Sunday, August 28, 2016

Eggplant Podcast Sparks Angry Response

My podcast has been up for over a year, now reaching 50 episodes.  In that time it has been a pleasure to cater to an audience of scholars and science enthusiasts.  I've deliberately kept the content hard with science, minimal with opinion, and sticking to the evidence.  I've avoided Big Ag products and focused on the good things technology can do.  

In general, the anti-GMO world has left me alone.  I don't find much negativity about the podcast online and the site itself is generally unmolested.  I do occasionally receive disparaging comments, but curate most of them out when received. This is an educational forum. 

So imagine my surprise when I posted this week's podcast on the Bt Brinjal (eggplant, aubergine).  The response was angry and vitriolic, both in submitted comments and in social media. 



The podcast comments section has a dozen comments like these, all unapproved. I'm not allowing an educational resource to become their cesspool. 


Some of the response on Twitter was surprising (I asked for permission to use their fully names, the principle dissenter objected, so I edited him out. However, this is all public information on Twitter if you go read those threads and their amazing ignorance in their entirety).  





The Twitter threads are priceless.  This wonderful resource is smeared as another arm of Monsanto's empire.  Even when folks are corrected, they just push back. 




More on Twitter.  Good ol' Rick H never really offers evidence, but sure is quick to throw someone under the bus. 

What is happening here is amazingly obvious.  As "Carl's Spokesman" says, these folks are really angry because the Bt Brinjal let's all of the air out of their balloon.  Free seeds, poor farmers, less insecticides, better products.... where's the downside? 

The downside is that if this story becomes widely told, it represents the end of their war on science.  It is an example of how the technology should be used-- for the betterment of human health and the environment. 

They are having a remarkably hard time arguing with that.

So what happens when ideologically bent opinion can't argue based on evidence?  It becomes an ad hominem effort to trash the messenger.  The personal attacks on my credibility and the continued mantra of "Monsanto, Monsanto, Monsanto," is typical of these folks when they are backed into their corners with simple, kind questions. 

It appears that science has hit a nerve.  Some of the poorest people are growing food and eating, sustainably.  You'd think that critics would be celebrating.  But to an emotional and science-free movement, when the technology they oppose serves others, they are caught between acknowledging that it is doing good and abandoning their sacred belief that this technology can do no good-- ever. 

Maybe that just means that their beliefs need to be re-examined. 



Saturday, August 27, 2016

The Eggplant that is Feeding the Hungry


This week's Talking Biotech Podcast is a beautiful story.  The eggplant (brinjal, aubergine) is an important food staple in Asia.  However, in places like India and Bangladesh it requires large amounts of old-school pesticides to grow, as pest pressure can destroy 100% of a crop. 

Scientists have introduced the Bt Protein into eggplants and have greatly mitigated insect pressures from burrowing insects. It does not solve all insect problems (bt is quite selective) but it has massively cut pesticide applications and provides farmers a better product at lower production costs. 

The two guests are Dr. Tony Shelton from Cornell University and science journalist Dr. Hidde Boersma. Together they tell their accounts of the technology and how it has transformed lives of poor farmers in an extremely poor country. 


Sunday, August 21, 2016

Supporting FOIA Resistance

It would be a wonderful world if we didn't need to lock our doors.  It would be great if we didn't need passwords to protect our personal accounts online.  I would be overjoyed if we could be free, open and fully transparent in all aspect of our lives.  All open book. 

There is one minor problem. We can't trust everyone to do the right thing.  Some people are truly evil, and will hurt others for fun and profit, or sometimes to achieve a political motivation.  Because of this, we're forced to take steps to insulate ourselves from their malevolence.  Whether it is encrypted passwords or taking off your shoes at the airport screening line, we take steps to limit the harm from others acting unethically. 

US-Right to Know (USRTK) is a front group for interests sworn to end modern food production practices, contemporary genetics and safe approved chemicals. While claiming to act angelically in the public interest, they clearly act as a mallet of defamation, seeking to destroy the careers of scientists that teach evidence-based science. 

Their weapon is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and its ability to confiscate personal emails from public employees.  That's not the problem.  Our daily interactions should be transparent and open to public scrutiny.  That's not the problem. 

The problem is when sentences are lifted from their native context and reformatted into outrageous narratives with an intent to harm others.  They get what they want through our transparency, and then use it maliciously. 

If you don't believe it has an effect, google my name.  I'm smeared for life though search engines.  The people that want me silent have polluted the first 10 pages with misinformation, and it matters. 

