In this episode, I am speaking with Dr. Yogi Hendlin who is an environmental philosopher and public health scientist. We will talk about how science is manipulated by the industry and what you can do to filter through the disinformation and protect yourself.
Table of Contents
In this podcast, Dr. Hendlin and I discuss:
- The critical difference between REAL science vs. industry-funded science.
- How big industry buys their way to credibility
- How can you spot quality research from misinformation?
- How studies are affected by the companies that fund them (and the impact it has on you)
- Why politicians often make decisions based on manipulated data
- The three keys to protecting our loved ones, the community, and the planet
- Biochemistry of desire: The biosemiotics of advertising to bacteria
- I Am A Fake Loop: the Effects of Advertising-Based Artificial Selection
- Association between financial links to indoor tanning industry and conclusions of published studies on indoor tanning: systematic review
- Introduction to the Symposium on the science and politics of Glyphosate
- The Chemical Anthropocene Glyphosate as a Case Study of Pesticide Exposures
- Like Oil and Water: The Politics of (NOT) Assessing Glyphosate Concentrations in Aquatic Ecosystems
- The Law of the Excluded Middle: Discourse as Casualty of the Post-Truth Extremist Response to the Coronavirus Pandemic
- The Disinformation Playbook: How Industry Manipulate The Science-Policy Process – And How To Restore Scientific Integrity
- Surveying The Chemical Anthropocene
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Listen outside iTunes
Ari: Hey, everyone. This is Ari. Welcome back to The Energy Blueprint Podcast. I am very, very excited for today’s guest. His name is Yogi Hendlin and he is an environmental philosopher and public health scientist. He has a PhD in Environmental Philosophy from the University of Kiel, Germany, and holds graduate degrees from the London School of Economics and UCLA and bachelor’s degrees from UC Berkeley. He’s currently an assistant professor in the Erasmus School of Philosophy, core faculty of the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative, and academic lead of the new MA in Sustainability Transitions at the Design, Impact, and Transitions (DIT) platform at Erasmus University Rotterdam in the Netherlands.
He’s a research associate in the Environmental Health Initiative at the University of California, San Francisco, working on the chemical industry documents and fossil fuel industry documents. He’s worked off and on at UCSF since 2006, both as a predoctoral and postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Medicine and Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, focusing on topics such as public health policy, corporate malfeasance, and conflicts of interest which is what we’re going to be talking about heavily in this conversation.
He’s also currently editor-in-chief of the journal Biosemiotics. I will also say on a personal note, we spent a lot of time together recently here in Costa Rica. I will say, this might come across as hyperbole, but he’s one of the smartest, most interesting people I’ve ever met in real life and just a pleasure of a human being. All of our time together was filled with fascinating conversations on a wide range of topics.
That’s why I’m so excited for today’s guest, because it’s someone that I’ve had the pleasure of spending time with. I know just how smart and well-educated he is on really important topics that are particularly important for this time in history that few people are aware of.
Environmental toxicants and their influence on health
With all of that said, Yogi, you’re an expert on the science around environmental toxicants, their role in human and global health, and the nature of big industry in terms of influencing that science. Can you give a broad overview of the work that you do?
Yogi: Sure. Thanks so much for having me on your show, Ari. It’s a pleasure. I really appreciate the work you’re doing too to keep people healthy and to help go to the root of how to stay healthy in a time when it seems like everything is stacked against us to be healthy. We have climate meltdown. We have an infectious disease pandemic. We have currently a war going on in Europe, and we also are living, you could say, in a time of peak exposure to chemicals. We had the First and Second World War which really buffed up our military-industrial complex, which largely was driven by mining and chemical exploration.
We have a lot more toxins in our atmosphere and even those of us who are living very privileged lives are still exposed to these toxins. We are porous animals as humans, and there’s no way we can live in personal commodity bubbles, even if we live in nice places. That’s one of the things that I really look at because it’s very easy to think that if we buy the right things, if we drink bottled water or live in nature, that we’re going to be safe. The fact is, in our air, our water, our soil, and the temperature, this is really elemental, it’s like four elements stuff, we are being exposed to immense disruptions, mutations in our environment, which of course are impacting our organisms as humans.
That’s one of the things that I really look at. I call it based on this emergent subfield, industrial epidemics. I don’t just confine that to cancers, and heart disease, and diabetes from high sugar consumption, or smoking, or exposure to petrochemicals. I see it as impacting every aspect of our life. For example, the Coronavirus itself hitches rides on environmental pollution.
Every time we’re driving our cars, we are in essence contributing to particulate matter, PM 2.5 it’s called, which is the perfect carrier for viruses. Until we clean up upstream, at the very most fundamental levels of our social design of how we get things done, we’re not going to actually solve the problem. It’s just going to be in a thousand patches and people are going to be wondering what went wrong and why we’re all getting autoimmune diseases.
Ari: This link with air pollution and as far as CoV-2 is very interesting, it attuned to that research quite early on in the pandemic. There was a number of papers that were published on PM 2.5, this form of small particulate air pollution in high concentrations in certain cities, and COVID mortality being higher in those areas. There were a couple different theories. I don’t want to digress too much on COVID. I know we’re going to focus more on environmental toxicants, but there were a couple theories that emerged from that. One was the idea that maybe breathing in the air with high levels of PM 2.5 would cause chronic damage to the lungs and depress one’s immune defenses and make one more susceptible upon exposure.
Then there’s the other idea which has not been talked about much in the research. Maybe I saw it mentioned in one paper. The possibility that the virus is actually traveling on the small particulate air pollution. I always wondered to what extent, how far it could travel on that. Is it the case that it could travel intercontinentally on air pollution from China over to the United States and around the globe in that way and stay– what’s the right word? Vital? Not vital. Viable for those long periods of time, or is this something that it’s just more likely to be from person to person a few feet apart, but just carried more easily in a place with higher air pollution?
Yogi: I can’t speak to that with certainty, but the virus will die within a few days if it’s just on a surface. Yes, there’s no question that the pollution in our air is directly linked with the incidence rates of this virus and many other diseases, to be quite frank. Infectious and chronic. A lot of my work actually breaks down this divide between chronic disease and what’s sometimes called communicable diseases and non-communicable diseases.
As it turns out, a lot of these non-communicable diseases are actually quite communicable, but their disease vector is not, say, a mosquito biting you or a virus traveling in the aerosol particles, but instead by certain design of our society through industrial processes that do not take care of all the immense costs and health effects and environmental effects, both at that moment and downstream.
Ari: Right. It’s interesting to play with the semantics around what is a communicable disease in that way because we define it in this rigid way, like infectious disease, it’s synonymous with microbes. You spread bacteria or viruses from one person to another.
