There is abundant conversation about pesticides and food, especially in social media. Unfortunately, there is little understanding about regulation, dosage, tolerances and toxicity. Dr. Liza Dunn is an emergency physician and toxicologist that provides her insights about the practical toxicity of these compounds, and how we can be effective in communicating about them.
Follow her at @DrLizaMD
What is Talking Biotech with Dr. Kevin Folta?
Talking Biotech is a weekly podcast that uncovers the stories, ideas and research of people at the frontier of biology and engineering.
Each episode explores how science and technology will transform agriculture, protect the environment, and feed 10 billion people by 2050.
Interviews are led by Dr. Kevin Folta, a professor of molecular biology and genomics.
Biotech, Pesticides, Toxicology and Food- Interiew with Dr. Liza Dunn
Kevin Folta: [00:00:00] Everybody and welcome to today's podcast. Now, here we are eight years into this podcast. Well, seven years we're in our eighth year, 350 episodes in the box. And somehow. Dr. Lizza Dunn has alluded a guest appearance on the podcast. And Dr. Dunn is one of my favorite people on social media who helps clarify many of the concepts around what's happening in biotechnology and associated pesticides.
She does a great job on Twitter, really very prominent in or excellent in giving talks, both the farmers and to others to help explain the fact from the fiction. So welcome to the podcast. Lizza.
Liza Dunn: Thank you so much for having me, Kevin, I'm really looking forward.
Kevin Folta: Yeah, it's me too. I've always followed you on social media.
I've always been a huge fan. I was so happy when we got to both speak at the same meeting and I think it was Adelaide Australia. Australia. Yeah. Yeah, yeah. And it was, it was really fun. Cause we got to talk in the airport for a couple hours and time flew right by. [00:01:00] So I, I was always wanted to have you on the podcast.
So, so here we go. I guess the most intriguing thing about your situation might be your journey. And so how is it that you started out in medicine and toxicology and eventually ended up working at the Bayer corporation.
Liza Dunn: Yeah, it's kind of goes back to when I was a Rabel RSR of 21. I was in college and working backstage at a concert venue called the Fox theater.
And I thought my whole life's trajectory was going to be around concert, production, and theater and things like that. I was majoring in, in that in college and my father who was a physician. Ask me and the family. If we wanted to go to Haiti on a medical mission where he was going to do medical work and we were gonna volunteer in an orphanage and change diapers and feed babies and things like that.
And when I got there my first day at the orphanage, I. Met a little boy by the name of Fritz who I fell head over heels in love with teeny tiny little baby. And he was about five months old and really was the [00:02:00] first child that I'd ever seen with malnutrition. And he changed my whole life's trajectory because of him.
I decided that I wanted to eventually go going to medicine. And while I was in medical school, I was tossing around whether or not I wanted to do OB GYN. Surgery or emergency medicine. And I got some advice from an OB who told me if you wanna do humanitarian work, you should probably do emergency medicine.
Cuz you'll get a big, broad background in a variety of different things. You'll learn how to treat orthopedic injuries. You'll deliver babies. You'll be able to do fix wounds and people who have sepsis and a whole variety of things. So that'll give you a good background. And two, you won't be tied to a clinic where you'll have to leave your patients to go take care of patients in, in developing countries.
So I did emergency medicine at Washington university in St. Louis, and I loved it, but I felt like I was a Jack of all trades and a master of none. And so I decided that I wanted to sort of get more in depth knowledge in medical toxicology. So I went to [00:03:00] NYU for. Two year toxicology program. And there, I learned about overdoses and adverse drug reactions and snake bites and pesticides, and a whole variety of things like that.
And then came back to Washington university in St. Louis and started the medical toxicology fellowship program at the university. And then in 2010, the earthquake hit Haiti. And so I organized a relief mission with several residents. And we set up a clinic in a little town outside of Port-au-Prince and started seeing patients there.
And once again, we saw, we saw a lot of traumatic injuries and a lot of you know, variety of insect borne illnesses tuberculosis, a whole bunch of different disease PA a bunch of pathologies. And I, once I left, I realized, you know, what's sustainable about. We did. We went and fixed, you know, a couple of people.
Well, a lot of people, because we were seeing around 400 people a day, we, we went and, [00:04:00] you know, really fixed some stuff, but you, you, that's kind of putting a bandaid on the problem. So I started thinking critically about the things that I was seeing over and over again, and wondering what you could do that was sustainable.
