The discussion this morning is about the remarkable timing of the news that the EPA has made a preliminary determination that glyphosate is not a carcinogen. At one point, Judge Winifred Smith jokes about the long “reach of Monsanto,” and the courtroom has a good laugh. Brent Wisner is probably the least entertained by the judge, telling her that if Monsanto brings up the latest from the EPA, he will need to bring Dr. Portier back in. That would “open up a big can of worms.” Brent says that the defense’s recent delay of the trial now makes sense. The judge thinks this is humorous as well, but Brent is quite serious. There are assurances from Monsanto that they will not be raising the latest news from the EPA. I suspect Brent is just as peeved as the rest of us non-Monsantoans about the news out of the EPA.
If the HBO comedy, Veep, is any indication, this whole Monsanto mess has entered a new level of the public consciousness. From the latest episode:
Sidney Purcell, (Ag/chem lobbyist): Do you know anything about pesticides?
Richard Splett, (Mayor of Lurlene, Iowa): Not as much as I’d like to.
Purcell, enticingly: That state senate seat could be yours.
Splett, suspicious: You know, down at the feed store, they’re saying your new seeds cause cancer.
Purcell: We paid for seven studies that say that it doesn’t.
Dan Egan, (The Mayor’s campaign manager): Seven? Wow, seven. That’s good enough for me, can’t argue with science!
Neil Young and Daryl Hannah, who as far as I know, were the closest thing we had to a courtroom romance at the Johnson trial, are back! Daryl is stunning in a black sweater that contrasts with her casually elegant blond hair while Neil has a black blazer over a dark plaid shirt, removing his signature fedora as he enters the courtroom. They take seats up front, inches from the jury box.
Our jurors enter. I can tell that a few of them notice Neil and Daryl immediately. There is also some guy over on the Monsanto side who seems almost beside himself, he can’t stop staring daggers at the environmentalist stars who have come to observe the proceedings today. That’s right buddy, it’s still a free country and anybody can go to any courtroom and observe on almost any given day. It is hard to believe, but there is a proceeding more dismal than this one going on right across the street. There, in criminal court, is where the Ghost Ship trial has begun.
Dr. Lorelei Mucci
Dr. Mucci is back in court folks, striding up to the witness stand in a sharp blue blazer and a fresh blow out—wow, I just realized she reminds me of Jodie Foster. We previously heard from the doctor last summer at the Johnson trial, where I was not particularly impressed. I am very interested in comparing that testimony to her testimony today.
The Big Guy…I call Mr. Evans the Big Guy because he is a big guy, but I don’t mean it derogatorily in the least. He reminds me of many an uncle on my wife’s side who all towered over me by a good eight inches. Big Guy tells us that Dr. Mucci is Monsanto’s second to last witness. She is an epidemiologist from the Harvard School of Public Health with an impressive resume. She also wrote a textbook on epidemiology that is apparently used widely to teach epi in colleges. Big Guy takes note of four copies of the book on the plaintiff’s table in front of Michael Miller and tells Dr. Mucci that Mr. Miller is helping push her royalties up.
Miller conducts voir dire of the doctor, starting with the observation that she is not an epidemiologist who has studied Roundup (RU) and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma (NHL).
Mucci: But I do have the training to read through all this literature to evaluate it.
Miller: None of your article reviews relate to RU, NHL or pesticides.
Mucci: I am able with my training to critically review this.
Miller: You never sent a letter to the editor about an article on RU, its not your area of expertise, is it? [Dr. Mucci had included ‘letters to the editor’ as part of her list of published works.]
Mucci: I have the background to do that nonetheless.
Miller: You are familiar with IARC?
Miller: You were not invited to be on IARC 112.
Mucci: Again, I had the training to evaluate the science if I had been invited.
Well, you get the idea. Dr. Mucci has never actually done much related to RU and NHL, but Monsanto proffered her as an expert. Miller runs through the rest of the holes in her resume—not a medical doctor, not a hematologist, not a toxicologist, not an environmental epidemiologist, not funded by Bayer AG. Whoops! Yes, she, or rather her research group, gets money from Bayer related to prostate cancer research. Miller concludes voir dire by stating that Dr. Mucci’s expertise is limited to general epidemiology.
Big Guy insists that it be general cancer epidemiology, and begins his direct by telling us that Dr. Mucci’s testimony will be expedited by a powerpoint presentation. This is a new one for this Agent—not that I have been around courtrooms very long, but I have never seen a witness testify with a powerpoint presentation.
We start off with a review of epidemiological methods, the cohort study—following a specific group of people through time, say, farmers, and seeing how many get sick in terms of the pesticides they are exposed to. And the case control study—finding a group with the disease and comparing them retrospectively with a similar group without the disease.
Dr. Mucci says the ideal method would be to have a time machine so we could go back and, for example, look at the same group of people over many years, but take away an exposure, such as have them not smoke cigarettes the second time through life. Big Guy says, since we don’t have a flux capacitor in a DeLorean, the next best thing is the cohort study. I am thinking if we had a time machine we could just go back and ban all pesticides and we would not have to be doing any kind of epi study on RU. *Sigh*
Dr. Mucci is happy to remind us that IARC’s finding on the epi studies back in 2015 was “limited.” (By IARC’s definition that means that chance, confounding or bias could not be completely ruled out.) This is enough for her to toss IARC out lock, stock and barrel. Big Guy walks her and her powerpoint through all the epi studies which she also happily tosses, for being unadjusted for confounders, like other pesticides, or not having the latest data. Dr. Mucci dismisses a handful of the studies that are adjusted, and are still statistically significant, as “borderline.”
