If you’re a scientist, and your findings might cost a big company some money, expect that company to try to destroy you, personally as well as professionally. Of course, we only get to find out when the effort at least partially fails. If you’re wondering why climate scientists don’t want to give their industry-sponsored critics access to their data, this might provide a hint.
Syngentaâ€™s public-relations team had drafted a list of four goals. The first was “discredit Hayes.” …Â In 2005, Ford made a long list of methods for discrediting him: “have his work audited by 3rd party,” “ask journals to retract,” “set trap to entice him to sue,” “investigate funding,” “investigate wife.”
Things I’d like to see:
* The universities banding together to provide a defense fund for their faculty, so the Tyrone Hayeses facing corporate persecution and the Michael Manns facing official persecution – always with aid of the wingnut media –don’t have to do so alone.
* Some Senate hearings on Syngenta’s unconscionable behavior, where its flacks and their academic shills had to defend themselves in public.
* Repeal of the ludicrously misnamed “Data Quality Act,” written by corporate lobbyists to keep unsafe products on the market.
* A Presidential order for the EPA to re-analyze the atrazine data.
25 thoughts on “Corporate Lysenkoism”
Speaking as someone who used to work with contested environmental data, this is completely unsurprising to me. I once noticed shortly before I left, with some dismay, that of the 5 or so largest projects I had ever worked on, final regulations had been promulgated in only one, mostly due to lawsuits or cold feet due to fear of lawsuits.
I note that a Forbes writer, taking the company's line, was listed in the company's documents as a "supportive “third party,”", made some fraudulent and libelous lies. I won't hold my breath waiting for Forbes to fire the guy.
I assume you're referring to Jon Entine, who wrote an article on Hayes last summer. It was actually quite heavy with quotes of third parties and external documents including from the EPA. Unless you're suggesting that he misquoted or took stuff out of context — which would be extremely easy to demonstrate — what's your evidence that the quotes are "fraudulent and libelous"?
For example, from Entine's article:
"Under relentless attack by those touting Hayes’ work, the EPA examined the frog allegations in 2007, concluding, “atrazine does not adversely affect amphibian gonadal development based on a review of laboratory and field studies, including studies submitted by the registrant and studies published in the scientific literature.”
The dying frogs theory seems largely relegated to the Berkeley lab. “Atrazine has been used widely in South Africa for the past 45 years, and our studies showed that Xenopus are doing equally fine in agricultural and nonagricultural areas,” zoologist Louis du Preez of North-West University in South Africa noted in 2010. African clawed frogs do not appear to be suffering from the herbicide in their native habitats. “If atrazine had these adverse effects on Xenopus in the wild, surely we would have picked it up by now.”"
As a matter of personality, I'm not big on kowtowing to authority. But I think it behooves us to be suspicious of conspiracy theories that entail that federal agencies, the UC administration and dozens of other researchers have all been "bought off" by this one chemical company. There's too much of that kind of thinking out there, e.g., when the name "Monsanto" gets mentioned. That way lie chemtrails and tin foil hats.
Did you read the entire New Yorker article? I don't think anyone, except maybe Hayes himself, is suggesting a "conspiracy" at the scale you are claiming. They definitely did undertake a concerted effort to discredit him, as the records show, so perhaps his paranoia can be forgiven.
The "dying frogs theory" (which, by the way, isn't an entirely accurate description of the theory) is not relegated to Berkeley, as a few other labs working on it are explicitly mentioned in the article. PNAS and Nature articles by authors at multiple institutions (including Hayes/Berkeley) have published on the subject. It's not some crackpot conspiracy theory.
Also, the argument in the article isn't that EPA has been bought off, it's that EPA's cost-benefit and other analyses tend to be far too conservative due to the heavy hand of OMB and/or fear of lawsuits, and that EPA relies on chemical manufacturers to fund studies of the toxicity of their own chemicals, which are likely subject to manipulation through choices in experimental design. The former is objectively true, and the latter strikes me as entirely plausible, given the range of experimental designs available in toxicity experiments.
That was fast. Looks like Syngenta has a google search going.
I'd add that Aviv's quoting of Entine is misleading as to his meaning. He didn't say just that Hayes behavior "borders on criminal". The full quote has quite a different nuance: "Hayes has led the international regulatory community on a wild goose chase for more than a decade, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. In a world where public research funds are limited and dwindling, that borders on criminal." This is a variation of a theme previously discussed by George Monbiot, hardly a pro-corporate writer, in the context of wild claims about hazards of cellphone radiation: "One of the central tenets of environmentalism is that resources should be used as carefully and sparingly as possible. … But there is one resource whose use by this movement is sometimes astonishingly profligate: the time and energy deployed by campaigners…. We should use this rare blessing as intelligently as possible, campaigning against the most pressing threats, ensuring that we are not distracted by issues that are either trivial or imaginary. There is no shortage of large, demonstrable and urgent hazards to the environment and public health. … Faced with such issues, we cannot afford to squander precious time and energy chasing phantoms." (http://www.theguardian.com/environment/georgemonbiot/2012/apr/27/protesting-mobile-phones-environmental-movement)
Regarding the EPA's use of industry tests — that's not all they use if there is other research available. But the system we have is premised on the idea that it's up to the industry to demonstrate safety to the regulators. Not up to the regulators (and therefore taxpayers) to fund studies for industry's benefit. Imagine the outrage on the left if the EPA did fund such studies and they showed a product was safe at some level when EWG and Natural News had already declared it poison.
