I've been at this blogging thing for more than a decade now. Looking back on those years, I find it incredible that I've lasted this long. For one thing, I still marvel that there are apparently thousands of people out there who still like to read my nearly daily musings (or, as George Carlin would call them, brain droppings) after all these years. More importantly, being a public advocate for science is a rough business, as I've documented over the years. Back when I first started out, I was completely pseudonymous and anonymous. I kept my real name relatively secret. It was less than five months after I started blogging that the doxxing began, starting with a man named William O'Neill of the quack group the Canadian Cancer Research Group, who sent e-mails threatening to sue to my department chair, division chief, cancer center director, and, of course, me. I admit that it freaked me out and almost ended my blogging career right then and there. Fortunately, my chair, the late great Steve Lowry (who is missed) thought nothing of it and supported me. Since then, every so often someone, be it an antivaccine activist (most commonly) or a cancer quack (less commonly) or an HIV/AIDS denialist (only once) has tried to make trouble for me at work or elsewhere. I've gotten used to it.
I'm relatively small potatoes, though, and, as I have a demanding day job and can't go "all in" advocating science, I probably will remain so. When a science advocate's prominence rises, the attacks from the antiscience side become more relentless and frightening. Paul Offit knows this, having endured death threats from antivaccine activists. Michael Mann knows this, having endured a concerted effort by anthropogenic climate change denialists to discredit him professionally and personally. Edzard Ernst knows this, having been targeted by the Quacktitioner Royal himself. Indeed, he was just awarded the Maddox Prize—and deservedly so!—because of what he's endured standing up for science. Kevin Folta knows this, having been targeted by the "Food Babe Army," followers of Vani Hari, who has become the queen of food pseudoscience and fear mongering, for his tireless refutation of her fear mongering about "teh ebil chemicalz" in food and, of course, genetically modified organisms (GMOs).
Unfortunately, the pressure has been so great that Folta made this announcement on his Facebook page yesterday afternoon (click to embiggen if the type is too small):
This is a depressing development. Yet another public advocate of science has been driven to give up the fight because of the harassment of anti-science forces. Kevin was one of the foremost voices countering anti-GMO pseudoscience, and now he is gone. I'm not criticizing him for his decision. I really can't blame him for deciding that his advocacy just wasn't worth the price he was paying. Consider the price. Besides having to deal with anti-GMO activists harassing him online, he had to deal with numerous complaints to his administration about his science advocacy. I've had but a taste of what I know Folta has been going through. Periodically, some antivaccine crank or cancer quack will "complain" to my department chair, dean, or cancer center director. At first, they'd ask me what it was about; now I don't even hear about them. Indeed, the last time the topic came up in a discussion with my department chair he confirmed that he periodically gets complaints from people trying to make trouble for me at work.
The worst incident occurred five years ago, when Jake Crosby wrote a profoundly dishonest blog post accusing me of an undisclosed conflict of interest, in essence that I was in the pocket of Sanofi-Aventis and a shill. His rationale was that I was studying a drug made by Sanofi-Aventis as a possible cancer treatment and Sanofi-Aventis makes vaccines. Or something. His logic wasn't exactly what one would call coherent. Be that as it may, as a result, a lot of antivaxers wrote complaints to my dean and the board of governors of the university. Fortunately, my university supported me. My dean even called me to ask me if I felt threatened. I told her that I didn't feel physically threatened, but clearly I was being threatened with other harm. Since then, there hasn't been an attack at work that has caused me more than momentary annoyance, and the administration has learned that such complaints are usually nothing.
As I said, I'm small potatoes. Imagine having to endure what I endured five years ago, but on a much more frequent basis, along with a steady drip-drip-drip of other complaints. Imagine having to deal with being smeared on NaturalNews.com, the Food Babe's website, and basically all over the Internet as a shill for Monsanto. Imagine being the subject of an intentionally harassing fishing expedition in the form of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request:
After receiving a FOIA request from US Right to Know—a nonprofit dedicated to exposing “the failures of the corporate food system“—the University of Florida notified Folta, a food and agricultural science professor at the university, that he would have to turn over all of his e-mails relating to correspondence with 14 different firms involved in agribusiness. His options: Submit all of his emails and allow lawyers to sift through them independently, or spend hours doing it himself alongside legal counsel.
The request is a response to public arguments by Folta that genetically modified foods are safe. Folta compares the strength of the scientific consensus on GM safety to the consensus on climate change and vaccines, and US Right to Know—or USRTK—believes the food and agricultural industries may be pressuring Folta and other scientists into voicing such arguments.
On January 28, US Right to Know sent out a FOIA request targeting 14 scientists at four universities, including Folta, requesting that they all turn over their email correspondence with industry representatives. Gary Ruskin, the executive director of USRTK, says the move is essential for uncovering the food industry’s efforts to manipulate scientists into advancing pro-genetically-modified propaganda.
No, the move was "essential" for nothing of the sort. The only purpose of Ruskin's intellectually dishonest FOIA request was to harass the universities where scientists defending GMOs work, to chew up resources and the scientists' time, and, if Ruskin was lucky, to find something he could distort to make it look as though a scientist were in the pocket of Monsanto. Indeed, it's hard not to conclude that Ruskin was lying through his teeth when he told Keith Kloor that the scientists targeted had been chosen for their involvement in GMO Answers, an industry sponsored website that posts answers to public questions about the safety of GMOs, or genetically modified organisms. After it was pointed out that some of the scientists had no relationship with the website, Ruskin changed his story and claimed that they were targeted for making public statements against California Proposition 37, which would have required the labeling of GMO-containing foods.
Of course, whenever you search through thousands of e-mails, you are virtually guaranteed to find something that you can use against your target. Ruskin knew this, and he did indeed find something after Folta complied with the request. It turns out that the University of Florida accepted a one-time unrestricted educational grant from Monsanto of $25,000. This is not an uncommon sort of grant from companies, be they pharmaceutical companies or other companies, and "unrestricted" means just that: The company giving the grant provides the funds for the the institution receiving them to use without preconditions. As Steve Novella has documented, this small grant was used to pay for "travel expenses, snacks, and other minor expenses associated with scientists outreach activities." The finding resulted in a hopelessly biased article in the New York Times by Eric Lipton in September. It was clearly a hatchet job designed to discredit him. In response, besides her usual nonsensical bloviating, the Food Babe promised to file an FOIA of her own.
I can only guess how the harassment has escalated over the last couple of months. Having no "inside information," I can only speculate based on Folta's statement that he's "under a lot of pressure on many fronts" that perhaps his family is tired of the harassment. Another possibility, as unfortunate as it would be if that possibility were true, is that the University of Florida is pressuring him to shut up. Yes, universities generally support freedom of speech and academic freedom, but not all of them do so to the same extent, and when supporting a faculty member's academic freedom results in too much pushback, even the most dedicated university might have second thoughts. Pressure could be exerted in many ways, particularly given that Kevin Folta is the chairman of the Horticultural Science Department, which, believe it or not, probably makes him more, not less, vulnerable to pressure, because unlike tenured faculty, who are incredibly difficult to fire (and intentionally so), department chairs generally serve at the pleasure of the dean. The university might not be able to get rid of Folta from the faculty, but it wouldn't be too difficult to threaten his position as chair, either subtly or not-so-subtly.
I'm not saying that this is what happened. I openly admit that I'm speculating about what might have happened based on my experience with how universities work, which might not even quite apply, given that I am most familiar with how medical schools work. In fact, I really hope that this is not what happened. I hope that the University of Florida actually did support Folta completely, making his decision to withdraw from public advocacy unrelated to pressure from his administration. Again, I can't blame the guy for deciding to withdraw, knowing just a little of what he was facing and having had only a taste of it myself in comparison. Indeed, I recently found out that his home address was published in a local Gainesville Craigslist anti-GMO ad aimed at Folta's mother and asking her if she was ashamed. So it's quite possible, likely even, that this sort of harassment is what tipped the balances in his decision. Only Kevin Folta knows for sure what factors led him to make his decision.
