Sound Science

By some serendipity, I noticed and responded to a tweet where Kevin Folta was trying to ridicule the accusation that he was “pro-GMO”:

I rather like the “pro-biotech” label as it seems more precise than “pro-GMO.”

Not Kevin:

OK. That last tweet may not have been the most diplomatic one from my part. Still, it should be obvious that one can be pro something while keeping a critical eye on it.  Instead of tripling down on the victim playing, Kevin switched to the honest broker dance:

At that moment, I could not expect the following tweet, nor could he expect my response:

Finding an example of Kevin’s advocacy wasn’t hard. I mean, the guy is running a pro-biotech podcast powered by a foundation. Kevin’s quite transparent when asking for donation:

Funding for my outreach program comes from individuals and charities to support biotech literacy.

https://kevinfoltacom.wordpress.com/transparency

I’m cool with that. Instead of acknowledging the indubitable, Kevin goes for bragging about having studied bio-techs for 30 years and liking the interventions of one of his fans, who tried to waste my time by playing the hard of reading. This did not stop me from driving my point home:

Again, instead of owning his advocacy, Kevin goes with “I did nothin’ wrong”:

At this point some kind of truce with Kevin’s fan over Nassim Taleb Speedo Science. It did not last long, and the kerfuffle rekindled when I underlined how bio-tech was being sold as a way to reduce poverty. This returned us to my main point:

Around that time, Kevin linked to a short video showing the benefit of Bt Eggplant, but I can’t find it back. In any event, Kevin continued to strawman my position as anti-biotech:

Then our exchange officially reached diminishing returns:

I started the exchange with the belief that Kevin Folta was kinda cool.

The false openness it revealed now makes me doubt.

Sound science ought to start by owning’s one’s schtick, right?

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About Willard

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58 Responses to Sound Science

  1. Corey says:

    From your link:

    “Now, just because he’s being targeted by McCarthyite tactics doesn’t mean that Folta is innocent…[But, t]o borrow Dan Kahan’s phrase, McCarthyism “pollutes the science communication environment.”

    Not sure if serious about the “cool” part, but at least McCarthyism now has a Goodwin’s law.

  2. Steven Mosher says:

    huh.
    whats the purpose ,other than self agrandizement, of replaying stupid fights on twitter.

    if you have an argument to make, make it.

  3. Willard says:

    > Not sure if serious about the “cool” part,

    Yes, I am.

  4. Willard says:

    > if you have an argument to make, make it.

    Which of the many tweets making the same argument over and over again you did not get?

  5. Gonna get myself in trouble here. 100% anti-GMO is like anti-vaccination. It’s complicated, but wholesale condemnation has me looking for labels that don’t say no GMOs when I shop. It’s fashionable to condemn them without knowing the full story. GMOs are not the evil, the exploitation of them by powerful exploiters is. It reminds me of Jill Stein, who is an opportunist playing for the cameras and pretending to be persecuted (I got the impression Bernie didn’t want anything to do with her). It’s fashionable to forget that most of our food has been manipulated in the past. There are arguments against some of the tactics GMO manufacturers use, but the GMOs themselves are a mixed bag: some are beneficial.

  6. Willard says:

    > Gonna get myself in trouble here. 100% anti-GMO is like anti-vaccination.

    I don’t see why you would, Susan. Being pro-biotech sounds perfectly reasonable to me. More reasonable than being 100% anti-GMO, as you say.

    My point is more about pro-biotech advocacy that portrays itself as Sound Science. Biotech comprises a bunch of technological solutions, not science per se. Winners and losers are decided by economics. My beef against them are elsewhere: they won’t solve poverty unless we address redistribution issues.

    Considering how Kevin’s being attacked, I understand that he’s being defensive about his advocacy. But he still needs to own it instead of parsing “pro-GMO” without showing any concern as to how labelling works.

  7. Susan Anderson says:

    OK thanks for explaining. My father and many other good scientists believe GMO crops can be part of the solution. I have more mixed feelings/ideas about it, having seen some of the profiteering and attacks on people who choose not to participate. Slightly offside, Nestle is another of the world’s great corporate takeover artists, cornering water to sell back to us all.

    Your point about the redistribution issues is right on point, thanks again.

  8. Willard says:

    > I have more mixed feelings/ideas about it, having seen some of the profiteering and attacks on people who choose not to participate.

    Do you have an example of the latter, Susan?

    Here’s what I believe was Kevin’s video:

    When one compares to pesticides, GMO doesn’t look that evil. Yet, it’s not all rosy:

    There are certain misconceptions regarding GM technologies that need to be deconstructed. Much as Monsanto would have us believe otherwise, the Bt toxin genes, which are at the heart of the Bt crops, are not owned by Monsanto. India does not allow such patents, unlike in the US (and this is beginning to be seriously contested ground in the US as well). Monsanto owns the process patents to insert this gene into various varieties and it is this ownership of such process patents that makes possible a monopoly over Bt crop seeds. In India the legal position does not allow Monsanto to claim a product monopoly over Bt seeds.

    This is part of the reason why Monsanto promotes hybrid seeds, so that farmers have to buy from seed companies every season. As noted earlier, there is nothing in the Bt or GM crop technology to necessitate being dispensed as hybrid seeds. It is possible through GM technologies to create new true-breeding varieties with novel traits. This would let farmers store and use seeds from their crops. In fact, an interesting component of the current strategy for Bt brinjal is indeed that while hybrids will be sold commercially, truebreeding varieties can be generated and disseminated non-commercially.

