassle, online defamation, etc. from anti-biotech activist groups that have wanted my teaching and outreach efforts silenced for a long time. 

Worse, I was almost fired from the gig with the law firm.  They told me that if it was not so late in the process that I'd be let go. 

I stayed on, did a great job, and solved an important question for them.  

There were other scientists involved in this issue, people I know from our discipline. They were impressed with my work and conclusions. They would refer me to other law firms for professional witness jobs because I was so effective.  

However, knowing that Karl will anonymously harvest my documents and disclose confidential information, they can't hire me because it is too risky. Karl cannot respect that some confidential information must remain confidential sometimes, and he is the arbiter of what needs to be public information. 


Karl Calls the Police

I was sitting in my office in 2018, working.  The phone rings. It is the university police. They are downstairs and "want to have a word" with me. 

They asked me about who I was harassing online, and that they got a complaint that I was hassling someone.  I had no idea what they were talking about.

I figured they were talking about Michael Balter, the guy that freely distributed my retirement account, bank account and other personal info, as well as advertised me as a spouse abuser. 

But they said the complaint was from California.  Still no idea. 

The police guy breathed a heavy sigh and reluctantly called his dispatcher to get more information. 

"Karl Haro von Mogel," the speaker blurted. 

My response with great relief, "Oh, that f^*@&ing guy."

He had called the police telling them that I was harassing him online, and at the time I can't even recall the last time I interacted with him. I've had him blocked, muted and shut out for months. 

There was no police report, no notes, nothing. Just using the police to harass me at work.  They just told me to "Ignore that guy" which is what I was doing. 


The 39-Page Complaint

I first learned of Karl's complaint to the university on 5/19/2021 in Paul Thacker's article.  I was amazed.  Karl assembled a thirty-nine page complaint, sent to my dean, accusing me of endless impropriety. I never heard or saw anything about it prior to it being posted by Thacker. 

You can read it here

The most disturbing part of this tome is that it mentions that I threatened him, over and over again. Read it.  There are no threats. 

I did clearly state that we needed to complete the work.  I did clearly state that I needed to understand how my personal property and confidential information was being posted online, and that we'd have that discussion privately or very publicly.

That's not a threat.  That is a statement of how a situation will be played out, and the choice was his.

I won't go into the details of his claims.  But after all of the other harassment of my university, harassing me through conferences, my wife's attorney, etc....  a 39 page letter to my university's administration?

Conclusion.  I always liked Karl.  Whereas others categorized him as a clownish man-child that doesn't deliver, I saw a spark of creativity and excitement in teaching science.  I wrote letters of support for him for jobs, and gave him the speaking opportunities I could not take. I wrote for his website and was happy to support his efforts. 

But now I have become his sick obsession.  To send a 39-page package of allegations to my university administration is insane.  I hope after reading this you look hard at what he considers to be "threats".  I simply suggested that there were consequences for his defamation attempts, which is true. 

Clearly those chickens came home to roost.  His endless harassment of my university may have been part of why I was dismissed from my position as Chair of a leading department in plant biology.  Universities just don't want to deal with the noise. 

I went back to my real life, I got to focus on my teaching, research, home, my wife and enjoying sunsets rather than driving/flying/working 16 hour days, 7 days a week. All is well. 

I still host a leading podcast in the life sciences, I still get lots of speaking invites, and things are just right for me. I'm in a personal, peaceful Goldilocks zone. 

It is important to get this story out for one reason.  Anyone considering hiring Karl (or Anastasia for that matter) needs to understand that these are fundamentally good people that feel that the way to solve problems is to throw people under the bus, publicly. 
Instead of calling in those they disagree with and enjoy a personal discussion to sort things out, they resort to anonymous FOIA, then public shaming of their targets. The secret letters to my superiors is a real problem too, as if he's making allegations he should at least carbon-copy me on the correspondence. That's just professional courtesy. 

Self appointing themselves as judge, jury and executioner without knowing the facts, trashing reputations at national conferences, and inflicting their venom on others through reputation assassination is not a good addition to any team. 

You may say that I'm doing the same to him here, but I'm not.  I'm being fair and impartial, and simply describing the angst he has caused me from his unprofessional, stalker-like actions. 

This is the first time I even thought about him in a long time.

I just need him to leave me alone. 

I do wish him well.  He needs to take the focus off of me, publish his damn research, grow up, and move on.