Here’s the Worst, Anti-Science Idea of the Week from the Republican Congress

The head of the House science committee is pissed about research into Monsanto’s Roundup herbicide.

House Science Committee Chairman Rep. Lamar Smith, (R-Texas) . Charles Dharapak/Associated Press

For indispensable reporting on the coronavirus crisis, the election, and more, subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily newsletter.

At a hearing this week, Rep. Lamar Smith (R.-Texas) lashed out at the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), the group that assesses cancer risk for the UN’s World Health Organization. He accused it of conducting “cherry-picked science,” which, he declared “raises questions about why IARC should receive any [US] government funding in the future.”

“Cherry-picked science” is quite a charge coming from Smith, a magnate for cash from the fossil fuel and agribusiness industries who is widely regarded as the “preeminent climate change denier in Congress,” to use the veteran Los Angeles Times reporter Michael Hiltzik’s phrase.

What drew Smith’s ire is an ongoing dispute over the herbicide glyphosate, marketed by Monsanto as Roundup. In an assessment of the scientific literature back in 2015, IARC declared glyphosate “probably carcinogenic to humans.” The finding triggered a fierce pushback from Monsanto as well as a flood of pending lawsuits from cancer survivors

Controversy has roiled around the assessment ever since. Last June, Reuters reported that the agency had failed to consider relevant unpublished data from a study suggesting glyphosate doesn’t cause cancer. The IARC responded that its policy is to never consider unpublished studies in its assessment, and it has since fiercely defended is conclusion.  

Some scientists defend the IARC’s position, such as the 100 US and worldwide researchers who signed this 2016 paper in the Journal of Epidemiological Community Health. Others authorities dispute it, including the US Environmental Protection Agency and its counterpart across the Atlantic, the European Food Safety Agency, both of which have declared glyphosate not likely to be carcinogenic. 

In other words, there is genuine scientific disagreement about whether glyphosate poses a cancer risk. In an ideal world, the views of a science-denying zealot like Lamar Smith would have little bearing on the debate. In reality, he’s a powerful figure in a party that controls Congress and the White House. And he chairs the US House’s Science, Space, and Technology Committee, a spot he will hold until he retires at the end of his term in 2019.

But even if Congress slashes US financial support for the IARC, it won’t likely have a huge effect on its funding. According to a 2017 Reuters piece, the agency’s budget is just $34 million per year, and the United States has contributed just $40 million to it since 1992—which amounts to roughly $1.6 million a year, or less than 5 percent of IARC’s annual budget. 

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

SIX TRUTHS

Reclaiming power from those who abuse it often starts with telling the truth. And in "This Is How Authoritarians Get Defeated," MoJo's Monika Bauerlein unpacks six truths to remember during the homestretch of an election where democracy, truth, and decency are on the line.

Truth #1: The chaos is the point.

Truth #2: Team Reality is bigger than it seems.

Truth #3: Facebook owns this.

Truth #4: When we go to work, we're in the fight.

Truth #5: It's about minority rule.

Truth #6: The only thing that can save us is…us.

Please take a moment to see how all these truths add up, because what happens in the weeks and months ahead will reverberate for at least a generation and we better be prepared.

And if you think journalism like Mother Jones'—that calls it like it is, that will never acquiesce to power, that looks where others don't—can help guide us through this historic, high-stakes moment, and you're able to right now, please help us reach our $350,000 goal by October 31 with a donation today. It's all hands on deck for democracy.

payment methods

We Recommend

Latest

Sign up for our free newsletter

Subscribe to the Mother Jones Daily to have our top stories delivered directly to your inbox.

Get our award-winning magazine

Save big on a full year of investigations, ideas, and insights.

Subscribe

Support our journalism

Help Mother Jones' reporters dig deep with a tax-deductible donation.

Donate