Are we entering into a post-dialogue world? When did we stop listening to other ideas? Why are so many resorting to ad hominem attacks rather than engaging with people who disagree?
This post-dialogue world didn’t just happen – it was premeditated.
The third and final part of the Insignificant Trilogy will look at how the environmental activist cults impose their new authority by denying dialogue or a role for expertise. The first part looked at how activist gurus have skewed our understanding of leadership in order to profit from the fear they promulgate. The second part examined how the naturopathic cult populism has created an “entitled elite” who impose an intolerance towards others. This populism would do well to block dialogue, condemn any opponents to the ideology as threats and put a premium on emotional rhetoric. A Jacobin Terror script has been played out in every populist uprising. Part Three will show how naturopaths are imposing a “reign of terror” on science and humanity.
The EU glyphosate debacle was an excellent case study in how a small group of activists working with the organic lobby and US personal injury law firms, rose in significance to take over the EU policy debate process. They used a certain playbook that works better in a situation without dialogue or competing ideas or evidence. The key element to win on glyphosate was to insist that industry data not be permitted in the risk assessment process. This was IARC’s activist strategy (in an attempt to legitimise their poor hazard assessment).
This exclusionary methodology is a trend that has been going on for the last two decades – for as long as stakeholder dialogue had been the EU policy process norm. The first thing the environmental NGO stakeholders did when they were invited to come to the policy table was kick other stakeholders out of the room. Then they changed the policy rules to their advantage. These activists effectively killed stakeholder dialogue.
So why is industry still trying to engage in dialogue? Why will regulators continue with a broken process in a room full of empty chairs? First a bit of history is needed.
A Brief History of the Brief Age of Dialogue
The Risk-Monger’s professional career in the 1990s and 2000s was intertwined with the failed attempt to bring dialogue into the policy process. Here is his take on what transpired.
In the 1990s, following the Earth Summit in Rio, many in industry started to transition towards stakeholder dialogue and engagement. The motivation was part practical (activist hot dogs lying down on the railway tracks outside of our factories were disrupting scheduling) and part philosophical – the chemical industry was suffering legitimacy issues following several serious accidents in the 1980s. It was time to open up and engage with others who might think differently. We believed that we could learn from our adversaries and rather than fighting them, many companies opened up and let the activists in to be heard. Some, like Shell, set up the Shell Foundation, employing activists directly to combine the strengths of the civil society issues with their “business DNA”. This was revolutionary at that time. In the late 90s, I can remember scrolling through the TellShell website thinking: “Damn, I wish I had their budget!”.
Before this opening up, the policy process was seen as limited to the “men in white coats” making decisions in the “smoky backrooms” of some imaginary mafia movie set. That perception had to change. The previous logic though was simple: in any issue or problem, bring in the experts. If you need to regulate on food safety, consult the food manufacturers and retailers. If you had a problem with an airplane, call in airline engineers. If you wanted to fix the economy or create jobs, call in business leaders. But at a certain point, in the late 1980s, civil society groups felt their ideas and interests needed to be heard more loudly. Not welcome at the table, they found other ways to be heard: climb up a smokestack, block access to shops and buildings, capture media attention with audacious stunts …
At the same time, there were enormous structural transformations in the 1990s in certain large corporation sectors, with the objective of freeing up valuable innovative assets from the old, traditional (commodity) businesses. Life sciences and pharmaceutical businesses were “liberated” from the less profitable, unsexy chemical business units; biotech companies were created with the ambitious goal of feeding a growing population. There were specialty mining companies, high-tech research institutes, e-commerce and the creation of technology and software industries. The human genome was being mapped, HIV-AIDS treatments emerged and Dolly the Sheep was grazing in her field. It was the age of Clinton, economic prosperity, the End of History, the Age of Pax Americana and the rise of free, global markets. Life was good.
