AS230: Dr. Kevin Folta

In light of all this GMO debate, Dr. Kevin Folta was kind enough to hop on the show and educate us! Kevin is the professor and chairman of the horticultural sciences department at the University of Florida. He doesn’t like the word “advocate,” but he has been very vocal about GMOs and dispelling the misconceptions that run rampant. As someone very keen on GMO technology I learned a ton from this interview, and even was disabused of some bad notions about GMOs I didn’t even know were wrong!

7 thoughts on “AS230: Dr. Kevin Folta”

  1. I think worrying about allowing or not allowing a platform for people is entirely silly. That should entirely be up to whatever organization is making that decision. We should be teaching critical thinking though, not just protecting people from wrong ideas, which would make this meaningless. Also I disagree that Dawkins is doing this, simply not debating someone is taking no action, rather than acting to block someone.

    1. Hey thanks for the comment. Yes as I’ve stated, it’s obviously up to whatever organization. The reason organizations decide to retract invitations and stuff though is because people complain. My message is for the people complaining. If someone is going to complain, I just am encouraging that person to be consistent. Dawkins has said he doesn’t want to give creationists a platform. Sure, he’s not specifically blocking people (unless he’s ever in charge of a speaker list or something) but he still has an attitude of no-platforming toward creationists.

      1. Great points, Thomas. I’d just add that Dawkins does explicitly block people as well, there have been a number of instances where he’s told organisers of conferences not to invite people like Rebecca Watson.

  2. Thank you for this interview! I believe Humanists should be tackling these controversial issues and discuss with scientists such as Dr. Kevin Folta. The first point in the 21 Affirmations of Humanism is “We are committed to the application of reason and science to the understanding of the universe and to the solving of human problems.” I hope you will at some point in the very near future discuss nuclear power as well, here are just three suggested guests, in my order of preference, (all great) 1. Rod Adams 2. Will Davis and 3. James Conca or Rod Adams

  3. Hey Thomas! Finally got around to listening to this episode, and I thought it was great. I love listening to Dr Folta and you did a great job interviewing, asking some really important questions.

    To be a little self-indulgent, I’d like to reply to the response to my comments (also because I loved everything I heard in the episode so I don’t have much to add to that!).

    On the Tribeca point: personally I didn’t think there was a difference in whether a no-platforming motivation came from the organisations or the protesters because I assume that the organisations either end up agreeing with the points that the protesters raise, or they at least value something that could be challenged by the protesters (e.g. not being boycotting) – and that’s their choice. I think we could definitely debate whether such protests are a good thing though and whether they have good reasons for their position, and we can criticise the decision of the organisation if we feel they have bad reasons.

    On the science vs social issues: Just to be clear, I wasn’t saying social issues were more important. I think both are and can be relevant to a no-platforming stance, I was more just saying that if I had to choose between the two I’d probably fall on the side of arguing that social issues are more important because they always directly impact people, whereas scientific issues don’t necessarily do so. So if, for example, someone were to invite Marc Hauser to an atheist conference I personally wouldn’t be overly bothered one way or another if he was allowed to talk or no-platformed, despite having a lot of his scientific research on social behaviors of Capuchin monkeys discredited and demonstrated as fraudulent, you know what I mean?

    On the other hand, if someone was arguing that black people were beasts, the cause of all crime, and will steal your babies in the middle of the night, and my university for some reason decided to host their talk, I’d support no-platforming them more than I would Hauser. But again, to be clear, I’m not presenting it as an either/or – obviously when it comes to dangerous anti-science beliefs, I agree with the reasons for no-platforming.

    And yes, you caught a typo. Too many double negatives and not proof-reading. I would have hoped that I didn’t give the impression that I was an anti-vaxxer though so I appreciate the charitable interpretation there.

    My position at the end of that issue that you seem confused about was simply that if someone’s position was that no-platforming is more justified in scientific cases since we’re talking about someone who is going against the scientific evidence, then I don’t see much difference with social issues. The point being that social issues don’t exist in a vacuum, they should still be evidence-based, even if that evidence isn’t scientific. So to me, someone making outrageous social claims that aren’t backed by evidence is no more excusable than someone making scientific claims not backed by evidence.

    I’m not sure where our apparent disagreements seem to come from, as listening to your response I feel like we’re almost entirely in agreement with only a few minor changes. I did want to correct one thing though which might explain why you think we differ more than we do: you suggested that my position faces difficulties because social issues aren’t entirely clean cut, and you suggest my position is that “It’s important to platform someone who has a social position we don’t like” but I don’t think either affect my position or describe my position. I think no-platforming someone because you simply don’t like their position, when that position isn’t contradicted by evidence, is a very bad reason for no-platforming. I still think there’s nothing inherently wrong with no-platforming and organisers are still free to do so, but doing it based on not liking someone’s position seems petty and silly.

    I agree that people should critically think through it, and it’s good that you’ve come up with a justification for your view. Personally I’d push harder and ask if that justification really distinguishes it – to me, evidence against a position is a good reason to no-platform someone, whether it’s scientific or not.

    And I have no problem with people no-platforming positions I like or agree with. As I note in my first post though, this leaves me in a position where I’m able to criticise them if I think their reasons are bad. Again, they’re entitled to do so and I defend their right to do so, whilst also criticising them for doing so for bad reasons.

    My post is too long already, again, so quickly on the Gerald issue, I just want to point out that measuring harm isn’t subjective. We have a lot of research on harm caused by things like normalising stereotypes etc, so it’s a measurable problem. The issue would just come in determining what harm, or how much harm, makes it justified to no-platform – so a theist might argue that they’re harmed by an atheist giving a speech, but the harm would presumably be measured in accordance with the values of the organiser, and an atheist conference would think the value of an atheist speech would outweigh the personal distress of the theist.

    Thanks for your comments about my Dawkins comparison, I’m glad you seemed to agree with that! Keep it up with the great show, and sorry again for filling up your comment section with my mini-novels!

    1. Two typos there, so to avoid confusion:

      1) “Being boycotTED”.

      2) ” “It’s important to NO-platform someone who has a social position we don’t like”

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