Friday, June 11, 2021

Coordinated Disinformation Campaigns on Twitter

 Today on twitter I kept seeing the same message coming up, over and over again.  What the heck is going on? 

Mia's mom wants major restaurant chains to know that she's not exactly up on the science.

The link goes to the Center for Food Safety, an organization that really isn't that is much more of an anti-technology club than a food safety concern.  They speak out against any application of biotechnology, such as the release of the disease-suppressing GE mosquitoes in the Florida Keys. 

Somehow when CFS launches a twitter campaign they plaster the Tweet Stream with the exact same message over and over again.  My feeling is that they do this to create the impression of a mass consensus, a movement to essentially bully retailers and restaurants.

In this case it is the AquaAdvantage Salmon, a fish grown in inland tanks in Indiana.  First invented in 1989, the salmon has had a rocky road to market, despite the magic of growing to market size in half the time and on a fraction of the food and other resources. 

It has been shown to be equivalent to regular salmon and safe as can be. It is not a threat to natural populations because the fish are genetically sterile and a long flop to any place where they could cause ecological problems. 

While technophiles argue that this innovation takes pressure off of natural populations and can provide fresh fish at a better price point, those opposed to biotechnology in any form push back.

The Tweet above is just one of hundreds.  Literally, hundreds. All exactly the same, cookie-cutter tweets. The information is false, as they imply risk to public health, oceans, and wild salmon populations. It is total disinformation. 

They spam popular restaurant chains and hotels, folding them in to tweet after tweet.  What gives? 

I've heard of tweet-storms before, campaigns to start hashtags trending around a given topic. When spawned organically this is probably a good way to get an issue noticed. 

But the identical nature of these tweets is highly suspect. They are not retweets, they appear to be original work of real people.  But are they? 

I thought they were bots, and remain to be convinced otherwise.  Are there services out there that create hundreds of bogus accounts that appear real, simply for these applications? 

I reached out to some of the tweeters, asking if there is a message they received or some script they copied.  I received one reply that said, "Go to the (CFS) website". 

I went to the website and there was simply a petition to sign. No twitter script. 

Meanwhile they accumulate by the hundreds. 

If you search tweets using the hashtag #GMO you'll find over 100 identical messages implying harm from AquaAdvantage Salmon.

I'm very interested in how these kinds of coordinated disinformation campaigns are being used to influence corporate decisions.   Social media can be a powerful influence, and those not understanding the technology might find this mass movement against a new product quite compelling.  How can so many people be wrong?

The real question is, are there really so many people, or is this just some devious scam to present the façade of widespread concern, when it really is just the Center for Food Safety pushing their typical anti-biotech agenda?  

(To be continued)

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

Are You Harming Your Best Advocate?

 Be careful when you take action to eliminate an informed voice from a conversation. In the days of the internet such cancellation can be permanent, and if you remove someone that has a clue, it might just come back to work against your best interests later on. 

Throughout the 2000's and most of all in 2015 and to this day, there have been activist groups and unhinged individuals that wanted me silent.  Whether it is weird professional jealousy, the fact that I run a highly-rated biotech podcast, or the fact that I am a trusted source of scientific information, I attract vicious critics. 

But I'm consistent about two things:

1. Speaking from the evidence and the data.

2. Admitting when I'm incorrect and adjusting.  

When critics use sharp and defamatory means to destroy trust and remove their target from a scientific conversation, they run the risk of removing them from all scientific conversations. 

In 2015 I was targeted by USRTK, Paul Thacker, Charles Seife, Organic Consumers Association and dozens of other anti-biotech activists.  Food Babe Vani Hari joined in. Journalists like Eric Lipton at the New York Times and freelance writer Brooke Borel took hard and visible shots that today clearly stand as well-orchestrated hit pieces. 

Other folks added their interpretations of emails, professional actions and even crept eerily into my personal life. Gross. 

 The defamation for teaching science remains permanent on the internet to this day. 

Why does it matter? 

Because it forever serves as a touchstone for those that reject the science I teach, it is a get-out-of-science-jail-free card to those that want to debate climate change, vaccination, genetic engineering or evolution, but rely on bad evidence and conspiracy to fortify their bankrupt positions.  

Case in point.  Last night I had a pleasant conversation on Twitter with someone (now going by "Fauci is Mengele" that was certain he was correct.  He was not.  He drew a chorus of supporters that chimed in about the COVID19 vaccine that was untested, experimental, dangerous, and blah, blah, blah. 

Painted into a corner with evidence to counter his anti-vax claims, he "did research" on me and posted this:

Fauci is Mengele "did a bit of research" to eliminate my knowledgeable voice from an important conversation.  A tip of the hat to those that work to slander scientists.

And the fact that I've not "lined my pockets" and am hardly an insider doesn't matter. I've been a academic scientist my entire career and have a strong record of public service.  The fact that the New York Times used out of context quotations (at times eliminating words to reverse their meaning) and false interpretations to harm my reputation is something I'll carry to the grave. 

