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It's not paranoia if....
February 5, 2014 7:00 AM   Subscribe

“He’s treating them like street punks, and they view themselves as captains of industry.” The most exciting article you will read all year about frog genitals, the FDA, and an eccentric, larger-than-life UC Berkeley scientist navigating class and culture issues while being psychologically profiled and pursued by a pesticide giant he's locked himself into mortal combat with for the last decade. Previously.
posted by blue suede stockings (52 comments total) 28 users marked this as a favorite

 
If I was on the board of a company with $14B revenue a year, and if I was profit-driven first, with total disregard concerning ethics or environmental health, and if a scientist somewhere was threatening the safety of the company's flagship product --- then yes, I would spend tens of millions of dollars, at a minimum, trying to find ways to discredit and discourage that scientist, both in scientific and in political/personal ways.

That is to say - I am absolutely inclined to believe Hayes and most of what he says about his interactions with Syngenta. It sounds like Hayes has been doing good work. Let the independently-funded research speak for itself.
posted by suedehead at 7:28 AM on February 5 [5 favorites]


IMO the most important quote in the article:
"We all follow the Tyrone Hayes drama, and some people will say, ‘He should just do the science.’ But the science doesn’t speak for itself. Industry has unlimited resources and bully power."
posted by muddgirl at 7:30 AM on February 5 [10 favorites]


That is to say - I am absolutely inclined to believe Hayes and most of what he says about his interactions with Syngenta. It sounds like Hayes has been doing good work. Let the independently-funded research speak for itself.

That's the satisfying brilliance of the writing set-up: you start off thinking the man (who is flawed, to be sure) is actually experiencing paranoia about being profiled, about special meetings being held just about him, about being followed, etc.....and then the documents show it's all true.

I would watch this movie, Hollywood. Make it happen.
posted by blue suede stockings at 7:33 AM on February 5 [8 favorites]


If tactics like these are considered mundane enough to be put into the permanent corporate records on paper and in email, one can only imagine what was kept off the record.
posted by Llama-Lime at 8:09 AM on February 5 [8 favorites]


So it appears his experimental protocols are detailed enough to be reproducible, and his results are being reproduced. And that meanwhile Syngenta is going ad hominem, and viciously so. Like many black scientists, Dr. Hayes was subject to the pressures of having to be "twice as good and half as black," as Ta Nehisi Coates puts it in his writings. And Syngenta's been hitting that raw spot and turning it into an abscess.

Dr. Hayes should let his junior researchers do the talking for a while.
posted by ocschwar at 8:11 AM on February 5 [7 favorites]


I would watch this movie, Hollywood. Make it happen.

Silkwood.
posted by Blazecock Pileon at 8:23 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Another reason to get off the horizon of "food security" ... silenced or my life is the non Metafilter version.
posted by infini at 8:25 AM on February 5


I would've got away with it too if it wasn't for those meddling scientists!
posted by atrazine at 8:34 AM on February 5 [7 favorites]


[A couple comments removed. You know where Metatalk is if you want to have a discussion about how you think Metafilter should work in one respect or another.]
posted by cortex at 8:52 AM on February 5


This is nuts. I just searched for Hayes on Google to see if the "Tyrone Hayes Not Credible" ad comes up.

Yep. It does.
posted by jayder at 9:02 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Check out http://www.atrazinelovers.com/ , which is Dr. Hayes's page.

Got to give him points, the dude has style. Only question is whether his style is productive when it comes to presenting his evidence before the EPA.
posted by ocschwar at 9:17 AM on February 5


This article makes my blood boil.
posted by bumpkin at 9:47 AM on February 5


This is a serious question, not hamburger. But if such a large well funded organization doesn't like the work of one person, why have they stopped only at character assassination and not just gone quietly further?
posted by infini at 9:51 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Got to give him points, the dude has style. Only question is whether his style is productive when it comes to presenting his evidence before the EPA.

Here's where I actually first heard of him....after Sygenta posted all of his emails online.

I have a soft spot for Dr. Hayes now that I've read the New Yorker article so, productiveness aside, I do kind of agree with the following comment exchange:

CM_Wang:
There's nothing more gangster than a 40-year old man quoting early 90s rap lyrics as he brags about flying first class. 8/24/10 2:58pm


MizJenkins:
@CM_Wang: I think you meant that sarcastically...