Yet if one takes a more global view and a 30,000-foot view over a long period of time and you start to look at, let’s say, obesity and the factors that led to the obesity epidemic, the change of nutrition to a processed diet, in particular, being the major factor, environmental toxicants being a major factor, and you start to see if you tracked that history of how that is traveling around the globe, it’s a longer timescale than how long it takes for a virus for us to travel around the globe.
In a way, it almost travels around the globe in a similar way. It’s like as ideas and ways of living are, you could say, communicated from one group of people to another, so too these diseases come with it. Anyway, that’s where my brain went with what you were saying.
Yogi: Absolutely. If we fast-forwarded industrialization and colonialism and mining of mineral ore and we started in certain places in Europe and saw it spread throughout Europe and then saw it spread to the Americas, to Asia, and in Africa, and beyond, you would definitely see a very similar disease vector. Of course, I don’t think it’s just point source. There’s been a lot of work, Jared Diamond and others looking at why Europeans? I don’t think that it’s just a uniquely European problem. We have Easter Island, for example, but there is definitely these different stages of when we are creating pollution.
This pollution as such is a relatively recent phenomenon. Maybe in any major forms with mining would be the first bit. There’s a great book by Fabian Scheidler called The End of the Megamachine that basically chronicles this over thousands of years with Roman Empire, where they were at one point, they needed a ton of silver a day to pay their 200,000 mercenaries to keep on getting new lands and keep on conquering in order to get more resources. You see the cycle was, you needed to conquer new areas to pay the people who are conquering new areas.
Eventually, that Ponzi scheme runs out. We’re not going to be able to mine materials from asteroids or Mars anytime soon, and even if we could in 1,000 years, why would we want to? Why don’t we just make use of the infinite abundance that we have on this planet and find ways to use those materials and not just throw them away after 18 months because they’re designed to break through planned obsolescence, for example?
How industries manipulate research – and why it matters to you
Ari: I want to get into the heart of why you’re here. For everybody listening, you have such a diverse educational background and as far as what you’re interested in and what you teach about. For my audience in particular, there’s a couple big lessons on what I want them to get from you. One is the nature of environmental toxicants which you’ve touched on a bit, how widespread they are and what effects they have on humans. The other aspect which I really want to focus on is how industry corrupts science. This is something that you’ve done a lot of research in for many, many years.
Can you give maybe a broad overview how should we get into that topic? You’ve co-authored a paper I’ll also mention called The disinformation playbook: how industry manipulates the science-policy process—and how to restore scientific integrity. This is such an important topic because I’ve been shocked really in the last two years to discover how many people just don’t understand that science is not science and that depending on who’s funding it, it has a major impact on things. That was a very general overview. I’ll let you explore and educate on those topics piece by piece in whatever way seems appropriate to you.
Yogi: Sure. Great, thanks. Ari, to begin with, I think it’s important to remember that science as such has always been an agonistic process, that is instead being antagonistic where we’re fighting against each other. The idea is that the best ideas will percolate to the surface and that there will be disagreement along the way and even when we think we’re 100% certain, in the future any new finding can cause us to revisit even bedrock basic science claims. Richard Feynman, one of my heroes and 20th century Nobel Prize winner, talked about there was this study. He talks about this in his book, Surely You Must be Joking, Mr. Feynman, where he’s a PhD student at Princeton.
He goes to some August English Professor’s house on Princeton and they asked him if he would like a lemon or milk with his tea and he said both because it was his first time doing that, not realizing that of course that makes milk curdle and that nobody wants both lemon and milk in their tea. Surely you must be joking, Mr. Feynman. He found this empirical study that showed the action potential for some physics question. All of his theoretical work was always off from this. It was just one time it was never repeated, this experiment.
After long enough of coming up to the same answer theoretically and the evidence just being off, he did the experiment again. In redoing the experiment and having others then confirm and replicating that same experiment, he realized that the original sacrosanct values in that data set were wrong. There must have been some error. We have that all the time, especially in the human sciences, in health, medicine, technology, with psychology especially. You see we have what’s called a replicability crisis that a lot of the science that’s published, of course, there’s intrinsic interests of scientists to feed their family, to become famous, to be get rich. None of us are immune to that.
What we can do is become aware of it. That’s why instead of this idea of trying to make scientists saints, I’m instead trying to just have transparency and disclosure. That’s part of what integrity is about but you need to systematize that in the scientific system. Otherwise, it’s very easy to roll out sensationalist science claims that might not be double-checked, that might not be reproduced. Of course, you might have a claim that comes for a new paper, new experiment that is well-qualified and guarded in saying, “Under these conditions, perhaps, maybe this is true.” Then it gets to the news media and you get headlines of saying, “Chocolate cures cancer.” If only. There’s even a joke Twitter account that talks about adding “in mice” to all of these.
Ari: News headlines.
Yogi: A glass of wine a day stops heart disease, studies found like in mice. At every step of the way in the scientific process, there are many different micro hurdles that need to be jumped or accessed, but it’s not that simple to just say, “Okay, this is a possible thing going on here in mice or in this very small sample of people,” and then extrapolate it to be a universalizing issue.
That, unfortunately, happens in our marketing day and age almost all the time. The actual science that we’re getting is at best fragmentary and at worst completely sensationalized which makes it so that we lose trust in science. That’s the end result. That also stops the checks and balances of a literate and educated public on the claims that are coming out of these papers and that are being taken up then by political or industry interests. We can talk about industry funding of science whenever, but just to give a little bit of background of even the best scientists are not immune to some of these incentives, perverse incentives often.
Ari: Isn’t there an incentive to find something in the research that you’re doing? Meaning, have some positive or negative finding that so-and-so did result in some effect as opposed to no effect?
Yogi: Absolutely, yes. That’s confirmation bias is one way of looking at it. There’s also you’re much less likely to be published in a talk journal if you have a finding where we spent all this time and energy and money, and people dedicated their lives for five years to this thing and it didn’t work.
Yogi: Right? Nobody wants to read about that. It’s crucial that that information gets out, because then maybe other people will replicate those bad studies or those studies that don’t come to fruitful findings. That’s why there’s this journal on the advisory board, I really should know their name, but something like the journal of failed experiments, where people get to publish all the things that didn’t work.
I’ll send you a link for that, just because I think it is a nice innovation that there is more and more awareness in the scientific community. That we also need to be publishing papers that found okay, it didn’t work, we found nothing, or there’s no link where we thought there was a link which doesn’t show anything new. Except that we’re just confirming that there’s no link, which everybody thought between, say, cancer and sunspots. [laughs]
Digging into the science on tanning beds
Ari: Yes. Okay, let’s talk some specific examples. You have co-authored a paper on tanning beds. It was a systematic review of the research on tanning beds and examining the nature of industry influence on the results of those studies. What did that paper find and what lessons are there, broader lessons that maybe we’ll talk also other examples of?
