Kevin Folta Silenced, Skeptics Mourn

I haven’t signed into my Skeptoid blog account in about a month now. My responsibilities to my students, my family, and my own well-being make it difficult at times to write a well thought-out piece. It is even more difficult to try to keep up with the comments; some are engaging and interesting, while others are emotional defenses of unscientific positions. It certainly takes a toll.

The news from the day I am writing this (November 4th, 2015) is a demonstration of the emotional toll this can take. Science communicator and biotechnology expert Kevin Folta has communicated he is indefinitely suspending his activities to communicate science. He posted a brief blog post stating as such.

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Many of the skeptical pages I follow on social media expressed their sadness and understanding for his decision. Folta certainly loves communicating science. He explained a little further on his public Facebook page:

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I don’t want to compare myself to Folta in the impact or reach of my science communication. I know what I deal with is very small to what Folta has had to deal with this year. I simply wanted to express I have a level of empathy, because I imagine the days where I feel attacked by those in the anti-science camp is multiplied by many times in Folta’s case. What a horrible feeling to be attacked nearly constantly doing something you love and honestly know is doing good in the world.

I communicate science to give back in a small way what other science communicators have done for me. People like Steven Novella, Neil deGrasse Tyson, and Brian Cox reignited my desire to help others understand more about the world. I get to do this teaching physics. I get to do this on this blog. I can’t imagine being attacked so fiercely that I would need to give any of it up. I hope I never have to give it up.

Dr. Folta: good luck to you. I hope you come back and communicate with us really soon. If you choose not to, I don’t think there is one supporter of science who faults you for decision. Thank you for everything you have done to help support science; I know you will continue to do great things training the next generation of scientists.

To those vicious people who attack scientists for their honest effort to make the world better: shame on you. You benefit from science so many times a day it is nearly impossible to count. You harm progress and scientific literacy when you choose to only believe evidence you like. Your actions are the true harm to society.

And to the skeptic community: thank you for showing such resolve already today. It is nice to know that even though we won’t have Kevin’s voice, we will all pick up a little piece of it and carry it forward together. I know I feel better knowing all of us working together can keep those who profit from fear in check.

Links to other skeptics’ thoughts:

The Credible Hulk
The Farmer’s Daughter
Scibabe
Mommy, PhD
Science Pony
Respectful Insolence

 

About Eric Hall

My day job is teaching physics at the University of Minnesota, Rochester. I write about physics, other sciences, politics, education, and whatever else interests or concerns me. I am always working to be rational and reasonable, and I am always willing to improve my knowledge and change my mind when presented with new evidence.
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30 Responses to Kevin Folta Silenced, Skeptics Mourn

  1. Dan says:

    Although I’ve found the Skeptoid responses narrow and short-sighted at times I appreciate the effort to seek out truth. After reading Thinking Fast and Slow it became more and more evident people not only have many false beliefs in their lives, but are stubbornly blind to hold on to those false beliefs and no amount of reasoning is going to change that. In America we now actually have a man making a serious political run who is a creationist and believes evolution is an evil plot of atheists. This man is a doctor too. This over-tolerance of ignorance in favor of respecting people’s individual religious beliefs is a huge mistake. We have science and facts to lead us out of the dark ages and without this as our guide we are doomed to be led by people who old ancient, out-dated, ignorant beliefs.

    • William Lee says:

      I have to agree with you Dan! It’s terrible to say but many people in this country has been digressing! What people do not understand is that most foods are genetically modified, trans planting root stocks to different types of the same species is genetically modifying them! Splicing, cross pollinating all of those things have been going on since Sir Francis Bacon! We have been genetically altering plants AND Animals since man has been hurting,or growing foods! Gene splicing gives the same results as cross pollination , it’s just faster and you get the exact same results in far less time! What these idiots need to be concerned about is the over use and abuse of prescription antibiotics! Most people rarely finish the entire prescription which ALWAYS leads to more resistant bacteria! But, you or I can talk until we are blue in the face and they still won’t believe what they are told because of their mind set! Stupid people can’t be taught ANYTHING they do not want to understand!

  2. Nobody says:

    “It certainly takes a toll.”

    Would you say that they are toll trolls?

  3. Michael Bigelow says:

    I think the number one rule in blogging is that it is your blog. It is 100% your right to decide what goes up. I for one, would not for one second on ill informed, stylistically critical or abusive.

    Respectfully written comments of appreciation, corrections of facts…..OK. Otherwise, it’s your blog Brian!

    Thanks for you work.

  4. NoWhereMan says:

    To Eric – your arguments would go viral if your made every attempt to remove your persona from them. You come off as a know-it-all rather than a compassionate orator.

    • Eric Hall says:

      Can you tell me specifically how that is the case? And as a blog, should I not allow some of my personality to come through? Otherwise it would be boring…

      You aren’t the same person telling SciBabe to stop swearing, are you?

