At this very moment in time, I am sat at a bar in Dubai Airport enjoying a beer, as I wait for what seems like an eternity for my next flight to finally take me home to England. When I was last here, I received a torrent of tweets and Facebook private messages from people asking for my opinion on a recently published Young Turks video titled, ‘Monsanto Giving People Cancer?’ The video hit a nerve with me, as it was a perfect example of everything I have come to loathe about ill-informed YouTube personalities that seem to believe it would be a crime not to publish every thought that tumbles through their heads.
In the video, the Turks stated with some confidence that the herbicide glyphosate was carcinogenic and that anyone defending the compound was either a paid shill or gullible fool who had been taken in by the evil corporation who produces it, Monsanto. Their lack of knowledge on the subject was plain for all to see, as they painfully worked their way through a CNN blog post, practically quoting it verbatim, whilst trying to convince their audience that it was in fact their own opinion on the subject. When they did break away from the source material, it was painful to watch. For example, one of the Turks, Ana, was not able to contemplate why anyone would want to engineer a crop that was resistant to a specific herbicide.
As you can imagine, this was like a red rag to a bull, and I immediately began work on the blog post, ‘The Young Turks are Morons of the Highest Calibre’, in which I discussed some of the many flaws of the IARC report quoted by the CNN blog post as proof that glyphosate causes cancer. I also talked about how science is not debated in the courtroom, which is what the Turks were promoting, but in the literature where the consensus is that glyphosate is not carcinogenic. My blog post was also a way of venting my frustration with popular veteran YouTubers who have become lazy in their old age and believe that parroting polarising articles they find before adding their own ill-informed opinion passes as insightful original content these days. This nicely brings me onto Kyle Kulinski and the video he published on the Secular Talk YouTube channel titled, ‘Monsanto Bought Favorable Science & Ghostwrote For EPA’, which bears striking resemblance to The Young Turks’ video, and which was sent to me as I was in transit at Dubai Airport.
Like the Young Turks, Kyle has found himself an inflammatory blog post, this time by The Wall Street Journal (WSJ), which tells the story of an ‘escalating legal battle’ between Monsanto and the people who believe that they got cancer from exposure to glyphosate whilst spraying weeds on farms, orchards, and lawns. The blog also reports that the law firm representing these people (Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman) have emails that show ‘Monsanto’s efforts to marshal scientists in defence of its products and combat research at odds with its own’. These emails, by the way, are the same emails The Yong Turks alluded to in their video.
Kyle begins his video by reading a section from The WSJ’s blog post before showing us just how much in-depth research he has done on the subject before deciding to sit down to make a video.
“Let me explain what all that means. When you have the EPA and the European equivalent, the European Chemicals Agency, saying, ‘no, no, this doesn’t look like it’s likely to cause cancer’, interesting phrasing there. ‘Doesn’t look like it’s likely to cause cancer’. Why wouldn’t you say, ‘it doesn’t look like it causes cancer’? ‘Doesn’t look like it’s likely to cause cancer’, so maybe there’s a little bit of wiggle room there, maybe yes, but who are we? What do we know? I don’t know – you’re the EPA and the fucking equivalent, the European Chemicals Agency, so maybe you should know what the fuck you’re talking about.”
It is true that the EPA has stated that they believe that glyphosate is ‘not likely to be carcinogenic to Humans’ which, at first glance, does appear slightly wishy-washy. However, if you were to scratch below the surface, you would discover that they are actually quoting a report by the Cancer Assessment Review Committee (CARC). This report was prompted by the publication of the IARC report (quoted by the Young Turks as proof of glyphosate’s carcinogenic potential), which evaluated all available epidemiological studies published in the open literature examining the association between glyphosate exposure and one of more cancer outcomes. They then classified glyphosate in accordance with the 2005 Guidelines for Carcinogen Risk Assessment, which uses five recommended standard hazard descriptors to represent the weight of evidence for carcinogenic hazard potential. ‘Carcinogenic to Humans’, ‘Likely to Be Carcinogenic to Humans’, ‘Suggestive Evidence of Carcinogenic Potential’, ‘Inadequate Information to Assess Carcinogenic Potential’, and ‘Not Likely to Be Carcinogenic to Humans’.
The CARC even go into detail about what they specifically mean when they have used the word ‘likely’, and acknowledge that it may be problematic.
This is why the EPA used the word ‘likely’, and it would take nothing to find out – just as it would take very little effort to discover that, contrary to the The WSJ’s blog which Kyle is quoting here, the European Chemical Agency have stated with some confidence that they are NOT going to classify glyphosate as a carcinogen.
