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Season 11 | Episode 1

The Fact of the Matter

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Illustration: a forest of questions (Daniel Horowitz)

Getting a firm hold on the truth is never as simple as nailing down the facts of a situation. This hour, we go after a series of seemingly simple facts -- facts that offer surprising insight, facts that inspire deeply different stories, and facts that, in the end, might not matter at all.

We start with the story of Errol Morris' obsessive search for a straightforward answer about a photograph. He travels the globe to get to the bottom of things, and ends up with an odd peek into a slice of time 150 years ago. Then, one of the strangest stories to come out of the Cold War hinges on evidence that turns out to be deeply entangled with a little-reported tragedy, and a history-shaping accusation. And we end with a story about friendship, and a moving case for how truly knowing someone often requires seeing beyond the details.

Editor's Note: this episode, which was originally podcast on September 24th, 2012, was amended on October 5th, 2012.

Read More:

Robert responds to concerns about the "Yellow Rain" segment from this hour.

Jad offers more context on this segment.


Tim Kreider, Errol Morris, Merle Pribbenow, Thomas D. Seeley and Kao Kalia Yang

In the Valley of the Shadow of Doubt

Errol Morris is a legendary fact-hunting documentary sleuth. His film The Thin Blue Line has been credited with overturning a murder conviction, and freeing an accused man from a death sentence. For him, the search for truth shouldn't stop short of insanity. He tells Jad and Robert a story about ...

Comments [53]

Yellow Rain

Producer Pat Walters brings us a detective story from the Cold War, about a mysterious substance that fell from the sky in Southeast Asia at the end of the Vietnam war.

As retired CIA officer Merle Prebbenow explains, once the US pulled its troops out of the region, the communists ...

Comments [447]

Secret Skelly

Tim Kreider shares a deeply personal story about a friend whose life was full of fuzzy facts. Tim's friend Skelly was a private guy, and his friends didn't push him on the details of his personal life -- even when they discovered the little lies he told to impress them. ...

Comments [15]

Comments [235]


I am late to this episode but was looking for some clarity. Was it that NO chemical warfare was used on the Hmong people? Because, I feel that what was missed was to look at semantics, as mentioned by those interviewed.
Even if 'yellow rain' was not what caused the deaths, why was Robert not able to say to the family that what they saw was real- but not caused by yellow rain.
Is it that the this mans truth was blurred by his suffering? Or is what he described, people falling over ill, just not caused by 'yellow rain' but something else?
It felt like Robert was so stuck on proving or disproving yellow rain, that he missed the balancing effect of being able to say that whilst it may not have been the yellow rain, there was chemicals, there were bombs falling upon them. Why did this man see sickness everywhere - what DID cause it, if not the yellow rain?Whilst shutting down one truth , we did not open up another.

Oct. 05 2016 11:54 PM
Leo Chester-Trudel from Montreal, QC, Canada

It is possible that Fenton was trying to express an emotional reality by staging the photograph. That we can never know for sure. However, to suggest that Fenton was simply a coward and did not want to get close to the bloodshed is an oversimplification. The truth is that cameras during the most part of the 19th century were limited to long exposures. Consequentially, it was impossible to take 'snap shots' of action scenes. This in great part explains why portraits always looked so stiff and staged. Having to sit still for periods of over 15 seconds (could minutes in some cases), the subjects were often clamped so as not to move. Photographers during this time were forced to shoot still subjects, such as this landscape.

This being said, I think Fenton was trying to create a work of art out of his photograph. The staging of this imgage says so much more than a completely scarce field could. Especially since it was taken at a time where photography was not considered an act of artistic expression but rather one of documentation. This is why this image is so important and is considered part of the canon.

Oct. 05 2016 04:36 PM

I listened to the Yellow Rain segment. I completely am disappointed that Kalia and her Uncle were disrespected. Also, about the yellow rain...we all know chemical warfare was used. In the podcast, researchers say that bees hibernated and came out once a year to drop feces. If it was only once a year, why was the yellow rain occurring in high concentrations every other day? Why didn't we see the yellow rain before if it was an annual process? How is it possible that bee feces can kill a numerous amount of people including animals and plants? I really think that using bee feces to cover up chemical warfare is completely absurd. I just don't find it logical.

Mar. 09 2016 09:17 PM

I think it is very unfair that Kalia and her uncle Eng received no credits, and I believe Robert is a complete asshole. He was completely rude towards Kalia showing no sympathy towards her!!! Enjoyed RadioLab until now!

Feb. 11 2016 11:10 AM

I really liked the second and the third part of this episode.

Jun. 25 2015 02:19 PM
Carson from China

What an absolute asshole. I cannot believe Robert Krulwich displayed such a disgusting amount of ignorance, lack of understanding of someone else's cultural heritage and trauma experienced by them. Having been to Laos, for just one month, I saw the effects of these attacks on the Lao people and the Hmong people. Not to mention the fact that the UNITED STATES carpet bombed Laos with excess bombs during the Vietnam war so that they would not have to land with them when they returned to their military bases. For Robert Krulwich, speaking from an incredible position of privilege, to put that Hmong girl and her uncle on the spot was uncalled for. This is absolutely racism and scientism at its very finest. In a world where the West believes it has a monopoly on knowledge because of its scientific achievement, direct experience, and knowledge of people without the same general scientific knowledge as westerners. To people in the U.S., science has become the only valid way of understanding the world. Paul Feyerabend puts this quite eloquently in his writings.

The United States generally sees the "bigger picture" when they look at a situation. This is because we are in a very special position where we have more contact than most other societies with people of other cultures. Most other places don't have nearly as much daily, direct contact with people from around the world. The world becomes a little more close in these cases. This is not a good thing or a bad thing, it's simply reality. The most real thing for the Hmong people is that their people were slaughtered in this war. For someone not from outside their culture to diminish their experience is sick. They should have gotten the story from the Hmong people without trying to back them into a corner and make them admit that "no chemical weapons were used". In this way, I believe Robert was trying to monopolize the conversation. He wanted them to support his side of the story--the perceived 'right' side of the story. Listen first, ask questions when you get back to the studio.

Jun. 06 2015 11:35 PM

Robert Krulwich was right on target in his apology to the interviewees. Why grill these poor people? What is at stake here? For what are these poor besieged Hmong responsible? They are responsible for nothing more than desiring that someone listen--that someone take seriously their side of the story; give them credit for having eyes and a brain, for having seen something unusual and having had the sense to recognize that something was seriously amiss. It is certainly not the witnesses' fault that our country decided to react by manufacturing chemical weapons, which decision Robert Krulwich seems to be laying at their feet in this interview. RadioLab ultimately decides as well to completely ignore the man's description of yellow granules eating through leaves on which they had fallen. To the point of editing, i.e. RadioLab's ultimate ability to control what parts of the interview make the cut and the commentary on them, there was even less necessity to brow-beat the interviewee when if one wanted to discredit his input this could have been done in post. These people have suffered enough; you could afford to treat them more gently and respectfully.

May. 01 2015 12:14 PM
aj from British Columbia

Ouch. The yellow rain portion of the story seemed too disrespectful of the Hmong family.

Aug. 10 2014 04:48 PM

This was a disgusting display of the ugliness of man.

On another note.

Also there were toxins used in vietnam. It was called Agent Orange.

Not to say this was the same as yellow rain but I feel like there is some kind of link between the two.

Jul. 28 2014 05:19 AM
MS from Toronto

To follow up on my earlier comment from today...

I had one other thought, concerning the first tests on the samples carried out in Minnesota -- which detected toxins but could not be replicated by other labs. Contamination from within the facility is one possible explanation, but there is a second explanation that is reasonably plausible as well.

If we assume, hypothetically, that chemical weapons had indeed been used, but that they had no connection to the yellow rain, then what was found in Minnesota could have been the result of an unfortunate coincidence. Here is the scenario: those earliest samples happened to be collected from a location where yellow rain had fallen AND chemical toxins had been introduced. This led to the incorrect conclusion that the two incidents were related, which prompted other labs to seek out samples of yellow rain for analysis. These, of course, would be expected to turn up negative.

In other words, people retrieved those first samples precisely because they came from an area where a suspected chemical weapons attack had taken place. Subsequently, people just looked for samples that had the yellow debris, which essentially amounted to a completely random, rather than targeted, sample collection approach.

This scenario seems to be equally consistent with the facts as presented on the show. Just putting it out there.

Mar. 16 2014 01:03 PM
MS from Toronto

Just listened to this episode, and thought I would weigh in with one additional possibility concerning the yellow rain story that had not been articulated in the show, so far as I could gather.

To start with a hypothetical: if scientists were eventually able to prove, conclusively, that the yellow mist was not a weapon, this fact does not in itself negate the possibility that other chemical weapons had been used in southeast Asia during that time. Mr. Yang may still have been correct, only in this version, the "yellow rain" would turn out to be a false lead that wound up diverting attention and resources away from investigations into other possible modes of chemical attack.

From the sounds of it, getting into this corner of the world to do a thorough examination would have been extremely difficult back then (much like how today, early in 2014, it is difficult to gather hard facts about atrocities in Syria -- chemical or otherwise).

I think it is worth emphasizing a point the Yangs had made, which sounds very plausible to me: that the world's investigation into the matter may have been a bit half-hearted or otherwise less-than-thorough (although, to be fair, practical and political constraints present at the time were probably very real, making such an outcome understandable and perhaps unavoidable). However, had the world looked more closely, perhaps somebody would have uncovered evidence that an alternative chemical weapon had been used. Unless this one day happens, we can never know for sure.

Mar. 16 2014 11:50 AM
Seth from San Francisco

In response to the cannonball the empty road was first in time because the rocks were higher on the hill (gravity makes things fall down in time). But, wouldn't cannonballs falling also create a lot of ground shaking? I don't understand how a few pebbles falling down show that the photo was staged.

Mar. 14 2014 08:41 PM

You can't trust everyone but it is informative entertainment.