Last week I spoke in Quebec City, and the host said that many called her concerned that I was invited. 

"Didn't you read about him on the web and how bad he is?"

That was a legit conversation, luckily my host had the guts to dig in her heels and say that we would stick with science and evidence. The person they have created is not who I am, but it is a narrative they were able to construct because of free access to my emails. 




Apparently USRTK is going to have to sue UC Davis for the emails for about a dozen faculty, at least according to their website. 

I fully endorse UC-Davis not cooperating.  USRTK is not interested in checking for malfeasance.  If that was the case they would have never made a big deal of my situation. I did my job, well.  They called it "corruption" and inspired tremendous personal and professional harm.  No laws or rules broken, nothing even unethical. 

Because we cannot trust them to do the right thing, it is reasonable to not cooperate.  Why give them the ammunition to forever hurt public faculty at a Land Grant institution?  If they found something unethical or criminal, great.  That's what FOIA is for.  But this is to harm people with their words out of context.  They have demonstrated that well. 

Again, in a perfect world we could be clear as crystal.  However, USRTK showed that they are evil people that will cherry pick those emails for sentences to harm, sentences that in context are completely innocent.  

Congrats to UC-Davis for fighting back.  My institution will turn over 680 more pages on Monday, bringing the total to over 20,000. I feel that when someone acts immorally, we should never provide them more opportunity to continue their behaviors.  

Supporting FOIA Resistance

It would be a wonderful world if we didn't need to lock our doors.  It would be great if we didn't need passwords to protect our personal accounts online.  I would be overjoyed if we could be free, open and fully transparent in all aspect of our lives.  All open book. 

There is one minor problem. We can't trust everyone to do the right thing.  Some people are truly evil, and will hurt others for fun and profit, or sometimes to achieve a political motivation.  Because of this, we're forced to take steps to insulate ourselves from their malevolence.  Whether it is encrypted passwords or taking off your shoes at the airport screening line, we take steps to limit the harm from others acting unethically. 

US-Right to Know (USRTK) is a front group for interests sworn to end modern food production practices, contemporary genetics and safe approved chemicals. While claiming to act angelically in the public interest, they clearly act as a mallet of defamation, seeking to destroy the careers of scientists that teach evidence-based science. 

Their weapon is the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), and its ability to confiscate personal emails from public employees.  That's not the problem.  Our daily interactions should be transparent and open to public scrutiny.  That's not the problem. 

The problem is when sentences are lifted from their native context and reformatted into outrageous narratives with an intent to harm others.  They get what they want through our transparency, and then use it maliciously. 

If you don't believe it has an effect, google my name.  I'm smeared for life though search engines.  The people that want me silent have polluted the first 10 pages with misinformation, and it matters. 

Last week I spoke in Quebec City, and the host said that many called her concerned that I was invited. 

"Didn't you read about him on the web and how bad he is?"

That was a legit conversation, luckily my host had the guts to dig in her heels and say that we would stick with science and evidence. The person they have created is not who I am, but it is a narrative they were able to construct because of free access to my emails. 




Apparently USRTK is going to have to sue UC Davis for the emails for about a dozen faculty, at least according to their website. 

I fully endorse UC-Davis not cooperating in this case with this organization.  USRTK is not interested in checking for malfeasance, they want to use this resource to harm scientists that did their jobs.  If they just were looking for cases of impropriety they never would have made a big deal of my situation. I did my job, well.  They called it "corruption" and inspired tremendous personal and professional harm.  No laws or rules broken, nothing even unethical. 

Because we cannot trust them to do the right thing, it is reasonable to not cooperate.  Why give them the ammunition to forever hurt public faculty at a Land Grant institution?  If they found something unethical or criminal, great.  That's what FOIA is for.  But this is to harm people with their words out of context.  They have demonstrated that well. 

Again, in a perfect world we could be clear as crystal.  However, USRTK showed that they are evil people that will cherry pick those emails for sentences to harm, sentences that in context are completely innocent.  

In their raids of my records I have been 100% compliant and fully transparent-- and they used it maliciously. 

Congrats to UC-Davis for fighting back.  My institution will turn over 680 more pages on Monday, bringing the total to over 20,000. I feel that when someone acts immorally, we should never provide them more opportunity to continue their behaviors.  