    Commercial issues like this one makes me doubt that Kevin’s “I’m just a scientist” stance is a Good Thing.

  9. Susan Anderson says:

    I’ll try to look it up, but it might be a couple of days before I have time. I was annoyed by some highly colored material about lawsuits and seed sales (thanks for the above on that); trying to separate the truth from propaganda and find objective sources for something slightly outside my main preoccupations is not always easy. I think Monsanto started out as “good guys” but got caught up in power and money, as is almost always the case. The pig story is a cautionary tale, but I didn’t keep files so what I took in is stored in my sometimes retentive memory. One thing I did come away with was that simplifying and industrializing foodstuffs can have unintended consequences, witness the world’s bananas. They bred and eliminated, and now there’s trouble: https://www.google.com/search?q=banana+supply+and+disease

    Diseases evolve faster than larger creatures and plants; antibiotic resistance is a worsening issue.

    But none of this is relevant to your point, Honesty and transparency appear to be losing ground in our modern world. Jonathan Swift: “as the vilest Writer has his Readers, so the greatest Liar has his Believers; and it often happens, that if a Lie be believ’d only for an Hour, it has done its Work, and there is no farther occasion for it. Falsehood flies, and the Truth comes limping after it; so that when Men come to be undeceiv’d, it is too late; the Jest is over, and the Tale has had its Effect…”

    Going even more off topic: Typhoon Lan has just reached category 5 and is headed for Tokyo!

    [Had to switch accounts to post.]

  10. Marco says:

    “GMOs are not the evil, the exploitation of them by powerful exploiters is”

    Many people don’t realise that other breeding techniques are also used by those same companies that create GMOs. However, those ‘conventional’ crops are somehow not evil, despite coming from those same “powerful exploiters”, and despite the fact that these can also be patented

    Maybe I misunderstood Willard, but the “not rosy” in the story he points out is not the GMO component, but the deliberate use of hybrids, a *conventional breeding practice*!

  11. Steven Mosher says:

    The screwiness is on you, dear Kevin. Next time you wish to pretend having a conversation, don’t deny obvious facts like you’re pro-biotech.

    this for example is not an argument.
    call someone screwy.
    condescendingly call them dear.
    then given them orders about how they should act.

    typical bully.
    and no i wont demand that you own your bullying.

    too funny. yes you had a pissing match on twitter.

    whats your encore?

  12. izen says:

    @-W

    I agree with SM. This looks like an autopsy on a recent game of climateball in an attempt to spin the score in your favour.

    A credible encore might be to reveal what sort of bio-tech advocacy your opponent is engaged in.

    The paragraph you quote of his is the usual rhetorical boilerplate employed by governments, NGOs and industry to put a positive gloss on their activities.
    It is how it actually is deployed that matters.

    The big global industries that dominate the industrilised agriculture to processed food business have some similarities with big Pharma.
    For those companies it makes more economic sense to ‘make peoples’ lives better’ by providing a treatment for the symptoms of a chronic condition rather than a one-off preventative/cure. Pain-killers are more profitable than vaccines.

    As shown by the BT Brinjdal example in Agri-business there is a motivation to co-opt the farmers into a dependent role where they have to buy, and sell, to the suppliers/processers of viable seed and matching herbicides and pesticides. Justified by higher yields and therefore greater farmer wealth.
    It is less interested in providing , by GM or other methods, crop varieties that expand the autonomy of the farmer, or that can be of benefit without their continued financial involvement.

    I have no idea who this Kevin is, or what he does from your reported exchange, and little motivation to find out. But it might help to know if he is a Monsanto peddling opioids, or a Hilleman pushing vaccines.

  13. Dikran Marsupial says:

    FWIW, Kevin’s apparent 1/2 seems pretty reasonable:

    https://mobile.twitter.com/kevinfolta/status/916684607935991808

    which he the clarified as:

    https://mobile.twitter.com/kevinfolta/status/916704365045481472

    So, I think he is just pointing out that GMO shouldn’t be singled out amongst the artificial approaches in generating such polarised positions, and we should take a balanced “horses for courses”/“right tool for the job” approach, rather than being entrenched pro- or anti- anything. I’d agree, a bit like the way we should be about climate science (not saying anything about the more complex dimensions of the issue).

    Using a term like “self-serving” in the first reply is probably how not a good approach to initiating a productive discussion, tweets are very easily misinterpreted due to their brevity.

  14. Willard says:

    > this for example is not an argument.

    That’s both invalid and false.

    It’s invalid because finding a tweet without an argument doesn’t counter my observation that I kept repeating a point you failed to get to justify your abuse.

    It’s also false because even my parting shot reiterates: “don’t deny obvious facts like you’re pro-biotech.”

    That’s two strikes in two comments.

    Your next comment better be more constructive.

  15. Willard says:

    > This looks like an autopsy on a recent game of climateball in an attempt to spin the score in your favour.

    And yet I only edited the exchange to make it more readable.

    To get what? An exchange where I keep repeating the same point over and over again. I fail to see how does that make me win, and what exactly it makes me win. Kevin Folta’s obliviousness to advocacy and labeling makes everyone lose.

    Furthermore, you can’t see that repetition if I don’t show it. If I only epilogue on labeling and advocacy, what would you learn exactly? You’d get the comforting blog post where more of the same is being said.