Yogi: Sure. Just to answer your previous question, and then I’ll answer that one because I realized that disinformation playbook, my apologies, I was lucky enough to partner with the Union of Concerned Scientists, some of their top research scientists, to work on this paper. They’ve done an incredible work at showing how industry at every level does impact science.
This is one of the slides from our paper, Reed et al. It talks about how science can protect the public from grifters, from what Adam Smith called rentier seekers. That is, people who are trying to extract value out of commons and to privatize the profits and collectivize or nationalize the harms, the effects, the costs. There are many different intervention points which industry can interfere, and that includes faking the science.
We have looked a lot at industry-funded science at this UCSF repository of previously secret industry documents. This is how I got into the business of understanding conflicts of interest in science, and it’s called industrydocuments.ucsf.edu. I’ll give a link for that as well. We have 100 million pages of previously secret documents of the tobacco industry; the food and beverage industry; the pharmaceutical industry, including opioids and the fallout from the opioid epidemic; the chemical industry; and the fossil fuel industry.
How ExxonMobil has used research to make bank
What we see is that a lot of these companies, for example, ExxonMobil, will knowingly fund high-profile scientists at top institutions in order to, yes, fake the science, to get findings that are diametrically opposed to what they actually know from their own non-published private science that these industries do. I have to be frank here. The scientists of these massive transnational industries is far better than public science because, well, they don’t have to play by the same rules. They’re not publishing it. They’re keeping it private just for their own internal use.
An example is ExxonMobil knowing about which sites were completely covered in ice and undrillable for oil. They knew that if they bought them now at pennies on the dollar, 40 years later, due to climate change, they would be easily drillable. That’s exactly what they did from their own incredibly researched internal science. At the exact same time, they were funding all sorts of public leaders, scientific leaders, to do scientific experiments and to write papers in the top journals to show that global warming was not a problem, did not exist, that humans could never really impact Mother Nature. All of these old tropes were being used under the guise of science.
That’s just one example of many. We see, for example, the manufacturer of uncertainty also, how industry undermines scientific protection of the public. That’s, for example, the indoor tanning industry and the American Suntanning Association spreading misinformation about the health benefits of artificial tanning in order to change norms that would disallow policies against carte blanche marketing for the industry. As you can see, there are many other ways in which industry interferes with the science.
How large companies bury research results that makes them look bad
Ari: Just go into those other ways briefly. There’s a large segment of people. Most people are actually listening to this rather than watching the video.
Yogi: Sure, great. Science can also protect the public by speaking out and saying, “Hey, thalidomide which is supposed to help morning sickness in women is actually producing birth defects. “Our science shows that and we need to have policy change so that we’re not creating tragedy for these families and creating starting points for future generations that are more difficult. Industry can harass scientists who speak out. They can retaliate against the view, statements, and research of scientists that’s inconvenient for their own position and their short and long-term profit.
For example, GlaxoSmithKline threatened to sue a scientist, forcing him to walk back his findings that one of the company’s diabetes drugs was increasing patient’s risk of heart disease. We’re in this- and I’ll get back to this later, this whack-a-mole chemical but also medical industry where you take this like a diabetes drug to deal with a social disease. Diabetes is not something that you get in indigenous societies or in societies that haven’t been industrialized. This is something that comes with white bread, sugar, high-carbohydrate diets, low-nutrient diets.
It comes with the Green Revolution and fertilizers and taking all of the micronutrients out of the plants by feeding them too many macronutrients. That’s how you get diabetes. When you take a diabetes drug that’s going to give you heart disease, you’re just down this rabbit hole of taking the next thing and the next thing and the next thing but you’re making your body closer to collapse with every drug you take in our current system. It really doesn’t have to be that way.
Ari: Yes. I’ll mention one quick personal aspect of this. I was in medical school for a couple of years. One of the things that drove me crazy and was actually a big part of why I left is being in the internal medicine wards and seeing really unhealthy, mostly obese people with diabetes, with heart disease who were on- I almost couldn’t believe these, 12, 15, 18 different prescription drugs for all of their different symptoms and all of their different diseases being fed a typical Western diet, typical hospital food, garbage food, and being taught nothing about the actual causes of their conditions.
If I said anything- as I was in this environment as a student, if I said anything about the utter absurdity and insanity of that, I was looked at as the crazy one for suggesting that I knew better than they. How arrogant of me to suggest that I would know how to do things any better than the way that they were doing things. To me, it was just absolute madness, and I couldn’t take it anymore. Just as an example [crosstalk] talking about.
Yogi: You know how often I hear this, Ari, from doctors or people who have exited the medical world? It’s the inattention to the whole environment and all of our inputs, all of our stimuli, is just incredible. This idea that we could have silver bullets, one size fits all. Just take this and call me in the morning, and that nothing else has to change, not lifestyle, not abusive parents, or abusive environments, not a location where you’re right next to a factory that’s polluting your air and that’s why you have asthma or the fact that your father smokes.
Not looking, not asking these questions, that to me is ignorance because it’s really this black box, like put this pill in and you get this thing out on the other side. In the last couple of decades, we have, I would say, in the forefront of academics that we’ve gotten beyond that.
How most health problems today are created by the industry
There’s this famous paper which I really appreciate. It’s called WEIRD, The WEIRDest People in the World. It stands for Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich Democracies. It’s by Joseph Henrich, Steven Heine, and Ara Norenzayan.
This paper and all their subsequent work really looks at the fact that most of our problems in terms of health, in terms of our physical, our mental, our emotional problems that really haunt us are industrial diseases, and even the way we think is affected as a result. We do these biological experiments on college kids, mostly from the US, 90% from western countries. Very few of the findings of these experiments are extrapolatable to other populations. Even, you could say, if I have genes in one way and I have a gene mutation, maybe the same drug isn’t going to affect me, or if I eat a certain thing in my diet, the medication may be only 50% as effective and yet, almost never is this personalized medicine looked at.
Here’s the aporia or here’s the tension. On the one hand, we have this move to personalized medicine. You can have gene-based medicine which itself is mistaken because we’re not just genes, we’re primarily our environment. Genes matter, but our environment matters even more. That’s for the people who can pay for it. On the other hand, we are degrading our environmental commons, our health commons, even our truth commons or what we call epistemic commons in philosophy.
The things that we can rely on, the idea that I can ask my neighbor for some eggs if I’m out, and that I’m not worried about my neighbor hurting me because it makes such a difference in our overall stress levels and our allostatic load. When we’re in a society that’s increasing our allostatic load to the breaking point for almost every single human being in that society, and then you’re going to tell me you’re going to give me a pill and it’s going to make it all better? I’ve never seen it work, I’ll just say that.
How industry buys credibility
Ari: Yes. For people listening not familiar with that term, allostatic load is basically total body stress load, stressors from all causes, you could say. Yogi, did you talk about the last two on this list, buy credibility, manipulate government officials?