Over the years, I've noticed many traits that various antiscience cranks share in common, be they antivaccinationists, quacks, anthropogenic global climate change denialists, or anti-GMO activists, and that is an obsession with ad hominem attacks. They can't win on the science because science doesn't support them; so they attack the man—or woman. The tactics they use include online harassment, harassment of families, legal thuggery (as Steve Novella recently suffered), and, of course, harassing them at work by contacting their supervisors or administration. The idea behind this last tactic is to annoy the offending skeptic's boss to the point where he pressures the skeptic to knock it off. This tactic is depressingly effective when the skeptic works for a private company that can fire an employee at will, less so against academics. That's not to say that it never works against academics, but universities tend to value academic freedom and freedom of speech for faculty. Of course, if harassment of one kind doesn't work, maybe another type of harassment might. If harassment at a science communicator's day job doesn't work, maybe a bogus lawsuit or online public attacks might. Whatever the tactic, the idea is to intimidate the critic to silence, or at least to make speaking up so painful that the critic thinks twice about it. At the very least, other scientists who see what happened to, say, Dr. Folta might decide speaking up is just not worth the consequences. Again, that's the idea.
I wish Dr. Folta well and thank him for all that he's done in the service of science. I also hope that a day comes when he decides he can re-emerge and re-enter the conversation.
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These tactics are those of people who know they are losing the struggle. Biotechnology is here to stay and sooner or later the public and yes, even the members of the Food Babe Army are going to realize they are being lied to. I even feel a little sorry for the FBA members because they are some of the real victims. They are paying to be frightened, paying for useless supplements and paying for useless books.
Something is terribly wrong with a system that allows a level of harassment that essentially results in silencing speech. This is alarming and I’d like to know more about what led to Folta’s decision; whether it’s strictly personal or more along the lines of what you speculate about?
I think I’ll write the U of F and express my dismay at their seeming lack of support.
There should be a mechanism in the FOIA to prevent such harassment as well. One person’s right-to-know should not remove another’s right to free speech.
That's terrible about Folta: I'm sure that Mikey will be congratulating himself about it in the next 5 or 6 posts. Food Babe will be thrilled with herself.
Fortunately, the legal tactic doesn't seem to be working ( Novella, Deer) HOWEVER that can disrupt people's lives for months or years as well as cost money in some jurisdictions.
Beautifully written, as always Orac.
Up here we have a fee for information searches of this type (for gov't related info). If the search time is over a certain level, the requesting party is charged a fee based on the estimated length of the task. Some think that is unfair, but other crank organisations have routinely and regularly dug for "dirt" in this manner.
I agree that there should be protection against the harassment, but I think it should come from the institution being FOIA'd, not the act itself. It's not inconceivable that there are circumstances under which exactly the same request really would be for information the public had a right to know.
And drag though it might be for the University of Florida to make a cause out of it, I'm sure they'd find the organizational and financial resources to push back if institutional self-interest were at stake.
Yep, those jerks will stop at nothing to make life impossible for people who they deem to be their enemies. Even "small potatoes" are targets of attacks that turn out to be annoyances which end up having a chilling effect on said "small potatoes."
A couple of months ago, someone posted all of my personal information on the "Vaccine Resistance Movement" Facebook page and I got a few interesting phone calls, and one where I was threatened not to go to Texas or I'd be shot on sight. (I've been to El Paso numerous times since then.) I'm still blogging, and I'll still write about the stupidity of antivaxxers the world over. It's on them if they do something bad, not on me.
But that's just me. I'm sure Dr. Folta thought long and hard about this, and I don't criticize or question his logic. That said, I'm afraid Vani Hari et al will now see this as a good way to silence dissent.
Vani Hari already knows siccing her "Food Babe Army" on critics is an effective tactic. Her gloating is likely to be epic. Also, no doubt he feared for his family, given that anti-GMO activists had taken to publishing his home address.
Corporate money are corrupting our system on every level from a little science like this to our government where you look there is a trail of money behind these things. If you be promoting something and you got perks for it then you are going to be not writing it independently. You can not be calling for shots when you are paid in some form by the special interest like Monsanto. Everyone knows what Monsanto is and who does not is just not informed or has been directly or indirectly connected to the company. GMOs are very controversial the least to say and when this guy took money from the company which makes gmos and he writes about gmos but does not disclose it then we have no transparency and independence.
ALL HAIL MONSATAN!
Wait, so the bare fact that something is controversial means that it is evil and involved in a nefarious conspiracy? Homosexuals are pretty controversial. Are scientists who study various facets of homosexual behavior mere puppets of Big Gay?
As I note in detail elsewhere, even our highly esteemed and entirely splendid host is being called a GMO/ vaccine shill and "Murdoch blogger".**
Anyone can say this : doesn't mean its true.
** Adriana Gamondes - AoA.
The funny thing is, the agreement between ScienceBlogs and NatGeo ended at least a year ago. Do you see any NatGeo logos or anything else linking Sb to NatGeo? They're gone because we are no longer affiliated in any way that I'm aware of with NatGeo. Other than a cash infusion that kept Sb going through some hard times, the whole NatGeo thing turned out to be a bust. We were hoping for opportunities perhaps to write for NatGeo; they never really materialized, with maybe one or two exceptions. The site never got a revamp. Oh, well...
The pressure might be internal, as well. I am an avid reader of science and skepticism blogs, which inevitably bring up the anti-science crowd regularly. Some are mostly or even entirely dedicated to debunking the nonsense that spews from that quarter.
While I enjoy reading these, the practical effect is that I am regularly exposed to some very, very dumb ideas and the people behind them. Even though I am not personally being targeted, just knowing how self-willingly some people wallow in ignorance is depressing. I find that, every few months, I have to take a break from reading them, or it actually begins to affect me.
The Heather Dexter dust-up is a prime example; while it is great to see such ignorance exposed to the world, it is infuriating to be keenly aware that there are children being made to suffer so needlessly. Worse, she is proud of it. And even worse, others of the same ilk are proud of her, too.
These are people living a life of privilege beyond what was available to the richest person in the world 150 years ago. and that is how they choose to live it? In paranoia, ignorance, and denial? It's just so frustrating, and it doesn't even affect me directly. I can't even begin to imagine what it is like for Dr. Folta.
I know but think of the matrix of interconnecitons Gamondes can dream up if she only avoids that fact.
At least she didn't illustrate the article as is usual.
Long-time lurker writing in to (hopefully) clear up some FOIA issues. I'm actually a lawyer, though I do not play one on TV, who deals exclusively with my state's public information act. Given that U of F is not a federal agency, the request for Folta's e-mails almost certainly came through the Florida equivalent of the federal FOIA. States can and do try to put some limits on frivolous public information requests by setting fees, requiring the requestor to pay for the costs of obtaining the information, sending the request to the state attorney general's office for review, etc. I'd assume Florida has some safeguards in place, but it's more a matter of knowing what options are available because this stuff is complicated. You don’t know how often I hear from other attorneys who have no idea what they’re doing.
@darwinslapdog: unfortunately, the idea behind FOIA is that more information from public agencies is better, and the motives of the requester don't figure in. It can be and is abuse, but I don't see that changing (the most common abuse is not actually to attack critiques but by businesses to find out information about competitors).
Mike@10: Oh cry us a river. Your total lack of concern for the malicious silencing of critics speaks volumes. You ain't got the wits or stones to bring evidence to a science fight, so you harass their families and employers instead.
Protip: nobody here trusts large profit-driven businesses like Monsanto or GSK further than they can throw them. That's why they're told to show hard evidence for their claims and even then are still regulated up the wazoo. How about calling out the more outrageous, unrestricted, and also very profitable graft going on right under your own noses in the "healthy living" movement, like the Food Fraud and Noxious News? Or are you all proud of your double standards?
Sally @ #16. Some states, like the one I'm in, will hand everything, baby AND bathwater, to whomever requests it. Sucks up vast amounts of my time, and all we ever get out of it is bad press, because the requesters have a nasty agenda.
Before anyone goes and checks my travel itinerary, I have not been to El Paso "numerous" times since that doxxing thing happened. Just a couple. Geez!
The thing about Dr. Folta and his "COIs" is that what he wrote was true. If he were straight-up lying to us about GMOs and was getting all of his money from Monsanto, then that would be totally different than educating us about GMOs and getting money via grants given to his school or via reimbursements for talks.
COIs are in the eye of the beholder, as we can clearly see.
Sadly, I am all too familiar with the kind of harassment and terrorism that is used to shut up those who speak the truth. I have been blogging about fraud and scams for over a decade, and have been sued multiple times by companies who wish to silence me. The suits have ranged from nuisance suits all the way up to a suit demanding $270 million.
These people know the tactics are effective. Others who are interested in the topics I write about have stopped writing because they fear these lawsuits. They're expensive and time consuming (the $270 million lawsuit took 5 years and almost $200k in attorneys fees to clear my name).