Feb. 13 2014 09:54 PM
Joseph from Somewhere out There

This is not a news show. It is an infotainment program. Of course they are going to edit in order to make sure their stories have the most impact. As with any program, go into it knowing that there is an agenda, and then make your own decision. Never believe anyone is telling you the whole story, because frankly it all cant fit into 20 minutes. For everyone complaining, relax, don't rely on one source to give you all the info, and take it easy on the show. Infotainment!

Feb. 11 2014 01:50 PM

Fact is only what most people believe.

Feb. 10 2014 02:28 PM
WDG from Baltimore, MD

The reaction by Ms. Yang, and the subsequent reaction of some Radiolab listeners, is highly disappointing...particularly given the subject matter of the episode as a whole. What the "yellow rain" segment - and the public backlash against the handling of the interview - showed us more than anything is that the truth is still secondary to many people. Any negative reactions towards those who try to find the truth must be met with equally negative reactions. Nothing is gained by hiding or ignoring the truth. We must be careful to not let our own perspectives cloud reality.

Kudos to Mr. Krulwich for taking the high road and offering an apology which was clearly unnecessary. My disappointment with Ms. Yang increased upon learning that she did not accept Mr. Krulwich's apology, which can only lead me to believe that her agenda was more important to her than the facts.

Keep up the great work, Radiolab. Do not be thwarted in your attempts to find the truth in any story, despite the efforts of those who wish to veil it.

Jan. 03 2014 01:15 PM
Jason from US

Robert did nothing wrong. The fact that they got upset because their life-long beliefs were proven wrong does not make his questioning inappropriate. I feel that her reaction and wording at the end was manipulative and invariably painted Robert in n undeserved negative light in the ears of many listeners.

Dec. 27 2013 04:42 AM
Jessica from Chicago

This is the one place I did not want to see racism, disrespect towards indigenous knowledge, sexism, and all of the other examples of life in the white man's patriarchal society. The "Fact of the Matter", is that we still have a long way to go. Women are often belittled and disregarded for showing emotion in response to real world issues, I just never thought Radiolab would take part in that. That is the kind of sexist thinking that dismisses women as lacking in logic and publicly discredits them from having a voice. You were the monopolizers, and I am moving on. I found the interviewees' response to the episode to be crystal clear and eloquent:

Dec. 12 2013 01:41 PM

Here you go, folks. Read this and then decide if you think RadioLab was "fair and balanced" when it promoted the bee crap theory as the final word--keeping in mind that they had this and more evidence in hand before they released the story:

Sep. 27 2013 10:06 AM
Truong from LA, CA

I apologize if this has been already posted, but I have not seen a post with these correlations.
I was on a long road trip listening to RL podcasts and came across this story. The whole time I was waiting to hear Jad or Robert conclude with this story having a perfect explanation. I was screaming in my head I know exactly what “Yellow Rain” was.
Recall the story from the podcast “Colors”, specifically the segment on the color yellow. This segment described a brilliant yellow paint that is derived from a sap found from a tree in Laos/Cambodia region bordering Vietnam. The segment continues to describe that the sap is poisonous causing un-controlled diarrhea and that extra measures needed to be taken for potty services. The sap takes years to collect and that bullets have been found in the sap. All it takes is water to turn the brown sap to become a brilliant yellow paint.
Here are the correlations:
This area of the world is very wet. Water collects in the collection buckets making the yellow paint. Other natural materials are also collected in the sap during the 2 year collection period such as pollen. These buckets are probably up high in the trees. During the war conflict, bullets are flying and hitting the buckets and causing the water in the buckets to aerosolize possibly making a cloud. With the high moisture content in the region, this cloud turns into rain as it moves through the countryside. In mal-nourished areas of the world, diarrhea is very deadly. Hope this helps to solve this mystery.

Aug. 05 2013 05:12 PM

I relistened to this episode today. Couldn't help but remind me of the potential use of serin gas is Syria. Regardless of if/ how the gas was used, 70,000 people are still dead. Are their deaths somehow more tragic or meaningful if they died because of chemical warfare as opposed to traditional warfare?

May. 27 2013 11:58 AM

I'm amazed by the negative responses on the yellow rain segment. I thought that there were multiple sides shown in relatively respectful ways. I understand that Robert could have been slightly more understanding but it seemed clear to me that the uncle and niece were sidestepping the questions and in that situation I would have started asking pointed questions as well. I felt used and manipulated by the woman in the interview who began crying. The interviewers clearly explained WHY they were there and her reaction was uncalled for in my opinion. I feel strongly that this was done to gain sympathy and attention (I site the niece's book). I do understand that both of these people went through a lot of pain, but I believe that both parties (Radiolab and the family) could have handled the situation better.

While they did not hypothesize all the different ways both situations, the villages dying and the yellow rain being a by product of bees, could both be true, it it clear that both situation could be true. They do not contradict each other. Chemicals could have been used and then wrongly attributed yellow rain. They were not calling the family liars or saying what the uncle saw was not true. They were simply attempting to find out if the yellow rain was the chemical weapon.

I am disappointed in my fellow Radiolab listeners. Do not be so quick to judge simply because there is a moving story, look a bit further.

May. 22 2013 05:05 PM

I have to say I'm really disappointed in Radiolab in how they handled this. I've read Kalia's response, and while her articles definitely have flaws (unrelated tragedy with her baby), I don't understand how Radiolab can just edit out things like Eng and Hmong experience and knowledge of bees, and give neither Kalia or Eng any credentials other than "Hmong people".

I liked radiolab because while they've had to simplify things for the format and accessibility of this podcast, but I've always thought they've tried to be as fair and unbiased as possible in the name of science and truth with the available evidence. Now it just seems like they're doing things to save themselves from looking bad, and it makes me wonder how many other radiolabs have been this biased.

It is so upsetting to hear the interview where Robert sits there with his 'facts' and denies what Eng says he saw with his own eyes. There is a serious and unsettling lack of critical thinking here, especially considering how educated the people at radiolab are supposed to be.

If the Yellow Rain was just bee pollen, why was it only targeting Hmong populations? If the bee poop phenomenon happens so often in Southeast Asia, why were people affected by it? They would have seen this phenomenon happen before (and according to Hmong bee knowledge) would have known what was going on and not falsely attributed their other ailments to the pollen. It's like Robert settled into this 'fact' that scientists said that this was just bee poop and anything else is too inconvenient to consider.

I'm so disappointed. I don't even know if I can listen to anymore of these podcasts with the same belief anymore.

May. 19 2013 02:35 AM
Scott from Chicago

I've thought a bit about this program.

Jad and Robert seemed to make the point that sometimes what we think is fact is not and that sometimes this doesn't even matter. In each story, there are what are perceived to be facts and then there is deeper truth which may contradict the "facts".

My feeling is that Jad and Robert made a mistake with the Yellow Rain story, an older story from the late 80s, early 90s. The premise being that the Hmong people were convinced that key part of the violence against them was this "yellow rain". Science later proved that the Hmong were wrong, yet the deeper truth is that from their perspective they were devastated as a people, yellow rain or not. Their suffering was real despite this mis-attribution.

Jad and Robert's mistake was to choose to interview a person who conflated the overall devastation with the belief that chemical weapons were responsible. There was no way this could be a win-win interview regardless of whether they thought the Hmong knew what they were getting into. Their interviewees were not able to embrace or even entertain the point of the episode. They were bound to be offended and hurt because challenging the truth of the yellow meant challenging to truth of their loss. This should have been easy to discern as the interview unfolded.

Their mistake additionally was to air the interview after having it go so wrong. They then used the two Hmong people for their own purposes and hence all the anger.

They would have been better off interviewing someone who they knew was able to entertain and discuss the mis-attribution and who could still hold on to the deeper truth of the loss of life and home / the greater truth that whether you killed me with a gun or a knife, you killed me - what does it really matter.

Apr. 24 2013 09:38 PM

An update on the Yellow Rain controversy from Kao Kalia Yang.

Apr. 21 2013 01:37 AM
Jon Therkildsen from Warszawa

Great pod cast. This got me hooked, I am a fan. All stories are compiled masterfully like an orchestrated symphony of the sweet and sour taste of life, indeed a beautiful synergy.

Anyways, I see the Yellow Rain got strong reactions. Which can never bad, regardless if just or not.

I understand completely RADIO LAB and I also understand the Yangs from their point of view. Perhaps the Yangs did not get what they hoped for in the first inning, but in fact they did IMO. Now, the Hmong history is known by silly little me far away, and by many others as well, I am sure. Many of us have been reading up as a result of this debate and the ball is rolling. It is now a subject at the dinner table which it wasn’t before: If Yellow Rain was in fact a weapon or not is irrelevant to their story and also irrelevant to what the Yangs hoped to get from it. Their historic suffering is still horrendous and the silence from the world society also..

On the contrary to some strong reactions, this RADIO LAB Podcast did what any good journalism aim to do; created a balanced debate, established new knowledge and educated and provoked the audience. I hail this show, and I hail the way RADIO LAB handled it and also the way the Yangs handled it and reacted in it – even in the aftermath where there is a little mud throwing here and there. All is good. Thank you both RADIO LAB and Kao Yang

Apr. 19 2013 07:39 AM

I enjoyed Radiolab until now. I will no longer support this station after listening to the Yellow Rain segment. The man saw it destroy plants and people with his own eyes. Yet, we as sheep are told it was just POLLEN. You handled this poorly and hateful. This is just disgusting.

Apr. 18 2013 03:39 PM

How could agent orange not be mentioned.

Apr. 17 2013 04:52 PM

The latest update from Kao Kalia Yang and the controversy surrounding Radiolab's story "Yellow Rain."

Apr. 13 2013 12:45 PM

Though i do feel horrible for the Hmong people and their sufferings i believe the outburst at the end of the show was understandable, yet completely counter-productive. It shows that Mrs. Yang has her own agenda to push, which is to shed light on the horrible and heartbreaking events that took place in her country after the US army was defeated.

