Apparently The Frog-pocalypse Is Still A Thing
By Hank Campbell | March 23rd 2015 06:00 AM | Print | E-mail
Lost in all of the hype and hysteria and White House panels on how industry is killing bees is the last indicator species that was being doomed by non-organic pesticides: frogs.
It seems like a hundred years ago but it was only last decade that a biologist in a department at Berkeley got a friend of his, a member of the National Academy of Sciences, to hand-walk a paper on frogs past peer review and into PNAS - the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.(1) The paper had no data but that wasn't a problem, screenshots were apparently enough for whoever rubber-stamps articles handed to them by members of the Academy (it's still done today - there is no way serious peer review approved a paper claiming that female-named hurricanes cause more damage because men are prejudiced against them) and because it was in PNAS, one of the most prestigious publications in the world, the environmental behemoth was mobilized, press releases went out, the New York Times dutifully rewrote them, and that got calls for the EPA to convene a special panel.
That sort of event has to be frustrating for EPA career scientists, unless they are immune to it by now.(2) Unless you are a farmer, you probably haven't heard of it but the product's name is atrazine and it has been in use since the 1950s. Because of its long-term usage, the hypothesis in 2002 was worrisome - something so prevalent damaging frogs could have been doing so for a long time.
The EPA convened a special Scientific Advisory Panel, and the product was cleared, and then it also came through its ordinary reregistration, and then it got a new SAP when the Obama administration came into office. Now it is in re-registration again. That's four EPA examinations of this product just in the last dozen years. If you are wondering about the paper that got this whole thing started, the EPA could not use it because the author refused to turn over any data.(1)
But in the last few years the New York Times has been getting people into a panic about bees and neonicotinoids (and now Apple Watches) so frogs have basically been forgotten. Yet an article in Daily Caller brought it up and it was forwarded to me, since I have written on frogs and pesticides in the past (Atrazine And The Forever War On Science and 10,000 Shots Of Scotch And Why I Don't Fear Pesticides) so I wondered why this is still getting press.
Obviously some of it is because the story is so baffling that any reasonable thinker has to wonder how it happened - I get the hypothesis part and I get the political reality of convening a new SAP even though re-registration was currently happening. I don't get why 10 years later it is still being discussed except by lawyers who are looking to shake down a company for a quick settlement.
Some of it won't die because last autumn Hayes has enraged a lot of people with his behavior so they are having a laugh at his expense. In 2010, Gawker called him a "Cock-Fixated Megalomaniac Email Addict" because of his harassment and threats against employees of Syngenta, the makers of atrazine.And some is because his science was wrong. Last autumn, he had his name on a paper which found that amphibian populations in the wild were not affected by atrazine exposure. If his findings can't even be duplicated by sticking tubes full of stuff directly into the stomachs of frogs much less in the real world, that is going to bring derision.
I am not criticizing him for that, correcting your mistakes is what science is all about. Avery, writing in the Daily Caller, says Hayes won't test frogs in the real world again because he "can’t afford to disprove his theory a third time" but I hope he does keep trying to get back to quality science. He has been considered as having "the greatest potential of anyone in the field”.
Unfortunately, the only person who said that was the friend who hand-walked his paper through peer review in 2002 and created the unrealistic self-identification that prevents people in science from taking him seriously.
(1) We can hope it is getting better. After I criticized PNAS in the Wall Street Journal, they stated they would no longer allow paper authors to hand-select their editors.
(2) A hypothetical example of the conversation:
Politician: "This pesticide is in the New York Times, people are worried it is changing the sex organs of frogs. You need to create a special panel to look into it."
EPA Department Head: "Oh, that pesticide is in re-registration right now. We already have a group examining all of the studies on it."
Politician: "Do both. Make one a public forum where people from the NRDC can come and comment."
EPA Department Head: "You want us to convene an emergency Scientific Advisory Panel to study a product that another EPA panel is already studying as part of its regular, mandated re-registration process?"
Politician: "It's for the children."
(3) But environmentalists who fly the author, Tyrone Hayes, around on all-expenses paid junkets to say pesticides are ruining frogs continue to ignore that part. It was promoted so much that on Feb. 16th, 2005, Anne Lindsay testified before the Agriculture and Rural Development Committee of the Minnesota House of Representatives: “It has been claimed that research on frogs shows that atrazine causes changes in the production of aromatase, an enzyme that is involved in the conversion of testosterone to estrogen. It has also been claimed that other scientists have shown similar effects in other species … There is no direct scientific information to assess this hypothesis.”
In other words, the EPA wasn't buying it and they had really tried. The EPA is not exactly known for being friendly with industry, so if even they can't find a reason to be on your side, your work is pretty shoddy.