All of the suits against me have been baseless and unethical, but they have scared others, and they have definitely decreased my desire to speak out about frauds and scams.
If those of us speaking the truth all stuck together and refused to back down, the harassers would lose their power. But that's easier said than done. After a while, you just start to feel like there is no point to fighting the fight when the costs are so high.
Indeed, BS Hooker wrote in a journal devoted to scientific ethics about alleged pro-vaccine conflicts of interest while falling to disclose his own conflicts of interest: Hooker made exactly the same dishonest representation of his conflicts of interest,/i> as he did when his actions resulted in the retraction of his recent article in Translational Neurodegeneration.
That does not seem to be the case here. This is how Folta describes it at his blog:
The threats, harassment, and ultimate silencing of our few voices of rational thought is terrifying. I've read what happens to bloggers who've been targeted; I had to google "swatting" the first time I saw it and it was appalling. I don't know how to counter all the crazy or protect advocates but I sure wish someone could find a way.
I'll keep sharing and supporting the amazing ones we have left and the brave new voices to come.
Food Babe can't even spell FOIA.
Just once I'd like to see Yoga-Mata Hari and the others of her ilk stand up in a court of law defending themselves from a libel suit.
Here is the broad definition of libel from a Cornell University webpage:
"Definition: Libel is a method of defamation expressed by print, writing, pictures, signs, effigies, or any communication embodied in physical form that is injurious to a person's reputation, exposes a person to public hatred, contempt or ridicule, or injures a person in his/her business or profession."
I'm not a lawyer, but it looks like a good fit to me.
Since many of those creeps make money off their own lines of foods, "supplements", etc., I wonder if there is some aspect of trade law that might apply.
Attorneys out there,please comment.
Ironically, the Wall St. Journal (which has published numerous op-eds on the dishonesty and idiocy of the anti-GMO movement) apparently sees nothing wrong with FOIA fishing expeditions designed to intimidate scientists, as long as they disagree with the science in question.
A regular columnist is applauding the House Republican gambit to subpoena e-mails of climate change scientists, on the theory that this will reveal politically motivated manipulations of data, because these people couldn't genuinely be convinced of harmful man-made climate alterations.
Speaking of FOIA harassment, when will subpoenas be forthcoming from the "whistleblower scandal" types, demanding every e-mail ever sent by anyone to, from and within the CDC?
“Folta compares the strength of the scientific consensus on GM safety to the consensus on climate change …”
What’s your take on the French meteorologist being fired for questioning the ‘hype’ around climate change?
Do you think NOAA should continue to refuse to comply with the Congressional subpoena for emails and internal correspondence relating to NOAA’s ‘no global warming pause’ finding?
A mob is only as wise as its dumbest member. And, sad to say, these mobs often aren't that wise even at the top.
"These are people living a life of privilege beyond what was available to the richest person in the world 150 years ago. and that is how they choose to live it? In paranoia, ignorance, and denial? It’s just so frustrating, and it doesn’t even affect me directly. I can’t even begin to imagine what it is like for Dr. Folta."
So well stated. In a parallel vein, I have often chewed my tongue off at the realization that the internet, the most valuable information tool in the history of mankind is most commonly used to view Kardashians.
Bugger. Buggery, buggery, bollocks.
Sorry about that...just needed to vent. The world just got a little less sane. :(
I have been following Kevin Folta's science advocacy for quite some time, first with enthusiasm, then with growing dread as the attacks against him got worse and worse. I feared this day was coming. I appreciate your thoughtful and sympathetic post today - on one hand it is such a sad thing, but on the other hand, how can one blame Kevin Folta for toning down? He has a responsibility to his family and to his students.
But there's no doubt this is a loss, on two fronts. We lose a rational, sensible advocate of science, but also - who knows how many fans of Folta (like myself) will now think twice about taking up the baton? Just today I lectured my class on myths about food and farm, inspired by Kevin Folta's example, but at what cost to bring the same message to the broader community?
"But there’s no doubt this is a loss, on two fronts. We lose a rational, sensible advocate of science, but also – who knows how many fans of Folta (like myself) will now think twice about taking up the baton?"
Not to mention the third front, which is the psychotic loons who are threatening people will feel emboldened to escalate such tactics due to the perceived 'victory'.
That's exactly what antiscience bullies like The Food Babe, Gary Ruskin, and various antivaccinationists who've tried to intimidate me to silence want. It's part of why they do it. If they manage to force a man like Folta to be so worried about his his family and career that he concludes his only viable option is to retreat to private academic life, not only do they remove a thorn from their side but they send a message to anyone else thinking of following in Folta's footsteps. Animal rights activists are particularly good at this because they go beyond Internet harassment, to face-to-face physical harassment by holding noisy protests outside of researchers' homes.
I am just pseudonym and wrote in local sceptic org's forum where I made personal list of hoaxes that should get our yearly national hoax-prize. I mentioned (generally) D vitamin pills that were just measured hoax (too little D-vitamins were found). But that was only tenth on my list. No companies mentioned.
Soon local dietary supplement seller had my pseudonym with another one (just reader who wrote on Science-magazine forum) listed on his website that he's gonna sue us. Actually he said he is "considering" to sue us. He hanged us loose noose.
But I was not afraid. Friends and net-friends were amazed and laughing. Later the seller said that he had talked with his lawyer and gave up.
But this episode showed us that freedom of speech is in danger here too.
@Old Rockin' Dave: I'm not an attorney, but the short answer is that it's hard for someone who is a public figure to sue for libel in the U.S. The bar is high, and rightly so. That, in turn, also protects those who speak up from losing frivolous suits - though not from being sued.
Let me know if you want the long version.
OK, I'll bite
Well, in a first pass, doesn't look good for freedom of speech.
On the other hand, he did speak using his credentials as the TV weatherman; not while doing his job, but still making it clear where his job was during interviews he did to promote his book. So his employer has some rights to decide if he wants to keep an employee who is embarrassing him.
Something similar did happen before, but with an IT guy from a French private TV company, after he criticized a controversial law about media copyright.
And as it happens, this weatherman's opinion is based on some questionable interpretation of some facts.
As an example (from CNN):
Well, my view of the recent French summers and winters is not that pink-tainted. If by better weather you mean canicule and drought, and if grapes are the only fruits you care for, yeah, sure.
He is also asserting that warmer winters would mean less flu cases, and less lethal outcomes from the flu. That's bullshit.
Last winter was warm, but that didn't stop the flu from killing people. More than usual (to the tune of 18,000 more), according to the quotes in an article in Le Monde (in French).
AFAIK, no-one stopped him from publishing his book or giving interviews. That would be censorship. A little xkcd strip summarizes well the distinction, as I see it.
tl;dr: I'm not that comfortable with someone losing his job for his opinion, but since he was arguably making a fool of himself and using his job as a position of authority, I think his employer was within his rights to tell him to go find his own soapbox.
The posts about Heather Dexter's medical neglect resulted in reports to CPS and her blog post being taken down. These were good things for the safety of her children as well as the children of her blog's readers. I think this is probably the same thing the FBA's foot soldiers believe they are doing.
The leadership is where the fault lies. Food Babe rouses her rabble for the sole purpose of turning a profit. But the ignorant masses of her army are likely much more similar to us minions than is comfortable to acknowledge.
"Ignorant" being one of the key differences. About some things, not all, obvi. But I have in fact thought about the fact that if I really did believe that GMOs were a monstrous corporate evil, set on poisoning everybody and enslaving farmers and so on, it would be wrong not to fight tooth and nail against GM technology. Same goes for the anti-vaxxers, too. The problem is that they are wrong about what they believe. Objectively so. Because of ignorance. (Which is one of the three poisons.)
One other difference is that I do my own damn bidding. :-)
re " psychotic loons who are threatening people will feel empowered"
Unfortunately, I know a little about sceptics being sued for telling the truth. In 2008, a physicist wrote to a public radio station which allowed an altie free rein making outlandish medical claims resulting in the aforementioned loon inviting him on air to "debate"- he did so and wrote about his host and his fabled doctorate on his blog which GOT HIM SUED.
After several years, the case was thrown out.
An hiv/ aids realist more recently wrote about an opportunist who misled people about the virus and meds. He was sued as well. Eventually another blog's legal team assisted him and the case was thrown out.
In Folta's case, his critics are mercenary entrepreneurs who have mountains of gall to talk about money exchanging hands in any way. They make loads of money. IN fact, Adams's worth would be hard to determine because I believe he registers his companies in Taiwan. He has multiple businesses sprawling over the internet for years. Ms Hari is also on her way to becoming financially successful with a book deal.