From the New York Times, 9/5/2015 regarding me: 
I reject the notion that teaching science is a "corporate public relations campaign"

Also from the New York Times, 9/5/2015 
When I first read this in print I spit my coffee all over the screen. Inner circle?  I'm a freakin' piss-ant public servant that begs federal agencies for funding to do great science and train tomorrow's scientists. I WISH I was some kind of inner circle lobbyist or consultant!  

This kind of rhetoric provides an easy disqualification for those that cannot discuss the evidence.  If they can't address your arguments with conspiracy and websites, they eliminate you from the conversation.  This is especially true towards me because I treat everyone with profound kindness and do influence those watching the conversation. 

So be careful of trashing academic, public scientists in big, public, visible ways.  At the end of the day they do work for you, and the reputation you are harming may be that of one of your best advocates. 


Monday, May 24, 2021

Creating False Consensus with Bots

 The discussion around Twitter bans is hot, mostly with regard to specific accounts that provide dangerous false information. 

But what about accounts that appear to be legitimate users, but somehow are coordinated accounts posting false or misleading information?  One false-information source alone is not much influence, and one can be singled out, reported or appropriately banned without consequence.  

But does the mass posting of a common false claim from dozens of accounts provide a false sense of consensus where none really exists? 

It's right from the Goebbels playbook-- tell a lie often enough and it becomes the truth.  It works because repetition and the perception of broad support from a number of supposedly independent accounts provides the illusion of truth. 

This barrage occurred following news that Oxitec mosquitoes were being released in the Florida Keys. 

Repetition of a common message from multiple accounts that appear to be independent provides the illusion of consensus about a common theme where none really exists. 

This deceptive spamming appears to happen through legitimate accounts. So either these are well-crafted fake online personas, or a careful coordination between individuals in a "phone tree" type of distribution of an identical message.  Either way it is deceptive, and the second one is highly unlikely. 

I'm going to look at this more closely.  My guess is that this all boils down to a common organization that is trying to manipulate public opinion around biotechnology.  Stay tuned....

Sunday, May 23, 2021

Allegations of Threats

 Over the last week the trolls are back, and polluting social media with more anti-Folta nonsense. 

I won't even touch on it.  Nobody has looked at it, nobody really cares.  It gets few likes, retweets, etc., and those that do show some love to the filth are in the defamation network.  It's dead.

But sadly I need to always play defense.  Now that these allegations are forever placed in findable space, I must reluctantly respond. I teach students, I work with kids, I lead community initiatives, and when someone claims that I'm issuing "threats" I unfortunately have to provide my perspective.

First, Carey Gillam.  She tweeted this, this week:

Carey is one of very few people on my "do not Heimlich" list.  She is one person that I believe is truly evil, and takes pleasure in harming others.  When I begged her to leave my family out of some online slander, she doubled down and went after someone very close to me.  I appealed to her as a mother and a human being to please just stop-- but she dialed it up.  She is a monster. 

Over the last decade she has trashed my work, made false claims about me and my motivations, and has been generally horrible.  She is paid by USRTK, the organization sponsored by industry to  endlessly harass me, so she gets a paycheck to post defamation like the above.  That's her job. 

If she had "bizarre and oddly threatening emails" from me she would have posted them, or paraded them around the internet. 

And if I would have made threats, they would have been very much deserved. 

Threat Capacity

I'm not one to make threats.  I'm a diplomat.  We work things out. However, I am one to describe the constellation of outcomes if a given path is taken.  Big difference. By talking about "here's what happens if..." is an important point for me to present to others. 

I make no threats, and nothing I say could ever be remotely construed as a personal threat-- like physical harm or unfair retribution.  I don't have that gear.  Frankly, I wish the trolls would leave me alone, and I ignore them for the most part. 

Where It Started

This week a story emerged online about how Karl Haro Von Mogel claimed that I threatened him in a 39-page psycho complaint to my University's Dean for Teaching.  

Think about this.  If someone were to threaten you in a non-work related context, legitimately, would you run crying to their employer?  

Karl does this because he knows that there are no legitimate threats from an ethical or legal perspective, and people that know me, and know him, understand that I don't operate that way.  They see what he has done to cause me personal and professional harm, along with stark personal betrayal, and understand that I probably am justified in feeling a little prickly towards him. I just ignored him until his wild complaint package surfaced.

But universities are extremely risk averse and must take all claims very seriously.  That means universities can be exploited to do your dirty work, and trash the reputation of your target academic from within their institution. 

At the same time my University Administration knows me better than anyone, and also knows the praise I receive for good work in teaching, service, research and outreach. They know a troll when they smell one. 

The other major problem here is that the alleged threats were not communicated through a university email account or in my role as a professor at the university.  I was a private citizen protecting my privacy and reputation, and discussions with Karl were personal and through non-work channels. Now von Mogel took it upon himself to drag in my employer and make his claims public, making my personal, private emails public without my knowledge or permission, or the courtesy a carbon copy.  Shame.

He produced an email from me that contained this excerpt, interpreting it as a threat: 

At the time, my personal property and files were being distributed to the internet, including the ever-hostile GM Watch for malicious and incorrect re-interpretation. I wanted to know how that material was getting out of my home and file cabinet, and I suspected he may be part of that pipeline. I already knew that he broke my confidentiality on some highly-sensitive work I was doing with a law firm and was meddling in my divorce by providing false statements to my ex-wife's attorney. 

