A Valuable Reputation: The Plot to Discredit an Outspoken Researcher, by Rachel Aviv

Tyrone Hayes

Professor Tyrone Hayes of University of California- Berkeley began his studies of the effects of the herbicide Atrazine (1-chloro-3-ethylamino-5-isopropylamino-2,4,6-triazine) at the invitation and with support from its maker, Syngenta. That was about fifteen years ago, when Hayes was a young assistant professor who had already established a reputation for his studies of the endocrinology of amphibians.  Some of his first experiments with Atrazine showed that the chemical was apparently causing disruptions in endocrin function in frogs (including the production of hermaphrodies and others of ambivalent sexuality). After disengaging himself from Syngenta support for his research, Hayes continued to study and publish on the subject, using support from NSF and private sources.  Much of his most important work has been published in the prestigious Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Nature, and Environmental Health Perspectives. Syngenta did not stand aside and let the science chips fall where they may.  In defense of their investment in the second-largest market for an herbicide (only Monsanto's RoundUp has a bigger share), Syngenta mounted a campaign to discredit both Hayes' research and Hayes himself.  Hayes' response was to mount a public campaign against Atrazine and Syngenta, with hundreds of presentations at seminars and conferences, a feature in Discover and the San Francisco Chroncle. The Syngenta response was an even more vociferous attack on Hayes, even including the purchase of advertisements that appear at the top of results when one searches for "Atrazine" and "Hayes".  I don't really know whether Hayes is fundamentally correct or not, but the story of the industry-funded campaign against him reminds me of the years when my late friend, Sherry Rowland, was publishing research that eventually led to the curtailment of a multi-billion dollar industry that made chlorofluorocarbons.

Publication information
Alt. Title: 

After Tyrone Hayes said that atrazine was harmful, the maker pursued him.

Publication Date: 
Wednesday, February 12, 2014