Monday, May 30, 2016

Please Cook This (and be Thankful)

Today I submitted a manuscript for publication and another one is close.  It is Memorial Day, a holiday where we are not supposed to be at work, but I was so happy to spend my day in the office with people from my lab.  We also met with a prof from another department.  We might have a solution for those antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  You'll love this...  More to come. 

On my way home I stopped at the one big grocery store in town  and saw "Green Cooking Banana" in the produce section.  I've learned that 400 million people eat this every day.  When the guy at the checkout told me that the bananas were really small and hard, I told him, "That's just the way I want them."

His eyes rolled. I told him that "400 million people eat this every day." 

When I returned home I read horrible things about me on Twitter. Seems that Natural News has re-posted the garbage showing up on GM Watch last year. Again, it is designed to harm my reputation, and clutter search engines with more negative nonsense.  

I could get upset and fire back.  Instead, I cooked bananas. 

It does not get better than this.

I cut the ends off of the green bananas and slit the peel all the way down. I boiled them with some salt and oil for 20 minutes.  Then I dumped them into the sink, pulled off the peel, cut them into chunks, and fried them with diced onion, garlic, and mild wax pepper.  Salt, pepper, and a tablespoon of wine vinegar-- tossed together until brown, and then upon serving threw in some fresh cilantro.

It was fantastic. 

People all over the world eat this as a food staple, every night.  For me, a relatively affluent scientist with running water and a climate-controlled home, it was a rare opportunity.  

I could have written a blog on how this Twitter brutal idiot was a brutal idiot. 

Instead I wanted to share two ideas.  1. How you can enjoy something delicious.  And 2. How we should be grateful for the options we have, and always be thankful for our food.  Many do not share the luxury of a beautiful meal like I had tonight, even though they have the same basic ingredients. 

Thanks everyone, best wishes always.  And if you ever are in North Central Florida, call ahead.  I'll make you some fried bananas. 

Sunday, May 29, 2016

My Real Job, My Needed Focus

Readers of this blog may think that my whole professional career is dedicated to debunking bad science and teaching about biotechnology.  The funny part is, that is probably 5-10% of what I do.  I'm the Chairman of a fruit/veg crops department that is among the world's best.  I lead a great research program in how light can make plants more nutritious and how different genes shape plant flavor.  I mentor postdocs, grad students and undergrads, along with many visiting scholars. 

This weekend five things happened:

1. Friday, another FOIA request for my emails. 
2.  A note that one of my former undergrads that she is now Chief Science Officer for a company in neurogenomics.
3.  A Facebook post from another former undergraduate that she has completed veterinary school.  
4.  A post from my current undergrad saying that she is heading off to Haiti to help run a youth leadership camp, and that she's doing a fundraiser. 
5.  An undergrad researcher in my lab stuck around for the summer after graduation.  He working super hard for almost no pay, and I think I found a great place for him to chase a Masters Degree. 

The annoyances of evil people that want me to stop teaching are far offset by the joys of my successes from teaching.  Ashley, Kiona, Sofia and Paul... all undergrads in the lab at one time that celebrated successes this weekend. 

You see why I'm disturbed.  On one side, hateful acts of malice that wish to destroy my reputation and career.  On the other side, heartwarming residues of my efforts, seeing undergrads that passed through the lab use that experience as a stepping stone to achieve their dreams. 

In my 14 years at University of Florida I have mentored over 110 students through meaningful undergraduate research.  Ten are named authors of peer-reviewed manuscripts, and just about all of them have appeared on a poster or presentation at a scholarly conference. 

One of my central jobs is to inspire and train young scientists. I'm proud to say that the vast majority have been women. One in particular comes to my mind.  She was a lost soul, truly wrestling with some personal baggage.  The lab environment, particularly the influence of strong female role models just a few years older than her, changed her. 

It did not save her.  She achieved a Masters Degree, found a productive career, but later would take her own life.  One profound tragedy that still makes me cry when I think about it. I have a picture of her on my desk and one in the lab. 

This is what it really is all about. It is about how education changes people.  It is about how experience and building skills opens the best doors. It is about how science is a vehicle to teach and build curiosity.  The task now should be how to bring more students into science so they can enjoy such benefits.  

