Columnist at Ethical Corporation and Forbes Magazines
Senior Fellow at the Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy at the University of California-Davis World Food Center
Founder of Genetic Expert News Service (GENeS)
Visiting Fellow at American Enterprise Institute since 2002
Unpaid research fellow at George Mason University Center for Health and Risk Communication, 2011-2014
Unpaid research fellow at George Mason University Center for Health and Risk Communication, 2011-2014
Founder and president of the defunct PR firm ESG MediaMetrics
Board member at Jewish Community Relations Council Cincinnati
“I ended up working with the professors to edit their pieces and I had total control over the final product. There is nothing to disclose.”
“This obsession with chemicals is unhealthy.”
“When Pamela Davis was pregnant with her daughter Meaghan, she started to worry about contamination from lead paint in her Hoboken, New Jersey home. … You can drive yourself absolutely crazy trying to keep your baby healthy.”
-Jon Entine, Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health
“...some of yesterday’s most vilified companies have quietly moved to the forefront of corporate responsibility. Despite their regular appearances on ‘dishonorable’ lists, controversial multinationals such as Monsanto, DuPont, or Gillette offer fair wages and benefits...”
-Jon Entine, Corporate Ethics and Accountability [http://corpgo.fatcow.com/forums/commentary/entine1.html]
Jon Entine has written, edited and published a massive catalogue of work fiercely defending the agrochemical industry. Monsanto was among the clients of Entine’s former PR firm, ESG Media Metrics. Beyond biotechnology, Entine also defends the fossil fuel, nuclear and broader chemical industry in his writing, and is a fervent critic of labeling products for their impact on forests, chemical toxicity, the presence of GMOs, and/or their connection to controversial social issues. Entine’s work often focuses on perceived ambiguities in scientific research. He has also been known to attack researchers and prominent figures whose work present challenges to the interests he represents. He even accused the Columbia School of Journalism of “smearing” Exxon after an investigation revealed that Exxon knew about climate change decades before NASA. To carry out his aggressively pro-industry public relations and nonprofit work, Entine has partnered with various universities, conservative think tanks and industry front groups while obscuring those ties and making use of dark money contributions.
Strangers to Each Other: GMU, GLP, STATS and SAS
STATS, or the Statistical Assessment Service, was founded in the early 1990s. From 2004 to 2014, it operated as a sister-organization of George Mason University’s Center for Media and Public Affairs. STATS bills itself as a non-partisan, non-profit “resource on the use and abuse of science and statistics in the media.” They assist journalists with statistical analysis, without declaring the source of their funding or their industry ties. Within STATS, Entine founded and ran the independently-functioning Genetic Literacy Project.
By 2015, everything had changed and previous ties were cut, and in some cases publicly denied. The GLP’s website now explains that they have never had any association with George Mason University, a top-recipient of Koch’s educational giving, and that STATS had dissolved. Neither the STATS website nor the website for George Mason’s CMPA currently indicate that STATS has dissolved at any point. However, stats.org states that the Statistical Assessment Service operates as a part of Sense About Science USA, which names George Mason University’s Math department as a partner, but makes no mention of the Center of Media and Public Affairs under whose umbrella STATS operated for a decade. Sense About Science USA is a 1 year old entity that partners with Cornell’s pro-GMO Alliance for Science.
The Hidden Story of the Genetic Literacy Project
GLP, STATS and Entine all share a long and demonstrable history with GMU. STATS first became an affiliate of GMU in 2004. GMU professor Dr. S. Robert Lichter is the President and Founder of both CMPA and STATS. Past tax filings indicate that George Mason’s Center for Media and Public Affairs assumed the cost of STATS employee salaries for at least some portion of the 10 year affiliation the two entities shared, as well as a $200,000 loan in 2012. Entine was an unpaid researcher for GMU from 2011-2014, while he was also under the employ of STATS, receiving just shy of a half million dollars during those four years.
Entine’s role and title at STATS were enigmatic. Before being quietly appointed as a director in 2014, he was listed as a Senior Research Fellow. He arrived at a time when STATS was struggling to maintain its status as a public charity with the IRS. In four short years, he founded the Genetic Literacy Project as a new organization under the STATS umbrella, quickly rose from researcher to director; then went on to dissolve STATS operations at GMU, re-launch GLP as an ostensibly unaffiliated project now nestled under a new 501(c)3 funded by STATS donors, and subsequently obscure the various ties between GLP, STATS, and George Mason University. Somehow during this time, STATS reorganized under its current Cornell affiliations with the new Sense About Science USA, where Entine’s STATS colleague Trevor Butterworth is a now director.
Despite GMU’s explicit financial sponsorship of CMPA, and the hundreds of thousands of dollars in loans from CMPA to STATS taken out during Entine’s time there, and despite his concurrent research fellowships at both STATS and GMU, Entine’s Genetic Literacy Project website has removed all mention of STATS and asserts that the GLP has always remained unaffiliated with the Koch-funded George Mason University.