I also come from a war torn country and and what hurts us the most the lack of true,documented and approved history. Since we dont have that we continue to fight over the "semantics". Though the yellow rain being a poison or not may not be a crucial point in healing the wounds of Hmong people, seeking the truth of whether it is or not is still a noble cause. seeking the truth is always a noble cause. Ultimately this woman has emotionally blackmail people into taking a stand towards radiolab.

Though i do wonder what would have happened if it wasnt for the outburst, there is usually a question left at the end that pushes some listeners to further research into the matter, but i guess that would have caused as big a ripple as Mrs. Yang would have liked.

This audio is difficult to listen to but I still love this show for its objectivity and interesting topics and presentation, and the apathy shown from the world towards the history of the Hmong people can not be blamed at Robert or Radiolab. I think it is the apathy that she has witnessed towards her struggle over the years is what triggered this outburst and not Roberts question. Robert for all the people calling you an insensitive asshole dont worry your not an asshole, as for insensitive, well who can blame you, your an American.

Apr. 09 2013 10:29 AM
Matt from Naples, FL

"If the producers of Radiolab are genuinely interested in the truth, they should link Kao Kalia Yang's response to this podcast too."

While the interview was absolutely handled poorly, her response is nothing more than a plea for attention. The included story about her baby, while incredibly unfortunate and sad, had nothing to do with the issue at hand, and was just a desperate attempt to garner sympathy from others. It could have been left out, but what better way to play on the emotions of readers. Talk about lack of journalistic integrity.

Apr. 05 2013 02:48 PM
D from MN

If the producers of Radiolab are genuinely interested in the truth, they should link Kao Kalia Yang's response to this podcast too. However, their lack of interest in crediting the interviewee, Eng Yang, with expertise and Ms. Yang's background in the podcast continues to support her allegation that Radiolab is promoting bias. Radiolab and WNYC have been silent on this regard and have not responded as to why they did not attribute credentials to the only interviewee and his translator in the story.

This story reminds me of Fox News where they go into a story with a narrative already and they're only looking for sound bites to support their story. When the producers didn't get it their sound bites, they had to discredit the interviewee and translator in their commentary to make their story sound true.

The most horrible unethical act of reporting in this story is how they cut Eng's explanation of his beekeeping expertise in the story but did not cut the English translation. To Hmong-speaking listeners, this is a deliberate attempt to hide the truth about their lazy journalism work.

I've listened to the podcast again after having heard it two months ago. I am still disturbed by the abuse of power in this story.

Mar. 21 2013 12:41 AM
Adam B from Denver, CO

Robert, you don't need to apologize for seeking truth. I understand that this was an emotional topic for the family you interviewed, but their feelings and beliefs do not comprise truth. I am so tired of living in a world where avoiding hurt feelings is more important than reality. Political correctness repeatedly leads us to political failure. I wish that you had continued your investigation rather than allowing emotion to cloud fact. I'm not saying that they do not have the right to feel the way they do or to have their story told, but finding out what really happened is the best way to do that.

Mar. 20 2013 06:01 PM

I feel that it shows great bravery on the part of Radiolab that they included the piece about yellow rain in the episode. We must remember that in the editing process, they could have just shelved the story and never acknowledged it's existence. Instead, they discussed it with it's controversy and even apologized for it.

Mar. 18 2013 11:44 PM

After reading Kalia's side of the story (, I have to say that Krulwich’s apology is disgustingly inadequate. I can no longer listen to this show because the producers of Radiolab have discredited themselves by displaying their complete lack of journalistic integrity. If they want to undo this wrong they need to give Kalia a voice by putting a link to her open letter on the ‘Read More’ section, publish the response they asked her for but chose not to publish because it did not make them look good, and air her side of the story at the end instead of Krulwich’s pathetic apology. Only airing your perception of what happened is bias and not representing the whole truth to your listeners. If Radiolab actually valued the truth as much as they claim to, they would give Kalia a voice!

Mar. 16 2013 06:41 PM

Wait what??!! How is that it?

Ok so the yellow rain theory didn't pan out, You haven't found any truths in this story. Pollen? Poison? Doesn't matter there was death. You have nothing, no evidence for or against. But you just let the story go? Did you not hear what the niece was telling you?

"My uncle says, For the last 20 years he didn't know anybody was interested in the death of the meng people. He agreed to do the interview because you were interested."

My feeling as that not expanding in this story, not finding more info about what happen to the people, (Which mind you might eventually lead you to the real answer you are looking for), has just put a nail in the coffin. It confirms their fear. Nobody is interested in the death of the Meng people. There is nothing documented here.

I'm kind of disappointed that, to my knowledge, there is no more interview in here, there... where is the rest of the story??? ~~....

Mar. 15 2013 08:01 PM
Cassie from Omaha, NE

I believe that the yellow rain was real.

Mar. 07 2013 02:55 PM

Wonderful post but I was wondering if you could write a litte more
on this subject? I'd be very grateful if you could elaborate a little bit further. Thanks!

Mar. 07 2013 04:53 AM

Holy crap... I thought that all the commentators here were probably being oversensitive, 'PC' trolls because I had a hard time as I started to listening that the interview would go so horribly wrong.

I was wrong, the comments are correct. That was a terribly offensive interview devoid of human empathy in the end and obnoxious in Robert's obsession to tell an eye witness that he's wrong because he's got a bag of facts (which merely cast doubt themselves and aren't definitive of anything but that) and this bag of facts was more important and an old eye witness.

I think if the eye witness had a Harvard degree then Robert would have shown him more respect and empathy, but instead chose the path of telling a uneducated old simpleton he's wrong.

Really a sad showing... even his apology was lacking. I'm always reminded of the statistical evidence that "ask the crowd" is the best go to in "Who Wants To Be A Millionaire". In that regard, while I'm no Harvard scientist, I can look to the crowd, hear their answer and plainly say, Robert, you were waaaayyyy in the wrong with this one pal.

Mar. 05 2013 09:58 PM
Ryan O'Neil from Connecticut

Here's what I don't understand about the yellow rain story, aside from the very poor way the interview was handled: Why had this never happened before and hasn't happened since? If it was bee poop, wouldn't there have been other times when this happened, before or after the war? How was this not even discussed in the story?

And I thought the Errol Morris story was going to be the biggest problem with this episode.

I think the story of the Hmong people, at this point, would be better told by This American Life.

Feb. 21 2013 10:41 AM
frank from MN

By the way I have known a number of Hmong over the last several dec ades and accept the experiences that they were attacked and slaughtered after the US left Vietnam, whether this involved yellow chemicals or not is not very much of the story. This story is much like writing a news story of the types of sneakers a serial killer wore while ignoring the dead and his process, or the results to those left behind.

Feb. 17 2013 02:38 PM
frank from MN

The Yellow Rain story seems incomplete as I remember a number of stories in the 80's that said the US was supplying chemical or biological weapons or expertise to Saddam to use in the Iran/Iraq war, including G H W Bush (then VP) going to Iraq to make some of the arrangements. This would only have been possible if the Reagan/Bush administration started to make these weapons as a result of these SE Asia reports and subsequent changes in policy.

Saddam later used them on his country's Kurds but after Kuwait was not in a position to benefit to keep them _ though there was benefit in letting people think he did. This led us to America's most incompetently run wars under G W's administration.

Feb. 17 2013 02:30 PM
wtf so racist

Jan. 22 2013 01:04 PM

WOW. Just WOW. This was just painful during the yellow rain stuff. I felt so much for the girl, you could just hear her trying to keep it together and all the while the douche-bag host keeps asking aggressively questions that fit his agenda. The shame is that this is an enjoyable show, but like the last guy says, if you want donations you have to follow some rules, namely be nice to people, especially when it's a sensitive case like this was. To the unemphatic host... go F yourself! (the other hosts are fantastic!)

Jan. 05 2013 03:52 AM

It's been months, and this episode continues to bother me, which has a direct effect on my response to Jad's calls for listeners to financially support WNYC.

Above was a factual statement.

Dec. 31 2012 07:50 PM

i too think downvotes are the biggest problem facing us as a society

Dec. 28 2012 11:06 AM
Kevin from Austin Tx

It bothers me, more than the supposed "badgering" Krulwich inflicted, that every single comment that has a positive reception to this story has been down voted. People screech about understanding, and about being sensitive to beliefs and opinions, and then you come across one you and your friends disagree with and you spam downvotes? Yes, very progressive of you.

And Diane from MN: I hope you are caught in a torrential downpour of bee poop. I sincerely believe that you deserve nothing less.

Dec. 26 2012 04:05 PM
Tom from New Jersey

It's been a few months, and I still can't bring myself to listen to RadioLab. It was once a nightly ritual for me to go to bed listening to this podcast. It was how I ended my day. However, after listening to the "Yellow Rain" episode, I couldn't sleep! I was so enraged by the way that Kao Kalia Yang and Eng Yang were used as stooges in order for Krulwish (and presumably RadioLab producers) to score political points. He was so desirous to prove that Reagan was lying about the causes of Yellow Rain, that he was more than willing to humiliate a man who had survived unspeakably horrific experiences.

It's also an example of how emotionally distant and arrogant the scientific community has become. How arrogant to tell a man like Eng Yang that he does not know what he really experienced. Never mind the fact that he was actually there; some scientists in a lab came up with some crazy theory 40 years later, and we're to believe that that's the "real" truth. They came to the "brilliant" conclusion that it was bee poop, so you'd damn well better get on board with than theory or we will make an example out of you. Bee poop?! Seriously??!! By that logic, someone could argue that the Nazi gas chambers were just a function of faulty plumbing. I guess I'm not so surprised anymore that there are so many Holocaust survivors.

What was done to those two people was inexcusable. It was hack journalism at its worst! I'm sad to say it, but I'm done with RadioLab.

