"Frog sex malformities linked to weedkiller, study says" was a popular media story last week. University of California junk scientist Tyrone Hayes once again tried to link the widely used herbicide atrazine with deformed frog sex organs and allegedly declining frog populations.
Hayes' one-page write-up of his latest scary "research" appeared in the Halloween issue of the pre-eminent journal Nature. No doubt the article was a treat for publicity-hungry Nature and anti-chemical activists (the sponsors of the study).
For the rest of us, though, it was just another of Hayes' tricks.
First, the premise for the research is dubious. Hayes purports to be concerned about "the growing evidence that [frog] populations are in decline." But all he musters to support this allegation is a citation to a lone and controversial 10-year-old report.
According to Hayes' less-than-rigorous article, he exposed 90 frog larvae to varying concentrations of atrazine (0, 0.1 and 25 parts per billion) from just after hatching until tail resorption was complete. He claims male frogs exposed to atrazine exhibited various sexual deformities.
In an effort to verify his lab results, Hayes examined frogs and atrazine concentrations at eight locations in an area stretching from Utah to Iowa. He claims to have identified malformations similar to those in his lab results.
For Hayes, the conclusion is obvious, "We conclude that atrazine is responsible for these effects even though other contaminants may be present that could produce similar effects."
Say what? His self-contradictory leap only scratches the surface of the study's problems.
The brief write-up left loads to be desired. He omitted presenting any basic data about his lab work -- no word on the number of male frogs in the different atrazine treatments or their mortality, and no statistical analysis of the data.
Even accepting his results at face value -- something we should never do -- they could very well be within the scope of what might be expected to have occurred just by chance. But who knows? He didn't provide any info.
We can't even be sure the concentrations of atrazine in the lab tanks are what Hayes' claims. After all, it's a lot easier to say the solution is 0.1 ppb of atrazine than it is to actually verify the assertion.
The most dubious part of Hayes' experiment is the claim that frogs exposed to the lower concentration of atrazine (0.1 ppb) actually had triple the rate of deformities of those exposed to the higher concentration (25 ppb).
That violates a basic law of toxicology that the higher the dose the greater the rate and severity of toxic effects.
Things don't improve in the field portion of Hayes' efforts.
Hayes sampled atrazine concentrations at the same time he collected the frog larvae from the eight sites. But what he should have done is sample the atrazine concentrations months earlier -- when the sexual development of the larvae occurred.
In effect, Hayes measured atrazine concentrations after the frog larvae had already left the sexual development barn.
Hayes' field results are inexplicably inconsistent. At Sites 2 and 3, atrazine concentrations were reportedly measured to be 0.2 ppb. But Site 3 reportedly had nine times more abnormalities.
Hayes' unsupported and, frankly, lame explanation was that the Site 3 frogs may have been more susceptible to atrazine.
Yes, and Hayes may be susceptible to jumping to anti-atrazine conclusions -- especially since no atrazine use was reported in the vicinity of Site 3 (southern Wyoming) during 1999-2001.
Hayes seems to be determined to scare the public about atrazine.
As spotlighted in my FoxNews.com commentary last spring, scientists have not been able to replicate Hayes' earlier and similar claims -- such replication being a prerequisite for results to be considered "scientific."
In fact, Hayes' anti-atrazine effort smacks of the same sort of scientific hijinks committed by Tulane researchers in 1996 -- anti-chemical fearmongering eventually determined by federal officials to be scientific misconduct.
A notable intersection of Hayes' work and the Tulane fraud is that both were funded by the W. Alton Jones Foundation, an extreme environmental advocacy group that masquerades as a philanthropic organization. Hayes also acknowledges support from the World Wildlife Fund, Homeland Foundation and the Rose Foundation -- all anti-chemical activists.
None of these connections were mentioned in the Nature article. No wonder they didn't make it into any media coverage.
The shoddy write-up of Hayes' shaky research and the lack of disclosure may be another indicator that Nature is more interested in good publicity than good science.
Steven Milloy is the publisher ofJunkScience.com , an adjunct scholar at the Cato Institute and the author of Junk Science Judo: Self-defense Against Health Scares and Scams (Cato Institute, 2001)