GMO scientist Kevin Folta receives apologies from PLoS

Recently, I wrote an extensive article about the hatchet job written by some hack anti-GMO activists against renowned plant geneticist, and pro GMO scientist Kevin Folta that used misquoted and out-of-context emails in an attempt to discredit him. Obviously, shades of the loathsome “Climategate” email hack which was trying to do the same to top climate scientists.

In an entry at PLoS* Biology Blogs, written by Paul D. Thacker and Charles Seife, attacked Dr. Folta for a whole host of sins, including a claim that he was more or less directing Monsanto’s strategies for dealing with GMO labeling laws.

These gonzo “journalists” (and I use that term very loosely with these at PLoSONE) lacked the college freshmen level of investigative journalism to spend 30 seconds clicking on a couple of Google hits to determine that GMO scientist Kevin Folta has been a strong advocate of GMO labeling laws (something that I personally oppose).

Doesn’t journalism 101 demand that investigative writers confirm their sources at least twice? An episode of The Newsroom has several teachable moments in basic journalism ethics.

Well, I guess that PLoSONE decided that their marginal image was taking a beating, and decided to delete the article (although, to their credit, they kept the comments up, which appeared to be about half pingbacks from critical blogs). PLoSONE left this statement on the deleted page:

[infobox icon=”quote-left”]PLOS Blogs is, and will continue to be, a forum that allows scientists to debate controversial topics. However, given additional information for further inquiry and analysis, PLOS has determined that the Biologue post that had occupied this page, “The Fight over Transparency: Round Two,” was not consistent with at least the spirit and intent of our community guidelines. PLOS has therefore decided to remove the post, while leaving the comments on it intact. We believe that this topic is important and that it should continue to be discussed and debated, including on PLOS blogs and in PLOS research articles.

We sincerely apologize for any distress that the content of this post caused any individual.[/infobox]

Dr. Folta had demanded an apology from PLoSONE. I guess this is the best PLoSONE is going to give–a non-apology apology. They weren’t even willing to mention his name. I’ll call that somewhat cowardly. And they didn’t take any responsibility for their actions.

I haven’t been a fan of PLoS for many years. I’m even less so today.

Follow up–it doesn’t appear that Dr. Folta believes that there has been a real apology from PLoS, according to a Tweet from him:

The Original Skeptical Raptor
Chief Executive Officer at SkepticalRaptor
Lifetime lover of science, especially biomedical research. Spent years in academics, business development, research, and traveling the world shilling for Big Pharma. I love sports, mostly college basketball and football, hockey, and baseball. I enjoy great food and intelligent conversation. And a delicious morning coffee!

32 Replies to “GMO scientist Kevin Folta receives apologies from PLoS”

  1. I am glad that PLoS has decided to take down the blog comment.

    I also hope that the authors provide an explanation of how they managed to describe the e-mail in question so completely wrongly, when they apparently had a copy of the e-mail.

    Perhaps next time I see an article written by either of them I will ask that question.

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  2. Please leave the “climategate” and “denier” tropes out of the GM discussions. “Denier” is a polemical term thrown at those who are, yes, skeptical about the certainty of apocaplytic climate change and the “climategate” emails raised genuine concerns about keeping those skeptics from being published.

    1. I think the comparison is absolutely appropriate, and furthermore, important to make.

      There is a conceit that it’s only the “other” side that does science denial. The left comforts itself with pointing at climate denialism and creationism; the right points at GMO science denialism (and various Food Babe type stuff) and the anti-nuclear movement. (Anti-vaccinism curiously seems to be across the spectrum)

      Yet science denialism seems to have common traits across domains: the use of conspiracy theory, the performance of “science” for media consumption (not scientific debate), and the deployment of self-appointed “experts”. Those on the left and the right need to keep their own houses in order just as much as smugly attack the other side, and make common cause across the spectrum in defence of mainstream science.

            1. Ah the true septic vomits out in single syllables the best he can do. Robert Foster, what kind of name is that? Are you a vaccine believer too or have you looked at the evidence and found gaping holes?

            2. ROFLMAO. You’ve got the screen name of a three-year-old’s name for shit, and you’re questioning my birth name? Get the fuck out of here, you fucking nitwit.

            3. Hi Robert, I guess you are one of those septic bystanders who doesn’t say much beyond polemics. So now we have that out of the way, what do you think about the cherry picking straw men on this site who think they are ‘writing articles’ that have any scientific merit? I mean leaving out key facts to bias a point, I know that is a hang up from medical peer review, but surely that’s a bit passe.

            4. No, I’m not ‘septic,’ which, by the way means “infected,” I’m a skeptic, which means “a person who questions the validity or authenticity of something purporting to be factual” which, in this case would be that Genetic Engineering (colloquially known as GMO) is somehow dangerous. Precision is never bad.