Private Interest, Public Veneer
STATS has always been notoriously vague about their finances, with the exception of a statement by Jon Entine that STATS received money from the “Searle and Templeton” foundations. The conservative Searle Freedom Trust, founded by the heir to a pharmaceutical fortune, has given nearly $800,000 to STATS since 2001, with the vast majority coming between 2011 to 2014. The sudden leap in giving coincides with a shift in STATS funding that immediately preceded the organization’s so-called dissolution.
Tax documents reveal a protracted struggle within STATS to maintain the appearance of having broad public support throughout their relationship with GMU, when in fact their funding was not coming from public sources. Their new parent organization, Sense About Science USA, states on their website that they are “being established” by funding from the Laura and John Arnold Foundation, but aspire to gain more public support.
From 2005 to 2007, STATS repeatedly failed the IRS public support test because they were then funded almost exclusively by the private Sarah Scaife Foundation. STATS was subsequently reclassified in 2008 as a private foundation rather than a public charity, which both required them to pay excise taxes and also made apparent that their funding was coming from a very small group of very wealthy people—in this case the Scaife family, which has bankrolled many conservative causes over the years and was an early financial backer of the Heritage Foundation.
Starting in 2010, STATS attempted to respond to this issue of public/private classification by securing more donations in smaller amounts from new or lapsed donors -- namely the Randolph Foundation, the Castle Rock Foundation, the Winkler Family Foundation, Searle Freedom Trust, and the John Templeton Foundation. The last three are currently listed on GLP’s website as donors. STATS also received money during this period from the Koch-connected Donors Trust, a 501(c)4 whose Board Chairman, Kimberly Dennis, is coincidentally also the President and CEO of Searle Freedom Trust. Donors Trust is a well-known vessel for dark money contributions, as even the IRS is reportedly unable to link those who give to Donors Trust with the actual recipients of their donations. Under Dennis’s leadership, the Searle and Donors Trusts sent a collective $290,000 to STATS in 2010. The strategy of expanding the donor base worked, and STATS narrowly regained their public charity status. More importantly, the conservative Searle Freedom Trust found in Entine a strong ally in an area of particular interest to them: education. Interestingly, the current funders of STATS, the Laura and John Palmer Foundation, is heavily invested in education as well, including an espoused dedication to K-12 education -- specifically, nurturing the charter school takeover of public education.
Thus, the 2011 arrival of Jon Entine brought the entire drama of defining and re-structuring STATS to a sudden resolution. Contributions made to STATS from 2011 until it dissolved in 2014 appear to have originated from three key donors (Searle Freedom Trust, Winkler Family Foundation and John Templeton Foundation), and the donations were earmarked for the GLP, who lists those donors as current sponsors on its website. Several of those donations specifically indicated that they were for the “Genetic Literacy and Coercive Paternalism Projects”. One year after the dissolution of STATS, the Science Literacy Project was incorporated in its own right. The Science Literacy Project today funds GLP, which in turn funds GENeS. [http://www.corporatecrimereporter.com/news/200/gary-ruskin-and-jon-entin... Little is known of the Coercive Paternalism Project, the nature of its relationship to Jon Entine and the GLP, or whether it may continue under any other umbrella today.
To summarize, Entine’s 501(c)3 Genetic Literacy Project, according to its website, is a part of the Science Literacy Project; and despite absorbing much of STATS funding in the final years of its affiliation with George Mason University, maintains that it never had any affiliation with GMU whatsoever; and additionally that STATS has dissolved, a strange claim considering that STATS clearly continues to operate today with many of the same directors, the same website, and the same name.
The Genetic Literacy Project
Entine overwhelmingly produces and promotes work that is favorable to chemical and agribusiness interests. His Genetic Literacy Project is instrumental to this end, promoting many key pro-GMO messengers and regularly attacking GMO critics.
There are many examples, but perhaps most telling were a series of papers published by GLP which were later found by US Right to Know to have been commissioned by Monsanto. The professors presented themselves as independent actors, and the work was published by the Genetic Literacy Project. In an interview with Bloomberg, Entine stated that he worked with the professors to edit their papers and “I had total control over the final product..”
US Right to Know uncovered documents demonstrating that Entine and other academics worked closely with industry to promote GMOs and launch counter-attacks on biotechnology critis. Several journalists were identified, and they shared ties with Jon Entine.
Another theme in Entine’s recent writing has been the labeling of products for environmental and social impacts. He is critical of all such efforts, and suggests to his readers an index of eco-labels as a public resource. That database, Select Eco-Label Manager, was developed by chemical company BASF.
Biotechnology Boot Camp
Entine launched a Biotechnology Boot Camp in 2014, with the help of Academics Review – an allegedly objective network of researchers founded by Bruce Chassy and known to be backed by Monsanto.
