Friday, September 14, 2012

A note to North Carolina-area readers

David Kroll is well known among the chemblogosphere for his many years blogging, especially at Terra Sigilata. He has recently taken a position as the science communications director at the Nature Research Center of the North Carolina Museum of Natural Sciences. That museum recently hosted a Biotechnology Day, where companies located in the NC area were invited to have booths and talk about their technology.

That seems to have precipitated a negative response from Laura Combs, a local anti-vaccine and anti-biotechnology activist. From one of her many e-mails to the Museum:
I do not understand how Biotech Days at the museum is an "impartial venue." In order for to be an impartial venue, people like Jeffrey Smith of the Institute for Responsible Technology and Mark Kastel of the Cornucopia Institute would have been invited and they or their representatives would have presented information counter to the promotion of Genetically Modified Foods by BASF, for example. I think it would be a very worthwhile debate to have and provide the impartial venue that the museum is supposedly looking for - Monsanto and Bayer Crop Sciences or BASF representatives and Mr. Smith and Mr. Kastel in a moderated debate. Simply allowing the corporations who are profiting heavily from genetic engineering to present the risks is absurd and highly misleading the public.

Regarding the Pharmaceutical company representatives, an impartial venue would have involved those representatives as well as folks promoting informed choice, such as Barbara Loe Fisher of the National Vaccine Information Center and Dr. Larry Palevsky. Without balance such as they would provide there is no impartial venue for education.

I hope the museum considers hosting a forum where truly both sides of the issues, such as in the cases I highlight above, can be presented. I will be glad to help you make the necessary connections. In addition, I recommend that the museum consider hosting special topic nights, such as genetically modified food, vaccine efficacy and safety and other topics where speakers from both sides of the issue are present and discussing their positions in a moderated forum. 
As you can imagine, the e-mails have gotten quite convoluted. Ultimately, Ms. Combs has written an unhappy letter to the museum's director, calling for, among other things, all the internal e-mail correspondence about her. (I do not know the state of North Carolia's public records laws, so I have no idea what the correct procedure is for Ms. Combs.) I don't know what she expects to find, but I imagine that she's setting off for a fishing expedition.

I think Ms. Combs is making a mountain out of a molehill a complete nothingburger, and that she should take her political beliefs about vaccines, genetically modified foods and the like to the appropriate forum, which would not be a science museum. As for Dr. Kroll, a friend of this blog, I think he was being very gracious to Ms. Combs and has done his due diligence.

11 comments:

  1. I wonder though, whether using the museum as a forum for a debate of the nature she suggests would not be a good idea. I know that you would probably not convert any anti-vacciners or the like, since they often do not trust such obviously biased numbers as US Census data, but from my circle of friends, there are a lot of people who just don't know what to think on topics like vaccines and genetically modified food. After all, there are credentialed doctors on both sides of the argument. I think that seeing a thoughtful, supported argument from BASF side-by-side with the type of argument usually posed by Ms. Combs crowd might help clear up the confusion for a lot of people.

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    1. Yeah, it's hard to know how to open that Pandora's Box, and a museum (a place that depends on others for funding) would likely shy away from such controversies. That even such a relatively anodyne topic has engendered this response is surprising.

      [And I was under the impression that NC would have a lower quantity of anti-technology folks for some reason. I don't understand it.)

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  2. The institutes/centers listed do not provide biotechnology so why would anyone expect them to be at a biotechnology showcase? I understand Ms Combs' motivation for wanting a debate, but the forum presented by such a showcase is not appropriate for debate.

    Furthermore, if the museum was truly interested in hosting such a debate the impetus would be upon them to select their debate candidates, not on a self-appointed interloper. As the previous anon stated, it's not a bad idea to host such a debate. But if I was going to organize such a thing I would do my own research into who exactly constitutes an expert on the subject. And I certainly wouldn't choose people who cling to repeatedly disproven pseudoscience to make a cheap emotional argument.

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  3. "Laura Combs, a local anti-vaccine and anti-biotechnology activist"

    Let's call things what they are. "Ignorant moron" seems about right to me.

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  4. "I hope the museum considers hosting a forum where truly both sides of the issues"--I guess i would also like to see exhibits describing a world without vaccines, antibiotics, drugs, and biotechnology. I think it could be called "the Dark ages." Or maybe she just wants a pro-disease booth to be included?

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  5. Am I allowed to come up with my own theories and have them presented? I believe that we derive all our immunological defenses from standing on our heads for hours a day - we see the maximum head-standing as children, which is why they show a dramatically decreased incidence of heart disease, cancer, and Alzheimer's disease. I feel that in order to have a proper debate about all the issues, it is offensive of Ms. Combs to have excluded me and my similarly clinically unsubstantiated opinions. Is Ms. Combs in the pocket of Big Neutraceuticals?

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  7. Here's the story. If you don't want to be harassed by difficult-to-negotiate compliance with FOIA laws, then DON'T TAKE TAXPAYER MONEY for your museum. Them's the rules. They are there for a reason. If you make an exception now because the rules are 'being abused', then your government will get to claim the rules are 'being abused' when sunshine is truly important.

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    1. Just to be clear, I think that Ms. Combs has not said, "I am filing form 981A (or whatever) to FOIA all relevant e-mails." Rather, she is saying "please forward me all the relevant emails". I think that's kinda silly.

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    2. As someone who regularly has to handle FOIA claims I would laugh at such a request. If you want something forwarded you have to fill out the correct forms, submit them to the correct people, and have the correct search string and date/data range. While the request is very important and might seem obvious to the person making it none of us on the other end can guess at the intention of the person making the request.

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  8. 1) If you're going to ask to appear at an exhibit at a science museum, shouldn't one actually have some? I didn't think that the scientific process was "Insert head into the lower part of one's intestinal tract and obey the voices one hears there."

    2) It's sort of funny how all the kooks think that law trumps physical reality. Try that method as you walk in front of a car running a red light and see where it gets you.

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