On November 27th SciQ, a science education series ran by the Young Turks Network, posted a discussion about science communication. During this discussion; Jayde Lovell, one of the SciQ producers, mentioned that Dr. Kevin Folta fabricated alternate persona’s online to advocate for himself and that hiscareer is now ruined. This claim comes from a misunderstanding of Dr. Folta’s work and sense of humor.
The following day, Dr. Folta posted a comment on the video. He was clearing a few misconceptions about his “alternate persona” and the funding of his programs. The comment was promptly removed without any explanation. The comment still isn’t viable today.
Dr. Folta’s Comment:
Hi Everybody, I was alerted to check out this video and to correct a few misunderstandings (@~14:00). First, the company mentioned funded a communications workshop I do (briefly!). They didn’t fund me or my research. The funds were not used, and were donated elsewhere after threats came in against me and my family. Next, I didn’t create “fake personas to advocate” (for myself). I used to do a science podcast that was a parody of Coast-to-Coast AM. The idea was quite Colbert Show like. I have a background in improv, so it seemed like a good idea. You can hear it at www.sciencepowerhour.com (the Science Power Hour is about 30 minutes, the joke was kind of clear). A journalist named Brooke Borel and I had a “spirited” discussion about funding etc where we disagreed quite a bit. I sent her a note to be a guest on the podcast, just to patch things up. Instead she decided that the Science Power Hour was a “scandal” and wrote the tremendously damaging piece. I understood how she felt the parody was deceptive and took it down immediately based on her perspective, even though others realized the comedy/parody. I told her that I took it down out of respect for her perspective, and she characterized that as being evasive. Sometimes someone just has it out for you, and she remains one of the more cold, evil people I ever met. Her interest was to destroy my career, and instead she hurt her own, as orchestrating a take down of a career independent scientist and a leader in public teaching/education put her in line with the activists and against the scientific community. To the opposite, all of this backfired. The scientific public saw what happened to me as the same thing that the bad guys did to Michael Mann in climate and Paul Offit in vaccines. While some see me as damaged goods as the panelist does here, most see me as the victim of a coordinated defamation effort. Time has been kind, as nowadays I’m speaking about science communication in universities, industry events, and ag conferences constantly. I’m declining invites left and right because there is more than I can do and still be a good researcher and university administrator. I have extensive training in communication and have taught the topic for two decades. There are TV commentators on CNN that I once coached. No deficit there. On the other hand, the big companies keep me well distanced, and I do the same with them. Shifting the burden of teaching scientists how to speak to the public goes from some industry input to 100% public/me. I don’t get “speaker fees”. The funding that should go to me goes to the program. That was over $10K last year. Yes, I’m one awful dude. And absolutely– I did not handle everything perfectly and had a few things I could have done much better through this episode. I’ve learned a lot of lessons and adjusted. These days I’m beyond transparent about everything and I think it sets an ambitious example that my critics are unlikely to match. I’m also not sure that my research career has been “ruined” and I think my reputation ultimately benefitted. Of course, a few folks will always be out gunning for me as I teach others about science, but I think that means I’m doing something right. Thanks for the space, sorry for the long note. My record is 100% transparent, always has been, always will be www.kevinfolta.com/
transparency. I’m always happy to answer questions, kevinfolta at gmail. Thanks!
You would think that a science communicator would want to provide the most accurate information as possible and would release corrections when warranted. Posting inaccurate information is not new for SciQ. In their video about the television show ,”Mr. Robot”, more than half of the information and terms they used were inaccurate. The comments on that video offered some corrections, but they fell on def ears.
Perhaps their goal is not to provide accurate information, just accurate enough for them.