  5. Science Pony says:

    This is one of the saddest realities in science advocacy – advocates have next to no protection, and face intense criticism from both antis, and, sadly, those within the skeptic community. It should not be dangerous to be a outspoken fan of science. Disseminating new research, and supporting consensus, should not come with a personal nor professional price-tag.

    I personally have been hacked, had my likeness used is sexually harassing images and websites, had my ability to parent my children come under fire, had the parentage of my unborn baby be the fodder for cruel posts on Facebook. I have a page with a relatively small following and yet here we are.

    Until there is a concerted, unified effort to protect scientists and science advocates from those who would harm them to further an agenda, we will lose our best and brightest as they weigh the benefits and risks and see that the risks are winning out.

    As I mention in my blog post on this topic, which you have linked (thank you), the biggest fear I have is for the science advocates we will never have, because as the next generation graduates highschool and looks to their future career options, they will use their critical thinking skills and see that this field is flawed and that no one is working to fix it. =(

  6. Neal Umphred says:

    ERIC

    You have readers and you actually reach them! Hell, they write you letters! That’s an amazing accomplishment.

    Nollaig Shona duit, and keep on keepin’ on!

    NEAL

  7. jimgriff says:

    In the interest of accuracy, which is an apparent value of the undertaking in which you are engaged by hosting this blog, your headline “Kevin Folta Silenced,” is misleading. I expected to then read how he was assassinated, kidnapped, or otherwise was removed from the field of battle, but that was not the case. He, actually, chose to withdraw. To be silenced denotes an action that is external to the object being silenced. He did provide a rationale for his decision that was “external”, but used his own free choice to silence himself. When one is engaged in attempting to change the beliefs of others, is it not uncommon to be insulted, vilified, and persecuted? This it the example of history, both in the scientific and religious realm. The naïve belief (faith?) that others will greet our attempts to enlighten them with gratitude and plaudits is unbecoming of the true skeptic, is it not? What is the evidence that the world of the free, peaceful exchange of ideas exists, or even should exist? There is nothing “scientific” about that. So we find that some things are simply not worth our efforts for the cost required. He decided that the sacrifice was not required of him to further the cause–a choice he was able to make.

    • Oldfart says:

      I believe his life and family were also threatened. While I am unhappy he is silenced, I understand why. For the same reason I don’t put political stickers on my car in Kansas. I might be willing to take a chance with Kansas open carry rednecks but my wife is an innocent bystander.

  8. Tony Fordyce says:

    As a European, my mind just boggles at the wilful ignorance so widespread in the US. We, together with our friends in places like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, most of Asia and South America, are simply astonished that candidates for the most important position in the world profess to a belief that the world is only 6,000 years old (or are too cowardly to deny believing it). And it is equally – possibly evenly more – sad that most of these candidates in fact probably know that what they profess is not true, but don’t dare to acknowledge the fact for fear of losing votes.

    • Noah Dillon says:

      Candidates spout equally tremendous nonsense in other parts of the world. It’s sad that it happens anywhere, but it’s not a problem unique to the US, or one that any country in Europe is untouched by. I gotta say, though, that I feel like a lot of that pandering is in part due to our poorly constructed elections system and I do admire Europe’s parliamentary systems. You guys did a good job there.

    • Oldfart says:

      In your “enlightened” Europe, THIS happened recently. We expect burning at the stake to come next:
      http://www.patheos.com/blogs/friendlyatheist/2016/02/27/in-rare-move-germany-fines-atheist-e500-for-violating-blasphemy-law/?utm_content=bufferd1616&utm_medium=social&utm_source=facebook.com&utm_campaign=buffer
      There are no blasphemy laws in the “wilfully ignorant” US.

      • Tony Fordyce says:

        Sorry, I missed the part where any candidates for the highest offices in Germany have endorsed this? Just a link to a website will do. You are pointing to an isolated incident based on an ancient law in a highly religious part of the country. In any case, the law in question doesn’t criminalise blasphemy; it’s only in case it is deemed to be capable of disturbing the peace. Not that I’m in any way approving it.

        And the US is no better. According to Wikipedia, “Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Wyoming, and Pennsylvania have laws that make reference to blasphemy. Some US states still have blasphemy laws on the books from the founding days.”

        • Oldfart says:

          It is true that some states still have those ancient laws on those books. But any attempt to enforce them would be laughed out of court. It is also true that some states have laws that deny an atheist the right to hold office. If enforced, those too would be laughed out of court. In fact, the only reason those laws are still on the books is that no one has been able to challenge them because they have never been enforced. I don’t know what the laws are in Europe, but here you have to be an actual victim of a law before you can challenge it. Meanwhile, don’t bash the USA if your own linens aren’t clean and, believe me, Europe’s linens are far from clean.