Yogi: I haven’t. I’ll just very quickly go through them. Yes. As the scientific community speaks out and says, “Hey, we’re killing ourselves by this thing that we thought was good because it’s giving us certain benefits, or at least some of us.” We all like our devices. I’m not about to give up my computer anytime soon, but do I really need a new computer every time mine breaks every two or three years? Does it have to break? Why couldn’t it be modular, and I could just get a new camera or new screen, easy, instead of having the parts glued in so it’s impossible to repair? Oftentimes, industry will harass the scientists, they’ll buy credibility.
For example, British Petroleum, BP, gave UC Berkeley $500 million to create an energy center, but it’s very hard to think about transitioning to renewables or to getting off our addiction to oil and gas when your funder is one of the biggest oil companies on earth. It just makes it difficult. BP can then say, “We’re partnered with all of these extremely prestigious institutions and we’re going to put their logo on our website. We’re going to say the director of the institute that we funded at this university thinks that it’s fine to continue doing whatever we’re doing, whether it’s DDT, or fossil fuel production, or drug manufacturer of drugs that hurt people.”
This is a method and a mechanism to distract from the real, just the basic industry harm. It instead pushes an industry agenda, which is based on delay. That’s number one. You want to try to extract as much profit as possible before you get caught, and denial saying, “It’s not here, it’s there.” Perfect example in the 1960s. Fat came under attack in the ’80s because in the ’60s, sugar was under attack and people were trying to eat less sugar. The sugar industry paid these Harvard scientists to say it’s fat, not sugar. I grew up. Of course, these scientists, they were pariahs for saying no, sugar is causing metabolic disease.
A calorie is not a calorie is a calorie. It’s what matters, what’s put into it. If you give somebody pure sugar and a Coca-Cola day in day out, that is going to cause disease. Instead, they blamed fat. I grew up eating reduced fat everything and hating it because I was never actually satiated and satisfied, and eating tons of sugar and feeling lightheaded all the time. That was entirely an industry agenda. Here is one industry against another, and they just happen to be more successful, the sugar people. A lot of our laws also reflect industry interest.
Finally, scientists can work with decision-makers to implement public safeguards, clean our air, clean our water, make sure our food is not sprayed with pesticides that are going to cause birth defects or are going to cause cancers. That seems like a pretty low bar and yet, industry manipulates government officials and influences the regulatory process with money, resources, or power, oftentimes behind the scenes. This just goes on and on.
I could give you countless examples of how this works, but for me, after, I don’t know, 16 years of looking at tens of thousands of industry documents from many different industries, you see certain patterns occurring. When it occurred to me how much of our normal understanding of our culture, of even in the ’60s, they had Exxon sponsored– They were called Humble Oil back then. Disney comics. They were teaching kids about energy and it was sponsored by ExxonMobil and completely written by them. You realize that pretty much everything we believe and think and know is industry agenda. We’ve been gas-lit all the way down.
Ari: It’s brought to you by so-and-so industry without you realizing it.
Yogi: Well, that’s it, the even more potent way of doing it where it’s seamless. The virtual reality aspect of being in another framework doesn’t even come to consciousness because we’re so embedded in it at this point.
How to discern whether a study is biased or not
Ari: I’m going to ask you a question that you’re not going to like and you’re going to be resistant to it because you’re an academic and you’re a professor, and you’re a scientist. You’re not going to like it but I’m going to ask it anyway. I’m curious what your response will be. There are some people who are going to hear everything you just said and will still conclude, “Well, maybe there’s a few examples of these things here and there. Okay, thalidomide and Vioxx and opioids and ExxonMobil and some of the other examples you gave. By and large, science is this beautiful entity that’s bringing us the truth. These industries are working towards our benefit and pharmaceutical companies, we can trust their science.”
A little digression, since I was a little kid science has been my passion, health science, since I was 12, 13 years old. My conception of the entity of science as a young kid was always- and even up till quite frankly pretty solid even relatively pre-COVID, was always what I now realize is a very childlike, very naive worldview and view of science, which is that science is science. There’s all these brilliant altruistic scientists working to find the truth and find cures for disease and help the world.
Of course, on an individual level, there are lots and lots of good people involved. I absolutely, and I think most people do not realize the extent to which the entire process, the entire entity of science has been so extraordinarily corrupted by financial interests who are literally producing fraudulent science, manipulating the science, manipulating statistics to manipulate the results of the science that they’re doing or presented in misleading ways, who are the file drawer effect, all the negative studies that they conducted. Those never see the light of day. They just end up in a file drawer and never even submitted to journals for publishing.
The extent to which they are suppressing dissenter, suppressing people or scientists who are voicing opposition as you just said, and also paying off politicians to enact policies that are in their financial interest. The extent to which what’s the science that’s published in journals and media is so extraordinarily influenced by people who have a financial agenda who are literally producing propaganda to convince hundreds of millions of people to believe certain things and presenting it as science or presenting it as factual news in mainstream news.
Just to realize how much of this is propaganda has been a total shock to me, particularly in the last two years. Now, my question to you that you’re not going to like is if you were going to generalize from everything that you were just talking about, what conclusions should people draw as far as how much should they trust science? How much should they trust an article they see in a journal? How much should they trust a headline they see in the paper that says, “According to studies, dah, dah, dah, dah, dah”?
If you were going to say on a scale of 1 to 10, how skeptical should people be and cynical should people be of whether that is actually truthful information or not, or whether it is some kind of, essentially, propaganda meant to serve some financial agenda? How would you grade that, obviously, understanding the limitations of generalizing and that there are exceptions to the rule?
Yogi: Thanks for your question, Ari, and I’m going to raise you an ace.
Yogi: Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway write in their book, Merchants of Doubt, that it’s not just financial interests. It’s also ideological interests. It’s the cold warriors who feared any impingement upon individual liberty. A very, you could say, state of exception, war-driven, anti-communist notion that they basically saw any sort of environmentalism, taking care of the environment, taking care of our own surroundings, as a watermelon work. Green on the outside, red on the inside. That any social program or social welfare was actually communist, so you get these false equivalencies all the way down.
What’s super interesting for me is that their book and many others’, colleagues of mine,- Naomi Oreskes is one of my heroines that I really look up to, show that ideology plays a huge role. We know that now if you’re researching food and taught medical journals, you have to disclose your own diet. It’s not just enough the fact that there are studies saying mangoes are good for everything funded by the mango industry. Yes, there apparently is a mango industry.
It’s also the fact that if I am a fervent believer of, say, a keto diet, the findings from the studies that I will look at in my literature review, in my systematic review, in my meta-analysis, and in my own experiments will have unconscious bias, a confirmation bias of what I already believe towards delivering similar results. This question of belief and science really is, again, like realizing that we’ve been gas-lit all the way down by for-profit at the expense of collective health agendas. It goes even deeper. It’s the idea that science needs to have triangulation. I would say you can never read one study and draw a conclusion from it.
