IARC: a UN agency, part of the WHO, committed to saving lives and improving health. … Sounds impressive, virtuous, honourable! That’s why American tort lawyers love to refer to this organisation when they need to convince a jury they have credible, trustworthy sources.
Most people think of UN agencies or institutions as highly responsible global organisations who employ the world’s bests diplomats, thinkers and scientists. This is why international civil servants are paid so much; they must be able to attract the best of the best, right?
Well … No!
As anyone who has worked in such ivory towers of international diplomacy will attest, however, most international organisations are nepotistic, dead-end cesspools of petty egos, political posturing and influence games. Most of these “great minds” find themselves paid too much to leave but are too poorly personally rewarded to work with integrity. They become arrogant and feel accountable to no one. Occupying islands of righteousness isolated from the real world, most of these international civil servants amuse themselves making intrigues with friends while wasting far too much time attacking their enemies. Those with strong values and competence leave; the remaining careerists adopt a cynical gamesmanship.
Such is the case within the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).
IARC has bounced from one crisis to another for much of the last two decades, at times denigrating into petty squabbles between strong egos. During the tenure of Chris Wild as IARC’s Director, the agency had become entangled in a series of (reactionary) anti-industry campaigns built around their monograph programme. Dependent on financing from their 26 member states, IARC came very close in 2017 to losing the funding of its largest member, the United States. Corruption and a disregard to the scientific method were so endemic that defunding was proposed. IARC’s arrogance loomed so large that their director refused to even attend a 2017 Congressional hearing to face the reality of their scandals.
Rather than using Chris Wild’s uncelebrated departure as an opportunity to reform the beleaguered agency; rather than addressing the concerns of IARC’s members and the scientific community; rather than restoring an open and transparent process; IARC’s selection last year of a well-connected insider, Elisabete Weiderpass, as its new director was intended as a protection of the status quo. In the last year, she has circled the wagons, quietly edited out many ethical transgressions in their past monograph publications and promoted many of the corrupt individuals whose behaviour had previously smeared the agency’s reputation.
But Weiderpass cannot continue to spread honey on dung … unless her ambition is to be the last IARC director. Unless she changes course and learns to listen to her critics, I cannot imagine this agency ever regaining credibility within the scientific community.
I presented a four-part exposé of the corruption endemic in just two IARC monographs (112 including glyphosate and 120 on benzene). It reveals 30 significant cases of corruption, rule-breaking, bullying and inappropriate activity within IARC that I refer to as the 30 Cancers of Corruption Killing IARC.
The Corruption of IARC (in four parts)
A chain of events emerged from FOIAed emails showing how two IARC-affiliated scientists working for US tort law firms convinced IARC to hold a third monograph panel on benzene. The goal of the monograph was to merely produce a stated link with a form of cancer that would increase their law firm’s chances to win further cancer cases against industry. Evidence showed that the head of the IARC Monograph Programme, Kurt Straif, had no intention and was not procedurally allowed to hold a further panel on benzene (and that he did not believe this third monograph was scientifically valid). Even though Straif was fully aware that the only purpose of this monograph was to help the US tort law firms, he still decided to go forward with Monograph 120 on benzene (published at the end of 2018).
IARC has been very cavalier with how they consider conflicts of interest and tended to promote monograph panel involvement (cherry-pick) from their network of Good Old Boys (anti-industry scientists affiliated with the Collegium Ramazzini and working as litigation consultants in the US). Although the IARC Preamble forbids any editing of the published monographs, screenshots show repeated violations where panel member conflicts of interest have either been erased or belatedly added. Perhaps it should be news that the scientific agency determining links to cancer habitually lies, changes documents and cherry-picks their scientists without regard to qualifications or competing interests.
A timeline shows how the herbicide glyphosate was added to a monograph on insecticides well after the Working Group nomination period had closed; how its addition was in response to a change in the activist / litigation gameplan on banning GMOs in the US; and how certain activist scientists were motivated to get involved in the process given the litigation consulting opportunities with US tort law firms. Since the publication of Monograph 112 on glyphosate, it is interesting to see how many times IARC officials lied, tried to cover up compromising details and behaved in a scientifically inappropriate manner. The benzene backstory shows how IARC was complicit in the US tort law firm gameplan, rushing glyphosate through the monograph process, vociferously protecting it in the following years while zealously taking a keen interest in influencing the EU glyphosate reauthorisation process.