And then, well, just like Monica Lewinsky’s stained blue dress, the optimistic smiles turned to blushed disgrace. The 1990s were also marked by a series of risk crises that festered and eventually set that optimism on its head. The MMR-Wakefield debacle promoted a public mood against pharmaceutical companies (coupled with the AIDS medication costs in Africa); the GMO “moratorium” in the EU had companies like Monsanto lock horns with the crafty communicators at Greenpeace (GMO = Greenpeace Membership Opportunity); the BSE scandal in the UK put the entire agri-technology process into public focus; dioxin scandals in Belgium, tainted blood in France and acrylamide in Sweden highlighted a perception that regulators were totally ineffective in protecting public health. Huntingdon Research Centre needed armed guards; shoe manufacturers needed to demand birth certificates; and a resurgent activist community went to the Battle in Seattle armed with a different ideology.
It was at this time that philosophers of science (later called risk communicators) like the Risk-Monger started to find each other by the coffee machines and tried to assess what was actually going on.
The birth of CSR: “Let’s Talk!”
The concern in the business world was to address the loss of credibility some industries (petroleum, pharma, chemicals, nuclear, biotech …) were suffering. Public trust was lost, shareholders were reacting and consumers had become more savvy. Total Quality and maximising shareholder value were no longer the keys to business success. Not only did products need to be sustainable, ethically produced and socially responsible, the corporation had to be seen to be a good corporate citizen. Battling with angry activist mobs outside (or inside) factory gates was not considered as acceptable PR.
In the 1990s, a group of forward-thinking businesses began to establish more open dialogue with other actors. The World Business Council for Sustainable Development answered the call for greater dialogue set out in the 1992 Rio Earth Summit and the earlier Brundtland Call for Action with a series of initiatives engaging with other stakeholders (namely the big NGOs that were not anti-trade or anti-industry: WWF, EWG, conservation groups…). Tools like stakeholder dialogue, public engagement, participatory processes and empowerment started to enter the business lexicon.
Industry considered a more open interaction as a means to build or restore public trust. Thus emerged a new corporate concept: stakeholder dialogue. I can remember clearly, in the late 90s, seeing blank stares when I spoke about stakeholder dialogue outside of industry circles. Sometimes they would ask: “How do you translate ‘stakeholder’ in French?” As ‘partie-prenante’ did not fit the context, eventually ‘Brussels French’ settled on ‘les stakeholders’).
The goal of increased engagement and dialogue had other benefits (besides trying to restore trust and get a company’s reputation “out of jail”). There were the famous business advantages to Corporate Social Responsibility. Groups like Shell and BP saw consumer choices influenced by their commitments to reducing carbon emissions and developing alternative energy solutions; people would pay $5 for a cup of coffee if it were perceived as ethical or fair; people would pay much more for soaps and cosmetics if animals were not involved in the research process …
CSR, dialogue and engagement were meant to restore credibility and legitimacy to the business community following the public risk crises of the 1990s. Governments also saw the values and joined in on the participatory pilgrimage.
EU White Paper on Governance: “Let’s pay you to talk!”
Governments felt the same need for legitimacy. After the dismissal of the entire Santer Commission, the political wranglings with Member States over implementation of many Delors regulations and the coming expansion of EU membership, the European Union, at Nice, called for a reassessment of its governance practices. In 2001, the European Commission published the White Paper on Governance, a document that still, to a certain extent, guides EU policy today. The year before, the Commission also published a White Paper on Food Safety and the Communication on the Precautionary Principle. It was a great time to be a policy wonk in Brussels.
In order to restore credibility, the White Paper on Governance aimed to have the Commission engage with the public, involve stakeholders in the decision-making process and remove the image that Brussels was ruled by smokey backroom deals and non-represented men in white coats. In the mid 2000s, policy tools like the European Technology Platforms (ETPs) were created to offer all stakeholders a voice in the process. With dialogue as the key legitimacy tool in the governance process, ETPs brought together academics, NGOs, industry and government to try to work together on emerging technologies. Other tools like Green Papers or public consultations turned the streets around Place Schuman into talking shops.
Soon though NGOs grew tired of the process citing the high cost of participating and the inability to directly influence decisions as their reason for leaving the ETPs. These groups also felt they were only there to legitimise the process and were not being listened to. The European Commission provided different funding mechanisms to try to keep these NGOs at the table. Instead, the activists took the money but never showed up at the meetings (or spent it having their own meetings limited to people who agreed with them).
