Dr. Kevin Folta is the Department Chair of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida, Gainesville. As the host of the Talking Biotech podcast, Kevin recently interviewed Nick about his time in Florida and on the status of the KNOW GMO project. If you’re interested in this issue, you may recognize Dr. Folta’s name. He’s the guy that kept challenging Bill Nye, The Science Guy to a debate on GMOs.
Because it’s his specific area of expertise, and because he has such extensive experience, Dr. Folta is often is asked to comment on modern agriculture issues. As a result, he often ends up facing extremely ugly attacks from the anti-GMO movement. Here, we’re not anti-anything other than anti-bad information, so we ignored all of the opinions and we simply checked into Dr. Folta’s scientific facts (you know, those repeatable tests that universities rely on). It really shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that the department heads at prominent, well-respected universities do actually know what they’re talking about (if not them, who?).
In the end Dr. Folta won his figurative debate with Bill Nye, but the reaction hasn’t been scientific. As an example, Jennifer Lilley and the Natural News was fine had been fine with Nye’s previous position, but the moment he noted that he had learned more and changed his mind, Lilley instantly wrote him off under the rather convenient headline, “Monsanto propaganda scientists brainwash Bill Nye into changing positions on GMOs.”
Is that conspiracy theory really more believable than a scientist got good information and changed his mind? We found that the Natural News offered zero evidence of that claim, and in fact it was that type of politically based, biased coverage that lead to the creation of the KNOW IDEAS brand and the KNOW GMO and Learn GMO media projects. We wanted our documentaries to discover the scientific truth, not start off with an opinion and then only look at evidence that appeared to support it, like most are today.
Inevitably, activists suggest that the scientific results can’t be trusted because chemical companies sometimes fund university research, but that just feels naive. Companies have always been supportive of research that might help their industry. If their anti-GMO logic made any sense then we couldn’t trust any drug, medical device, airplane, baby crib, or vehicle safety mechanism on the market. Companies are involved with studying virtually all of those things. And that’s good, because it’s important to remember that the current system does represent a benefit to society.
Companies can amortize the costs of a discovery over the life of the drug or product or seed etc. As individuals, this leaves us with a choice of either paying small instalment amounts within the cost of a product, over large amounts of time; or we all pay massively higher taxes to fund universities to the point where they can do the same levels of research. And no matter which funding format we follow, what we appear need to study next is, when did we the public start thinking we knew more than extremely well educated and experienced experts?
Considering his education, it would be unwise for any of us to just label Dr. Folta and dismiss him. Labels can be misleading. But by sinking our teeth deep into this subject, we found very good reasons for Dr. Folta to be a very worthwhile source of information for all of us, and we think you will too.