I simply told him, we can discuss this privately, or make it public, you pick.  That's not a threat. This is me kindly offering to work it out together privately, rather than having it blow up publicly and have to explain it, like is happening here.  I don't want to wreck the guy's future like he wants to wreck mine.  

Keep in mind that this was several years ago. I just learned of this complaint last week (5/2021) when it went public, and if it didn't go internet-wide I would never have said anything publicly. They guy has enough problems and could still sort it out and be a good contributor. 

But to accuse me of threats is something I must directly address. 

He continues: 

  If it is false, then we can talk about it and sort it out.  It was his refusal to discuss this important issue, and my need to get to the bottom of it that prompted my response.  It was not "social blackmail", as proven by the fact that he did not discuss it with me and I kept quiet-- I never made it public until now, when his complaint became public. 

The next "double down" on "threats" was:

This was after Karl reported me to a professional conference for violating the Code of Conduct, simply because I requested a meeting with him on how we were going to complete a project that was crowdfunded with >$13,000 of public money, where he dropped the ball and my name was attached to it.  I had every right to be angry, and I wasn't.  I just wanted to formulate a plan out of the mess, together. 

My reputation was on the line and I wanted a resolution. I either wanted a plan forward or was going to disconnect from the work very publicly in an act of self-preservation. 

Luckily he kicked me off of the project, along with lots of other people that did the analysis on my end, and did so very publicly, so I didn't have to do anything. 

Is it a Threat? 

The point is simple. These are not threats-- these are IF/THEN statements where I spelled out our options to completing a project or resolving a difference. I always was gracious in offering to do things the easy way first, and avoiding escalation that does nobody any good. 

That statement is shown to be true with time, as I did not receive a satisfactory solution that I asked for, and still never took the situation public.  I didn't want to affect his career and possibilities like he wanted to do to me.  I just let it disappear. 

Until now.  If the 39-page complaint didn't surface, then I would not have to state my explanation of the  situation.  He knows about FOIA and public records requests, he used that system anonymously to gather confidential documents of mine and distribute them.  He absolutely knew that he was planting a seed that would be discovered later and play a critical role in his malicious targeting. 


If you have questions, ask me.  The situation is super unfortunate and my guess is that the other parties involved wish they had a do-over.  It makes them look amazingly sad and petty.  Rather than accepting an invitation in a private email (these were from my personal account, not subject to FOIA, and had nothing to do with university business) to resolve a difference with me personally, they run to conferences and my university administration and claim "threats". 

And now this long-forgotten annoyance has become very public, not by me, I'm busy working and teaching science. 

And I want to keep doing that.  These kinds of accusations do nothing to help me teach others as they are designed to harm my reputation.  

Which means I now need to work even harder at producing good media and better outreach. Good.  I needed a little fire to refocus my efforts in positive ways. 

I hope he finds his. 

Friday, May 21, 2021

Hang It Up Stacy

 In 2015 the anti-science, scientist slander machine called US-RTK provided my emails and a story to New York Times reporter Eric Lipton.  As stated by Lipton on the 9/17/2015 Kojo Nnamdi Show on NPR, (USRTK leader) "Gary Ruskin handed me a story and wanted me to publish it."

The result was a gross misrepresentation of me and my motivations to teach science. To them, it was all part of a corporate cabal to misinform the public in exchange for grant money. 

Time has shown that none of it was true.  Still the story lives on the internet, forever attached to me in a Google search. 

And folks from USRTK keep it alive and well.  Last week Stacy Malkan, a USRTK henchtwit, continued to post links to the Lipton story, at least to the documents that supported it, plucked from their context for easy re-interpretation.

Yes, that's what I do.  I talk to folks about communication, which has a significant component of psychology.  How do people process information?  What mistakes do they make?  How can we earn trust?  These are the things I teach. 

And as the article states,  "A Florida Professor Works With the Biotech Industry" they neglect to note that this is our job.  We are to be public liaisons with industry. That's part of the Morrill Act of 1862 that established the Land Grant University System. It is to take the knowledge generated and apply it to agriculture, which includes the ag-associated industries. 

Lipton and USRTK neglect to note that 95% of my research funding comes from federal and state sources. The industry funding for research came from the Florida Strawberry and vertical farm industries. In 2017 I hired a postdoc for one year on Bayer funds ($57,000 to hire a Ph.D. scientist for one year with benefits) to work on novel molecule discovery, which is one thing my lab does. 

Here's the Point

Over the last several years it is no secret that USRTK has lost relevance.  You can't slander scientists and attack science for years and not expect folk to catch on eventually. 

Their recent attacks on Dr. Peter Dadzyk brought them sharp rebuke by social media, and their website visits plummeted. 

Traffic ain't so hot over at USRTK. While the world tolerated their hate directed at scientists for years, the anti-COVID19 science work has flattened their curve.  Source.

At the Same Time... 

