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5 Astroturf Groups You Should Stop Sharing From

After a hefty helping of inspiration from blogger Dawn's Brain's series on Facebook pages that people need to stop sharing from, t...

Tuesday, January 19, 2016

5 Astroturf Groups You Should Stop Sharing From

After a hefty helping of inspiration from blogger Dawn's Brain's series on Facebook pages that people need to stop sharing from, the impetus for this post was born. Now, Dawn chose some pretty low-hanging fruit for her lists - Natural News, InfoWars, David Wolfe, Freelee The Banana Girl - she's shooting fish in a barrel. Instead of kooky Facebook pages though, I'm heading in a different direction...

In her second post in the series she blasts some random commenter on a post about Roundup about how wrong they are about glyphosate, the active ingredient in the world's most widely used herbicide.

"You’ve got the Lethal Dosage (LD50) all wrong, Facebook commenter. Glyphosate has a toxicity at 5,600 milligrams per kilogram, which is safer than table salt and baking soda.

Facebook fear-mongers love to throw around the meaningless term “endocrine disruptors” to sound like they know what they are talking about. Please, tell us the mechanism by which the trace amounts of glyphosate that humans ingest might disrupt our endocrine systems."

The first link is a blog post from Cami Ryan whose info isn't wrong, so much as it is misleading in this context. It's not giving you the whole story. There is so much more to toxicity than how much you need to ingest to kill you. That's like smoking a cigarette, and proclaiming it is without harm because you have not dropped dead. Many substances have chronic effects, and not all substances follow a linear dose response. This lack is even acknowledged in the comments to the article, lest you think I'm just pulling this out of my ass. Cami's affiliations (she works for Monsanto) are pretty clearly laid out and listed on her blog. She's actually a great example of the intertwining of groups and people and industry, she has connections to sites and groups that will get more of a mention later on.

It was specifically the second link there that provided the inspiration to write this series, because of the extraordinary irony of it. Here, in a blog post about social media pages that spread misinformation, Dawn is using a link from a known astroturf group as her proof that endocrine disruption is just a 'meaningless term.' The link is from 1998 and a stupefying testament to bullshit artistry.

Just the first line alone should set your spidey senses tingling...

"In 1997, endocrine disruptors joined radon, Alar, dioxin, asbestos in schools, and electromagnetic fields in the rogues’ gallery of environmental hoaxes."

Of course, each thing they've named deserves its own discussion, but grouping these together and calling them 'environmental hoaxes' is absurd. I've hyperlinked each subject to a credible source.

So comparisons aside, is endocrine disruption truly as they say, 'in the rogue's gallery of environmental hoaxes'? Well, the National Institutes Of Health, World Health Organization, Environmental Protection Agency, Centers For Disease Control And Prevention, Harvard School Of Public Health researchers, and many other scientists all support the existence of endocrine disrupting chemicals.

I think it's safe to say Dawn may have been cherry picking a little bit there.

And so, this begins the list of an entirely different kind of bullshit that you really ought to stop sharing - and seriously question the credibility of anyone who shares from them. Astroturf groups.

Simply put, astroturf groups are defined as "...apparently grassroots-based citizen groups or coalitions that are primarily conceived, created and/or funded by corporations, industry trade associations, political interests or public relations firms."

These organizations give themselves an air of legitimacy, but in reality, they are pushing an agenda - and it's not for the benefit of consumers or the public.

Sharing anything from these groups or their members is an affront to honest scientists and endangers science literacy and public health.


These guys are kind of like the Grandaddies of astroturf. Home to Henry I. Miller, frequent Forbes contributer and former tobacco science purveyor, as well as Gilbert Ross MD who just happens to be a convicted felon, the ACSH is a colorful cast of heartwarming characters. Even Orac thinks so.

Their Facebook page description says they are "Trusted guides on complex science and health issues since 1978."

Well, I could claim to be Beyoncè, but it still wouldn't make it so.