This is a different Dr. Mucci than I saw last summer. Today she appears confident as she engages the jury with friendly eye contact. There is still something missing that I can’t quite put my finger on. The direct examination concludes with the her assertion that “I’ve looked at all the studies. There is no evidence that Roundup causes NHL.” That last bit is also up on the screen in large print, as if her position was not clear enough.
Michael Miller begins the cross with a little story about Dr. Ellen Chang, an epidemiologist who went to grad school with Dr. Mucci, who conducted a meta-analysis of RU and B-cell lymphoma—for Monsanto—that showed a positive association. Mucci responds that Chang is missing a lot of data “that we have now.” Miller says we will get to the data later and asks why the Hollingsworth law firm had approached Dr. Chang to be an expert witness but passed over her and approached Dr. Mucci instead. Mucci responds that she doesn’t know, she did not talk to Dr. Chang about it. It is a fascinating exchange if only because it is a very tiny glimpse of the how Monsanto may bring scientists into the fold. The implication is that they leverage the competitiveness of scientists and play them off each other.
But I digress. All I can do now is describe the general dynamic of the next couple hours of the cross of Dr. Mucci by Michael Miller. I would get into the few details that didn’t get trampled in the mud of this extraordinary courtroom exchange, but this was not about details, facts or anything of the kind. This was a cordial knock down drag out battle to a draw over credibility, and our attorney and witness emerged with nary a hair out of place.
Remember that in the direct, Dr. Mucci tossed every last epi study as being either confounded or lacking more recent data, except for the AHS, of course. So, naturally, Michael Miller attempted to question the bona fides of a person who could do this with such impunity. If only it was that easy.
Miller goes after Dr. Mucci’s textbook where it contradicts her testimony. She is ready with explanations of why her book describes meta-analysis as an important tool of epidemiologists but she trashes meta studies in court. Or how her book cites IARC 400 times, but she trashes IARC in court. Her book discusses the Bradford Hill criteria of causation, but she calls it “old fashioned” in court.
Miller cites a study by Mucci et. al. that concluded that more frequent ejaculation lowers prostate cancer risk by 18% and another that consuming whole milk can increase risk by 12%. He repeatedly brings these numbers up in comparison to RU studies that show much higher risks.
Dr. Mucci has her responses at the ready, to which Miller starts adding “According to Dr. Mucci.” It is sarcastic but like all of Miller’s attacks, it doesn’t come off mean. He is just so polite, or maybe it is that Virginia accent – it seems like he is always on the verge of asking you to come in and try his apple pie.
This one I just had to cut and paste from the transcript:
Q. And you also — we Kindled up — cited Dennis Weisenburger eight times in the book, didn’t you?
A. Yeah. He was a coauthor on several of the early case-control studies of different cancers.
Q. And I don’t want to be unkind, but Dr. Weisenburger has never cited you; you’re aware of that, right?
A. I couldn’t say. [Judge Smith gets a kick out of “Kindle up.” Brent Wisner says it’s a new verb.]
The Plaintiff’s tactic is to make this whole thing Dr. Mucci vs. all the epidemiologists in the world. And it just isn’t working. The real Dr. Lorelei Mucci has been replaced by a robot that has no emotions and is programmed with two possible answers to almost every question. 1) They did not adjust for bias or confounding & 2) They did not include more recent data.
All afternoon we wait for the big showdown with the “latest” data but it never happens. According to Dr. Mucci the Zhang 2019 meta study is fatally flawed because half the studies had biased data.
Michael Miller tries to wrap up by taking Dr. Mucci through a list and asking her if she agrees with the likes of the State of California Prop. 65 warning (No) or IARC (It’s complicated), the 95 scientists who supported IARC (No) and on through all the epi studies. Mucci only definitively disagrees with Hardell and Zhang, but all the other studies, it’s too complicated for her to say she agrees or disagrees. She takes her time explaining why, which distracts from the impact of Miller’s list, which was meant to paint Mucci as an outlier.
The thing is, she is an outlier. She is one of very few scientists that Monsanto has somehow convinced to put their reputations on the line. I hope that works out for her.
© 2019 Robert Howard ALL RIGHTS RESERVED
I pop into the trial today as well, but AOJ awesomely is reporting the story. As I have the luxury of watching the trial instead of furiously taking notes, I enjoy the show.
In the Monsanto Papers, (the internal documents that were found in discovery by Plaintiff attorneys in preparation for litigation), Dr. Seralini is the person most mentioned. Guess who is Monsanto’s second most popular person of concern? Neil Young and his album The Monsanto Years. It is SO fantastic that he and Hannah, a highly engaged environmental activist as well, are present for the trial.
Miller wakes up the jurors who tend to get heavy eyes through the course of a heavy epidemiology day. He weaves in and out of an epidemiological study that Mucci authored that shows a lower risk of prostate cancer if a man ejaculates at least 21 times a month. When he says the word “ejaculation,” the panel perks up. The men looked predictably reinvigorated and pleased with the study conclusion, and the women not so much.
Today is Dr. Mucci’s strongest performance of her three trials. She’s now conveying more confidence in her responses, and astutely navigates through criticisms of the AHS study. Mucci can expect a long relationship as another one of Bayer/Monsanto’s unethical mouthpieces.