The New Yorker has a great long read up now on Tyrone Hayes, a researcher who has lead a decades-long scientific and political fight against the use of atrazine, a herbicide that his research strongly suggests causes birth defects. The piece is a great tour through Hayes’ education and career, his research findings on atrazine, and his struggle against the campaign that the Syngenta corporation, the makers of atrazine, have levied against him.
I loved the piece as a great example of the ways in which scientific research, corporate and industry interests, and government policy all come together. The piece raised questions for me about the limitations of being a scientist who wants to affect a policy change because of research evidence. The piece also raises the major issue of the oft-biased nature of industry research — according to the auditors of published atrazine studies, “the single best predictor of whether or not the herbicide atrazine had a significant effect in a study was the funding source.”
Another quote that resonated with me the most from the article came from a book by David Michaels, the Assistant Secretary of Labor for Occupational Safety and Health. “Industry has learned that debating the science is much easier and more effective than debating the policy.” This tactic arises repeatedly through Syngenta’s attempts to discredit Hayes’ scientific research and even in the company’s attempts to discredit him personally through funding the creation of websites and articles against him (just do a google search!).
I think that the piece is a must read for anyone interested in the intersection of policy and public health, science, industry, and government. Go read it here and listen to Tyrone Hayes’ clever science rapping below. Thanks to Katie Brauer for pointing me towards the article.