Big Pharma’s Big Fight: Syngenta Vs. Professor Tyrone Hayes

Prof. Tyrone Hayes

Prof. Tyrone Hayes

It doesn’t really seem like a fair fight, but Professor Tyrone Hayes has been an underdog his whole life and may just be the man to spike the  second biggest herbicide used in the United States after Monsanto’s Roundup: Atrazine (banned in Europe). Not, however, if Swiss chemical giant Syngenta can stop him, and as documented in this lengthy article in The New Yorker, they’re trying every dirty trick in the book:

In 2001, seven years after joining the biology faculty of the University of California, Berkeley, Tyrone Hayes stopped talking about his research with people he didn’t trust. He instructed the students in his lab, where he was raising three thousand frogs, to hang up the phone if they heard a click, a signal that a third party might be on the line. Other scientists seemed to remember events differently, he noticed, so he started carrying an audio recorder to meetings. “The secret to a happy, successful life of paranoia,” he liked to say, “is to keep careful track of your persecutors.”

Three years earlier, Syngenta, one of the largest agribusinesses in the world, had asked Hayes to conduct experiments on the herbicide atrazine, which is applied to more than half the corn in the United States. Hayes was thirty-one, and he had already published twenty papers on the endocrinology of amphibians. David Wake, a professor in Hayes’s department, said that Hayes “may have had the greatest potential of anyone in the field.” But, when Hayes discovered that atrazine might impede the sexual development of frogs, his dealings with Syngenta became strained, and, in November, 2000, he ended his relationship with the company.

Hayes continued studying atrazine on his own, and soon he became convinced that Syngenta representatives were following him to conferences around the world. He worried that the company was orchestrating a campaign to destroy his reputation. He complained that whenever he gave public talks there was a stranger in the back of the room, taking notes. On a trip to Washington, D.C., in 2003, he stayed at a different hotel each night. He was still in touch with a few Syngenta scientists and, after noticing that they knew many details about his work and his schedule, he suspected that they were reading his e-mails. To confuse them, he asked a student to write misleading e-mails from his office computer while he was travelling. He sent backup copies of his data and notes to his parents in sealed boxes. In an e-mail to one Syngenta scientist, he wrote that he had “risked my reputation, my name . . . some say even my life, for what I thought (and now know) is right.” A few scientists had previously done experiments that anticipated Hayes’s work, but no one had observed such extreme effects. In another e-mail to Syngenta, he acknowledged that it might appear that he was suffering from a “Napoleon complex” or “delusions of grandeur.”

For years, despite his achievements, Hayes had felt like an interloper. In academic settings, it seemed to him that his colleagues were operating according to a frivolous code of manners: they spoke so formally, fashioning themselves as detached authorities, and rarely admitted what they didn’t know. He had grown up in Columbia, South Carolina, in a neighborhood where fewer than forty per cent of residents finish high school…

[continues in The New Yorker]


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15 Comments on "Big Pharma’s Big Fight: Syngenta Vs. Professor Tyrone Hayes"

  1. Chaos_Dynamics | Feb 5, 2014 at 8:33 am |

    Sandoz to Syngenta: Albert Hoffman face palm.

  2. Calypso_1 | Feb 5, 2014 at 9:12 am |

    standard countermeasures

    • emperorreagan | Feb 5, 2014 at 10:20 am |

      I take petty delight in being able to produce records when someone claims I didn’t tell them something and show them exactly what I told them over a course of a few months.

      • Calypso_1 | Feb 5, 2014 at 11:50 am |

        I’ve found it doesn’t matter what hand you hold if they don’t plan on letting you leave the game.

        • emperorreagan | Feb 5, 2014 at 12:25 pm |

          All depends on the entity you’re playing with, I suppose. With some, your tactics may get you a victory. With others, your tactics are just enough to keep your head above water as the tentacles try to pull you down.

          Prof. Hayes is obviously playing with the latter type of creature.

  3. American Cannibal | Feb 5, 2014 at 9:44 am |


    (what America is all about)

  4. emperorreagan | Feb 5, 2014 at 9:58 am |

    “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.”

    So in the US – tech is always given the benefit of the doubt. In the E.U., the burden of proof falls where it should.

    The author of the article also notes that industry in the us can sue regulators over errors in the scientific record – and since industry basically spams regulatory bodies with studies saying their products are awesome and pose minimal risk…

    The other thing they note is cost-benefit analyses. Cost-benefit analysis is typically pretty easy to game to whichever side you favor and even easier to game when you’ve flooded the body of literature with garbage that is going to minimize risk and exaggerate the value of your product.

    • American Cannibal | Feb 5, 2014 at 10:35 am |

      In the US of A, the Big Pharma-Life-Science-Industrial-Complex is not required to disclose research that doesn’t support the validity of their products. All the negative research is hidden away, and the EPA/FDA gets the positive results to help them make the right decision.

      It’s the Law! ha, ha! JOBS!!!!

      • Simon Valentine | Feb 5, 2014 at 10:53 am |

        i like the part about there being an inherent fact that if there’s a way to do it right then it doesn’t matter who so long as that way is done/followed … yet … “resume”, “rank”, “ladder”, “position”, “title”, “authority”, and all this shit that won’t hurt who needs hurt painfully enough to fucking set shit straight.

        kill’m all
        fuck Jonah

    • sonicbphuct | Feb 6, 2014 at 7:19 am |

      does that mean that after 70 years and proof their product killed everything, they can then sue the FDA for not pointing out the errors of said drug/chem company studies?

      1) give bad science to EPA.
      2) get approved
      3) [70 years later] acquiesce to the facts
      4) sue the EPA for accepting your bad science.

      i see win win all over here.

    • Oginikwe | Feb 8, 2014 at 1:28 pm |

      Cost-benefit analyses is defined as “a monetary value is assigned to disease, impairments, and shortened lives and weighed against the benefits of keeping a chemical in use.”

      Wonderful. Nice people.

  5. Simon Valentine | Feb 5, 2014 at 10:48 am |

    there’s an old word for that

    haughty airs
    and being the work/life/justice lover among empty-headed frauds is classic
    have you ever seen the scales that are three or more?
    or the network of scales on scales or proportioning scales or…
    no, no one has, but so many pretend to have it all in their shiny bulbous head
    the complex is that no one kills
    that the scales’ equilibrium portending magic indicates who’s a tool, an object
    and who isn’t
    why save them?
    why save anyone?

  6. BuzzCoastin | Feb 5, 2014 at 12:18 pm |

    Big Agro will have its way
    untill the last cyborg bites the dust

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