April Fools: FoIA requests expand to all published academic GMO research

posted in: News | 7

Editor’s Note: The following post was part of our 2015 April Fools prank on our readers. A lot of people had fun reading and joking about it. If you were worried about so many researchers being harassed you can now relax, but if you were a graduate student looking forward to a free weekly buffet – we’re sorry to disappoint you!

Although this was a prank, FoIA requests are currently being abused to harass scientists with the goal of undermining science communicators. You can find out more about this issue here and we encourage you to sign this letter of support!

FOIA2000By William Harvey, M.D. (Born April 1st, 1578)

Previously, it was reported that 14 Freedom of Information Act (FoIA) requests had been filed seeking the correspondence of academic scientists and professors who were actively involved in outreach and public education about genetically engineered crops. The Biofortified Blog has recently learned that a second and much more extensive wave of FoIA requests has been filed – potentially affecting thousands of academic scientists and graduate students.

The second wave of FoIA requests, now being dubbed a “Climategate 3.0“, or “Biogate 2.0” or “GMOGate 1.0 beta” by various sources, seeks information about the totality of published academic research on genetically engineered (GMO) crops. The requests are exhaustive, covering all of the background research, grant proposals, experimental design and data, and results and conclusions of nearly 2,000 studies that have been conducted on GMOs. The total number of FoIAs filed is still being determined, but sources have confirmed that they were filed by the US Right Two Know (USR2K) organization, a nonprofit funded by the cattle manure-based fertilizer industry.

In an interview, the director of USR2K Vary Flusterin explained their motivation. “We’re interested to understand the dynamics of how scientific hypotheses are formed, experiments are designed, and results are collected, analyzed, interpreted and published.” He added, “The scientists keep saying that the scientific literature demonstrates that there is a consensus about the safety of GMOs, but I can’t understand how all these data points add up. It’s time to go back to school.”

To prepare for these FoIA requests, USR2K compiled a list of studies done on GMOs from PubMed, Web of Science, the Nicolia et al 2013 review, and Sanchez 2015. They also consulted Biology Fortified’s own GENetic Engineering Risk Atlas (GENERA) to compile their list of researchers to file FoIAs against. Stay C. Mocking, co-director of USR2K explained “We’re so glad that all these scientists have done the work for us to find where the research is hidden. We don’t have to go looking for Monsanto’s secret warehouse of data – it was all right here in the literature in front of our noses.”

Flusterin’s organization wants to minimize the impact that the FoIA requests have on the day-to-day expenses of the universities and labs that are being affected. “We’re carrying the full costs of these requests, in some cases hiring staff for the Universities so that they can not only comply with the requests but get an extra hand here and there in the lab and the field and a buffet lunch every Friday for graduate students.” The cost of these FoIAs is expected to run into the millions of dollars (US$), but USR2K has a substantial “war chest” of manure futures that will defray the costs.

Despite these offers of assistance, not all of the scientists’ whose research will be examined are pleased by this development. Professor Kævin Momsauron at the University of Barad-Durida called it invasive and unnecessary. “We teach about how science works in our introductory shill classes. First you start with your conclusion, and after you find a corporation that is willing to pay you oodles of money, you publish your conclusions and then scrape some data off your shoe that you can make into graphs to support your conclusion. I offered to help Vary understand the scientific process but he keeps talking about multiple testing corrections and randomized, blinded controls. He’s totally lost!”

When pressed about whether this is the most efficient way to get at the truth behind how scientific consensus is formed, Flusterin defended his FoIA filings. “It is our right as citizens to learn about how science is done on GMOs at our public institutions, and Freedom of Information Act requests are the best way to do that. I don’t want to get a degree in science or talk to a scientist, I think I can figure it out after Googling all the words in these studies to find out what they mean. Strangely, the hits keep coming back to more and more studies. I need more FoIAs!”

Flusterin dreams of directing academic research through the use of FoIA requests. “Our political lobbying ally organizations are pushing legislation through the Republican-controlled Congress that will allow us to file instant FoIA requests on any scientist and graduate student at the end of every day of their research. We’re telling them that it will help them spy on climate scientists,” he bragged. “I will be able to find out the results of new experiments at the end of each day, and I can stay up all night emailing graduate students what they should do the next day. I care that much about how science is conducted that I think I can tell the scientists what to do – and do it better. I’m planning to publish a paper on all of this.”

“Of course, I’ll have to FoIA that too.” He added.

Follow Karl Haro von Mogel:

Karl earned his Ph.D. in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics at UW-Madison, with a minor in Life Science Communication. His dissertation was on both the genetics of sweet corn and plant genetics outreach. He recently moved back to his home state of California. His favorite produce might just be squash.