By 2006, when things were not evidently working, the Risk-Monger, who had then retired, was asked to rapporteur a paper for the then European Research Advisory Board (EURAB) on improving the poor relationship between scientific institutions and civil society organisations. For two years, we tried to bring NGOs into the dialogue and find tools to salvage the stakeholder consultation process. In order to get activists to engage at Commission events, we even recommended giving the budget to the NGOs and letting them organise the consultations. The paper inspired the Mobilisation and Mutual Learning sections of the European Commission’s Seventh Framework Programmes aiming to help NGOs engage with scientific organisations and develop better science and technology skills. Instead, the activists took the money and shared it among their own networks.
By the time the EURAB report was published, it was evident the stakeholder dialogue process was dead. While I found this report to be valuable and a useful snapshot of the aspirations of a past era, the entire two-year rapporteuring process marked another episode of the Risk-Monger’s long history of failed attempts at trying to engage with these bands of closed-minded activists. I was starting to lose my naive idealism.
Industry, to this day, has continued to try to engage with groups who only liked to listen to themselves.
Why is industry still trying to engage?
Sometimes I find industry representatives at stakeholder events, lonely, insulted and marginalised, wondering out loud why they still bother. Part of the industry strategy, until this day, is to continue to engage in dialogue with stakeholders even if it means, and they often expect this, to be pin cushions for activist dart competitions. Some “enlightened leaders” like Paul Polman think that saying what he perceives the loud minority wants him to say is a form of leadership.
Not only has industry been excluded from the stakeholder dialogue process, but after decades of anti-industry NGO campaigns, industry has effectively been “denormalised” (excluding industry actors from being accepted as a normal part of society). Employees working in industries from pharmaceuticals to petroleum, chemicals to nuclear, biotech to pesticides have been ostracised. Any policy-maker seeking advice from these stakeholders or their scientists should expect to soon make other career plans – these industry groups have been consciously tobacconised by self-interested fear-mongers from NGOs, law firms and universities. No one could imagine someone like The Risk-Monger standing up and defending the innovations from industry without being paid to do so (and I get that comment regularly on social media).
Many companies continue to try to engage and extend their hands to wolves who are more than happy to bite hard. But when the wolf pack looks too dangerous, and industry decides to avoid the feeding frenzy, it could be even more dangerous. Recently, Syngenta decided to not attend the little-known Geneva Human Rights festival screening of the anti-industry film: Poisoning Paradise. To no surprise, the activists got all high and mighty. How dare industry not come into a room full of hateful people so we can insult them! An interesting aside. When ACSH’s Hank Campbell bravely attended the Poisoning Paradise screening in Geneva to represent the “voice of science” (their words), he quickly noticed he was the only person on the panel who did not have a microphone. “Before we beat you up, let’s tie your hands behind your back!”
It got even worse for the company formerly known as Monsanto. The European Green Party spent public money to arrange a hearing in the European Parliament to attack Monsanto. When the company declined the invitation to attend the witch-hunt, the MEPs, and I’m not making this up, banned Monsanto employees from having access to the European Parliament. Legally they could not do this, but the zealots felt they had the moral high ground. Green democracy in action: exclude the rights of stakeholders to participate and deny dialogue. “We haven’t had that spirit here since 1933.”
But here is a odd question to have to ask: How often do activist groups try to engage and listen to industry?
I do not work for industry (and have not since 2006), but on so many occasions I have been denied access to events because my thinking is, well, not orthodox green-think. I suspect my ideas may threaten activists who are perhaps too insecure in their thinking. This is common practice by activists (at a UBC university anti-GMO event in Canada, organisers apologised for the late start as they had to “clear out the negative energy”).
It used to be that some NGOs like WWF or EWG would work with industry if they were “sponsored” but now that civil society is awash with cash, there really is no need to get their hands dirty (unless it is organic food industry or green energy funding … then that is perfectly fine). NGOs have done an excellent job isolating industry from the decision-making process and are enjoying the fruits of their influence. Groups like Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth celebrate ostracising a major source of employment, innovation and trade (all elements these neo-Marxists have no interest in). The NGOs play all of the usual cards: claiming that industry has secret lobbying campaigns, are not transparent and do not want to engage – all sins these hypocrites themselves commit on the daily.
