Patience and persistence … then a little more patience … someone will pick this story up … let me try it again …
The Risk-Monger has been investigating corruption scandals in IARC since the WHO’s cancer research agency’s outrageous Monograph 112 on glyphosate was published in 2015. Over the last four and a half years he has published 35 articles on how IARC used poor science, lied, bullied scientists and agencies who challenged them, worked with an army of anti-industry, anti-science (feral) journalists and activists to attack their opponents. He has revealed how IARC allowed scientists having a direct relationship with US tort law firms to serve on working group panels (and even dictate which substances IARC needed to do monographs on to increase lawsuit payouts).
This UN agency is clearly corrupt to the core and impervious to the outrage their unprofessional and biased behaviour has caused in the scientific community, the loss of trust in regulatory science they fostered and the chemophobia they have spread in the public mind. It should be shut down, if anything, just on the basis of evidence from this blog-site.
So the Risk-Monger, bordering on madness, kept banging away on his old keyboard in his dusty basement, exposing lies, bought and paid for scientists, conflicts of interest and unscientific behaviour, culminating in the most egregious exposé this year of how monographs like those on benzene and glyphosate were prepared for the sole interest of providing evidence for American tort law firms who were handsomely paying a group of IARC working group participants. He showed how IARC not only knew this but were complicit in their actions and directly promoted their lobbying and litigation efforts. He provided hundreds of pages of evidence and summaries for journalists showcasing 30 instances of fraud, deceit and complicity inside IARC.
The Risk-Monger analysed strategy documents indicating a plan between scientists, NGOs and law firms to tobacconise industries via endless lawsuits. With evidence in emails, lectures and articles, he laid out how some retired regulatory scientists were using IARC and the law firms paying them as a means to go around the democratic risk assessment process and ban products and substances via the tort legal system (calling it “adversarial regulation”). He followed the money trail and the conflicts of interest that were destroying the trust in science and technology.
The evidence of 30 scandals at IARC was clear, well laid out in four chapters and freely available for any journalist to write an investigation to challenge a great injustice to farmers and consumers. Evidence was even provided in 30 separate memes … pre-packaged with screenshots of each scandal’s proof. The Risk-Monger then offered a prize to the first journalist to pick up the story (fairly confident he would never have to pay up). His twitter followers repeatedly linked journalists they knew to these articles and memes begging for the facts to reach a larger audience.
In that time the media merely yawned and simply ignored the 30 scandals. Unsurprisingly none of IARC’s Dirty 30 were reported in the mainstream media. Instead journalists covered stories when:
- NGOs made the public terrified of minuscule glyphosate traces in their Cheerios;
- American tort law firms made Monsanto “Public Enemy #1” (potential juror outrage); and
- Bent scientists peddled suggestive innuendo (while moonlighting as litigation consultants).
IARC were the good guys in their narrative standing up to evil corporations, paid-off shills and poisonous farmers. The emotion, chemophobia and anti-industry sentiment allowed weak rumours to trump clear evidence and the media, from the CBC in Canada to ABC in Australia, allowed themselves to be played by these activist scoundrels.
How could such a situation of corruption and unscientific behaviour continue to go on in the light of day at a UN agency? How is it that none of the 26 IARC member countries demanded a reorganisation (the US came close but IARC ignored their inquiry until US politics buried that process)? How is it conceivable that IARC’s discredited and corrupted monograph on glyphosate continues to be used to generate hundreds of millions of dollars of fees in these ridiculous US Roundup court cases?
Have people gone completely mad?
To make matters in this tragedy more unbelievable, glyphosate is perhaps the most benign pesticide in use today (often referred to as the “herbicide of the century”). It has taken children out of the fields where weeding used to be a main summer occupation. It has allowed farmers to easily control weeds, cut costs, lower inputs and increase yields. It has led to more sustainable farming practices (referred to as conservation agriculture) like no-till / low-tillage farming with complex cover crops which have helped farmers protect and grow the soil, lower CO2 emissions, stop erosion, moisture and nutrient loss and reduce overall pesticide and fertiliser use. It is widely used in forest management, to keep railway lines safe and to manage invasive species.