It makes me think that all of the hassles brought about by activists, dangerous NGOs and hack journalists really belong on a back burner.  They have consumed me for sixteen months, and that's enough.  I was so agonizingly disturbed on Friday night with the new FOIA request, yet so utterly thrilled by the other victories of my former, and current, students. It is much more pleasant to bask in the successes of my students than to cringe at the evils of charlatans. 

It is why I will never quit, and why I need to refocus.  One minute spent on the Food Babes, USRTKs, and their legions of trolls is one minute pulled from my real mission.  I can trade the things that hurt for things that heal.  I can trade regressive angry people for enlightened young scholars.  I can stop debunking bad science and invest the same energy in training new scientists.

Not sure why it took me so long to get here. 

It was a good weekend.  It is Sunday.  I'm meeting a student today at 2 pm and tomorrow (Memorial Day) I'll be in working with another on designing his next projects to complete his first paper.  I'll also be setting up experiments for another super ambitious undergrad that could be real game changers. 

This is what I do.  I think that Vani, Gary, Claire, Carrie, Evil Mikey and the rest of the vicious critics might want to take a step back and think about who they are really harming when they strive to harm me.  

Thanks for reading.  Have a great extendo-weekend.  I will.  I'll be in my safe place, in the lab, teaching the next generation of scientists how to be their best, and contribute to a mission that is truly important. 

Saturday, May 28, 2016

Talking Biotech 38 GMO Cheese Enzymes, Nat'l Academies Review

In this week's Talking Biotech Podcast:

Chipotle proudly serves it.  The Vermont GMO labeling rules exempt it. Still 95% of cheese is manufactured from enzymes created through recombinant DNA technology. These GMO-derived enzymes are tremendously beneficial to the process.  Young cow stomachs are not needed and the prices are lower because the enzymes are abundant.  Levi Gadye is a graduate student in neuroscience and science writer.  He recently wrote an article on cheese enzymes in Gizmodo, and joined us in talking about cheese.  Kavin Senapathy co-hosts.

In the second part of the podcast I cover the continued FOIA requests for my emails and do a quick review of the National Academies of Science scholarly review of genetic engineering released last week.

Thursday, May 26, 2016

Harassing Scientists- Coordinated Troll Attacks

Another often-used tactic to harass scientists is the creation of multiple accounts in social media by one person.  These are then used to create the illusion of multiple interests with a common theme of a unified argument against a scientist or idea. They are used to post defamatory and false information and propagate it using Twitter's powerful reach.

These highly coordinated troll attacks are likely orchestrated by a single person that creates a series of accounts that interact and reinforce each other.  It creates an illusion of a codified message, when it is just one nutcase stirring the pot. 

It happened before, and after years of abuse an internet sleuth figured out who it was.  She is a professional in California. When I was out there I met with her and she told me all about how it was a guy she was renting to that would use her computer. Sure. I've never posted her name or taken legal action.  Both are still on the table.

Stupid High Road. 

This week a whole new set of fake accounts popped up and unleashed their vitriol.  You can monitor them here.    

Why it is clear it is likely a single person:

  • All accounts are new and were started at the same time.
  • All accounts make harassing me a central focus.
  • All accounts have minimal followers, and follow each other.
  • All accounts are followed by each other and Dr. EnaValikov, the vet in California that has notoriously cyber-stalked my threads for years, and she follows all of these accounts and retweets their vile messages, making her complicit in the defamation.
  • They also love to throw around the word "shill" but are equally challenged in spelling it correctly:

If you google the words "Monsanto Schill" you can find a good candidate for who this likely is. 

In conclusion, it is more of the kind of harassment we see as scientists that simply stand up for evidence-based interpretations of popular assertions.  It is another volley with the intent to create more harm toward my reputation and record by propagating defamatory memes and misinterpretations.

I guess a silver lining is that they tell the world I run GMO Answers. Not sure why they'd give me credit for such an enterprise. And no, I could not name a Monsanto product. I don't work in agronomic crops. 

Tuesday, May 24, 2016


What started as a joke between friends has gone a little haywire.  SciBabe Yvette is a friend and she was shocked that her personal emails were being sought by The Food Babe Vani Hari. The idea was a simple one.  Florida has loose laws, so the FB wants to exploit that to get personal info on others, using me as the weak link. 