    I couldn’t care less for same ol’, same ol’. What about you?

  16. Willard says:

    > Kevin’s apparent 1/2 seems pretty reasonable:

    We can go beyond that and assume that Kevin’s overall stance regarding bio-tech is reasonable. It’s not that hard: like most honest brokers, Kevin’s branding himself as Mr. Reasonable. That doesn’t imply that his stance regarding advocacy and labeling is reasonable too. And it should be obvious that it’s not. In contradistinction to his caricatures, one can be a reasonable advocate. One can be pro-biotech without being unreasonable.

    Think about it. You can be pro-biotech because it often works well. That doesn’t mean you’d go for bio-tech all the time. I mean, why would you create a podcast to “celebrate” pro-biotech if your not pro-biotech?

    Having a problem with being labeled a pro-biotech guy when one runs a pro-biotech podcast reveals a misunderstanding about how labeling works more than anything.

    ***

    ­> Using a term like “self-serving” in the first reply is probably how not a good approach to initiating a productive discussion

    Tell me how I should Kevin that his “I can’t be pro-OGM” argument is self-serving and I’ll reconsider. He reacted well to it. It’s when he had to reveal more of his stance that it got off the rails, when he was basically suggesting that he’s celebrating bio-techs only to help farmers. This is wrong in many ways, but there’s one that is very important here.

    By trying to portray his advocacy as science, he loses on both front. It makes his scientific input fishy. It makes his advocacy fishy. Think about it. Kevin wants to help farmers. He is celerating biotech successes. That shows passion. Why not own that passion? Passion is a Good Thing.

    In fact, I’d go even further: a lack of passion is a Very Bad Thing. Why hide that passion under the white lab coat?

    I suspect why, but need coffee. I’ll return to that point later.

  17. Dikran Marsupial says:

    Willard. There is nothing in the Twitter exchange to indicate anything more than that Kevin was suggesting that polarised stances on these issues are a bad thing (perhaps as a result of being on the receiving end of polarised stances, judging from the original article). It appears that you are suggesting that he is driven by advocacy rather than science (whether from commercial pressures or ideological ones, I don’t know), but there is nothing in the Twitter discussion that shows that. If you asked him whether he was generally in favour of biotech (inc gmo) I suspect he’d happily say “yes” (obviously, given his line of research), but that doesn’t appear to be what he is talking about when he says “pro-“ here, so I don’t see anything disingenuous there.

    So *specifically* how do we know that he is not mr reasonable?

  18. My understanding of what Willard is getting at (which I’ll admit isn’t always clear 🙂 ) is that there is nothing wrong with scientists/researchers advocating for something quite specific (climate scientists advocating for nuclear, for example). However, they should be willing to acknowledge when they’re acting as objective providers of information and when they’re presenting something that may still be informed by their research but that is more specific and also influenced by their personal views. Pretending to be some kind of honest broker, when one is actually promoting something quite specific, can appear disingenuous.

  19. Willard says:

    Just noticed your comment, Marco.

    > Many people don’t realise that other breeding techniques are also used by those same companies that create GMOs

    Indeed. And the quote above explain one reason why. Patents.

    Another point to bear in mind is that these techniques compete with other ones, e.g. pesticides, even if sometimes the very same companies offer both kinds of products, e.g. Syngenta.

    To me, being able to reduce our need for pesticides makes alternative bio-techs worth developing.

    ***

    > but the “not rosy” in the story he points out is not the GMO component, but the deliberate use of hybrids, a *conventional breeding practice*!

    I wouldn’t say that Bt Brinjal is that conventional, but this distinction makes little difference for labeling. The controversy is over what is now called, for better or worse, GMOs. I prefer the label “pro-biotech,” but the label “pro-GMO” works well enough.

    Saying that people who use “pro-GMO” misunderstand GMOs doesn’t invalidate labeling. It just shows that it’s not what the label means that matters, but what it conveys. After a while, labels meaning become very noisy.

    Just look at how most ClimateBall labels are incorrect. Take “pro-AGW” or “warmist”: is anyone labeled that way really “pro” AGW or warming? I bet not. Or take “climate denier”: does anyone really deny that climate exists? This line of questioning just makes bad philosophy of language.

    Let’s revisit Kevin’s “it’s like saying I’m pro masonry drill bit.” Why of course one can be pro drill bit, for the same reason that one could be pro mud:

    Being pro drill bit (I built a deck recently and am definitely pro Boschhammer) does not prevent anyone to appreciate someone building a house using primitive techniques.

    Finally, parsing the meanings of labels won’t make the usage of labels disappear. In-group out-group tensions are here to stay. Kevin’s definitely pro-biotech. He should embrace it.

  20. Dikran Marsupial says:

    I’d certainly agree with that. However that seems to be a digression away from the (aparrently very valid) point that Kevin was making, and without being aware of Willard’s interests, it is hard to see how Kevin could reasonably be expected to work out what the issue actually was. I don’t see much evidence that anyone is pretending to be an honest broker here, rather than just trying to be one (genuinely). This is especially the case where direct questions don’t receive straight answers (and the question interpreted uncharitably, rather than literally as a request for clarifying information). Kevin did ask specifically what was objectionable with his paragraph/podcast and didn’t get a useful answer AFAICS).