Dec. 19 2012 12:34 AM
Gretchen from Philadelphia, PA

I also felt that the segment about Laos was disappointing and awkward, but I feel that the way it was addressed after the interview was sufficient. The interviewer recognized that he was getting so wrapped up in determining the facts that his questioning came across as an interrogation, and he acknowledged that and apologized. I appreciate that they left that part in the podcast, as I think it serves as an example of how we cannot expect the people who positively impact us to be perfect all of the time. Disappointment is a truth, as well.
Despite this, I found this podcast to be enormously informative and interesting. As an artist and a writer, I find myself drawn to this topic in much of my work. I have a terrible memory, and I drew a lot of conclusions about family members from minimal information in my childhood, and have recently found that many things that I had assumed for decades were actually untrue. I think my memories are still potent, however, and there is truth in my emotional connection to the past.

Nov. 16 2012 02:58 PM

While listening to the second story I felt sorry for the poor people who first had to experience the horrific rain and then listen to the "inconvenient truth" about bees and such. However, having checked the Yellow Rain article on Wikipedia and the article on Kao Kalia Yang there, I now see the incident a bit differently. Quoting from Yang, who is an activist, author, and professor: "Everybody in the show had a name, a profession, institutional affiliation except Eng Yang, who was identified as “Hmong guy,” and me, “his niece.” The fact that I am an award-winning writer was ignored. The fact that my uncle was an official radio man and documenter of the Hmong experience to the Thai government during the war was absent."
That's totally true. The way they came across to me was as someone who never quite understood what happened and got stuck in the nightmare of the past. It's a shame they were not introduced properly as the perception was totally biased. This is particularly striking given that Radiolab always introduces their guests as writers, scientists, artists and so on no matter how much they've written, published, etc.

Nov. 16 2012 02:23 PM
mathew wyatt-williams from south wales

i really don't see what all the fuss is about the yellow rain story i don't see how Robert did anything other than ask questions and raise valid concerns about the nature of evidence the truth of the matter is the man in question undoubtedly lived through tragic and trying times but unfortunately his evidence isn't above reproach and questioning at the end of the day evidence is only as good as its proof and as far as his responses to the woman's response to the interview was also valid the story was concentrating on an aspect of a larger issue and by complaining that it somehow trivializes there experiences is ludicrous there is no inclination that hes trying to marginalize there experiences or there losses hes simply concentrating or trying to focus in on the topic that they are discussing. discussing the larger issues concerning the conditions the losses and hardships these people suffered is another discussion and shouldn't be used to somehow make it seem as if the topic being investigated is somehow lessened.

to find the truth of a matter some times you have to push emotion and interpretation out of the discussion and focus on the facts and avoid introducing any kind of bias .

Nov. 15 2012 01:15 AM

This gets at the heart of the issue of Yellow Rain, and what was wrong with the podcast from a third party perspective.

Radiolab has so much to answer for. Examples of real science and journalism abound in this. As well as, too speak simply, HUMANITY (which it seems Radiolab and WNYC sadly lack)

Nov. 13 2012 07:43 PM

Radiolab has committed journalistic fraud by leaving out Eng Yang's expertise on bee keeping so they can frame the story to fit their pre-concieved ideas of the Hmong or the genocide. The arc of the story was deliberately planned as a surprise revealing to a genocide survivor that what he experienced was hearsay, a myth, and never really happened. When the Yangs refused to give Radiolab a sound bite to create the story they planned to tell, Radiolab's only choice was to allow the story to reveal the tension but Radiolab will have the last word and power to portray the Yangs as "monopolizing" the story they had planned to tell.

If you do not understand Hmong, you will not know Radiolab hid the truth from you. They are depending on your ignorance to create the story you heard. The truth is not done with Radiolab.

Nov. 13 2012 04:02 PM
Brian from Seattle

The subject of the podcast was truth. All evidence seems to point to the Yellow Rain NOT being a chemical weapon. Its painful to hear because the Yangs felt as if this evidence was invalidating their real loss. However, isn't it better to expose the truth and find the true injustices to grieve and remember? Why continue to focus that pain on something that isn't true?

This is exactly why I listen to this podcast. Keep it up guys, this was difficult and important one.

Nov. 13 2012 01:06 PM
erin from iowa

I'm really surprised and disappointed by some of these comments regarding the "Yellow Rain" story. I thought it was a beautiful and sad story about how "the truth" is almost always subjective. And that finding the truth in any story, doesn't negate the other things that are true.
I say great job guys! If the point of Radiolab is to get people to think, then you've done it again!

Nov. 13 2012 11:23 AM

I listened to Radiolab loyally. I loved the banter, the debates and the constant focus on "doubt" as key to scientific discovery. I've been inspired countless times by the show.

But "Yellow Rain" really disturbed me. Robert, I think you completely missed the point and Jad, you objected so passively.

Robert, when you claimed that it was "unfair" to you in the segment's conclusion, I nearly wept. You are talking to representatives of the most bombed country in the Vietnam war, people who have lost more than we will ever know, in large part due to our country's role.

How could you not understand that no answer was worth subjugating these people to yet another betrayal of our trust?

How is it that a show that has done so much to illustrate the power of scientific thinking can, in one episode, underline the ugly stereotype of the scientist as too narrow-minded, privileged and devoid of compassion to understand the plight of those he studies?

You're right to advocate "doubt," even at the cost of comfort, in most cases.
But here, what you are doubting is not the accuracy of their claims. What you are doubting is the extent of their suffering. Even if this is technically untrue, it is emotionally true. And when dealing with a country who may never get past mourning the countless dead, your obligation is to be respectful.

Because what you don't see is that "doubt" is a privilege, not a right. And in the face of 3rd world genocide, your doubt made you as privileged as they come.

Nov. 12 2012 05:06 PM
Tony Scott from Redhill, UK

As a relative newcomer to Radiolab, I've been trying not to listen out of sequence, but have been playing them through from the start. Then I noticed that one story, 'Yellow Rain', had hundreds of comments rather than the usual half-dozen or so, including more than a few accusing the show, its producers and Robert Krulwich of being racist. Well, I couldn't listen to any more in the back-catalog until I'd determined for myself.

So I've listened now. And this is what *I* heard.

It's a story about how the Hmong people were subjected to constant attack and threat of attack from the air and on the ground and also believed they were subject to chemical attack. The program presented counter-arguments and counter-counter-arguments for chemical weapons, largely settling on the bee feces explanation.

In the interview with Kalia and Eng, Robert presses them on whether Eng ever saw a chemical weapon being deployed from an aeroplane. Yes, he was fairly insistent, but I'm not hearing the bullying that's implied in some of the comments here. Eventually, he presses just a little too far and Kalia is given the floor. Of course Eng can't associate a particular aeroplane with a particular attack, because they were constantly being attacked.

I then heard the interviewers fall silent while Kalia was allowed to state her case eloquently, if emotionally (which was understandable). After she has spoken, there's dead air for about 10 seconds. It seemed to me the presenters were allowing Kalia's words to sink in with the listener: all this talk of trying to locate exactly Where Is The Truth is ignoring the greater story, that of the maltreatment of the Hmong people.

Radiolab has to be able to disagree with the people that are interviewed, has to be ble to set out alternative viewpoints. It was a difficult story and the team did a pretty good job of wrangling all those competing truths into a coherent whole in which everyone had their say.

I for one will keep listening.

Nov. 05 2012 06:37 PM
Fulfill your commitment to transparency

So if this show has smart, diligent people working on it and they are genuinely chasing after the truth in this story then why did they frame the Hmong as uneducated, backwards, and ignorant? Eng Yang was working as a human rights worker for the Thai government documenting the genocide and Kao Kalia Yang is an award-winning writer. If we are to believe diligent, smart, and experienced journalists are behind this story, why did they deliberately leave out the credentials of the Hmong subjects? Their credentials were not in the final cut of the story nor on this page. Despite Cappello’s seemingly thorough response to Kao Kalia’s public response and accusations of the white privilege exhibited by its producers, WNYC and Radiolab deliberately left out an answer to these allegations as made by Ms. Yang against the show and its producers. If Radiolab and its producers are being transparent then why did Radiolab have to amend the Yellow Rain story 3 times?

Fulfill your commitment to transparency, return the story to its original cut and release the full transcript.

Nov. 05 2012 12:12 AM
Random Excess from Troy, NY

I really enjoyed the show, both segments; the Yellow Rain and Skelly.

The Yellow Rain story hit an something that was really interesting... the Three Truths... truth can be not only unpredictable, but hidden and disguised.

I feel for the Yangs and their legacy of pain. It seems clear that they had attached much of the suffering of the Hmong to the Yellow Rain, it became more than a metaphor or symbol of their struggle, but the manifestation of it... their plight is not reduced by the truth of the Yellow Rain... but to fair to Radio Lab, this segment was about the truth of Yellow Rain, not the truth of the suffering of the Hmong. In a more perfect world the killing of the Hmong would not need the sensationalism of a Yellow Rain, the human suffering alone would be enough.

The Skelly story hit close to home, my home. It asked some great questions about what it means to know someone, again Truth is hiding or in disguise. It is not as simple as saying "perception is reality", there is a more subtle beauty to truth, we are lucky to catch glimpses of it, but ultimately we all connect our own dots and end up with our own picture.

Great show, folks.

Nov. 03 2012 11:49 AM

I haven't read most of the other comments or anything else Radiolab's printed here yet.

Ultimately I feel that the episode was manipulative, both of the listener and of course of the Yangs. Which seems weird. Radiolab has been a consistently whimsical, fascinating, and gentle show.

It appeared the Yangs were essentially ambushed after having been given the impression it was to be a sympathetic interview giving them a chance to speak about what they perceive as a the forgotten sacrifice and subsequent genocide of the Hmong after their abandonment by the Americans in Laos.

I utterly agree with Robert's point that it's unacceptable that misinformation about what ultimately amounted to bee droppings led to restarting the American manufacture of chemical weapons. But that wasn't up to people like the Yangs, and the point was (predictably) utterly lost on them. It was up to American politicians with an agenda, who (as in the run up to the Iraq war) weren't interested in doing due diligence and sacrificed the truth to strengthen their hand against the Soviets after having been humiliated in the largest proxy war of the Cold War Era.