The only thing glyphosate did not seem to do is make organic farming competitive (and therein lies the seeds of its ruin).
The organic food industry lobby has engineered the perfect surgical incision to remove a cheap, effective and safe herbicide and the media, in its near entirety, fell for their malicious campaign. The time, money and energy spent to get this very useful and low toxic substance banned went beyond logic and rationality. The EU was powerless to the lobbying force at the Member State level, the EU risk assessment process and EFSA came under direct fire and farmers were attacked on their tractors.
For no rational reason, glyphosate is on the way out with no clear available alternatives. Farmers will lose an essential tool in their crop protection kit, soil and water conditions will worsen, agricultural CO2 emissions will rise, consumers will pay more for food and law firms, the true villains in the shadows, will get very rich bankrupting one of history’s most significant (cancer) research and innovation companies while the well-paid IARC officials will move into their bright new offices confident of a job well-done.
How do you spell: “Stupid”?
Still, almost five years on, The Risk-Monger continues to bang away on his dusty keyboard. He must be out of his mind … truly. Why has this situation been allowed to persist? Why can’t people see the corruption and environmental destruction instigated by law firms, activists and the organic food industry lobby implemented via IARC and its group of associated scientists working for these mendacious, unethical tort scoundrels? Why is there so little media interest?
Seven Factors behind the Absence of Intelligence
There is no single reason why facts and rationality have been ignored so spectacularly in the case of glyphosate. There has been a clear strategy by a coordinated group of interested parties and poor execution by many risk managers, but the factors that allow intelligence to continue to bleed out onto the floor in the face of such clear evidence of corruption are many, diverse and indicative of worsening times to come.
Here are seven factors to try to help understand this absence of intelligence and journalistic irresponsibility.
1. The Post-Journalism Age
The digitalisation of information not only obliterated the main economic revenue streams for newsprint organisations, it also created a wide mix of social media “knowledge communities” built upon self-fulfilling belief systems (tribes). News is no longer an institution and the media has become more interest driven. It has been almost a decade since I taught a course to journalism students at the university level; that profession has died.
We are now living in a “Post-Journalism Age” where news is socialised and diffused as clickbait; where journalists have other main occupations and openly propagate their interests; and where facts matter less than followers and social media tribal approval. Virtual news organisations virally spread information without editorial standards, respect for evidence or journalistic integrity. In the Post-Journalism Age, public fear and outrage define content.
Online news outlets like the HuffPost search for content written by available activist consultants without a concern for research honesty or respect for codes of conduct. Newspapers like The Guardian transformed themselves into NGOs running campaigns to get donations from readers while taking funds from foundations in exchange for stories. Activists infiltrated media outlets taking their passion and zealotry to wider audiences. When you read the work of Le Monde’s Stéphane Foucart and Stéphane Horel, and put it up against traditional media standards of balance and openness, no reasonable person could call their work journalism. Watching these ad hominem hyenas feast on the reputation of Emmanuelle Ducros was sad and embarrassing. When I look at the slew of science, environment or health writers for the New York Times, I cannot see one writer who is not mercilessly agenda-driven. Is this part of their employment policy?
When an organisation like Reuters produced a piece on the failures at IARC on glyphosate, IARC then ran a press release claiming the journalist, Kate Kelland and a scientist she interviewed, were Monsanto shills. On the same day long articles then appeared by IARC’s band of feral journalists like Carey Gillam in the HuffPost dutifully repeating this message, then amplified across a wide range of social media accounts. Ms Kelland won an award but was burnt at the stake – the last credible journalist to have dared challenge IARC and their corral of feral writers.
2. The Bambi Effect
IARC is the International Agency for Research on Cancer – scientists coming together to fight against cancer and to inform the research community, governments and the public. As part of the World Health Organization, there is a halo effect they can exploit to dispel doubts should people notice they had done anything suspicious or corrupt.
