Monday, June 10, 2019

Eroding Trust : A How-To Guide to Stopping Science Communication

When you teach an inconvenient science there are many that don't want that story heard. Their arguments fall flat, they have no basis for their beliefs- so how does someone derail the freight train of factual information, especially when delivered by a compelling and trusted speaker?

It is a special kind of ad hominem-- disqualify the speaker by eroding their earned trust. 

And it is easy to do.

Trust is an important basis for communication, and it takes a long time to earn.  There are strategies to build trust, and I teach these strategies to fifty audiences a year. 

It starts with the Trust Equation.  I didn't make this up, this is well known by psychologists and sociologists. 

Trust is a perception an audience feels based on a speaker's competence, reliability, and intimacy-- divided by self-motivation or self-interest.  Different aspects are targeted by those that want to harm a speaker's trust with an audience.

How do they do that?  If you look at any online conversation where an expert is being criticized for explaining a subject of their expertise, you see opponents resort to attacking aspects of the Trust Equation.

1.  Competence -  It is very common for a scientist operating in public space to have their competence questioned.  That is done in a variety of ways. 

2.  Reliability -  

3.  Intimacy --

4.  Self-Motivation -- This is the big one. It is the basis of the notion that communicating science must be motivated by some other factor.  Ulterior motives. There must be some reason that someone would want to communicate a scientific perspective beyond the reality that facts are our currency as scholars and we become teachers because we want to share them.

As professors our self-motivation is rather low. Our goal is a stronger society with an educated population, trained in critical thinking and situational analysis. We value independence and desire to not have others defining our research avenues. In return, we take jobs that require years of training for substantially lower salaries than we'd find in the private sector.  Our participation in discussion of climate change, vaccination, genetic engineering and other topics is important because of the impartiality we bring, with minimal self interest. 

In fact, self interest is generally so low to a learned scholar that they are willing to change their position when confronted with additional evidence.  Pursuit of the Truth is the goal, whatever that takes.

More Whacked Out Fake Medicine at Natural

The internet if filled with unsubstantiated health claims. The bottom line is that in evidence-based medicine we resort to the gold standard of peer-reviewed findings in quality journals, interpreting data derived from double-blind, placebo-controlled trials with significant numbers of participants. The results are reproduced between independent (and frequently competing) research groups, and if they are not, this is reported as well and the original result is held to scrutiny by the field at large. This is the only way to demonstrate efficacy in the absence of human sensory and psychological overlays.

Real medicine stands up to this gold standard.

Of course, there are those that believe that their homespun remedies and concoctions probably have stronger effects then researched medicines, so those should be offered as alternatives. They tell us that Big Pharma crushes alternatives, just like those scoundrels that accept evidence for the science of evolution conspire to crush Creation science and keep it out of schools.

Good Ol' is my newest favorite spacebat website to read, and now I want to keep ripping them new ones because they allow my comments, then take them off because they don't succumb to the chloroform of their central theme of "science is bullshit".

Here's one of their recent posts by Mike Adams in reference to the family that refuses chemotherapy for their dying son....

Furthermore, the whole universe of natural cancer cures that really work has been sidelined by this Minnesota judge who is, no doubt, completely ignorant on cancer and human physiology. All these were utterly ignored: Vitamin D (, selenium, oxygen therapy, medicinal mushrooms, microalgae, Amazon rainforest herbs, Chinese Medicine herbs, high-dose vitamin C, raw foods juicing, wild foods extracts, superfood powders, raw cacao, broccoli sprouts and a thousand other things that we know help the body reverse various cancers.

All these things were apparently thrown out of the courtroom and almost certainly disparaged by drug-pushing doctors who claim that only their own chemicals can treat this disease.

All of those treatments were utterly ignored, mostly because none of them have been shown to work. Sure, you can find someone in your D&D club or some stoner with their head in a netty pot to tell you that someone they know had cancer and was cured with microalgae, but science does not support the claim. There are no references, no citation, because none exist! Chinese Medicine is a dismal failure. Life expectancy over there accelerated when they started using Western medicine.