I think that sceptics should find ways to publicise these business operations in great detail- only today I heard a woo-meister call out his troops so that they would ferret out corruption in science. They should start with him ( although what he does isn't science).
To show you the kind of person Folta is:
About three years ago I taught a freshman seminar about how we lay people deal with claims in the media having to do with food. I'm decidedly a non-expert, an English teacher and part-time farmer, so I teach students how to be skeptical, how to seek out sources they can rely on.
Two of my students pursued a group project on GMOs. I told them about Folta's website and they contacted him. And he answered. This full-time professor and busy public speaker took the time to write a response to an inquiry from two college freshmen in Maine.
I'm shocked and horrified by what is happening to him now.
Orac, please consider printing and sending this column to the new U. of Fl. president. It might help to counter pressure the bunk they have been receiving. The 2 nasty commentors nonsense just might be eyeopening as well. My booth at the Haile Market will have an I support Folta sign for a few weeks. Thanks for writing this.
If you want to see despicable, check out the Food Babe's Twitter feed:
Food Babe is a bully. Telling someone they're wrong (as you believe it to be) is fine; sending attacks and harassment designed to silence is not fine.
It's the difference between making rude jokes on the internet about people, and stalking/threatening to kill people - one is annoying, but legal, the other is profoundly eff'ed up and wrong. FB is the latter.
More than two, if AoA's own commentariat is to be believed.
It might have been that long ago. Time flies, you know. I'd have to dig deep into my e-mail archives to determine the date NatGeo and Seed let their agreement lapse.
What a shame, although in retrospect not a surprise.
Dr. Folta was one of the speakers at a McGill University science symposium about a month ago, as was Dr. Offitt (as was Orac a few years ago, I believe). Since this whole FOIA e-mail "scandal" was just breaking at the time, he felt compelled to preface his presentation (and take away valuable time) with an explanation. He got choked up at several points and apologized, explaining that all the hostility and threats were taking their toll on him and his family. It really humanizes the issue when you hear from the victim himself about the effects of bullying. He's not some guy on the internet; he's a real human being.
It's even more of a shame considering how entertaining a speaker he proved to be, a natural performer. Rather than hide behind the podium and merely read out loud the content of PowerPoint slides (as all the other speakers did), he wore a headset mic and wandered the stage, engaging the crowd, being both informative and funny when appropriate. He took a poll at the end and several people admitted they had changed their minds about GMOs based on his all-too-brief presentation.
It's too bad his natural talent to teach and entertain and his easy rapport with audiences will be wasted.
Food Babe is a deluded individual with a hoard of gullible followers. The same is true of Dr. Mercola and the Weston A. Price Foundation. Even when presented with irrefutable facts contradicting their statements, they choose not to believe them. Why? Because to do so would undermine the credibility they have managed to create in the minds of their followers, who apparently lack the skills required to do their own research and to discriminate. By changing their opinion on a topic, they also run the risk of losing fanatical followers to another purveyor of half-baked nonsense, only too eager to feed the emotional fervor of the scientifically illiterate. The whole thing is like a bad B movie from the 1950s where rivals stir up the primitive peoples of a foreign land or planet with truth on the one hand and deliberate deception on the other. The only difference is that our real world deceivers are so dense, they often believe their own bull.
A bit off topic, but I wonder how the anti-GMOers are going to react to treating cancer with genetically modified immune cells:
Two follow-up points:
Dr. Offit, not Offitt. I hate misspelling names.
The McGill symposium speakers are always professionally videotaped, multi-cam, and the content of the entire two-day event is posted on the McGill website. I urge anyone interested to find the video of Dr. Folta's appearance.
Link to the videos of the 2015 McGill speakers:
And what an all-star lineup in 2010: Orac, Goldacre, Randi and Shermer. Wish I was a skeptic back then; i wouldn't have missed this.
You beat me to it! I popped in to post a link to that story and ask the same question.
I suspect there will be a lot of handy wavy and "Ooooh look! A squirrel!"
@Murmer #53: And let's not forget Bullwinkle J. Moose!
@Lighthorse and Murmur: Go Wassamatta U!
Some good news about harassment of scientists.“Charges laid against B.C. man who called for death of ex-Fukushima researcher” http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/british-columbia/charges-laid-again…
More commentary on "DG" ( misspelled) at AoA-
" How do these people sleep at night? They have actually offed doctors who treat children and yet they snivel about accountability questions"
They can " still see the black rectangle with inner yellow lines that is National Geographic" ( app) so therefore....
Sad to see Kevin Folta bowing out. Personally, I gained good understanding of science, GMO science, how science works, how science interacts with industry, etc from Dr Folta. So, here's a big thank you to Kevin.
Also, a thank you to Orac for the immeasurable knowledge and understanding you impart.
It is horrible that a scientist can be bullied by quacks. I am frustrated that we seem to be slipping into a dark age where pseudoscience is more believable than real science.
I was not aware of this guy and his talks. But being a follower of the GMO debate, it looks like I've missed something, and his pulling out of the debate sounds like a blow against objectivity.
Here in Germany, being anti-GMO is mainstream. Being anti-GMO has so much going for it: you get the feel-good factor, and they congratulate themselves for standing up to the multinationals and for showing "Zivilcourage" (roughly: kicking against the pricks, having the guts to stand up to authority). This is absolutely laughable, because you could easily get flayed alive over here for expressing a pro-GMO opinion.
I will resist the temptation to go on about the role of the media in this, suffice it to say that one of their number noted once that many of them consider bias in these matters to be a virtue.
It is a bad thing when scientists get harassed. However, it is also a bad thing when people concerned about Monsanto ( remember the Schmeiser case? ) are bullied with a lot of name calling when they express concern about GMOrganisms. I am not an anti-vaxxer. I am not a climate change denialist. I am not an HIV denialist. But, apparently, in the eyes of this author, I am some sort of nut case because I am suspicious about Monsanto and Monsanto's related companies and products and the really awful politicians associated with the company. When I read that Monsanto tests the proteins produced by their genetic modifications for allergic response, I am cheered. But when I realize what a ruthless company Monsanto is, I don't know how much trust to put in their data. On balance, I suspect that the foodees are a little crazy, but I knowing that Monsanto controls much of the food that I eat does not cheer me at all. Knowing that Monsanto modifies plants so they can put more of their brand of herbicide into the biosphere does not cheer me at all either.
No, you're not a crank because you're concerned about Monsanto's business practices. However, anti-GMO activists often conflate Monsanto's less-than-savory business practices with the conclusions of the actual science. Indeed, that's what you're doing here. They are not the same. Whether Monsanto is a horrible company or not is a separate question from the science that supports GMO safety, much of which has been done by independent scientists and institutions other than Monsanto. Also, I didn't say that anti-GMO activists were antivaccinationists, creationists, HIV/AIDS denialists, and anthropogenic climate change denialists. I said that they were like antivaccinationists, creationists, HIV/AIDS denialists, and anthropogenic climate change denialists, because they are. They use the same sort of fallacious arguments, and their first instinct seems to be to discredit the person rather than the argument.
I stand by my comparison of anti-GMO activists to antivaccinationists, creationists, HIV/AIDS denialists, and anthropogenic climate change denialists.
Folta couldn’t take the heat, so he got out of the kitchen.
His desire for comfort and protection exceeded his passion.
At least Folta kept his job, unlike the Frenchman in #28.
SteveP: "it is also a bad thing when people concerned about Monsanto ( remember the Schmeiser case? ) are bullied with a lot of name calling when they express concern about GMOrganisms."
I remember the Schmeiser case, which some anti-GMOers cite as an example of Monsanto allegedly bullying a farmer over accidental "contamination" of his crop by a GM plant. The reality is that Schmeiser deliberately selected Roundup-resistant canola plants at the edge of his property, saved the seed, planted 1,000 acres worth of GM canola and refused to pay Monsanto Canada the license fee to which it was entitled. He lost a Supreme Court judgment which found that he had violated patent rights, the same as would have happened if he'd deliberately used a non-GM patented variety without paying a required fee.
Orac: "I didn’t say that anti-GMO activists were antivaccinationists, creationists, HIV/AIDS denialists, and anthropogenic climate change denialists."
There's a great deal of overlap between these groups, as a bit of Google research will indicate. The correlation is proportional to the degree of illogic and conspiracy-mongering used in anti-GMO arguments.
