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Medicine Science

A Corporate War Against a Scientist, and How He Fought Back 253

Posted by timothy
from the tools-at-his-disposal dept.
AthanasiusKircher writes "Environmental and health concerns about atrazine — one of the most commonly used herbicides in the U.S. — have been voiced for years, leading to an EU ban and multiple investigations by the EPA. Tyrone Hayes, a Berkeley professor who has spearheaded research on the topic, began to display signs of apparent paranoia over a decade ago. He noticed strangers following him to conferences around the world, taking notes and asking questions aimed to make him look foolish. He worried that someone was reading his email, and attacks against his reputation seemed to be everywhere; search engines even displayed ad hits like 'Tyrone Hayes Not Credible' when his name was searched for. But he wasn't paranoid: documents released after a lawsuit from Midwestern towns against Syngenta, the manufacturer of atrazine, showed a coordinated smear campaign. Syngenta's public relations team had a list of ways to defend its product, topped by 'discredit Hayes.' Its internal list of methods: 'have his work audited by 3rd party,' 'ask journals to retract,' 'set trap to entice him to sue,' 'investigate funding,' 'investigate wife,' etc. A recent New Yorker article chronicles this war against Hayes, but also his decision to go on the offensive and strike back. He took on the role of activist against atrazine, giving over 50 public talks on the subject each year, and even taunting Syngenta with profanity-laced emails, often delivered in a rapping 'gangsta' style. The story brings up important questions for science and its public persona: How do scientists fight a PR war against corporations with unlimited pockets? How far should they go?"
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A Corporate War Against a Scientist, and How He Fought Back

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  • Fight with numbers (Score:4, Insightful)

    by halcyon1234 (834388) <halcyon1234@hotmail.com> on Sunday February 09, 2014 @07:06PM (#46205893) Journal
    Every single scientist should fight it. Make them execute every single scummy plan they have on the books. If hundreds of thousands of scientists fight back, you'll see just how "unlimited" corp's pockets actually are. When the majority revolts, the corporate overlords quickly discover pushing their agenda gets costly and isn't worth it anymore...
    • sdfasdf (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Impy the Impiuos Imp (442658) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @07:23PM (#46206019) Journal

      The correct place is to battle it out in scientific journals. Corporations should not be doing this, but legion are the talking heads and book promoters tearing down things from GM food to Olestra to any number of other things with little or no science backing them.

      • by microbox (704317)
        Corporations are also assaulting the scientific journal business as well -- esp. big pharma and the oil industry. A few hundred thousand goes a long way when it comes to buying "academia"
      • the Earth will have overheated and so thoroughly polluted with toxic pesticides that life will become impossible.

    • by Jane Q. Public (1010737) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @07:33PM (#46206105)
      Part of the problem is that publicly-funded science hasn't necessarily been public-access anymore.

      What good is it to be an activist when your research shows something bad, when the journal you published it in copyrighted and paywalled it, and the public has no ready access?

      Obviously, some research should be classified. But that's such a minuscule percentage that it is hardly worth considering. Other than that tiny amount, publicly funded research should be public. Period.
      • The history of human progress during the 20th century clearly demonstrates that copyrighted journals do not impead the flow of scientific information to the public, quite the opposite in fact. For example there's a mountain of easily accesible and very credible information about AGW from just about every scientific institution you can care to name, but some people still quote Anthony Watts as a credible source on the subject.
        • I didn't say that copyrights, per se, have been the culprit. But paywalls demonstrably are.

          Further, I wasn't necessarily referring to the "20th Century". The problem that most people have remarked on seems to be more of a phenomenon of the last decade or so.

          "For example there's a mountain of easily accesible and very credible information about AGW from just about every scientific institution you can care to name, but some people still quote Anthony Watts as a credible source on the subject."

          What matters is not the source, but the validity of the science the source is reporting on. This obsession with who the source is undermines real science. Shooting the messenger is not a valid scientific argument.

          Having said that, I am NOT claimin

          • by riverat1 (1048260)

            Having said that, I am NOT claiming Watts is a wonderfully reliable source ... I'd definitely rate him as less biased than realclimate.org, ...

            ROTFL - I'm blowing mod points but I can't let that ridiculous statement stand. The only bias I've seen at Real Climate is for good science and they've got the data to back it up. The guys running it are among the leading scientists in the field. I guess that might seem biased to someone who is already biased against what their science says but in the end the real world will tell you what they got right and what they got wrong. So far they're doing pretty good.

            • "The only bias I've seen at Real Climate is for good science and they've got the data to back it up."

              What data is that? You mean like HadCRUT and GISS? Don't make me laugh.