              Let me see if I can break it down simply for you, to see if it then becomes easier to understand, and thus, less scary.

              Dr Smith’s kids love to eat strawberries, but hate to eat spinach because of the taste. So, Dr. Smith looks through the genetic sequence of strawberries to see which genes express their taste. It’s fairly easy, but time consuming to do because the code (the sequence) is on a computer. Due to the size, it takes him five years to find the precise gene. He then takes up his tools, and slices that section out and inserts it into the code for spinach.

              The next step is to grow the new spinach with the addition to make sure it is expressed in the spinach. After several trials and multiple errors, the gene takes and is now expressed in the spinach’s genes.

              The third step is to make sure nothing else decided to grow, too, so he “plants” many generations of seeds using the computer. After many decades of simulations (which only takes about two weeks in real time), Dr. Smith is ready to grow the plant in real time. The next five years are spent growing and testing the plant and checking the genes under many different conditions to ensure the same results. So far, everything is golden: The gene expresses properly and there are no new changes in the plant.

              The fourth step is to test the plant for toxicity and other harms. his take another four years. Everything is copacetic, so it’s time for the lab animal testing.

              Step five is extensive animal tests to make sure the plant doesn’t cause harm to them. If it does, he starts all over again. But, in this case, no harm is recorded.

              Step six is getting approval for human trials (note, he still doesn’t know if the spinach tastes like strawberries). So, he gathers up all his extensive records and logs, and takes it to the FDA for human trials.

              Two years later, Dr. Smith gains the approval and starts his taste tests.

              Another two years pass, and success!, they taste like strawberries.

              The next step is to take his results, records, and logs to the EPA for their approval in determining their impact on the environment.

              Two years later, he gets EPA approval, and it’s back to the FDA.

              A year later, they approve his spinach that tastes like strawberries for market.

              He has succeeded! Except for the fact that fools who don’t know of his efforts, or understanding of science who claim his spinach is scary, horrible, and dangerous on the internet and rant & rave, while telling the most godawful lies about him, and how he’s bought by Monsanto! (“But, I work for Harvard,” he says, but is ignored.) And then they put his work info, his home info, and personal info online and exhort their followers to harass (or worse) him because their money is being threatened.

            5. Brilliant! So Doctor Smith, with his myopia, thinks all he has done is make spinach taste like strawberries. What he doesn’t realise or has forgotten about is the risk of Oxalate poisoning from eating too much spinach. His kids now love strawberries and start eating spinach with everything – inf fact they can’t get enough and they start juicing them. One day he finds his kids on the floor poisoned. Well done Dr.

              Anyone who knows how to feed kids knows that it takes about 6 weeks of eating a new food, especially alkali rich or salvesterol rich foods that are an important source of acid metabolite buffering. Indeed many of the so called modern diseases are in part caused by eating processed food ruining the natural balance. Sugar is a good example, if you eat the stuff straight out of the cane it is full of B vitamins etc all part of the metabolism process for healthy breakdown.

              If Mr Smith knew how to feed children he would know that one piece of say watercress a week for six weeks sets up the taste pathway for taste acceptance. What a shame Mr Smith wasted all that time, if he knew how to parent and feed his own kids properly he wouldn’t pander to the little snowflakes, he’d get on with it.

              You post perfectly highlights why GM is being rejected because the skill set of these complete geek fuckwits is beyond a joke.

            6. Another example of a kind of ‘analogue’ science fiddle was the cane beetle being used in Australia to clear prickly pear from the outback. The idea was to open up land that was covered in this stuff. Once the beetles ran out of prickly pear they moved onto crops. So the Cane toad was introduced to control the larvae. Problem is now the cane toad is a major pest.

              See what happens when scientists come up with myopic solutions to problems and then up the anti.

              GM is a solution looking for a problem to solve, we don’t need the technology, however clever some people think it is the promoters of it have spent too long in a lab messing about and have absolutely no contextual problem solving skills to think the ideas through.

              Until they grow up and stop using appeals to authority like ‘I trained for years at Harvard’ they are a serious threat to the world food security project and should be reigned in accordingly.

              How’s that for desert, I note your lack of scientific inquiry with disappointing expectation, no one can apologise for you difficulty in understanding.

            7. You might think you’re impressing folks with calling things by various fallacy types, but you’re actually humiliating yourself by getting those wrong, too.

