Sunday, October 15, 2017

Rethinking Communication- Ranchers, Beef Industry

I'm in Denver, CO, my flight is delayed, and I'm feeling exhausted.  I really want to go home and I'm absolutely sick of traveling. But it is so worth it.  Every week I look at the calendar with dread, but after every trip I'm grateful for the opportunity, and glad to meet so many wonderful people. 

I was able to attend the Global Roundtable for Sustainable Beef Communicators Conference and it was an amazing morning.  It was a small meeting of industry reps, producers and retailers.  The central theme was the idea of sustainability-- a fuzzy term in many respects.  We sometimes have a hard time defining it, but we know it when we see it.  

I don't think this kind of thing would have happened even five years ago.  The need for precise, honest and consistent messaging around the things ag does well has never been more important. Now farmers, ranchers, and associated industries are stepping into it, impressively. 

Really sweet to meet such wonderful professionals and see their efforts in helping us all be better communicators.  The tweets were quite nice. 

There is a need for honest discussion about antibiotics, hormones, daily practices, environmental impacts and all of the good things ranchers do to facilitate animal care.  The public has questions and is wondering who to trust.  

The most wonderful thing about this conference was the consistency of the messaging, and the admission that years of not communicating and communicating incorrectly got us nowhere.  It actually made things worse. 

Over the last twelve years I've learned how to talk to a concerned public about agriculture. I made a lot of mistakes. The lessons learned along the way were really important. I've learned a lot, and listened to experts. 

This was a meeting were I was brought in to inform, but I actually went home being the informed. 

Today it is evident that we have all starting communicating out of a passion for spreading the truth about agriculture and science in general. We all took different paths, different journeys, but are arriving at the same place. It makes me happy to hear the concepts I've learned the hard way spoken by others in beautiful eloquence. 

Are we getting somewhere?  I think so.  

After all I've been through in the last two years personally and professionally, getting to attend such events and see people taking leadership in agricultural communication brings me great joy.  It is wonderful to see people stepping up to teach others about what we do, and more importantly why we do it. 

Sunday, October 8, 2017

The Misleading and Deceitful Ways of US-RTK

If you are unsure about genetic engineering or believe that food science is dangerous, please read the following.  If you think scientists are paid dupes of industry and activists aren't, you see it is exactly the other way around.  If you think US-RTK or the Organic Consumers Association are honest peddlers of the truth, please read objectively and reach out if you have any questions.  This is important.  Take it on with an open mind, and ask yourself, "Who is lying to me?"  Thanks. 

Conventional wisdom says that when someone is aggressively spreading false information about you, it is best to just let it slide.  People are smart enough to figure it out, so just keep doing good work and let that speak for itself. 

That's pretty much how I've been handling the inane criticism from US-RTK, Thacker, GM Watch and the rest of the web's libel artists.  Why respond?  Does anyone really care what they say?  Not really.  Their hate speech and falsehoods get a handful of retweets from folks that hate science and scientists. Their little echo hive feeds on itself.  It is pretty simple.

Organic Consumers Association (OCA) pays Gary Ruskin and Stacey Malkin, Carrie Gillam and probably Paul Thacker, to write false narratives to damage the reputations and steal the trust of scientists. I've been one of their main targets.  Then they write about it, and OCA retweets and blogs about it.  

This is the level of loons we are dealing with here.  It is ironic that my lab has been almost entirely funded for 15 years by state, federal and strawberry industry sources.  This is their rhetoric, and to call it childish is an insult to children. This image was tweeted by Ronnie Cummings at OCA. 

In other words OCA pays for the hit job, RTK does the hit job, and then OCA says, "Wow what a scumbag!"   

The other day US-RTK posted a story called "The Misleading and Deceitful Ways of Dr. Kevin Folta."  For the most part it is just another boring assembly of two-year-old lies, zombied up again to trash a public scientist-- just because he effectively communicates science. 

Let's look at it paragraph by paragraph.  If you don't like me, don't like agriculture, or don't like genetic engineering, that's fine-- but read to understand how these organizations twist reality to harm others (at least they attempt to).  

Ironically what you find is that USRTK and its lackeys are the ones that are misleading and deceitful.   Here goes!

Exhibit 1.  That's just the intro. I'm not commenting on the lawsuit.  Plenty more on that another time. 

Exhibit 2.  Again, I'm not going to comment on the lawsuit.  What I will comment are the last three paragraphs.  According to all university records it is 100% verified that I, Kevin Folta, never received an "unrestricted grant" for $25,000.  Those words were taken from a generic, boilerplate letter that was emailed to me from Monsanto when they made a $25,000 unrestricted (no strings attached, yay!) gift to a science communication program at my university.  It was money to be used in training scientists how to talk to the public. That's what I do.