This is the Bambi Effect: a situation where scientists, campaigners or evidence are judged on their normative value rather than their actual factual reality. It refers to a perception-based double standard that those perceived as doing good are not held up to the same level of scrutiny as others. The Bambi Effect justifies a “Teflon” hypocrisy that tolerates misconduct in organisations or people deemed to be well-intentioned or publicly respected.
This phenomenon has grown substantially with the application of the precautionary principle where demands for safety and certainty have distorted our respect for and scrutiny of facts and evidence. The Bambi Effect allows us to accept certain realities even if they may not be right. Historically, the Bambi Effect referred to the double standards on how we react when cute animals suffer compared to other animals commonly eaten. In essence, it highlights the hypocrisy of subjective, emotional arguments.
IARC is perceived as “Bambish” and any attempts to hold them to task merely slide off and smear the accuser instead. The Risk-Monger is the terrible person (the Monsanto shill) for daring to tell lies about such a good organisaton like IARC. The more evidence he published, the more he was attacked.
The agency can further leverage the UN and WHO coat-tails even if the affiliation is merely nominal. They have a strong anti-industry bias and see themselves as David standing up against the Goliaths of industry – the alleged causes of these terrible cancers.
It is interesting how far the Bambi Effect can be extended when IARC scientists like Kate Guyton are found to be sharing personal messages from anti-science, anti-industry NGOs, openly lying and conducting witch-hunts against scientists who speak up. Until now, the word “Monsanto” still gives them a virtuous veneer, but I am curious at what point the agency’s own credibility crisis will lead to funding members pulling out.
3. The M Word
Every story needs a bad guy to vilify – a polar extreme upon which to measure our own goodness. In the anti-industry narrative that has structured our story-telling this century, one company has stood out as evil incarnate: Monsanto. Most individuals don’t know what the company makes, but the very use of those three syllables (pronounced in any language) fills them with fear and outrage (the two activist ingredients needed for action and donations).
It does not matter that the company has not existed for more than a year. It does not matter that prior to being bought, it was merely a mid-sized ag-technology company. It does not matter that many of their products, like Roundup, were off-patent and made by a dozen other companies. If the name Monsanto was evoked, it conjured up some dark underworld where all scientists, regulators and pro-research media were receiving brown envelopes stuffed with cash. Indeed, The Risk-Monger was so heavily paid off that Google even created a short-cut for those searching for the link.
Stories don’t have to be true or factual to be effective and the NGO community milked the Monsanto name for what they could, through marches, tribunals, papers, documentaries. The activists took a vulnerable population, found a mysterious entity they could colour with our worst fears and then let an alarmist-led public take these tales into the mainstream. Although this element of outrage still has legs, I’m beginning to wonder how the organic food industry lobby will fare without the great Satan of industry?
4. Big Organic
The organic lobby is investing millions into fear campaigns, paying NGOs, activists and social media gurus to promote IARC’s glyphosate monograph and attack anyone who questions them or their anti-Monsanto campaign (The Risk-Monger has some direct experience there). For example, the Organic Consumers Association bankrolled half a million USD to hold the Monsanto Tribunal and are the main funders (along with several other anti-vaxx groups) of US Right To Know (USRTK) – the lobby group working with the Scientologist law firm, Baum Hedlund, who together released the Monsanto Papers. Organic food companies and detox supplements groups have been funding studies to raise doubts on the safety of glyphosate since the time of Séralini’s rat feeding test fiasco.
One of the main groups promoting IARC and working internally with the lead author of the glyphosate monograph, Kate Guyton, is GMWatch, a rabid anti-science NGO part founded and funded by Maharishi money tied to the organic food industry lobby. It should be no surprise that a group of IARC scientists who wrote a scathing attack on those who challenged the IARC glyphosate monograph cited attack pieces written by lobbyists from USRTK, Pesticide Action Network, GMWatch and Corporate Europe Observatory. They get what they paid for.
