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Saturday, April 1, 2017

My Friend Vance

He's in his early thirties, personable and polite, cheerful and clean cut. He's a former U.S. Peace Corps volunteer, holds an undergraduate degree in communications and a Master's Degree in Cross-Cultural Negotiations.

He is your classic boy next door - except for one thing. He's 'Director of Millennial Engagement' for Monsanto Company. His name is Vance Crowe.

Translation: I'm a PR guy.

The chemical and biotech industry are investing a lot of money into public relations in recent years, though this isn't exactly a new strategy. Unlike in the past, they have come to adopt more subtle techniques. Chances are, you've been exposed to industry messaging and didn't even know it. That's where people like Vance come in.

He speaks of connecting networks of people, and that is what I'd like to shine a spotlight on. If you have ever read the famous book by Edward Bernays, you would know that he advised his clients to use (exploit) already existing movements to their benefit.

Tribes clockwise from top: Agriculture, Food, 'Pragmatic Environmentalism' (aka Ecomodernism aka Bullshit), Skeptics, Science, Computer/Techno
Vance wants to connect people to 'important networks' like the Science Moms and MAMyths among others.
It has become abundantly clear that the Skeptic movement is being used to spread industry messaging. This has been discussed here before, in the post Useful Idiots. Ol' Vancey Pants has done us the favor of detailing and documenting his public relations game. Behold:

Vance with Mary Mangan, Kevin Folta, & Kavin Senapathy

Vance with Talking Biotech & UF's Kevin Folta
Vance with SciBabe/Yvette d'Entremont, A Science Enthusiast/Dan Broadbent, You Tuber @chubbyemu, ultra conservative climate change denier and food columnist, Julie Kelly.

Vance thanks Kevin 'nothing to do with Monsanto' Folta, and Science Moms documentary creator Natalie Newell

I actually made this face.

The latest Science Mom to ignore the poor state of our children's health. She also seems to have no control over who she associates with, and what messages she disseminates. Whether it's being done 'for industry' or not - it still benefits industry. Willful blindness is a choice.
It's more than evident that Vance is wielding influence in the Skeptic community. He's hobnobbing with an array of people, attending Skeptic events like CSICon and even doing speaking engagements with Skeptic groups.

He's doing interviews and podcasts with Skeptics who have a large social media following. He is using the already established Skeptic movement to advance favorable messaging about Monsanto company and their products. That message is a simple one: Those who oppose or question the biotech industry do so because of misguided fear stemming from (insert scapegoat). Only those who walk in lock step with their technology and products are 'pro-science'.

Do you want to be looked at as reactionary, hysterical and fearful? Or do you want to be someone who is admired because they 'stand up for science'? When the debate is posed this way, it sure makes the 'pro-science' side sound like the obvious choice. But this isn't reality. This is what is known as a false dilemma or bifurcation fallacy: i.e. when someone is asked to choose between two options when there is at least one other option available.

Fear isn't always irrational, or based on emotion. Healthy fear, like the fear of falling, drowning, or being mauled by a tiger, keeps us safe. And, rejecting a technology or a product isn't anti-science. People have their own individual reasons for not wanting to purchase something - it is their right! And those reasons will vary from person to person. When an industry have a long track record of causing illness and polluting our environment with their chemicals - is being wary of them a healthy or unhealthy 'fear'? When this same industry dominates our food system with products designed to kill (pesticides) and 'substantially equivalent' engineered crops, is it any wonder why people might be skeptical?

There comes a time when a line is crossed and no amount of Millennial Engagement can take back the death and destruction you have left in your wake over the decades. Good luck, Vance.

Gen X isn't falling for your shit.

Post Script (4/4/17)

Unexpectedly enough, I have had quite a lot of reactions to this post on Twitter.

When writing this piece, I didn't think it would be particularly notable in that all of this is public information, and easily observed. The job of a public relations person is to disseminate messages on behalf of his/her employer, and I have pointed out some of the ways in which Mr. Crowe (now forever to be known as Vancey Pants) is doing this. I'd also like to clarify, as there seems to be confusion in this regard, that I've not accused anyone of being a 'shill' and I do not believe that any of the people mentioned in this piece aside from the subject work for Monsanto or any other biotech or chemical company. To be quite clear, I am simply noting the influence of this one industry employee on different groups, particularly Social Skeptics.

What seemed to garner even more attention was a graphic I made to go with this post. I typically make a funny picture to go with each new blog to keep my posts from getting buried in people's Twitter feed.

I'll be there for you.
I just riffed off the title of the blog and had some fun with it. Les Fausses Sceptiques lost their collective shit over it, sharing it and saying it was 'hilarious'. David James aka Stort Skeptic even made a gif out of it. I figured I might as well share it here for everyone to enjoy, before working on my next post.

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