USRTK took the lines from a letter pulled from FOIA'd emails. They know that the original letter and check were returned to the company because the precise verbiage was wrong, and the actual donation to the university had the exactly language "unrestricted gift to be used for outreach."   

They use the words from the first letter that were not accurate, and the letter that needed to be corrected before the university could accept anything as a no-strings-attached gift.  But that's how they roll.  Facts don't matter, it is what can be packaged in a damaging way.  That's why they are being misleading and deceitful. 

The proposal was not to "promote GMOs".  The company wanted to know what I did in workshops, and the workshops talk about the technologies, strengths and limitations, and how we communicate the topics more effectively.  

Ultimately after threats to my family, my lab and my own person the university moved its funds from my outreach program to a campus food charity (after Monsanto could not take them back). Not one cent was used.  It would have been great if they could have been. 

Exhibit 3.  I have no connection to Monsanto for research or collaborations, never did.  When they suggested making a donation to my outreach work I thought it was a great idea. I'm grateful to help people understand science communication and topics in biotech. 

Yes, I absolutely did say that there would be a good return on investment.  That's what I do.  If someone trusts me enough to provide funding, resources or time to help me with science or communication, I absolutely deliver.  Every cent of that $25,000 gift to my workshop program would have gone a long way, none to me personally ever.  It would provide media for participants, coffee, sandwiches, and allow me to stay a night in a hotel room and cover Uber or whatever. It would have done a lot of good. 

The note about "sign on to whatever you like or write whatever you like" is cherry-picked and shows you better than anything why you should not trust US-RTK or Stacey Malkan.  

In 2014 there was a horribly false series of television commercials playing in Oregon before their vote on food labeling.  It was misleading, false, and unfair.  Many scientists were asked if they would be willing to participate in writing an Op-Ed or sign a petition objecting to the use of fear and false information to manipulate a vote.  

I was happy to write about the misleading commercials or sign the petition.  That is what the rest of the email shows.  Malkan clearly lifts a sentence from context with the clear intent to harm a reputation and erode trust. 

Again deceit and misleading information?  She owns it.  

Exhibit 4.  Again, not exactly correct and I hate that I worded it this way.  The bottom line is that if a faculty member receives a grant, there is money taken out by the university (indirect costs) between 12-55% of the money provided.  That's why it was critical that this was a gift in terms of university accounting.  There is no university overhead associated with the outreach workshops, so it is not necessary.  "Not publicly noted" was a poor choice of words. Our university communications folks like to write about such things and I was not excited about that.  Donors do not influence the messaging of my workshops, and I wanted to avoid that perception. Time would show that it was a wise move, because that's exactly what USRTK and others did. 

Exhibit 5.  USRTK loves the term "ghostwrite"- it is a rather damning allegation and they like to make it look like industry feeds academics false information to propagate.  What does this mean? 

It is more deceit and misleading information from USRTK and Stacey Malkan.   Here's what really happened.

The website GMO Answers asked me and others to answer questions from the public.  I was asked by someone at Ketchum Communications, the company running the website.  I didn't ask or care if they worked with industry, I figured they were probably hired by industry to set up the site, but that's great-- the public needs a place to find legitimate science information and if companies paid for that, great.  Better than the taxpayer paying for it. 

I was assigned maybe two up front (I've answered about 70 total).  I was unsure what the appropriate depth and scope would be, what is the target audience?  I had no idea. 

They sent me two sample answers. While they were generally factual and correct, I carefully edited them.  I rearranged content, deleted, added, and reshaped the skeleton information to be my own work.  

2+3=5.  3+2=5.  The answer is the same, it is true.  It was my answer, my work, and my words at the end.   Since then, after RTK and others made such allegations, I sat with a blank sheet of paper and revised those two answers from scratch.  Guess what?  They say the same thing.  

It was a mistake to even have them provide sample answers and then revising and rewriting them.  Not because it was wrong, but because it gave unethical hate groups an easy allegation to make, and a way to harm a public scientist that only tried to help people understand science using a popular, well-constructed website. 

Exhibit 6.  This question came to me from GMO Answers and I wrote to our UF Sponsored Projects Office.  I obtained a spreadsheet of all grants to the Horticultural Sciences Department, the department I'm in.  I went through every page of the spreadsheet and found only that the only funds from Monsanto were to a faculty member in the panhandle at our North Florida Research and Education center.  He received about $6-8k per year for research with glyphosate on sugar beets.  That's it.  

