The press can’t get enough of Tyrone Hayes, the Berkeley researcher who claims that his studies show that the common herbicide atrazine causes abnormalities in frogs (and by implication, in people as well). Hayes is all over the press while he tours the state legislatures of the Midwest, selling his scare stories.
This is important, because the highly profitable “non-profits” such as the NRDC that want to ban pesticides and other chemicals essential to modern society, see atrazine as their foremost target of opportunity these days. They know that if they can take out a herbicide that has been confirmed safe by every EPA since the agency’s founding as well as Canada, Britain, Australia and the WHO, they can take out any chemical the activists set their sights on.
For some time, the poster child of the anti-pesticide chemophobes has been Mr. Hayes, who has made banning atrazine a personal crusade. When Hayes released another one of his barely documented studies, the press once again lapped it up, with major scare stories running in USAToday, the Washington Post and Des Moines Register, all with nary a mention of EPA’s earlier repudiation of his work.
Now, for the second time, the EPA has publicly called out Hayes on his refusal to share data, as well as for the irreproducibility of his experiments. Will the press still continue to give Tyrone Hayes uncritical, glowing treatment?
Here’s the backstory.
Critics of the good doctor point out that Anne E. Lindsay, then-deputy director of the EPA’s Office of Pesticide Programs, gave Hayes a hard review in testimony before the Minnesota House of Representatives in 2005. Lindsay said that EPA had never seen the results from any independent investigator published in peer-reviewed scientific journals, or the raw data from Hayes’ additional experiments.
In a slick, costly propaganda paper recently put out by anti-pesticide activists, PANNA, Dr. Hayes sets out to refute Lindsay’s 2005 testimony by pointing to a 2002 letter from EPA’s Tom Steeger praising him for sharing raw data. Hayes would have us believe that EPA’s stance toward him remained unwavering in the interim (our confidence is not increased by the fact that Hayes misspells Lindsay’s name).
Now, in a remarkably candid response to a letter to Illinois state representative Dave Winters, EPA once again sets the record straight. Once again, Hayes comes out looking like a scientist who is afraid to divulge his data.
Rep. Winters had asked if EPA had received “a complete, transparent set of raw data which could be interpreted and analyzed by the EPA and used in generating a full evaluation of his work.” Rep. Winters also asked “whether EPA was in agreement with Dr. Hayes’ findings.”
Donald Brady, Director of the Environmental Fate and Effects Division (and, incidentally, Steeger’s boss), gave forthright answers.
He first took on the question of whether Hayes was sharing his data. “I regret,” he writes, “that the EPA science staff in the Office of Pesticide Programs’ EFED could not properly account for the sample sizes and study design reportedly used by the Berkeley researchers. As a result, we were unable to complete any independent analysis to support the study’s conclusions.”
In science speak, that’s a hard “no.” Hayes did not share his data.
What about Rep. Winter’s second question: Was EPA in agreement with Hayes’ findings?
Brady first repeated Lindsay’s testimony, noting that EPA reviewed Hayes’ study (as well as 16 other studies) and concluded in a 2003 white paper that due to the limitations in each study, “no reliable determination of cause-effect or concentration-response relationship could be established between atrazine and reported effects in amphibians.”
Brady went on to note that in 2007, EPA presented another white paper “and concluded that it was reasonable to reject the hypothesis formulated in 2003 that atrazine exposure can affect gonadal development.”
In plain English, Hayes is wrong and won’t share his data.
Of course, Tyrone Hayes could put all this to rest. All his has to do is post his raw data on his website.
He could also divulge who is funding his studies and paying for his costly whirlwind tours of the Midwest.