              If you don't start paying attention to both "sides" of the debate, you're going to end up looking pretty foolish.

              • by riverat1 (1048260)

                Well, you made me laugh. When the independent Berkeley Earth Science Temperature project found essentially the same temperature trends as HadCRUT, GISS and NOAA I think the accuracy of them was pretty much confirmed. Even if you just take the raw unadjusted temperature data you don't get substantially different results.

                I do pay attention to the climate debate but I've seen very little good science coming from the climate contrarian side. One example of that is Anthony Watts bringing a lot of attention to

      • by microbox (704317)

        Part of the problem is that publicly-funded science hasn't necessarily been public-access anymore.

        Publically funded research has never been public-access in the sense you mean. Journals have a strangle hold, and it is difficult to pry loose the death grip. JSTOR [wikipedia.org] was -- in its day -- a revolutionary step towards better public access, but with the rise of the internet, it's obvious that this is not enough. There are strong moves towards open access journals in academia (seriously, academics have no love of the journals, which are leeches), but the incentive structures that advance academic careers are a

        • "Publically funded research has never been public-access in the sense you mean."

          I am aware of this. But the problem is more widely recognized than before.

          The fact that it wasn't that way in the past is not an argument against change. As a taxpayer, it makes me angry. If I've paid for it, it should not be held hostage in corporate (publisher) vaults, so to speak. Other than things classified for genuine national security reasons, publicly funded research should be public.

          "A cultural change needs to occur in how academics are assessed by their university administration in order to break the stranglehold."

          I agree, and I agree that the situation is looking up. We still have a way to go, though.

      • by MobyDisk (75490)

        when the journal you published it in copyrighted and paywalled it, and the public has no ready access?

        That is public access. Any member of the public can obtain it by simply buying the article, or a subscription. "Public access" doesn't always mean "must provide everyone a free copy."

        • "Public access" doesn't always mean "must provide everyone a free copy."

          No, but it should. That's the point.

          If the public paid for it, the public should have open access to it. There is no valid societal or ethical reason private publishers should have a stranglehold on publicly-funded research.
    • Every single scientist should fight it. Make them execute every single scummy plan they have on the books. If hundreds of thousands of scientists fight back, you'll see just how "unlimited" corp's pockets actually are. When the majority revolts, the corporate overlords quickly discover pushing their agenda gets costly and isn't worth it anymore...

      Depends on how many of those scientists can be bought, perhaps with funding for their projects for example.

  • by rts008 (812749) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @07:08PM (#46205913) Journal

    The story brings up important questions for science and its public persona: How do scientists fight a PR war against corporations with unlimited pockets? How far should they go?"

    How far? The full distance.
    Anything less, and it shows you don't really care in the long run.(all within the limits of sane and just laws, that is-in the presence of insane, or unjust laws, then no restrictions...you have nothing else to lose)

  • Judging by the amount of profanity in the posts related to a certain Beta, I would had expected that a profanity slinging scientist would be Slashdot's hero of the day....
  • He needs an Erin Brokovich to help!

  • He's got my support!
  • And you will never work again in any related industry.

  • Anyway (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rduke15 (721841) <rduke15@noSpaM.gmail.com> on Sunday February 09, 2014 @08:41PM (#46206535)

    Tyrone Hayes [...] began to display signs of apparent paranoia over a decade ago. [...] But he wasn't paranoid

    “Just because you're paranoid doesn't mean they aren't after you”
            -- Joseph Heller (?)

    “Paranoia is just having the right information.”
            -- William S. Burroughs

  • Slashcott! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LaminatorX (410794) <sabotage@NOspAM.praecantator.com> on Monday February 10, 2014 @01:33AM (#46207843) Homepage

    This site used to be great. Even in it's latter days, it's been good. That is poised to change. Before long, it will be mediocre, and ordinary.

    I didn't see a problem when Dice Holdings initially bought Slashdot. I figured there would be efforts to drive nerd traffic towards their job listings and such. That was fine. We all need jobs.

    Things have changed now. Beyond the shifts in story choices, the slashvertisements, and so on, something fundamental has changed: Slashdot's owners do not appreciate it.

    Their recent financials show that they have written its value as an asset down to zero. They have legally claimed it to be worthless. That is at the root of what is happening now. They want to fundamentally change the nature of this site in order to remake it into something with big growth potential.

    Beta is just the latest symptom of this disease. It will not be the last. In striving to make it into a site that will bring them a growing user base and growing revenue per user, they have shown a willingness to dumb down the interface in the name of making it more accessible to newcomers, to cast aside essential elements of decade-spanning community culture, and to plow ahead with changes in the face of overwhelmingly negative user feedback.

    This is not going to change. This will not go away. I will not support it.