So when Yvette threatened to send me a cat picture every day I thought it was funny.  I sent one back to her.  If our personal emails are Public Records... 

This ended up being discussed elsewhere online.  Yvette and I had a short conversation about it on her Facebook page and then things sort of took off. 

It is good to share niceties with a friend.  Sad that they become part of a record handed to activists. 

I'm at a conference and have been barely present online.  Today I opened my emails to find hundreds of pictures of cats. 

That's fine, but maybe cool it.  Most of all, please don't put nastygrams to VH in here.  Cats?  No big deal.  But please take the high road on VH personally. 

I would advise folks to not do this, it can be taken the wrong way or made into something it isn't.  It was a joke between friends, just one of those friends has a following to w lot of cool people. 

Thanks for not sending me cat pics.  It is a lot weed through to get my real emails.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

Another Vani Hari FOIA Request

First, some rules.  Please do not retaliate or harass her.  Respect her privacy for one reason-- I can tell you personally how horrible it is to have someone not respect mine. I do not want her to feel the way I do, because of her.  There's some Sunday irony. Thanks.

On Friday afternoon most folks watch that clock as the minute hand clicks toward five o'clock.  Last Friday, I got the email that my university had filled another public records request, again from the Food Babe, Vani Hari, and spent the next few hours going through what they plan to send to her. 

Why is she going after me?  Did I say something wrong?  Is something in my publication record not panning out and she suspects undue influence? 

No.  This is a personal, malicious, expensive attack for one reason-- It is because I corrected her.  I stood up when she visited my campus and lied to the students I am responsible to teach. 

The most recent request includes names of friends like Kavin, Vance, Yvette and Joe. Mark and Mark wrote the book with Kavin and I've never even had an email with either one, I don't think.  The top two names-- no idea. 

I hate like hell giving her any more attention, but this needs to be part of the narrative.  She wants personal emails, my personal conversations with friends.  This is just sick.  It is none of her business. It is the law, so I will will be in full compliance. 

If we did something wrong-- fine.  But this is a vanity request because people criticized her.  She knows that I don't separate personal and business email, I don't have the time or desire to do that. I never will. 

My university job is a researcher, teacher and department chair and my email used for business in those capacities is certainly hers to search.  Go for it.  That's the law and I'm glad to abide by it. 

But to request private emails between friends?  For no reason other than Yvette and Kavin have criticized her, and she's gone after Vance before too.  

She wants to know what we say about her, our secret plans.  Guess what?  Nobody really cares.  You'll see us talk about other things, maybe a joke, maybe someone coming to town. BFD. 

It is FOIA not being used for its intent-- to solve a crime or investigate wrongdoing.  It is taxpayer funded witch hunts to see if anyone said anything bad about Vani.  Damn egomaniac. 

People are sick of it and in social media many started posting her personal information.  I asked them to stop.  I even blacked out her email address in the above graphic.  Unlike her, I respect the privacy of others. 

The way to stop her is to tell the story of her attacks on public scientists far and wide.  Destroy her brand by showing that she is the bully, that she does not have science on her side and need to harm those that do. 

She is a horrible, wretched, self-absorbed woman.  I always gave her the benefit of the doubt.  However, she's wasted enough of my time and university resources, caused me massive anxiety and hassle.  Please share this story.  

Please share this story. 

Saturday, May 21, 2016

TB#37 Gene-Edited, Virus-Resistant Pigs

This week's Talking Biotech Podcast... The African Swine Fever Virus is a devastating pathogen that leads to fatal disease in domesticated swine.  Scientists at the Roslin Institute led by Prof. Bruce Whitelaw have made an important advance for domestic pig health and welfare.  Wild African pigs like warthogs do not get the disease.  Researchers at Roslin have studied the genes associated with viral infection, and found what is likely a critical difference between the wild and domestic pigs.  Using new gene editing technology, the change in wild pigs has been created in domestic pigs, and they will be tested for resistance to the virus this year.  This example is one of may that is coming in animal, plant, and fungal genetic improvement through gene editing.