While I'm not speaking at conferences as much and have been living through the other hassles of hard defamation, things are going generally very well.  Research is fun, teaching is going great, and I'm investing time in other community leadership efforts. All good. 

The Talking Biotech Podcast is entering its 7th year, approaching 1.5 million downloads and 300 episodes. 

The Point.

When you are a hate group that targets scientists the world will catch up, and you will lose relevance.  When you do good work that grows with time, you gain relevance. 

Why do they beat a tired old story from 2015 that they created?  It got them what they wanted at the time, but in the rear view mirror of time it is clear that it was a targeted hit piece that ultimately proved to be bullshit. 

And their defamation page on me is alive and well.  My students visit it and laugh.  They know me, and that's not me.

In a world of important problems, why not focus energy and time on solving them?  What dig the heels into defamation of public scientists working for the good of others?  

It is a failed formula.  Stacy doesn't get that. Maybe she will when USRTK is out of business.  Coming soon. 

Thursday, May 20, 2021

What's the Actual Story of the 39-Page Complaint?

Yesterday a story was published about me that was largely silly, defamatory and the continued rant of a mad activist that has special hate for me. When you see "Monstanto" in the title you know it is someone stretching for clicks. No big deal. 

But he bases his rant on a 39-page complaint that was prepared by a former colleague who decided to spend years targeting me personally and professionally.  The complaint went to my university, who just ignored it because I first learned about it yesterday. 

Clearly this malicious postdoc knows about FOIA, and knew that his complaint would make its way into the hands of enemies of science and innovation that have targeted me forever.  Who's side is he on? 

The funny part is, a colleague that has also worked with him on several projects said, "Thirty-nine page complaint!  That's the first writing project he's ever actually completed!" 

For the most part I ignore it.  I'm not going to broadcast that this blog entry even exists, I'll just leave it here.  My only point is to add my perspective to the mix, now that they have decided to make a personal situation public.  

I'm always glad to answer your questions, so send me an email at kevinfolta at gmail dot com and we'll schedule a phone call.   


This is a tough one for me.   Someone I genuinely appreciated threw red meat to the people that seek my personal and professional demise. It caused immeasurable harm, mostly because I feel it was pivotal in removing me from public service and university service. 

Karl Haro von Mogel was someone I first met as Karl Mogel.  He applied to our graduate program in the early 2000's and when I met him we bonded instantly. I appreciated his interest in science communication and the fact that he did a podcast interviewing folks like Michael Pollan, long before podcasts were a thing. 

I was one of few that supported his admission.  Most felt he was flighty and unprofessional. The fact that he overslept meeting times and needed special rides didn't help either, as we weigh the opinions of our staff heavily, and they were not impressed. We did not offer him admission, and I was sort of disappointed. 

He went on to pursue a Ph.D. degree at Wisconsin, and I remained an ardent supporter of Karl. In the subsequent years we connected via common interests in producing media for discussing biotechnology, and had some very nice times. 

He always had critics, but I stood by him firmly. He was a good guy at his core, and I still believe that even after he has dedicated endless energy to harm me personally and professionally.  He's one of the folks that someday probably will apologize. 

Where Did the Problem Happen?

Together with Anastasia Bodnar, Karl and I set up a project on  It was needed, simple and meritorious work, a project to be conducted in the spirit of Citizen Science. The goal was do debunk the tired claim that squirrels and other wildlife would not consume GMO corn.

Karl grabbed the reigns.  He contacted a Monsanto (who you'd have to use for such things to have impact) seed contact and arranged for corn to be grown and treated in Hawaii that would comprise the best test of the hypothesis that "Squirrels won't eat GMO corn".  The foundational lines were grown next to the GMO equivalent- and airtight experiment. All of those docs have been paraded in social media from FOIA requests, so I won't bore you with them here. 

We crowdsourced the project via, and within a very short time we had exceeded our funding requirement two fold, for postage, testing and packaging within 24 hours. 

Early on, Karl did a great job. He was the point person. he sent out the kits and did the majority of the leg work.  It was really great, and I appreciated his leadership in this important, simple campaign.  Kids were getting kits, running experiments in school, doing tons of work.  It was an exciting time.

The experiment was supposed to run for two weeks.  

After two weeks, I told him that we should shut it down and analyze the data.  He said no.  He still had some kits to send out and more data would be nice.  I fundamentally disagreed, end points are end points, but he was the boss. 

Days turned to weeks, weeks turned to months, and I drafted the Introduction and Discussion, with a pretty good idea what the results would be. 

But this is where Karl checked out.

We accepted crowdfunding to do the work, he did the hard part, but it languished without completion. This was 2015 into 2016.

Light at the End of the Tunnel? 

As the crowdsourced experiment bled from late 2015 into to 2016, and the calendar turned to 2017 I became increasingly sour about accepting money to do a simple experiment and not delivering. The kids that put out the corn and diligently took pictures in 7th grade were now off to high school.  It was a major problem for me.

Now, part of the problem was my slow progess on the analysis.  I was going to develop a machine vision program to analyze the % consumed, but it didn't work well when compared to manual counts. I can't solely blame someone else for the lack of progress, as it was easy to put it away and not think about it. Nonetheless, we all sat and hoped someone else would drive the completion. 

