Letter from the editor: The saga of Syngenta, a scientist, and a subpoena

By Carey Gillam

Six months ago neurologist Dr. E. Ray Dorsey and a colleague authored an article titled “Paraquat, Parkinson’s Disease and Agnotology,” which spotlighted secrets unearthed from within the corporate files of paraquat maker Syngenta AG. The article was published March 6, 2023, in Movement Disorders, the official journal of the International Parkinson and Movement Disorder Society.

In the article, Dorsey and co-author neurologist Dr. Amit Ray pointed to stories I wrote for The New Lede and The Guardian that were based upon thousands of pages of the company’s internal documents dating back to the 1950s. Those files revealed many corporate secrets related to paraquat safety and the weed killer’s potential connection to the dreaded, incurable brain disease known as Parkinson’s.

“Knowledge of the toxic effects of paraquat is alleged to have been hidden for decades,” Dorsey’s article stated. “All the while, the manufacturer continues to maintain that paraquat does not cause Parkinson’s disease. Actions like these should be recognized for what they are: attacks on science, attacks on scientists, and attacks on the health of the public.”

“This report and the company’s own findings now indicate that we know what one cause of Parkinson’s disease is—paraquat,” the article stated. “With this conclusion, paraquat should be banned, and the search for other causative factors in the environment should accelerate.”

(Dr. E. Ray Dorsey)
The statements published in the article did not sit well with Syngenta, to put it mildly.

Syngenta has spent the last few months engaging in what Dorsey’s defenders say is the latest effort in a history of chemical industry actions to harass, or otherwise smear, scientists whose work threatens corporate interests.

Since the article’s publication, Syngenta has been demanding that Dorsey turn over his private files – emails, notes, article drafts, and other records. The company is publicly accusing Dorsey of publishing his article not as a sincere scientific commentary, but as part of a conspiracy to engineer evidence that could be used by plaintiffs in sweeping, nationwide litigation brought by people alleging they developed Parkinson’s because of exposure to Syngenta’s paraquat herbicide.

After Dorsey balked at Syngenta’s demands, citing the fact that he has no connection to the litigation, the company last month asked a federal judge to force Dorsey to turn over his files.