When Your Robot Attacks, You’ve Lost the Debate

I welcome a spirited discussion, but how do you debate a robot?

What if a web-based robot is doing the dirty work of a corrupt activist organization and you are the topic du jour?

As a 30-year academic scientist I’ve enjoyed educating the public on the science of genetic engineering. That raises the ire of those sworn against the technology. As their prophecies fail to materialize and fear campaigns fall flat, the numbers of hard-core anti-GMO activists is dwindling. There’s no new pirates on that sinking ship, so now they must employ web-based robots for scientific slander.

Such is the case over on Twitter, where an account named @NoGMOVerified spews vitriol, seemingly pulling stories from a substantial archive and pumping them into tweet space. The majority of their messages are just the usual drivel, but it gets personal.

This account exists solely to spread false information, including a dose of smear about Yours Truly.

This is what the corrupt anti-GMO movement has become. When you can’t discuss issues, attack the person. When you realize the broader public is disgusted by your constant attacks against scientists and farmers, deploy a slanderous algorithm to do the dirty work.

The bigger question is, if you consider yourself part of the anti-GMO movement, is this something you endorse? Are you proud of the people (and robots) that represent you in this asymmetrical dialog?

Is sending a libel-bot into a scholarly discourse simply waving a white flag?

Kevin M. Folta is a Professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. He teaches science communication workshops for scientists and ag professionals, and hosts the weekly podcast Talking Biotech. His research funding and cost reimbursements may be seen at www.kevinfolta.com/transparency.

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Land-grant scientist exploring ways to make better food with less input, and how to communicate science. All funding at kevinfolta.com/transparency

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