In Roundup Trials, The Deck Is Stacked Against Science
Forbes | By Corbin Barthold
To show that Roundup caused his cancer, a plaintiff must first show that Roundup cancause cancer. Now it is true that if you douse cells in a Petri dish in massive quantities of glyphosate, Roundup’s active ingredient, the cells’ genetic material will be damaged. The question, however, is whether real live humans who experience real-life exposure to glyphosate in real-world quantities are more likely to develop cancer. And the largest study to grapple with that question found, after tracking more than fifty-thousand people for more than twenty years, that there is no link between glyphosate and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, the cancer at issue in the recent court trials.
Even if he can establish causation in principle, a plaintiff must show that Roundup is what caused cancer in him. Most cases of non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma are idiopathic—the reason the patient developed the disease is unknown. A federal trial judge in San Francisco noted that this fact alone might have been “the end of the line for the plaintiffs” in much of the country. But the court of appeals above him, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, has declared that “medicine partakes of art as well as science,” and the judge believed himself required to let the plaintiffs rely on experts whose opinions “lean strongly toward the ‘art’ side of the spectrum.” Even then it was “a close question,” the judge wrote, whether the plaintiffs should be allowed to present their case to a jury, but in his view they had “barely inched over the line.”