I also L-O-V-E that the highlighted links to cited works are just other opinions on the Nature website. That's credibility for ya!

Of course, all of the thousands of studies that show effects on specific tumor types with the use of broccoli sprouts must have been quashed by the conspiracy to keep them out of real scholarly journals.

And they have the nerve to attack physicians, men and women dedicated to the science and evidence-based medicine to solve human disease. These people are dangerous. They have claims, they don't have evidence, they sell stuff through their website. Then they point their fingers at science and call it a fraud. Insert red flag here.

Anti-Vaccination "Supporting Literature" #2

Today we'll talk about the first paper, a freshly accepted paper to the Journal of Toxicology. As you recall, this is a journal with no impact factor, meaning that the work is likely communicated by referees hand picked by the authors. Referees that support their claims and are not necessarily evaluating the science with due rigor.

The paper. The Severity of Autism Is Associated With Toxic Metal Body Burden and Red Blood Cell Glutathione Levels by Adams et al.. Sounds spooky, doesn't it? You can download it here. This paper is so fresh that it is still in the manuscript form- that's why it is not formally typeset.

Before starting, let's consider this piece of work within the framework of the anti-vax standpoint. The title alone says that toxic metals in subjects are associated with autism. Going in, this has got to be mercury. This is THE culprit if you read their websites, coming in via thimerisol that has been removed from all childhood vaccines, but they contend is still there. There is a trace of thimerisol in some flu vaccines only.

So if we believe the anti-vaxers this paper should show a substantially higher amount of mercury in the severely autistic subjects. That would be an interpretation consistent with the proposed anti-vax position of mercury causes autism.

First the methods. The paper uses dimercapotsuccinic acid (DMSA), a compound that binds divalent (+2 charged) ions. The bound compound is excreted in urine and the metallic component can be measured. Of course, if dimercaptosuccinic acid was in a vaccine in exceedingly trace amounts you'd be reading about how dangerous it is and that there is "acid in vaccines". They did a baseline measurement and another measurement after 9 days of DMSA treatment.

Table 2 tells us that DMSA can bring out metals, but mercury is not significantly removed in the treatment. In other words, the test is not a reliable way to measure mercury levels.

Table 4 compares the metal levels with the severity of autism. The table shows that all levels have high antimony as a baseline across all levels of autism severity. Lead levels were high in one. After using DMSA for 9 days the levels of lead, tungsten, antimony, cadmium, and thallium were higher in some cases. Of course, significance was measured at p<0 .5="" 1="" 4="" 80="" a="" about="" alone.="" anticipated="" anything="" are="" be="" being="" br="" chance.="" chance="" due="" high.="" in="" is="" meaning="" of="" pretty="" s="" significant="" so="" table="" that="" there="" this="" to="" variables="" would="" wrong="">
Note- autistic subjects do not show significantly higher amounts of mercury or aluminum, the two metals described as causes of autism by anti-vaxers.

The next tables are regression analyses, in other words comparing the severity of the disorder to the presence of various compounds before and after chelation. In short, these results massage the dataset to generate positive associations and don't do so with astounding statistical rigor (I should say that the tungsten result in Table 6 might be convincing).

It is also important to note that there is not a correlation between the amount of metals and the severity of autism. A dose-response test fails and does not support causality.

I personally like page 9 where their agenda shows. The next to last paragraph says:

This paper has focused on the possible relationship between toxic metals and the severity of autism.

Then the next paragraph says:

(The original study) was not primarily designed for investigating the relationship of the severity of autism to toxic metals.

So this was not a study to test for the metal-autism connection. This was not a hypothesis to test, it was something they massaged from the data after the fact. That is why it is published where it is.

Note the careful language that confuses the average person and delights the anti-vaxer, even though it has little scientific gravity. In Conclusions:

Overall, the correlation analysis found multiple significant correlations of severity of autism and the urinary excretion of toxic metals, such that a higher body burden of toxic metals was associated with more severe autistic symptoms. The results of the regression analyses (p < 0.005 in all cases) indicate that variations in the severity of autism may be partially explained in terms of toxic metal body burden.