              Here’s some basic definitions of fallacious arguments that you have engaged in:



              There’s also wrongly using the “appeal to authority fallacy” argument: In informal reasoning, the appeal to authority is a form of argument attempting to establish a statistical syllogism. Fallacious examples of using the appeal include any appeal to authority used in the context of logical reasoning, and appealing to the position of an authority or authorities to dismiss evidence, as authorities can come to the wrong judgments through error, bias, dishonesty, or falling prey to groupthink. Thus, the appeal to authority is not a generally reliable argument for establishing facts.

              However, it is important to note that this claim should not be used to dismiss claims by experts, or scientific consensus.

            8. “However, it is important to note that this claim should not be used to dismiss claims by experts, or scientific consensus.” Septic Robot on the uses of ‘appeals to authority’.

              LOL, so anyone else who uses this is wrong and experts are right!

              The experts you quote are all self appointed marketing people. I still note you are incapable of discussing the fallacies of GMO, are you sure you are not mistaking ‘the scientific method’ with the ‘scientology method’ because you, like many quasi religious orators are using a syntax that is more than similar.

              Remember banking experts brought the world to its financial knees and political experts bombed the middle east and brought world security to its lowest ebb since the second world war. Medical experts told us we were all gonna die if we didn’t buy into flu vaccine – what is this obsession you have with frigging over ‘experts’? Maybe we should open that one up, maybe not.

              Engage with the discussion or get some counseling, I can’t keep advising you for free, it’s a damn cheek.

            9. You are infected with some kind of quasi religious anti science belief that GMO is all good. Why can’t you discuss valid critique of your fallacy?

            10. Because none exists. Also, look up words before you attempt to use them. Then you won’t embarrass yourself.

            11. Robert. You gave me an example, below, that was supposed to convince me that Doctor Smith was coming up with good ideas. It brilliantly demonstrated why so many people are opposed to GMO.

              That is they fiddle with one bit and create a nemesis elsewhere because GMO technology is to one dimensional. There is a reason why having multiple inputs, ie nature, weather, pests, disease makes the stock stronger. This alone is enough subject matter to discuss sensibly the real objections to GMO.

              It’s not good enough for you to apply the appeal to authority, ie Dr Smith has been to Harvard and spent 5 years cutting out bits of genes and the appeals to emotion that we are supposed to feel sorry for his wasted effort. This is the kind of science narrative we expect for Catholics, even lapsed ones.

              I can make an obvious prediction – until GMO promoters are prepared to get off their pedestals and engage in discussions instead of wondering how they got the marketing wrong, it ain’t going nowhere.

        1. Well that just about sums it up, whatever you believe is true, irrespective of the evidence. Medical peer review is just PR and your 30 years in market research is all you have.
          Empty well

            1. That must be your longest sentence Pasta boy. This site is like some Jehovah’s witness blog. Have you read the appalling lash up thread on Angelica. If I was her parents I would be pissed off. I mean she was too young to vaccinate at 7 months, even if you believed in the woo of MMR, so having measles and recovering with no issues meant she was already immune to further infection and much healthier as a result.

              Then some dick head doctor gives her the MMR at 11 months, even though the Merck MMR insert says if should not be given to kids who have had wild measles because it increases the risk of SPPE.

              How on earth can that thread be aimed at those who choose wisely not to vaccinate, I mean, using a child with a tragic story like that to sell your totally bent view of reality. Absolutely sick

              So doctors take a child who was healthy and completely wreck her life. I don’t know who you work for but ‘bollocks’ springs to mind.

            2. Pasta boy, I have touched a nerve. Is this site for real or is it a piss take? I mean, where is the science, it’s no good just having holograms of DNA and sounding all upperty about citation and appeals and straw, but where is the science. I just keep finding appallingly bad articles with half of the evidence dropped out or people trying to be all red necked and rude.

              Is this really what science ‘stock’ is all about? If you need some healing just let me know, might be able to help you with your anger.

    2. They are not tropes, they are facts. If one side has mountains of evidence, a scientific consensus supported by the vast majority of researchers, to go against that with no published evidence (or at least high quality published evidence)–you are simply a denier. You are not “skeptical” of climate change, you’re simply a denier of climate change.

      But please, whine about what you’re called. Because you have no evidence supporting your denialism, the best you can do is whine. Good luck with that.

      And thank you for your Fox News review of how climategate showed that immature deniers (no, you don’t get to use skepticism if you deny science) got screwed. Waaaaaaaaahhhhhhh.

      1. Gosh. I forgot that your readers are required to toe the line and that all is settled because you say so. You are proving the point that the term “denialism” is merely polemic and allows no room for disagreement as to degree. Am so glad that all science is settled for you. It is a nice cocoon to be in.

          1. So someone who disagrees with you in the least is a mouthpiece of Fox? Oh yeah. The shill gambit. I am really surprised that it is apparently impossible to have a civil, minor disagreement on a blog such as this.

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