Washington Examiner Article Takes Hard Look at Junk Science

A recent article in the Washington Examiner made the connection between junk science and bad public policy. One of the examples was the disproven research of University of California, Berkeley Professor Tyrone Hayes, who claimed that atrazine feminizes frogs. An excerpt of the Examiner article is below, but we encourage you to read the entire article which is both entertaining and informative.

Junk science = garbage policy
By T. BECKET ADAMS, Washington Examiner

This is an excerpt from the full article, which we encourage you to read by clicking here.

. . . Until 2010, the National Academy of Sciences allowed researchers to select who would review their submissions.

This loose policy allowed University of California, Berkeley, Prof. Tyrone Hayes to choose friend and colleague Prof. David Wake to review his work on his studies published in 2002 and 2010, Campbell told the Examiner.

Hayes claimed to prove that a pesticide called Atrazine was responsible for causing sex changes in frogs, which offered disturbing implications for humans.

Problematically for the integrity of the studies, Wake functionally hand-walked Hayes’ work around the peer-review process, Campbell said.

“There’s no data. Hayes’ work has never been replicated,” Campbell told the Examiner. “All there are are a couple of screenshots. But it was published in the National Academy of Sciences, so of course it’s soon picked up by The New York Times, The New Yorker and so on. The EPA is even told it must conduct an investigation because this product is supposedly harmful.”

The EPA launched multiple reviews of Hayes’ work. Hayes refused to provide the EPA panels with a form of his data they could access. The EPA was unable in any review to replicate his findings.

Nevertheless, despite all the questions surrounding his work, Hayes’ research not only boasts of the “peer review” stamp of approval, but he is also presented by media as something of a heroic crusader: One man fighting a conspiracy of corporations who are determined to bury the truth.

The New Yorker, in a glowing profile of the scientist, reported that “after Tyrone Hayes said that a chemical was harmful, its maker pursued him.” The New Yorker profile makes no mention of allegations that Hayes’ research was hand-walked through the peer-review process.

Following Campbell and others claiming that Hayes had avoided scrutiny, the National Academy of Sciences adjusted its protocols to prevent any further potential conflicts. Data are now required for all submissions.

Hayes, who did not respond to the Examiner’s request for comment, is just one example of what Horton calls the “endemicity of bad research behavior” afflicting science. In “their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world,” he wrote in the Lancet.

As Folta noted, “Once something’s published, people will cling to it and say, ‘Well, it’s published in a peer-reviewed journal.’ This thwarts the entire scientific process.”