But when that man is Black and holds a Ph.D from Harvard... and has his own lab in one of the foremost scientific research programs in the country...and he's quoting those lyrics as a giant "fuck you" to a multi-million dollar corporate giant who is one of his own sponsors...well honestly, there are probably few things more gangster than that. 8/24/10 5:04pm

posted by blue suede stockings at 9:51 AM on February 5 [7 favorites]


We somehow have to make it harder for companies like these to attack science with bluster. This is exactly what they did with Global Warming too.

And I'm on board with seeing this movie!
posted by xammerboy at 9:54 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


We somehow have to make it harder for companies like these to attack science with bluster. This is exactly what they did with Global Warming too.


Tap their phones. But their offices. And when they make comments showing they do not believe the line they are pushing in public, hold them liable.

It was easier with tobacco, when the perps were willing to put it in writing, but post Sarbanes Oxley, that ain't happening.

We have the means. We have the technology.
posted by ocschwar at 9:59 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


We have the means. We have the technology.

But don't they have the many tentacled kraken inside our technology?
posted by infini at 10:11 AM on February 5


I am really, really angry right now. I feel like swearing up a storm, but I don't have enough punctuation keys and I don't trust my fingers to do a lot of alt codes right now. I've worked very hard to be a person who is not easily provoked to anger, but God bloody dammit, is there nothing in this hellhole of a country that isn't for sale?

Couldn't we just do something rational like have rich companies, including MNC's who do business here, pay a decent share of taxes, and then let government agencies fund environmental research and base policy on that? But even that wouldn't work, because they've bought and sold the members of the government like so many goddamn chattel slaves:
The E.P.A. found that all seventeen atrazine studies, including Hayes’s, suffered from methodological flaws—contamination of controls, variability in measurement end points, poor animal husbandry—and asked Syngenta to fund a comprehensive experiment that would produce more definitive results.


Dickens couldn't make it up. Orwell couldn't make it up. And while we sit and wait for them to totally be brutally honest about any problems their chemicals might cause, that would cost them money, after their own records have shown the lengths they'll go to to discredit the scientists they've hired themselves:
He wrote that what he called “hermaphroditism” was induced in frogs by exposure to atrazine at levels thirty times below what the E.P.A. permits in water. He hypothesized that the chemical could be a factor in the decline in amphibian populations, a phenomenon observed all over the world.


Granted, it's not Colony Collapse Disorder, but we innocent bystanders ARE trying to have a franking ecosystem here, you moneygrubbing bastards. Nobody's telling you to close up shop; just slow the flunk down, let some real, independent research happen, and trade some of the immediate bags of loot for long-term success and earned public trust, you evil flakers.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:14 AM on February 5 [5 favorites]


The difference, he said, was that the “scientific debate spilled into Hayes’s emotional life.”
Fox Mulder Syndrome?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:15 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Holy crap! I thought this guy looked familiar--we got a book about him for our kids a few years ago, "The Frog Scientist"!
posted by mittens at 10:18 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


It was easier with tobacco, when the perps were willing to put it in writing, but post Sarbanes Oxley, that ain't happening.

Of course it's in writing. It came out at the trial, when subpenaed.

You don't understand, if the boss can't follow an email trail showing which flunkie did his bidding first, then how will he know how to apportion the bonuses? Corporate politics is a giant game of hot potato - see how fast and to who you can pass the buck. You have to prove you did what you said you did, when you say you did it, or someone is going to use that lack of evidence to chuck you under the bus and claim you never did it. They keep very close track of what they do, and it's all written down or done electronically. They just hope the authorities never think to look where they hid the dirt - it's why corrupt elected official used Yahoo email accounts to do dirty business. They thought no-one would look there.

The problem is, eventually, someone will decide they can move farther along without everyone above them holding them back, or they're pissed to be on the losing end - and so! We find out where the documents are squirreled away.