Now where does Stacey Malkan deceitfully mislead?  I was correct, there were only $21,000 dollars in grants.  

Note that she's talking about dollars to the "University of Florida Foundation."  That is a separate business, donation, foundation arm of the university, not sponsored projects and research. Those funds go to other stuff I have no control over, things like building buildings, setting up faculty positions, other stuff I never see or don't even know about.  If it funds research, it sure isn't mine. 

So once again, they call me misleading and deceitful, while they are the ones bending information. 

Exhibit 7.  A faculty member at my university saw Dr. Rob Fraley from Monsanto give a talk and invited him to our university.  He put me in charge of logistics (like I needed more work to do).  Big deal.  We have speakers at the university all the time, representing many ideas. 

Yes, the stance on genetic engineering at universities is consistent with that of companies.  It follows evidence. 

Again, RTK and Malkan twist meanings to satisfy their slanderous agenda.  

Exhibit 8.  This is getting boring.  I never knew exactly how these workshops were being funded, frankly didn't care.  All I knew is that they were good collections of diverse voices to discuss the communication of science, particularly around biotechnology.  In all of the investigations they performed they found out (with no resistance) that some of the funding comes from BIO (the Biotechnology Industry Association) which is a trade organization representing 550+ companies.  

Again, how is this a bad thing?  Getting experts together to discuss science and science communication is excellent, and if it can be done NOT at taxpayer expense, that's a good thing.  Just because some industry trade organization provides some funds does not mean they control the message. And they don't. 


I'm not sure how this is relevant to me.  I attended.  But this shows how USRTK and Stacy Malkan want to make any association between me and industry, no matter how tenuous it might be.  

These were very nice conferences and I learned a lot. 

Exhibit 9.  (boring)  Yes, I have described these people as Food Terrorists.  Because that's what they do.  They promote ideological change through coercion and fear, violence and misinformation.  That's the definition of terrorism. 

Exhibit 10.   Again, cherry pick a few sentences from a long career of discussing pesticides.  I understand these products and speak about them in strengths and limitations, risks and benefits.  That's my job.  The second bullet point is amazingly factual.  The first bullet point is mostly true, as applicators are tested for exposure, especially for acetylcholine esterase activity.  That's a sensitive measure of exposure. 

That's science, not propaganda.  Again, Stacy misleads and deceives. 

Exhibit 11.  Ah yes, the Vern Blazek Science Power Hour, a comedy parody of Coast-to-Coast AM, my first foray into podcasting when I didn't want to do a podcast.  Actually I wanted to do a podcast, but didn't want to do it as myself.  I don't like such spotlights and didn't want to take heat about overdue reports, overdue reviews and not enough time to take care of business.  I work 100 hours a week.  I did the VBSPH on my own time and just did it for fun.  

I invited Brooke Borel onto the podcast as Kevin Folta, and told her that I'd do the interview in character.  I asked her to talk about her book on bedbugs because it fit the quirky content of the podcast.  It also was a little bit of an olive branch to Brooke.  At a conference we didn't hit it off well.  She said that once a scientist receives industry funds that you can't trust their work, and I really objected to that statement.  We had a "spirited" discussion. 

A month or so later I invited her to the podcast.  Instead of declining or accepting, she claimed that it was highly deceptive and used the opportunity to write the Buzzfeed article about the "scandal" and then put a sexy hate catching title on the work: 

True Confessions of a Monsanto Apologist?  Really?  Clearly a hit job and retribution for our earlier conversation, she played up the marginal associations between me and a company in an unfair and derogatory way, maximizing damage at every turn.  

I don't use the word often, but I hate her for this.  I don't even hate Gary and Stacey, they're just stooges that think they are doing the right thing, and time has shown that they are basically irrelevant and ineffective in changing anything with their smear. 

But Brooke knew exactly what she was doing.  She's not stupid. She knew that a rabid anti-science movement, fresh off of a New York Times hit piece, would probably kill me or destroy what was left of my career-- it was a calculated, carefully devised move. She didn't have to do it, and two years later-- she looks really bad for doing it.  She lost a lot of respect from scientists for this.  Good.  

Later she would change the title to "Seed Money."  Once she put out the clickbait and harm me, she dialed it back and played dumb.  She is a total manipulator, and in my mind one of the most disgusting players in this conversation.  

Changed title, inflammatory story-- deceitful and misleading? 