And I realized that. Underlying a lot of the pathology was malnutrition and a lot of insect born illness. And so if you could fix those problems, that would help whole populations lift themselves out of poverty. Right. And so I started reading about golden rice genetically modified rice and realized that three.
Grasses really feed about 60% of the world's population. And those are rice wheat and corn or maze. And then great thing about those crops is that you can grow them in a lot of places and they're, they can be abundant and they fill people up. But often they have are missing significant mic micronutrients and golden rice was designed to be able to address a specific problem in kids.
[00:05:00] So kids who eat a lot of rice wind up often with vitamin a efficiency because they don't have a lot of vitamin a in, in rice. And so this was genetically modified to produce betaine, which is a precursor of vitamin a and was designed really to address. Vitamin a deficiency blindness in children, which kills actually about 350,000 kids a year around the world.
And so in order to address this public health problem, this genetically modified rice was developed. And unfortunately it hasn't been wasn't until very recently available. It's been. There for over 20 years, but it's only recently been approved in the Philippines because of the perceptions around and the misperceptions around GMOs, which has really been unfortunate because it could prevent a lot of blindness in children.
I also then started. Reading more and more about pesticides. And there are people who are very concerned about pesticide exposure and their allegations [00:06:00] that pesticide exposure in small, small amounts were associated with a variety of different health outcomes in people I'd like to remind people.
Pesticides are really critical for public health. They prevent us from ha having resurgences of diseases that were rampant in the middle ages. And so I like to kind of think that in the 20th century there were five public health advances that bought us a 30 year increase in life expectancy. And those five public health advances are water, sanitation, vaccination, antibiotics, food security, and vector control.
And so agriculture. And food security is really the foundation of civilization. And from that everything else flows because if you have an abundant food supply, you are not relegating [00:07:00] ordinary people to subsistence farming. They can get off the farm and go to school and become, you know professionals and can build buildings.
And, you know, it, it, it, it. The foundation of where all of that begins. So I think it's so critical that people use very important scientific have a scientific basis for the decisions that they make in, in the policy world. So we don't get sent back to where we were in the early 19 hundreds.
Kevin Folta: Okay.
So that really puts it in, you know, sums it up pretty well, but you're left out the important part of how you got to bay or where you are today.
Liza Dunn: Yeah. So that's, so that's how I got to sort of that mindset. And then in 2015, I got an email from a talk. Psychologist by the name of Dan Goldstein who had sort of watched my career develop over time.
He had been at Monsanto a and I met him in 2003. And so he had been watching sort of me develop this career and he [00:08:00] sent an email asking if any of our toxicology group would be interested in coming and working at Monsanto because he was thinking about retir. And he would be training the, his replacement over two years.
And then he would retire. And so I thought that that seemed like a very interesting prospect now. I wasn't so sure I wanted to work for Montecito. But I thought, you know, I'm gonna look at this. The more I found out about the company, the more I realized, wow, have I really had some misperceptions about agriculture and about this company.
And then when I got hired, Bayer bought Monsanto. And so I've been the medical affairs. At beer ever since the acquisition. So so I started working at Moneo in 2016 and stopped practicing clinical medicine in 2018 and spent a lot of my time doing regulatory work and also doing outreach to try to explain to people.[00:09:00]
How amazing the scientific advances are that we've made in agriculture. And that they're just really, really. So, so neat. Just like, just like the advances that we've made in medicine over the 20, 20 and 20th first century.
Kevin Folta: Yeah. That that's really important to know your backstory because you know, when you say right away, you worked for Bayer, worked for Monsanto, a lot of red flags go up for people because they hear different things, right?
Like, you know, what is this company all about? And I think your motivation really starts with Fritz. Is he still.
Liza Dunn: I have never been able to find him. And I'm, it's heartbreaking. Yes. So I, so I was in, in, in, you know, Haiti 21 years after I left. And, you know, that was in 1989 when I met him. And, you know, the amazing thing is you never know what kind of impact somebody's gonna have on your life.
Even a little tiny, tiny baby. So yeah, he changed my whole life's tr.