Whether or not it matters is an issue for the press and the public - the regulators won't do much without pressure from either.
posted by Slap*Happy at 10:20 AM on February 5 [2 favorites]


From the article: US regulatory standards, vs. the E.U.:

The E.P.A. approved the continued use of atrazine in October, the same month that the European Commission chose to remove it from the market. 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. Industries have a greater role in the American regulatory process—they may sue regulators if there are errors in the scientific record—and cost-benefit analyses are integral to decisions: a monetary value is assigned to disease, impairments, and shortened lives and weighed against the benefits of keeping a chemical in use. Lisa Heinzerling, the senior climate-policy counsel at the E.P.A. in 2009 and the associate administrator of the office of policy in 2009 and 2010, said that cost-benefit models appear “objective and neutral, a way to free ourselves from the chaos of politics.” But the complex algorithms “quietly condone a tremendous amount of risk.” She added that the influence of the Office of Management and Budget, which oversees major regulatory decisions, has deepened in recent years. “A rule will go through years of scientific reviews and cost-benefit analyses, and then at the final stage it doesn’t pass,” she said. “It has a terrible, demoralizing effect on the culture at the E.P.A.”
posted by blue suede stockings at 10:26 AM on February 5 [2 favorites]


And dammit, dammit, dammit, I really do try to avoid this analogy, and I’m trying extra hard because it’s been discussed so much lately, but I can’t get it out of my head.

All the allusions in the article to how people have implied he shouldn’t be listened to or believed because he doesn’t look and dress and talk like a proper scientist just screams of how rape and sexual abuse victims are discredited during investigations and trials. And, just like many rapists and abusers, Syngenta KNEW he was vulnerable in that area because they knew his background. I have to wonder if that figured into why they chose him in the first place. If they liked his results, fine. If not - well, who cares what the little Black guy with the braids and the Southern accent and the funny clothes has to say?
posted by The Underpants Monster at 10:42 AM on February 5 [6 favorites]


Y'all need to check out Science Bought and Sold and Science-Mart, both by Philip Mirowski, one of my old professors. He's been all over this stuff for a decade.
posted by valkyryn at 10:46 AM on February 5 [5 favorites]


infini: Because getting rid of him doesn't solve the problem of his studies and the results, not to mention that killing is messy. Discrediting him, on the other hand, is clean, above the board (relatively speaking), and is more palatable.
posted by NoxAeternum at 10:50 AM on February 5 [2 favorites]


Ah, I understand, this late in the game, with all the articles published and findings released, the genie is too hard to shove back into the bottle.

/in an aside, sends a shot of single malt to Underpants Monster
posted by infini at 10:57 AM on February 5 [1 favorite]


This is nuts. I just searched for Hayes on Google to see if the "Tyrone Hayes Not Credible" ad comes up.

Yep. It does.


Does for me too. And every time someone clicks the ad, Google charges them money.

Just sayin'.
posted by fogovonslack at 10:59 AM on February 5 [2 favorites]


why have they stopped only at character assassination and not just gone quietly further?

Because that would be sexy and exciting. And the absolute last thing pesticide companies want to do is make any of this sexy and exciting.

These antics maybe get a nasty article written in the New Yorker. But any half-way plausible claim that they had assassinated a scientist? Cable news would be talking about that for weeks.
posted by straight at 11:06 AM on February 5 [2 favorites]


Industries have a greater role in the American regulatory process—they may sue regulators if there are errors in the scientific record—and cost-benefit analyses are integral to decisions: a monetary value is assigned to disease, impairments, and shortened lives and weighed against the benefits of keeping a chemical in use. Lisa Heinzerling, the senior climate-policy counsel at the E.P.A. in 2009 and the associate administrator of the office of policy in 2009 and 2010, said that cost-benefit models appear “objective and neutral, a way to free ourselves from the chaos of politics.”

You want death panels? We've got your death panels right here.
posted by srboisvert at 11:09 AM on February 5 [5 favorites]




It was easier with tobacco, when the perps were willing to put it in writing, but post Sarbanes Oxley, that ain't happening.

Of course it's in writing. It came out at the trial, when subpenaed.


Nope. You won't find any comment saying "yeah, atrazine is nasty dangerous shit." But they may say it behind closed doors.
posted by ocschwar at 11:25 AM on February 5


You want death panels? We've got your death panels right here.

I know you mostly mean, "See! This is the death panel you should have been outraged about!" But the fact that the EPA is, in many cases, an industry tool that uses a callous cost-benefit equation to decide how many pesticide deaths would be acceptable is a pretty poor basis for belittling concerns that such a thing could also happen if a government agency were running the health care industry.
posted by straight at 11:52 AM on February 5


Pullquote from the article: Though his lab was well funded, federal support for research was growing increasingly unstable, and, like many academics and administrators, he felt that he should find new sources of revenue."

Translation: If we don't push for taxpayer funding of research, the corporations will fund it for us. And they don't have a very goddamn good record of transparency. NIH funds you based on results. Corporations fund you based on results that favor the corporation. Who do you trust more?
posted by caution live frogs at 11:53 AM on February 5 [7 favorites]


Does for me too. And every time someone clicks the ad, Google charges them money.