Industry should just walk away – abandon the dialogue process and present their own conditions before they come back to the table. This would include demanding that NGOs comply with the same transparency codes industry has adopted (especially on funding), that governments stop financing these NGOs for dialogue activities when they do nothing of the kind and to stop being so tolerant of the activists’ often disgraceful, insulting behaviour. I understand that all large corporations have ethical codes of conduct that prevent them from getting into the mud but that does not mean they have to stand there and get themselves muddied.
Oh, and that reminds me: no one in government, the academe or industry should engage in dialogue with any organisation that does not have and enforce an ethical code of conduct (something I have been calling for over the last five years and to which NGOs almost universally have refused to adopt). I keep looking on NGO websites to see if they, like industry, universities and public institutions, publish ethical codes of conduct for their employees. They don’t. Too often, NGO activists not only condone lying, they celebrate it. They happily use children in their campaigns and openly bring down their adversaries. This Machiavellian zealot ethics seems to allow the self-righteous environmentalists to feel winning their campaigns is a greater good than being honest, decent or transparent. They should be denied access to public funds, the right to engage and to lobby until they join civilised society and respect basic principles of humanity.
Restoring the Role of the Experts!
As stakeholder dialogue faded and the engagement approach created a murky decision-making process, there was a move in the early 2000s to try to restore a role for scientific advice at the heart of the EU. In the early 2000s, when I was involved in setting up GreenFacts, many risk communicators firmly believed that scientific facts could be the common ground uniting stakeholders. And from that, we naively felt that if the stakeholders could agree on the facts, then the policy process would be more evidence-based and rational.
From 2002 to 2005, I was involved in a project with a Brussels legend I truly admired: Stanley Crossick (who was also the persuasive push to me creating this blog and joining him at BlogActiv to share my views over more than just cups of coffee at the Montgomery Hotel). Stanley was committed to improving the evidence-based policy approach in Brussels through a series of European Policy Centre papers known as the Risk Forum. The most influential report was on Enhancing the Role of Science in the Decision-making of the EU. This paper put forward ten recommendations which over the following years were largely adopted by the following Commission cabinets. One of the most significant points was for the President of the Commission to create a post of Chief Scientific Adviser.
When this paper’s lead author, Bruce Ballantine, passed away (after heroically finishing the report in his last days battling cancer), Stanley asked me to pick up the promotion of the publication. For the paper’s launch, I organised a conference in Brussels with the key point being a debate between Michael Rogers (then the science representative for the Group of Policy Advisors that Jacques Delors had set up), and Barry McSweeney (former head of the Joint Research Centre and then Chief Scientific Adviser to the Irish government). The challenge of their debate was to determine whether a chief scientific adviser in Brussels should lead from the front (as an activist defending the use of science in government policy) or from the back (as an adviser in service to the decision-makers tasked with difficult technical decisions). Churchill’s famous line that “scientists should be on tap, not on top” was behind the nature of the debate.
When McSweeney led from the front insisting that the science of GMOs was sound and the activist campaigns against biotech were rooted in religion, it did not take too long for groups like Greenpeace to organise a scandal to undermine his position. But is silently leading from behind better? For decades, NGOs have manipulated facts and evidence for their campaign objectives and industry has been selective in what they publish. Facts don’t fight for themselves – the scientific community needs people in the trenches to speak up. I have always advocated for the McSweeney model but I recognise the sacrifices such academics must be prepared to make.
Such was indeed the case for the European Commission’s first, and sadly, only Chief Scientific Adviser, Dame Anne Glover.
Silence the Science
Activists in Brussels have found many means to silence debate in their deft campaign management playbook. Industry actors have been excluded from participating in panels or committees because of a one-sided definition of conflict of interest. Events in the European Parliament hosted by Green MEPs tend to be fully booked before the event is publicised. Recently Greenpeace even went so far as to demand the European Parliament Agricultural Committee (AGRI) be reconstituted because 55% of the members had, heaven forbid, some connection to farming. But the greatest achievement of the activist community in ensuring that ignorance plays a vital role in the EU decision-making process, by far, has been the ability to remove scientists and scientific evidence from the process.