    I will be gone for this entire week, in protest. While away, I will work to create a new community where things can be run with quality user discussions as the paramount objective.

    Be seeing you.

  • Atrazine (Score:5, Interesting)

    by Viceroy Potatohead (954845) on Monday February 10, 2014 @03:16AM (#46208221) Homepage
    I used to farm... A bit of information that's kind of interesting about atrazine. Locally, at least, it was only ever used on corn, and would pretty much wipe anything else out. It's residual effects are pretty striking, and if we sprayed it on a field of corn, then corn would be the only thing that would grow on the field the next year as well. Anecdotally, I've known some farmers who could only grow corn for *five years* on land that had been sprayed too heavily. It pretty much made the ground sterile for anything else.

    I'm off to boycott... FUCK BETA
  • was it justified? (Score:3, Informative)

    by stenvar (2789879) on Monday February 10, 2014 @04:13AM (#46208349)

    How do scientists fight a PR war against corporations with unlimited pockets? How far should they go?

    Perhaps the first question to ask is whether his "PR war" is justified. The EPA (under Clinton) and APVMA (Australia's equivalent) decided there was no evidence atrazine was harmful, and several studies failed to reproduce his results.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/A... [wikipedia.org]

    So, the flipside of that question is: what should companies do against persistent but scientifically baseless attacks? Almost anything they can do can be twisted around to make them look even more manipulative and guilty.

    • by hey! (33014)

      Perhaps the first question to ask is whether his "PR war" is justified.

      Actually, you're confusing the issue. It's fine to debate the environmental impact of atrazine, but that's not the question at hand. The issue is *the ground rules of a fair and civilized debate*.

      I can't punch you in the mouth to shut you up, just because you're wrong. A civilized debate allows the wrong side to make its case without harassment, because freedom to have only "correct" opinions is no freedom at all.

      So, the flipside of that question is: what should companies do against persistent but scientifically baseless attacks? Almost anything they can do can be twisted around to make them look even more manipulative and guilty.

      Seriously, you don't know the answer to this question? You can't see a more appropriate respon

      • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

        by stenvar (2789879)

        You can't see a more appropriate response than a campaign of dirty tricks and character assassination? Well, lets start with what they shouldn't do if they want to avoid looking manipulative and guilty: they should't harass people and invade their privacy.

        No, actually I can't see a more appropriate response. After the EPA and other agencies looked at his data and rejected it, the scientific debate was over. If Hayes wanted to make more contributions as a scientist, the only way to do it would have been to p

  • by gnalre (323830) on Monday February 10, 2014 @05:40AM (#46208593)

    This is nothing new. When big business and science collide, big business know no bounds as to what they will do to protect there profit margin

    Examples include

    Industry attacks against Clair Patterson from the leaded fuel industry.
    The tobacco lobby against health professionals
    The CFC industry against climate scientists

    They continue today with attacks against climate scientists from big oil and coal concerns.

    The worry is that the public seem more minded to side with the vested interests against the scientific voice and the fact that many of the attacks come from scientists working within the industry showing a severe lack of morality by the people in those areas. All industry seem to have to do is raise the spectre of potential economic harm and the public go along with them.

  • by Medievalist (16032) on Monday February 10, 2014 @12:23PM (#46210317)

    The USA has always had megacorps that were willing to attack scientists in order to keep on poisoning the people of the USA.

    See, for example, how Kehoe [nih.gov], Kettering [theglobalrealm.com] and Midgely [uh.edu] (working for GM, DuPont and the Ethyl Corporation) attacked the reputations and careers of whistle-blowing scientists (like Patterson [wikipedia.org], Landrigan [wikipedia.org] and Needleman [wikipedia.org]) in order to hide the horrific effects of lead poisoning. The high toxicity of lead was known in the 19th century, and well quantified by the mid-1930s, but hidden from the US public until the 1970s by a concerted corporate disinformation campaign.

    In just the last century, we increased our exposure to lead in the environment by 625 times [who.int] and the effects are going to last for several more generations at least. This poisoning of generations of children, with literally many millions of victims, was done to maximize corporate profits for America's ruling class. And in today's political climate - with Reagan corporatist Obama actually considered to be left-wing or even socialist - you can expect this sort of behavior will continue.

  • I do not have the expertise to make a reasoned judgement here, and I'm gonna assume most of you don't either. When media tries to do science, it's a dangerous thing. It could go either way, with cigarette companies paying doctors to promote their products, and rogue doctors raising doubt in things like vaccines.

    There does seem to be some institutional failure in place---Why does it sound like all the studies on Atrazine are funded by Syngenta? On the one hand, companies should be the ones to pay the bill fo

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