As far as I can say from my own point of view as a scientist, you know who is working for whom, what their agenda is, and how good they are. If they’re sloppy with certain work– My work on tanning beds with our lead author, Eleni Linos, a professor at Stanford who led this study. She has been working on tanning beds and cancer and sun exposure and cancer for decades. She has done it at the top universities in the world. She has put herself, put her neck out, and gotten personally attacked for some of the papers that she’s written and made. That’s usually a good sign if somebody is getting attacked by the industry. [laughs]
To be honest, I’ve had Philip Morris write hit pieces on me, for example. That’s usually a sign of cred in my book. Knowing who authored the papers, from my point of view, is really important. Or if somebody I really respect says, “This paper is legitimate,” I’m going to rank it higher in my first reading. Most of our understanding of the world is the first five minutes.
The world is made out of these chain links of trust. If I trust you, Ari, and you say, “Hey, check out this paper,” I’m going to be predisposed to read it in a positive light because you recommended it to me. That’s where our media needs to really play an important role here. This has been called in some cases the cordon sanitaire, the sanitary cord. Belgium, for example. Belgium’s interesting because they are more critical of any sort of fascism, you could say, than most other news media, because they have a policy for all their journalists, that they are simply unwilling to platform certain ideas and people. I think that this is, even though we might say, well, this is censorship, or this is closing things down. I think that there is an interesting balance here because we all do think that there are certain things that are obnoxious and abhorrent to us, and that will actually acidify and meltdown our society if too many people start believing in that narrative and start acting according to that.
It really is this sort of intergenerational project of science, which is totally flawed. From the beginning, if you look at science came from Alchemy. Alchemy was trying to find the philosopher’s stone. It was basically, people trying to get rich or live forever. I don’t want to place undue reverence for science. At the same time, I think there are ways for scientists to earn the public’s trust. I think it’s like a Janus-faced question where you’re looking one way at the public trusting scientists, but also scientists earning the public’s trust, and that has to be also a full-time job. It can’t be marketing. You have to have a product that’s good, and that product is integrity.
Integrity is not something that happens in a bubble, small digression, if I may. The philosopher, one of the most famous alive, Anthony Kwame Appiah, he talks about we are products of our situation. If you look at experimental psychology, good people can do bad things if they’re put against the wall. Bad people can do good things when they’re given an opportunity or a chance. He has this example that he talks about the earlier paper that was done on Princeton seminary students.
They were studying theology, these are good people, they want to help the world. They had a sermon. You have about 30 students. They had a sermon on the Good Samaritan the day before, and then they have a very important meeting with the dean. In one scenario, you have 15 students, they show up, they have to walk past the church, there’s a beggar at the church asking for alms. Something like 60%, 65% of those students who had plenty of time to get to the class, they gave something.
Now, that was the control group. The other half of the group, another 15, 20 students, they had a road close where they would normally park to get there. They were 10, 15 minutes delayed, and they’re rushing. See, the same good samaritan exact same example, they gave maybe 20% of the time. It’s not like it was bad versus good seminary students. They were simply in a rush and couldn’t do it. All of these factors in our lives that make us not able to do the things that we would like to do that we could do. I know when I’m sick, I’m less likely to put my compost in the compost. More likely just to throw it in the trash if it’s closer by. All these little things really have an impact on our society.
I don’t think that I can answer your question about generalizable rank, because I don’t think that that’s how science should be looked at, as this thing where we trust it a little bit, or we trust it a lot, or we give it full credence or no credence. I think that that’s part of maturity and intellectual maturity for each and every one of us to be not alone, not these lone wolf sovereign have to know everything, have to master everything, but to have a network of people that we trust, that we can trust, and that we can more or less be like, “Oh, okay, great. Ari said this. I’m going to take a look at it and I will take a look at this thing, and maybe it can make my life better.”
Ari: Excellent. That was a very sophisticated and articulate evasion of my question. [laughs] I’m not going to let you off the hook though. I liked everything you said. However, Let me phrase it this way. In the last two years, in particular, I think there has been a narrative that has been pushed on the population via lots and lots of propaganda. That if one has distrust, if one defaults to some level, either mild or moderate or strong level of distrust and skepticism, cynicism of industry-funded research, that makes one a science-denying conspiracy theorist.
What is maddening about this is to have a huge portion of entire populations, who have no scientific background, no scientific literacy, no research into any of the things that you’ve, for example, have specialized in like actually examining and researching the relationship of industry influence on scientific results. Who don’t know anything, even one layer deep of the 1,000 layers that you could explore on that, who default to the assumption of–
Who default to complete trust of industry-funded science and who are convinced that anybody who doesn’t default to complete trust of industry-funded science is some kind of crazy whack job conspiracy theorists. Like you and I, knowing this topic, you obviously know it way deeper than I do, but I know enough to be pretty skeptical and to look at who’s funding this study, and to look at the greater body of evidence and to make sure there’s no statistical manipulation and to consider the possibility that if it is industry-funded, there’s a good chance that it has been corrupted by that in some way.
To have people who have again, no scientific background, no expertise, no science, no even basic scientific literacy, then looking at my positions, like I’m some kind of crazy whack job for not trusting that science in the same way they do, is ridiculous and absurd to me. What I’m getting at, what I want to be blunt, I would love for you to tell those people why they should not default to complete trust of industry-funded research, or since it’s not always clear if the research is industry-funded, default to at least some mild level of skepticism of that research and not just assume that it’s true.
Yogi: Absolutely. I have written about this also the lack of pluralism. The idea that we can have many different, even opposing opinions but be on the same project, on the same team, wanting safe health for a population, wanting the environment to get better, and have different ideas of how to do that, or different ideas of what the real problem is. That’s another bit of it. These last few years have been incredibly divisive, and almost vertiginous. We’ve been so confused as to fights with people who we thought we knew and then they come believing something different or imposing their beliefs on us.
It has felt, I think, for many really difficult to have open and honest conversations and feeling one, that we can speak our minds, and two, that we can just respectfully disagree. I think part of that is that we’re in war times. We had 20 years of the war against terror and then we had the Corona pandemic, and now we are in another war, or hopefully, we aren’t in it yet. There’s the Russian-Ukrainian war that’s captured the world basically involved in it. It’s very sad when you have, first of all, a one-size-fits-all way of approaching things because we know that, for example, in many subsistence economies, that not being able to go to your job for a lockdown has caused starvation. There’s a really good article in this, unfortunately, now defunct. A newspaper called The Correspondent which was offshoot of a Dutch paper. This, I believe, a Nigerian author, she said, “Why social distancing won’t work for us.” It was talking about cultural differences there. I think that this is the first time in history that we’ve had an organized one-size-fits-all top-down policy. I think that for white-collar workers, it wasn’t much of a bother in a certain respect compared to people who are frontline workers or essential workers or need to work every day in person, manual labor, to eat.