Leaked documents show ACSH's funding from corporate donors is extensive, and lines up with the issues they tackle. Not only that, documents reveal that they have deliberately solicited donations in exchange for favorable reports on donor products. From a 2013 report in Mother Jones:

"ACSH donors in the second half of 2012 included Chevron ($18,500), Coca-Cola ($50,000), the Bristol Myers Squibb Foundation ($15,000), Dr. Pepper/Snapple ($5,000), Bayer Cropscience ($30,000), Procter and Gamble ($6,000), agribusiness giant Syngenta ($22,500), 3M ($30,000), McDonald's ($30,000), and tobacco conglomerate Altria ($25,000). Among the corporations and foundations that ACSH has pursued for financial support since July 2012 are Pepsi, Monsanto, British American Tobacco, DowAgro, ExxonMobil Foundation, Phillip Morris International, Reynolds American, the Koch family-controlled Claude R. Lambe Foundation, the Dow-linked Gerstacker Foundation, the Bradley Foundation, and the Searle Freedom Trust."

Sample bullshit:

 Who needs regulations?!

Look over here at this death mistletoe! Pay no attention to the lead painted toys from China!

Oof. Not sure letting Gil write this one was the best choice...

Other sites connected to ACSH:

which has now merged with ScienceBlogs much to the chagrin of many

Science Codex

Scientific Blogging

Deniers For Hire, a collaboration with Cameron J. English


Got questions about genetic engineering? GMO Answers to the rescue!

After spending milllions fighting a labeling initiative in California in 2012, Ag & Chem industry execs announced plans to create a campaign to change public opinion on GMO's.

From their website: "GMO Answers is funded by the members of The Council for Biotechnology Information, which includes BASF, Bayer CropScience, Dow AgroSciences, DuPont, Monsanto Company and Syngenta."

Supporting partners are listed as follows: The American Council on Science and Health (déjà vu!), The American Farm Bureau Federation, American Seed Trade Association, American Soybean Association, The American Sugarbeet Growers Association, Minnesota Crop Production Retailers, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Corn Growers Association, National Cotton Council, Ohio AgriBusiness Association, South Dakota Agri-Business Association, The U.S. Beet Sugar Association, and Western Sugar.

The Council for Biotechnology Information has hired the public relations firm Ketchum
(owned by Omnicom) famous for their representation of human rights violators, to run the site and oversee their 'independent experts'.

While the above description makes it seem like ONLY independent experts will be answering your questions, when you look at who is on the list, you'll find that a good portion of the experts are not independent but in fact are employed by the same corporations funding the site.

One of the 'independent' experts there to give you answers happens to be Kevin Folta, who came under fire recently when it was found through FOIA requests that he was given a $25k contribution from Monsanto company, despite denying repeatedly that he had anything to do with them. Kevin continued to maintain his innocence even after being caught in this lie. The ensuing criticism led to his stepping out of the public eye for a time, though he remains listed as an independent expert on the GMO Answers site and has recently announced his podcast is set to resume.

Other 'independent' experts listed on the site, include Bruce Chassy, Jennie Schmidt, Monsanto test farmer and prize winner, and Mary Boote, CEO of Truth About Trade & Technology among others.

So, this website, funded by an industry with a financial stake in selling GM seeds and the pesticides that pair with them, run by a public relations firm that represents human rights violators, wants to answer your questions about genetic engineering used in agriculture with their 'independent' panel of experts....

Alright then.



The sister organizations Statistical Assessment Service (STATS) and the Center For Media And Public Affairs (CMPA) are both affiliated with the Genetic Literacy Project, designed to promote GMO's. As stated by the website, the mission of the GLP is 'to promote public awareness of genetics, biotechnology and science literacy.' Because, according to them, 'Intricate science scares people who don’t understand risk and complexity.'