Correct, but people can also compartmentalize. They can be total cranks in one area and reasonable in others. It is true, however, that there is a phenomenon that has been dubbed "crank magnetism" in which susceptibility to one form of woo seems correlated with susceptibility to other forms of woo, but most people do compartmentalize to a fair degree.
SN, what a load of crap. Folta chose to keep his personal life from affecting his professional life. Whereas: the Frenchman you talk about allowed his personal life to affect his professional. Just because Folta has moved away from publicly fighting for truth does not mean his passion has dimmed.
Also, some people just aren't cut out for enduring the sort of harassment Folta received. If I were to suffer that level of harassment, complete with multiple abusive FOIA requests, I don't know how long I could continue to do what I do. I've suffered my share, but it hasn't been unrelenting in the way it had become for Folta. It comes and goes, with long breaks in between where the only harassment I suffer consists of random insults from the antivaxers. I can deal with that without even thinking about it. I generally just ignore it. However, abusive FOIA requests, ads targeting one's family, and the like, these things are much harder to ignore.
Don't you love it when anonymous commenters sneer at science advocates for caving in to cowardice?
See Noevo, In fact you are completely and utterly ignorant about why Kevin decided to take a break from his public advocacy of science.
But then you are just one more ignorant science denier.
It is a lot easier to stay in the game when you have no hard built reputation to lose.
On a lighter note ( for your reading pleasure):
TMR presents Nora Nightmare -
Teaching a "Skeptic" What "Critical Thinking" Really Means
the sceptic is Brian Dunning.
The post and comments illustrate a bit of what sceptics are up against
Oh, I saw that. I was tempted to apply some not-so-Respectful Insolence to it, but decided (at least for now) that other things interested me more.
I don't actually. (Yes, yes I know you were being ironic)
But you are correct. It is a lot easier to make disparaging comments when you use a pseudonym or a series of pseudonyms and the comments cannot be sheeted home.
In the past few years I have made the decision that I really need to stand by all the public comments I make. This is now the only place where I don't use my full name attached to any comments I make. That is for historical reasons, rather than anything else. Perhaps I should change here? My identity here is possibly the second worst kept secret on the internet.
I have decided that as a well-established and well-published scientist, I want these charlatans to know how I specifically think of them. Posting under your own name also means you think twice before writing something. Would I be comfortable saying that to the person's face?
I accept there is a risk, but unlike Orac, I am in the comments section so a lot less visible. I have, more than a decade ago now, had a threatening phone call to my home address. That is why the home phone and a lot of other stuff is no longer in my name. People can call me and threaten me on my mobile if they like. I have also had some interesting e-mails (including from that imbecile Clifford G Miller and I do hope he is reading this) over the years and know that a former Head of Department got some. But there has been nothing like the sustained attacks that Kevin Folta has received over the past 6 months.
I really feel for Kevin.
This is just a post to allow Orac to approve my comments.
I really should be putting my full name to these things.
Yes! Some activists oppose GMO agriculture on the basis of Monsanto-et-al's business practices alone, without going to the unscientific scare stuff about 'Frankenfood' dangers. And they do, at least, have a case worth considering. I feel sorry for these folks though, because they get drowned out by the GMO-poison bullslingers, and as a whole the movement for progressive agricultural economics has becomes so conflated with naturalistic fallacy nonsense that third parties and the public can't separate them.
This kind of thing is not just an anti-science problem. Many (most?) legit social movements are targets of co-optation by extremist cranks. In the 70s and 80s, InCAR would try to take over civil rights demonstrations, SWP fringies would try to take over strikes and labor demonstrations. This year, self-styled 'Anarchist' thugs tried to turn police violence protests in Berkeley into brick-tossing and fire-setting melees.
The genuine cooks are often bolstered by agent-provocateurs. It was a truism in the anti-Vietnam war movement that the guy at meetings talking the most hard-line violence was almost certainly a Fed. I wouldn't be at all surprised if the anti-GMO forums have been infiltrated with folks working for a 'dark' PR arm of the bio-tech industry, pushing for more 'Poison! Poison! Conspiracy!' craziness.
The anti-war protests I went to as a young-un in the 70s, and the Democratic-Socialist labor activists I worked with in the 80s had people doing crank monitoring, working to keep the crazies away from the rank-and-file, and clarify the difference in message and purpose to all. Without that kind of diligence, legit protest can easily go off the rails. In this, it strikes me that the anti-corporate-Ag activists with legit beefs against 'Big Biotech' have been utter failures, too ready to cozy up to anti-science CTs, and self-promoting messianic opportunists like Vandana Shiva. Sad, sad, sad. :-(
"Correct, but people can also compartmentalize. They can be total cranks in one area and reasonable in others. It is true, however, that there is a phenomenon that has been dubbed “crank magnetism” in which susceptibility to one form of woo seems correlated with susceptibility to other forms of woo, but most people do compartmentalize to a fair degree."
" Over the years, I’ve noticed many traits that various antiscience cranks share in common, be they antivaccinationists, quacks, anthropogenic global climate change denialists, or anti-GMO activists, and that is an obsession with ad hominem attacks."
So, in your universe, describing people with opposing views to yours is "susceptibility to woo"? I guess that technically that is not an ad hominem, but it is hardly any better.
One point you did not seem to notice was that the people currently profiting from GMO technology do not have a stellar record as far as working towards a sustainable world agriculture system.
Creating, for example, herbicide resistant GMO crops as a ploy to sell more herbicide is hardly what I would call a laudable activity. In fact, I think that it may actually be considered unethical and unintelligent by future generations of human beings.
My gut reaction is that the overall risk to humans from GMOs may be low at this point in time, but the cavalier attitude about creating new GMO products for relatively quick profit echoes things like fossil fuel energy, chrome plated bumpers (think hexavalent chromium poisoning of the environment) and Freon refrigerants. Just saying...
@Dorit Reiss, #37:
It sounds like it hinges on just how much of a public figure Folta, Orac, et al, are.
But even public figures can be libeled. The columnist Westbrook Pegler libeled the journalist Quentin Reynolds, as much a public figure as anyone at that time, and Reynolds won the largest libel award in US history at that time. Corporations can sue for defamation, and I can't think of anything more public than doing business with general consumers. The first example I dug up was an auto dealership. Pretty public.
I would think that a scientist defending his science would not be considered as much of a public figure, with a few obvious exceptions.
There's also the matter of intent. If the intent was to harm the targeted individual by attacking her livelihood, I would think that would also override the public figure issue.
To ChrisP #74:
“It is a lot easier to stay in the game when you have no hard built reputation to lose.”
I was thinking exactly the opposite.
That is, it is a lot easier to stay in the game when you HAVE a hard built reputation to lose, a hard built reputation to defend.
It’s why you have a crazed Richard Dawkins all over the place, or a pathetic P.Z. Meyers all over here.
No. In order for a (limited-purpose or general) public figure, to make a showing of defamation, it is necessary to demonstrate "actual malice," which – despite its name – has nothing to do with why the statement was made.
^ I don't know offhand whether tortious interference could cover some of this territory, but there's still the question of actual damages.
@ Chris Preston:
I figured that you - as ChrisP- were Chris Preston of other locales.
I'm a semi-pseudo, using 2 of my 4 names: I know too much about harassment and therefore am careful. I'm not sure but I might be traceable- under my full name- because I bought and sold properties a few years ago- all written up on the net . I wouldn't want *certain* people to know where I live.
I am self-employed and don't have a layer of institutional protection surrounding me.
I am not Denice Walter of Hobart, Tasmania -btw- I hope no one bothers her.
From my current perspective, I think I should have used my 2 last names - both masculine personal names- because it sounds so incredibly, hilariously, innocuously whitebread - Walter "Howard"**
but my feminism wouldn't let me. Now I think otherwise.
People often react to whether you're male or female rather than to what you say.
** or suchlike
@ SteveP - I don't think I've ever encountered a person (or organization, website, etc) who could reasonably be considered an "anti-GMO activist" who's objections didn't boil down to the fallacious and pseudoscientific appeal to nature. The anti-corporate angle only gets trotted out after someone calls them out on the science, and even most of that is either wrong or applies to modern agribusiness in general (or even all businesses in general.) The fact that they not only believe easily-refuted misinformation without bothering to fact-check, but generally continue to repeat it even after they've been corrected, is itself evidence that they are basically looking for excuses to justify their pre-existing antipathy to something they don;t understand rather than making a reasoned argument. After all, that's why they're called "anti-GMO" and not "anti-Monsanto" or "anti-capitalism."