In spring of 2017 I assembled a team of about 30 volunteers. I made standards and we showed images, and the team rated the percent consumed against a standard. It took a good 3-4 hours on a Sunday, but I eventually tallied and assembled all of the data and it was analyzed by an expert statistician. I moved toward writing, but he insisted that he had it under control. 

Karl presented the work at Plant Biology 2017 in the education session.  I was glad to see it. I had a talk in the same session and it was good to see the project move forward.  I had  feeling that it was on the way to completion, and we were making good on our commitment to the students and citizen scientists that did the work. 

But interest died there. 

Violation of Conference Code of Conduct? 

A year later I was attending Plant Biology 2018 in Montreal, mostly to showcase my postdoc's work and a new project we wanted to roll out on an international stage.  

I saw Karl at a distance in the poster session.  He'd dart around here and there, I was excited to talk to him about the corn project and how we'd make good on our commitment. 

I could understand why he was being evasive.  We were now a year past his presentation at Plant Biology 2017, the kids that did the study in junior high were well in to high school. Online criticism abounded about the lack of follow through, and I was not happy about progress.  I never could seem to get in the same place as him, and in the 39-page complaint he sent to my university about me (below), he explains that he was trying hard to avoid me.  I get it. The crowdsourced project was a total disaster, he collected $13k in funds and there was no accountability. 

I was standing in the lobby of the convention center in Montreal talking to an old friend when I saw Karl walking in my general direction.  I got his attention and quickly asked him if we could get together sometime and discuss the corn experiment.  I explained how I understood that both were busy, but we really needed to finish the crowdfunded work.  We didn't set a time, but I advised that we'd follow up by email. 

The next day I got an email from the leadership of ASPB, the American Society of Plant Biologists, the group holding the conference.  They told me that I was under investigation for violation of the Conference Code of Conduct.  I could not figure it out!  What did I possibly do?

I agreed to speak with the CoC enforcement panel from the conference. These are people I know from the discipline, some for over 20 years. We didn't meet in person because I was leaving that day and I wanted to figure out what the heck was going on, so I requested a phone call and we all got together shortly thereafter. I was excited to get to the bottom of this. 

What could this possibly be? 

They said that there was a complaint levied against me for harassment at the conference. I still was clueless. If I harassed someone I surely would know about it, and I'm very careful in what I say. In fact, harassment is not my way of dealing with anything. I'm a good diplomat that values good ol' persuasion.  

They were reluctant to say who the complaint was from, but after several minutes of discussion they told me "Karl Haro Von Mogel." 

"Oh, that guy!" I exclaimed.  

I was blown away.  I told them that I simply asked him to kindly schedule a professional discussion about completing work we said we'd do, to make good on our commitment to a crowdfunded project. 

"That's not harassment, that's me simply requesting a meeting," I said. 

And I'll never forget the words that came through the phone and into my ear.

"If he says he felt harassed, then he was harassed," one of the people on the committee said.


The call concluded with them saying that they'd consider the evidence and make a decision about the consequences of harassment. 

I told them that they, and the conference CoC was being used intentionally as a harassment tool, that I was not the harasser, I was the harass-ee!  I suggested a lifetime ban, that Karl was the one that needed a firm retribution for using a conference committee to inflict harm on someone else. 

I was told not to discuss it, but that is not their decision. I was the one being harassed by someone reporting me to a professional organization I've belonged to my entire professional career.  I was not taking this lightly. 

My Confidential Outside Work

In 2017 I was asked to serve as a Subject Matter Expert for a law firm.  They had some old data that they felt told a story in a case they were working on and wanted a professional, contemporary analysis using modern tools.  Time would show that I was well suited for the role, and spent a lot of time sorting it out. I was compensated well for my time.

Before I could work with the law firm I had to complete the archaic university disclosure forms.  The job didn't start yet, I didn't know much about what it would entail, but it was a lot of fun thinking about it.  I had to keep all of the information strictly confidential by contract.  I was not to talk about the work, the parties involved, where the data came from, etc. I still have not to this day.

The university forms are boiler plate forms, low on detail and options. The form gave me several options of what to pick as a Subject Matter Expert.  What box would you pick?  I probably should have picked "employee" as it would have been just as accurate. 

And since I chose "consultant" and it was not consulting, I sent a note accompanying the document stating that it was not consulting (below), as I really was not giving any advice or direction on reseracn, business or scientific practices. I was analyzing old data using modern tools so a law firm could make some decisions. 

I have done consulting.  This was not consulting. 

I had to walk a very fine line between transparency, disclosure and confidentiality.  Letting out too much information could jeopardize the issue the law firm was working on, and it was critical to keep it confidential (even today I don't talk about it and removed certain details that Karl was happy to divulge). 

I spoke to the Associate Dean that handled disclosures and outside activities.  She helped me assemble a sufficient disclosure for my website that spoke of the nature of the work without divulging the specifics that could harm the case. We consulted with ethics folks and distilled a reasonable disclosure.  It stated that I was involved in non-university work as a subject matter expert for a law firm. That's 100% correct and does not jeopardize the sanctity of the case.

