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The Changemakers controversy

Our post yesterday about the Changemakers competition, in which the blog Biofortified is an entrant, drew a very strong response from some of the Biofortified bloggers. Anastasia Bodnar responded on Twitter: "Bullshit. Monsanto isn't hijacking anything. That is a blatant lie by GM Watch." And followed that up with further references to lying, such as, "GM Watch just likes to lie." Her colleague Karl Haro von Mogel in a more moderately worded e-mail, effectively told us we were accusing Biofortified of "cheating" and of "fixing the contest". While Anastasia similarly declared on the biofortified blog: "we don't cheat".

Just to be absolutely clear about this, at no point did we accuse Biofortified's bloggers (either jointly or severally!) of cheating or fixing anything, and we regret that they appear to have thought otherwise. What we complained about was the involvement of biotech industry PR people in promoting Biofortified's entry. And we were quite precise about that involvement. We referred specifically to the Council for Biotechnology Information - members: BASF, Bayer, Dow, DuPont, Monsanto, Syngenta, which has encouraged people to vote for Biofortified in the competition on more than one occasion, both via Twitter and via its website.

The only thing we could be said to have "accused" Biofortified of in our post was of promoting GM, which they clearly do if you read the content of their various posts carefully. We also pointed out that the biotech industry and its PR people promoted Biofortified, as well as the personal blogs of its contributors. Again, anyone can check this out for themselves by looking at the links to 'Biotech Blogs' on this Monsanto site:  nearly half the blogs Monsanto promotes are authored by the Biofortified team.

Monsanto, of course, has a deliberate and self-acknowledged PR strategy of actively using social media (blogging, Twitter, etc.) to get its case across. This is why our concern over the Changemakers competition increased when a Monsanto PR person employed to do Social Media work for the corporation also encouraged people to vote for Biofortified.
 
And this clear evidence of industry professional involvement in promoting Biofortified is why we flagged up our concern about the biotech industry's role when the votes for Biofortified suddenly exploded yesterday. Anastasia says this sudden change in their fortunes was all down to a blog posting by PZ Myers, and Myers claims the credit too. This may be the case, and Karl Haro von Mogel has suggested that Changemakers could resolve the matter via IP logs for voters. This would seem a useful way of removing suspicion, particularly given that our impression was that the voting explosion was well underway yesterday before the Myers' posting.
 
Karl says, quite fairly, "Although I have no evidence that anyone amongst the 'biotech industry' is not fixing the contest, you do not have any evidence that they are." We do however have clear evidence that biotech industry PR people have tried to call out the vote for Biofortified's entry. Here for example, Karl thanks the biotech industry body the Council for Biotechnology Information for plugging their entry. This professional PR involvement in the contest by an organization whose members are multinational corporations with an absolutely dire reputation for PR shenanigans - including on the net, seems to us totally at odds with the ethos of the Changemakers contest, whether or not it turns out on investigation to have ultimately contributed to the surge in Biofortified's support.