Of course, people who care enough about GMOs to be considered "activists" are in the minority - the bigger problem is that the misinformation they deliberately perpetuate trickles down to the the general public, who don't care enough to look up the facts but are worried enough to, for example, support anti-GMO legislation or pay more for products that say "no GMOs" on the label (and that, of course, is the dirty little secret of the anti-GMO lobby - its just as motivated by money as Monsanto is.) You, for example, seem to be a reasonable person, and yet you've already repeated several incorrect or misleading anti-GMO talking points. Dangerous Bacon has already pointed out that the Schmeiser case isn't the indictment of Monsanto that it's so often assumed to be. Be honest now, because I'm genuinely curious - did you actually read the case before you left that comment? If not, what had you been told about it, and by whom, and why did you believe them? If you did read it, on what do you base your not-quite-an-assertion that it demonstrates unethical business practices on the part of Monsanto?
The rest of your comments fall under the "apply to agriculture and/or business in general" category. "The people currently profitting from GMO technology do not have a stellar record as far as working towards a sustainable world agriculture system?" Do tell! Neither do the people who currently profit from the sale of cars, or houses, or furniture, or practically anything else that gets manufactured in the modern world, including most of the trendy new "eco-friendly" products. How come nobody's using the bald fact that companies sell products in order to make money as de facto evidence that those products are tainted/unsafe/something man was never meant to tinker with - unless the product is GMOs? The answer, of course, is that all of those other products are familiar and therefore assumed to be safe (even when they're not) while GMOs are, to most people, unfamiliar, the product of a technology they don't understand, and therefore assumed to be dangerous (even when they're not.) Information (or misinformation) that confirms this intuition is taken at face value, while information (or misinformation) that challenges it is ignored. It's that approach to reality that antivaxxers, anti-GMO activists, climate denialists, etc, share, and that scientists and skeptics have to actively fight against - not because we're somehow above it, but precisely because we're just as susceptible to it as anyone else.
It is my understanding that the funding of the one man, US Right To Know organization's funding comes from the Organic Consumers Association. A group aligned with Adams, Mercola, etc. http://www.geneticliteracyproject.org/glp-facts/organic-consumers-assoc…
This is why I am so scared to publish my pro-vaccine children's book...(still WIP)
I am going to go crazy anonymous when I start a site dedicated to attacking CAM.
"I stand by my comparison of anti-GMO activists to antivaccinationists, creationists, HIV/AIDS denialists, and anthropogenic climate change denialists."
Anti-science people also stand by the comparison, often linking GMOs and vaccines. Read this piece from Greenmedinfo, for example called "Connecting the Dots: GMOs and Vaccines."
If so, it seriously backfired. Europe* is not going to adopt anytime soon GMOs, neonicotinoids or what-have-you. Public opinion is very entrenched against them and politicians from all sides are deeply committed to keep the ban on them.
It would actually be politic suicide to appear the sightliest pro-GMO.
* Well, France for sure, very certainly Germany, and I'm pretty sure most of Western Europe countries.
"the cavalier attitude about creating new GMO products for relatively quick profit echoes things like fossil fuel energy, chrome plated bumpers (think hexavalent chromium poisoning of the environment) and Freon refrigerants."
I'm not sure how developing golden rice to prevent blindness in the Third World from vitamin A deficiency, GM papayas to save the livelihoods of Hawaiian farmers, genetic modification to save the lives of children with leukemia and so on, all fit into your quick-buck scenario.
It would be nice if the anti-GMO crowd would take each case on its merits and not shout "Monsanto!" as an all-purpose philosophy.
Gamondes hawked Brogan's piece at AoA a few days ago. Similarly, TMR's latest project, web television/ telethon - video # 103- discusses the GMO-vaccine connection and Seneff's brilliant prediction that soon 50% of children will have an ASD. ( I only watched about 22 minutes. Even I have limits)
Here in Finland situation is that many immigration experts/scientists are now silenced. Themselves.
They can't stand on hate speech and harassment or even threats they get through social media, phone or mail if they happen to say something in tv/radio/newspaper. Many experts are quite young women so that they are more timid, I think.
Also some foodstuff scientists have got nearly as much harassment or hate as above so that they don't like chat/debate in internet forums any more. It's also waste of time.
What gets me is the temerity of those who will not listen to reason -- I'm assuming because they are so convinced they are right and we are wrong. Of course, there are those who know that's the situation and simply don't care because they make money doing what they do in the organic food industry, public speaking, books, etc. But those who simply dismiss plain and simple facts without regard for them and actually believe the crap the organic food industry spouts is astounding. Either they're addicted to venting outrage or they have such an utter lack of humility that if they draw a conclusion (even based on whacked-out website info), it cannot be wrong. There have been a number of anti-GMO studies that gave me pause -- until I looked into them and found them to be without merit. And that's been a recurring theme.
Yes it is indeed interesting the way people react to the perceived persona on the internet. Sadly, posters who are perceived to be female get exceedingly bad treatment from some people.
After the episode mentioned above, I started commenting on the internet under pseudonyms. It was even more complicated that not wanting people to find out who I was and harass me. It was because I was commenting on medical blogs like this one. I think I might have mentioned that I have two children with disabilities. I was doing this more to protect them than me. Now they are young adults and it is less of an issue. One thing that I have learned is that the overwhelming majority of those who make threats over the internet are simply cowardly blowhards. That doesn't mean there may not be a risk and all hate mail sent to my e-mail address (of which there has been hardly any lately) ends up in the hands of the police. I also have the advantage of spending most of my time in the antipodes. While I am sure the frequency of loons is probably not less here, the lower population means they are not as thick on the ground.
Back to the opening point, I do find that there is a certain deference passed my way on account of the fact that it is clear there are topics that I know stuff about and I am not just some random dude posting on the internet. I noticed that with lilady as well. The combination of what she wrote along with the fact that she was so passionately proud of being an RN meant that even the die-hard antivaxxers took her seriously.
Being out there as yourself on the internet is not for everyone. It is a brutal, brutal place at times. I have largely retreated from the climate change discussions, in part because the science deniers there are the most uncivil and vitriolic Gish gallopers I have ever run into. I am much less knowledgeable about atmospheric physics than I am about biochemistry and it is just too much hard work.
I enjoy your posts and observations Denice, so keep them coming.
That wasn't me, but Sadmar.
Having met some of the people who push the "poison, poison, Conspiracy!" in real life, I have no doubt they exist on the internet. There is no need for conspiracy theories that they are biotech infiltrators.
I agree with most everything you write, but since I'm new to your blog, I'm totally flummoxed by your use of the term "anthropogenic global climate change denialists." I assumed that because you were pro-science that you would be pro-research on this front. The alarmists told us back in the early nineties that their state-of-the-art, 1980s computers had come up with this model that we must worship as if it were an idol. If that idol is threatened in anyway, the scientists and advocates receiving grant money would do everything in their power to be sure that the model created by the 1980s computers would not be questioned. I distinctly remember them carefully laying out all the scenarios that might happen because of this disturbance in the Force, including the weather actually becoming colder and the polar ice becoming thicker, all due to "global warming." With only a few years behind them, they declared the "science is settled." What? We have the Theory of Relativity, the Theory of Evolution but this new global warming thing is a FACT? This is when I became a skeptic and when I knew that we had been had.
They have been forced by the real weather to change the name, they are trying their best to manipulate data, but eventually the reality deniers will again change to the next "the sky is falling we are all going to die" scheme. This is the way it is and always has been since humans began.
I don't believe that GMOs are that bad, gluten-free is a scam, vaccinations save lives and New-Agers are all nuts, but please, if I misinterpreted your phrase and assumed that you are one of those sheep that follow the glowing cloud of the warmers, I apologize.
Anthropogenic climate change denialists deny the scientific consensus using cherry-picked studies, misinterpretation of existing studies, deceptive arguments, and outright misinformation. They quite rightly fall into the same category as antivaxers, creationists, quacks, and anti-GMO cranks. That doesn't mean they are antivaxers, creationists, quacks, and anti-GMO cranks (although there is not infrequently considerable overlap between these groups), but that they are cut from the same pseudoscientific, conspiracy theorist cloth. Oh, and you also have no idea what a theory is in science. Hint: It's not a half-assed guess, the way we use it colloquially. In science, a theory is at the highest level of certainty and takes considerable evidence from multiple lines to reach that level of certainty.
