What’s More Dishonest: Scientists Taking Corporate Cash or Mudslingers Attacking Them?

— Written By

by DAVID ROPEIK

Much has been said about FoltaGate, the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request for the emails of University of Florida professor Kevin Folta, a scientist who advocates for genetically modified food technology. Most of the commentary has been about whether the FOIA request was a valid effort to find out if Folta had been corrupted by funding from Big Ag or just phishing for mud to sling, to undermine what Folta says. The selective way the phishers used the massive amount of information Folta and his university handed over — nothing only that Folta had received financial support from Monsanto to support his public speaking, to say the same things he’d been saying for years before he got that support — seems to answer that question. That and the fact that the FOIA request was initiated by an avowed anti-GMO group funded in part by the organic industry, operating under the disingenuous name US Right to Know.

In general, FOIA requests like this, and anything else journalists can do to find out whether someone claiming the trustworthy mantle of scientist/expert has been corrupted by funders, are a good idea. But they are being used more and more not by journalists, but by advocates on all sorts of issues (climate change, vaccines, obesity, gun control), not to honestly investigate whether someone’s views have been bought and paid for, but just to cast doubt on the trustworthiness of what that person says.

This should be a Bright Red Flag to any journalist, and any reader with an open mind who isn’t already on one side or the other of any controversial issue. Mudslinging is generally what you do when what someone says, and their facts, can’t be attacked directly. It should automatically alert the journalist and reader to be skeptical not only of the person being attacked, but of the bias of the attackers. Journalists need to be a little more critical of the mudslingers, as has been the case in FoltaGate. (GMO Controversy: When Do Demands for Scientists records turn into harassment?)

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