    Being abrasive and cryptic seems a recipe for misunderstanding and polarisation. Even if you do think the abrasive ness is warranted, that doesn’t mean you should do it (for instance calling angech on his BS, which I admit I shouldn’t have done, at least not in those terms, and for which I apologise).

  21. Willard says:

    > There is nothing in the Twitter exchange to indicate anything more than that Kevin was suggesting that polarised stances on these issues are a bad thing

    Even if I grant you this just like I already did, Dikran, this is unresponsive to my point that Kevin’s misconstruing how labeling works. Look back at his first tweet:

    Nobody calls me “pro LED” or “”pro breeding”.

    One obvious reason why nobody calls him pro breeding is that breeding is uncontroversial, while GMOs are.

    Bio-techs are controversial whether Kevin likes it or not. I doubt he ignores that they are, because he runs a podcast to demystify them!

    I mean, c’mon.

    This is a point that rests on basic pragmatics. Resisting it should not be caused by cognitive overload.

    Suppose I tell you Judy resisted it for many years, and still resist it with her It’s the advocacy-activism-irresponsible advocacy (etc) merry-go-round. Would that make my point more appealing?

    That Kevin’s Mr. Reasonable or not is besides my point.

  22. Dikran Marsupial says:

    That wasn’t his first tweet, note the 2/2

    Sadly my question went unanswered. I don’t have Kevin’s patience, so I’ll leave it there.

  23. Willard says:

    > I don’t see much evidence that anyone is pretending to be an honest broker here, rather than just trying to be one (genuinely).

    Res ipsa loquitur.

    I resent that last exchange with AT, Dikran. I don’t want to make this thread about you. If you have something to tell me, tell it to my face.

  24. Willard says:

    > Sadly my question went unanswered.

    I don’t have Richie’s impatience, so I don’t mind repeating my response a third time:

    Kevin’s (genuine, deep, inner, true) motivations are irrelevant to the point I’m making. I don’t need to distinguish (genuine, deep, inner, true, honest) brokers from all the other ones. I’m against his (and any other scientist’s) brokering posturing simpliciter. Brokers are institutions. Kevin’s not an institution.

    You have nothing against my point that one can be pro something without being unreasonable, and that his argument against labeling is a caricature.

  25. Dikran Marsupial says:

    “I resent that last exchange with AT, Dikran. I don’t want to make this thread about you. If you have something to tell me, tell it to my face.”

    I have absolutely no idea why you resent that comment (which is basically jus a suggestion we should interpret the intentions of others charitably). I understand it even less now you have edited the second sentence. The comment certainly wasn’t about you, but even if it were it would just imply that I thought your intentions in the interaction on Twitter were honest.

    I see from the two windows I have open that you have edited it again, sorry, definitely not going to participate in a discussion where one person can silently edit comments and the other can’t!

  26. Willard says:

    > The comment certainly wasn’t about you

    You mean, the “being abrasive and cryptic” did not target me?

    You were talking about me to AT, Dikran. Don’t you have any idea how offensive that is? You’re supposed to be attuned to tone, the Golden Rule, and all that.

    Kevin’s argument against pro labels is just wrong. It is quite possible to be pro-biotech without being a biotech shill. Do you dispute this? We have evidence that Kevin did.

    Redirecting the topic to polarization won’t make that point disappear. Misrepresenting how labeling works may not be the best way to reduce polarization, if you ask me.

    “But polarization” is Dan Kahan’s main selling point, BTW.

  27. Dikran Marsupial says:

    I see Willard has edited the more recent comment as well.

    FWIW I fully agree you can be pro something without being unreasonable, however I don’t think Kevin was arguing against the labelling as much as against the entrenched positions that tend to go with the labels, however I didn’t realise that until I went back and looked at his earlier comments on the Twitter thread.

  28. Dikran Marsupial says:

    Willard, I said “comment” in my post because that was what you objected to in the original text of your complaint. You changed it to exchange after I wrote it and I only noticed when I opened up a new window yo cut and paste a quote (which is how I know you edited it). This is why it is pointless trying to have a discussion with someone who can silently edit their posts.

  29. Dikran Marsupial says:

    Yes, the abrasive and cryptic references were obviously about the style of your engagement with Kevin. I apologise for offending you by mentioning it in a response to ATTP.

  30. Willard says:

    > I don’t think Kevin was arguing against the labelling as much as against the entrenched positions that tend to go with the labels

    That’s a distinction without a difference in our case, since arguing thatpro and contra arguments are polarizing leads us not far from the idea that any label can be polarizing. I mean, it’s hard to get more neutral labels as pro and contra. Objecting to this quasi-descriptors looks unwinnable to me, and caricaturing it is more polarizing than anything.

    In all these “but polarization” debates, there are at least two hidden assumptions that we could dispute. First is the idea that we could communicate in a non-polarizing manner. Second is the implicit prescription that we should. I doubt both. Providing reasons why will have to wait, as it’s my day off and I need to mop that deck I alluded to earlier.

    What I’ll point out before returning to my chores is that the second reason (we ought to be neutral) is critical for the whole brokering business. Here’s a tweet I hope is clear enough to convey why I think it’s wrong:

    See you later.

  31. Willard says:

    > This is why it is pointless trying to have a discussion with someone who can silently edit their posts.

    I don’t think my edits made much difference, but I really have to go right now. I won’t edit my comments from now on.

    In return, please beware that WP’s commenting facility messes up with the threading.

