science facts and fallacies

Podcast: Glyphosate, cancer and clickbait: Epidemiologist Geoffrey Kabat on how to spot junk science in the news

Cameron English: GLP Senior Agricultural Genetics Editor    More details
Kevin Folta: University of Florida plant geneticist    More details
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A Google search for “glyphosate” returns 10,300,000 results—conflicting news stories, opinion articles and videos of varying accuracy. Some of these reports say this weed killer, developed in the 1970s by Monsanto and now sold by Bayer as Roundup, causes cancer, based on a report from the prestigious UN/World Health Organization-sub agency, the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC).

Other news stories say the exact opposite: Glyphosate almost certainly doesn’t cause cancer, according to most studies, and IARC is an ethically compromised agency whose conclusion conflicts with every other oversight or regulatory body in the world, including three World Health Organization agencies.

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Geoffrey Kabat

“Common weed killer glyphosate increases cancer risk by 41%, study says,” CNN told its audience in February. Just two months later, US News & World Report announced, “EPA: Glyphosate, the Herbicide in Roundup, Does Not Cause Cancer.”

Complicating the situation, Bayer is now facing 11,000 lawsuits alleging that its Roundup weed killer causes a rare kind of cancer called non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma. The company has so far lost three of these cases and may be on the hook for billions of dollars in damages.

How do you know the truth? Unless you know how to read dense academic research, it’s nearly impossible to separate good science from nonsense. To remedy that problem, GLP editor Cameron English sits down with cancer epidemiologist Geoffrey Kabat to review some recent news stories about glyphosate and cancer. Kabat, author of 150 peer-reviewed studies and two books on health risks, offers some quick and dirty tips to help you evaluate the science reported underneath the clickbait headlines that saturate your news feed.

[Editor’s note: This is part one of a two-part interview]

Related article:  Bowman v Monsanto: Genetic innovation in the crosshairs?

Geoffrey Kabat is a cancer epidemiologist and the author of Hyping Health Risks: Environmental Hazards in Daily Life and the Science of Epidemiology and Getting Risk Right: Understanding the Science of Elusive Health Risks. He is a GLP board member. Follow him on Twitter @GeoKabat

Cameron J. English is the GLP’s senior agricultural genetics and special projects editor. Follow him on Twitter @camjenglish

The GLP’s Biotech Facts and Fallacies podcast is produced by Sauce Auxiliary and available for subscription on iTunes and Spotify.

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