Folta published guide on how to get away with drinking and driving
(Note: The image above was created by Dr Folta for his Facebook profile. The words on the right are also his own.)
LAST MONTH University of Florida scientist Kevin Folta expressed his outrage at the death of Shawn Smith, a local cyclist killed by what Folta claimed was “distracted driving”. This is where the driver is doing something like texting and so takes their attention off the road. Folta argued for the introduction of draconian penalties to stop tragedies like Shawn Smith’s death happening.
But Kevin Folta didn’t always take such a harsh view of distracted driving. In a book he wrote and self-published while in graduate school, titled Alcoholics Unanimous, he recounts how his car once mounted the sidewalk and nearly hit an elderly pedestrian because Folta was busy trying to open a beer. Folta adds as an amusing detail that while the old man was still banging on his bonnet in outrage, the beer popped up into plain view, leaving the old man shaking his head.
While nine people are killed every day in the US in crashes said to involve a distracted driver, more than three times as many die in crashes involving an alcohol-impaired driver. But Folta appears less concerned about the problem of people driving under the influence of alcohol (DUI).
In fact, in his 1996 book, Folta not only makes light of drunk driving but even gives advice on how to get away with it! Folta also gives advice on how to disguise the fact that you are drinking alcohol while driving, in case you are stopped by the police. And he even says his bike “is specially fitted with a larger than normal water bottle cage that holds a 40 ounce beer bottle. This way, I can ride and drink.”
A sea of booze
Anyone who follows Kevin Folta on social media knows that he enjoys a drink. A Talking Biotech podcast is described as “Cocktails with the Farm Babe”. A conversation with a fellow director of Biofortified is titled “Have a Beer with Dr. Kevin Folta.” And there are references aplenty to “beer time”, “a drink or three”, “home-made whisky sours”, and the like.
And then there are the photos. Drinks feature in many Folta social media images. He can be found in more than one having drinks with Monsanto’s Cami Ryan, or raising giant beer mugs with Monsanto’s Vance Crowe, among many others.
And until about 24 hours ago Kevin Folta’s profile picture on Facebook was the photoshopped drinks ad shown in the banner picture at the top of this article. Its sudden disappearance may have been triggered by something that happened on Twitter.
Does Kevin Folta drive drunk?
Last Friday Folta was confronted on Twitter about his book, Alcoholics Unanimous, by @acyloxy, alias “Luke”. When Folta tried to pass the book off as just “laughs on Memory Lane” and a youthful indiscretion in dubious taste, @acyloxy responded, “Being flippant about one's drunk driving at 16 is being a dumb kid. Being flippant about it near 30 is a liability.”
@acyloxy then proceeded to challenge Folta to either “deny driving drunk” or “apologize for driving drunk”. But Folta did neither, although according to @acyloxy he did at one point tweet that he had “never” driven while drunk, but then immediately deleted the tweet.
Driving MADD mad
Folta’s failure to deny driving while drunk would seem likely to enrage MADD – Mothers Against Drunk Driving. And enraging MADD is precisely what Alcoholics Unanimous sets out to do – we know that because the book tells us so at the very start. It says: "The Material is Classified as Dangerous, Toxic, Irritant and Corrosive to Madd Mothers..."
There is also plenty in Folta's book to upset anybody else who is aware of the fact that of the 1,200 or so traffic deaths a year in the US among children aged 14 or under, nearly one in five involves an alcohol-impaired driver.
In a section of his book headed “Case study number three – me”, Folta writes, “Over the years I have been pulled over probably twenty times, half of these for suspicion of intoxication. I’ve met some jerk off cops when totally sober, and happily some really cool cops who stopped me after a night of boozing but spared me the hassles of police-world.”
Folta also explains how to get around so-called “open container laws” that “stipulate that there cannot be an open container of alcohol in an operating motor vehicle”. Folta goes on to say that open container laws and age restrictions on drinking alcohol are “not consistent with the concept of a free society, and it is our responsibility to break them”.
He then describes ways of drinking while driving that could fool the cops. Folta’s suggestions include pouring beers into large apple juice bottles, putting rum and coke in large taco bell cups, injecting Everclear – a grain alcohol notorious for its high alcohol content – into oranges, and tequila into lime jello. Folta concludes by saying, “always remember age, DUI, and open container laws are unfair and wrong… Break the rules. Drink where you want, and what you want.”
It’s important to remember that this call to arms wasn’t published by a delinquent teenager or an imbecilic freshman but by a scientist of nearly 30 years of age, doing a doctorate in molecular biology. It’s worth noting too that in terms of social awareness of the very real perils of drinking and driving, the mid-1990s were far removed from the 1950s or '60s.
“Deny everything”, “tell lies”
What’s also disturbing about Folta’s book is its repeated encouragement to lie. “Deny everything, especially allegations, but always make it seem like you are telling the truth,” Folta advises anyone stopped by the police. And again, “tell lies that sound real”.
At the moment Folta seems surrounded by a sea of allegations – from assaulting his wife to hiding corporate monies – and he is busy denying everything.
Curiously though, to date Folta has not responded – beyond a deleted tweet – to the challenge to deny driving drunk. For some unexplained reason, that seems to be something he is finding difficult to deny.
If you think Kevin Folta’s employer, the University of Florida, should launch an investigation into the possible reasons for that, as well as the other serious allegations he is facing, you can send them a letter here.
Report: Jonathan Matthews