  32. Marco says:

    “I wouldn’t say that Bt Brinjal is that conventional, but this distinction makes little difference for labeling.”

    Willard, I don’t think you get the point. Bt Brinjal as such is not conventional, but the issue in its marketing, as the document you cite makes clear, is the fact they are deliberately pushing a hybrid (which IS a conventional breeding practice). Thereby they make the farmers dependent on buying new seeds every year.

  33. Willard says:

    > Bt Brinjal as such is not conventional, but the issue in its marketing, as the document you cite makes clear, is the fact they are deliberately pushing a hybrid (which IS a conventional breeding practice). Thereby they make the farmers dependent on buying new seeds every year.

    Thanks for the clarification, Marco. I wanted to convey something like that with my quote. Companies are indeed pushing for techs they can patent, techs that are less controversial than GMOs. I predict (or at least hope ) that “biotech” will increase in popularity.

    You underline one aspect that makes me doubt Kevin’s broker stance: most interesting biotech controversies are less scientific than technological, if we include economic and legal innovations into the biotech ordeal.

  34. izen says:

    My first comment on this thread was to join with others in suggesting it was a trivial, or ill-form argument being replayed.
    I suggested that some context might be approriate about his actions on the issue, but was not motivated to find out who this Ken Folta is from Willards report.

    Seeing how this thread has continued in ways I doubt were quite as expected, prompted a quick gog to see if the other side had some irredeemable feature …
    Turns out he IS the opioid pusher, or industry shill.

    http://www.theecologist.org/News/news_round_up/2985309/monsantos_scientist_shill_exposed.html

    The emails show Folta as an eager partner in a cosy relationship with Monsanto. In November 2013 Folta sent an email to employees of the PR firm Ketchum, which runs the pro-GMO website, GMO Answers, for its client, the Council for Biotechnology.

    Regarding an upcoming meeting with the rest of the GMO Answers team, Folta wrote: “Tell them I’m a friend of Ketchum”. In 2014 Folta wrote to a Monsanto manager: “I’m glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like.”

    After Monsanto agreed to Folta’s funding bid for $25,000 for a pro-GMO communications programme, Folta wrote to a Monsanto executive, “I’m grateful for this opportunity and promise a solid return on the investment.”

  35. Willard says:

    > Turns out he IS the opioid pusher, or industry shill.

    There goes the neighbourhood. No wonder why Kevin reacted the way he did. That kind of thing puts any-tech researchers between a rock and a hard place. I’d rather give Kevin the benefit of the doubt and say that he’s pro-biotech.

    Guests will arrive in any minute. Later I’ll try to find my Paul Samuelson anecdote regarding funding and integrity.

    Meanwhile, no more emails stuff, please.

  36. Marco says:

    “Companies are indeed pushing for techs they can patent, techs that are less controversial than GMOs”

    If so, they’d only be doing conventional breeding practices, because you can patent those as easily as GMO (in some cases it is more a matter of market exclusivity rather than patents, but the former lasts longer than the latter).

    Of course, in principle conventional breeding practices also result in genetically modified organisms…

  37. Willard says:

    > you can patent those as easily as GMO

    It may even be easier. Seems that Indians are fighting big biotech tooth and nail over this:

    The Ministry of Agriculture (MoA) has fired yet another salvo in its ongoing war against Monsanto by publishing and notifying the “Licensing and Formats for GM Technology Agreements Guidelines, 2016”. These guidelines, which appear to be targeted at Monsanto, are in addition to an attempt by the DIPP to revoke Monsanto’s Bt. cotton patent under Section 66, a Competition Commission of India (CCI) inquiry into Monsanto’s licensing practices (that was ordered at the behest of the Ministry of Agriculture) and lastly, the Cotton Price Seed Control Order, 2015 (CSPO) whereby the Ministry of Agriculture decided to fix IP royalties between Monsanto and its Indian partners for the Bt patents owned by the former Monsanto’s. As per media reports, the MoA slashed royalties payable to Monsanto, as per voluntary contracts, by 74%.

    IANAL, however, the whole issue looks like a mess even for the Indian lawyer writing that post. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish Monsanto’s behavior from patent trolls’.

    ***

    I can’t find back my Samuelson anecdote. It’s from one of nw’s comments at Judy’s, but “nw” is not an easy thing to search. I did find this wonderful article on Samuelson and Friedmann, where we can read:

    Milton knows how to spell banana but he doesn’t know when to stop.

    http://www.economicprincipals.com/issues/2015.07.12/1758.html

    The gist of the anecdote is that it’d be surprising that a Congress testimony would vary whether the expert was paid or not. We usually know why we’re calling them to testify.

    The concept of shill may deserve due diligence. For instance, the author cited by izen, Claire Robinson, is an editor of GMWatch, which is financed in part by The Institute of Responsible Technology. This Institute is led by the handsome dancer Jeffrey Smith. I don’t think there’s much reason to believe their coverage of Kevin’s tractations depends on funding.

    EDIT. Corrected a URL. Added an “s” to “depend”.

  38. izen says:

    @-W
    “The concept of shill may deserve due diligence.”

    I am aware that the source I choose was an advocate on the other side. It is evident in the glee with which they report it.

    But I don’t think much diligence is required if the suspect shill signs up with the company with the lowest(?) reputation in the field of biotech with the words –
    “I’m glad to sign on to whatever you like, or write whatever you like.”