They then go on to point out that this is a correlation and does not imply causality, but to the three anti-vaxers that sent me the article it was slam dunk proof of the mercury-autism connection. The paper says nothing like that. I don't know where they are getting "p<0 .005="" all="" as="" br="" cases="" cell="" i="" in="" it="" of="" one="" only="" see="" table.="">
They then go on to say that "severity of autism may be partially explained in terms of toxic metal body burden" but the results could be equally interpreted that the accumulation of metals is caused by autism. That's just as valid an interpretation that they forgot to include. It is equally possible that the general dysfunction at the cellular level that leads to austism leads to hyperaccumulation of metals.

Once you read the paper and think about the rigor and the analysis of the data, go back to the abstract and title. It says, "This study demonstrates a significant positive association between the severity of autism and the relative body burden of toxic metals".

Is that accurate? Yes. Do anti-vaxers know what that means? No. The three that sent it to me infer causality, that metals cause the autism. I don't want to pass judgment on the authors, but their agendas show, their organizations (for the most part, read last blog entry) are not scientific. The two real physicians in the study are explained as "consultants" on page 10, so their role in this is not clearly delineated. I'll bet they are not really happy about the way that this is being used.

So there you have it. A scary title without a lot of evidence to back it up, especially in the framework of the anti-vax argument for mercury and aluminum effects.

Typical. Dependence on a low-quality publication in a low-impact journal for stellar conclusions that overstep the data. That's anti-vax for ya.

Anti-Vaccination "Supporting Literature" #2

When someone pro or against vaccines gives you a piece of scientific literature to assess, how do you know if it is good? How do you know if it is excellent work or just an opinion wrapped in some tables? A warning:

Just because it is published in what appears to be a credible journal does not mean it is good work!

Literally, there are dozens of crap journals in alternative and complementary medicine, new earth creation and other bogus disciplines. In the days of the internet a journal is easy to produce, so you need to know what is real and what is junk.

Start with where it is published. Let's start with two examples given to me this week by an anti-vax friend. These are three articles that she claims support the position that vaccinations are dangerous. Are these valid peer-reviewed, top-tier research papers? Let's see!

The two papers are
1. Adams et al., 2009 The Severity of Autism Is Associated With Toxic Metal Body Burden and Red Blood Cell Glutathione Levels. Journal of Toxicology 2009

2. Geier et al., 2009 Mitochondrial dysfunction, impaired oxidative-reduction activity, degeneration, and death in human neuronal and fetal cells induced by low-level exposure to thimerosal and other metal compounds. Toxicological and Environmental Chemistry

First, let's check impact factor. Impact factor is a term used to rate how often other scientists refer to your work in their publications. Some of my papers have been cited over 100 times and these are in journals with impact factors of 6-10.

For a real journal you'll get a number and the higher the number the better. Nature and New England Journal of Medicine are around 29. This means that 29 other papers cite the average article in the following year. It means that the science is good and grows.

How do you find Impact Factor? Look online. Go to Journal Citation Reports and type in the journal name. Go ahead. See what you get. If you can't get JCR, just Google "Journal of Toxicology Impact Factor". Check the other one.

How about J of Toxicology? Well it's a little journal from a publisher in India. It doesn't get an impact factor. Why? Usually it means that papers are not peer-reviewed (authors can either pay to publish, publish without review, or have the work "communicated" by someone that agrees with it). It also may mean that the journal does not have an Editorial Board with substantial recognition. Basically, it is a low venue to show your best work.

I checked with the editor of Toxicological and Environmental Chemistry and he says that papers just have to be gone over by two colleagues of the authors. So, if you have a junk science study that you want published you can have two buddies that share your ideological blinders look at it and approve it. That's absolutely horrible.

By the way, good journals still have impacts of 3.o and some with minor impact are in the 1's but still have good data. To no get on the list, or even considered, shows how bad these anti-vax studies are.