          • Tony Fordyce says:

            How do you know these laws would be “laughed out of court” until they are actually tested. Hardly a legal argument! Meantime I stand by my original comment (maybe you didn’t read it?). “As a European, my mind just boggles at the wilful ignorance so widespread in the US. We, together with our friends in places like Australia, New Zealand, Canada, most of Asia and South America, are simply astonished that candidates for the most important position in the world profess to a belief that the world is only 6,000 years old (or are too cowardly to deny believing it). And it is equally – possibly evenly more – sad that most of these candidates in fact probably know that what they profess is not true, but don’t dare to acknowledge the fact for fear of losing votes.” You may be happy voting for a candidate who professes something which is so demonstrably and laughably false. We wouldn’t.

          • AWilliam Lee says:

            There are laws that forbid an Atheist to run for public office, states like Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas, all have laws that forbid atheist to run or hold office and they have enforced those laws and people have been run out of areas because of that! The local courts upheld the response and refused to allow the suits to move foreword. They will have to take them to the Supreme Court to get positive results, and so far no one has!

          • Oldfart says:

            The part I object to is the suggestion that, somehow, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Canada are any better. You have your own (sometimes dangerous) versions of ignorance going on right now with nativist violent reactions to immigrants, none of you capable of functioning as a part of a whole economically and at least ONE of you (Australia) sliding backwards in the race to the bottom for climate change denial. You are just as dumb as we are.

          • Tony Fordyce says:

            You seem to be trying to change the subject, but maybe you are happy with the fact that there are people running for the Presidency of the US, one of the most powerful positions in the world, who believe (or, maybe even worse, claim to believe but don’t actually) that the world is only 6,000 years old. The really scary part of that is that it follows that they would not accept any science that is based on evidence coming from more than 6,000 years ago. But maybe you’re happy with that . . . .

          • Oldfart says:

            You appear to be totally blind to your own prejudices. I do not appreciate America bashing Europeans who have no idea what the USA is like and who belong to a society that has committed the most horrendous crimes humanity has known just in the last century alone not counting the middle ages. When you can keep your own house clean, then you can talk about mine.

          • Tony Fordyce says:

            I have lived in America (northern New York State) and also visited many parts (including Nevada, California, Tennessee, Washington DC, Indiana, Massachusetts, Illinois, Maryland and Florida) on many occasions before and afterwards. I have American friends and a TV set and can use the Internet, so it’s not difficult to understand what happens there.

            But this is beside the point. Yet again you seem to think that is a valid argumentative technique, when one aspect of American society is criticised to point to bad things that have happened (and still happen) in other countries. It’s not. And I’m quite surprised that you don’t actually address my point, which leads me to imagine that you too may believe that the world is only 6,000 years old. Can that possibly be true?

          • Oldfart says:

            You don’t have a point, which is not surprising. Your only point is to bash the USA. And, no, obliviot, I do not believe the earth is 6000 years old. But you probably do. You probably believe that Syrian refugees should be left in Syria and that Turks who immigrated to your country to bulk up the labor forces should go back to Turkey. I don’t need an “argumentative technique” to point out your “willfully ignorant” prejudices. They are apparent to all.

          • Tony Fordyce says:

            Yet again you refer to entirely irrelevant topics (the latest being Syrian and Turkish immigrants), and the sum total of your argument seems to be “Well, things are just as bad where you come from”, which is no argument at all. It’s an attempt to avoiding commenting on the original point. If it helps you, then I quite happily admit that there are things that are wrong in Europe. Meantime, at the risk of repeating myself yet again, my point was how sad it is that candidates for the highest office in the US apparently believe that (or are too scared to admit that they don’t believe that) the world is only 6,000 years old. If you have a comment on that point, I would be pleased to hear.

          • Oldfart says:

            That was NOT your point. Your point was to bash the USA because it’s people are “ignorant” when compared to the rest of the western world. That is patently NOT the case. As for what the Republicans believe, I, as an American, have no control over that. They play to the 28% of the USA that prefers religious nonsense over science. A problem that is true, to a greater or lesser extreme, everywhere in the world. Proof of that lies in your own history.

        • AWilliam Lee says:

          Not only are there blasphemy laws, there are many, many blue laws that limit where or when you can buy alcohol, of whether you can or can not sell certain items on Sunday. And these old laws are still valid and enforced!take for instance the Jack Daniels Alcohol/Whiskey distiller. They operate out of a Blue Law county that forbids people to buy alcohol in any shape or form! There are hundreds of employees that can’t buy what they make on a daily basis! There are places and laws like that in EVERY STAYE!!!

          • Oldfart says:

            There are also places that are open 22 hours a day where you can get anything you want. What’s your point?

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