Kevin Folta: Wouldn't it be fun if you listened to the [00:10:00] podcast? Oh my be
Liza Dunn: it'd be, I would
Kevin Folta: love that. Well, let's let's really talk about the concepts of toxicology, especially as they apply to pesticides, because this is an area with so little understanding.
Even ISO, molecular biologist. You know, I understand the medical literature to some degree and I have a good handle on some of these things, but I think so much of what we talk about in toxicology is so important. So when we look at all these reports that come out from say the environmental working group, or even the, you know, pesticide action network in Europe, they.
Do these tests or they actually, they don't do the tests. They take federal numbers, which are used by regulators to check and verify that food is saved and or well, the test help for the levels to ensure that they're being used at safe levels, I should say. And they find these parts per billion. And yet this gets headlines as contam.
And so could you explain for the audience, you know, is a part per billion [00:11:00] or a hundred parts per billion is of something like, you know, organic phosphate, you know, pick your favorite. Is this something that we really need to be concerned about and how do we counter those arguments?
Liza Dunn: Yeah, no, we don't need to be concerned about trace exposures in the parts for billion range.
And they don't, they aren't going to accumulate th this is very heavily regulated. So if you think about it, when you apply. Pesticide to a crop and let's just break it down. Cuz pesticides. That's an umbrella term. And I was, I've been surprised because a lot of doctors sort of think of PE the term pesticides just mean insecticide, but really insecticides are geared towards killing.
Bugs like mosquitoes and ticks and fleas and li herbicides are really important for managing toxic weeds, not just weeds that take nutrients and lights, light and, and out, out away from your crop. But herbicides also are really critical for managing. [00:12:00] Toxic weeds in your crops fungicides kill fungi and fungi.
When they infect crops, wind up elaborating mycotoxins that are carcinogenic and teratogenic. They can cause developmental problems and babies and things like that. And then if you think about viral and, and bacterial infections those are those. You know, things that VI antivirals and, and antibiotics work for.
And so we use a lot of the same things there, so. We use chemistry to treat problems in crops, kind of like we use medicine to treat problems in people. And, but the difference is between pharmaceuticals and, and, and pesticides is we. Absolutely regulates the amount of pesticide that's on a crop to make sure that there will not be a health effect in people or animals.
And so a part [00:13:00] per billion is it it's, it's like a teeny tiny drop in an Olympic size swimming pool. And so you won't have a problem with it and that's such a small dose now, the. Government agencies, regulators have gotten together and have come up with a way to minimize exposure. So each crop.
Has what they call a tolerance, which is the maximum amount that a farmer can use on a crop. And it's usually very, very small with, with the pesticides. So you often hear about people using pounds per acre, and there are, you know, hundreds of millions of acres and hundreds and millions of pounds of pesticide used.
Well, What that really actually reflects is if you think a pound is you know, 16 ounces, they usually use less than that on an acre, which is the size of a football field. Right. So you're using [00:14:00] less than a. Can of, you know, a, a, a, a small bottle of soda on a diluted in water over this big, huge expanse.
So it's very, very dilute and so very, very trace amounts, wind up on the crop. And that's that treats the crop for Pests. So the maximum amount that you can put on your crop is regulated and that maximum amount, once it gets through food processing and all of that Turned it, the, the EPA comes up with a maximal exposure that you can have, and they take it to account, not just the residues on a crop, but they take an account what you can get exposed to air and water, and they build in a safety safety number for, you know, small children and, and, and susceptible people.
And that maximum exposure limit is orders of magnitude smaller. Then what we call the allowable daily intake with the ADI, which is the [00:15:00] nontoxic dose in animals divided by a safety factor of a hundred or a thousand. So essentially the, a, the, the ADI. Is a dose that you can't get to physically and it's a non-toxic dose.
So the amount that you're exposed to is vanishingly smaller than the non-toxic dose in animals. And so with a safety factor even built in. So, so this is so heavily regulated that a part per billion is not going to cause harm. And so if, if people like the O you know, people from the EWG and other organizations that are testing foods and saying they found trace amounts of these residues they're, they're, they're finding trace amounts that are not gonna cause that are not gonna cause harm.
So I, I hope that's clear. I know that's kind of, you know, Technical. But it's [00:16:00] very heavily regulated. And finding that trace amount does not have an associated health outcome. It is. Just, it, it doesn't mean that it's unsafe. It means that it's, it means that it's, that they're just, if they find a level that's slightly be above that.
