Integrity Among Thieves and Liars?
A reply to Heartland Health's Russell King
A week after Part 2 of the Firebreak’s Heartland exposé, on Research Integrity in the Heartland, the Heartland Health Research Alliance’s Executive Director, Russell K King, responded via a blog on why integrity is central to their NGO. As his blog took aim at claims made in our exposé, we feel it is only right to respond.
He seemed to suggest that there are “others” who are critical of his NGO’s research strategy who “prefer we don’t ask. They have vested interests in the answers they promote and fear an unbiased scientific inquiry may produce an answer that does not support those interests”. This is a veiled attack on the authors of the Firebreak Heartland exposé, insinuating that they are acting on behalf of vested interests.
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Why didn’t he just scream out “Monsanto !!!”? First because Monsanto no longer exists. Secondly, he has no evidence to support such a pathetic, tired claim. This is so typical of NGOs like the HHRA, resorting to the same old shill catcall whenever they themselves are caught behaving badly. It is no longer an effective tactic and if Russell King wants to show he is worth his +$200K a year salary, he will have to do better than that. The reality, from our exposé, is that it is his NGO that is run by vested interests who will benefit greatly from any manufactured findings in the Heartland Study.
Russell King is new to the pesticide debate so he does not understand the conflicts, special interests and acrimonious nature of the activist scientists he is associating with, those coming from the Ramazzini culture of contempt and deceit, those who consult for tort law firms and those who try to undermine the regulatory process. I worry that he is only reading documents fed to him by the likes of Phil Landrigan and Melissa Perry, lifelong polarizing adversaries in the war against agricultural technologies. This has perhaps made Russell King quite ignorant of the entrenched bias in the debate and how his organization is being used by these malicious opportunists.
He does not see the cocktail of special interests (tort law firms and organic food industry lobbyists) that came together to form the HHRA in order to benefit from the predetermined results of the Heartland study.
He does not see and will not ask who is funding the donor-advised funds contributing to the NGO that pays his salary.
He does not understand that a correlation study proves nothing if there are no control groups.
He does not understand the science behind the Heartland Study and how the urine test technology being employed is unreliable
Russell King is the perfect tool for some very nasty puppet-masters. But what he claims now as the earnest nature of how science should be conducted does not reflect the nature of the beast controlling the belly of his Scientific Board.
King feels that the Heartland Study is on a quest of discovery. If they find no correlation between glyphosate levels in urine and neo-natal issues, then so be it …they will pack up their equipment and go home content that they have learnt something. While it is cute that King reports on lofty claims made by members of his board, it does not reflect the motives of the wolves conducting this correlation study.
Correlation is not causation. It proves nothing. Why doesn’t the Heartland Study also test urine samples for correlations between neonatal issues and traces of cocaine, alcohol or any of the 1000 chemicals in a cup of coffee (which pregnant women are urged not to drink)? Why doesn’t the Heartland Study then compare the risks of such exposure levels to that of herbicides?
Russell, here is a hint to answer those questions since your blog’s lofty claims of science as discovery indicates you are still quite wet behind the ears. The groups that created your HHRA and conceived of the Heartland study will profit nicely from any suggestion (that will be published in a pay-to-play peer review journal) that herbicides are linked to neonatal issues. Tort law firms will claim the link and then recruit hundreds of thousands of victims (not to deliver justice but to extort an out-of-court settlement) and organic food companies will claim this correlation to further their false-fear campaign that organic food is better for pregnant mothers. These vested interests have been paying off opportunistic scientists like your beloved founder, Chuck Benbrook, for decades.
It may be a small problem, but the funds from the HHRA’s interest groups haven’t proven any causal relationship between herbicides and neonatal issues. They don’t have to. They have activists like you doing the work for them to argue correlation is enough.
Cleaning up Benbrook’s Mess
I pity Russell King. He was an outsider brought in to sort out the ethical hornet’s nest that Charles Benbrook had left behind. Frankly, this is an impossible task. The three-part exposé showed his following vain attempts:
He had to clean up the website and remove all evidence of tort lawyer and organic food industry funding.