    And is then carefull to hide, or at least be economical with the reality, about where his funding came from.

    Perhaps the test would be his stance on patents. Is he in favour of the Indian government having open use of these bio-technologies, or would he argue that patents are required to ensure his R&D (and ‘educational outreach’) gets funded. Presumably that would be a solid return on the investment Monsanto made in him.

  39. Willard says:

    > Perhaps the test would be his stance on patents. Is he in favour of the Indian government having open use of these bio-technologies, or would he argue that patents are required to ensure his R&D (and ‘educational outreach’) gets funded.

    Good idea.

    Kevin should not be against patents per se since he owns at least one:

    https://www.google.com/patents/WO2014085626A1

    But here’s a feel-good story from his blog:

    Patents are part of plant breeding and the thing that makes it profitable. There needs to be an incentive to invest the massive time and effort it takes to create the next generation of food or ornamental varieities.

    So if you are thinking that patents are just biotech’s way of screwing the little guy, think again. You can’t just steal that apple tree from Cornell, that strawberry line from UC Davis, the prize-winning rose from NC State, or that watermelon plant from Seminis. That plant product represents someone’s sweat and tears and patents protect the continued success of plant breeders.

    http://kfolta.blogspot.com/2012/10/patents-protecting-breeders-work.html

    Kevin used the same technique to minimize his connections with Monsanto over there as with the “pro” labels:

    http://kfolta.blogspot.com/2014/08/university-of-floridas-deep-monsanto.html

    Ridicule‘s an old tech.

  40. Marco says:

    “Perhaps the test would be his stance on patents.”

    Why? As I noted earlier, you can get patents (or market exclusivity) on new crops produced using *any* technology. His stance on patents thus will not tell you anything about his stance on GMOs.

  41. Willard says:

    > His stance on patents thus will not tell you anything about his stance on GMOs.

    Something that doesn’t tell everything can still tell something, Marco. It’d be best if we could get direct testimony, but if we could find that he’s for patenting everything else, only special pleading could save him for being pro GMO patents.

    The main problem here is that Kevin would rather use “genetic improvement” than “GMO”:

    A better term for the scientific processes used to produce new varieties or breeds, or the intermediate steps, would be best referred to as crop or animal genetic improvement. In other words, when we use traditional breeding methods to make plants or animals better, it takes many steps and lots of selection. That’s genetic improvement, whether it is done by sexual exchange, breaking DNA strands with radiation or doubling chromosomes with chemistry.

    .https://medium.com/@kevinfolta/please-say-no-to-gmo-6a5e07f08c9b

    I have no idea why Kevin believes that “improvement” is more precise and scientific than “modified,” but here you go. Another scientist that improvises himself wordologist.

    The argumentative structure of that brief is quite something.

    EDIT. Put a dot in front of the URL. Replaced “got no idea” by “have no idea.”

  42. Willard says:

    The last comment offers me the opportunity to present a series of Moore sentences the first canonical ones being:

    (MS1) It’s raining, but I don’t believe that it is raining.

    (MS2) It’s raining but I believe that it is not raining.

    Let’s try to moorify Kevin’s case:

    (K1) I have a podcast that celebrates bio-tech, but I am not pro-biotech.

    (K2) I have biotech patents, but I don’t believe in biotech patents.

    (K3) “Genetic improvement” is more precise and scientific and I’m against genetic improvement.

    I suppose I could imagine scenarios where Kevin holds K1-K3, but I’d rather not. Desingenuousness should be kept to philosophical thought experiments. It doesn’t look optimal for scientific outreach.

  43. izen says:

    @-marco
    “His stance on patents thus will not tell you anything about his stance on GMOs.”

    His stanc on GMOs is known.
    He wants to rename it ‘genetic improvement’, a means of re framing it positively, as a rhetorical move.

    What his stance on patents (GMO or conventional ‘improvements’) would tell you is his attitude to the commercial exploitation of GMOs, or any improved crop in those instances, like India, where there is a conflict between a government which wants to get the advantages of the improvement used as widely as possible; against a company that wants to assert intellectual property rights to maximise the benefit IT gets from the modified crop.

    Deja Vu ….

    http://www.nature.com/news/2009/090903/full/news.2009.882.html

  44. > It doesn’t look optimal for scientific outreach.

    We have the same view, W. I’m pleased this kind of self-contradiction is named and even more amused Teh Wiki says, “not to be confused with Moore’s Law”, for it gives me an opportunity to synthesise a corollary:

    Thus if the evidence for AGW increases in arithmetic progression, the augmentation of absurd arguments and disbelief against it will increase nearly in geometric progression.

    Alas, Dan Kahan (et al., etc.) probably beat me to it in some form or other.

    I find it quite *interesting* that lichurchur is so full of what doesn’t work.

  45. Marco says:

    “His stanc on GMOs is known.
    He wants to rename it ‘genetic improvement’, a means of re framing it positively, as a rhetorical move.”

    Yes, and no. With GMO he refers to ANY breeding technology aimed at obtaining more beneficial genetic properties. Not the one technique that certain people are so very afraid of: that of specific introduction of one or two genes. So you now know his stance on plant breeding techniques: he sees it as a positive approach to improve the characteristics of plants.
    And yes, framing it positively is of course a rhetorical move, directly aimed against the rhetorical move to make “GMO” a scary word. At the same time, this is the explicit aim of plant breeding techniques: to get an improvement. In our lab we often use GMOs where the explicit aim isn’t to get an improved organism (unless you consider being able to study some kind of pathway in detail by knocking out other pathways “an improvement”, of course).