In Conclusion:

It is sad that I had so spend an hour doing this, but I think it makes the point.  US-RTK, Gary Ruskin and Stacey Malkan are the real deceivers and misleaders.  If you have any other questions about any of their points, please send me a note and I'll be glad to talk to you about it. 

And true to form, Ronnie Cummings, the man with the checkbook that finances USRTK's hate speech, chimes in on his blog, talking about the RTK shows how deceitful I am.  Like Brooke Borel, he has to get "Monsanto Spokesman" in the title.  

I research strawberry flavor. I research light in vertical farms.  I work in a state that has almost no genetically engineered crops, maybe a little corn and cotton, but that's not even my department. Monsanto never funded my research, has no interest in my research. 

It shows again who is really being misleading and deceitful. 

Again, OCA funds the hit piece, USRTK writes a hit piece that is full of cherry-picked innuendo and false narrative, OCA writes about the "exposed" news that they funded in the first place. 

If that isn't deception, not sure what else is. 

Thursday, October 5, 2017

The Rats that Kill

How can a scientific paper have a body count?  When it successfully maligns a technology and influences policy decisions. Looking back five years now at Seralini et al., 2012, a paper that instilled fear, influenced policy, and permanently shapes public opinion on the internet-- despite never being replicated or expanded.

Here is my discussion on Medium.

Sunday, September 17, 2017

Talking Biotech 100

In the 100th episode of Talking Biotech Podcast Chis Barbey interviews me about my research, outreach, scicomm and next steps. 

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Cosmic Plumber Nixed from Biohacking Conference

Agricultural Alchemist and Cosmic Plumber Nixed from Scientific Conference 

Kudos to the science fans that raised awareness of David Avocado Wolfe being invited to address a scientific conference.  The Biohacker Conference in Helsinki removed him from the proceedings after a substantial outcry by science enthusiasts in social media.  Wow!  Special shout out to @Sarah_Zhr and Sebastian Cocioba for bringing this to my attention!

This is an example of the need for continued surveillance. Charlatans are invited to scientific events either by accident or because they create their own sections of the conference and organizers don't notice. 

Keep paying attention to the lineups of such events. Keep in mind that they never invite scientists to pseudoscience events, so we should never invite pseudoscientists to a scientific event!

Nice work, science community. 

More about what happened here

Saturday, September 2, 2017

TB98- Cats! Domestication and Radiation

Domestic cats evolved from wild cats that found utility in human association.  They would benefit from protecting stored human food from rodents, and humans benefited from their grain stores remaining unmolested.  This week's podcast speaks with Prof. Eva-Maria Geigl from the Jaques Monod Institute and the University of Paris Diderot.  She is part of a team that has examined the DNA isolated from the mummified remains of cats, and draws important conclusions about their evolution and history.   

Friday, September 1, 2017

Triscuit - That's One Insulting Commercial

I actually did a spit take last night, snirked a perfectly good vodka tonic out my nose.

It was induced by a Triscuit commercial

The new Triscuit commercial extols that it is now "non-genetically modified"-- which it never was, as there is no GM wheat

It is the familiar deceptive advertising that caters to fear to make a buck, and shame on Triscuit and Nabisco for doing that.  Yes, they'll sell a few more crackers to science-fearing conspiradorks, but they also propagate fear of food, vilify farmers and pass higher prices onto the poor. 

The commercial ends with the actress saying, "I'm not genetically modified."  Someone better notify the vegetative propagule she budded off of.  She probably is a genetic amalgam, a hybrid of mom and dad, two genomes slammed together in unprecedented ways. That's a pretty radical genetic modification! 

But this is not about science, this is about fear mongering to sell a product.  There is no GE wheat, and if there was, it would be just fine. 

Quite a 'Scuit Storm Over on Facebook
>90% of comments decry this marketing foible, and are pro-science, pro-farmer, and standing up against Fake Transparency and manufactured risk. 

But luckily, this insulting commercial managed to wake up a science enthusiast community.  The Triscuit Facebook page is shining with defenders of science, people making it known that they will not buy the product because of their deceptive marketing strategy.

And people are answering questions and countering claims, standing up for science with class!  (with some exceptions)

I'm not sure who Triscuit is trying to court with such proclamations. They are Nabisco, a big company with many tentacles in places the food phobic won't tread.  And the products still may be made with glyphosate as a harvest aid.

And the hard-core organic buyers aren't going to buy it either, so Triscuit is really putting their burlappy little crackers into a bad place.

I really liked the rosemary ones and the black pepper ones too.  However, as someone that votes with his dollars, I'll opt for those brands that market honestly, and don't play off of people's fear of science to sell a product.