That means that it's just a, it's just a regulatory thing. You can't sell your crop. If you've got too much pesticide on it. Does that
Kevin Folta: make sense? Oh, it makes total sense. What it means is, is that we're really good at detection and that we can identify. Yeah. We can identify a part per billion for many compounds, which is, you know, you said the drop in an Olympic size swimming pool.
I always like to think of it as a second in 32 years because yes. Yes, exactly. Right. It gives people much more perspective because I'm trying to think what I was doing on on June 23rd 1990 at two 30 in the afternoon and 41 seconds. And I have no freaking idea, you know, we don't have that kind of resolution with our own brains in our own time, sense of [00:17:00] time yet we can do it with chemistry.
And so exactly right. People will frequently. Well, if it's so minimal and so little there, how can it work on, on things like plants or insects or fungi?
Liza Dunn: That's right. Well, they it's because it, the, the, you put the right amount on to be able to treat those things, right. Just like you have a right amount for your dose.
When you've got a, when you've got a problem, you for, with a pharmaceutical, you'll get a drug and you take the right amount. And that drug may be, it may be depending on the. Chemical, the drug that you're taking, it might be one milligram or 10 milligrams and have the same kind of effect. If it's two different drugs for the same disease.
These, these crop protection products are designed to target a. Insects and weeds using using mechanisms that we often don't have or using targets that that mammals often don't have. And so that's why with, especially the more, you know, the more recent. [00:18:00] Pesticides. They have very low toxicity profiles when people or animals are exposed to them.
Because, because they target receptors that are in insects exclusively, and as we've been able to, you know, develop that science, we've been able to tailor those pesticides and tailor GMO. To very specific targets that you to minimize off target effects. And that's one of the things that's so brilliant about this, this science that, that, that these, that agricultural researchers have come up with it, they're just really, really brilliant.
Kevin Folta: I think it really bears repeating. So it, it, you have specificity. So a good example is many fun. Antifungals will target something like ergosterol cthe. So the major compound and fungal cell walls, that's kind of a parallel to cholesterol, but we don't make this stuff. And at least in any appreciable amount that I'm aware of.
So by targeting. [00:19:00] Enzyme. You're able to specifically target a fungus that has very minimal toxicity towards humans and, and glyphosate is the same thing, targeting an enzyme, which is specific to plants and some bacteria, but that enzyme is inhibited, but a common parallel enzyme does not exist in humans.
Does that have that right?
Liza Dunn: So you might have it in your microbiome, in your gut, but your, the gut bacteria don't need it because they use the amino acids in the gut to that that are already broken down. And we don't have that. We don't need that pathway to make our own amino acids. So amino acids are the building blocks of proteins.
And so. Glyphosate blocks an enzyme that makes specific amino acids. And we, the reason why it it's okay with it. Doesn't glyphosate doesn't tend to bother us so much is because our, our body doesn't need that pathway to make that those enzymes, we make those enzyme, the make those [00:20:00] amino acids.
We make those amino acid sit in a different way.
Kevin Folta: Or take them from our yeah. Or we consume them from plants that we take in. Yeah. And, and so, you know, with that in mind, we talk about glyphosate and I know you work for the company that now is the one of the manufacturers of glyphosate mm-hmm . So you know, what is the current buzz on the jury decision that we all know, you know, that they find that this stuff That there was liability.
No, not, not liability the exact wording. I don't remember that there was some sort of responsibility for, for Bayer and not admitting fault the settlement. Didn't admit any kind of fault with this, but in terms of the science, if we just separate this from the litigation. Yeah. What does the science say about, about toxicity of glyphosate?
Liza Dunn: Yes. So, so glyphosate is not a carcinogen. It is not. It, it does not. Have a mechanism by which it can cause so cancer is a disease of [00:21:00] DNA and it, and it makes cells replicate quickly. And as they replicate quickly, they wind up having mutations. And, and so that's, that's sort of. So, so carcinogens are chemicals that interact with DNA and make cells replicate quickly.