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Extension and Communication about BIotech

Dr. Paul Vincelli was a solid guest on the Talking Biotech Podcast.  This episode covers his experience in communicating topics in genetic engineering and climate change.  He gives some great advice and shares some wonderful experiences.  


Tuesday, August 9, 2016

Fighting Coffee Viruses

Coffee is an extremely valuable plant product, yet plantations are under duress from a variety of pests and pathogens.  Dr. Michael Goodin from the University of Kentucky speaks to Talking Biotech podcast about coffee ringspot virus, its threats and potential solutions.  Co-hosted with University of Missouri graduate student Nat Graham. 



Sunday, August 7, 2016

The Irony in a Political Piece

Those who know me understand that I've never been a big fan of politics.  I've voted both D and R (and L and G too) over the years, depending on the office and issues. I get to know my Representatives in DC and the state. I really like my Representative now (he's an R by the way) and will be glad to vote for him in November. I cannot think of the last time I voted for a presidential candidate. I've voted against one several times, mostly because I worry about the composition of the Supreme Court and federal benches.  I'm registered as N - no party affiliation.  I don't get to vote in primaries. 


In a country of sharply divided political opinions, don't criticize leadership. You'll tick off 50% of people. That's sad, because we should always hold our leaders most accountable. 

Yesterday I posted an article over on Huffington Post that has sent Trump supporters fuming.  I can't believe the angry emails, the screaming tweets-- especially from friends.

In short, the article was a fictitious speech by Trump, stating that his whole campaign was a sham, that he wanted to teach Americans a lesson-- that national leadership is important and must not be taken lightly.  This act of analyzing our leadership was his genius way to make America great again. His continued abrasive nature and poor discretion were part of his ruse, to see how far he could get based on citizens' loyalty to a party over criticism of a candidate.  Period. 

That is a very important message. Over my voting lifetime both Democrats and Republicans have fielded less-than-stellar choices for the highest office in the known universe.  I especially find family dynasties a bit annoying, both George HW Bush as much as Hillary Clinton.  

Americans make a bad mistake.  They look the other way when their candidate or office holder does something wrong.  We make excuses for them, claim conspiracies, and defend the undefendable. 

It is Cubs-Sox, Ford-Chevy, Coke-Pepsi.  Create a dichotomy, pick a time and blindly defend it. No matter what. 

I think it they know what they are doing, that D's and R's create the divide so that we don't notice what is really happening. I've said that for years.  

But more importantly, this failure to criticize leadership is the undoing of our republic, and that is the point of the piece.  It concludes with an important statement-
"The way to make America great again is to demand more from our leaders. Don’t blindly defend those in your party ― be more critical because they represent YOU."

This is the thesis of the piece that so many found so offensive. Some friends found it unthinkable that I'd criticize Donald Trump, or those in the Republican Party that let the guy destroy the perception of the party itself.  

It is not about Trump, not about Clinton, not about Republicans or Democrats.  This is about a fundamental cornerstone of our representative republic.  It is about the need to hold our leaders accountable for their words and actions.  It is not about free speech-- it is about the necessity to exercise free speech.  We must point out where our leadership (or potential leadership) crosses the line. 

So when Trump trashed McCain about "not being a war hero" I found that horribly offensive.  I thought that he was toast at that point. 

But instead, people stood up and defended him. We've seen it over and over again, he does something that contradicts the alleged Christian values that Party officials claim to be their cornerstone. Even the Republican Party platform states, "Americans also deserve a president who will speak for our nation's history and values..."   I'm not feeling that he is representing mine when he disrespects a war hero or mocks a reporter with a disability.  

Again, we need to hold our leaders accountable.  That was the point of the piece.  It was this spirit that was in the room that laid the foundation of the Constitution. 

So when I criticize Trump, Clinton, Johnson or whoever-- don't send me hate mail.  Tell me why you think my criticism is unwarranted.  Help me see why McCain is not a hero or we should mock the disabled.  I'm open to change, but it will take a lot of convincing in those cases. 

Or better yet, review the words of our Founders. Don't circle the wagons around bad behavior because the letter after their name matches the one on your voter registration card.  They are the ones you should hold most accountable because they represent you.  

That was the point, and I can't believe so many missed it, instead taking this as some sort of political, personal, attack on them and their beliefs.  The guy on the beer bottle got it right. Turns out, I think I'm a patriot.  


"If ever time should come, when vain and aspiring men shall possess the highest seats in Government, our country will stand in need of its experienced patriots to prevent its ruin."
Samuel Adams