A series of disgraceful media attacks, bullying of scientists and journalists and full-out confrontation with any agencies or organisations that threatened the monograph evaluations has led to the conclusion that IARC is not a credible scientific agency. Sometimes their jaw-dropping ad hominem attacks come directly from the IARC Communications Unit, but often they conscript an army of mercenaries (feral journalists, activists, IARC-affiliated scientists…) to do their bidding, bullying and character assassinations. The one thing not seen in this section’s lamentable case studies is the use of scientific data or evidence to defend the IARC monographs.
IARC’s Dirty 30: The 30 Cancers of Corruption Killing IARC
The following 30 cases demonstrate how dirty IARC plays. Each point is supported by documentation and evidence in the four-part series on the Corruption of IARC. I understand there are scandals related to IARC’s dreadfully corrupt performance on other monographs (red meat, EMF and mobile phones, talc …) not to mention their scientific methodological failures, but I limited myself to the monographs that included benzene and glyphosate. From that, certain things should be clear.
- It should be clear that IARC has lost the moral right to exist.
- It should be clear that any lawyer who cites an IARC monograph as evidence (in court cases related to exposures to benzene, glyphosate, talc…) is at best lying and at worst, part of the group who had corrupted this agency.
- It should be clear that unless people stand up and make this information known (ie, journalists and influencers), many lawyers and activist scientists will get rich, companies will go bankrupt, farmers will lose important tools for sustainable agriculture and consumers will pay more for inferior products.
I have broken the 30 cases of corruption into categories of ethical violations, transgressions of scientific methodology or internal IARC procedures and improper actions showing a clear lack of integrity.
IARC’s Dirty 30
- Unscientific motives: IARC held Monograph 120 (on benzene) merely for litigation consultants acting on behalf of US tort law firms knowing full well the purpose was to increase chances for lawsuits against industry
- Violating IARC procedures: Monograph 120 (on benzene) was rushed through without being recommended by the IARC Priorities Advisory Group and after IARC repeatedly said there was no plan or justification for that monograph.
- Unscientific motives: IARC is knowingly complicit in having monographs serve as a basis for adversarial regulation (banning substances in the US via mass tort lawsuits until the company goes out of business or stops making the substance).
- Lack of integrity: IARC held a third monograph on benzene due to pressure from Kurt Straif’s Collegium Ramazzini friends even though Straif stated in an email that he did not believe there was a sufficient link between benzene and Non-Hodgkin Lymphoma.
- Violating IARC procedures: IARC cherry-picks monograph panel members from a Good Old Boy network of anti-industry activist scientists tied to the Collegium Ramazzini and US tort law firm consultants (regardless of their capacity or specialisation).
- Unscientific motives: IARC’s Kurt Straif rejected the US government’s proposed nominee for their 2018 Advisory Group Preamble revision panel because he had co-authored a critical commentary on IARC.
- Violating IARC procedures: IARC brought Chris Portier onto the Monograph 112 panel even though he had never worked or published on glyphosate.
- Violating IARC procedures: Martyn T Smith and Bernard Goldstein were allowed to be full-voting members on IARC’s Monograph 100F (on benzene) even though they served frequently as consultants to US tort law firms suing companies for cancers allegedly caused by exposure to benzene.
- Lying: Although IARC had declared Smith’s conflict of interest as a litigation consultant for law firms suing companies for benzene exposure at the time Monograph 100F was published, this conflict of interest was quietly edited out of the publication in 2018.
- Lack of integrity: In 2018, IARC added Chris Portier’s conflict of interest (working for the US NGO, Environmental Defense Fund) although they did not claim it in the original document in 2014 (even though IARC did know his affiliation then).
- Lack of integrity: IARC allowed panel member Martyn T Smith to cite 12 of his papers in Monograph 100F, inappropriately promoting his academic reputation.
- Lack of integrity: In March, 2014, Chris Portier chaired the external Advisory Group to recommend priorities for the next five years of IARC monographs; a week before, Chris was working internally at IARC under the head of the Monograph Programme, Kurt Straif.
- Lying: IARC claimed, as stated in their Preamble, that they never alter documents, although on many occasions, they do (and they change the web addresses to intentionally hide the page history).
- Violating IARC procedures: IARC’s Kate Guyton informed all US members on the Monograph 112 (glyphosate) panel to not cooperate with US transparency requirements and not release any emails or discussions concerning IARC’s glyphosate deliberations.
- Unscientific motives: Glyphosate (a herbicide) was added onto a selection of insecticides to be considered in Monograph 112, well after the deadline for Working Group nominations.
- Lying: Kate Guyton claimed in the European Parliament that work began on glyphosate in March 2014 when, in reality, the substance was only added to Monograph 112 in October 2014.
