A Free-Market Energy Blog

The Harm from Bad Science (Part I: Pesticides)

By -- October 23, 2018

“[Today’s] fraudulent work is also used to underwrite and justify mass tort lawsuits that likewise threaten corporations, industries, our agriculture and economy, our health and welfare – while enriching a cabal of dishonest lawyers, scientists, politicians and allied pressure groups.”

Scientific pranks and frauds go back centuries. They used to be humorous, even harmless. Indeed, some of the greatest hoaxes are astounding for their audacity – and for the gullibility of folks they fooled, even when the victims were themselves brilliant scientists (at least in their own minds).

Johann Beringer’s fossil trove in Würzburg, Germany uncovered frogs petrified in the very act of mating, insects while feeding and other amazing feats of fossilization – or fabrication. The “fossils” were actually a practical joke on the good doctor by his envious colleagues.

The ten-foot-tall Cardiff Giant in New York drew hundreds of paying customers to view this petrified human, who even had his manly organ frozen in time. Piltdown Man was renowned as the missing link in human evolution; it took forty years before scientists figured out that the skull was really a medieval human cranium attached to an orangutan jaw.

Pranksters got papers accepted by journals, even though they were cobbled together by buzzword generators or clever wordsmiths. This short excerpt is from a masterpiece by Alan Sokal:

Quantum gravity synthesizes and supersedes Heisenberg’s quantum mechanics and Einstein’s general relativity, to terminate the space-time manifold as an objective physical reality and make geometry  more relational and contextual, problematizing and relativizing the foundational conceptual categories of prior science ….

The papers should have been spotted as total nonsense. But since they were in fields where gibberish is commonplace, no one recognized them as hoaxes, until the authors revealed the truth.

A 1957 BBC News special documented Swiss farmers harvesting pasta from the branches of their spaghetti trees. Hundreds of viewers contacted the Beeb, asking how they could get their own tree – only to find out that the program was an elaborate April Fools’ Day joke.

Another 1957 hoax involved snouters – rhinogradentia. These critters had nose-like features that evolved to fulfill all kinds of functions, from walking and leaping to feeding. Anyone who wanted to test Dr. Stümpke’s claims was out of luck, however. The critters supposedly inhabited only a few South Pacific islands, which had sunk beneath the waves … from atomic bomb testing, not climate change.

Some frauds were not so harmless or amusing, however. Trofim Lysenko claimed characteristics acquired by plants during their lives would be inherited by subsequent generations. Plucking all the leaves off a plant would cause its descendants to be leafless, for instance. It was absurd.

But Joe Stalin embraced Lysenko’s crazy claims, to advance the dictator’s (disastrous) agricultural policies, and Soviet era geneticists who questioned his assertions were sent to gulags … or executed.

Getting More Sophisticated ….

Modern-day Neo-Lysenkoism is almost as scary. The frauds are no longer humorous. They are growing in number. They are cumulatively costing billions of dollars in wasted taxpayer-funded research. They represent just one more component of anti-corporate, anti-capitalist, anti-chemical, climate alarmist, anti-fossil fuel control … of our universities, news and social media, government agencies and research budgets. Even the once venerable BBC has been complicit in climate propaganda and fraud.

Far worse, they are used to drive public policies and regulations that cost hundreds of billions, even trillions of dollars in wealth transfers and lost economic productivity, while threatening the very existence of companies and industries, and the health and welfare of science, our economy and our citizens.

The fraudulent work is also used to underwrite and justify mass tort lawsuits that likewise threaten corporations, industries, our agriculture and economy, our health and welfare – while enriching a cabal of dishonest lawyers, scientists, politicians and allied pressure groups.

1. DDT and Malaria

The modern era of scientific fraud arguably began with EPA Administrator William Ruckelshaus and DDT. This unfairly libeled chemical was sprayed on Allied troops and tents to prevent malaria during World War II – and on war refugees and concentration camp survivors to stop typhus outbreaks.

It delivered the coup de grace to malaria in the United States, Europe, Siberia and other places where the disease had cursed and killed humanity for millennia.

