Gary Ruskin is the executive director of the US Right to Know (USRTK), an anti-GMO activist organization ostensibly devoted to “uncovering the food industry’s efforts to manipulate scientists into advancing pro-genetically-modified propaganda,” but primarily trying to advance denialist causes by issuing FOIA requests designed to harass or silence those he disagrees with, i.e. experts and scientists who actually know anything about the topic. After all, as the American Association for the Advancement of Science puts it, “[e]very … respected organization that has examined the evidence has come to the same conclusion,” namely that “[c]onsuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.” Anti-GMO movements accordingly cannot win on facts or evidence, but other strategies are available: after all, public debates, as opposed to the scientific ones, are often not won by facts and evidence.
As such, Ruskin and his group have become notable for having perfected one of the most effective denialist campaigning strategies in existence, the advanced shill gambit: if an expert who knows more than you on a topic a says something that don’t gel with your preferred narrative, don’t bother to discuss the facts; go for poisoning the well instead. In particular: investigate the person and harass her/him with FOIA requests; eventually, you will find some association you can possibly spin in a manner that makes it possible to question the integrity of the expert in question. What you find need of course not be anything that is even remotely fishy; as long as your target needs to explain the association, then questions are raised, and the FUD strategy has succeeded. Thus, any integrity issues you raise might involve multiple degrees of separation, if need be: If your target’s uncle works at the same institution as the mother-in-law of the founder of a non-profit organization you think (but has no evidence for thinking) has received support from Big Pharma, for instance (this was actually the one used by antivaccine conspiracy theorist Jake Crosby to try to discredit a science-based book Seth Mnookin that Crosby didn’t like or have the capacity to engage with on fact- and evidence-based grounds), you are in a position to reject anything your target has said about anything. It really is the most effective strategy when you can’t argue the facts or the evidence: question instead your opponent’s motives – yes, the strategy, which Ruskin has perfected, is the ultimate ad hominem.
Ruskin has summed up some of his “findings” in his report “Seedy Business: What Big Food Is Hiding With Its Slick PR Campaign on GMOs”, which proceeds by accusing scientists who disagree with him of being “untrustworthy” and “shills” in lieu of having to deal with the actual science. Perhaps the most illustrative example of the strategy is Ruskin’s and USRTK’s campaigns targeting Kevin Folta, which are detailed here. Ruskin’s strategy and its outcomes are further discussed here. Ruskin has also appeared on Dr. Oz to promote his harassment strategies and, without a hint of irony, to help discredit Oz’s critics with the help of shill gambits; yes, that’s right: dr. Oz was trying to discredit people pointing out how corrupt he is by accusing them of being paid.
It should be emphasized that the URSTK itself is funded by the organic food industry, a fact that they are, shall we say, not always sanguine about and sometimes inadvertently forget to mention when defending their own tactics.
Apart from harassing scientists, the URSTK website also serves as a repository for various denialist talking points and conspiracy theories. It should also be mentioned that one of the most experienced FUD tacticians in the denialist movement, Carey Gillam, is an central figure in URSTK.
Diagnosis: Yes, their business model is built around a familiar fallacy. So what? It’s effective, and this was never about facts, evidence or science. An icon of the post-truth political discourse, URSTK is an insidious threat to civilization and, yes, democracy.
And keep in mind: If you believe that scientists, who have devoted their lives and careers - and often sacrificed far more lucrative employment opportunities - to research their fields of interest, will without further ado opt for lying and deceiving on behalf of industry in return for small research grants, then that tells us quite a bit about you and your integrity; not so much about those scientists.