  46. Willard says:

    > At the same time, this is the explicit aim of plant breeding techniques: to get an improvement.

    Going from “modification” to “improvement” adds no scientific clarity whatsoever, therefore Kevin’s argument is false. Moreover, it conflates all the techniques together.

    Kevin’s arguments in that post can be seen as a bunch of narrative improvement techniques.

  47. Willard says:

    Here is Kevin again, this time calling GMOs precision breeding.

    Precision. What’s not to like?

  48. Willard says:

    Found Kevin’s answer to How do you feel about patents on GMOs?

    Timely question! The first plant patent was issued 83 years ago yesterday!

    Here’s the bottom line. Innovation brings newer, improved crops. Innovation costs money. Royalties collected from farmers benefiting from the improved traits help fuel further development.

    My department has some of the world’s best public breeding programs for strawberry, blueberry, peach, citrus, and many others. None are GMO. It takes our scientists years, decades, to produce a new elite plant that helps an industry thrive. Think about citrus! Groves of trees, millions of dollars, many many years!

    Why should a plant inventor that develops a new line have to give it away? The plant patent system ensures that developments made to improve plants protect the breeder’s rights and ensure a flow of funding to continue future developments.

    It costs a lot to make new plants. Where else would the funding come from?

    Personally, I love seeing innovation an better products for farmers, consumers and the environment. If a small royalty fee helps fuel that then it’s great…

    Nobody seems to mind paying for a faster computer or flatter TV!! Plant innovation just takes a lot more expertise and time.

    Great question.

    Gotta love his “small royalty fee” throw-away. Monsanto is worth more than 60 billions, and it controls a quarter of the seed market. As far as mutant companies are concerned, Monsanto and Syngenta are small fries compared to Bayer:

    Monsanto and Bayer are “two of a limited number of competitors” making pesticides that are capable of discovering new active ingredients and developing new formulations to tackle issues such as weed resistance to older products, the EU said. Regulators also flagged possible problems over high market shares for vegetable seeds. Bayer is one of the few rivals Monsanto faces for plant traits, such as herbicide tolerance, it said.

    The combined firm will have the largest portfolio of pesticides products and the strongest global market positions in seeds and traits. The EU said it will check if rivals’ access to distributors and farmers could worsen if the company were to link sales of pesticides or seeds to digital services that provide tailored advice or aggregated data to farmers.

    Mutant companies are a bigger problem than mutant seeds.

  49. Joshua says:

    apropos of nothing in particular in this thread, but because I don’t want to interrupt the more actvie exchange in the current top thread….an article that some here might find interesting.

  50. Willard says:

    Good. In return, you might appreciate Junior’s concerns.

    Since Junior’s eavesdropping, here’s my response:

    Dear Junior,

    The post simply showed a bad argument against labeling that was used for some kind of stealth advocacy. Kevin clearly dodged simple demands that he owns his advocacy. He did not.

    Moreover, I linked to Jean Goodwin’s piece about Kevin’s story, and in a comment criticized the taintedness of his opponents in the comment thread.

    As far as throwing red meat is concerned, I’d defer to this story. Oh, and please note that Kevin’s the one who characterized the exchange as screwy. Next time you’re into tone policing, try reading harder.

    Many thanks for your concerns!

    EDIT. Added the URL to Junior’s concerns. Turned Arthur’s damn long URL into a link. Emphasized this note. Corrected the archived link to Junior’s concerns.

  51. izen says:

    @-W
    “Found Kevin’s answer to How do you feel about patents on GMOs?”

    How unilateraly positive. No caveats of mention of the problems of patenting systems, monoply and stifiling of innovation.

    I have this odd suspicion I have read almost exactly the same defence of patents from big Pharma PR, down to the conflation of the cost a physical product with the charge for intellectual property rights in that last para –

    “Nobody seems to mind paying for a faster computer or flatter TV!! Plant innovation just takes a lot more expertise and time.”

    Only with ‘Drug’ replacing ‘Plant’.

    http://health.ketchum.com/blog/pharma%E2%80%99s-new-cliffhanger-protecting-corporate-reputation-face-prescription-drug-abuse-epidemic

  52. Marco says:

    Izen, you can replace “drug” with any product.

    Not sure there is any evidence that patents stiffle innovation.

  53. izen says:

    @-Marco
    ” you can replace “drug” with any product.”

    Or any product that carries a intellectual property right premium in its cost, compared to faster computers, flatter TVs, or any other ‘generic’ product.
    Music and software would alternatives.

    @-“Not sure there is any evidence that patents stiffle innovation.”

    It is difficult to tell either way. Patent systems are one part of larger social systems that may enhance or inhibit innovation.

    http://stlr.org/archived-volumes/volume-x-2008-2009/torrance/

    https://www.jstor.org/stable/2895332?seq=1#page_scan_tab_contents

  54. Willard says:

    > Not sure there is any evidence that patents stiffle innovation.

    Here’s one study:

    A paper presented at the recently completed annual Allied Social Sciences Associations meeting found a significant effect of patents on cumulative innovation. Alberto Galasso of the University of Toronto and Mark Schankerman of the London School of Economics look specifically at the effect of patent invalidations on citations of those innovations in future patents.