So let's end there. The two best, most recent pieces of scientific evidence that anti-vax interests believe show conclusively that vaccines are dangerous are published in obscure journals. These are places where only anti-vaxers read and no scientist ever cites going forward (except for those that hold it up at crap science- that still raises impact factor!).

Do you want to base your sound medical decisions on these papers, or stuff in the New England J. Medicine or Cell? You decide. Your doctor wants you to go with NEJM and Cell, the anti-vaxers want you to go with the results (that we haven't yet destroyed, but we'll get to that) in the obscure, no-impact journals. That is their best science.

What do you want as the scientific foundation for your medical decisions?

(In the next two days I'll rip these two scientifically bankrupt studies apart with scholarly rigor)

800 Pound Gorillas?

Social media has been noisy with folks referring to me as a drunk wife abuser and teen harasser.  This is especially prevalent on Twitter from Michael Balter and Paul Thacker (read their threads!) as well as GM Watch.  These three will do anything to block my mission of participation in public outreach around science communication and biotechnology. 

They've said it before, they'll do it again.  If you have any concerns about the things you read about me, please reach out and contact me directly. Debating hostile allegations online just gives visibility to something that does not deserve it.

The good news is that they have a nice little love circle where they retweet/share each others' filth.  But that's it.  These guys are even too slimy for the usual mudslingers to endorse. 

I've made the strategic decision to not engage it, not give it any oxygen.  That's the best move. The problem is that it leaves questions unanswered for those that have concerns.  After all, these are very serious allegations. 

So, if you find their allegations concerning or problematic, please contact me at kfolta at gmail dot com.  I would be very happy to schedule a phone call and discuss your concerns. 

There are easy answers to everything. The problem is, good people have been used by bad people here, probably unknowingly.  I don't want them to suffer any hardship from being connected with GM Watch/ Balter/ Thacker/ others, or have their careers or organizations sucked into the negative vortex of social media assassination.   

With that in mind it is best to just yet allegations fly. They have been levied for ages and will continue as long as I continue to connect with the public and share information that changes hearts and minds.  

The day they finally stop I better check to make sure I'm still effective. 


Thursday, June 6, 2019

What Is Their Goal?

I'm in my eleventh day in Europe.  I taught a wonderful science communication workshop, enjoyed time with many students and postdocs.  I mentored early-career faculty and reviewed the work and provided guidance to shape the future of a rising-star of an institution.  I was honored to speak at Brain Bar, a wonderful conference about the future. 

All of this came on my departure from social media, particularly Twitter. I've been watching and reading.  I also took down the majority of this blog.  I need to get my head down.  My mental health is taking a hit and the personal and professional inconvenience of being doxed and harassed is getting extreme. Here's what is happening now. 

Bank Accounts, Retirement Doxxed.

Somehow a former journalist turned hate-monger named Michael Balter obtained my personal records.  It is not hard to do.  Paul Thacker and University of California San Francisco posted my social security number a few months ago.  Once you have that, you find my birthday and mom's maiden name and you can pretty much have access to my private everything. Couple this to FOIA laws and you have access to my life. Every single word. 

I had to change my bank account number two days before going to Europe, meaning no debit card or access to cash. All autopay had to be reset, and of course is screwed up and bills are late.  Just a pain. 

Now he has posted my personal financial information concerning my retirement holdings. 

I don't come from money.  My father is still working at 72.  I had student debt until I was 40-something.  I also worked in public science, starting with a Ph.D. plus 5 years of experience at a wage made by a good librarian. 

I don't have a pension. My retirement is self-financed, and it is on the horizon.  My wife is not a Wall Street banker.  She's a fruit and vegetable farmer that sells at farmers markets. We are comfortable, but not wealthy.  We live in a double-wide mobile home in the country (town of 1000) and our costs and expectations are modest.  We buy a lot of plants and go out to dinner on Saturday night.   We have about 40 fruit trees. 