Long story short, it was fun and intriguing work, and one of the highlights of my scientific career. It was truly satisfying to definitively solve a very challenging question that nobody else could unravel. I figured it out. 

Now keep in mind that this "conflict" is why Karl is so angry-- He sat on the corn project for over a year and my life kept going.  His sloth created the environment for the perception of a conflict of interest. I guess he felt that I could not accept new opportunities because old business was not finished. 

Re-interpreting Partial Information

In the 39-page document Karl makes reference to a trip I made to Germany, to Bayer.  It was freely discussed in social media, etc. 

In December of 2017 I spoke at a conference in St. Louis.  It was a weed biology conference, and I spoke about the need for clarity and accountability around the dicamba situation. 

One of the people in the audience was from Bayer, the company poised at the center of that discussion. I was approached by a scientist that indicated there was a conference in March 2018 that they'd like me to speak at-- not so much a conference, as much as a meeting of scientists and weed experts, and that I'd speak on strategic communication around the dicamba situation. 

My talk was not favorable to the companies, but that's what she found attractive.  

"Our managers need to hear this," she said. 

So I flew to Germany, did  my talk, had a great time visiting.  I think I raised a few eyebrows and was quite critical of how the situation was handled and how it should go forward. 

In his complaint he brings up this event as part of "working for Bayer" when I was actually there as a university professor teaching communication strategy.

I was reimbursed exact costs of travel, with no honorarium or other compensation. 

Grant from Bayer

In March of 2017 I applied to the Grants 4 Targets program at Bayer. They fund pilot projects less than 50,000 euro, and I had a very good one for them.  I submitted it. 

They called me a month later. Whereas normally the process moved into June, my project fit so well that they were willing to fund it at about $57,000 USD, enough to hire a postdoc for a year. Awesome. I got that news in March 2017, months before I began speaking about Subject Matter Expert work with the law firm.

The work started in September, I hired Dr. Lilliana Martinez and she worked on it for a year.  In 2018 the Grants 4 Targets program was dissolved so that was the end of funding, even though the scientists we were working with there felt the project had great promise. 

The grant had nothing to do with the law firm, the law firm had nothing to do with me speaking at a Bayer meeting, and the Bayer meeting had nothing to do with the grants. However, Karl finds it impossible that this is true.  It is true. 

Confidential Information Travels Fast

Personal and confidential information was being leaked from my home to people interested . People would ask me about it, I would tell them to check my website. I was not allowed to talk about it. 

Now at this time the "GMO Corn" experiment was getting stale. We were two years out and no sign of completion, or interest in completion.  Karl starts to grill me on, "Are you consulting for Bayer?"

I told him that I was not (because I wasn't) and that I was involved in confidential work for a law firm (which is true). 

He needled me and needled me, and eventually dismissed me from the failed GMO Corn Project.  It was bittersweet because I had invested substantial time and energy, as well as the time and energy of people I sourced to analyze the data.  It was not reasonable to be eliminated from the project, but at the same time I felt like the captain of the Titanic was offering me the last life boat. 

I understand. Karl does not publish, he doesn't understand the rules of authorship, and that you can't really just cut loose people from projects because of a personal problem.  We separate business from unprofessional and unproductive personal squabbles. 

Leaked Documents and Personal Information

While professional life was going great, I was going through some tough times personally.  I was not living at home, but all of my personal property and information was-- and it was slowly being leaked to hostile entities such as GM Watch and Kavin Senapathy, who made it their business to decorate the web with it in the interest of defamation. 

Check stubs for travel reimbursement were portrayed as payments and satirical comedy 'zine I wrote in college to sell at bars was being paraded as my endorsement of drunk driving.  It was horrible, but the folks doing it had dense histories of targeted defamation, so it was all largely disregarded.  

That material  that was distributed existed in one place-- my old office at in my former home, and I did not have access to it. Long story. 

So someone was leaking it to someone else, and I suspected it was Karl and/or Kavin.  In an email conversation, I told him that I could figure out how my personal info was being leaked because I had access to a router and could see where info was leaving my old home electronically. 

Frankly, I have no idea how to do that or even if it can be done. My hope was to flush out the people that were distributing my personal information and misrepresenting it. 

Allegations of Spying

I told him that my wife and I had free access to each other's emails, texts etc, and that it would be easy to figure out where the leaks of my personal documents was coming from. 

He described this as "spying". 

During a divorce, he and Anastasia sent a letter to my ex-wife's attorney stating that I was spying on her electronically. 

Of course, my ex took this seriously and paid experts to comb the house looking for bugs and evidence of electronic surveillance, which there was none.  

At that time she told me about the letter and even sent me a copy. She was very kind, and told me that she needed to protect me from Karl and Anastasia, as they truly were out to cause me problems. 

I was amazed when I read the letter to the attorney. Karl and Anastasia now were not just targeting me professionally, they were going after me personally. 

I'm glad to supply the letter to anyone that wants to see it, but I won't post it here due to confidentiality with other parties involved that don't want to be involved. 