I felt like the listener was being manipulated too - insofar as the decision to include the emotionally heated exchange between the Yangs and Robert seemed to beg the listener to think, "well I guess they deserve some kudos for having the integrity to air this," when in reality I'm not sure kudos is due at all for what appeared, at least, to be an ambush interview.

The second segment was fascinating, but truth be told, I was a tiny bit irritated at how this story ended, too. I did appreciate the probing questions asked of Kreider at the end, but was a little put off prior to this by his statement in describing the inside of the house, that "there are aspects about that that I will never tell you or anyone else."

Well, okay, at that point I'm imagining headless cat carcasses and zoom-lens stalker photos on the walls, but fine, maybe Skelly just wasn't taking very good care of himself, i.e. not using the toilets and not throwing anything out. But there are probably ways to clarify this without telling me you're withholding information. It's a distinction that's not completely unrelated to the point of the story; i.e. hindsight would be cast in a dramatically different light depending on whether the evidence showed that Kreider's friend was sociopathic or "merely" delusional/ paranoid.

I'll probably buy the book.

Nov. 03 2012 02:29 AM
Diane from MN


If you've heard Radiolab's awful "Yellow Rain" segment from last month, and if you've read Kao Kalia Yang's response, then you're probably like me -- angry. Enraged at the segment producers' complete lack of respect and sensitivity.

18MillionRising is spearheading a campaign to Tell NPR This Can't Happen Again. You can sign and send a letter direct towards NPR's VP of Diversity, Keith Woods, and WNYC's Chief Content Officer, Dean Cappello, to call for a meeting with the APIA community:

Dear Mr. Woods and Mr. Cappello,

NPR is a powerful, respected, nation-wide media outlet that lists being "the most relevant, trusted and consumed news source in the U.S." as one of their primary goals. However, Radiolab of WNYC's conduct around the Yellow Rain podcast has discredited NPR as a relevant and trusted news source to the Asian Pacific Islander American community and its allies.

These events are particularly disappointing since NPR also recently received a $1.5 M grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) to launch a “major journalism initiative to deepen coverage of race, ethnicity and culture, and to capture the issues that define an increasingly diverse America.” These efforts are commendable, but the recent Radiolab Yellow Rain segment and the dismissive way in which Eng Yang and Kao Kalia Yang were treated during its production, conflicts with the diversity initiative NPR is receiving funding for, and the values which NPR aims to demonstrate.

We are calling for NPR to host a meeting with Keith Woods, Radiolab of WNYC, and concerned members of the Asian Pacific Islander American community to ensure that events like this never happen again.


[Your Name]

Such blatant racial, ethnic and cultural insensitivity is unacceptable, and arguably violates National Public Radio's code of ethics. For further details, and to sign the petition and send the message, go to 18MillionRising.

Nov. 01 2012 01:06 PM

It is difficult to express just how much I enjoy Radiolab and how highly I regard it. For that reason, I've struggled with how to respond to the Yellow Rain segment of this podcast.

I am glad that Radiolab made an effort to include the Hmong in this story. I agree that it was right and principled for Radiolab to include Kao Kalia Yang's final outburst, as opposed to avoiding it -- and the controversy -- altogether. But I feel (and felt as I was listening) that Robert was handling the situation in entirely the wrong way, and that both parties misunderstood one another rather tragically. Robert's questioning, to me, did not feel like an impartial, journalistic inquiry in the name of science, but his own kind of emotional reaction to the interview, a deep frustration with the Yangs' not responding to the scientific evidence in the very specific way he wanted. It made him, I think, unable to "hear" what the Yangs were saying, and respond to it in the moment, which seems to be what.

I don't know if the Yangs were prepped for this line of questioning beforehand, but Kao Kalia Yang says they were not (See her essay here: I don't think there was anything to gain by functionally ambushing Eng Yang with an interrogation of his personal experience. It doesn't seem expedient from a journalistic perspective -- these are not people who have done something wrong and need to be tricked into revealing themselves. And it certainly doesn't seem like a sensitive and humane way to handle your interview subjects, especially knowing the kind of trauma they are going to be revisiting.

I am willing to accept the idea that Yellow Rain was bee poop, and I find that a fascinating revelation that we should certainly be able to discuss. However, I don't think Radiolab did a good enough job convincing me that this is the case, because it didn't properly respond to competing evidence -- the personal observations and experience of the Hmong. More of an effort needs to be made to integrate and reconcile these first-hand accounts with the scientific findings, and if there are alternate scientific findings out there (Kao Kalia Yang suggests that there are), they need to be discussed as well. To immediately dismiss and discredit the first-hand accounts because they don't line up with the scientific narrative is poor science and poor journalism. Even if the ultimate conclusions are the same, I would expect a deeper and more thoughtful exploration from Radiolab, and I fully believe they can and should deliver it.

Oct. 31 2012 12:10 PM

you only need to be worried about mentioning robert krulwich and george lucas in the same breath if george lucas decides to go into journalism, thinks internally that people LOVE jar-jar binks, decides to talk to people already confirmed to share this opinion and treats them as experts ignoring all evidence to the contrary, then confronted two unsuspecting people who have been hurt by jar-jar binks in a way completely unfathomable to almost every westerner with the incontrovertible proof that, no, actually, jar-jar is GREAT, did you actually SEE how awful he was or is this just HEARSAY. until that happens we can treat "yellow rain" and star wars like we always have - completely unrelated things that are in no way similar whatsoever. hopefully this is a bullet we can keep dodging.

Oct. 31 2012 11:34 AM

What is upsetting to me about this new edit is that they have tried to re-write what was said. Robert has nothing to apologize for. He is a journalist and his job is to seek truth. The truth has no emotion or obligations to country or culture. So to me the far more offensive action has only recently taken place in the editing of the original episode.

I dont want to have to mention Jad and Robert in the same breath of George Lucas.

Oct. 30 2012 10:41 AM
Wil from Chapel Hill, NC

I would like to voice my frustration with the latest episode of Radiolab. I've always been impressed by Radiolab's ability to look at scientific concepts from various viewpoints with a sensitivity and even-handedness that cannot be regularly found elsewhere. This latest episode, however, was quite the opposite. Much has been made about the problems with the "Yellow Rain" segment, yet I think yet another grave offense was the final segment about the mentally ill friend of the contributor. The story presented was tasteless and insensitive. It presented no nuanced ideas and felt as though it was produced strictly as a side show attraction to shock the listener. Radiolab normally presents such original perspectives on stories such as this. I've come to expect Radiolab to investigate the broader questions of "Why?" and "How?" with stories like this. Instead, the piece's big take away was "Here's something that's uncomfortable and bizarre. Let's talk about how weird it is." I hate to imagine how people suffering from similar mental disorders felt upon hearing that segment. I am greatly disappointed in the failure of the staff to pursue additional voices to contribute to the piece. In a piece focused on facts and truth, it is unfortunate that few of them were sought in connection to the truths of mental disorder. Radiolab is better than this.

Oct. 29 2012 08:45 PM
Rox from MA

I'm also really disappointed in this podcast. People have left eloquent comments about the other segments, so can I just say -- as a woman, I found the Skelly story to be disturbing and alienating.

So Tim was friends with a pathological liar who was charismatic. This isn't especially remarkable, and Radiolab missed a great opportunity to delve into mental illness, or lying, or charisma, or a whole boatload of other potential topics in favor of a dull personal tale/

What bothered me especially, though, was Tim's repeated insistance that Skelly wasn't taking him for a ride -- that the only people who got upset at Skelly's manipulations were women. Tim has nothing but scorn for these women. They got mad, he insists, because they just "felt embarrassed about being wrong".

Then, of course, we learn that Skelly is deeply, deeply disturbed.

If I watched women become close to someone who I knew to be massively disturbed and a pathological liar, I wouldn't feel scorn. I'd WARN THEM. Tim got pulled into Skelly's charisma but completely failed to respect the women around him. Alas, this isn't an compelling tale; it's a boring one, and a disturbing one, and an all-too-common one.

Radiolab, please stick to science.

Oct. 29 2012 05:27 PM
The real fact of the matter

Why is Radiolab addressing Kao Kalia Yang's response in third party sites? If you have the truth, you should have nothing to hide and openly respond on Radilab's site. Also, Cappello's seemingly thorough response omits Yang's allegation that the story minimized the Hmong subject's credibility by leaving out his credentials and her credentials while all the white men in the final cut of the story was attributed correctly. It's not possible that Pat would do research for 2 years, Robert and Jad would have the expertise of an experienced journalists but they innocently forgot to include the Yangs' credentials. We're told this was a thoroughly researched, well-thought out story by smart people so why did Radiolab leave out the credentials of the Yangs? Why did Radiolab frame the Hmong as backward, uneducated, and ignorant then leave out their credentials?

If you have nothing to hide and only the truth to tell then bring the original cut of the story back. And no more editing or amending.

Oct. 29 2012 12:41 PM
Alexandra from Seattle, WA

This episode signified for me that I have been seeking truths/stories/opinions/knowledge in the wrong places. This place of Radio Lab puts value in the opinions of people, structures, and systems that I, as a privileged, owning-class, white American woman, try to question (and am still learning to question, as much as I am able to). I am saddened by the responses the hosts and producer have given to Eng Yang, Kao Kalia Yang, and their listeners.

I've enjoyed listening to Radio Lab over these years, and will miss such a creative, accessible show. Best of luck.

Oct. 28 2012 09:56 PM

am i the only one who wonders about the pictures?
what if he was with some people traveling on the road? they needed to get the bombs out of the way to get down the road. he takes a picture before and then, they clear the road (knocking some rocks down... not up with the bombs), he takes another picture, and then they travel on...

