Monsanto's lawyers forgot to ask a court to suppress damning evidence about cancer and corrupt science


#1

Originally published at: http://boingboing.net/2017/08/04/glyphosate-follies.html


#2

If there really was a standing confidentiality order in place, the plaintiffs’ attorneys are about to owe Monsanto a whole lot of money.


#3

Monsanto says that the opposition lawyers “cherry-picked” the evidence that they published

That’s some real weak sauce there… “How dare they publish stuff that supports their argument and shows us being scumbags, when they could just as easily have published the invitation to Suzy’s birthday party in the break room or the guidelines for what to wear on Casual Fridays!”


#4

NEWSFLASH. Harmful chemicals found out to be harmful, public shocked at findings.


#5

If the most damning of the evidence is someone saying “we don’t have enough evidence to say our formulation of a glyphosate-based weed killer is as non-carcenogenic as the chemical” then it’s pretty weak.


#6

Honestly I don’t think they can ever claim something to be “non-carcinogenic,” because you can’t ever prove a negative. At best all you can say is that there is a lack of evidence to show that something causes cancer.


#7

Monsanto says that the opposition lawyers “cherry-picked” the evidence…

The court totally failed to consider how many banks I didn’t rob!


#8

Monsanto: Our products don’t cause cancer. Our customers just happen to be overladen pre-existing conditions.


#9

This makes new more angry at the EPA than Monsanto. I don’t expect Monsanto to be concerned about the public interest.


#10

Did anyone even read this article? The scientists are saying that glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer – however there is some concern that the detergent within the Roundup formulation may cause cancer. They haven’t done the research on the full formulation so they can’t say definitively.

For the scientists in the room–or at least those who are inclined to actually read articles–this amounts to almost a full exoneration of the Monsanto scientists. They’ve done the homework on their chemicals. They’ve communicated them to the public. They haven’t looked at the entire formulation, and they’re being particular about making that distinction internally. I don’t see how bb.net readers overlooked this.


#11

Welcome to the forums curiously new person


#12

It’s also difficult to hold against Monsanto that they don’t want to say “we don’t know if Roundup causes cancer or not”. That doesn’t mean anything bad, but sounds bad.

What they do with trying to have their scientists to publish as if they did the research outside of Monsanto is sketchy, but that’s what you get for not having stricter research rules. All studies should be registered with full funding information and full results and data should be published for each registered study under heavy financial penalties.


#13

Catchy but false:

“there are many proofs that substantiate negative claims in mathematics, science, and economics including Arrow’s impossibility theorem.”


#14

Just because one of the many ingredients in Roundup doesn’t cause cancer doesn’t mean that Roundup as a whole is not capable of causing cancer (and I’m not saying it is).

That’s like saying, “Well, the water in this strychnine solution isn’t poisonous, therefore the solution is safe for human consumption.”


#15

You’re right that it’s a simplified rule of thumb to which there are exceptions. Like, you can prove that the world is almost certainly not flat. I’m fairly sure in the case of health and disease though, it’s is a common tenet that nothing is proven to be absolutely safe… all you can say is that the evidence doesn’t show that it causes harm. Human disease is very complex so you don’t typically make super declarative statements like “this thing is non-carcinogentic.” You say, this thing has not been shown to be carcinogenic…


#16

I’ll buy that.

Mathematical proofs can be absolute. Whereas not so much with medicine (more variables and heuristics), and on top of that I think the emotions/stakes that surround medical things (because people’s lives or well-being is on the line) tend to distort people’s analytical skills, and change the way results get presented. People seem much more ready to accept “xyz has been proven unsafe” even if the demonstration of that unsafeness was narrow or semi-replicable or correlation rather than causation, but if a full battery of standard tests is used to show “xyz passes all known tests; it may be unsafe, but if so we don’t have any evidence of that”, people hesitate. Not that I disagree with such patterns, it could be seen as prudent; I’d rather give the general population 5 years of guina-pigging something new (cholesterol med, self-driving car, etc) before deciding to throw in with it.

Anyway, thanks for the thoughtful and thought-provoking reply.


#17

The lawsuit is utter bullshit.

Glyphosate has been tested a million times over; it as about as non-carcinogenic as it is possible to get. It does not contribute to cancer risk in any significant, measurable way.

Commercially sold Roundup comes in a few varieties (“Roundup Biactive” etc), with the differences between varieties mostly relating to them adding some detergent to the mix. This is in order to allow the herbicide to penetrate the leaves, giving it more effectiveness on plants that defend themselves with a wax or oil coating. These detergents are not anything special; they’re the same sorts of things as what you wash your dishes and clothes in.

I carry a bottle of glyphosate on my belt every day. We mix a bit of coloured dye into it, in order to more easily track where we’ve used it. The dye is substantially more dangerous than the glyphosate, because it is known to be very slightly carcinogenic.

And yet we continue to use the dye, because the “danger” is trivial. Almost everything (including most of what we eat) is slightly carcinogenic. “Can be shown in a lab to microscopically increase cancer rates in model organisms” is not the same thing as “significantly hazardous in real-world conditions”.

We’ve become so good at detecting microscopic cancer risks that we’re seeing them everywhere, because they are everywhere. Cancer is just a thing that happens to an organism that is exposed to the world for a sufficient time.

Monsanto is a big evil corporation that routinely engages in the same sort of bastardry as every other big evil corporation. They’re just as scummy as Pfizer et al.

But glyphosate is a chemical, not a company, and it is by far the safest effective herbicide ever developed. The persistent push from the clueless hippy faction to have it restricted will, if it succeeds, make my job much more dangerous.


#18

Thank you for your thoughts too- after considering it more, I actually don’t think I’ll be repeating that “can’t prove a negative,” hubristic… it’s just not a very precise thing to say. I think it’s something that I’ve heard and just repeated without considering all the counter examples (there’s so many now that I think about it, it’s silly). But like you say, unlike pure logic or math, the study of disease and medicine comes with so many variables that it’s hard to come to absolute certainty, so the heuristic is kinda true in that case. As we run more and more controlled studies we can move closer and closer to certainty, but we will probably never quite get there in precise terms. But in certain cases we can probably get close enough to say in practical terms that something isn’t harmful, even if there’s actually some infinitesimal chance it is. Anyway, thanks for the discussion!


#19

Yeah, that’s what lawyers do. Kinda like what Monsanto has been doing too. Don’t want bad stuff cherry picked? Don’t spray your cherries with Roundup.


#20

Even the Seattle hippies are all for roundup when it comes to the invasive blackberries. Those mofos are fucking hard to kill off by just cutting down/digging up.