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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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  • Re:The guy is crazy (Score:5, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 09, 2014 @06:20PM (#46205995)

    In 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its independent Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) examined all available studies on atrazine and concluded that "atrazine does not adversely affect amphibian gonadal development based on a review of laboratory and field studies."

    Yeah, except... from TFA:

    By that point, there were seventy-five published studies on the subject, but the E.P.A. excluded the majority of them from consideration, because they did not meet the requirements for quality that the agency had set in 2003. The conclusion was based largely on a set of studies funded by Syngenta and led by Werner Kloas, a professor of endocrinology at Humboldt University, in Berlin. One of the co-authors was Alan Hosmer, a Syngenta scientist whose job, according to a 2004 performance evaluation, included "atrazine defence" and "influencing EPA."

    After the hearing, two of the independent experts who had served on the E.P.A.'s scientific advisory panel, along with fifteen other scientists, wrote a paper (not yet published) complaining that the agency had repeatedly ignored the panel's recommendations and that it placed "human health and the environment at the mercy of industry." "The EPA works with industry to set up the methodology for such studies with the outcome often that industry is the only institution that can afford to conduct the research," they wrote. The Kloas study was the most comprehensive of its kind: its researchers had been scrutinized by an outside auditor, and their raw data turned over to the E.P.A. But the scientists wrote that one set of studies on a single species was "not a sufficient edifice on which to build a regulary assessment." Citing a paper by Hayes, who had done an analysis of sixteen atrazine studies, they wrote that "the single best predictor of whether or not the herbicide atrazine had a significant effect in a study was the funding source."

  • Re:Oh, come on. (Score:4, Informative)

    by jklovanc (1603149) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @06:42PM (#46206155)

    That is funny because it is so inaccurate;
    1. Hayes is not a government scientist. In fact the EPA disagrees with him completely.
    2. The fight is not against regulation but against statements being put out by Hayes
    3. The environmental lobby has nothing to do with it. Hayes's quest for fame by bringing down a big corp might be.

  • Re:Oh, come on. (Score:2, Informative)

    by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 09, 2014 @06:44PM (#46206167)

    How much did the regulations not enforced by the Mines and Minerals Service do to not prevent the British Petroleum disaster in the Gulf of Mexico?

  • Re:The guy is crazy (Score:5, Informative)

    by anagama (611277) <obamaisaneocon@nothingchanged.org> on Sunday February 09, 2014 @07:03PM (#46206299) Homepage

    You might be interested in Last Call at The Oasis: http://www.imdb.com/title/tt20... [imdb.com]

    It streams on Netflix.

    Hayes was one of the interviewees in that documentary. He shows off some of the mutant frogs too.

  • Re:The guy is crazy (Score:5, Informative)

    by WaffleMonster (969671) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @07:27PM (#46206463)

    In 2013, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and its independent Scientific Advisory Panel (SAP) examined all available studies on atrazine and concluded that "atrazine does not adversely affect amphibian gonadal development based on a review of laboratory and field studies."

    It's called regulatory capture motha f**kers.

  • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @09:23PM (#46207033)

    We'll have shell companies created with zero revenue acting as harassing entities. So if you find them out and sue and win, you'll get no damages

    It's called a company intentionally undercapitalized, and it's a cause of action for the judge to pierce the corporate veil, and hold the company's shareholder's liable in proportion to their percentage of beneficial ownership, AND base the 5 to 10% penalty on the owners' assets.

  • by IP_Troll (1097511) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @11:34PM (#46207647)
    Actually, the Bankruptcy Abuse Prevention and Consumer Protection Act, the law which makes federally backed student loans not dischargeable through chapter 13 or 7 bankruptcy, was first conceived in 1997 and muddled around congress until 2004. Then chairman of the Senate Finance Committee, Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa submitted it in its current form, with strong support from Republican House Majority Leader Tom DeLay from Texas. President George W. Bush signed the bill into law on April 20, 2005.
  • was it justified? (Score:3, Informative)

    by stenvar (2789879) on Monday February 10, 2014 @03:13AM (#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.

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