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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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  • by mysidia (191772) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @07:20PM (#46205991)

    Go for it! Or ignore it. Your call. If they're not breaking the law, what are you going to do?

    Using corporate resources specifically to attempt to attack or discredit the character, or interfere with the business of an individual should be made actionable.

    Damage by a corporation to an individual's peace of mind should be assigned statutory damages based on the greater of $10 Milliion, and 5 to 10% of the perpetrating company's annual revenues.

  • by AK Marc (707885) on Sunday February 09, 2014 @08:33PM (#46206495)

    The knee jerk reaction of "big companies bad, individuals good" is not always accurate.

    But it's more likely true than not.

  • Anyway (Score:5, Interesting)

    by rduke15 (721841) <rduke15@g m a il.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

  • by Anonymous Coward on Sunday February 09, 2014 @09:43PM (#46206859)

    Depends on what you risk losing by fighting or risk losing by not fighting, so you need to pick your fights. I've seen a couple times colleagues got into some fight for more personal reasons or feelings. It is sad to see things go downhill when they make a mistake when too concerned with feeling good instead of the big picture, or because they mistakenly made the assumption " your opponents have consciously taken up the role of the bad buy." Even if their original science still stands solid, the opponents try to make the fight about other things, and now have some actual ammo to fight with once the scientist is caught saying the wrong thing or making things personal. Even if the opponents have made dozens of mistakes and the majority of their attacks are not scientific in nature, it is an asymmetric fight that expects the scientist to not make a single mistake.

    Doesn't have to be a big corporation either, it can be a single person with a pet theory and too much free time, or some small company that is trying to defend a borderline scam. I guess it might depend on your field, but I've never had research that runs afoul of big corporate interests, but have had to deal with the obsession of a couple crackpots, and legal issues from a one person business selling a single (non-functioning...) product.

  • Slashcott! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by LaminatorX (410794) <sabotage.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.

  • Re: Yes, they were (Score:2, Interesting)

    by Anonymous Coward on Monday February 10, 2014 @02:30AM (#46208083)

    Wrong. People think write-offs are some magical thing that makes you richer. This is a fallacy.

    Writing off bad debt doesn't give you a tax benefit. It just means you don't pay taxes on that money you never got back.

    It's always better (financially) to make money and pay taxes on it than not to make the money in the first place. It's like any expense.

    Spoken as a small business owner.

  • 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
  • by Argos (173864) on Monday February 10, 2014 @05:07AM (#46208517)

    Because welfare for people is socialism and welfare for corporations is free market.

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