- Lying: IARC claims Portier was an invited specialist to Monograph 112 (on glyphosate) because of his conflict of interest, but he only claimed this conflict at the beginning of the meeting; the reality is that he joined the panel after the nomination deadline (after glyphosate was added and after Portier got involved with law firms seeking to sue Monsanto).
- Unscientific motives: Kate Guyton (former “acting” head of the IARC Monograph Programme) keeps a close relationship with rabid anti-science activists like GMWatch’s Claire Robinson, and shares their email exchanges with activist scientists.
- Unscientific motives: IARC’s Kate Guyton worked on a story with Le Monde’s anti-industry propagandist, Stéphane Foucart, feeding him information to attack EFSA’s credibility in relation to IARC.
- Unscientific motives: IARC’s Head of Monograph Programme, Kurt Straif, reinforced rumours in interviews that Monsanto was paying off scientists involved in panels and agencies that had contradicted IARC’s conclusion on glyphosate.
- Unscientific motives: IARC’s top management, who should be working on cancer research and evidence, were exchanging emails among their networks with a keen interest in the lobbying and campaign progress in Brussels to ban glyphosate.
- Bullying: IARC’s Monograph team tried to bully a journal to edit and relegate a research paper by Robert Tarone that was critical of IARC’s Monograph 112 (on glyphosate). After a long delay, the paper was published with only minor changes.
- Bullying: IARC’s Monograph team first threatened and then proceeded to file a COPE (Committee on Publication Ethics) complaint against the journal that published a research paper by Robert Tarone that was critical of IARC’s Monograph 112 (on glyphosate).
- Bullying: IARC tried to destroy the reputation of the author of this critical paper, Robert Tarone, accusing him of being paid by Monsanto (when IARC knew he had not received any fees), first in an IARC press statement and then via a paper published by four scientists affiliated with IARC.
- Unscientific motives: IARC uses a network of feral (anti-industry, pro-organic) journalists, regularly feeding them information to either defend IARC or discredit others who challenge them as Monsanto shills.
- Unscientific motives: IARC recruited four litigation consultants and scientists affiliated with the WHO agency to attack critics as Monsanto-paid shills. Their arguments were based on sources like GMWatch, Pesticide Action Network, US Right to Know and Corporate Europe Observatory.
- Lack of integrity: The IARC press statement responding to a Reuters exposé led with a screenshot of the Reuters page with a revolving advertisement in a side column from Bayer Crop Science. This was a cheap attempt to discredit the media group as an industry mouthpiece.
- Unscientific motives: IARC supported Chris Portier in his letter to the European Health Commissioner, criticising the EFSA evaluation of glyphosate, providing him with lists of emails of potential signatories.
- Lying: When Reuters clearly demonstrated how IARC changed ten passages in the glyphosate monograph post-panel to make the substance appear more carcinogenic than the panel had concluded, IARC simply denied they ever change documents (when clearly they did). They then alluded to Monsanto six times in their press release.
- Bullying: In a press statement, IARC accused Reuters journalist, Kate Kelland, of harassing glyphosate monograph Working Group members (by asking them questions) and claiming she was working on behalf of Monsanto. This claim was repeated a year later in a further attack.
This seems quite clear: With these 30 counts, we can safely conclude that IARC has become a corrupted organisation (ten would have been enough). IARC no longer has the credibility to be considered as a scientific agency. As for its present ambition, it’s monographs should not be allowed to serve as evidence in US tort lawsuits: they are not only impractical hazard assessments, they are scandal-ridden, ill-motivated and lacking integrity.
Yes … but … Monsanto!
I have, however, seen on social media the typical response from the glyphosate gameplan gurus: “Mr Monger is a Monsanto shill trying a pathetic ploy to discredit a UN agency. So let’s just ignore 30 clear cases of corruption, shall we?” Look at this recent beaut from the main law firm profiting from the glyphosate gameplan: Baum Hedlund. I find it rather rich how these tort law firms, responsible for corrupting IARC, are now the righteous ones trying to defend that unethical carcass.
People can believe what they want to believe, especially if they can repeat it thousands of times in their social media tribes, but those playing this cynical game are generally people who: 1) are profiting from IARC’s monograph pronouncements; 2) are obsessed with stopping technology and innovative industries; or 3) are hopeless hypocrites lacking in principles or respect for science.
My questions still remain:
- Where are the journalists?
- How afraid have they become of this tired activist “Monsanto shill-baiting”?
- How many more reasons do they need to have to conclude IARC has been corrupted by these tort law firms, via their scientific consultants and activists?
- Why hasn’t IARC responded to this evidence?