Oct. 28 2012 12:49 PM

To AlexB
The facts obtained by Radiolab were presented ethically up to the point when the interviewers began to accuse the Hmong witnesses of lying, attacking them for not having a clear memory of the timeline detailing when they saw planes and when they saw ‘yellow rain’. Honestly Radiolab seemed more interested in picking low hanging fruit by questioning the integrity of the Hmong rather than going after the harder story which would be to attack the politicians who exploited the Hmong’s explanation to proliferate chemical weapons for their own political interests. Radiolab made no attempt to describe the damage done by the chemical warfare the U.S. afflicted on its enemies using ‘yellow rain’ as its cover story. It all smacks of ‘weapons of mass destruction’ and Radiolab glosses over the issue. They pretend to have covered the political aspects by replaying press conferences, briefly indicating we should apologize to Russia. Never do they question the decision not to reopen investigation into what was really killing these people once the truth about yellow rain was uncovered. Alternate explanations given by Radiolab for the deaths of Hmong given were just as much conjecture as that of which Radiolab accuses the Hmongs.
Whether you want to label this as racist or not, it is unethical, apathetic, and pathetic. I was shocked to hear Radiolab pass off their story, which completely missed the real point-our government used this story to kill people with chemical weapons, as journalism. This entire episode is beneath the usual reliability and quality of this program.

Oct. 27 2012 11:31 PM

To Chantel, I would like you to do the same so we can see wether or not your judgement is to be trusted. To question people when you have the facts on your side is not racism. It is racism to assume that the white man is motivated by contempt and hate when he has a disagreement with a non-white person. I think the reactions to this podcast are shameful for the most part, if you think Radiolab went too far then that's fine. That is an opinion. When you say they are racist you are stating a fact, and you have to verify that it is correct. I challenge you to do so in a convincing manner. I for one am glad that Radiolab doesn't shy away where the rest of society might be hesitant to press an issue because of people that throw the word "racist" around like it was cotton candy. Shame on you all.

Oct. 27 2012 02:44 PM

For the people who see absolutely no racism in the production choices and story framing of Yellow Rain, I would really like to know what you do see racism in. What is a racist act to you? What are the situations you would deem racist?

Oct. 27 2012 12:25 PM
MCA from Texas

Well, well, well.
How many of you crybabies whining about Robert Krulwich's racism have been 100% on board when he dismissed a religious point of view for a scientific one? Hhhmmm? I bet it was almost every one of you. Now that you've had your PC morals offended you see fit to cannibalize the thing which you once adored. I know that you consider yourselves more evolved and educated than the masses, but the truth is that you are disciples to the same kind of mindless attack-dog mob mentality as the neo-conservatives you love to hate. What did Krulwich do? He made an ass of himself pushing too hard to get at the core of the story he wanted to tell. But guess what folks, we're all assholes now and again. So if you want to call Robert out for being insensitive, or a jerk, or a jackass...go right ahead. But all this whining and crying about racism and imperialism is utter BS! Anyone calling Krulwich a racist is either a knee-jerk reactionary idiot or total PC pansy. He did what journalists do, he pushed for the truth, and sometimes truth can be ugly and brutal. Did he push to hard? Yes, but Ms Yang's reaction is way out of proportion. I'm very sorry that communist forces in Southeast Asia murdered her people. I agree that it is a monstrous tragedy. Yet, to lay blame for these acts at the feet of a journalist who was just a child when they were committed is beyond farce. It is despicable, disgusting, and indefensible. You pick on Robert Krulwich and RadioLab because they are a safe and accessible target, unlike those evil men of half a century ago.

Anyone who claims to be a former RadioLab fan, now unable to listen again after this podcast...I say "Good Riddance". I listen to RadioLab so that my beliefs will be challenged, so that my feathers will be ruffled. Only a fool wants to hear the echo of his(or her) own voice. To err is human, to forgive is divine. How about we all recognize that mistakes were made while trying to get at the truth and that Ms Yang had an agenda just like RadioLab did. I'm tired of this "playing the victim" crap. This is what makes America weak. Let's all buck up and act like real men & real women, who can handle a few unkind statements now and again without crumpling over in a pile of tears and self-pity.

Furthermore, to the admins of this page: If you omit my post because it ruffles the feathers of those people you are so desperate not to offend, you will be playing right into their hands. Grab a pair and let freedom ring.

Oct. 27 2012 12:38 AM
Diane from MN

The AV Club also has a dialogue going about the Radiolab Yellow Rain story. The listeners are hearing the story for what it is, an incredible imbalance of power. Check out the dialogue in the comments section in the link below:,85810/

Oct. 26 2012 01:32 PM

I think I'm also in the minority here, and I have to say I stand by Radiolab with this one.

As I was listening to this podcast, I did find the Yellow Rain story extremely upsetting, especially since I look to Radiolab for generally uplifting and slightly more innocent pieces... However I also agree I did not feel any racist feelings towards Yang and Eng, and I am an Asian American girl who is somewhat sensitive about these issues. I did not think they were not taking her seriously, I think they were trying to answer a different question - whether or not the rain was developed chemically and used by people, or whether it occurred naturally. I don't really think it should have upset her that much in which way her people died - I too feel like people died all over Laos in those times and every death, whether directly through the war or indirectly, is still tragic. The suddenly confrontational nature of Ms Yang in the story was upsetting but I suppose understandable given her position... But I also don't think that she was reacting to the same thing

I think it just goes to show that the truth is never easy and sometimes seeking the truth comes with a lot of pain as well.

Oct. 26 2012 01:15 PM
Sianna from Toronto

I think this podcast is bringing a very interesting point, that history always has 2 sides, and they're both true. For the people that were affected by the Yellow rain, does it really matter if it was a chemical attack if they're dieing regardless? The Yellow Rain is simply putting face to death, making sense of something that previously did not make sense. For Americans the detail of wether or not the poline was chemical is almost more important than the deaths of the people because of it's significance as chemical warfare and the political connotations that has. Because of its occurance during the time of war and death, the Yellow Rain is by association responcible for the occuring events in the eyes of the affected, and to me both answers are sufficient, if they are presented together, because they encapsulate the experience better than saying "the rain wasn't chemical, so the people were fine."

Oct. 26 2012 10:23 AM

I listen to RadioLab via podcast. I am a member of my local NPR station AND I contribute separately to support the podcasts I love the most (RadioLab, This American Life & Marketplace Money). I just heard the "Yellow Rain" piece on a bike ride.

I had to stop because I was crying during the piece. All I could think: "Does Robert really think Hmong can't tell the difference between bee poop and chemical warfare? They can't tell distinguish when someone is dying from dysentery vs. chemical toxins? These people who live off the land and endured years of war? Really?!"

Our household will continue to boycott Radiolab until they run a separate apology piece acknowledging their bias.

I just donated the $100 I would have given to Radiolab (WNYC) to CAA, the publishers of Hyphen Magazine. (Hyphen is the magazine that ran Yang's response to Radiolab's "Yellow Rain" piece.)

Oct. 25 2012 12:53 PM

I expected more from this podcast.

Oct. 25 2012 11:16 AM
Diane from MN

Given the story has been amended 3 times, what are Radiolab, Robert, WNYC, Pat and Jad trying to hide. Release the transcript and return the story back to how it was aired originally.

I am reminded of this quote posted by Maria Mitchell from El Cerrito Ca:

“The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.”

― David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest
Sep. 27 2012 04:44 AM

Oct. 24 2012 10:45 PM

Although I've been a long-time listener and fan of Radiolab, I recently retracted my pledge to WNYC and Radiolab in light of their treatment of this topic and their interviewees.

Oct. 24 2012 12:54 PM
Kelly McCormick from Los Angeles

The take away from this is that Radiolab, though aiming for some kind of journalistic objectivity, is always a program about the subjective interpretations that are made by those who produce the show based on the facts given by the people interviewed. The "Truth" episode highlights the dominance of the amount of creative, subjective, and in this case, biased interpretation that is involved. While interpretation is inherent to any kind of journalism, what is disappointing here is the kind of interpretation that you provided.

As a long time supporter of WYNC and Radiolab, and an East Asian Studies graduate student, I was disappointed by this episode on many levels. I expected so, so much more of you.

Oct. 24 2012 12:00 PM

Is it respectful to encourage misconceptions? There is doggedness on both sides here; I see more from the side of Kalia and Mr. Eng. I wold imagine it might make the emotional burden significantly lighter to know that your loss was due to an unpredictable, cataclysmic natural phenomenon than a calculated attack. It doesn't "negate" or diminish the pain; it only lends further truth and understanding to it. If anything, there was one side that has emotional investment and one side that does not. When dealing with emotionally imbued topics, the "truth" is either discarded or made malleable in favor of... what? A better feeling? Does it feel better to blame distant countries and something as foggy as war, or the unaccountable plots of nature? I don't know.

I suppose what bothers me about this debate is not the episode itself, but Kalia's response to it. (There have been several posted links to her testament below.) This specific morsel of information is illustrative of the human tendency to place feeling before fact: pregnancy and miscarriage. Kalia uses this (doubtless extremely painful, but utterly unrelated) experience as both an hook into the article and as a backdrop to this debacle between herself and Radiolab. Similar, though milder, to the conversation between Kalia, Mr. Eng, and Robert/Pat, emotion (regardless of how close or far from the topic at hand) should have no place in the search for truth. It only serves to cloud, divert, and eventually extinguish our rationality.

Oct. 24 2012 06:59 AM

"There is a great imbalance of power at play. From the get-go you got to ask the questions. I sent an email inquiring about the direction the interview would go, where you were headed -- expressing to you my concern about the treatment of my uncle and the respect with which his story deserves. You never responded to the email. I have it and I can forward it to you if you'd like. During the course of the interview, my uncle spent a long time explaining Hmong knowledge of bees in the mountains of Laos, not the hills of Thailand, but the mountains of Laos. You all edited it out. Robert Krulwich has the gall to say that I "monopolize" -- he who gets to ask the questions, has control over editing, and in the end: the final word. Only an imperialist white man can say that to a woman of color and call it objectivity or science. I am not lost on the fact that I am the only female voice in that story, and in the end, that it is my uncle and I who you all laugh on." -The Hmong guy's neice

Oct. 24 2012 02:34 AM
Brooke from Minnesota

I am a long time listener and lover of Radio Lab. When I heard that local author Kao Kalia Yang was part of the podcast I was thrilled. After listening to the podcast, I was disappointed in the blatant disregard for Mr. Eng's and the Hmong experience. Radio Lab's arrogant and self-serving mission to find their "truth" through interrogative questioning of Mr. Eng Yang come off as re-traumatizing a genocide survivor and can be likened to Holocaust deniers. After reading the Mr. Krulwich's insincere apology I felt sick to my stomach. Please send Mr. Krulwich to white privilege or diversity training before he insults more people.