GLP's executive director is Jon Entine. He has no science credentials to speak of, though he defends industry interests on a regular basis as - is exemplified in the situation of Syngenta's herbicide atrazine. Entine is listed under 'Third Party Outreach' in an email document from White House Writer's Group to Syngenta about work they had done to influence news coverage and promote atrazine. Entine also authored a book which was published by (guess who?!) the American Council on Science and Health called, Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health. The current president of ACSH, Hank Campbell also happens to be a contributor to the GLP site. Entine insists that he is fully independent, but given his corporate and astroturf entanglements, that's an awfully hard pill to swallow.

Entine's shady rep doesn't end with his industry ties. He's made several science journalists upset by 'borrowing' their work without permission. Keith Kloor publicly complained about what happened to him on his blog last November.  Kloor even took to Twitter with his complaints, and judging by the conversation, Entine's response was less than satisfactory.

From his blog, Kloor's take on the GLP website:

"It’s bad enough that a website built on the aggregated work of journalists takes something that belongs to you without asking for permission. It’s outrageous when the website truncates your text in ways that change the meaning of what you wrote, which is also what Genetic Literacy is guilty of doing with respect to my post. It’s infuriating and unforgivable when the person who stole your text puts his own flatly wrong headline above it."

This statement, and from a pro-GMO journalist no less, isn't very reassuring about the ethical compass of the Genetic Literacy Project.

Sample bullshit: 

I think we know their answer before we even start....

    Excessive use of quotation marks to 'debunk' 'endocrine disruption,' because, 'science.'

Uncle Henry from (surprise!) ACSH, and self-appointed expert on citrus greening disease - stops by to make grand statements about using a soil drench of neonics and genetic engineering.

In which we try to further confuse the definition of transgenics/genetic engineering by conflating it with selective breeding.

Bonus bullshit:

If the Moon were made out of BBQ spare ribs, would ya eat it? 

They seem more like Genetic Illiteracy...than Genetic Literacy.


Known by the nicknames of 'Dr. Evil' and the 'Astroturf Kingpin', Rick Berman is president, executive director and board member at the Center For Consumer Freedom. He is a well known lobbyist for the food, alcoholic beverage, and tobacco industries as well as hotels, beer distributors, taverns, and restaurant chains with his group Berman & Co. who serve clients such as International House of Pancakes, Olive Garden, Outback Steakhouse, Red Lobster, Cracker Barrel, Hooters, Steak & Ale, TGI Friday's, Uno's Restaurants, and Wendy's.

Run by Berman & Co., the Center For Consumer Freedom underwent a name change in 2014 to the Center for Organizational Research and Education. A section of their website is titled 'The Center for Accountability In Science'. Begun in 2014, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) reported on Joseph Perrone's appointment and Berman's apparent flip-flop on UV rays and cancer. Where Berman once defended tanning beds, calling the claims that indoor tanning causes skin cancer 'hype', he now decries the Environmental Working Group's ranking of sunscreens and ingredients by singing the praises of the sunscreen industry's products to prevent a 'much larger threat' - skin cancer. The chief science officer of CAS is Dr. Joseph Perrone. Berman enlisted Perrone to be the guiding force behind this new campaign, but who is he really?

CREW reports:

Who is Dr. Perrone?  According to CAS, he used to be an executive at the University of Maryland Biotechnology Institute and he served as an advisor to the World Health Organization.  Unmentioned by CAS, however, is the fact that Dr. Perrone also has a long record of industry work.  He used to run a consulting company, previously worked at Becton, Dickinson, and Company, a medical technology company, and has been an adviser to several other companies, including Biomedical Enterprises and FASgen.  It’s surprising that Berman’s staff neglected to mention this part of Dr. Perrone’s biography.  It’s not like they take a dim view of industry-backed research.  In fact, CAS has a page on its website highlighting “the importance of industry-funded research.”

While Dr. Perrone may be relatively new to the PR game, Berman is old hat. Back in 2014 the New York Times broke a story about a secretly taped industry talk Berman gave before executives of the oil industry. You can listen to the audio here and view the transcript here. The Cliff Notes version is available from PR Watch, with a short version below:


1. Screw your enemy

2.  Marginalize your opponents.

3.  Demolish the moral authority

4.  Make it personal

5.  Brand whole movements as not credible

6.  Being nasty wins

7.  Push fear and anger

8.  Treat public policy as endless war

9.  Give corporate cash total anonymity

10.  Tear down celebrities who speak out 

Sample bullshit:

The 'Chubby Chiplotle' campaign. One can only guess what industry must be paying for this...

