Taproot S2E3: Spiraling out of Silence; Speaking up for Science and Scientists with Kevin Folta

In this episode, Ivan and Liz talk to Kevin Folta, Professor and Chairman of the Horticultural Sciences Department at the University of Florida. Kevin’s research focuses on the functional genomics of small fruit crops, photomorphogenesis, and plant transformation. In addition to his many impressive publications, Kevin has been deeply involved in student education and communication of science to the public for many years. In honor of his outreach efforts was awarded the Borlaug CAST Communication award, the National Science Foundation CAREER Award, The Howard Hughes Medical Institute award for undergraduate mentoring and the University of Florida Research Foundation Award.

We talk about a recent publication from the Folta lab, ”Identification of novel growth regulators in plant populations expressing random peptides” (Bao et al., Plant Physiology, 2017). Kevin tells us he came up with this idea to “throw monkey wrenches into a complex machine” in order to identify novel regulators and plant vulnerabilities. We talk about why this approach was successful and the future directions of this project.

As described above, Kevin developed a passion for scientific outreach early in his career. Unfortunately, his success in scientific communication has also made him a target. In 2015, a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request was filed to the University of Florida by US Right to Know as part of a campaign targeting the emails of public scientists who have spoken out in favor of biotechnology.

In this emotional episode, Kevin describes the whirlwind of fake news and misinformation that ensued after the FOIA request. We talk about the spiral of silence these efforts intend to create and why it is absolutely vital to keep speaking up for science and for the scientists under attack.

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Bao, Z., Clancy, M. A., Carvalho, R. F., Elliott, K., & Folta, K. M. (2017). Identification of novel growth regulators in plant populations expressing random peptides. Plant Physiology, pp-00577. http://www.plantphysiol.org/content/early/2017/08/14/pp.17.00577

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The Taproot is the podcast that digs beneath the surface to understand how scientific publications in plant biology are created. In each episode, co-hosts Liz Haswell and Ivan Baxter take a paper from the literature and talk about the story behind the science with one of its authors.

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Questions, feedback, suggestions?  Contact us at taproot@plantae.org.

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