Tyrone Hayes is a biologist at the University of California, Berkeley. He studies the influence of hormones on amphibian development, and is best known for a controversial paper investigating the effect of herbicides on frog reproduction. He also believes that chemical companies are engaged in “environmental racism.” Given his credentials and fringe views, Hayes is a darling of the anti-biotechnology movement.
Herbicides Turn Frogs “Gay,” says Hayes
Hayes became a celebrity among environmentalists after PNAS (Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences) published a paper in 2002 which concluded that a popular herbicide called atrazine was affecting the sexual reproduction of frogs. For his studies, Hayes exposed the larvae of African Claw Frogs to atrazine at >0.1 ppb (parts per billion). He claimed that this exposure “induced hermaphroditism and demasculinized the larynges of exposed males (turned them “gay”), and that a 25 ppb exposure decreased their testosterone levels 10-fold. These “realistic exposures” suggested, at least to Hayes, that atrazine may impair the sexual development of other frog species.
The implications of such findings were significant, because a decline in frog populations, an “indictayor species”, would signal a decline in the health of ecosystems around the world. Hayes made a big splash in the media as a result, so big in fact that The EPA launched a new investigation to determine any detrimental environmental effects of Atrazine.
It was later revealed in the Wall Street Journal, however, that Hayes had exploited a courtesy mechanism at PNAS, the in-house publication of the National Academy of Sciences, and handpicked a close friend in his department at Berkeley to personally edit his study and walk it past peer review. Had it gone through actual peer review, that Hayes included no data would have been flagged. Instead, his result was dutifully picked up by the New York Times and so the EPA called a special panel to investigate this ‘frog sexualization’. He then refused to turn over his data and his methodology was so poor that EPA could not even use his paper, the one that got the special panel convened. With no other evidence to back up his claims, EPA cleared the product once again. No independent lab has been able to reproduce Hayes research findings, either, though several have tried. Moreover, in the 50 years since atrazine hit the market, objective researchers haven’t found any correlation between the herbicide and stunted sexual development in any frog species.
After blowback from the Wall Street Journal article, PNAS changed its policy so they could not be duped by activists exploiting the friendship of Academy members again.
Hayes’ Paranoid Syngenta Conspiracy
On top of his fallacious scientific claims about atrazine, Hayes has also launched an all-out assault on Syngenta, the maker of the herbicide, and its employees, which was confirmed by 102 pages of emails Hayes had sent to various company employees. Hayes bizarrely claimed that Syngenta threatened to hang him and rape his wife and daughter, all without a shred of evidence to support his horrendous charges. He also asserted, contra U.C. Berkeley’s Vice Chancellor of Research, that the university defunded his work because Syngenta pressured them to do so. In today’s climate the university would be looking for ways to revoke his tenure because of his violent sexual harassment and penchant for manufacturing conspiracy stories, but then it was just ‘Tyrone being Tyrone’. However, his sexual harassment and paranoia cannot be dismissed now.
“Ya Fulla My Jiz Right Now!”
Academics are a pretty conservative group, at least until they get tenure. and it can be argued that immunity from repercussions due to weird behavior are why tenure remains valuable, but full-on sexual threats, aggression and hate speech are a bit much, even if the women work at a company Hayes insists is destroying the environment. Gawker rightfully called him out when his emails were leaked:
…there are more than 100 pages of Dr. Hayes’ various emails to Syngenta people online, dating back several years. To read them all at once would perhaps be too much. But we’d be remiss if we didn’t give you a taste. The few below are sufficient to convey a sense of what Tyrone Hayes feels strongly about: the dangers of atrazine, the greatness of Tyrone Hayes, and Tyrone Hayes’ balls.
Hayes was aided in this sexist verbal assault by sympathetic anti-science journalists, including organic industry lackey Tom Philpott, who penned cozy biographical pieces about the rogue biologist. Such articles accepted most of Hayes’ offensive accusations without any thought and painted him as an iconoclastic scientist taking on the corporate establishment. Sadly, those puff pieces ignored the scientific fact that Hayes had misrepresented his work to the public and the fact that he threatened women with violence.
Hayes Preaches to the Crazy Choir
Always a fan of publicity (and a paycheck), Hayes frequently goes on speaking tours funded by anti-science groups and activist political organizations. Hayes has also won accolades from the fringe of the anti-science left because they say his work reveals “the gendered impacts of (primarily endocrine-disrupting) chemicals on human populations.” His public speaking has been a profitable endeavor, apparently, because Hayes brags in emails to his critics that “I’ve already been invited to the next one…guess people like being entertained.” He further boasts about “autograph- signing, room-packing, rhyme-busting, [and] *ss-whoopin” during his public lectures.
What he never boasts about is his science. And neither does U.C. Berkeley.