Harassment by FOIA


Kevin Folta, a critic of the Food Babe, has been sent a list of demands for his email correspondence under the Freedom Of Information Act. I'm all in favor of transparency, and I can see where FOIA requests can be used to uncover conspiracy or expose intent, but this is a case where Folta has been outspoken and up-front: he thinks Vani Hari is a quack. You don't need a shadowy paymaster and ulterior motives to explain why a scientist would publicly explain that someone said something that is scientifically wrong.

I also don't need to rifle through her correspondence to figure out why she's making these demands, nor does Kevin Folta.

This is all pretty simple. Vani Hari is a self-consumed amateur that is determined to discredit her critics. Why? She sits atop a multi-million dollar empire of corporate slander and internet sales. Why would she possibly exploit expensive public records requests to delve into the emails of a professor dedicated to public education?

Because he teaches facts, and more facts translate to fewer profits for Vani.

So instead of meeting him head-on about the science in a visible and public space, she uses a public records request to sneak a peek through his private correspondence in the hopes of… not sure what.

I've been there. I've gotten a few FOIA requests myself, and every time they've been trivial and pointless, and I wonder what the heck they expect to find. Receipts from George Soros sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to my PayPal account? Spirit commands from Saul Alinsky? Private confessions that the pseudoscience I'm critiquing is valid, but I have to publicly deride it, or the Little People will acquire the Vast Power only I should have at my fingertips?

I think part of it is vanity. They want evidence that the scientist is sitting there seething and writing frantic screeds to all of their friends talking about the quack. In that sense I've always shattered the ego of the FOIA pests: typically I've only found small handfuls of email that meet their search criteria, and most of the results are accidental.

Vani Hari wants all of Folta's email that mentions the word "Babe". It's not a term I use much, but I checked my email: I've got 9 messages that use the word. A grand total of 1 is about Food Babe (someone sent me a link to a parody…there was no money involved, darn it).

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How in the world does a FOIA request have any meaning at all for non-government information? The act is explicitly meant to provide a route for obtaining US Government information.


By David Jones (not verified) on 14 Sep 2015 #permalink

David@1: Many US states, as well as other countries, have an equivalent statute. The reason this is relevant is because in many states, people who work for state universities are considered state employees. That's what applies to PZ (his employer is the University of Minnesota at Morris). Similar laws have been invoked against climate scientists, including Michael Mann during his time at the University of Virginia, and people at the UK Met Office.

By Eric Lund (not verified) on 14 Sep 2015 #permalink

@Eric - thanks for that. The VA case got booted twice - once for vagueness and then for the state's then attorney general (good riddance) not having standing.

By David Jones (not verified) on 14 Sep 2015 #permalink

I would love to see Vani's emails disclosed to the public. The woman is a conniving charlatan who deliberately misleads an army if idiotic drones for her financial gain.

By Vani is an Idiot (not verified) on 14 Sep 2015 #permalink

This is why if one is going to be a serious science critic and deal with science denialists and/or pseudo-science cranks, its best to be an amature / private citizen not associated with any agency that is subject to FOIA and other intrusive invations of privacy.

By Kay Brown (not verified) on 14 Sep 2015 #permalink

Beat the drums of tribal warfare! The science tribe of noble highly intelligent wise savages against the wicked conniving financially thriving pseudo-scientist tribe! I love the smell of hot screed in the morning! Put on your war paint guys and gals! Whoo hooo!

Industrial chemical carcinogens vs naturally occurring carcinogens! Ignorance vs knowledge! Flim flam vs science! Thought crystals vs molecular symmetry! Ooooh I love it! Maul the porcine invaders! Corporatist scientists vs little people voodoo scientists!

Let them wield their FOIA weapon! We will raise banners of true statements and cartoons against them!

Let us fight the fight of always pure and virtuous corporate science bucks against the always conniving superstitious duplicitous little entrepreneur bucks!

[Snark generating circuit now dis-engaged.]
Jesus what a bunch of jerks. On all sides.
[Snark generator re-engaged].
The warm, loving, inviting, comforting arms of our exclusionary, arrogant, elitist science tribe is making such good progress against the tribe of those-beset-by- fears,-pains,- and -ignorance that it is just so surprising that we continually find ourselves backed into a corner by an ever expanding army of anti-science groups of various types.

One thing is for sure in all of this. The psychopaths are sure to win. Every time.

Have a nice day

It's not harassment. It's a simple FOIA request. Folta earned tihs one. He has slimed Vani Hari with really mean statements in the past.

@Sage: Partisan, much? "Earned"? An odd word to use if it is _not_ harrassment, but merely "a simple request."

If the characterizations of Ms. Hari are really false, then she can try a slander or libel suit. If not, then she can try to use harrassment as a weapon. Seems like the choice has been made.

By Michael Kelsey (not verified) on 16 Sep 2015 #permalink