Folta talks dialogue, defending science, and the firing of David Zaruk


The Global Institute for Food Security (GIFS) was created to “help deliver transformative innovation to agriculture in both the developed and the developing world.” Every second year, the Saskatoon-based organization hosts the Emerging Technologies for Global Food Security Conference, and this year I was on hand to take it all in.

On the agenda was Dr. Kevin Folta, from the University of Florida, who spoke about how to better communicate scientific ideas and the importance of doing so. Folta has personal experience dealing with activists, and, in his presentation, he explained how to be an effective communicator, even in the face of opposition.

When asked about how scientists can communicate better, Folta says, “I tell scientists to cool it a little bit. Scientists come across as arrogant and aloof.” Folta says it is not about “dumbing it down” but recognizing trust has to be established. You can not explain complex science in the brief time you might be with someone in an elevator. “As scientists we tell them how, and that is where we make our mistake. We have to tell them why,” he says.

Folta has become the focus of some bitter criticism for his work, so the question arises, why does he continue to be an advocate, in spite of the personal attacks? “If I’m going to go into a room and say, ‘Scientists: go out and talk, share your stories, share your passions!’ and I am not leading by example, how do you ever expect to get others to do it?”

In the interview above, Folta also comes to the defence of another scientist, Dr. David Zaruk (The Risk-Monger). “What has happened to professor David Zaruk is chilling, and it is something that should scare the hell out of every single one of us.”

Zaruk has been critical of the processes which have been used in the European Union to limit the acceptance of biotechnology. His criticisms of the processes, Zaruk says, got him fired. (See his blog here).

Embattled as he is, Folta says he will continue to encourage dialogue and stand up for science.

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