There has been publication about these topics, but they haven’t filtered to the top of the news stream or the Twitter feed. I generally find that in academia, you do have more freedom to actually discuss, yes, inconvenient truths than in popular discourse. That’s a whole nother topic. Absolutely, science has become politicized because we have been in a state of exception, a wartime where democracy is, in many ways, and science is a democratic enterprise, has been shut off to a certain extent and people with disagreeing opinions, The Barrington Collective or what they called The Barrington Declaration, the great Barrington Declaration, they had some different approaches to how to deal with the virus which basically, one year later, is happening worldwide at this point.
At the time, they were derided and they were not able to be part of integrated scientific discourse. Instead, it became very fragmentary where you had a dominant discourse and a subterranean or a pariah discourse. You had different people glomming on to each one as if they weren’t also in conversation with each other as if there aren’t many degrees on a spectrum of ideas, beliefs, perspectives or as if science were a monolith, then this was pseudoscience over here or bad science. I think that that is very difficult because it also undermines public trust in science.
That’s, I would say, been a strategic error, the dealing with the Corona pandemic because we, most of the time, are wrong and we’re proved wrong in the future. When we think that we have a monopoly on truth, that’s a dangerous thing. Not just because we could be wrong, but because of the things that we’re willing to do to people who disagree with us when we have a monopoly on truth or think we do. There’s going to take a lot of healing, I think, in science as well to get to a place where people can trust science more, trust public health, trust governments.
There’s been, at various turns, what I’ve described in the paper of the law of the excluded middle as this idea that we’re at war with each other and that we’re willing to dehumanize each other or write each other out, have people be persona non grata because we’re generally assigning more exaggerated forms. Whatever they think and believe, we’re probably thinking that they’re far less reasonable and willing to have a conversation than we are. Of course, there’s a lot of things that led to this, the whole QAnon, the timing of the QAnon activity, the storming of the state capitals. When people get violent, that generally gives other people carte blanche to be violent back to them.
Yogi: If you are looking for an excuse to dehumanize people, if you start being violent, that’s going to do it. It’s really difficult because then you get anybody else who’s questioning non-dominant or yes, questioning dominant narratives and doing research on other issues that are really important to integrate with that, there’s a tendency to clump in those, you could say, sincere mild skeptics. I don’t even like the word skeptic because they’re just pointing out other aspects of the same picture that are not being examined or not being chosen to be examined in the dominant discourse.
Yes, it’s a difficult time, I would say, for science in general. We have a lot of work to do to re-earn the public’s trust. I don’t think that’s going to happen overnight. I think that it’s going to take many forms, but we have to realize everybody has different opinions. Even if you had two people who were very skeptical of, say, lockdowns and the necessity or impact or the desirability of them, showing that through traditional academic means, they’re not going to believe the same thing. If we treat them as believing the same thing, that’s going to further ostracize them, further put them in a different epistemic community. You have groupthink in various directions. We have different collectives of groupthink. It doesn’t help anything because it makes us all more wrong.
How science changes all the time
Ari: Yes, it’s amplified further by modern technology, social media, and the AIs of what news we’re being fed that verifies and confirms all the things that we already wish to believe. It creates these pockets of distorted realities that people confuse for objective truth, then they encounter some other person’s little microbubble of reality that they’re being fed that’s different from their own and they think, “Oh, my God. That’s totally crazy. You’re a nutjob.”
Because there are so many instances where there just aren’t any shared or very few shared objective facts that we can all agree on where it used to be the case that we all shared roughly or mostly the same objective facts about what is happening, what has happened, and we can have different opinions and interpretations of what are the causes and what we should do about it, now, it’s actually the case that we just have a fracturing of reality where people don’t even have any shared understanding of what took place or what is taking place. It’s very problematic as you said.
Also, as far as trust of public health officials, it’s probably never been lower in history at this point seeing how wrong they’ve been on so many things. I would love to go on a COVID rant here, but I’ll not list off all the details of all the things they’ve been wrong about. As an interesting aside related to this, to me, the scientific hubris that we’ve seen in the last two years of people with very limited information insisting on their right that they’re right, insisting that we know everything, and then imposing the grandest population-level medical experiments in history both pharmaceutical and non-pharmaceutical interventions, the hubris in this is just remarkable to me.
I’ll give one unrelated example of why. I was watching a thing on, I think it was Bill Nye: The Science Guy with my five-year-old son, Mateo, on how planes fly, what creates lift, how this works, how air and the wing interact to create lift that makes the plane fly. This was an old video was from, I don’t know, probably 15 or 20 years ago and it was talking about Bernoulli’s Law.
This is how fluid moves through and across things and how pressure builds up on one side or the other and how this creates like a pocket of high pressure and a pocket of low pressure and that this results in lifts of the wings. Apparently, that model of physics of how planes fly has been the established scientific consensus for, I don’t know, 100, 200 years or something like that. I don’t know how long it’s been around and that’s been taught and taught and taught. This is obviously a topic that’s been studied for at least a century or more by physicists. You’d think that if we have 100+ years of studying it, we understand it really good by now.
We know everything there is no. Then I was building paper airplanes with my son a few days ago and we watched another video of this guy who set the world record for throwing a paper airplane the farthest distance and he’s talking about all these different paper airplane designs. He goes through the physics of how each one works and the different forces that are thrust and drag and lift and gravity and how these different forces interact depending on the design of the airplane. Then he said, “Oh, yes, it used to be thought that Bernoulli’s Law dictates the lift. Actually now we know it’s this whole other thing I forget what it’s called, the Canton effect or some word with a C.
That is actually this totally other thing about how air wraps around surfaces. That is actually the main thing that dictates a plane’s flight. Again, this is a topic in science that’s been studied for over a century and we still got it wrong. Then to imagine the absurdity of having a few weeks or a few months of data on something and then acting like we’ve got it all figured out and then imposing medical interventions on hundreds of millions of people. If you understand the history of science, this seems like just a horrific idea to me. Anyway, I don’t know if you want to comment on anything I said there.
Yogi: That’s a brilliant example. I do think that’s why the concept of epistemic humility or humility about the knowledge that we hold is so important for all of us. Scientists and citizens alike. On the other hand just in defense of public health for a minute I think that if we had an asteroid coming at us, we would want to do something about it. If you saw the movie, Don’t Look Up, blow up the asteroid or the meteorite. We don’t need that, like get the meteor head out of here. I think with climate change which the movie is a parody of, that’s exactly the problem. We see this slow-moving asteroid coming at us and we’ve done less than nothing about it.