Just sayin'.
posted by fogovonslack at 10:59 AM on February 5
[+] [!]


I just did. Man, that page is a piece of work. Love the way they put a picture of him front and center, as if his appearance is helping them make their case.
posted by jayder at 1:05 PM on February 5


I find caution live frogs commenting in this thread eponysterical or just plain desolate, can't decide, it depends if frogs are the new bees.
posted by infini at 1:17 PM on February 5 [5 favorites]


This story has deeply disturbed since I read it this morning. Maybe it's because he's a biological scientist and I can relate more to him than to a climate scientist, or maybe it's because he's willing to be so human in a way that we scientists typically are not, or maybe it's because this is just a much more personal story than we typically hear about when it comes to harassment of science. Maybe it's because it lays bare how the EPA has been coopted from science-based assessments to lawsuit-fear-based assessments, bogged down in bureaucracy and industry shills still embedded from the 2000s.

The public communication aspect of science is broken. It's vanishingly rare that I read a news article about science results and can finish it without cringing at how it misrepresents, well, everything. This is an area ripe for the smearing of a campaign.

The Bill Nye vs. Creationist Guy debate seems like such a complete distraction in comparison to something like this. It's a spectacle to see a self-deluding fringe group deny truth, but the story of Hayes vs. Syngenta is a tragedy. Ken Ham is an annoyance, Syngenta is a threat to our health and lives.

Perhaps its time to start putting serious effort into building institutions that focus on communicating science, and communicating scientific consensus. Organizations, separate from the EPA or FDA, that look at and summarize the science, as third parties not directly involved in the research. The Institute of Medicine is an example to follow here. The EPA and FDA could draw on the reports of these third parties in their own assessments of the science, which would give them a greater ability to fend off lawsuits from corporations.

And we need to start making scientists work on communication outside of their research circle. This is a difficult task that takes skills separate from those that are needed to generate new knowledge, but it's an essential part of fending off the bad science.
posted by Llama-Lime at 1:50 PM on February 5 [10 favorites]



Translation: If we don't push for taxpayer funding of research, the corporations will fund it for us. And they don't have a very goddamn good record of transparency. NIH funds you based on results. Corporations fund you based on results that favor the corporation. Who do you trust more?


We need to start crowdfunding science.

Seriously, some scientists are already exploring the idea, and it can't be that much worse than mucking around as a post doc and sending out grant proposals.

If any accredited lab wants to repeat Dr. Hayes's experiments, I'll chip in.
posted by ocschwar at 3:10 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


infini: But if such a large well funded organization doesn't like the work of one person, why have they stopped only at character assassination and not just gone quietly further?

What if the war of dirty tricks went beyond "character" assasination?

What if the government was not on the side of the angels, and the only long term defense for the environment and the human race was a bunch of eco-terrorists, outlaws and pirates?

I would watch that movie.
posted by ohshenandoah at 3:36 PM on February 5


Great story, thanks. Syngenta is also a supporter of the Golden Rice project. Though I support the project, the skepticism of others is understandable when confronted with behaviour from proponents like this.

As an Australian, the story also strikes fear in me because if our dickhead PM signs the trans-pacific partnership, we'll be dragged down to the debased, lowest-common-denominator standards of US regulation - including this - on so many levels.
posted by smoke at 3:57 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


Did someone mention crowd funding science?
posted by R343L at 10:00 PM on February 5


Wow, here's someone who is effectively paid to argue that there is no such thing as objective truth:
[Syngenta's senior manager Ann Bryan] recommended that I speak with the author of the review, David Schwartz, a neuroscientist, who works for Innovative Science Solutions, a consulting firm that specializes in “product defense” and strategies that “give you the power to put your best data forward.” Schwartz told me that epidemiological studies can’t eliminate confounding variables or make claims about causation. “We’ve been incredibly misled by this type of study,” he said.
And then he washed his hands.
posted by Joe in Australia at 10:13 PM on February 5 [2 favorites]


This is an excellent but infuriating article. Thanks for posting it here.

The most exciting article you will read all year about frog genitals, the FDA, and an eccentric, larger-than-life UC Berkeley scientist

Frogs do seem to attract eccentric scientists sometimes.
posted by homunculus at 11:15 PM on February 5 [1 favorite]


infini: why have they stopped only at character assassination and not just gone quietly further?