No doubt scientific evidence can be difficult to understand and there are often many divergent voices on complex issues which could interfere with a simple campaign message. It was for this reason that European Commission President Barroso created the post of Chief Scientific Adviser. The goal was to put an advisory voice next to the top of the Commission to guide the cabinet through the array of voices on certain technological debates. Professor Anne Glover fit that role in an excellent manner, speaking clearly about what was (and was not) valid scientific evidence. On GMOs, for example, Anne would tell audiences that it was perfectly fine for people to feel that they do not want to eat GMOs, and they had that right, but implored that they could not then claim the science on biotechnology was uncertain.
The activists were unsurprisingly livid with such clarity and put enormous pressure on Anne Glover’s small office. The message for the NGOs was simple: If we don’t like the science, it is time to change the scientist. Anne was effectively fired for GMOs. But they went further. Corporate Europe Observatory’s chief neo-Luddites, Martin Pigeon and Nina Holland, argued that the very post of a chief scientific adviser was undemocratic (Martin tends to naively believe, and expresses it often, that scientific facts need to be democratically determined). So with the Pigeon “coalition of the ignorant”, a group of NGOs lobbied the new Juncker Commission team to remove the post of chief scientific adviser (later replaced with a faceless Scientific Advice Mechanism which has, unsurprisingly, gathered cobwebs in RTD since its inception).
This was a brilliant stroke in the Activist Playbook tactic to manipulate the EU policy process. Imagine if the Juncker cabinet were to have a scientist in the room, explaining in a clear language why the JRC’s report on the consequences of the neonicotinoid ban has created a disastrous situation for farmers, bees and the environment. Acrylamide as an issue would have disappeared, saving the European Commission some embarrassment in academic circles. Someone like Anne Glover could have observed Chris Portier’s lawyer-financed lobbying of Commissioner Andriukaitis, and she could have explained to the Commissioner the obvious difference between IARC’s hazard assessment and EFSA’s risk assessment. Instead there was silence in the room, and in silence grows ignorance.
A Post-Dialogue World: The Age of Stupid
The Risk-Monger has applied the “S-word” far too many times in environmental health debates. I have used the term “The Age of Stupid” to refer to a world where dialogue is dead; a world where we have stopped engaging with those with whom we don’t agree; a world where we no longer have to listen or expose ourselves to other ideas that may challenge our confirmation bias. Social media has made the promotion of ignorance much easier. With a simple block, unfriend or ban click, we can ensure that the only information we are exposed to comes from our trusted tribe of like-minded thinkers.
Worse, our questions are biased and, as Yuval Noah Harari suggests, led by algorithms. We ask closed-ended questions seeking confirmation rather than information. Google doesn’t want us to learn, Google wants us to be satisfied. So when I Google something, my question will be directed towards the source and tribe Google senses I would be most comfortable with. And as these tribes grow larger, reinforced by internal trust levers, the risk of irrational mobbing on other thinkers increases. Today a tribal “argumentum ad hominem” attack is more effective than a rational debate.
The Age of Stupid is not one where I am right, and anyone who disagrees with me is stupid. Rather, by blocking myself from other ideas and isolating myself in echo chambers or ideological silos, I lack the means to realise how I may, in fact, be the stupid one. If I don’t challenge my thinking, don’t allow novel ideas to circulate, I become comfortable in my ignorance. As the film “Food Evolution” asks us: “When was the last time you changed your mind?”. “Rarely” seems to be the common answer; “Never” seems to be the reality.
By killing dialogue with the scientific community, the environmental activists are instituting ignorance at an alarming scale. The number of people who are convinced that a herbicide like glyphosate is responsible for every ailment and disease under the sun is frightening. The number of people who believe it is better to not vaccinate their children is reaching levels no thinking person could fathom. The extreme right took off their hoods in Charlottesville; the extreme left are convinced our economy can flourish without industry. When there is no one around advising them to temper their thoughts or read something else (or just to read), how would these satisfied sows ever know they might be wrong? The extremists in society are growing rapidly as vulnerable people with dark thoughts find each other more easily.
That this activist community, in their policy strategy, has successfully denied a role for challenging experts and has effectively killed the dialogue process worries me to no end. Activists like David Gee were able to throw rational policy processes under the bus by anchoring EU decisions on the subjective, normative, precautionary burden of proof. Their tactics have indeed been successful in winning campaigns, raising funds and changing the policy process. But in doing so, these manipulators have been irresponsible, unethical and life-threatening on so many levels.