We’ve omitted more CO2 into the atmosphere in the last 30 years since we had the first IPCC reports than in the entire history of our species prior. We’re just stupid at this point. Like we see it coming. We’ve had plenty of time. We’ve had a consensus, people have known about climate change for 150 years now. We’ll see when we get there, so that’s like the other extreme. The question then becomes, at what threshold do we say it’s a state of emergency where we have to suspend rule of law, democratic processes, and just take decisions on a top-down level. You could say maybe we should never do that. I would agree that maybe that’s never really the best model.
At the same time, decisions have to be made. They took this Imperial College London paper seriously that this could be like the 1918 American plague that’s called the Spanish flu but it actually came from the US. Spain was just a neutral party, so they decided to call it the Spanish flu to not piss anybody off. If it was going to be that bad proportionately per capita, it might have made sense to do like the policies that happened. If that was the information but the thing is you have to update in real-time. You have to also generally use a precautionary principle. With public health, there’s this idea of prevention is better than treatment and comes from John Snow and the cholera outbreak in London.
He just took out the water pump handle. It was a little bit more complicated than that but it happened relatively quick. They were actually able to take action quickly by taking out the point source of disease. Now what I would’ve done if I ran the circus is the moment we heard about this thing in China, China would’ve done the responsible thing instead of trying to save face. Would’ve just said, “Okay, we’re closing all of our borders, closing all of our airports, nobody in and out. We’re going to coordinate quarantine every hood for a few months,” and none of this would’ve ever happened. If the UN had been responsible, the WHO, then seen the threat for what it was, they would’ve shut down all airports worldwide. That would’ve inconvenienced a lot of people but much less than everything else that’s passed in the last couple of years.
I think that because we didn’t want to rock the boat early on or we wanted a safe face, we ruined it for everybody. That’s why I think that there’s a time and a place for decisive action and we blew it and because we blew it, we blew it big and we kept on blowing it. We had to ratchet up all the draconian measures and also safety precautions because we were afraid and didn’t know what was going on because we kept on making things worse by not actually confronting it or doing our due diligence in one way or another. I am not an expert on these things. Am well aware that this could have been prevented if it had not been for shame and guilt and ego and short-term economic gain.
The downplay of glyphosate research
Ari: Let’s talk about glyphosate. Talk to me about glyphosate and what is the nature of glyphosate? The effects on human physiology are controversial there’s been, geez.
Yogi: I don’t think they’re controversial. I think they’re controversial for one reason only and that’s because of industry-funded science and industry interference and regulatory agencies.
Ari: They’re controversial in the sense that I have “evidence-based” friends, doctors, and people in the fitness industries. I would call them evidence-based internet trolls who generally default to aligning themselves with whatever science comes out of pharmaceutical companies or big industry, big agriculture. They are operating from a worldview where everything within conventional medicine is the science, everything outside of conventional medicine must not have any science to support it, otherwise, it would be unconventional medicine.
Pharmaceutical companies are working towards our benefit. Big agriculture companies, Monsanto, et cetera, are working towards our benefit and all the GMOs and all these chemicals are necessary to produce food in abundance to feed the world and anybody who questions that is just some kind of backward thinking person who’s opposed to scientific progress.
Anyway, these kinds of people because of those worldview, those kinds of assumptions of how they interpret things, will argue, oh, glyphosate is perfectly safe. One of the heads of the company even offered to drink some to show how safe it was. These are minuscule amounts. They can’t possibly be doing any harm, these sorts of arguments and anybody who’s concerned with the harmful effects of it are just these natural health whack jobs who are obsessed with the role of chemicals and who are afraid of chemicals.
Yogi: Paranoid, right? Let’s just put it out there.
Ari: That’s the thinking from some types of people that I know. Tell me about what are the physiological effects of glyphosate and then let’s talk about industry influence on people’s perception of that or the use of it.
Yogi: I actually can provide a slide on this if you like. Even Monsanto sponsored studies in this meta-analysis from ATSDR and let me again refresh my memory of what that stands for. They’re the US Agency for Toxic Substance Disease Registry. Toxic Substances and Disease Registry. They showed that in their meta-analysis that it’s indeed very clear that there’s a clear risk of non-Hodgkins lymphoma relative to self-reported glyphosate use or exposure. My guess is that it’s much worse than that because the industry is sponsored papers, which do show a positive correlation, probably are downplaying it but no matter. It’s very clear if you look at the IR report in 2015, which is the international agency on cancer research for the UN and it’s pretty much the highest body on cancer in the world.
They only look at substances if they’re pretty clear that they’re going to already say that there’s a problem with it and glyphosate came up many times. They didn’t do a monograph on it, and finally did it in 2015, in March. Of course, Monsanto also played a role there and having industry-funded scientists downplay the effects on multiple myeloma without disclosing the industry funding of that scientist. I have a paper coming out on that. Actually, the charge sheet of the diseases that glyphosate causes had its wings clipped every opportunity by the industry.
In fact, Monsanto and their allies, also, right after the 2015 IAC report came out was a bombshell because everybody was expecting it, but once it hit, it actually changed their profits. They had already set up beforehand, the US EPA, and the European Food Safety Agency, EFSA to come out with a report saying that it’s inconclusive to try to undermine the power of the IAC report. Well, in 2019, I held a conference with the head of IAC who wrote the report, and the head Research Director of ESA, in Europe, and they were agreeing on all the science they were just we’re reaching different interpretive conclusions.
Many people in the last couple of decades have reported gluten intolerance. There’s a whole industry for gluten-free products at this point. Why is that? Were we always just weakened to gluten, is gluten some evil, is bred going to kill you? Probably not in its natural state but glyphosate what it does is it disrupts your gut microbiome, and your microbiome in your brain too. So glyphosate has been heralded in agriculture as a once-in-a-century chemical because of its relative low toxicity, compared to DDT. That’s a pretty low benchmark to try to surpass and it turns out that GMOs, the first GMOs were created not to put more vitamin A in rice, but to soak up more glyphosate without dying.
A lot of our products and wheat is one of the highest GMO products around. It’s not clear whether it’s harming us because it has genetically modified because it’s been genetically modified, or if it’s because it’s been genetically modified to soak up tons of glyphosate without dying. It’s likely that we have a strong confounding effect for a lot of GMOs because most GMOs are actually created by the same pesticide companies to take resistance to the chemical that they’re spraying all around, the herbicide or the pesticides. Glyphosate is technically herbicide, but herbicides fall under the larger category of pesticides.
It’s just incredible to see that the history of GMOs is so that they could sell more glyphosate and the consensus around GMOs being safe, also is completely tied in to the fact that if you delegitimize GMOs, you’re going to sell this glyphosate and I don’t think many people are aware of the history of that but it’s an important one because if you go back to the origins of things, you have a better idea of why we’re so confused now about whether something is good or bad, why some scientists, why there’s a consensus that GMOs are safe, which has been bought and paid for with billions of dollars over almost half a century by the largest agrochemical country companies in the world.