Early on I learned to invest in myself.  I started investing in my retirement at the age of 16 when I spent part of my summer work money on the company that marketed Jolt Cola.  A brilliant move it would turn out.  That company is now part of InterBev the international giant. 

Over the years I sacrificed many things to plan for the day I would not work.  I invested in diverse interests, all with high dividends and low risk.  I saved a large part of my income.  Years later I would lose half of what I invested in a divorce, which severely affected my plan. So it goes. 

Now Michael Balter is distributing my personal financial information on the web, and it is being further distributed by the anti-GMO world, nice folks like GM Watch. 

They note that I own shares of Bayer.  Damn right I do.  I bought them right after their price tanked when the glyphosate decisions came down.   I still have faith in science and reason, and believe that this reaction is temporary and a company's true value will ultimately be realized. Plus a great dividend.  I'd recommend it! 

But this brings us to two important questions-

1.   Why do they feel that my family's retirement is their business?

2.   Why do they think it is appropriate to distribute it on the internet? 

It is a profound sense of violation.  It disgusts me that people hate me so much, and want to stop me so much, that they use this kind of tactic to intimidate me.  That's what this is.  They can't stop me with lies, distortions, or threats.  They manufactured newspaper articles based on lies and spread their filth in social media. 

But hacking your family's retirement information and making it public?   It is purely to intimidate, to remind me  that I have no privacy and will never have privacy until I resign from science and hide somewhere.  This is their goal. 

At this point I am unsure what to do.  I need help.  The rage I feel is immense and I have to fight every impulse to strike back.  I'm not a religious guy, but I think of the lessons from when I was a kid, and find them very poignant right now.  

Forgive them, for they know not what they do. 

Then the words my therapist gave me, "Time will be kind."

 MAMyths and Kavin Senapathy

These folks hate me so much and I'm not sure why.   Allegedly science-friendly types are using the same tactics used by the science hate groups.  Last night I read on Twitter that MAMyths was organizing a page about me.  I saw it in a tweet and clicked the link. 

I could not believe what I was seeing.  It was a page dedicated to me, all hateful news, allegations, and everything they could find that was negative.  And Kavin was fishing for more dirt.  They since took down the page, but luckily I grabbed screenshots. Unbelievable. 

I saw this link and clicked it-- a hateful page dedicated to me.  What is wrong with these people?  What do they want?  Science Justice? 

Again, I don't care about Kavin, Stephan or Karl or any of those folks.  They can do their thing, I'll do mine.  But why do they feel that they need to harm my ability to do good work, especially when it helps others understand science? 

Fake Troll Accounts
Look at the Twitter accounts @RailaerAouy (you are a liar backwards) and @EvelynGreenburg.  Both are relatively recent accounts, the people behind them are using FOIA to harass me, and the Twitter feeds are dedicated to my harassment. 

These folks should get a life.  I'm not that important. 


I was very torn about writing this.  I don't want to give them the attention they crave.  But I feel that there is no other recourse other than exhibiting their disgusting behavior.   Are these the folks that represent you?   Your ideas?   People you find represent your values and superb ethics? 

I've had to do a lot of soul searching and frankly don't want to do this anymore.  But that's what they want.  Their goal is to harass and intimidate me out of teaching, research, outreach, social media, or all of the above.  

The way forward will be decided soon.  I just hate what an important discussion about food security, farming, and technology has become.  I never thought it could get any worse, and indeed it has.  

Friday, May 24, 2019

Last Few Words

Where do I go from here?   A good direction for sure.  I will continue to host the podcast and post weekly episodes here and on Twitter.  I will no longer be engaging in social media. I'll be creating a lot more media and sharing a lot of innovative research.  Stay tuned.  Here are some parting thoughts on the topics du jour

Posting Private Information and Hacked Documents

Throughout my professional career I have been asked to sign confidentiality and non-disclosure agreements. I must abide by those agreements. The problem is that others will use FOIA, hacking, stealing, or other methods to obtain your confidential files and distribute them-- breaking confidentiality and also screaming non-transparency.

