Science groups call out organic food blogger Paul Thacker

Posted By News On July 12, 2017 - 5:45pm
Science groups call out organic food blogger Paul Thacker

The war between the science community and organic food marketers has only gotten hotter with the success of the "Food Evolution" movie, which started quietly with a soft New York City opening but has since spread all over the nation, with rave reviews from surprising outlets, such as the New York Times on one coast and a politically similar newspaper, the Los Angeles Times on the other.

And then there is an exposé by the Wall Street Journal, which details what is by now an exhaustive list of ways that the Russian government, and it's propaganda outlets like Russia Today, have been using environmentalists to undermine American science and technology to gain geopolitical strength. 

It will be years before a Freedom of Information Act request uncovers who the industry trade group Organic Consumers Association has directly mobilized to combat the effort by another trade group, the Institute of Food Technologists, to create a science alternative to "Food, Inc" but there are already signs it happened. A bevy of known activist bloggers have been writing in publications friendly to anti-science beliefs, such as Alternet, Huffington Post (the blogs, though, not the real site) and Progressive magazine. Paul Thacker, a controversial former journalist who was discredited after attacking Nature writer Keith Kroll when he wrote about  the industry-funded pro-organic group US Right To Know using Freedom of Information Act requests to harass scientists, recently took to Progressive to continue his attacks on scientists. Thacker has little credibility, according to Science 2.0 founder Hank Campbell, because he has refused to disclose his financial ties to U.S. Right To Know. Thacker alleges in his blog that the entire Science 2.0 site (disclosure: we have a marketing agreement and appear on the sidebar there) is engaged in "pro-GMO propaganda" and that Campbell was secretly working for Monsanto. And apparently still is, while also running the American Council on Science and Health. Thacker doesn't cite any evidence, except for U.S. Right To Know's claims in their other blogs.

In June of 2015 I gave a talk at the U.C. Davis World Food Center for a group of science journalists, academics and whoever else attended. I don't really know who was in attendance, I was there for a day. No one paid me to attend, no one paid for me to attend. As I mentioned on the American Council on Science and Health site (because he is constantly trying to manufacture nonsense about that group as well - sorry Paul, science is still not a conservative conspiracy) I may have gotten a free coffee, but because I gave a talk he dismisses this entire site, all 20,000 members, as "pro-GMO propaganda" and insists that there was some secret daisy chain of funding from agricultural corporations at the conference.
It's hard to follow Thacker in his piece. He has clearly been well groomed in all of the organic marketing talking points but he tries so hard to fit them all into his post (activist Monica Eng, California lawyers, Big Tobacco, an agricultural conference at an agricultural university he says created a conspiracy with Monsanto) that it becomes cluttered. His supporting evidence is either US Right To Know, who he won't deny has paid him, or seem to be just retaliation for pieces critical of his friends, like Charles Seife, his co-author on an article that was retracted by the science journal PLOS ONE apparently because Thacker did not disclose his financial ties to industry groups.

Credit: Harvard Business Review. Link: Science 2.0

Yet it's his swipes at large chunks of science media that have nothing to do with his support for the organic food movement that really seem to have raised the ire of the science community. Academics are being told they should do more direct outreach, yet activists know they can create an "icy chill" effect if they harass scientists with FOIA requests or instruct their followers to email and call university departments with complaints, or if they can get a friendly blogger like Thacker to disparage them online, in hopes it will embarrass them in front of their children. Scientists just want their research to be understood, they don't want drama. Bloggers who are paid to attack them insure that they will stay in the Ivory Tower.