Next, Kyle states, without a shred of evidence, that the people involved in the case reported by The WSJ are all suffering from cancer as a result of being exposed to glyphosate. He then moves on to the emails that have been published by the law firm Baum, Hedlund, Aristei & Goldman and says the following…
“But what’s being alleged in this lawsuit from people who had cancer and worked directly with this shit… Some of them who were working on the case with them died. And other people are still sick, working on the case. So, think about that, people working directly with this shit die young from different types of cancer and they go, ‘Hey man, I think this stuff causes cancer’, and Monsanto’s like, ‘No, you can’t prove it’. Then, they have these emails that show, really, then why are you working closely with the EPA and why are you doing Science for Hire and working closely with the European Chemical Agency and, basically, fighting back in the PR realm against everybody that disagrees with you.”
I have to admit that I have not read, nor can I find, the nearly two decades of raw documents leaked from Monsanto, but I have read some of the ones published as part of the lawsuit. In all honesty, I do not think they show anything more than what you would expect, that a company is trying to look after its products and its interests. As someone who works in the chemical industry, I can tell you that this is simply a part of business.
When it comes to the relationship between Monsanto and EPA, once again I do not see anything out of the ordinary. I see a company having connections and interactions with legislators that legislate their products. The emails themselves are fairly bland, which is why the people reporting on them are only reporting the interactions themselves and not what was actually said between the two.
When the WSJ, which Kyle is quoting, says that these emails show ‘Monsanto’s efforts to marshal scientists in defence of its product and combat research at odds with its own’, it neglects to mention what specific research to which it is referring. It is only when you trawl through the leaked emails on the law firm website that you discover they are talking about the highly discredited paper, ‘Long-term Toxicity of a Roundup Herbicide and a Roundup-Tolerant Genetically Modified Maize‘, which was previously published in the journal, ‘Food and Chemical Toxicology’. I have previously written about this paper and its lack of scientific merit, including its sample size being too small, the choice of rats that are known to spontaneously grow tumours, and for misleading the reader into thinking that the tumours do not occur in the control group. I also wrote about how I find this research to be HIGHLY unethical, as the scientists involved allowed the rats (known for spontaneously growing tumours) to remain alive, whilst 25% of their body weight was tumours, just so they could get pointless, unscientific pictures. The only reason I can think of for them doing this is to provoke an emotional response in the reader.
Perhaps the most damming part about this paper is that once you are able to decode the data, it is so flawed that it actually shows that male mice lived longer if they were fed a diet that contained high levels of glyphosate (data shown below). These are the reasons why so many scientists were calling for the retraction of this paper, not because they were instructed to do so by Monsanto.
This is one of many examples where vital information has been missed from a story that many people have parroted online without checking just that little bit deeper. If they were to look closer, the narrative of Monsanto having a horde of evil scientists to do their bidding disintegrates, and they would see the argument for what it really is. These people are trying to discredit the scientific literature that says glyphosate is not carcinogenic because they are unable to produce any real data that contradicts the facts. This law firm, along with those who have sloppily covered the story, are being purposefully unspecific about any single piece of research, as well as Monsanto’s connection, in order to cast a shadow on the whole question about whether or not this compound is carcinogenic, and try to undermine the research of scientists who have answered that question because it does not fit with their world view. This is why these people are so willing to debate this in the courtroom, because emotional appeals and underhanded sneaky tactics like this work there, but in the peer-review process, they don’t!
This is their last resort to keep the debate alive, something that clearly was missed by Kyle, who believed that it was somehow the other way around.
“So, we’ve seen this playbook before. This is the Climate Change playbook. This is when Exxon, Mobil and Chevron, the big oil companies hire people to insist there’s a debate about whether or not climate change is happening and it’s caused by man’s use of fossil fuels. They hire people who have academic credentials to basically be their bitch and say, ‘Oh yeah, no, see there’s a question, because with climate change there could be like sun spots and there could be like natural variation in the temperature over time, and that means that there’s a question, so don’t fucking get on our ass about continuing to burn fossil fuels and make trillions of dollars’.
The same thing happened with the smoking industry, the tobacco industry, they hire people to say, ‘Does smoking cause cancer? I don’t know. Some scientists say yes, I say no. So, there’s still a question, there’s still a debate. Let’s discuss it, let’s keep discussing it, but don’t do any policy changes’. So, you see that trick, as long as they insist there’s still a debate, they win. So, in other words, they don’t have to win the debate, they just have to insist that there still is a debate, then you drag your feet in the policy realm, and that’s all they want. That’s all they wanted with smoking, that’s all they want with climate change, that’s all Monsanto wants with Glyphosate. Roundup.”
Reporting on such a hot topic as this requires someone to either have a good understanding of the subject, or to have the willingness to do the work required to fully understand of the story. Kyle has neither, and his lazy, unscripted, barely coherent ramblings on a subject is very much a symptom of a systemic problem on YouTube, where the currency is clicks and a video like mine that may take months of on-off research is worth just as much as the garbage Kyle has produced here.
The YouTube community deserves better.