Glyphosate doesn't have a mechanism for doing this, and this has been tested. By multiple different independent scientists, multiple different regulatory agencies have looked at this science very, very carefully and have conclu. And most recently in the EU they they've come up with an 11,000 page document.
looking at glyphosate toxicity and. It's really, it it's a once in a century herbicide because its toxicity profile is so, so low. It doesn't cause acute toxicity. It, it does, you know, it, it's not neurotoxic. [00:22:00] It's not immunotoxic, it's not it. It's not Developmentally toxin. It, it, it's not allergenic.
It doesn't cause sensitization or anything like that. And most importantly it's been demonstrated. Over and over and over again and revisited over and over, over again by thousands of independent scientists around the world. And it, it, and they've repeatedly showed that it's not a carcinogen and the EPAs come out and said, it's not a carcinogen.
The European regulatory agencies have come out just recently last year and said, it's not a Kirson engine. And so the discrepancy between. What you see with the litigation and the science is that. When you, when you've got a jury that is seeing somebody with cancer on the stand, they feel real empathy for that person.
And it's understandable because it's, it's, it's terrible when somebody comes down with cancer and they're often looking [00:23:00] for reasons why they came down with cancer. And so when a jury feels. Company for a plaintiff. And they then, and they see, you know, a big company. You see this often in malpractice, we see a, with a bad outcome and you see a big hospital for example, that they, the jury sort of thinks, well, the hospital bills are gonna bankrupt this person.
And the hospital's got a lot of money and the doctor's are insured. So it doesn't really matter what the science says. We wanna, we wanna make this person right, right. Or we wanna try to help this person. And so. Really it's, that's kind of the nature of why these decisions get made and they're not science based.
But they are very empathy based. And so, so that, but it doesn't mean that, that the, that the person who the doctor who's accused of malpractice actually committed malpractice. And it doesn't mean. That the chemical that is alleged to have [00:24:00] caused this problem actually did. And in fact we've just won four cases.
So recently, so the, this, we really strongly stand behind the science that glyphosate is not a carcinogen and it. Absolutely critical for food security. And so it's, it's very tragic to see how these, how these have aligned. So that, that, that's, that's kind of how I see the discrepancy there.
Kevin Folta: I think you make a really good point. When you say there's no plausible mechanism or evidence that it causes cancer, you know, you can't transform cells in a dish with it. You can't you know, there's no mechanism that would cause it. We also don't see any epidemiological evidence, at least strong epidemiological evidence.
The best studies angio in 2018 and some others don't show any trends at all. Of specific cancers associating with the use of glyphosate. And as you go back through the literature through, you know, the different studies that have been done over the years, the real [00:25:00] weak associations that were seen, never really play out under stronger scrutiny.
So the, you know, the whole thing seems like such a house of cards yet. It is such an important chemical for agriculture and and you know, what do you think this is gonna go next? If you had a crystal ball.
Liza Dunn: If I had a crystal ball, gosh, you know, I don't know where it's gonna go next. I, I, I hope so. So farmers are 2% of our population and they feed the other 98% of us.
And that has never happened before in the history of me unkind. We've never had such an abundant and safe food supply. And that's because of the scientific advances in agriculture, a lot of them which sort really are around. Glyphosate is a chemistry. And it, and so I, I hope that people will start to understand that this chem chemical that's been in the background of their lives, that they're not [00:26:00] really aware of and how important it is.
I hope that they they'll start to understand that. Especially with what's been happening with food prices and things like that recently. You know, we need every tool in our toolbox, especially our tools that are, have have 40 plus years of studies to back up their, their safety profile. Every tool in toolbox to make sure that we have a safe and abundant food supply.
And our very small number of farmers don't have a big enough voice to be able to, to. Help people understand how important these tools are. And we need to try to support our farmers by having, having, and, and amplifying their voices through, through podcasts like podcasts and things like this. So people can really understand how critical this is to the food supply.
Kevin Folta: And let's pick up with that on the other side of the break. So we're speaking with Dr. Lizza Dunn. She works with the [00:27:00] Bayer corporation and she's an expert in toxicology and emergency medicine. This is the talking biotech podcast by collabora. And we'll be back in just a moment. Now we're back on the talking biotech podcast by col collabora.
And we're speaking with Dr. Lizza Dunn, and I'm talking to you from outside Panera in Chicago. so if you hear, I, I did mention that in the beginning, but you can hear they, they just installed some new speakers here that are playing a lot of music. So little background noise is different from my usual background, noise of chickens and dogs, but definitely background noise here.
