IARC Picks Another Anti-Science Zealot as Director
The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), a World Health Organization subsidiary mired in controversy, picked Dr. Elisabete Weiderpass as its new director on May 17th. Critics hoped IARC would mend unscientific practices used under former director Chris Wild by filling the vacancy with an outsider, but Weiderpass will likely champion its status quo.
Scientists scrutinize IARC research for frenetic labeling of consumer products like coffee, baby powder, and glyphosate (found in Roundup weedkiller) as possible carcinogens. These findings have been contradicted or questioned by esteemed health organizations, including the National Cancer Institute, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), and European regulators.
The IARC withdrew its claims on coffee years later. Meanwhile, baby powder producer Johnson & Johnson is battling 6,000 lawsuits thanks to IARC claims, despite wide disagreement among scientists on its carcinogenic potential.
IARC research gets pilloried partly because it evaluates whether products are possible carcinogens at any exposure level, not whether humans are put at risk by consuming them at real-world doses. Some of their human research involves data reported from patient memory, which is notoriously inaccurate.
But that’s the toned down version of the IARC’s shortcomings. In reality, IARC is a shell-company for left-wing environmentalists, greedy trial lawyers, and boilerplate pseudoscientists. The organization has bashed heads with the U.S. House Committee on Science, Space, and Technology over the past two years due to its deliberate omission of science that disputes its boneheaded claims.
Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) recently sent a letter to new director Weiderpass requesting her testimony over IARC’s “monographs,” the agency’s review process for existing research on possible carcinogens. Specifically, the committee believes IARC discarded or edited research demonstrating no link between glyphosate and cancer according to the agency’s personal bias. Reuters reported in 2017 that studies with non-carcinogenic findings were removed from the glyphosate monograph. Congress funds IARC indirectly, and Chairman Smith is concerned that taxpayer dollars are wasted on illegitimate research.
Former director Wild refused to testify, instead claiming that edits and exclusions only applied to research demonstrating conflicts of interest, or in other words, pro-industry positions. His claims remain dubious. The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA), Environmental Protection Agency, and other UN regulators found glyphosate as an unlikely carcinogen for humans. By Wild’s conspiratorial logic, Western regulatory agencies are all pro-industry stooges.
But IARC accusations of conflicting interests are laughable. The agency itself hosts alarming conflicts, including lead scientists drawing funds from trial lawyers who benefit from carcinogenic warnings. For example, Christopher Portier, a scientist involved in IARC glyphosate proceedings, accepted $160,000 from law firms involved in cancer damages suits against pesticide manufacturers.
Portier was one of the candidates for director, but he was bested by Weiderpass. Still, it’s doubtful she’ll be much different from the agency’s establishment. She’s married to a longtime IARC employee, and like her predecessor, Weiderpass hasn’t responded to Chairman Smith’s invitation for Congressional testimony. Doing so would help bring credibility to an agency at risk of losing funds and legitimacy.
And it’s unlikely she’ll accept the invitation. Weiderpass wrote that the IARC, by nature of increasing cancer incidence, should have a greater role in public policy. She also believes the glyphosate debacle was a communication problem, not outright fraud.
Increasing prevalence of IARC research at its current state is the last thing we need. Ask Californians, who live under the malaise of Proposition 65. Proposition 65 is a product labeling law in California designed to warn consumers of possible carcinogens. The law relies on IARC monographs and carcinogen assessments.
What Proposition 65 really does is pad trial lawyer pockets and needlessly frighten the general public. It’s a classic example of regulatory capture. Trial lawyers pump money into regulators like the IARC’s Christopher Portier, providing incentive for him to issue anti-industry monographs. Then, resulting research is used to justify class action damages or stringent regulations under laws like Proposition 65. Rinse. Repeat.
Consider millions of payments forced against Johnson & Johnson baby powder for unproven claims, or the ridiculous requirement that California coffee shops post cancer warnings.
After reaping payouts, trial lawyers target their next fake culprit. Baby powder was an especially lucrative ploy due to its widespread usage and popularity.
With Weiderpass at the helm, IARC won’t get any better. Consider that of the 1,000+ agents evaluated by IARC, only one has ever been labeled as probably not carcinogenic. Since Weiderpass wants a strengthened IARC, the record may worsen. And if the IARC’s handling of glyphosate sounds bad, Reuters reported in February that the agency used similar unscientific tactics regarding benzene.
Expect more frivolous lawsuits, dubious claims, and smoke-and-mirrors from director Weiderpass’ IARC. Congress should seriously consider defunding the agency altogether.