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Atrazine: The Strange Case of Dr. Tyrone Hayes

Frog Researcher Attacks Atrazine Maker Through Obscene E-mails

by Alex Avery, Center for Global Food Issues

Warning to reader: Some of the emails quoted below from Dr. Tyrone Hayes are obscene.

For years, the Natural Resources Defense Council and their trial lawyer allies have worked to persuade EPA to ignore 6,000 studies, as well as the agency’s recent determinations, to re-investigate atrazine, the herbicide that corn growers and other farmers have safely used for more than fifty years.

Exhibit A in their case is Dr. Tyrone Hayes, a University of California at Berkeley biologist, who links atrazine to endocrine disruption in amphibians. Hayes specifically asserts that atrazine interferes with the sexual development of frogs and is, therefore, a likely cause of abnormalities in humans.

The EPA, alarmed by these claims, designed and oversaw the execution of two multi-million dollars frog studies, one in Germany and one in Maryland. Neither test could replicate the results Hayes claimed to have found. U.S. EPA officials have also informed state legislators in Minnesota and Illinois that Dr. Hayes refuses to make his data available to them—although a willingness to share data is the sine qua non of any reputable scientist. A careful analysis of Dr. Hayes’s recent publication in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found numerous weaknesses in his methodology and misrepresentations in his cites of other studies.

Now we have evidence that Dr. Hayes is not only biased but seriously unbalanced in his attitude toward atrazine and its manufacturer, Syngenta.

In an ethics complaint posted to the president, regents and chancellor of UC Berkeley, Syngenta claims that for years Hayes has subjected its employees to emails that are “aggressive, unprofessional and insulting, but also salacious and lewd.” These emails, writes Syngenta litigation counsel Alan Nadel, are “taunting, harassing and sexually explicit in nature.”

One such email, sent from Hayes’s email address on Feb. 13, 2009, says:

aww shucks … I’m bouta’ handle my biz right now
see you bucked…wondering…”what it is right now?”
ya outa’ luck…bouta show you how it is right now

see you’re ****ed (i didn’t pull out) and ya fulla my j*z right now!

In another from 2008, Hayes writes (apparently in response to a public statement from a Syngenta spokesman):

tell your little lap dog to wear knee pads next time and wipe the *** from
his mouth before he steps up to the mic.

Sexually explicit imagery and obscene words sprinkle Dr. Hayes’s communications to Syngenta, which he sends out under his name from his UC email address. His communications are also grandiose, if not paranoiac.

you talkin’ ‘bout my wealth
say you worried ‘bout yo health
cuz your bp goes up with your loathing
maybe you should settle down
…stop following me around
and bow down to the wolf in black clothing

The wolf, of course, is Dr. Hayes (he frequently wears all black). In one email he writes:

i am more than just a scientist, a rock star, a preacher…
i am an icon.

In another, Hayes speculates who will play himself in a Hollywood movie.

In a March, 2008, email, Hayes goes on at length about a dream he had in which he describes Syngenta executives as “defiled souls” stranded on a small island, in frozen air that causes their tears to turn painfully into icicles. They are subsequently judged and punished by seven thunderbolts, seven infernos, seven tsunamis and seven serpents . . .

with your nakedness facing the tundra wished for only one thing…
that you never met the ONE…
nobody from no where…
that your paths would have never crossed…
a man named…tyrone

everywhere i go
i cause a raucus
act like you know
that’s how i do it m*th*f*ck*s

In other emails, Hayes brags about his personal wealth, the value of his house, his $150K remodeled kitchen, and his prestigious education. In what appears to be his only communication that contains self-awareness, he writes:

But consider that crazy people think that they are normal and that everyone else is crazy. Again, I figure to maintain my sanity, it is best to acknowledge my insanity . . .

Then this moment of self-awareness soon melts away, devolving back to Hayes’s private demons:

but what kind of insane man is sane enough to recognize his own insanity?

This missive ends up:

would you rather get your *ss whopped (and you ARE getting your *ss whopped) by a fool or a genius?

Perplexed and alarmed, Syngenta tried more than once to resolve this matter privately. In 2009, University Counsel Michael Smith forwarded Syngenta’s appeal for an end to the harassing emails to Nancy Chu, Assistant Vice Provost. Chu and Dean Mark Schlissel met with Hayes about the Syngenta emails.

In a letter dated April 1, 2009, Chu wrote: “Professor Hayes has acknowledged that some of the language in the email communications was unprofessional. He has agreed that he will cease using any language that could be considered offensive or unprofessional in future email communications. Should there be any further complaints of this nature,” Chu wrote, “please do not hesitate to contact me.” (To see Syngenta’s ethics filing with UC Berkeley, go to: http://www.atrazine.com/Amphibians/Univ_of_CA-7-19-10.pdf.)

The admonition was ineffective. Dr. Hayes’s email campaign continued well into this year. What, if anything, UC Berkley will do is an open question. That Hayes has given female executives at Syngenta real reason for offense and alarm is beyond dispute. (To see a fuller compendium of Dr. Hayes’s emails, go to http://www.atrazine.com/Amphibians/Combined_Large_pdf-r-opt.pdf.)

The larger question is, given the fact that Hayes refuses to share his data (as EPA most recently confirmed in a May, 17, 2010 letter from Donald Brady, Director of EPA Environmental Fate and Effects Division, Office of Pesticide Programs) why does anyone still regard Hayes as a credible source about anything having to do with atrazine?

Why does the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences continue to publish Hayes’s articles?

And when will the press quit trumpeting Hayes’s studies?

In short, what does it take for a scientist to be discredited?

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Comments (3)

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  1. tyrone says:

    awww. and on my birthday too!

  2. [...] most recent appearance in the media was this summer for some highly inappropriate emails which he had sent to researchers at Syngenta Company. I would describe the professor’s choice of [...]

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