Monsanto was recently caught “ghostwriting” pro-GMO content for a Stanford University Fellow, Henry I. Miller. In light of this information and the emails released exposing the company’s ties to Miller, the public is now questioning Monsanto’s influence over both mainstream news and scientific research.
The GMO giant already faces criticism and public scrutiny over their monopoly over the seeds and farming industries, and particularly for their carcinogenic herbicide, RoundUp, which endangers both human health and the environment.
If you’ve never heard of the term “ghostwriting,” it refers to when an author writes an article, speech, or other text knowing it will be accredited to another person. This is common practice in the publishing world, as many popular authors simply don’t have the time to pump out tons of content, and many other writers don’t have the fame to increase the reach of their articles.
It’s often a win-win situation, as one writer gets to be credited for more content that they’ve simply paid for, while another is able to reach a greater audience by “ghostwriting” a piece of content under someone else’s name. In many cases, ghostwriting allows people to spread information and content to a greater number of people by using another person’s name to do so.
However, ghostwriting can become a huge issue when conflicts of interest exist. In the case of Monsanto employees ghostwriting pro-GMO content under a “respected” Stanford scientist’s name, it’s pretty easy to see the ethical issues at hand.
Monsanto Emails Reveal Employees Ghostwrite Pro-GMO Content Under Stanford Scientist’s Name
The revelations regarding Monsanto’s influence over the news and scientific research isn’t necessarily new. Earlier this year, Monsanto was in the line of fire again over allegations of ghostwriting scientific studies and papers that were pro-GMO. In February 2015, Monsanto executive William Heydens actually sent an email to employees requesting that they ghostwrite parts of a scientific study.
Heydens wrote that he would just tell scientists “to sign their names” on the study, and that he was confident his scheme would work, as the company had already successfully ghostwritten a study on Roundup in the past.
Monsanto is known for spending huge amounts of money on delegitimizing research that questions the safety of GMOs and the company’s herbicide, Roundup, as well as the active ingredient within that herbicide, glyphosate. Given all of the information on Monsanto’s stranglehold over science and the U.S. government, the idea that a scientist would suggest that Monsanto ghostwrite content for him isn’t surprising.
The piece in question is an article published by Forbes that attacked the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization that classified glyphosate as a “probable carcinogen.” Numerous studies have proven the cancer-glyphosate link (examples 1, 2, 3), yet, despite the overwhelming amount of evidence, it remains a controversial subject.
In the emails released between Miller and Monsanto, Monsanto requested that Miller write an article opposing the WHO’s new findings, and Miller responded that he’d only do so if he “could start from a high-quality draft.”
This specific article was then published by Forbes; however, there was no mention of Monsanto’s involvement with the piece. The only information provided was Miller’s authorship, and that “opinions expressed by Forbes Contributors are their own.”
So, readers would assume that the article was written by Miller, in his own words, reflecting his own scientific opinion, when in reality it was largely written and very clearly influenced by Monsanto.
Miller refused to comment on the emails, but Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategy for Monsanto, said: “That was a collaborative effort, a function of the outrage we were hearing from many people on the attacks on glyphosate. . . . This is not a scientific, peer-reviewed journal. It’s an op-ed we collaborated with him on.”
Forbes, however, took immediate action and deleted the article off its site, stating that they had ended their relationship with Miller.
“All contributors to Forbes.com sign a contract requiring them to disclose any potential conflicts of interest and only publish content that is their own original writing,” Mia Carbonell, a Forbes spokeswoman, stated. “When it came to our attention that Mr. Miller violated these terms, we removed his blog from Forbes.com and ended our relationship with him.”
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Miller has been a guest writer for numerous large publications, including the New York Times.
James Dao, the Op-Ed editor of The Times, addressed their relationship with Miller, stating, “Op-Ed contributors to The Times must sign a contract requiring them to avoid any conflict of interest, and to disclose any financial interest in the subject matter of their piece.”
This type of pro-GMO content doesn’t necessarily conflict with Miller’s own beliefs though, as CBS described Miller as “an outspoken critic of regulations that aim to protect the public from harmful, or potentially harmful, chemicals such as DDT, BPA and glyphosate.”
Nevertheless, if a company with vested interests in the findings of a study or article is funding or contributing to that piece of content in any way, it should be disclosed.
Although ghostwriting can be a wonderful tool to help writers spread more information to a larger audience, it can also be used unethically, which is why it’s important to disclose any conflicts of interest.
The Monsanto-Miller link is very clearly a conflict of interest, and it even breached the contract Miller signed with Forbes. It makes you wonder, how many other times has Monsanto influenced or literally written scientific literature regarding GMO safety?
GMOs are a controversial topic right now, namely because they are so harmful to human health given the harsh chemicals sprayed on them. For years, Monsanto has been trying to hide the risks their leading herbicide, Roundup, poses to human health and the environment. Over the years, numerous studies have been published proving that the active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, can cause cancer, miscarriages, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s, and more.
To learn more about the dangers of GMOs, check out the following articles:
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