The Kevin Folta/GMO/Monsanto/Right-to-Know/conflict-of-interest variety show and bazaar — a saga about a food scientist who took $25,000 from Monsanto without disclosing he did so but seems to have thought that was probably more or less okay — just got more bizarre, as Brooke Borel describes in a strange and deftly told story in Buzzfeed.
This is conflict-of-interest as tragicomedy. I love how Borel’s attention to the comedy in this situation a) underlines the weird cluelessness of Folta’s behavior, b) thereby reminds us that cluelessness and seemingly benign self-deception can lead to COIs as readily as greed can, c) establishes Borel as a highly informed and deeply sourced observer who keeps a crucial critical distance, and d) makes the piece a joy to read. Awesome, exemplary work.
I was confused, to say the least.… So I wrote back to Folta: Was he actually Blazek? Did he interview himself?
The email conversation that followed was decidedly odd. Yes, Folta was Blazek. He was using a pseudonym, he said, because it was fun (“I see why Colbert did the Colbert Report”), and so he could “play in this space” without drawing attention to his role in the project.
Yes, he had interviewed himself, but only because some of his listeners had caught on that Blazek might be him, and he wanted to throw them off his trail. And, well, no, he hadn’t considered how all this might look to an outsider.
It only gets weirder.
Seed Money, @Buzzfeed