What is remarkable is how these anti-industry activist campaigners don’t see that their funding is coming from an industry, and one that is far worse as these organic food corporations do not publish or follow any ethical codes of conduct and are quite content to use fear and lies to gain market share. How much longer before the media and general public paint these organic lobbyists for what they are: lying, thieving fear-mongerers?
5. The anti-corporate narrative
IARC under Chris Wild’s leadership had become anti-industry obsessed, regularly reminding the media of their rejection of industry generated data or research. If you are a cancer researcher paid by the pharmaceutical industry (where a large number of the curative breakthroughs happen), for IARC you are nothing. (Not one industry researcher was invited to IARC’s 50th anniversary gala). Being anti-industry augments IARC’s “Bambish” persona.
The organic food industry lobby has taken advantage of the Bambi Effect as well. Perceived to be working towards the good of society (by eliminating pesticides and GMOs), the activists funded by these pro-organic campaign groups are treated with kid gloves, more readily trusted and rarely scrutinised. Many ridiculous claims (such as those made on glyphosate by fringe scientists like Stephanie Seneff and Anthony Samsel) are rarely challenged or questioned.
Corporate researchers have to prove with certainty that a substance is safe while those challenging them merely have to suggest there is enough evidence to question this certainty. (Ask any scientist what certainty is.) The reason for this hypocrisy is tied to the anti-corporate narrative and the reversal of the burden of proof (what the precautionary principle is based on).
Our present narrative is built on the distrust of corporations and industry whereas the NGOs, the organic lobbyists and activist scientists involved in IARC are seen as the white knights battling this evil. They are held to a different standard. For example, a watch-dog may bark at the moon 99 times out of a hundred, but that one time it scares off a wrong-doer, it earns its keep. NGOs don’t have to be right to be trusted – they are there for our protection and we tolerate how they may get overly zealous in keeping us safe. Now imagine if a corporate scientist were wrong just one time in a million … That would spell the end of the company. The trust deficit and the burden of proof / demand for certainty in our present narrative is stacked in the activists’ favour.
We accept that IARC’s hazard-based monographs are not scientifically valuable (unless you are a US tort lawyer preaching to a jury of laypersons), but still IARC is allowed to continue to produce these useless documents in the hopes that one in a hundred may shed some valuable light on a carcinogen. So long as IARC campaigns against industry, they will be able to enjoy the Bambi Effect.
6. The Age of Affluence
What if the activists were wrong in their pesticide campaigns? So what! The only thing that would happen would be that a chemical was banned. This is the case with the banning of a certain number of neonicotinoids. But what if, from that, farmers would produce lower yields, might abandon their fields or lose money? So what! The only thing this would mean is that we would have to import more food. Affluent societies have no problems with this and given the capacity of our logistics networks, there would be no shortages and little price variations noticed by the consumer. In other words, the consequences and agricultural policy risks don’t really matter in affluent societies (in reality, farmers don’t matter). This is a small price to pay in the zealots’ campaign for a “Chemical-free Europe”.
Food logistics chains are designed to feed the affluent. As poorer countries, at the bottom of the chain get more food stressed there are no nets to secure their food supplies should crops fail. To make matters worse, these affluent societies are dictating what agritech tools smallholders in these developing countries should be allowed to use (and the activists leading the charge actually think agro-ecology is a good idea). Global food security is being threatened because some affluent western food gurus think a herbicide might give them cancer (thanks to a shabby IARC monograph). When policy-makers in developing countries blindly impose affluent agritech restrictions on their own farmers, economic and social vulnerabilities amplify. The best foreseeable outcome here will be low growth and continued malnutrition.
7. A Social Media Army of Ignorance
The one thing that ties these six factors together is the army of ignorance recruited on social media to spread the activism disguised as journalism. From gurus like Mercola and The Food Babe to my sister-in-law and her tribe of Google-informed antis, information they want to have heard gets diffused while uncomfortable facts get attacked. Scientists trying to correct misinformation may have hundreds or at best a few thousand followers while the gurus and activists have millions. There are very few brave scientists like Kevin Folta with the strength to defend research against the personal attacks of trolls and social justice warriors with a degree from Google University.