In a world without dialogue, experts are silenced, dissent is mobbed upon and anyone who speaks against the orthodox thinking of the tribe with the most influence is eliminated. The game these naturopathic activists play is rough: attacking scientists, academics and forward-thinking policy-makers through ad hominem reputation smeers. We need more gadflies to challenge this overriding arrogance of ignorance but it takes an enormous energy to stand up to Stupid and get into the mud where it proliferates.
Removing credible science and evidence from the policy process has been a key strategy in the Activist Playbook. As NGOs and law-firms are funding more academic research (which they have cleverly renamed: “crowd-funded citizen science”), we are beginning to see more pressure and bullying put on academics who do not follow their “orthodox” green positions.
It seems the Risk-Monger is not immune.
Postscript: Fired for Glyphosate
Followers of this blog will consider it an understatement that I had taken a personal interest in the EU glyphosate debacle. Having grown up on a farm in an age before herbicides, taking a keen interest in the future of agriculture and a disdain for the deceitful fear campaigns of the activist zealots, the organic industry lobby and certain dishonest scientists, I took a stand on principle in this debate. The consequences from over three years of relentless activist campaigning have taken a personal toll on me: the sustained maligning of my name, the lies about my funding (I have none), I’ve been physically dragged out of events, I’ve lost my blog-site and last month I lost a job I had loved for ten years.
For the last decade, I taught at Université Saint-Louis – Bruxelles as an adjunct in communications. My lectures were not about agritech (although I did bring my experience on risk communications and social media engagement into the lecture hall) and I enjoyed a quite favourable student rating (I believe educating millennials requires enjoyment and energy). So I was quite surprised to be called into the vice-rector’s office in April to defend myself over how my views in favour of the scientific consensus on glyphosate and biotechnology could damage the university’s reputation. I never claimed affiliation with Saint-Louis (I don’t have much respect for titles) but when I was recently given an accolade, the article mentioned I taught at Saint-Louis.
I was even more surprised that the source for my dismissal did not even come from my university. The attack was instigated by a professor from Louvain: Olivier De Schutter. His university is in the process of taking over Saint-Louis and De Schutter found an easy way to put pressure on several low-level professors to take his personal issues with my views on agricultural science to the Saint-Louis hierarchy. Olivier is an influential public figure in the Belgian academe and local media darling (always happy to reassure journalists how their elitist food choices are going to save the world).
Among the charges I had to answer to was that I was “pro-glyphosate, pro-biotechnology and was not particularly kind to one Christopher Portier” (referred to by my vice-rector now as a “University of Maastricht professor” … in other words, I committed fratricide on a fellow “academic”). I do stand guilty on all accounts, but I would never dare to be such a bastard as to try to get poor Chris fired because we disagree on definitions of ethical scientific conduct.
I tried to reach out to Professor De Schutter on several occasions, but he was obviously far too busy suing the European Commission to annul the glyphosate reauthorisation. Conversations with my colleagues did not go well either; they were too juiced up on political opportunity during a stressful transition. So after ten years at Saint-Louis, for the first time, my position was made vacant and (as a compromise by an overwhelmed vice-rector) I was invited to re-apply for it. Knowing who my judge and jury were, I decided to not play their game.
In short, my views (that the science on agritech and conventional farming practices should be respected) became an obstacle to another professor who felt I had an agenda that clashed with his. Conclusion: eliminate me.
Now I have never paid much attention to Olivier De Schutter, considering him more of an arrogant librarian happy to claim and name-drop his collection of titles (the academe seems to be full of those museum pieces gathering dust). I have only written one piece where I mentioned him and how quasi-religious his nature-only agroecology stance is. But after learning how he orchestrated my dismissal, I spoke to many people about him and learnt what a dangerous operator De Schutter truly is.
And I suppose he had reason to target me.
- Olivier was heavily invested in contriving the Monsanto Tribunal show-trial in a vain attempt to create an international precedent of “ecocide”
(that I planned an event across the street from the Monsanto Tribunal with a couple farmers to make a mockery of their €500,000 event surely did not please De Schutter).