I don't have a dog in this fight, nor do I have the toxicology training to know whether Hayes claims are credible at this point. I do know that the New Yorker has a history of sensationalist scare mongering about doubtful health threats — a famous one from the '80s still gets quoted by people fearful of power line EMFs and has had extremely expensive and lasting consequences for our ability to build new clean energy infrastructure. (If you can't build new high-tension lines, you can't get solar power from the desert to the cities.)
Nice invocation of the shill gambit, by the way. Never fails. Anyone who hasn't bought into the conspiracy is ipso facto in the pay of the Great Satan.
I am not following this business about Entine.
I would note though that you seem to have missed the point. The company was caught redhanded in trying to smear a scientist because they didn't like the results of his studies. If that doesn't bother you, um, I'd have to ask, what would?
There is no fantasy here. They went so far as to put in writing, for crying out loud. How much ore proof do you want?
In a better world, it wouldn't be Hayes' job to deal with people's nonsense — he should be able to do his work. Scientists should be considered like the Red Cross or noncombatants. If you don't like their study, do your own. Or make truthful, even if harsh, critiques *of the work.* But you don't follow people around so you can harass them. And call their bosses to try to get them in trouble. Or try to embarrass them and exploit their personal weaknesses. This was very shameful behavior for any corporation and especially for the scientists they corrupted into participating. It is not just some little kerfluffle. It is a lot much to invoke the tin hat brigade.
Scientists should be considered like the Red Cross or noncombatants. If you don't like their study, do your own. Or make truthful, even if harsh, critiques *of the work.* But you don't follow people around so you can harass them. And call their bosses to try to get them in trouble. Or try to embarrass them and exploit their personal weaknesses.
At what point are you an advocate, rather than a researcher?
For example–Newt Gingrich has a Ph.D. He's a polciitican, not a scholar.
I haven't noticed a great hostility to the widespread smears and hostility toward the "human variation" scholars (Murray et al); again, they are perceived as acting as advocates (and seem to be doing less advocay than Dr Hayes was.)
So at what point are you an advocate–for whom "dude is obsessed" is a perfectly sensible response–vs a scholar?
"I haven't noticed a great hostility to the widespread smears and hostility toward the "human variation" scholars (Murray et al); again, they are perceived as acting as advocates (and seem to be doing less advocay than Dr Hayes was.) "
Murray's work has been repeatedly ripped to shreds, by an awesome number of people, from a wide variety of disciplines, backgrounds, methodologies and political positions.
He is impossible to 'smear'.
BTW, who are these other 'scholars'? Steve Sailer?
At what point are you an advocate, rather than a researcher?
For example–Newt Gingrich has a Ph.D. He's a <strikeout>polciitican</strikeout> poltroon, not a scholar.
Fixed it for you…
"I would note though that you seem to have missed the point. The company was caught redhanded in trying to smear a scientist because they didn't like the results of his studies. If that doesn't bother you, um, I'd have to ask, what would? "
His check not clearing the bank?
This was all settled years ago. Hayes has been vindicated, and the PR firms hired to smear him called out.
Very similar to Chapela and GM maize. Almost identical. except for the absence of Andura Smetacek.
Interesting comparison. A quote from the Daily Cal on Chapela's research: "Chapela's most contentious published paper, which argued in "Nature," a major science journal, that DNA from genetically modified corn in Mexico ruined original crops. The journal later withdrew its support of the paper, saying "the evidence available (was) not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper." " Sounds an awful lot like the Seralini retraction.
With all three — Hayes, Chapela and Seralini — it's hard to avoid the sense that their research is driven as much or more by motivated reasoning than by an unbiased search for truth. (It's unarguable that Syngenta is as well, but everyone expects that. Also, let me be clear that nothing I've said has been meant to excuse or justify the personal attacks Syngenta has pursued against Hayes. But it seems to me from Aviv's article and what I've read about it here in Berkeley that the University has supported Hayes.)
"Also, let me be clear that nothing I've said has been meant to excuse or justify the personal attacks Syngenta has pursued against Hayes. "
Actually, everything that you've written has attempted just that.
The Googles – still without a 'wisdom' button.
That is: there was a long, prolonged fight with much publicity surrounding the circumstances behind that paper and the pressure put on his university by outside forces to deny him tenure. You should check it out. Motivated reasoning. Pffft.
"Hayes has led the international regulatory community on a wild goose chase for more than a decade, wasting hundreds of millions of dollars in the process. In a world where public research funds are limited and dwindling, that borders on criminal."
Sounds libelous to me. And please note that Syngenta did not assume that ordinary science would prove Hayes wrong, or even a special (honest) research effort, but that a secret – well, conspiracy – was needed.