Oct. 24 2012 01:47 AM
Don Qyuai

You win arguements by crying? So did my -ex. Good luck future. Me and my logic are just going to wait for death.

'You go girl!'

Oct. 23 2012 08:31 PM

I love you Radiolab, but I'm so glad Kao Kalia Yang published her response to this podcast: "... I am struck by how many times a podcast on truth can (be) doctored, to protect itself."

I am completely behind her analysis of this situation.

Oct. 23 2012 08:00 PM

long time listener and so upset about the blatant racism in this episode.

Oct. 23 2012 06:11 PM
D from Nyc

Shame on you radiolab, shame on you.

Oct. 23 2012 05:48 PM

Another find, a message from Eng Yang:

Oct. 23 2012 05:08 PM

The Yellow Fever episode was just a bit too disturbing for me. I can't even finish the podcast.

The interesting thing is that the Yellow Fever episode illustrates just how much RadioLab itself can miss the truth. For one, I don't see how the 2 scientists explain completely and without a doubt what the Hmong people were experiencing. I don't see their explanation as the whole truth, or the one and only truth.

Second, I think RadioLab truly missed the truth about what the 2 Hmong guests were trying to say. It was sad to listen to them because I felt like they were trying to explain their truth, the Hmong truth, but RadioLab was not listening. You didn't listen to their truth, which may not be measured by scientists, but can't be completely denied by scientists either.

I'm sorry to say that Mr. Krulwich's apoligy seemed a bit insincere. It was a "I'm sorry you reacted like that." I understand the idea that the goverment could have used Yellow Fever as an excused to create chemical weapons, but I think in a way you, Mr. Krulwich, seemed to belittle the pain of the Hmongs, for the sake of making your point. Perhaps this is how you use your craft, but I for one do not need to listen to a people's pain for the sake of proving your point. Your point did NOT need that last part of the interview. It didn't.

Oct. 23 2012 04:40 PM
npandey from New Jersey

I've listened to the many versions of this story, read the feedback and the statements released by those interviewed, and I am most struck by how dismissive RadioLab has been to the voices of discontent. I, in the past, have trusted RadioLab to provide me with unfiltered truth - objective truth - and that trust has been dashed.

I think a large step back to regaining that trust would be for RadioLab to examine it's own process, to delve into the subconscious undercurrents of the interviewers, their perspective, and their desired ends to determine how exactly this story got so sidetracked.

The Hmong story should be told, the "reality" should be examined - but until we face and own up to our subconscious barriers that prevent critical examination, the story will always seem filtered, and dishonest.

Oct. 23 2012 02:09 PM
Diane from MN

I've just read Kao Kalia Yang's response and I'm even more disappointed at how this story is about the truth but it's been amended 3 times to hide the racism and mistreatment of the Hmong subjects.

From Kao Kalia in response to WNYC: I just listened to the amended podcast this morning. I am struck by how many times a podcast on truth can (be) doctored, to protect itself.

This "Yellow Rain" story is not about truth or science. As many have said before, it's a story about white privilege and perpetuation and institutionalizing of racism.

Lastly, there hasn't been a direct public apology to Eng Yang, Kao Kalia Yang and the Hmong community.

The truth is not yet done with Radiolab, Robert, Jad, Pat, and WNYC.

Oct. 23 2012 01:15 PM
Diane from MN

The story was not about science or "truth" but how racism is created by a media elite and how it reinforced the racism of its listeners through the search for "truth" and "science." If Robert is genuinely interested in pursuing the truth and showing listeners the truth then release the full transcript. Those who really have something to hide here is Robert and Radiolab.

Oct. 23 2012 12:37 PM

Just found this: Kao Kalia Yang's (interpreter for the Yellow Rain piece) first response to "Yellow Rain"

Oct. 23 2012 11:30 AM

It's frustrating reading most of these comments. I'm a regular listener and just got around to listening to this episode. The "Yellow Rain" segment was fascinating and the ending was certainly something different, but at no point did I think "Oh man, Krulwich is being such an a-hole". If anything Ms. Yang crying and yelling at him was more out of line.

Call me insensitive, fine, but setting aside her Uncle's sad background, if a nation's weapon policy changed based on mistakes in classifying the yellow rain, then the truth is worth hearing. It's obvious (there's that word again) that no one set out to harm either of them, and it did lead to some amazing radio.

This is worth discussing, but there's no reason to demonize Robert. It's your right to be upset at Robert, but with so many of you threatening to never listen again, I must wonder whether you live in the same world I do.

Love the show Radiolab, looking forward to the next episode.

Oct. 22 2012 04:34 PM
Matt from Seattle

As a journalist, my take on the yellow rain episode is likely to be a bit different than some. It felt familiar. And my comment on it, perhaps like the show itself, is not apt to be popular.

Folks, that's how the sausage is made. The fact that you get to see it once it is all cased up and cured, beautiful and tasty does not change the fact that what goes on before a report hits the airwaves can be ugly.

What radio lab producers chose to do was brave if not questionable for their own popularity. They let you see their mistakes. Based on the comments of others, it seems there is a significant quantity of "don't do that again!" I didn't mind. Neither would I want them to always take this focus, but in this situation it made sense.

The show was on truth and truth is about knowing. For those of you who are afraid that the show got too away from science and too close to some sort of examination of humanity, deal with it. The sausage factory of truth and understanding are the place where journalism and science are born, where the real work is done.

Yes, it can be an ugly place where mistakes are made and people get hurt. That doesn't mean we should ignore the damage we do. We should try remedy it when possible, but it also means we need to turn the face of the mistakes forward --not to punish-- but so we can examine it and try to avoid making the same mistakes in the future.

The question of how we know what we know and where the limits extend is as much about science as the fun facts, the pithy observations and the surprising numbers that make up other science stories. I thank Radiolab for trying to think of creative ways to bring them to us.

Oct. 21 2012 05:55 PM

Krulwich says the issue of whether or not it was chemical warfare is important because it informed US cold war policy in the 80s. Then he acknowledged that this is not what is most important to the family he was interviewing but I think he missed the bigger point of her outburst. Their story is constantly told only as a part of an American or Soviet story. What he thinks is most important is whether or not there were chemicals because it affects an American story which then affects other people's stories too, but they think what is most important is what happened directly to them- not what American politicians and scientists conclude about it.

I have no idea whether or not Radiolab was misleading in requesting the interview. If they told the family that they wanted to discuss the controversy around the yellow rain and compare what scientists know with the uncle's firsthand account, then they were asking appropriate questions. If they just told the family that they wanted to hear their account of the yellow rain, then they were asking inappropriate questions. But I think this is irrelevant. Krulwich is not emotionally invested in this issue, and his job as a journalist doesn't just involve getting answers (these aren't public figures or people discussing their work- these are private people talking about personal trauma)- it involves treating people ethically. He had asked several follow up questions and made his point with the family already before they became so emotional. He did sound like a bully. It is clear that there was a point when he should have stopped, and he didn't.

But I don't think Krulwich really is a bully though he might be a little confused about why they were so upset. I think it just got out of hand, and that's going to happen sometimes. It was a mistake, that's all.

Oct. 18 2012 01:33 PM
Andrew from Portland, Oregon


I am a huge fan of your show, but I think you really missed the mark here. Radio Lab is supposed to be about science. This was much more of a human relations show. It veered from the thing you usually do interesting quirky pieces of science with the occasional highly-related fiction piece, into a land of the wishy-washy gray area of opinion.

The Yellow Rain piece was poorly thought out, poorly put together, and frankly abusive. I did not like the way you treated the lady in the interview and I did not like the fact that you chose to air her expressing her deep pain. Listening to a woman in tears is not what I want from my favorite "brain food while I am on the treadmill podcast".

Also, the final show seemed to be completely disconnected for the idea of science at all. It seemed like the kind of inconsequential fluff we get from the more skipable episodes of This American Life. We already have a this American Life. Please don't try to become TAL, stay focused on the science, stay relevant, stay funny. That shark you are cruising toward....please don't jump it.

Oct. 16 2012 12:35 PM

Yellow rain is crap. It did not happen. Robert was being a jerk, but he was in the right. They could have edited it to make him seem like he wasn't being a dick, but they didn't. The episode was about truth and, staying true to the theme they didn't attempt to obfuscate the manner in which the interview was conducted. It's a sort of shameful integrity. I'm cool with it.

Oct. 14 2012 03:10 AM
Diane from MN

The crux of why the "truth" in Yellow Rain is science fiction: it was decided by Robert that he has the power to dictate which truth is real. In reality, Robert was banal, self-delusional, removed from reality, and self-focused, as if he himself was the victim.

Another analysis of the Yellow Rain Radiolab story:

'...In the end, it always comes down to: “Her desire was to monopolize the story. And that we can’t allow.” ...Aside from him putting words in Kalia’s mouth, aside from taking complete ownership of what they said, interpreting their words for his own purposes (ironically enough, to express indignation that Kalia and Eng might take ownership of the story), there’s the idea that Robert has the power over what truth should be presented. That Radiolab will dictate where the story goes. The Hmong taking ownership of a story about the Hmong genocide, “that we can’t allow.” I’ll come back to this, because this is where storytelling dies its death on Radiolab.'


Oct. 13 2012 01:38 PM
brettski from Urbana, IL

What an interesting piece, and interesting comments! Wish I had the time to read them all. It seems that the mistakes that were made by the hosts (whether a result of miscomm or lapse in judgement) were at least partly rectified. Its refreshing to hear journalists be apologetic, especially when rectifying an insensitivity to traumatic loss. My heart goes out to Mr. Yang and the other people that went to hell and back during that time in history.

