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Do I Work for Monsanto?

In the comments section of a number of editorials I've published (particularly in the Huffington Post - see here or here) there is a common retort that I apparently work for Monsanto or am paid by them to write.  Typical is a comment to a WSJ article I wrote: "Professor Lusk is a Monsanto Stooge" or this one in Huffington Post, "Who was the underwriter of this blog, Monsanto." (I wonder why they never claim that I work for Dow or Bayer or DuPont or BASF or Syngenta?).  I can also see from the web statistics on my blog that a common search item from would-be sleuths is "Jayson Lusk and Monsanto."  Similar innuendos have been launched by commenters in reference to soda companies or "Big Food" or "Big Ag" in a host of other things I've written (feel free to click through the editorials I've written here if you care to see for yourself).  But, as my wife likes to say, our bank account seems to be missing a few zeros if I'm doing this much selling out!

I expect those sort of ad hominem attacks and accept it as coming with the territory when writing an opinion piece.  It's probably just human nature (and certainly it's psychologically more pleasing) to not actually consider a writer's arguments and simply ignore them altogether by assuming bribes and malfeasance.   

But, I was a little surprised yesterday when I got a phone call from a women who had read my piece at TIME.com and started by asking "What connection does the University of Oklahoma have with Monsanto?"  After replying that OU is not the University that employs me, I replied that I'm not aware of what connections or contracts my employer, Oklahoma State University, may or may not have with Monsanto but that I could put her in touch with our office of VP for Research if she wants to know.  I went on to have a civil and friendly talk with my caller (although we agreed to disagree about most issues), but it was a bit surprising how hostile the conversation started with what seemed to ultimately be a reasonable person.  

Ultimately, the arguments I make here on my blog, in my books, or editorials should stand (or fall) on their own merits.  Whether or not I have some "connection" with this company or that is irrelevant to whether the arguments and facts are correct and truthful.  

That said, let me state publicly for the record: I have never received funding from Monsanto (or Dow or Bayer or DuPont or BASF or Syngenta) either personally or via grants from the Universities at which I've worked.  They've never asked me to write anything or say anything.  My single contact with Monsanto came during a tour I took of their facilities as a part of a conference I attended in St. Louis in 2004.  That's it.  That's all.  I've never been paid to write an editorial.  I've never been paid to write a book (other than by the publishers).  I write the things I do because I believe they are true.        

Now, I'm not saying I would flatly refuse to accept funding from Monsanto et al. no matter the circumstance.  If they had interest in conducting research for which my skills and expertise might provide insight, I'd be happy to listen.  Scientific research requires funding, and so long as the conclusion isn't pre-ordained by the funders, I'm willing to hear them out.

All funders of scientific research have agendas, and even the great NSFs and NIHs of the world have influence in deciding what they choose to fund and reject, who heads review panels, and the strategic areas in which they choose to focus their funds (which is partly politically/strategically motivated to ensure the organization gets more funding the next year).  The "independent" reviewers on grants from government agencies come from academic fields and departments which have particular beliefs and philosophies about what kinds of research are valuable and appropriate.  I'm not trying to demean the process, which I think is overall a good one, but my point is simply that it is naive to paint funding with a completely black or white brush.