By Sue Schulte, KCGA/KGSPA Director of Communications
Syngenta, the primary maker of atrazine, recently filed a complaint with UC-Berkeley, citing years of profane and threatening emails from its anti-atrazine researcher Tyrone Hayes. The company released a 102-page document of the e-mails that Syngenta employees had received from Dr. Hayes. Nature, New York Times, Gawker, Washington Times, Science Now and others have reported on the complaint, but the articles mostly focus on the wild e-mails from Dr. Hayes. Today’s media gravitates toward sensationalism and Dr. Hayes’ emails certainly provide fodder for that type of reporting. On-line articles on the Hayes emails feature headlines nearly as sexually explicit as his emails.
Most of the environmental activists have simply shrugged off the 102 pages of often-explicit emails. They claim the complaint is simply a red herring to distract EPA as it continues through a series of atrazine science advisory panels that the agency initiated after an activist-driven media blitz that occurred about this time last year. They claim this is just a guy communicating the way he is comfortable with—you know, free speech and all that stuff.
We have known for years that Dr. Hayes was an activist scientist who actively campaigns against atrazine. He has an anti-atrazine website, goes on speaking tours; Houghton Mifflin published a children’s book about him. Thankfully, they did not include any of Dr. Hayes’ email prose—it wouldn’t be suitable for kids, (or most adults for that matter).
In 2006, EPA estimated that an atrazine ban would cost corn farmers $28 per acre. In today’s world, that number is surely higher. Couple that with the fact that atrazine is a necessity for many farmers who are using no-till practices that have numerous environmental benefits, and you can see the value of atrazine not only to farmers but also the environment. This is why farmers are actively involved in EPA’s latest re-re-review of atrazine.
At a glance, this flare-up seems to be more fluff than substance. So what if the guy blew off some steam in some e-mails, who hasn’t done that? But when we looked at the e-mails, we ignored the ones that talked about forced sexual acts and self adulation. We looked at the ones where he talked about his own scientific integrity.
After a toxicology meeting in early 2008 (SETAC), Hayes sent a Syngenta employee a rambling six-page “manifesto”. In it, Dr. Hayes says he doesn’t care about professionalism. He says he was invited to speak because he puts on a great show. The ellipses in the text were placed by Hayes. And IDGAF means, I don’t’ give a f***.
“IDGAF! Come on?????…do you think I care about propriety and professionalism? I do what I do, because it’s what I do…IDGAF!!! Look, my first SETAC, I rolled up 15 and 15!… autograph- signing, room-packing, rhyme-busting, *ss-whoopin… and toldem’ “please don’t ever invite me back” …I have used the “F-word” in my talks, have quoted DMX, Busta Rhymes, Tyra Banks, Marvin Gaye…I have jumped off stage, brandished emails…entitled my talks everything from “Opening up shop” (from DMX’s “Stop, drop, shuttem’ down, open up shop”) and “America’s Next Top Model” ….I pack the room, havem’ call out security, was the stimulus for the “Hayes clause” at registration, and have been invited back every year. That’s my house, Trick! Do I care what you, (deleted) and your *ss kissin’ H*’s think?
I’ve already been invited to the next one…guess people like being entertained.”
The New York Times said in its story on Dr. Hayes this week: “The Syngenta-Hayes battle is driven in no small part by Hayes’ unique willingness to wear two hats, those of outspoken atrazine critic and objective scientist.”
After reading the 102 pages of Tyrone Hayes’ emails, we can’t believe that is an accurate description of Dr. Hayes. We believe Dr. Hayes wears one hat—that of an outspoken atrazine critic.
EPA found his past amphibian research to be worthless. In 2005, Anne Lindsay, then a top official in EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs at EPA said: “EPA has taken an especially close look at the research conducted by Dr. Tyrone Hayes which reports that atrazine adversely affects sexual development in frogs, causing a mixture of sex organs in a single animal. EPA has concluded that the existing data are insufficient to demonstrate that atrazine causes such effects. The Agency’s conclusions are supported by the independent, expert peer review of the SAP (Science Advisory Panel).”
We hope the agency resists the urge to be entertained by Dr. Hayes, and simply uses the scientific process to evaluate his current research.