    Patents in the United States can be invalidated by a federal court as well as a special appeals court, the U.S. Court of Appeal for the Federal Circuit, which has exclusive jurisdiction over appeals cases involving patents. The authors look at what happens to citations after the patent was struck down.

    Galasso and Schankerman find a large effect from patent invalidations: Citations increase by about 50 percent on average in the five years afterward. But once they dig deeper into the data, they find that the effect isn’t the same for all patents. For many fields, such as pharmaceuticals, the effect was minimal to non-existent.

    The fields that did see significant effects on cumulative innovation were computers and communications, electronics, and medical instruments. These fields are ones where the technology is complex and patent ownership is widely spread, making it more likely that patents can block follow-on innovations.

    The authors also looked at the sizes of the firms affected by these decisions. They find that the effect is entirely about the patents of large firms being invalidated and the increased citations are by small firms. So these patents were seemingly restricting the innovative efforts of smaller businesses.

    https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2015/01/do-patents-stifle-innovation/

    This report reformulates the abstract of the paper. The paper is at the link under the word “look” in the report.

    EDIT. Added two paragraphs to the quote.

  55. Marco says:

    Thanks, Willard.

    I don’t quite follow the conclusion, though. Citations in patents of an invalidated patents somehow being evidence patents impede innovation? I can definitely come with alternative explanations, like extending patent coverage of their own ideas, because that room is now available due to another patent being invalidated.

    Then again, there’s some work on vertical and horizontal innovation and the impact of patenting on those (vertical = negative impact, horizontal = positive; i.e. further expanding the invention, vs really new inventions), which would fit to some extent with the paper you cite.

  56. izen says:

    @-Marco
    “I can definitely come with alternative explanations, like extending patent coverage of their own ideas, because that room is now available due to another patent being invalidated.”

    I think that implies that the invalidated patent was impeding the room for innovation. Especially if it is several small businesses citng a patent of one large company.

    It all seems rather speculative. The problem is less with GMOs, biotech in general, or dangers to human health. It is the risk of unintended consequences resulting from the business choices made by agricultural companies in the field. Sound science hardly enters the picture.

    What DOES happen when a patent becomes invalid is that the company can try to replace it with something very similar to retain market position.

    The patent protection on Glycophosphate (RoundUp Ready) resistent soya expired in 2015. So Monsanto can no longer sue anyone who collects such seeds and keeps, or sells, them for planting the next year. There is already an independent market developing.

    Luckily they have developed a replacement. A soya bean (and cotton?) variety that is resistant to another herbicide called Dicamba. And a new (patented?) formulation of the herbicide, now called Xtendimax, to make it less volatile so that it can be used without killing any neighbouring fields of non-resistant crops. Or hedges and trees.

    Apparently the safety tests were only carried out on its volatility during spraying. Not during the suceeding hours/days when the herbicide could still evaporate and drift.

    https://modernfarmer.com/2017/10/evidence-mounts-monsantos-dicamba-killing-trees/

    But the 3 million acres affected are the fault of farmer not following the instructions, Apparently. So the EPA will allow its use next year as long as the sprayers have been trained.
    And the latest…

    http://www.croplife.com/crop-inputs/herbicides/monsanto-sues-arkansas-regulator-dicamba-ban/

    Monsanto Sues Arkansas Regulator Over Dicamba Ban
    Monsanto is challenging the restrictions as Arkansas edges closer to adopting a temporary ban on dicamba herbicides for next year.
    Scott Partridge, Vice President of Global Strategy with Monsanto, made the following statement:

    “This is about growers. As a company, we are committed to putting the best tools in the hands of growers to control weeds. Growers in 33 other states are having an outstanding experience with Xtendimax. Growers in Arkansas deserve the same opportunity.”

  57. Willard says:

    > Citations in patents of an invalidated patents somehow being evidence patents impede innovation?

    It’s a proxy. From the horse’s mouth:

    There are two empirical challenges in studying the effect of patents on cumulative innovation. First, cumulativeness is difficult to measure directly. In this paper we primarily follow the large empirical literature that uses citations by later patents as a way to trace knowledge spillovers (for a survey, see Griliches, 1992). While not perfect, this is the only feasible approach if one wants to study the impact of patent rights across diverse technology fields as we do in this paper. Nonetheless, we also show that our results are robust to alternative
    measures of cumulative innovation in the technology fields of drugs and medical instruments, where data on new product developments are publicly available due to government regulation that requires public registration. The second problem in identifying the causal effect of patent rights on later innovation is the endogeneity of patent protection. For example, technologies with greater commercial potential are both more likely to be protected by patents and to be an attractive target for follow-on innovation.

    The authors also observe that “there is surprisingly little econometric evidence on the link between patent rights and cumulative innovation.” This may explain why Kevin has to rely on an auxiliary argument, based on the “right” part in “intellectual right.”

    That patent systems can become nightmarish is common knowledge:

    Patent troll is a categorical or pejorative term applied to person or company that attempts to enforce patent rights against accused infringers far beyond the patent’s actual value or contribution to the prior art,[1] often through hardball legal tactics (frivolous litigation, vexatious litigation, SLAPP, chilling effects, and the like). Patent trolls often do not manufacture products or supply services based upon the patents in question. However, some entities which do not practice their asserted patent may not be considered “patent trolls” when they license their patented technologies on reasonable terms in advance.

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patent_troll

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