Center For Consumer Freedom's Facebook page is Farm Babe approved, but Chipotle reacting to consumer demand is not. Bad, bad Chipotle. 

A defense of triclosan, an antibacterial agent found in personal care products.

Look people, consumer products are made with wonderful chemicals that make our clients money. And they have no connections at all to your tumors, hypospadias, low sperm count, or infertility. Also, science.

 Does it even need to be said that it's a bad idea to get your science news from Dr. Evil?

"Marginalize" your opponents
"Screw" your enemy.
"Screw" your enemy.
"Screw" your enemy.
"Screw" your enemy.
"Screw" your enemy.Sample bullshit:


Rising like a hot pink phoenix from the ashes of Women For Clarence Thomas, comes the Independent Women's Forum, described in a New York Times editorial as "a right-wing public policy group that provides pseudofeminist support for extreme positions that are in fact dangerous to women."

IWF has received funding from several sources with ties to the Koch brothers, as well as Exxon Mobil and quite notably began a group called Balanced Education for Everyone in 2010 whose goal it was to stop the teaching of global warming 'junk science' in schools. It is their opinion that:

"Parents need to ask their children's teachers, 'What are you doing for Earth Day this year?'" said IWF President and CEO Michelle Bernard.  "Too often, our children are being subjected to terrifying lectures on global warming...while being told they represent settled science.  That's just not the case.
As part of their campaign, hundreds of signatures were gathered by Balanced Education For Everyone in May 2010. This was in support of a movement to ban teaching climate science in classrooms in Mesa County, Colorado. Those signatures were presented at a school board meeting on May 25, 2010. The Huffington Post reported that forty of the people who appeared at the hearing to support the group dismissed global warming as "junk science." The petition they presented was aimed at preventing teachers from imparting their "personal, political views in the classroom," according to Tea Party movement adherent and author of the petition, Rose Pugliese.

On their website, IWF tackles mostly political issues, healthcare, economics, education etc... but they do a little 'science' reporting with their 'Culture Of Alarmism Project' in which they seek to paint anyone with a concern about manufactured chemicals, pollution, food additives and the like as alarmist chemophobic 'enviro-Nazi's.'

Sample bullshit:

Yes. Yes they did. They made a frivolous Nazi comparison.

 Snarky climate science denial post, using Christopher Booker, a man who has a Prize for Bullshit named after him as a reference. How apropos!

 How on earth will people stay slim and healthy without their beloved diet drinks???

It's easy to see how the IWF site is really just a space for a conservative and industry agenda - and not a place to go for unbiased science information.

Of course, this doesn't stop 'Science Defender' Kavin Senapathy, and 'Decimator of Woo' Yvette d'Entremont from attending IWF events, as seen in this public photo album.

Frequent Forbes contributors Kavin Senapathy and Tara Haelle with Julie Gunlock, Senior Fellow at IWF, 'SciBabe' Yvette d'Entremont and Michelle 'Shelly' McGuire, a recent Monsanto study collaborator.

In top row: Shelly McGuire, Janice Person, Online Engagement Director for Monsanto Company, Anastasia Bodnar of Biology Fortified, Julie Gunlock, and Monsanto's Social Sciences Lead Cami Ryan who is mentioned prior in the intro. In bottom row: Tara Haelle, Kavin Senapathy, Yvette d'Entremont.

These photos were from a trip to DC where such notable folks as Kevin Folta, Elizabeth Held of the White House Writers Group, Ms.Senapathy's 'The Fear Babe' co-author, computer programmer Mark Alsip, Julie Kelly, writer, frequent Henry (Miller) collaborator and wife of lobbyist John Kelly, and Grounded Parents contributors Jenny Splitter and Emily Sexton add to the sampling of the public faces of SSkeptics who spent time fraternizing at various events over a two-day period.