So when people are somehow acquiring private documents you never shared and making your personal banking information known, it is time to back away from the discussion. My address is being posted next to phrases like "poison peddler" and "he gives children cancer".  The goal is to ignite mob action, to inspire one crazy soul to harm me or my family.

At 2:38 AM the night that Balter posted my home address and the internet  my dog was going ballistic.  Maybe he does that every night.  Maybe it was a coyote or deer near the house.  

But my wife and I have to think, is this someone coming to harm us?  Are we going to get a jar of flaming gasoline through the bedroom window?   This is terrorism, and Michael Balter knew exactly what he was doing when he puts my private information next to claims from his errant interpretations of private documents. 

How do people get documents you never distributed?  Why did he redact them?  What didn't he want you to see?  Why are stolen, hacked, manufactured or otherwise obtained private documents celebrated?  How is it even legal? 

Having to close bank accounts, re-establish auto bill pay and cut up debit cards is a colossal hassle. It was especially awful because I have to travel abroad and can't get a new debit card in time. So it goes. 


Here is the last thing I will say on the "consulting" issue.

1.  I was hired by a law firm to analyze some old data. 

2.  I was bound by confidentiality to not reveal any information about the nature of the work or the parties involved. I respect that commitment to this day. 

3. This was work on my vacation time, it was approved by the university, and has no direct connection to my job, my research or my outreach programs.

4.  In these activities (mostly held in Denver, as shown in the receipt posted by Balter) I never met with anyone currently working for the companies in question.

5.   In these activities I never visited a company in question.

6.  I had a wonderful time working with brilliant attorneys to sort out a long-standing question that settled a dispute between two parties.  It was one of the most intellectually exciting times of my life. 

7.  I was one of many expert scientists involved.  None of them have special disclosures on their websites and none of them have been harassed about it. None of them consider the work "consulting"- we were subject matter experts in a private mediation. 

8.  I was paid well for my time.  I did not want to do this job, I did not have time for it, but it was firmly in my area of expertise and I was probably the best person on the planet to do the work (time would show that I figured out something none of the other experts on either side could figure out, so that was really cool).  I gladly accepted the generous amount they offered. 

9.  I disclosed outside confidential work on my website.  After consulting with the Associate Dean who handles outside work disclosures she told me how to properly disclose that I was working for a law firm while still maintaining confidentiality. The website stated that I was working for a law firm as a subject matter expert in a confidential, private arbitration. 

10.  These are the facts.  Some call me a liar because my words don't match boilerplate letters and their conspiratorial  interpretations. If you think this was "consulting for Bayer" then fine, think that.  My account here is an exact discussion of what my job was.  If you think it is consulting for a company when I never visited the company for this matter, never spoke to anyone with the company, or dealt with science in the company, then think that. I do not consider that consulting. My website and all public disclosures will reflect these truths. 

11.  And I would LOVE to consult for Bayer or any other company that understands my capacities in research or communications.  I'm particularly adept at communications and messaging, so reach out if there is any special project that falls outside of my normal work responsibilities.     

And by the way, this is old news.  We discussed transparency and confidentiality a year ago on my podcast. 

Forward.   My research is going great, I'm working on a number of books and other projects.  I love my life at home.  I have 40 fruit trees, and tons more of you count bananas (that makes me happy). I am surrounded with beautiful friends and colleagues. I'm running well again even though a doctor told me that I'd never run again on my screwed up knees (ha ha).  My lab will probably publish 8-10 papers in 2019, and I think we're going to create quite a stir in how we farm in urban environments. 

The only thing weighing me down is the endless harassment online and the train of onerous public records requests that steal my time and waste enormous public funding. 

So I am going to shed that part of my public face. I'll still maintain my public Facebook page and run the podcast.  

In conclusion, is this a victory for Balter, Biofortified, Thacker, USRTK and the rest of the folks that want me eliminated from an important conversation? 

No.  They just created a more focused, disciplined and committed proponent of public advocacy of science, and I will use that platform with new media, new ideas, and more effective science communication. 

Thank you. 

A Response to Carey Gillam