Also, whenever someone refers to someone defending the scientific consensus as "one of the sheep"—come on, say "sheeple"; you know you want to!—it's a damned good indication of belief in pseudoscience and conspiracy theories. If my saying that offends you, I do not apologize.
Chris: I thought it awfully bizarre anyone mistook my comment for something you'd say. To clarify:
A 'conspiracy theory' claims 'X' actually happens/happened, and is generally outrageous. I only suggested a plausible possibility. Of course, there are oddles of genuine “Poison! Poison! Conspiracy!” folks out on the net. The goal of agent provocateurs is to push social movements farther toward the margins, especially into illegality, for the purpose of discrediting them. It's hardly a conspiracy theory that such folks have routinely employed throughout history: the anti-war movement, the labor movement. During the police shooting protests in Berkeley this last year, two plain-clothes Berkeley cops were caught red-handed participating in vandalism and trying to turn peaceful protestors toward violence. However, as I also noted, 'authentic' crazy fringers were doing the same thing at another location.
There was a joke on the left that near the end of the Vietnam War, most of the attendees at meetings of the remaining small violent cells were infiltrators from different agencies who didn't know each other were also under-cover. But that's hardly how it goes usually. Generally, looking at any POed politicized crowd, you're mostly seeing the real thing – but in some cases, the craziest talkers of provocation are out to discredit that rest of the crowd.
Of course, to you, anti-GMOs have no credit to begin with. But as several comments have noted, GMOs ag is already facing strict limits in Europe. The anti-GMO movement here is big enough that there's a real potential for some states at least to pass legislation the biotech firms don't want. If activists behind a position are seen to be materially dangerous loons, the wind can go out of the sails of their political goals.
Have you ever noticed that the most extremist nominally anti-pseudoscience comments here on RI are left by drive-bys, and the regulars will reply telling them to chill a bit, and back away from the edge? Like some of the really disgusting misogynist stuff about The Food Babe? Vani Hari probably has fans who would troll sites like this of their own accord, seeding hatred against Hari with a sock puppet, as a means of trying to make her legit critics look bad to fence sitters. Having really evil-sounding enemies is also a great way to rally the base. If such 'bad folk' on the other side don't actually exist (in enough numbers) a smart PR operative will make them up.
I hadn't really though about this in relation to any science-vs.-woo issue until I read that Prof. Folta has apparently received public threats on the Web of violence against himself, his lab, and his family. Of course, as you know, online anonymity lets many a timid pipsqueak IRL play blowhard bully bas-ass in comment threads. Still, for all the passions engaged for various woos, and all the vitriol heaped on some science-defenders, to me GMO just doesn't seem like the issue, nor Folta the guy to be genuinely targeted for that level of scary harassment.
Say Folta's credibility testifying against GMO legislation is shot after the Lipton piece runs in "the newspaper of record". and he's getting enough soto voce internal flack at his uni that he's ready to cool it anyway, and go back to the research and teaching that's his first love. Provoking virulent public attacks against him would generate sympathy for pro-biotech scientists, and delegitimate the anti-GMOs to 'neutrl' observers. Sure, some pro-science folks might be intimidated from speaking up, but others will be strengthened in their resolve not to be bullied. You just started using your real name, yes?
Again, I'm not saying I think biotech PR guys are pouring gas onto the fire, only that, by numerous historical precedents, there would be a rationale for them to do so...
And here we have the typical dishonesty of the GMO-fanboy:
"I’m not sure how developing golden rice to prevent blindness ....., all fit into your quick-buck scenario."
So what proportion of the GMO market consists of golden rice?
Oh, it's more like 0%.
So why bring it up?
Objections to GMOs can be valid - GMOs that are *not* designed to be healthy (that's pretty much 100% of what is actually being grown in reality), they are *not* designed to be good for the environment, they are *not* the most productive cultivar, they encourage excessive pesticide use, and they have caused the evolution of pesticide-resistance in weeds and insects.
Additionally, at least one GMO has caused deaths and harm to many thousands.
Kevin Folta was happy to deny any such harm has happened, he equated GMOs as carrying the same risk as any other organism (despite the fact they are effectively novel organisms which are not being passed through the same kind of safety testing as novel pharmaceutical products), and he equated GM with traditional sexual reproduction, which is utter bullshit.
The GMO industry is a monster that is seeking to corporatise our food supply and in the process is careless about our safety.
Sadmar, you really need to try and get your point across in fewer words.
To address a few of your comments.
1. Anti-GM has no credibility with me on the science front. However, I do think there are legitimate questions to ask about deployment of specific GM technologies, just as there is for deployment for other technologies that come out of research, including medical research. Science and application are two different things.
2. Agent provocateurs among the anti-GM crowd. Frankly, there would be no point. The anti-GM crowd have got up to illegality all on their own.
3. Europe is a complex case. All of the GM crops that have been proposed have passed scientific review, but they get blocked based on political positions, many around trade. For example, all of the soybean traits get approved for import, but so far not 1 canola trait has been. The simple answer is that Europe is close to self sufficient for canola, but needs soybean to feed their livestock. If GM crops were not first seriously commercialised in the US, there may have been more application of the technology in Europe. Some European leaders pandered to the original groundswell of opposition, because it suited their trade agenda and meant they could fob off the WTO. Now they have become trapped by expectation.
@ Chris Preston:
Thanks for that.
Interestingly, I have occasionally been called 'Denis' by commenters. Right- me, ( the other) Chris and the rest of the guys.
I suppose I am successful because I haven't been sued or harassed yet.
What you said about the loon quotient in the antipodes vs the northern hemisphere-
I always wonder about that because they are quite vocal- the Perth Group hiv/ aids, the Wellness Warrior, the anti-vaxxers... we even had a chiro visit who has a Natural Hygiene maven..
so the "lower population means that they're not as thick on the ground" as you say
but I can assure you that they're just as thick otherwise.
This what your talking about?
No such thing has happened.
Godzilla is not typically regarded as genetically modified.
Craig: "So what proportion of the GMO market consists of golden rice?
Oh, it’s more like 0%"
So why bring it up?"
Must I remind you that golden rice and the other examples were mentioned because they cannot be pigeonholed as examples of corporate excess? For example, the licensing agreement for golden rice means that about 99% of farmers in the proposed growing areas (those making under US$10,000/year) would be able to use the technology royalty-free and save the seed for future crops.
"(A recent study), published in the journal Environment and Development Economics, estimates that the delayed application of Golden Rice in India alone has cost 1,424,000 life years since 2002. That odd sounding metric – not just lives but ‘life years’ - accounts not only for those who died, but also for the blindness and other health disabilities that Vitamin A deficiency causes. The majority of those who went blind or died because they did not have access to Golden Rice were children."
Craig: "Oh, it’s more like 0%"
And you know why. Golden rice has been kept off the market because of fearmongering by anti-GMOers who are desperate to prevent any biotech agricultural success that cannot be demonized by yelling "Monsanto!" Test fields of golden rice and other GM crops have been destroyed by anti-GM activists, while they and their supporters claim that the crops haven't been sufficiently tested. Meantime, randomly crossed "traditional" hybrids (including those whose genomes have been jumbled up via radiation) undergo no safety testing at all before coming to market. That doesn't bother Greenpeace and its allies.
Irony (a particularly sick form of it) abounds.
"The GMO industry is a monster that is seeking to corporatise our food supply"
Ooh, a "monster"!!!
This sort of bizarrely overheated rhetoric (along with the shocked, SHOCKED discovery that pesticide use leads to pest resistance) is what we've come to expect from diehard anti-GMOers, who've somehow failed to notice that agribusiness has had major corporate players and pesticide resistance has been a serious problem for decades before anyone invented genetically modified crops.
And you're calling _me_ dishonest? Seriously?
Thanks for posting though. It helps that you've emphasized anti-GMOer parallels with antivaxers (no-testing-is-ever-enough, proponents are tools of big corporations, bogus claims of harm etc.).
Craig's arguing that "at least one GMO has caused deaths and harm to many thousands" probably involves the supplement L-tryptophan and an outbreak of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome that anti-GMOers have tried to link to genetic modification. The claim does not hold up.
The subject came up in an earlier comment thread. Summary: the Japanese supplement company managed to kill people with its L-tryptophan, so they tried to blame the bacteria they were using in their fermentation vats for producing an unexpected toxin, rather than their own incompetent filtration / purification process.
Courts were not convinced.
November 8, 2015
Craig’s arguing that “at least one GMO has caused deaths and harm to many thousands” probably involves the supplement L-tryptophan and an outbreak of eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome that anti-GMOers have tried to link to genetic modification. The claim does not hold up.
