Wednesday, July 27, 2022

A Response to Carey Gillam

The general rule is not to engage those that seek to malign you as a scientist.  But this is a textbook case of how they respond to legitimate criticism-- by trying to disqualify the critic. I thought it would be worth a read so you can understand how these folks work, and why scientists are hesitant to engage disinformation. 

Last week I prepared a critical, scholarly response to an article by Carey Gillam in The Guardian. Her work was a horrible distortion of data to manufacture a sense of risk where none actually exists. 

In response, she published a textbook ad hominem fallacy argument against my scientific response, personally impugning me with selective editing, out of context quotations, and misrepresentation of situations. All of her comments are based on documents (mostly my emails) freely obtained through transparency laws I abide by as a public scientist.

I then commented thusly on her website. To her credit, it has been allowed to stand, of course with her comment: 

"If you care to read an unchallenged set of claims against a scientist you can pay me for them, because he's a shill that makes up things for money." 

Check out her article, and read my response: 

59 min ago·edited 38 min ago

Hi, Dr. Kevin Folta here, the guy in the article. I usually don't respond to such things, but it is kind of important as a teaching tool. As in the article in question, she continues to mislead. Here are my responses to her claims.

1. Note that Gillam does not address the criticisms levied against her article. She attacks the scientists that levied the criticisms. Because we appropriately called out the distortions, she's angry and needs to disqualify expert opinion.

2. Her claims that a 2014 (snooze) donation from Monsanto to my university to help defray the costs of a science communication program were not disclosed is not true. The VP of my university clarified that, and be because of the threats, hassles and fallout from her social media (and others) the university moved the funds to a campus food bank. None went to me and they were never used for science communication.

3. I did not "allow my name to be used on columns posted on an industry website that were written by industry PR teams." When the website GMO Answers came out I was asked to answer questions. Awesome. That's what I should do as a public scientists. In a conference call with all independent, unpaid writers, I asked about the scope and depth expected for answers. In response, the folks running the website provided a sample answer to one of the 72 questions I answered on the site. The answer was quite good, it was accurate. So I edited it, changed things around, clarified other aspect of it, essentially using that one as a template. That was one article of the thousands of things I've written. It gave red meat to those that want to cancel my voice, and that was a huge mistake I should have never given them. And that answer is 100% accurate and supported by a scientific consensus to this day.

4. In thousands of pages of emails etc provided and information subpoenaed in legal discovery, there was no place that I 'defended" "questionable activities in defense of Monsanto". I'm a scientist that discusses the strengths and weaknesses of technology. I don't care about the companies.

5. I did write a (freely available) email to a friend of mine that works for Monsanto (it's hard to be a plant scientist and not have old friends that end up there) "I'm glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like." What was the context that Gillam omits to make this look nefarious? There was a blatantly false and deceptive television commercial going on in Oregon and Colorado around the 2013 (?) labelling ballot initiatives. Lies, total disinformation. My friend and someone else (and you can go back and read those emails online) were soliciting scientists to respond to the false information. They suggested an op-ed or a petition. I replied, "I'm glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like." Context matters, but do you see how Gillam pulls quotes from context to make it appear nefarious?

6. The line "I'm grateful for this opportunity and promise a solid return on investment" is absolutely 100% correct. I didn't make that statement to a "Monsanto executive". I made it in an email to Charla Lord who is on the communications team at Monsanto. She was the one that sent the donation to my university to expand the science communication program. I was really grateful for the donation because it would allow me to teach more, hold more workshops where I trained scientists, farmers, academics, etc on the nuances of science communication. It would have been a great return on investment. I always over deliver. It's how I roll.

7. And yes, I published it in GLP. I appreciate GLP a lot as a source of scientific information and always am glad for the space they give me.

8. And I'm paid 9 months a year by a public university, also from a software company to do my podcast and by various websites that pay me for freelance content. I have no funding from Bayer, Monsanto (dead now 4 years) or any ag or biotech company. If there are factual problems with that content I'm always glad to discuss.

In the days of disinformation it is good to illuminate how we as public scientists are maligned by folks like Gillam. Those of us that discuss the science of chemistry, genetics, climate, vaccines, abortion, etc are targeted by these folks She's been on me for a decade, and while she's paid to write books and articles to trash the science and scientists, my work appears in scholarly journals with peer review.

It's why I bothered to reply.

A Response to Carey Gillam