UCS president Ken Kimmell dodges questions and provides no answers about funding, apparently from the Packard Foundation
EXCERPT: “It’s really disappointing to see the Union of Concerned Scientists working to reduce transparency into how taxpayer-funded science is conducted,” says DC political veteran Mike Ryan, who played a critical role in killing AB700 [a bill introduced to severely limit journalists’ access to documents at public research institutions]. A former Policy Advisor to Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC, Ryan now runs government affairs for the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS). “I don’t understand why they would choose to be complicit in helping hide records of corporate influence, animal abuse, and other wrongdoings.”
The Union of Concerned Scientists has a Monsanto problem
Paul D. Thacker
Medium.com, 21 May 2019
[links to sources and illustrations at the URL above]
* Ken Kimmell dodges questions and provides no answers about funding, apparently from the Packard Foundation
A couple months back, I emailed Ken Kimmell, president of the Union of Concerned Scientists to ask about his organization sponsoring California AB700, a bill introduced by Assemblywoman Laura Friedman to severely limit journalists’ access to documents at public research institutions. In the last few years, academics’ emails have been critical for reporters who have found Coca-Cola and Monsanto using scientists to promote their talking points and the NFL underplaying the link between football and brain damage.
“I do not care for your style of communication, including sending me questions at 1:00 and demanding a response by close of business,” Mr. Kimmell responded. “Nor do I appreciate the tone and content of the questions themselves. I deal with journalists constantly and haven’t seen this behavior in evidence before.”
In succeeding days, however, several media organizations stated their opinion on the tone and content of the bill Mr. Kimmell’s group had sponsored.
“We rarely ask our members to take public positions on bills, but this one is too dangerous for us to be silent,” wrote the San Diego Society of Professional Journalists. In a letter to the California legislature, Nancy Barnes, Senior Vice President of News and Editorial Director at NPR, wrote, “AB 700 would set a dangerous precedent, both in terms of access to information generally and in terms of access to information relating to research at postsecondary educational institutions.”
Other organization opposing the bill included California Newspapers Publishers Association, Society of Professional Journalists Northern California chapter, the Center for Food Safety, Friends of the Earth, Greenpeace, U.S. Right to Know, American Civil Liberties Union, Electronic Frontier Foundation, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, and the New England Anti-Vivisection Foundation. Editorials denigrating the bill were published in the Santa Rosa Press Democrat, and the San Diego Union-Tribune, while the Los Angeles Times published an op-ed pointing out the bill would make it harder to expose sexual harassment on campuses.
Assemblywoman Friedman later shelved the bill.
Despite these complaints, the Union of Concerned Scientists did get support for AB700 from twitter handles and groups that promote one of America’s most reviled companies: Monsanto.
In fact, Monsanto has long promoted UCS in their drive to limit public access to university records through freedom of information (FOIA) requests. On a Monsanto webpage titled “What others are saying: Monsanto and FOIA” the company links to a report from UCS that claims FOIA requests are a type of bullying or harassment. Several of the other links go to articles that contain quotes from UCS employee Michael Halpern, plugging the UCS and Monsanto view that requests for public documents harm scientists.
On a separate Monsanto webpage titled “Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests” the company attempts to refute several scandals involving the company that were brought to light through public information requests. At the page’s bottom, Monsanto again provides a supporting link to the Union of Concerned Scientists’ report that alleges public information requests are bullying and harassment.
When UCS began its quixotic campaign against FOIA some years back, Monsanto’s online cheerleaders joined in fairly soon. On her homepage, Monsanto/Bayer employee Cami Ryan has a blog titled, “FOIA. It’s the New Four-Letter Word.” In the piece, she complains that a FOIA request had been filed against her alma mater, the University of Saskatchewan, to uncover academics’ hidden ties to Monsanto. Ms. Ryan had previously helped organize educational bootcamps, secretly funded by the industry, to sway journalists about GMO technology and pesticides.
In spite of Ms. Ryan’s complaints, the Canadian Broadcasting Company later reported on documents, uncovered through a FOIA request, that found Monsanto was coaching a researcher at the University of Saskatchewan on his academic writing, and that the company organized a secret forum at the university to deal with public scrutiny. Several academics are now suing Ryan’s university to release even more documents on its ties to Monsanto.
The UCS also appears to be playing clever-ish games in ignoring how public information requests have exposed Monsanto’s hidden ties to academics. When Gretchen Goldman blogged for the New York Times about industry subterfuge in science, she cited several examples of corporate funds perverting research. But she seems to have “missed” how public records released by US Right to Know exposed subterfuge by Monsanto. Oddly enough, that story Ms. Goldman did not describe, ran on the front page of the New York Times.
Forgetting the importance of public records in exposing Monsanto scandals seems to be a pattern with UCS. After around a dozen stories on Monsanto appeared in various media outlets based on emails released through FOIA, UCS jumped up to note that records disclosed during a court trial found Monsanto engaged in “counterfeit science.” UCS then worked itself up into a lather, describing court documents (not FOIA documents!) detailing how Monsanto undermines the science on the pesticide glyphosate.
Seriously. If you move to DC, you can find nonprofits, on any given day, engaged in similar silly, self-absorbed behavior, trying to call attention to themselves on matters already disclosed by reporters working documents found through FOIA. It’s just so common, you gotta giggle.
In my email to Mr. Kimmell, I asked him to explain why UCS has gotten at such cross purposes with the broader journalistic community. Mr. Kimmell did not respond.
I also asked if UCS plans to introduce similar bills to limit reporter access to documents. Mr. Kimmell did not respond.
Mr. Kimmell’s employee, Michael Halpern, has tweeted support for University of Florida Professor Kevin Folta, who Eric Lipton of the New York Times caught promoting Monsanto. So I asked Mr. Kimmel why UCS allowed Halpern to make misleading comments on the Union of Concerned Scientists’ website. Mr. Kimmell did not respond.
To oppose President Trump’s agenda to limit the use of science, UCS has organized a coalition of nonprofits that call themselves “ProSci”. When I spoke to several members of this coalition, they told me they were shocked that UCS has been working to oppose transparency in science, and that Michael Halpern never told them during the ProSci meetings that UCS was promoting bills in California like AB700. If Halpern brought something like this up during a ProSci meeting, I was told, it would not go over well with participants, as the members feel that transparency is critical. Some also expressed concern about who is funding this UCS campaign.
In an email to me, Walt Reid of the Packard Foundation, wrote, “UCS is a grantee of our Foundation (as noted on our website, our support is for a project ‘To support scientists, defend scientific integrity, and provide accountability for appropriate use of science by government,’ which provides them with the flexibility to support many of their activities.” But for specific information on the UCS campaign against FOIA, Mr. Reid referred me back to UCS.
“It’s really disappointing to see the Union of Concerned Scientists working to reduce transparency into how taxpayer-funded science is conducted,” says DC political veteran Mike Ryan, who played a critical role in killing AB700. A former Policy Advisor to Nancy Pelosi and the DCCC, Ryan now runs government affairs for the New England Anti-Vivisection Society (NEAVS). “I don’t understand why they would choose to be complicit in helping hide records of corporate influence, animal abuse, and other wrongdoings.”
In a recent episode of NPR’s “On the Media” Halpern repeated many of the same arguments against transparency that media organizations have called dangerous. Whether UCS will continue this campaign against the public interest remains unknown.