- To promote his agroecology ideology, De Schutter campaigned to promote an alternative to the conventional agricultural system
(that I continually hammered the organic industry lobby as a band of lying opportunists happy to raise fears and lower standards surely did not please De Schutter).
- The jurist from Louvain had a clear objective in suing industry out of business
(that my Portier Papers exposé demonstrated how lawyers have secretly gamed the science to fabricate courtroom evidence for lucrative anti-industry litigation surely did not please De Schutter).
- The agroecology front-man wanted to see the end of glyphosate (and all other synthetic pesticides)
(that many claim my three year campaign against IARC contributed to the impression of scandal that enabled the reauthorizing of glyphosate surely did not please De Schutter).
The Louvain law professor was last seen soliciting my former Saint-Louis colleagues to sign his letter to the European Commission demanding they revoke their science-based reauthorisation.
So clearly De Schutter was bent on petty revenge on me and felt no qualms about getting someone he disagreed with fired rather than engaging in an open discussion. As this article has argued, activists have little use for dialogue (as it slows down or may even interfere with campaign objectives). This is also the case for wily academic activists like De Schutter. As NGOs are funding more academic centres, I wonder how many academics are being pressured by groups or activists with no ethical codes of conduct or respect for open debate and academic freedom.
To intervene in another institution in such an egregious manner and pressure vulnerable academics, just to settle a spiteful score, shows much about this law professor’s character, lack of tolerance and incapacity to respect others. It also goes against the fundamental principles De Schutter’s university signed onto. Or maybe it is the air of arrogance certain academics breathe while in the oasis known as the New Louvain. As a clear face of the activist zealot crowd, I suspect I will pay more attention to the arrogant librarian in future.
But you know what? Maybe it was time to go.
I do not regret defending the overwhelming scientific consensus on glyphosate, supporting farmers’ rights to biotechnology and more sustainable agriculture, or being the one to expose the disgraceful behaviour of a deceptive, greedy charlatan De Schutter calls a friend. If my former employer chooses to rally around the self-interest of an arrogant bully like Olivier De Schutter, then I’d rather not hang around the coffee machine with these closed-minded demagogues. Almost every day I get messages from farmers reminding me how my work is worthwhile.
Perhaps I have been spending too much time in the lecture halls trying to inspire future leaders when I should be more present online trying to prevent wicked opportunists, zealots and liars from manipulating social media, raising unfounded fears and causing havoc to farmers and global food security. I never needed the salary and only taught because I enjoyed the chance to challenge and inspire young people. I’m sure Saint-Louis can find another professor to replace me and read from a syllabus (yawn), but I don’t see many people in Brussels willing to get in the mud to try to block these dangerous organic lobby bullshit artists.
The one thing that does bother me though, from this lamentable affair, is the inherent hypocrisy or double standards. Because I support industry-led innovation, agritech and conventional farming, my being fired for my views will raise no alarm bells, no outrage and no attention. To the contrary, it will likely be celebrated in the many halls of hate and I can expect some activist somewhere will pull out a tweet from a heated exchange and even pompously declare that I deserved to be fired.
But just imagine if I had been an anti-industry, pro-organic campaigner who was fired for my passionate views against agritech, and the assassin with blood on his hands was an industry lawyer. Students would be squatting in the rector’s office, campaigns would be launched, heads would roll, and the media would be all over this.
I get that I am insignificant and on the wrong side of this insane anti-technology cult narrative. Do the activists get what a shameless band of hypocrites they are?
This concludes my Insignificant Trilogy. It started with me acknowledging that I was insignificant while floating in a sea of inflated egos, and ended, quite unexpectedly, with a demonstration of an arrogant academic wishing to imprint his significance over me. You cannot have dialogue in a world dominated by self-important connivers … you can only have the destruction of ideas and intellect (in other words: ignorance).
Brussels needs a little less ruthless self-importance and a little more thoughtful humility. The insignificant accept their place within humanity. The zealots attempt to dominate it and deny others the right to a voice. I am proud to be insignificant (even if it makes me a little poorer).
And with that humble pronouncement, I close the Insignificant Trilogy.