So apologize for. But we're speaking with Dr. Dunn about a variety of different topics, mostly around the idea of chemistry and the safety of genetically engineered crops. But what we left off, we were talking about the idea of communication and the importance of reaching farmers. And I know you do a lot of outreach with meeting with farmers and why is it so critical?
To help them be better communicators of, [00:28:00] of the science here and what are some of the mistakes they're making with respect to things like vaccines? You know, some of the trends that we see when we start looking across rural America,
Liza Dunn: Yeah, I think the house of medicine got a wake up call with COVID and I think I actually do a talk called how medicine became Monsanto COVID 19 in pitfalls, in scientific communication.
So with the COVID epidemic, All of the sudden there was this, there'd always been a little sort of bubbling anti-vaccine movement in the background, which really, really started with Andrew Wakefield's article that was published in the Lancet. So a top tier medical journal and not retracted for 12 years.
Even. Despite overwhelming evidence that that of conflict of interest and then ultimately fraud. So it was, it was eventually retracted, but that really was sort of the night for getting the anti-vaccine [00:29:00] movement going with COVID you saw all of a sudden this big, huge, exponential increase in doubts about vaccines and the VA and vaccine safety.
And I think that's because it got very politicized and physicians were very taken aback. By that and surprised and have been, trying to figure out how to better communicate the safety behind vaccines. In the meantime, at the same time farmers and, and people who've been scientists, who've been working in agriculture over the same two decades have.
Really understood that GMOs and, and, and, and genetic engineering techniques are really, really important for maintaining food supply and food security and health of crops, and, and actually impacting can impact malnutrition, have a positive impact on malnutrition and can have a positive impact in preventing.
Diseases [00:30:00] in people that consume crops that are contaminated and physicians haven't had any exposure to that science, but they have had exposure to, you know, people who've overdosed on pesticides. So that is their sort. A vision and, and their thoughts have been that they've seen an epi physicians now have seen an epidemic of non-communicable diseases like diabetes, obesity, cancer, or heart disease and things like that.
And their contention is that the reason why they're seeing this, this increase in those diseases is because we've got too much of a food supply. The, the, the techniques we're using to. Grow food and produce. Produce our food supply. Have to be related to that. Cuz there, there they've been seeing those things at the same time, what they're forgetting in that.
So they, so there's a big push from the physician world to do [00:31:00] something called the great food transformation. It's being promoted by universities like Harvard and, and the Lancet and major medical journals and things like that. What they're forgetting is that the reason why you're seeing this increase in these diseases.
And I agree they need to be treated and we need to figure out how to prevent them and things like that. But is that we're all mortal and we're not dying at the right old age of 20 from malnutrition and insect, born illness anymore, but we're all eventually going to die of something. And those are the diseases that you die of an old age.
And like I said, I think that we really need to figure out how to address those diseases, but transforming agriculture. And having this romantic notion that agriculture in organic agriculture is gonna fix this problem is really not correct. And I think they're very well meaning a lot of these [00:32:00] physicians.
But I think that they don't know what they don't know. And so remember we have had 10,000 years of experience with organic farming and 50 years of food security in the west. And that food security just is, it's so recent, but it's been within our lifetimes. And so it. The physicians that we talk to don't have any experience with famine often.
And, and so, so I think that they don't understand what they're asking for. I think they think they have this impression that farmers are kind of, you know, straw hats of little weed outta their mouth. And they're just sort of, willy-nilly doing things I've heard physicians say publicly that there are thousands of chemicals on the market that are never tested and that's just not true.
They're, they're heavily. Farmers on the other hand. So know what the benefits of GMO technology are and pesticides are. They know that they're regulated. They know that they're, they know that if you use 'em according to label, they're safe, right? And so physicians [00:33:00] now are going, why is everybody, everybody doubting the vaccines?
You know, these are safe, they're regulated. We've, they've been very studied. These mRNA vaccines have, have the most robust studies behind them of any vaccine to date. And, and farmers are staying well. We don't know, we don't believe this. So the, the point is. The physicians got very political in their discussion and the farmers got very political in their discussion and those politics are.
At counterpoints, like I said, farmers tend to be more conservatives and physicians are going one, you know, that's, you're, you're ridiculous. You're dumb because you're conservative and, and, and, and farmers are going, you're ridiculous. You're dumb because you're, you're liberal. And so there's no communication that can happen when everybody's pointing fingers at each other.