NoxAeternum: Because getting rid of him doesn't solve the problem of his studies and the results, not to mention that killing is messy. Discrediting him, on the other hand, is clean, above the board (relatively speaking), and is more palatable.

Right. Guns and poisons make martyrs; that's too Hollywood and obvious.
Very attractive people with lots of free narcotics, on the other hand.....
posted by msalt at 6:57 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


[Syngenta's senior manager Ann Bryan] recommended that I speak with the author of the review, David Schwartz, a neuroscientist, who works for Innovative Science Solutions, a consulting firm that specializes in “product defense” and strategies that “give you the power to put your best data forward.” Schwartz told me that epidemiological studies can’t eliminate confounding variables or make claims about causation. “We’ve been incredibly misled by this type of study,” he said.

So, when can I start painting with lead paint again?
posted by ocschwar at 7:15 AM on February 6 [3 favorites]


the underpants monster: Granted, it's not Colony Collapse Disorder...

I hear what you're saying, but I think it very much is CCD. You've got an important ecological indicator telling us that there's a serious problem, and a whole group of animals appears to be heading for extinction. How can these not have long-term economic consequences, never mind the moral environmental issues? Science is producing mixed results in terms of identifying the cause(s), but meanwhile there are a bunch of wealthy companies funding various research projects, lobbying to avoid regulation and muddying the waters by promoting uncertainty.

Like Valkyryn says above: Philip Mirowski makes a very good case that part of the Neoliberal agenda is buying the science that supports various corporate goals, and the promotion of uncertainty is a standard tactic in the methodology worked out by US tobacco companies in the 50's and 60's. It's all part of the long game.

If you want a quick introduction to Mirowski's views on how this methodology is working in relation to climate change denial, here's a talk he gave last year at the University of Sydney. (This talk glosses over a lot of the details he provides elsewhere.)
posted by sneebler at 7:49 AM on February 6


-the underpants monster: Granted, it's not Colony Collapse Disorder...

--I hear what you're saying, but I think it very much is CCD. You've got an important ecological indicator telling us that there's a serious problem, and a whole group of animals appears to be heading for extinction. How can these not have long-term economic consequences, never mind the moral environmental issues?


Right. I was going out of my way to play it very safe with the comparisons because I'm not a biologist myself, and because CCD is something that even we non-biologists who've studied agriculture can see the dramatic effects of right away. My layman's understanding was that it was the same sort of thing, and it's very gratifying to hear that my instinct was correct.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:32 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Syngenta makes Monsanto look good by comparison.
posted by benzenedream at 8:48 AM on February 6


I have zero doubt in my mind that Monsanto has either engaged in similar tactics, or is 100% prepared to in order to protect their financial interests.
posted by muddgirl at 11:25 AM on February 6 [1 favorite]


Why do we assume that there's no collusion, its virtually an oligopoly...
posted by infini at 11:58 AM on February 6


Syngenta Global Media Relations Manager

Job description
• Execute media engagement strategies in support of Syngenta’s ambition and business goals
• Help to create compelling communications materials and identify stories that bring Syngenta’s strategy to life
• Effective issues management in support of Syngenta’s freedom to operate and reputation management
• Media planning for functional and business leaders – including crop and asset heads
• Act as a credible spokesperson for Syngenta
• Promotion and protection of Syngenta’s corporate reputation
• Establish and foster strong and lasting relationships with key media
• Advise and collaborate with a high-performance, global network of communicators
• Manage communications activities around key corporate events (financial results, AGM, etc.)
• Execute integrated strategies that encompass multiple forms of communication: media, social media, stakeholder networks and internal stakeholders
• Advise and provide counsel to leaders on media related topics and messaging


Huh, they omitted ruining lives and hiring hit men.
posted by benzenedream at 2:23 PM on February 6


Perhaps "Execute media engagement strategies in support of Syngenta’s ambition and business goals" is the PR dog whistle?
posted by Llama-Lime at 3:46 PM on February 6 [2 favorites]


Tyrone Hayes on Democracy Now
posted by homunculus at 4:02 PM on February 28


As an Australian, the story also strikes fear in me because if our dickhead PM signs the trans-pacific partnership, we'll be dragged down to the debased, lowest-common-denominator standards of US regulation - including this - on so many levels.

US Trade Rep can't figure out if Trans-Pacific Partnership will protect the environment
posted by homunculus at 1:46 PM on March 2


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