Brooke Borel, of Popular Science, writes about why she refused a $2,000 honorarium she was offered in return for attending the 2014 Boot Camp. She perceived the money as a conflict of interest, as it was partially provided by BIO, a biotech industry group. She also discloses travel money she accepted, the ethical dilemma that posed for her, and leaves other journalists with a warning that they must follow due diligence if there is a possibility of such a conflict.
Others were more enthusiastic about Entine’s Boot Camps. Mark Lynas, political director at the Cornell Alliance for Science, spoke at Entine’s 2015 boot camp at UC Davis. CAS was founded in 2014 with the express intention to “de-polarize the GMO debate” and seeded with a large donation from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, a client of Entine’s now-defunct PR firm. The Genetic Literacy Project works in a variety of ways with individuals linked to CAS. For instance, GLP has published a number of articles by Joni Kamiya, a CAS fellow and the daughter of a Hawaian GMO papaya farmer. Kamiya also writes for GMO Answers, an industry-funded PR website.
The Cornell Alliance for Science is also involved with Sense About Science – a GMO communications project which shares key similarities with the Biotechnology Literacy Project and has since taken over the operation of STATS. Trevor Butterworth, who is a director of SAS, was an editor at STATS alongside Entine. On the subject of dubious scientific research, Butterworth attempted to counter some prominent claims that industry was influencing research, and explained that bias is necessary for bringing research into focus as “we consume information just like any other product.”
UCDavis and the Genetic Expert News Service (GENeS)
Entine is, once again, working as an unpaid research fellow at a prominent university--this time at University of California - Davis. In 2015, Entine launched GENeS, a non-profit dedicated to connecting researchers with journalists. GENeS is funded by GLP and both fall within the Science Literacy Project. From their website: “GENeS is affiliated with the UC Davis Institute for Food and Agricultural Literacy (IFAL), an outreach initiative on food and agricultural issues under the umbrella of the UC Davis World Food Center. During its first year of operation, GENeS also received University of California funding via IFAL.”
Corporate Crime Reporter states that as of April 2016, UC Davis has not yet complied with a FOIA request from early 2015 demanding information about Entine’s correspondence with interested parties such as BASF, Monsanto, DOW, the Grocery Manufacturer’s Association, and others.
Syngenta: Secretly Ghostwriting for Think Tanks
A 2010 email exchange between Josh Gilder of the White House Writers Group and Syngenta’s principal scientific adviser, Mike Bushell, shows Bushell agreeing to ghost write a chapter on atrazine for an upcoming American Enterprise Institute book on pesticides. The following year, AEI published Crop Chemophobia, edited by Jon Entine. The only mention of atrazine in the book is in a chapter with Entine’s name on it. That chapter focuses on the benefits of atrazine as part of a scathing critique of government regulation and use of the precautionary principle.
The AEI publication was only one half of Syngenta’s strategy. A year prior, the American Council on Science and Health began working on a similar project for Syngenta. They commissioned AEI scholar Jon Entine to write a controversial monograph on chemicals and the public health. ACSH is a self-described consumer education consortium which does not disclose its corporate ties, but a series of 2009 emails obtained by SourceWatch show ACSH officials thanking the global agrochemical giant for “general operating support Syngenta has been so generously providing over the years...the lifeblood of a small non-profit like ours”. The emails detail how Gilbert Ross , then the Medical and Executive Director of ACSH, worked with Syngenta to coordinate a public information campaign on pesticide exposure and human health. The project included a literature review which would discuss Syngenta’s herbicide atrazine among other facets of what Ross called “recent and ongoing ‘controversy’”, and discussed various formats for distributing the information, including making it available for free on their website. For the pesticide project, ACSH requested $100,000 in addition to the regular funding Syngenta was providing.
In 2011, ACSH published a monograph by Jon Entine titled “Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health”, available for free on their website. The piece enumerates and responds to various factors that Entine cites as the source of consumer distrust of the chemical industry. While no emphasis is placed on any particular compound or product, atrazine is specifically mentioned twice in the 21 page booklet as an example of a common chemical thrown into ambiguous controversy as a result of public confusion and/or misconception.
- Taboo: Why Black Athletes Dominate Sports and Why We’re Afraid to Talk About It, 2000
- Pension Fund Politics: The Dangers of Socially Responsible Investing, 2005
- Scared to Death: How Chemophobia Threatens Public Health, 2011
- Let Them Eat Precaution: How Politics is Undermining the Genetic Revolution, 2006
- Abraham's Children: Race, Identity and the DNA of the Chosen People, 2008
- No Crime But Prejudice: Fischer Homes, the Immigration Fiasco, and Extrajudicial Prosecution, 2009
- Crop Chemophobia: Will Precaution Kill the Green Revolution? 2011