Glyphosate works on the shikimate pathway, which humans do not have but our bacteria do, our gut microbiome, which if we didn’t have, we would die. The idea is that no animal cells have the shikimate pathway, but plant cells do. It will harm the plants, it’ll kill all the other weeds, which actually are co-symbiosis, if you want to get biological about it, otherwise, they wouldn’t be growing there but we can kill the plants and not kill the animals and that’s why glyphosate was so revered as a chemical. It turns out that we’re not just all animal. 9 out of 10 of our cells in our body, they’re much smaller, are non-human cells, they’re not animal cells, they’re viruses, nematodes, fungi, bacteria.
We need a lot of these because almost all of these if we’re healthy, are part of your God-given microbiome that if you didn’t have, you wouldn’t exist, you wouldn’t think thoughts, you wouldn’t have emotions, you wouldn’t have a body, you would not be able to survive. They forgot that bacteria also have a shikimate pathway and that when you harm that in us, it also harms us. Biologically, that’s the pathway in which it causes terrible, crippling life and disease for countless number of people.
How Glyphosate affects our health
Ari: That’s the piece of how glyphosate is bad for us. What about, and you’ve touched on the industry influence on this but do you want to comment a bit more on that aspect of things?
Yogi: Sure. There’s no such thing as a solitary chemical. If you buy Roundup, you’re getting a cocktail of chemicals, with all these adjuvants, that are supplementary chemicals to make the glyphosate do its thing and some of these are surfactants, and the surfactants make sure that the chemical stays on the plant and kills it. If you didn’t have these, it wouldn’t work nearly as well but when you do have it, there are these chemical reactions, which have synergistic or I call them dysergistic effects on the body because they potentiate potential harms in glyphosate. For example, there are [unintelligible 01:28:59] in the US formulation of glyphosate that are barred in Europe.
Glyphosate pesticide products in Europe have a very different from formulations in the US because Europe has higher standards, and does not allow a lot of these other chemicals to be used on food products, because they harm human health. You’re not just getting glyphosate, you’re getting a whole smorgasbord of chemical cocktails that potentiate each other and cause more damage. There’s generally a big problem in all of these regulatory agencies of compartmentalizing the active ingredient. They look at glyphosate by itself and it’s harm on human health, not roundup. They’re not looking at roundup as an entire suite of chemicals together, which would give very, very, very different results.
As far as I know, almost no regulatory agencies look at the chemicals as they’re going to be used in the wild. They’re looking at isolated chemicals, and just from a pure laboratory chemistry perspective. That gets into our waterways, that gets into our skin, respiratory. If you live near a golf course, you’re three times as likely to get cancer within 500 meters of a golf course, because of all the pesticides and herbicides, they spray on the greens. That’s a really sad statistic because that’s completely preventable. There are ways of having nice greens like in Scotland, for example, where the game began. Where they don’t use these, they have natural grazing, in order to get their greens, nicely manicured, and they’re also not quite as perfect, as on a field that uses a ton of chemicals.
If you walk barefoot on a golf course, you can get sick and if you do that a lot, you can have permanent problems. This is well documented and this is because of glyphosate and other chemicals that are used to maintain those greens. My question would be, are we willing to have slightly less aesthetically shaved greens, and not kill our kids and our elderly, or are we willing to sacrifice all of that to have like an Instagram photo?
Ari: Yes, well said. Okay, Yogi, I want to be respectful of your time. You’ve spent a lot of it with me, thank you so much for spending so much of your day with me. It’s always a pleasure. I would love to chat with you for five more hours. I would love it to wrap up, if you could, succinctly, briefly, leave people with maybe two or three things. Are there two or three takeaways that you think you want people to get from this? You’ve obviously touched on so much and it’s in such a nuanced way, what would you say are the two or three big take-home lessons you would like people to walk away from this with?
Yogi: Sure. Thanks so much for having me on your show, Ari. Really enjoyed the conversation, even when you were pressing me in direction that I didn’t want to go in. Yes, there’s a couple of things. One, it’s really important to understand that the biggest threats we face are those that accumulate over a long period of time, and from many different directions. Not the ones that suddenly appear to us like, blow up in our face.
The things that blow up in our face happened because of death by a thousand cuts and cuts that we were not noticing or not wanting to notice, not wanting to clean up, not wanting to do our work, our due diligence along the way. Health is a team sport. We’re never going to get at it alone. We need a community of people living together to say, “No, it’s not worth it to have a McDonald’s in our community even though it might be tasty, it might be whatever.” Some people might want it, but the impact it’s going to have on our community net is going to be negative.
We need to find better ways as citizens to say no when we are offered foods with chemicals or foods that we don’t even know what’s in them. Just basics, like who’s polluting our water, what’s going into our water? These very elemental questions are important for us, as a community to figure out, to organize, and fix because nobody can do it alone. No man is an island. You can’t live in a fortress pretending you’re safe, if everything around you is decaying. Sooner or later, your air, your water, the temperature is going to affect you. It’s going to harm you. Yes, we’re not safe until we’re all safe, really.
Finally, this idea about what I call the chemical Anthropocene, that we have changed how the earth operates, how we operate, how all living beings operate, because of the new chemicals. Synthetic chemicals we’ve created, and the other naturally occurring ones that we’ve concentrated and extracted. We have created pollution. No other creature creates pollution. This is something that we started and we can stop. It’s not like it’s a species in a world or some horrible species. These are historical accidents, that had a lot to do with people who didn’t have enough time, or they were scared and they were in a military situation. They were in war and so they felt, “If we don’t go nuclear, they will.”
A lot of our history of contamination, which has taken away from us, our comments. It’s appropriated, the rivers that we can drink. It’s appropriated the nice climates that are right in that, not too hot, not too cold region for human life to flourish. There’s heaven on earth. That has happened through accidental, but deliberate action by many, many people making many many decisions. We can change that and change our own health and the health of our community by making new decisions. If we’ve been harmed by death from a thousand cuts, we can heal from a thousand virtuous acts working together. Thank you.
Ari: Beautiful. Thank you so much, my friend. I appreciate it. Brilliant as always.
Environmental toxicants and their influence on health (02:25)
How industries manipulate research – and why it matters to you (12:35)
Digging into the science on tanning beds (21:25)
How ExxonMobil has used research to make bank (24:00)
How large companies bury research results that makes them look bad (26:47)
How most health problems today are created by the industry (32:00)
How industry buys credibility (35:00)
How to discern whether a study is biased or not (40:50)
How science changes all the time (1:07:00)
The downplay of glyphosate research (1:16:55)
How Glyphosate affects our health (1:28:00)