“Holy shit” is the only conceivable reaction to this 102-page collection of trash-talking emails from Berkeley endocrinologist Tyrone Hayes to Syngenta, the company that manufactures the weedkiller atrazine. Hayes, 43, has scored gobs of publicity for his work showing that atrazine feminizes male frogs in the wild, and in so doing touched off a bitter feud between the South Carolina-bred scientist and the $12 billion Swiss company, which at first tried to buy Hayes off.
Nature News has the dish:
Those e-mails, which Hayes says were prompted by a heated encounter with a Syngenta scientist, are included in an ethics complaint that Syngenta filed with top University of California officials on 19 July. The Syngenta scientist concerned denies provoking Hayes. The action marks the latest in a series of bitter exchanges between the Switzerland-based company and Hayes, whose work has linked atrazine to adverse effects on the environment and on human health.
Atrazine works by inhibiting photosynthesis in plants, but can disrupt endocrine pathways in animals. Although banned by the European Union, it remains one of the most widely used herbicides in the world, with tens of millions of kilograms applied annually to US farms and lawns.
In March, sixteen cities filed a federal lawsuit against Syngenta to get the company to pay to remove atrazine from contaminated drinking water. Hayes maintains an informational web site about atrazine and its effects.
Science Insider has some choice excerpts from the emails, which quote DMX, Tupac and the Bible. Here’s one of the tamer bits:
5 March 2008, after Syngenta apparently turned down an offer for Hayes to speak to them directly (p. 4):
everywhere i go
i cause a raucus
act like you know
that’s how i do it m*th* f*ck*s
In another email, Hayes declares that Syngenta is “fulla [his] j*z.”
He explains to Nature News that he
grew up in a tough South Carolina community, [so] he reacted to intimidation from Syngenta in a language and style he felt appropriate. “Where I came from, people did a lot more,” he says.
There’s a nice contrast between Hayes’s gentle voice, which you can hear in this video, and the caustic style of his missives:
I’ll end on this excerpt from Hayes’s emails:
i enjoy gardening. in a fairly small plot i grew ove! r [sic] 200 pounds of tomatoes last year. of course i don’t use pesticides…so weeds do come up. […] i don’t just pull them. i lay them down between the rows to prevent more weeds from coming up. then i compost them, so that instead of decreasing my productivity, they actually become their own enemy and eventually increase my productivity….it reminds me of syngenta…[…] when you acknowledge me, more people come…more people listen.