This particular IWF event was pitched to - surprise - both Monsanto and the American Chemistry Council for funding.

These sort of associations don't do much to advance the 'cause' of science literacy. IWF has demonstrated themselves to be an unreliable source, and an eyebrow (or two) should be raised at the relative ease in which these groups orbit around each other.

It's very important that we get our science from independent sources, as it's a well know fact that industry funding taints research. And in that same way, it can also taint a message. Even an 'independent' and unpaid message - if they are drinking from a poisoned well.

In closing I leave you with these words of wisdom:

Always check your source. Check your source's source too. And their source's funding. Astroturf is everywhere.


  1. These are all corporate front groups. If anyone wants to learn more about the actual industries they are funded by and what they are all about go to Sourcewatch.com and search the front groups name.

    1. I've hyperlinked to various Sourcewatch articles on the groups in the article to make it easy for people. They are a wealth of information. Thanks for stopping by, Mythblastr!

  2. Yes yes yes! Thank you for this post! This is very true. There is tons of information about GMO Answers and Kevin Folta and Monsanto and Ketchum and CFSAF connection at this NY Times article and the linked email trail which is great reading.

    And, CFSAF stands for "Coalition for Safe Affordable Food" and their Facebook page is pretty much the same as Monsanto Company's line of propaganda... it's all so much.

    And there are the "Mom" pages like "Mommy PhD" who is Alison Bernstein, who writes with Kavin Senapathy, another disinformationist, who writes against Food Babe (Vani Hari) and is aligned with the agrochemical industry...

    It goes way too deep and far, and it's way too suspicious. There must be a lot of industry money floating around to fund these things.

    They even edit Wikipedia, I'm pretty darn sure. In my year of editing there, I have seen patterns of serious bad agenda-based editing and general gaming of the system in order to make articles more industry-friendly, at the expense of neutrality and accuracy. Please, if you have the time for it, edit Wikipedia with an eye toward neutrality to counteract this bias.

    1. Thank you. I've been simultaneously fascinated and repulsed by propaganda tactics since I learned about them as a teenager. It's important that people be able to recognize these sorts of groups for what they are, and I thought that by putting it together in a humorous way it would help open people's eyes.

      The Coalition For Safe Affordable Food are definitely one of the more obvious front groups. I may do another list in the future, and they would definitely have to go on it.

      Suspicion I think is warranted, given the circles all these folks run with. It's unrealistic to think they are all paid directly by industry, but I think it's pretty evident where the (dis)information they dispense is coming from. Industry has made a business of controlling (or at least attempting to) control the flow of information. In some areas they have undoubtedly had more success than others.

      I don't doubt for a second Wikipedia is a target for manipulation by the SSkeptics and I always take what I read there with a great big grain of salt.

      Thanks for your thoughtful comment and for stopping by, Sage!

  3. Nice work. Anastasia Bodnar and her Biofortified group colleague Karl Haro von Mogel are clearly industry stooges, as proved here: https://www.independentsciencenews.org/science-media/the-puppetmasters-of-academia-ny-times-left-out/
    Best wishes Jonathan Latham

    1. "Food Babe" is the same bullshit propaganda of Sense About Science - Edzard Ernst/Simon Sigh and so neo pseudosceptics media think thanks.




  4. #6. Nightingale Collaboration

    #7. CSICOP - GWUP - ARP/SAPC (the spanish CSICOP)

    #8. Edzard Ernst blog.

  5. Had to know...I've not been following them anyway :-)

  6. Another good critique of the consumer front group ACSH ia found here: http://scienceblogs.com/denialism/2017/03/09/acsh-is-astroturf-heres-why/

  7. Good job exposing astroturfers! Here's another critique of the sneaky ACSH: www.denialism.com/2017/03/09/acsh-is-astroturf-heres-why/

  8. Why does both your site url and comments give a 2016 date? Great article..need to address issue though (esp. given article's content!), ..