What on earth do you mean "doesn't hold up"?
- Was it a GMO? Yes.
- Did it kill and injure thousands? Yes.
If being pro-GMO means you have to demonstrate Denial in the face of these facts, you have no claim to being in the Science-Right on this issue.
"they tried to blame the bacteria they were using in their fermentation vats for producing an unexpected toxin, rather than their own incompetent filtration / purification process.
Courts were not convinced."
Why did this *convenient* filtration procedure failure only affect one strain of their GMO?
Did they, or did they not, destroy the entire strain in response to the incident?
How does this tally up with the bullshit about it being a "filtration" issue?
Must I remind you that golden rice and the other examples were mentioned because they cannot be pigeonholed as examples of corporate excess?"
...and nor can they be pigeonholed as examples of commercially-exploited GMO.
Let's stick with the GMOs that are actually being used to make money: they have encouraged pesticide overuse, and they have caused organisms to evolve
- not only pesticide resistance
- but also resistance to engineered toxins produced by the GMO itself.
Additionally, we have the small issue of gene-transfer into non-cropped species - weeds that now contain novel genetic material. What could possibly go wrong with that...?
It's bizarre the lack of caution or indeed scepticism being exhibited by GMO fan-boys.
EMS also occurred with non-GM L-tryptophan. It was in fact caused by the huge doses of L-tryptophan that were recommended by the ignorant health 'gurus'.
So the answer remains none.
My apologies for mis-attributing your and ChrisP's posts. I blame lack of sleep and my aging brain.
Read Craig pamphlets and tell me he is an agent provocateur.
In France, his views are mainstream. No amounts of "virulent attacks" will promote any form of lasting sympathy for scientists, especially whose tainted by any hint of a link to corporate interests.
"He accepted money from Monsanto" will always supersede in the public opinion anything you can come up with.
You pointed to ChrisP publishing under his name. But that's anecdotal, and you should have known better.
I know I got tired of being called an agent orange. Monsanto and the other big six can defend themselves, they got the money for it.
And most people are shruggies like me, not active proponents like was Kevin Folta.
It's just a pity assh0les like Craig and his green friends are happily putting us academic/non-corporate scientists in deep sh!t, ruining our research and sometimes our life, while all their puny acts only result in reinforcing BigAgro monopoly on the agribusiness.
Actually, in this light, you could be right, Sadmar: since the anti-GMOs actions mainly resulted in closing down local enterprises and disrupting academic laboratories, and didn't do much to impede the giant Monsanto, which is happily selling plenty of pesticides and non-GMOs seeds in Europe, one could wonder who Craig is really working for.
If you are not questioning the unsafe and opaque practices of the agribusinesses, then it is *you* that are tarring yourself with their brush. *Your* bad choice.
By refusing to accept that valid criticisms can be made of the way GMOs are being released into the biosphere, into the foodchain, and into our foodstuffs, you are aligning yourselves with the corporate lobby that has (in the USA at least) successfully spent up big to avoid scrutiny and to avoid any proper regime of safety testing of the novel products produced via GM.
And those would be?
What percent of GM safety studies are conducted exclusively with agribusiness?
Craig: "Let’s stick with the GMOs that are actually being used to make money"
Oh, so you don't want to address the matter of golden rice, kept off the market due to campaigning and vandalism by anti-GMOers, while suffering and death from vitamin A deficiency continues in the Third World?
I can understand your not wanting to talk about that, or about the GM papayas that saved the day for Hawaiian farmers, or myriad other biotech applications that save lives in health care, in favor of ranting about how Corporate GMOism Is Infiltrating Our Biosphere, or some such.
Craig is unfortunately typical of the hardcore anti-GMOer who is ignorant (perhaps deliberately) of problems in agriculture like pest resistance that long predated genetic modification. In any case he refuses to be educated about them, or to learn that gene transfer between organisms happens commonly in nature without it being the End Of The Worruld As We Know It.
Having nonsense like this pollute the discussion makes it harder to have rational debate about actual issues. For instance, how do we convince farmers to place greater reliance on good agricultural practices like crop rotation, and not to depend heavily on the latest herbicide-resistant crop introduction?
Meantime,research into crops imperiled by disease and pests, for which we need genetically engineered varieties that don't have to be doused with large quantities of pesticide (like their non-GM counterparts)**, is being impeded by activists using false claims, scare tactics and ludicrously bad pseudo-research (i.e. Seralini, Carman).
**for instance, see opposition to Bt brinjal (eggplant), whose introduction has spared farmers from having to spray toxic chemicals twice a week to control rampant pests. As a result, health problems from all that pesticide exposure have markedly decreased. Meantime, anti-GMO activists who self-righteously cruise the organic product aisles at Whole Foods don't seem to care what happens to Third World farmers.
You seem to forget what we didn't accept was the examples you provided that there was some inherent danger in GM as a breeding technique. I note that you don't even try and defend the claims you made, but simply change tack to a new claim.
You also seem to have failed to notice that several posters, myself included, have noted that there are issues worth discussing around the deployment of some of these technologies. Instead of addressing any of those, you simply rant about how the GM lobby has spent up big to avoid scrutiny. Seriously? There is far more scrutiny of GM food (ironically finding no problems) than there is of any other technology used in the food business.
Craig should spend some time reading the Applied Mythology blog but he probably won't. There are some interesting data there about how much pesticide is used on organic crops from the state of California. I just see the same old tired appeals to natural fallacy, conspiracy and no real analysis or nuance. Bertrand Russell said that passionate opinion in these matters is directly proportional to the lack of evidence (paraphrasing).
Correct me if I'm wrong, but my understanding was that gene transfer is one of the things that is researched pre-approval and is surveiled post-approval.
EMS also occurred with non-GM L-tryptophan. It was in fact caused by the huge doses of L-tryptophan that were recommended by the ignorant health ‘gurus’."
Oooh! I recognise that argument, I've seen it before - "Climate has always changed, so why blame humans for it changing now".
It's amazing how otherwise intelligent people suddenly become incredibly dumb when their cherished beliefs are challenged.
GMO-credulousness is a prime example.
Huge doses were not the problem with GM L-tryptophan. The problem was it was a novel organism and it produced a toxin that killed and injured thousands due to GM products being under-regulated.
....how much pesticide is used on organic crops from the state of California. I just see the same old tired appeals to natural fallacy, ...."
Wants to talk about fallacies, kicks of with one of his own.
Take a step back and indulge in some self-criticism:
- are people entitled to question and criticise the goals and methods of a profit-driven industry?
- if your position is so sound, why are your "arguments" containing so much Denial, Deflection and Abuse?
November 9, 2015
By refusing to accept that valid criticisms can be made of the way GMOs are being released into the biosphere
And those would be?"
I didn't see that argument in his comments--what I saw was evidence that the EMS is associated with the use of tryptophan (both GMO and non-GMO) rather than with the use of GMO-Tryptophan specifically.
Do you have any evidence that EMS is uniquely or even most frequently associated with GMO-tryptophan?
Remember, it has to specifically be the fifth Showa Denko strain.
Craig: There is plenty to criticize in the profit driven methods of any enterprise and Big Organic has no immunity to this. Why do organic items source from India and Mexico and South America? Because Organic distributors don't want to pay farmers for the extra risk the farmers take in growing organic so find cheap farming elsewhere to maximize the return on selling organic. And yes, look it up, organic means pesticides - mineral based and pyrethrins, etc but pesticides. The control of food production is not where you think it is and much of what you think about farming is incorrect. Go to the link here http://appliedmythology.blogspot.ca/
Craig: "Take a step back and indulge in some self-criticism:
– are people entitled to question and criticise the goals and methods of a profit-driven industry?"
Yes. Which is why for example Whole Foods (whose revenue is not far behind that of Monsanto) is not exempt from criticism for its exploitation of phony GMO safety issues while issuing loads of recalls for food products whose contamination/hazards have nothing to do with GMOs.
It misses the point (spectacularly) to place emphasis on something supposedly being Bad because a corporate entity we don't like takes part in it (note that this is the same tactic antivaxers commonly use in condemning vaccines because "you can't trust Big Pharma").
By all means, take a whack at Monsanto or Merck when they do something underhanded. But don't pretend that an entire technology is irretrievably tainted by being associated with a profit-making endeavor.
the link here refers to a recent book against the Fear Babe and her misinformation campaign(s). I'll be looking for it. Kevin Folta wrote the preface.