Seed Money

By Brooke Borel, October 19, 2015, BuzzFeed News

The Vern Blazek Science Power Hour is, in many ways, just another weird podcast on the internet. This summer, it had around 90 Twitter followers and 49 Facebook friends, and the creator claimed it got a couple thousand hits per episode.

It’s an interview show. On each episode, Blazek, a self-described radio personality in Tillamook, Oregon, who has an oddly deep and lispy voice, talks to a different scientist or science advocate. They get into research nitty gritty and Blazek cracks a few jokes. The whole point, according to the show’s original intro, is “sorting through the shills and charlatans to distill the scientific truth.”

On June 13, Blazek published an interview with Kevin Folta, a plant scientist from the University of Florida. Their discussion focused on genetically modified organisms, or GMOs, and the science behind this technology. Anti-GMO activists, Folta lamented to Blazek, were making misguided attempts to tie independent scientists to the agricultural giant Monsanto, one of the most polarizing companies in America.

In July, through a bizarre email exchange, I discovered that Blazek is Folta’s alter ego. It was Folta who put on that disguised voice and interviewed his colleagues. It was Folta who had interviewed himself, without ever telling his audience. Because of our correspondence, Folta shut down the show and killed off Vern. Two weeks after that, a scandal broke that uprooted his life.

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