So the goal is to try to demonstrate that the science is [00:34:00] robust on both sides. And, and the important thing is public health and food security. And so I think that trying to build bridges between those two communities is really critically important.
Kevin Folta: It's really interesting how the, how that splits and how that dichotomy happens around political divides, because it means that you have to, in order to be part of your political tribe, you have to ignore evidence.
And we see this across, you know, everything from January 6th to you, you name it. You know, and plenty of examples on the left. I mean, both, both extremes need to go away yeah. And, and let, let those of us that look at them and look at. Evidence really helped to shape these discussions, but it also means that more of us need to be playing a role in talking about what the evidence really says and reaching out to those of us within the, the folks we know.
And then, you know, and I live in a diverse political. Situation. I mean, I'm in the reddest little spot of a red state for my neighbors, but I work at a university in a, in a blue [00:35:00] island in the middle of the state. Yeah. And I know people that are right in both places and people that are wrong in both places.
And I think it's And it makes it very hard for me as a scientist and as a voter to ever make a political decision, because I know whoever I vote for is wrong, about 50% of the issues that I have to, that I care about. And so, so you have to, so you're always in this lesser of two evils environment.
So how a big trick for that I think about then is. How do we operate as scientists to better connect with the physicians or with the farmers?
Liza Dunn: Yeah, I think I think by first of all, approaching this whole thing with humility one and two, it, it takes a lot of courage. I think that The things are so polarized now.
And, and you can have a Twitter mob come after you and wreck your career. You can have, you know, you've got, you've got [00:36:00] people who really can, can go out of their way to try to harm your career. So the NA the, the natural instinct for scientists is I'm just gonna sit back and do my science, but. I think it's so critically important for you to get out there and, and, and try to listen to what people's concerns are.
Try to understand them and address them at their level, and then try to bring them into your why the science is the science truth is truth, regardless of. You know, people's perspective on it. And I, and so I think it's, and science, science is a, is, it is evolves. You, you learn stuff as you go along and as long as you're transparent about what you're learning, as you go along, you'll get it, you'll get it eventually.
Right. And so that's why I think it's so important for scientists to [00:37:00] not first of all that, that. Scientists. Shouldn't talk about, talk down to people. People have genuine questions and there's no such thing as a dumb question because they reflect people's curiosity. And if you entertain those questions they become more curious and they wanna learn more.
And, and so if you. Humbly and openly engage with people who have a different perspective than you do and not turn it into a not take it personally when they disagree with you one but also be, be open to hearing their ideas and then, and, and then. Sharing your ideas at a level that they can understand is really, really important.
So I think that if, if scientists can. Maybe take, you know, get a little bit of background on, on media training or how to talk to different groups of people. If they can, you know, take some communication courses. I think it's really [00:38:00] critical for them to do that so they can they, or, or learn about communication so they can, they can defend why their science is so important.
And that's, that's how, that's how we sort. Progress as a society is listening to different people's perspectives and not presuming that because they have one political persuasion or another that they're somehow inherently something's wrong with them.
Kevin Folta: No. That's exactly right. And, and I've been doing this for a long time.
At least being able to convince people to go into conversations, saying, I may be wrong. And then let me double check. You know, I don't have to be right, but I have to be not wrong. And getting at someone else's ideas and listening carefully, it really does make you a better. D debater of these scientific issues.
Yeah. And for a long time, I mean, I went, I used to do this all the time and I think you know, over the last three or four years since, well, actually since November 14th, [00:39:00] 2019 I've really been out of the in person con communications training space. I used to do talks at least a couple times a month and training.
Agricultural groups and other groups, part of it was COVID part of it was my university making me not do it anymore, but it's a shame that it doesn't happen because not enough scientists do it. And you mentioned something else about career trashing or career, you know people say, well, the worst thing that can happen is you get death threats and I'd say, you know what, I'll take death threats, any.
The thing that the thing that kills you is when people put things online, when they put things in, you know, when you have, they, they, they misrepresent data and make a newspaper article about you that stays online forever. That stuff never goes away. And I'll take, I'll take a death threat any day. I'll take it, give it, let's get over it.