Karl's Note to my Dean About a Tiny Grant

Karl was going through the boxes of documents he received from the University of Florida at significant taxpayer expense. One of the docs was a small internal grant proposal to make short videos about biotechnology through the Public Interest Education Center at the University of Florida. 

The total was something like $3500, just enough to buy a few cameras and time on the equipment and do the editing, along with some professional distribution and other costs. Nothing to me personally.  

I had forgotten all about it.  It was not funded, and was only a vague recollection. 

Karl demanded that I be held accountable because I mentioned that he'd be reviewing the scripts for scientific accuracy. Back in 2013 when the proposal was written, Karl and I were on great terms. I respected his opinion and asked him if he could review the work. Of course, he agreed and I listed him in the proposal as a script reviewer. 

He now said that it was "fraud" and demanded action. 

When I was questioned about it I simply told my Dean, appropriately, that Karl was just causing trouble and that he was combing through documents, harassing me at conferences and causing me other grief.  

Quibbling over being mentioned as an authority in a tiny internal grant proposal was hardly misconduct as claimed.

The issue went away without incident. 

He'd later send a 39-page complaint (below) to my Dean, complaining about me, citing threats and harassment, none of which happened. In the complaint he also accuses me of  an "unacceptable breach of research ethics" which is a lofty allegation I don't take lightly.  He's trying to harm careers here. 

Falsely Described as an Industry Consultant

Sometime in early 2018 the University of Florida, my employer, received an anonymous request for documents pertaining to my outside employment. 

I'm no stranger to public records requests, as I get them constantly. Many are trying to figure out what would compel a life-long scientist to want to discuss science, do science podcasts, and post scientific media. 

This particular request was strange in that it was anonymous, but it was filled and went away.

Until it appeared on the front page of Biofortified, Karl and Anastasia's blog.  Without warning, or requests clarifications or questions, they posted and then misrepresented documents in a malicious and deliberate effort to harm me and my reputation. They strategically left out the documents that did not support their attack.

The documents were relevant to my approval to do outside work for the law firm, mentioned above.   

However, Karl and Anastasia billed it all as "consulting for Bayer" when the documents clearly stated that it was NOT consulting for a company and that it was simply analysis of old data for a law firm.  I never saw, met with, anyone from Bayer or any other company. Nothing relevant to modern business or science was ever discussed. 

They knew that packaging my work with a law firm as a high-paying consulting gig would give the reddest of the red meat to the anti-biotech activists.  They would then go on to try to destroy me personally and professionally using social media.  

Karl lights the fuse, walks away, and then watches the mushroom cloud and smiles.  Great strategy if you are unable to professionally engage someone in your field, and you want them gone. 

It worked to some degree, as I endured months of doxing, hassle, online defamation, etc. from anti-biotech activist groups that have wanted my teaching and outreach efforts silenced for a long time. 

Worse, I was almost fired from the gig with the law firm.  They told me that if it was not so late in the process that I'd be let go. 

I stayed on, did a great job, and solved an important question for them.  

There were other scientists involved in this issue, people I know from our discipline. They were impressed with my work and conclusions. They would refer me to other law firms for professional witness jobs because I was so effective.  

However, knowing that Karl will anonymously harvest my documents and disclose confidential information, they can't hire me because it is too risky. Karl cannot respect that some confidential information must remain confidential sometimes, and he is the arbiter of what needs to be public information. 

Karl Calls the Police

I was sitting in my office in 2018, working.  The phone rings. It is the university police. They are downstairs and "want to have a word" with me. 

They asked me about who I was harassing online, and that they got a complaint that I was hassling someone.  I had no idea what they were talking about.

I figured they were talking about Michael Balter, the guy that freely distributed my retirement account, bank account and other personal info, as well as advertised me as a spouse abuser. 

But they said the complaint was from California.  Still no idea. 

The police guy breathed a heavy sigh and reluctantly called his dispatcher to get more information. 

"Karl Haro von Mogel," the speaker blurted. 

My response with great relief, "Oh, that f^*@&ing guy."

He had called the police telling them that I was harassing him online, and at the time I can't even recall the last time I interacted with him. I've had him blocked, muted and shut out for months. 

There was no police report, no notes, nothing. Just using the police to harass me at work.  They just told me to "Ignore that guy" which is what I was doing. 

The 39-Page Complaint

I first learned of Karl's complaint to the university on 5/19/2021 in Paul Thacker's article.  I was amazed.  Karl assembled a thirty-nine page complaint, sent to my dean, accusing me of endless impropriety. I never heard or saw anything about it prior to it being posted by Thacker. 

You can read it here

The most disturbing part of this tome is that it mentions that I threatened him, over and over again. Read it.  There are no threats. 

I did clearly state that we needed to complete the work.  I did clearly state that I needed to understand how my personal property and confidential information was being posted online, and that we'd have that discussion privately or very publicly.

That's not a threat.  That is a statement of how a situation will be played out, and the choice was his.

I won't go into the details of his claims.  But after all of the other harassment of my university, harassing me through conferences, my wife's attorney, etc....  a 39 page letter to my university's administration?