Sprayed once every six months on the walls of primitive African and Asian homes, DDT keeps most mosquitoes out, irritates those that do enter so they don’t bite, kills any that land, and reduces malaria by 80% or more.

But Rachel Carson wrote her misleading book, Silent Spring – and the Environmental Defense Fund campaigned to have DDT banned. “If the environmentalists win on DDT,” EDF scientist Charles Wurster wrote in 1969 as the campaign began, “they will achieve, and probably retain in other environmental issues, a level of authority they have never had before. In that sense, then, much more is at stake than DDT.”

Ruckelshaus appointed an expert scientific commission, which reviewed the chemical for six months, produced 9,312 pages of studies and testimony – and concluded that DDT was safe, effective and non-carcinogenic. Ruckelshaus never attended one minute of committee proceedings, never read one page of its reports. He simply said he had a political problem – and fixed it, by banning this life-saving chemical in 1972, years after malaria had finally been eradicated in the United States and Europe.

Over the ensuing decades, EDF got rich, Ruckelshaus became a fund raiser for EDF, the false accusations continued, tens of millions of Third World parents and children died from malaria – and President Obama gave him the Congressional Medal of Freedom, citing the DDT ban as a major accomplishment.

2. Glyphosate, talc and other cancer-causing chemicals

Glyphosate is the active ingredient in Roundup and the world’s most widely used herbicide. Multiple studies by respected organizations in multiple countries have concluded that glyphosate (like DDT) is safe and non-carcinogenic. Even the USEPA and European Food Safety Authority have said so.

A US study of 89,000 farmers, commercial applicators and their spouses found no glyphosate-cancer link. A 2017 US Journal of the National Cancer Institute study of 45,000 such people reached the same conclusion. But jackpot justice lawyers and anti-chemical pressure groups rejected the science.

They stacked the deck at the World Health Organization’s International Agency for Research on Cancer, or IARC. Its director and staff are now nearly all anti-chemical activists, and some of them have blatant conflicts of interest.

To date, IARC has studied over 900 chemicals. Only once did it find a chemical was “probably” not carcinogenic. It’s even claimed pickled vegetables, coffee and “very hot” beverages cause cancer.

IARC does not do research. It simply reviews existing research and classifies chemicals as definitely, probably or possibly a cause of cancer in humans … at extremely high doses. Its antiquated approach makes no attempt to determine what exposure levels actually might pose cancer risks for humans.

In the process, the agency ignores inconvenient studies that don’t support its agenda. One staff member deliberately failed to mention a study exonerating glyphosate, because it hadn’t yet been published – because he (as one of the authors) held it back from publication until after IARC rendered its decision. Other staff altered study data, sentences and conclusions to make them say or suggest that glyphosate was carcinogenic, when the studies said the exact opposite.

IARC’s key “consulting expert” on glyphosate coordinated its review – while he was also being paid by the same Environmental Defense Fund that went after DDT. To top it off, the same expert – Christopher Portier – also received $160,000 as a consultant for the lawyers who are suing Monsanto over glyphosate.

Those lawyers hit the jackpot. Just recently, a San Francisco jury awarded a single retired groundskeeper $289 million in compensatory and punitive damages because the jurors accepted his claim that his non-Hodgkin lymphoma is due to exposure to glyphosate.

The junk-science lawyers have some 5,000 more “victims” lined up to sue Monsanto and its new parent company, Bayer, maker of Bayer Aspirin. Hundreds more cancer patients called the lawyers after the jury verdict was announced, to sign up for their share of the expected jackpot.

Not only would this bankrupt the companies. It could eliminate this chemical from home arsenals … and from agricultural use, where it is the foundation for no-till farming, which dramatically reduces labor, costs and soil erosion. It would force thousands of farmers to rely on weeding by hand or with short hoes.


Paul Driessen is senior policy analyst for several think tanks and author of Eco-Imperialism: Green power – Black Death and other books and articles on energy, climate change, economic development and human rights.

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