The defamation online that never goes away will cost you opportunities forever. And yeah, and, and, and there's no easy way to get around.
Liza Dunn: Yeah. And that's why it's so [00:40:00] important for, you know, and, and, and that's why it's so important to try to, to well, that's first it's scientists, the, the first people up to the plate have to really be brave.
They have to really be brave because sometimes, you know, your ideas aren't popular. And just because an idea isn't popular doesn't mean that it's not true. And so I think that it's, it's, it's when scientists see other that happen to other scientists, They, they tend to duck oh yeah. But, but once again, that's not how, that's not how a as a society, we move forward, we move forward by having civil discussions.
And, and try to try to. Try to understand what, where the other side's coming from. And, and, and if you want public acceptance of your science, which is really critical, it's, you know, there there's so many brilliant scientific ideas that can't get off the ground because they can't get. Buy in.
Right? So [00:41:00] communicating your idea to the people who are gonna fund it to the people who are going to help your lab and then to the regulators, as, as your idea goes off the shelf and starts getting ready to go onto the marketplace and then out into the marketplace, all of a sudden you've got all of the consumers of your product that have questions too, right?
So you can, you can. Science communication is absolutely critical from the bench to the bedside or the bench to the field. And so learning how to do it will not only get you. Funding, but it also makes sure that you're you're you have a license to operate, to sell your product. If, if people really have a need for that product and they find, think it's wonderful.
I mean, the reason why glyphosate does so well is because it's a wonderful product. And it's, it's, you know, and, and there's a huge need for it out there. So it, so. It, but with all of the [00:42:00] concern science communication becomes critical in being able to maintain that product for the people who actually need
Kevin Folta: it.
Yeah. And, and when we are talking about science communication, the environment for science communication is very different today than it was seven or eight years ago. When I was at, you know, at the center of the vortex mm-hmm . And I think that today there are well critical mass communicators who learned a lot on how we do it effectively.
There's a lot of people who are doing it in different environments. and the ranker of the anti GMO movement has really waned that they there's been a, oh, there's been such a fatigue of you know, the Sini rats turned out to be a, a fraud. The all of the other reports that were scaring the hell out of people died on the vine.
There's no reproducibility. There's no evidence that this stuff is dangerous. It safety keeps going on. And I think the public is sick of it. And scientists are feeling more comfortable getting into those [00:43:00] conversations. Yeah. And, you know, and, and, and I'm dead, man walking. There's nothing else they can do to me.
I mean, I, and I'm, I mean, there's nothing else they can do to me. I'm, I'm, you know, I made a decision back in 2015. That I wasn't gonna let them stop me. And I'm gonna do this podcast every week. Mm-hmm and we're gonna make this happen and I'm gonna dial it up. Yeah. And I think I would be doing a lot more if it was up to me, but but the, the bottom line is, is everybody has to get in.
Share the good science amplify, the work of others and come up with their own content and, and talk to people about what these things really mean. Talking about the toxicology, and then the things that you mentioned earlier. And so that's why this was such a useful discussion to have today. Thank you, Kevin.
Yeah, it was a lot of fun. It was really nice to have you on for first time in a long time. And I hope you can join me again, but you know, any real parting thoughts about, you know, how we need to think about pesticides as part of agriculture? Oh
Liza Dunn: yeah. Pesticides are. [00:44:00] Critical for public health, and they're also critical for food security.
And I think that they're some of the most amazing inventions in the world. And I hope that people will have that as a little bit of a takeaway to think about.
Kevin Folta: Especially as new cries start to emerge. I really hope some new stuff starts coming out and regulators shift their focus a bit too. You know, it's, it's, they're necessary for agriculture and we need innovation in that space.
And you know, I look forward to the future and, and really hope that, that we find it. But, you know, thank you very much for joining me. And I hope we can talk again pretty soon.
Liza Dunn: That would be great. Thanks Kevin for having
Kevin Folta: me and as always thank you for listening to the talking biotech podcast. You know, today's lessons are important ones.
The continued growth and innovation in agricultural space depends on you and how well you communicate with others, whether it's your neighbors, whether it's farmers, whether it's physicians, making sure that you are [00:45:00] asking them a critical questions about how they feel about these issues. And helping inform them in ways that help them understand what this is and what it isn't.
Thank you very much for listening. And we'll talk to you again next week.