Conclusion.  I always liked Karl.  Whereas others categorized him as a clownish man-child that doesn't deliver, I saw a spark of creativity and excitement in teaching science.  I wrote letters of support for him for jobs, and gave him the speaking opportunities I could not take. I wrote for his website and was happy to support his efforts. 

But now I have become his sick obsession.  To send a 39-page package of allegations to my university administration is insane.  I hope after reading this you look hard at what he considers to be "threats".  I simply suggested that there were consequences for his defamation attempts, which is true. 

Clearly those chickens came home to roost.  His endless harassment of my university may have been part of why I was dismissed from my position as Chair of a leading department in plant biology.  Universities just don't want to deal with the noise. 

I went back to my real life, I got to focus on my teaching, research, home, my wife and enjoying sunsets rather than driving/flying/working 16 hour days, 7 days a week. All is well. 

I still host a leading podcast in the life sciences, I still get lots of speaking invites, and things are just right for me. I'm in a personal, peaceful Goldilocks zone. 

It is important to get this story out for one reason.  Anyone considering hiring Karl (or Anastasia for that matter) needs to understand that these are fundamentally good people that feel that the way to solve problems is to throw people under the bus, publicly. 
Instead of calling in those they disagree with and enjoy a personal discussion to sort things out, they resort to anonymous FOIA, then public shaming of their targets. The secret letters to my superiors is a real problem too, as if he's making allegations he should at least carbon-copy me on the correspondence. That's just professional courtesy. 

Self appointing themselves as judge, jury and executioner without knowing the facts, trashing reputations at national conferences, and inflicting their venom on others through reputation assassination is not a good addition to any team. 

You may say that I'm doing the same to him here, but I'm not.  I'm being fair and impartial, and simply describing the angst he has caused me from his unprofessional, stalker-like actions. 

This is the first time I even thought about him in a long time.

I just need him to leave me alone. 

I do wish him well.  He needs to take the focus off of me, publish his damn research, grow up, and move on. 

Thursday, April 15, 2021

Consumer Advocates or Anti-Biotech in Disguise?

 Wolves in sheep's clothing?  It is an interesting question because I've never seen a sheep wearing clothes.  I guess what it really means is that if  a wolf could skin a sheep and wear the wool to basically be a trojan horse. Something like Silence of the Lambs.

I've always suspected that a number of apparent "good guys" of consumer advocacy are really just anti-biotechnology interests. Their recent activities have confirmed my suspicions. 

Over the years I have watch the Organic Consumers Association and the Center for Food Safety rail against biotechnology as it applied to crops. They falsify evidence, bend the truth, and vilify scientists. You can go to their pages and read that I'm a booze-swillin', wife-beatin', child harassin', drunk-drivin' a-hole that is paid by Monsanto to lie about science.

Because I teach science. 

Now that their nemesis Monsanto is no longer a thing, these groups must be falling on hard times.  Their most recent targets?  Biotech mosquitoes. 

The genetically engineered mosquitoes by Oxitec are a modern version of sterile insect technique, a method to rapidly suppress mosquito numbers that has been used for over half a century.  Its modern form is much more precise. Briefly, male mosquitoes contain a larvae-lethal gene. The gene is turned off in the lab, but then it is activated upon release. The males mate with local female pests, and the next generation of larvae are inviable. Mosquito populations crash. The target is a non-native invasive mosquito so it poses no threat to natural ecosystems. 

These disease-transmitting mosquitoes are clearly the most lethal animal on the planet. With Zika, Dengue, chikungunya, malaria and other mosquito-borne diseases on the rise, these tools could have great human health implications.  They are to be released in the Florida Keys shortly. 

Now technically birds eat mosquitoes, so the Center for (Bird) Food Safety might have a point.  But the Organic Consumers Association?  I haven't been to Whole Foods in a long time, but maybe they are selling mosquito larvae for $40 a pound. 

Cool if you are an organic consumer, but does OCA really represent your interests when it promotes fighting a proven technology that can aid public health?

Not to be outdone, the Center for Food Safety also is in the anti-biotech mosquito game. Recently they were bragging about their new billboard on Twitter. Yes, the Center for Food Safety spends their budget on expensive billboards that oppose human health initiatives.

The Center for Food Safety is "SO excited" about their first-ever billboard in the Florida Keys, an effort to manufacture risk against all evidence, impact tourism, and essentially harm a local economy to push their agenda. 

In social media, OCA has bots that spam the interwebs, blasting a common, repeated message over and over again.  The goal?  To make it look like there is widespread concern about a safe and effective strategy to limit numbers of disease-causing mosquitoes. 

The wolves in sheep clothing use façade accounts and bots to swamp Twitter with identical messages to make it look like mass rejection of a good technology.  

Here we have organizations that present as food advocacy groups that really are anti-biotechnology groups.  I can't wait for the day that these insect-limiting strategies are widely lauded for their success in curbing transmissible disease.  Maybe they will finally be held accountable.

Probably not. They have been lying about technology for three decades and the dollars keep rolling in.  

Maybe if we all share these kids of stories we can clue people in to their deception.