He had to remove the board’s vice-chair, Robin Greenwald, who is one of the main lawyers in the glyphosate mass tort litigations. According to a link that is still live, Greenwald is serving as the vice-chair, just not publicly.
He had to get Phil Landrigan to provide an explanation as to why he had helped himself to almost a million dollars of Heartland Study research that he then gave to the Ramazzini Institute (whose scientific committee he was chairing).
He had to get some organization to declare that the HHRA has earned the highest transparency award (even though the report is full of blank text and missing information and the website was scrubbed of any funding disclosures).
Just Go Home
But Russell, no amount of lipstick is going to make this pig look pretty. You are trying to talk a good talk about transparency and integrity, but in reality, you and your NGO are anything but.
By its very design, HHRA is meant to hide how special interests are funding researchers.
Funding is arranged via donor-advised (dark) funds.
These sources’ (likely tort law firms and the organic food industry) funds are anonymized.
Then the money is rinsed again via a donation to the Heartland NGO who, as Russell King claimed in an email, is not involved in the research at all.
The HHRA’s role is to take these anonymized funds and give it, not to the researchers but to the institutions who employ them.
The HHRA then claims, erroneously, that these institutions are their partners.
When the scientists connected to the Heartland group publish papers:
they don’t claim Heartland funding;
they don’t acknowledge the donor-advised fund that gave the money to HHRA;
they don’t admit that these funds originated from special interest groups that would benefit from public fear and outrage about herbicides.
The whole process is deceptive by design.
Russell, how in hell’s name is this transparent? How are you, as you claim, transparent? Where is the integrity in this total shitshow you are now in charge of?
The Hypocrisy Hypothesis
Integrity is an ethical wholeness: an authenticity and genuineness. It is about meaning what you say, being honest and doing what you say you are going to do. Transparency is a key element behind authenticity and honesty. Russell King concluded his attack blog with the obvious: without integrity, there is no trust.
And if the HHRA is lacking in integrity, as the Firebreak presented in fine detail, then any claims by its executive director to the contrary is pure hypocrisy.
But Russell King’s quest to clean up this ethical trainwreck of an NGO, to do the impossible, may merely be at the beginning stages. If he believes integrity is key for his organization, then he needs to be transparent and publish the following details:
Who are the donors that earmarked their contributions to the Chicago Community Foundation donor-advised fund to be given to HHRA?
Why do you (and US Right to Know) refer to the donors as the Chicago Community Foundation when they are actually known as the Chicago Community Trust … or are they different?
For years, HHRA promotional documents requested contributions via the Franciscan Health Foundation but in your revised 2021 IRS document, there is no mention of payments from this donor-advised fund. Where did this money go?
Who is funding the researchers taking the urine samples from the study participants at the various hospitals? Who is funding the tests? Are you still relying on the cheap tests done by the Maharishi yogic flyers?
Why did the largest HHRA distribution of funds in 2021 go to the Ramazzini Institute via indirect channels (ie, Boston College)? What was Phil Landrigan’s actual role in this?
Who authorized Landrigan’s misuse of almost one million dollars of Heartland funds? Were there any controls on the use of the Heartland donors’ funds?
Will HHRA declare that from 2024 onwards there will be no further funding from any special interest groups, eg, tort law firms and industry groups like the organic food lobby (contrary to what your website presently says)?
Will HHRA declare that from 2024 onwards there will be no further funding from foundations that use dark, non-transparent donor-advised funds?
In an email, you referred to the HHRA as a “foundation”. Is this in your statutes?
If Russell King can provide transparent evidence to answer these points, then he can rightly claim that he is not just another hypocrite in a cynical activist world building an empire based on fear, deception and lies. The Firebreak will even publish his answers and issue a formal apology.
If, however, Russell King cannot be as transparent and ethical as he claims to be, then it can only be assumed that he must be getting up every morning simply for his salary … another sad, cynical victim of Big Fear. At least we will agree that no one will trust the findings of the Heartland Study. If so, it would be better if King doesn’t talk about integrity again and show a bit more respect for the facts.
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