Danny Hakim is an investigative journalist at the New York Times. His reportage includes Donald Trump, sex scandals, and, for some reason, pesticides. Hakim has been a prominent mouthpiece for the anti-science left in recent years, repeating their conspiratorial claims about GMOs and the dangers of glyphosate in his stories.
Danny Hakim’s Fallacious Claims About Pesticides, GMOs
In the last two years, Hakim has authored a handful of poorly researched stories for The Times indicting GMOs as a threat to the environment. In October 2016, for example, Hakim wrote that genetically engineered crops have increased the use of chemical pesticides without improving yields, selectively citing the peer-reviewed literature and making misleading comparisons between farms in America and France.
Stanford biologist Henry Miller noted in response to the article that genetic modification has indeed increased crop yields by dramatically reducing the threat posed by insect infestations and allowing farmers to grow herbicide-resistant plant varieties. Miller also pointed out that reporting the overall increase in the application of pesticides is “a poor measure of environmental (or health) impact … analogous to equating the amount of a medicine ingested with potential harmful effects without considering its toxicity.”
In any case, Hakim’s math doesn’t add up, according to Dr. Carol Lynn Curchoe, because he failed to take into account that America has nine times more farmland than France, and the two countries measure pesticide use in different units (pounds vs. metric tons). His “‘analysis’ could not pass a ninth grade math quiz,” Curchoe added. Another researcher reanalyzed Hakim’s data and concluded that pesticide use is almost certainly lower in the U.S. than it is in France.
Hakim also relied heavily on the comparison between American and French farms to make the case that GMOs don’t increase crop yields, reporting that European farmers who forgo the use of GM seeds outproduce their American counterparts. But as economist Graham Brookes argued, the crops grown on the two continents are planted in different seasons and thus produce different yields. He also chided Hakim for ignoring factors like weather, soil quality and fertiliser use, among others, which also heavily affect crop yields.
Danny Hakim Champions Anti-GMO Conspiracy Theories
Taking a page out of U.S. Right to Know’s (USRTK) playbook, Hakim eagerly plays up the significance of lawsuits (not judgments) against Monsanto and selectively quotes emails from the company’s executives to allege impropriety on the part of the biotech giant.
In a March 2017 story, Hakim reported that Monsanto conspired with a lenient EPA regulator to kill investigations into the company’s once-proprietary herbicide, Roundup, suggesting that their goal was to suppress scientific debate. That same week, ironically enough, the European Chemicals Agency announced that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup, is not carcinogenic. Their report echoed the 2016 findings of four expert panels that “glyphosate … does not pose a genotoxic hazard and therefore, should not be considered support for the classification of glyphosate as a genotoxic carcinogen.”
A Familiar Formula: Danny Hakim’s Relationship with U.S. Right To Know
Hakim’s reporting on GMOs and pesticides follows a familiar pattern, visible in the work of journalists like Paul Thacker, Charles Seife, Tom Philpott, and others. The anti-science group U.S. Right to Know files a lawsuit or FOIA request to acquire the private communications of its political enemies and leaks portions of the documents to sympathetic voices in the media, who then repeat USRTK’s claims of corruption and cover up with little or no scrutiny.
Like his equally unscrupulous colleagues, Hakim wrongly suggests that there is legitimate debate around the safety of GMOs, attacks biotech companies for supposedly silencing their opposition, and manipulates the available evidence to make his case. USRTK then capitalizes on this favorable media coverage to boost its credibility with the public.
Danny Hakim Earns a Public Shaming
Hakim’s shoddy science reporting has earned him still more rebuke from experts. In an open letter to The Times public editor, seven biotech researchers refuted every claim Hakim made in his GMO stories, and encouraged the paper to quit publishing such misleading commentary. One scientist went a step further, wondering aloud why The Times still employs Hakim.