As 24/7 news organisations move stories up and down the schedule according to social media feedback, facts and evidence have very little chance of getting a hearing as the ignorance machine feasts on its own foolishness. Clever activists with large networks know how to make their story flourish in a world without journalistic integrity or demand for evidence.
How to Communicate in the Post-Journalism Age
So how do we get news like IARC’s 30 scandals into the media in this Post-Journalism Age? How will people wake up and realise what the US tort lawyers have done to science, farmers and public trust in institutions in their dash for cash?
The answer is simple: pay someone to pose as a journalist. If you are working for a “Bambish” organisation like USRTK, you can be like Carey Gillam and openly lie by saying you’re a journalist while you are, in reality, paid handsomely as a lobbyist to advocate the content of your articles. You don’t even need to be factual (The Guardian and the HuffPost get wet at the first whiff of alarmism and fear-mongering). If you are cooperating with an industry lobby that falls on the evil side of our present narrative, however, don’t get caught paying someone to be a journalist. The mere suggestion of industry collusion will have all past articles immediately taken offline without consultation or assessment of the reality.
The hypocrisy of the Bambi Effect works well in the Post-Journalism Age: paid activists fighting against the authorities and companies are journalists; those journalists defending facts that contradict these campaigns are shills. I thought it was rich when Carey Gillam attacked Emmanuelle Ducros on journalism ethics. Hypocrisy unhinged.
If you think the facts will speak for themselves in this time of media anarchy, prepare to be ignored. Worse, prepare to have groups threatened by these facts ruthlessly attack you, shut down your blog, physically drag you out of conferences and have you fired. The Risk-Monger has a bit of experience here (“more weight”). I often think my articles are merely cataloguing the demise of science and rationality for future historians to look back upon. These eco-religious inspired witch-hunts will someday end and the clean-up will begin in earnest.
In short, if you want the public to pay attention to your story in the Post-Journalism Age then you will need to be the following three things:
- Alarmist. You have to be talking about the end of days, a deadly uncontrolled disease or lost personal capacity;
- Hyperbolic. Facts won’t sell themselves but exaggeration and immediacy of negative consequences will attract headlines and retweets; and
- Over the top with moral outrage (disgust). People react against evil far more efficiently than they can think about ideas.
Extinction Rebellion’s recent antics show how these three elements capture just what the media want and expect in a story in this Post-Journalism Age: the oncoming demise of humanity, within a decade, due to the awful behaviour of selfish humans. That their claims were ridiculous, politically motivated and irresponsible never made it past the editor’s desk. There were no editors.
If you prefer to be factual, responsible and positive, then prepare to be patient and persistent … and then a little more patient.
Postscript: An Apology
Let me leave my persona and speak in the first person, as David, here.
This is my 36th article on IARC and glyphosate and will likely be my last on this subject. It is essentially an admission of failure. In these five years, I have seen some thoroughly awful people tell lies and spread false evidence for profit. I have uncovered scandals that should have shut a UN agency down, found the slimiest American lawyers that have ever existed throwing money at bent scientists and characterless activists in order to extract billions from consumers while bankrupting a company that exudes a commitment to science, development and humanity. I cannot count how many truly awful organic industry-funded activists, journalists or trolls I’ve encountered who have dragged me down into their mudpits.
The most painful part is for the large number of farmers I have met over the years, many of whom have opened their homes to me, the conversations we’ve had about their futures, their concerns, their families. They cannot understand how these liars and villains could be successful in their campaign to ban a substance that has revolutionised modern agriculture and has made farming more sustainable. I cannot explain to European farmers why so few people are fighting for them or why I failed to get the wider public to see this story of corruption, the motives behind those trying to handcuff farmers and the powerlessness to stop them. And for that failure I am truly sorry.