Documents released on Aug. 1 in a lawsuit provided a behind-the-scenes look at biotechnology company Monsanto's efforts to influence the news media and scientific research.
The documents are the latest to be made public from the so-called "Monsanto Papers," which were unsealed by a federal court on March 14, as part of a lawsuit against the chemical giant, The New York Times reported.
One email released in the initial batch was from William F. Heydens, a Monsanto executive, regarding the company's popular herbicide, Roundup.
The active ingredient in Roundup, glyphosate, is the biggest-selling weed killer in the world. It is also one of the most controversial.
In his email, Heydens told other company officials that they could ghostwrite research on glyphosate by hiring academics to put their names on papers that were actually written by Monsanto.
"We would be keeping the cost down by us doing the writing and they would just edit & sign their names so to speak," Heydens wrote.
In an email released on Aug. 1, Henry I. Miller, an academic and advocate of genetically modified crops, asked Monsanto to draft an article for him that eventually appeared under his name on Forbes's website in 2015.
The article was an attack on the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, a branch of the World Health Organization that had labeled glyphosate a probable carcinogen.
In email correspondence, Monsanto asked Miller if he would be interested in writing an article on the topic. Miller responded: "I would be if I could start from a high-quality draft."
Miller's response prompted a complaint from Monsanto employee John Acquavella to a Monsanto executive. "I can't be part of deceptive authorship on a presentation or publication," wrote Acquavella in an email. "We call that ghost writing and it is unethical."
Scott Partridge, vice president of global strategy for Monsanto, defended the exposed emails. "What you're seeing are some cherry-picked things that can be made to look bad," Mr. Partridge said. "But the substance and the science are not affected by this."
Regarding the Forbes article that appeared under Miller's byline, Partridge said: "This is not a scientific, peer-reviewed journal. It's an op-ed we collaborated with him on."
Forbes rejected Partridge's claim that the piece was a collaboration.
"All contributors to Forbes.com sign a contract requiring them to disclose any potential conflicts of interest and only publish content that is their own original writing," Mia Carbonell, a Forbes spokeswoman, said in a statement. "When it came to our attention that Mr. Miller violated these terms, we removed his blog from Forbes.com and ended our relationship with him."
Miller is the Robert Wesson Fellow in Scientific Philosophy and Public Policy at the Hoover Institution, a conservative think tank at Stanford University.
He has long been a target of Monsanto critics. Mike Adams, editor of the website Natural News, has called Miller an "industry shill," a "professional liar," and an "academic prostitute."
In a 2014 interview in The Nation magazine, linguist and political activist Noam Chomsky compared Hoover Institution scholars to North Korean propagandists.
Sources: The New York Times (2), Hoover Institution, Natural News, The Nation / Featured Image: Karen Eliot/Wikimedia Commons / Embedded Images: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg via The New York Times, Hoover Institution