Carey Gillam is the director of “research” at U.S. Right to Know (USRTK), an organic industry front group based in the San Francisco metropolitan area which actually has never done any research. Prior to joining USRTK, Gillam was a food and agriculture reporter at Reuters, where she wrote stories about pesticides, GM technology and food labelling initiatives that came to be regarded as so biased she was placed under scrutiny by the editorial staff before her employment was terminated.
Gillam promotes “false balance” in Biotech Research
Like other popular bloggers linked to the modern anti-science movement, Gillam adopts the veil of a journalist watching out for public health. In reality, her work is polemical, sometimes fraudulent, and routinely misleading. Unlike most bloggers, she pulls down a $140,000 salary in return for pretending to lend her industry front group credibility.
In one April 2014 Reuters piece, for example, Gillam claimed that “some scientific studies warn of potential human and animal health problems [caused by biotechnology], and GMO crops have been tied to environmental problems, including rising weed resistance.” When pressed by researchers to back up this claim with “some scientific studies,” Gillam replied that the research is “out there,” noting that she has “read the studies and made copies, [and] talked to scientists in several different countries about their concern [about GMOs].”
Gillam didn’t cite any of this research in response to her critics, very likely because it doesn’t exist or has been retracted by the journals that published it. The peer-reviewed research instead demonstrates that GMOs are no different in safety than any food engineered before it, including organic food.
When Gillam does reference scientists in her work, she cites a fringe group, some of whom have no expertise in either agriculture or biotechnology. Her critics suggest that this is a classic example of promoting false balance on a complex scientific topic, where a group of dissenters with questionable motives is treated like a representative sample of expert opinion.
Gillam: Cheerleader for Industry-Funded Scientists
Gillam has tried to make a name for herself by accusing experts of maintaining unethical relationships with biotech companies, yet she has hypocritically praised the work of industry-funded scholars she happens to share funding sources with.
Agricultural economist Charles Benbrook, for instance, has been a vocal opponent of GMOs and synthetic pesticides and a supporter of the organic food process. Freedom of Information Act requests revealed his work was funded exclusively by organic trade groups for years, a fact that he failed to disclose to the science journals he published in. Like Gillam, he adopted a “Research” title, claiming he was a Research Professor at Washington State University, yet he had no office and they paid him no salary, they just got funding from the corporations he promised in emails to “ramrod” results for. Despite him being discredited and unqualified, Gillam continues to cite Benbrook’s work without reference to his massive conflicts of interest, even still referring to the economist as a “research professor,” though he no longer holds a position at any academic institution, and his claims have been thoroughly debunked.
Gillam and colleague Gary Ruskin, who was placed in charge of that new attack initiative by Ronnie Cummins of the trade group Organic Consumers Association, also promote the work of discredited University of California Berkeley biologist Tyrone Hayes, who goes on paid junkets sponsored by anti-pesticide groups. Hayes became a minor celebrity after he published a paper in 2002 which claimed that a pesticide named Atrazine was affecting the sexual reproduction of frogs.The paper made a big splash in the media when published, and the EPA launched new investigations into the environmental effects of Atrazine as a result of the studies. What got less media attention was that EPA could not use the paper that got their emergency assessment convened: Hayes refused to show any data, claiming EPA was in a conspiracy against him with agriculture companies.
It was also later revealed that Hayes got a free pass in peer review at PNAS. Under a courtesy rule allowed at that time, he got a colleague in his department at Berkeley who was a member of the National Academies to hand-select his paper and walk it past peer review. Despite any scientific legitimacy in his work, in 2016 Gillam referred to repudiation of Hayes’ studies as an “industry assault” on the rogue Berkeley biologist, and USRTK continues to defend him and cite his work.
Gillam Falsely Claims That Scientists are for Sale
Despite this hypocrisy, Gillam’s case against biotechnology rests on the faulty assumption that scientists begin denying science because they get paid by corporations. In fact, she took her kooky claims on a road trip in October 2017, when she presented USRTK’s conspiracy theory to the European Parliament in Belgium. Thanks to some helpful lobbyists inside the EU regulatory apparatus, Gillam was flown to Brussels at taxpayer expense and allowed to repeat her fables about scientists whose work threatens USRTK’s corporate donors.
In reality, funding makes little difference, researchers tend to say the same things regardless of who funds their research. And except for the organic movement, corporations typically spend very little money on advocacy. Indeed the pro-science community are outspent by the environmental movement 1,000 to 1. Put another way, Monsanto simply doesn’t have enough money to buy off all the researchers who say that GMOs are safe. It would cost the company $12.5 billion per year to do so.
And her organic food fantasy claims fail simple logic. Exxon-Mobil has 30 times the revenue of Monsanto. How have they not been able to buy off climate scientists, the only field of science that Carey Gillam accepts as legitimate, if scientists are all on the take as she alleges?