And talking about cellphone radiation is tossing an irrelevant issue.
That's not libelous. Saying that something is a "wild goose chase" is not a statement of objective fact, but rather an opinion. That can't be libelous.
What I’d like to see (yeah, right) is a complete halt to acceptance of requests for new approvals as long as anyone who was in a position to know of this effort is in the management chain at Syngenta. There should be the same kind of sanctions that are used to tell some people that they can no longer work in the securities industry or the airline industry. Oh, and disgorgement.
Senate hearings would be fun, and it would be good to force these bastards to testify under oath, but I agree with Paul that we should do something that costs them money. "No approvals until the guilty parties are fired" is one option, "No approvals forever" would really make the rest of the industry sit up and take notice.
.Wow, what a great article. Thanks for posting about it. What an amazing person Hayes is.
Here were two of my favorite parts:
"The European Union generally takes a precautionary approach to environmental risks, choosing restraint in the face of uncertainty. In the U.S., lingering scientific questions justify delays in regulatory decisions. Since the mid-seventies, the E.P.A. has issued regulations restricting the use of only five industrial chemicals out of more than eighty thousand in the environment."
In a nutshell, you can't really rely on the fedgov a lot of the time. That's too bad.
And this part:
"At some of his lectures, Hayes warned that the consequences of atrazine use were disproportionately felt by people of color. “If you’re black or Hispanic, you’re more likely to live or work in areas where you’re exposed to crap,” he said. He explained that “on the one side I’m trying to play by the ivory-tower rules, and on the other side people are playing by a different set of rules.” Syngenta was speaking directly to the public, whereas scientists were publishing their research in “magazines that you can’t buy in Barnes and Noble.”"
And perhaps best of all, this part:
"Berkeley declined to take disciplinary action against Hayes. The university’s lawyer reminded Syngenta in a letter that “all parties have an equal responsibility to act professionally.”"
It is sad that it is mostly a matter of luck that this danger is even getting exposed. If the public doesn't want to pay for research, and is too dumb to understand how political the media is when it comes to science (and this often includes me, I'm sorry to say…), and how much are politicians are corrupted by our lack of public campaign finance, then we are pretty much sitting ducks. You get the government you pay for I guess.
I don't think it's enough to just make them fire people, or just do hearings that most people will ignore (me too).
I think maybe the rule should be, if you don't promise to share and publish *all* results and data, no respectable journal will publish *any* of the research done or funded by X corporation. Plus, your studies won't be considered by agencies.
But I am in the bleachers. There must be people who have better ideas about how to stamp this out.
Hi: btw, it is making me sign in *every time.* Once a day is okay. But not every time, please. I didn't even sign out before I don't think. And my username was taken!!!! I had to change it!!!! (The **height** of indignity. ; > )
I registered with WordPress and gigadebate (or whoever) and it knows me when I come in to visit.
I had to change my user-name too (used to be Dennis, now I'm … well, you see). But I had no hope that my name wasn't already taken. Not that I'm happy about it, mind.
BTW, bighorn50 is a reference to my favorite trombone in my current stable. Nothing salacious (or ovine for that matter) — unless you think all trombonists are salacious.
I remember way back when this started, Alex Avery (Dennis' son, following in his footsteps) was on a popular corporate disinformation site, bashing Hayes. Avery was using the company lines: not reproducable, etc. Avery thought he was given some pretty good lines but I had a subscription to the journal that Hayes published in. Poor Avery wasn't given answers to the objections, sputtered a bit, and finally accused me of being a Hayes lab assistant.
That is: the tiniest pushback negated the corporate disinformation campaign. Our society isn't prepared for this and has few mechanisms to overcome widespread disinformation (laments about media failings go here: __________________________________ ).
From a special issue of Journal of Steriod Biochemistry and Molecular Biology in 2011: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/21419222
Tyrone Hayes (and 21 coauthors) make the case here and in other publications. Other scientists have confirmed, extended, and replicated the basic science for all classes of vertebrate. Though there are differences in detail across the phylum and the natural environment, there is really little doubt that endocrine disruptors are just that. As with anthropogenic climate change, the question for the "sowers of doubt" at Syngenta is whether they want to make what would be an inconsequential Type I Statistical Error (false positive) or an irretrievable Type II Statistical Error (false negative). Of course, they don't really care. When they turn out to have made the Type II Error the response will be "Oops, sorry about that" and consequences for them will be nil.
@Mark Kleiman- OFF TOPIC BUT- I am having a tech problem with your web site and since there doesn't seem to be a contact link I will air it here.
On Internet Explorer your site works fine. On Google Chrome your site is stuck on December 27th 2013 (at least on my display). The links to other sites work fine. Note that I am in Sweden so the glitch may be due to that. Also I'm an old ludite with low tech skills so there is that too.
I really prefer using Google Chrome as it runs quicker with less gliches except for this one glitch. If you understand this or could forward it to the person who handles this stuff to address it I would be grateful.
Thanks for your patient indulgance and thanks for running an interesting and fun site.
Long time reader, Fred
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