That said, I can't help but take a few minutes to pull away from writing my dissertation and comment on the science. Ask a bee biologist! In my experience (which I admit is well short of authoritative) the confusion that comes from these studies is not the results, its the interpretation of the results. While I haven't personally read the articles cited in this story, they sound like good science. Its quite possible that the yellow rain was poisonous to human health, that it contained pollen, and that it came from bees. The interpretations presented in the story, though, rely on some basic assumptions that are outside the scope of the studies cited, namely that:

-people manufactured the YR
-dropped it from airplanes
-it caused people to become ill and/or die
-bees never produce poisonous waste, or always do
-if YR was poisonous bee waste, it was natural

There are probably more, but these are some big ones. The radiolab hosts did what journalists do, asking people to think about the assumptions, especially those arising from interpretation of the science. They provided an alternative theory to what is commonly believed. Where they stopped short, in my opinion, was presenting it as the only alt theory. Mix and match your favorite assumptions and there are more combinations of theories than could be covered in a 60min program.

Want to narrow it down? Test each of the assumptions! For example, it is possible that all of the bombing back then led to the buildup of toxic substances in the environment. This is known to happen, as is the uptake and concentration of these things in animals. Bees gather nectar, lots and lots of it, from local sources and concentrate it down into honey and other things. Lately this process has led to incredibly high pesticide concentrations in U.S. beehives.

So its possible that the YR was bee waste, that it had become toxic to people when it wasn't before, and that it led to their suffering. And this doesn't assume that the bad guys (soviets or other) weren't behind it, that it wasn't intentional, etc. Ms. Yang's frustration sounded due to the questioning whether they were victims, not how they were victims. As it stands the evidence doesn't prove one way or the other how they were victims. But they were clearly victims, and their accounts should be taken seriously.

Oct. 12 2012 04:27 PM
Steve J. from Utah

I love RadioLab, but if what @Aaron says is true, WNYC should be taking some punitive action against the show. If that is true (and I believe it is), RK and the producer of that segment should be suspended for their poor judgment.

Oct. 12 2012 10:09 AM
Sam S. from Philadelphia, PA

I listened to your "truth" show on my way to work today and felt compelled to comment on it.

Since your show is an entertainment product, I don't really expect much from it in terms of truth and I've always enjoyed listening to the different points of view you present, but in this case, your show was about "truth" and the stories presented in it were about uncovering the truth.

The "yellow rain" story was a masterpiece of biased "journalism", bad science and malevolent storytelling.

You presented the story in a way that implied that the refugees were either lying, wrong or confused about what really happened to their people based on an analysis of a sample delivered by some refugees and an attack on the testimony of an old man.

Here's where I think you could have done a more through job:

1. The substance that was analyzed was collected by refugees and brought back for study. Did you ever consider that what was collected was actually not the "yellow rain" that caused the illness and deaths?

2. I assume bees aren't new to southeast Asia and that the villagers would have seen the bee mass pooping phenomenon once or twice before and at least have some idea of what it was

3. Maybe it was an editing issue, but with the above in mind it seemed like your story was about how old Mr. Eng can't remember the facts about what was probably the most traumatic part of his life, and not what it could have been about - how a poorly collected sample of a possible chemical weapon led to an escalation in the cold war (and maybe what interests where behind that)... now that's a story I would have wanted to hear. Attacking Mr. Eng like that is similar to attacking a holocaust survivor who couldn't remember if the gas used in the chambers was cyclone a or cyclone b.

I hope this isn't an indication of a decline in quality of your show...

Oct. 12 2012 09:45 AM

I critique that I happened across:

Oct. 11 2012 08:29 PM
andycg from Michigan

Why could he not have taken the picture sans cannonballs one day and come back after a battle the next day?
Couldn't soldiers have kicked the rocks down the hill or the Earth be shaken by fodder, thereby rolling the rocks downhill??
Is something missing here?

Oct. 07 2012 10:35 PM
Rebecca Kimmel from Havertown, PA

I am an avid supporter of you radio show. Your careful examination often challenges me to look beyond the obvious, easy explanations of events and stories and discover hidden complexity and beauty. Many times your show has compelled me to re-evaluate my values based on the implications of your explorations. In the last show, the topic of "truth" was prefaced by this recurrent theme, that is, true explanations exist, although concealed by asking the wrong questions or lacking sufficient evidence. Further, poor science can be used to manipulate and cause terrible destruction of human life.

The presentation on "yellow rain" missed the mark on this theme in several ways. Science must be objective, untainted by human emotions and agendas. However, putting a victim and survivor "on trial" for what the eyewitness believed he witnessed is not fair and borders on cruelty. His observations, even if skewed by the chaos of war, does not invalidate them. Just as a scientist should describe only what he or she observed, that is what your guest did. His firsthand account to a terrible war atrocity serves as truth which is embodied in the subjective experience. He did not have the liberty of the scientific process amongst death and destruction, but a memory snapshot. Analogously, in clinical settings patients tell their symptoms which are later pitted against diagnostic tests and physical signs of pathology. Symptoms sometimes coincide with a true diagnoses and sometimes not. In either case, a patient should not experience incredulity of his or her experience by their physicians.

The truth that was missed, embodied in the emotion of the Hmong Ms. Yang, was that her people were massacred and mainly forgotten. She had a story to tell with greater truth and purpose than the particulars of bee defecation and subsequent misuse of science. And this truth, the truth of abandonment by the U.S. after Hmong soldiers who fought for them and bloody genocide that followed, has implications just as great as the manipulation of yellow rain used to create bombs.

I felt the the guests were exploited, pitting the survivor against "facts" impossible to be refuted, and unfairly implying that they used this story to serve an agenda. Indeed, they were the unlucky recipients of another agenda, that is to expose the U.S.'s manipulation of "yellow rain".

I believe both guests deserve an apology.

Oct. 07 2012 09:04 PM
dov Spinks from Australia

Dear Radiolab, I'd like to commend Robert, Jad, Pat, & whomever else had a hand in producing the Yellow Rain segment. I apologise if this sentiment has been previously voiced (I haven't read all 128 comments) but I really must say:
The inclusion of Ms Yang's emotional outpouring in the podcast was some of the bravest radio I've ever heard.
As a humble antipodean postie, I heard Robert's querying the level of first-hand experience of Mr Yang as a simple editorial delving into the legitimacy of information - basically what the entire show was all about. I also heard Ms Yang's frustration and ire, and was genuinely moved by the rawness of it. My personal opinion is that there was a simple miscommunication, and Ms Yang & RL were at crossed-purposes as to what the shows main subject was to be.
Nevertheless, the broadcasting of her outburst and termination of the interview was an honourable decision, and could not but help advance recognition of the historical plight of the Hmong people.
Though the show digressed in topic; well done Radiolab, in your quest for truth.
Also, the other segments were as insightful and amusing as usual, thankyou to all the team.

Oct. 07 2012 04:50 AM
JR from San Diego, CA

I do not believe the Yellow Rain segment ever intended to explore or expose the intricacies of the US involvement in Southeast Asia. Neither do I believe its intention was to validate or negate the very real suffering of Hmong, Laotian, and Vietnamese survivors. I do not believe the Radiolab team so obtuse as to attempt to address those topics in a 20 minute segment flanked by two lighter-hearted segments and believe they had done it justice. They simply would never do that and should not be judged as though they had.

The team did err, however, in believing it could narrowly address only one detail of the larger story and get sufficient non-answers for a pithy 20 minute segment that fit into the episode's relative truth narrative. The topic choice was simply too charged and too complex. The team obviously took on more than was appropriate for the format, and I believe that became clear to the producers and hosts as the piece progressed. In this they actually made their point, with producer Pat Walters admitting the team had missed something- the search for truth is apparently more convoluted than they'd thought and it cannot be contained in a predetermined narrative. Even in our age of objective scientific investigation the truth can be complex and emotion matters.

The producers certainly anticipated the negative response to the segment and could easily have replaced it with something more benign. They could have left out the emotional exchange with Ms. Yang in favor of an easier-to-swallow segment. Instead, they realized it was precisely their own missteps and her poignant plea for justice long overdue which best proved their point about the search for truth. Particularly for Robert Krulwich- who was admittedly "harsh" - choosing to air a piece in which he conducts himself with such gross insensitivity could not have been easy. This leads me to believe that while the final product is not what they or the Yang's had hoped, the Radiolab team actually got it right.

Thank you to Mr. and Ms. Yang for your willingness to share your story and for being a part of such an important dialogue. Thank you to the Radiolab team for your authenticity and for keeping the art of radio very much alive.

Oct. 07 2012 03:05 AM

My mistake, it is 140MB. Still pretty huge by MP3 standards. Are you providing us with superior sound quality then? Would be nice if it were less than 40MB.

Oct. 06 2012 11:05 PM

Why is this download 400MB? Is there a compressed MP3 file available?

Oct. 06 2012 08:34 PM
Mary Catherine

The Hmong episode made me sob. That poor woman--broke my heart. In the search for truth, can we do a more robust search into what happened? Because, obviously, something did.

Oct. 05 2012 01:11 PM

to ellie from st. louis: it's called opus 23 by dustin o'halloran -

Oct. 05 2012 01:11 PM

This was a great one! I enjoyed hearing John Fahey in the background briefly as well.

Oct. 05 2012 11:43 AM
Ellie from St. Louis

What was the piano music used at the end of the Errol Morris piece? It's beautiful. I'd like to download it.

Oct. 05 2012 10:40 AM
Adam from Los Angeles

I tune in to radio lab for interesting fresh stories about the world around us. Dismissing the death of village to the survivors clearly crossed a line. I hate to say it, but it looks like the interview's ego is clouding his judgement.

Oct. 04 2012 11:53 AM
Corey Fischer

This discussion is as fascinating and unsettling as the episode, one of RL's finest. For me the whole point of the show was to unpack our assumptions about fact, truth and ways of knowing. The Yellow Rain story is, I think, the most powerful radio I've ever heard. I was struck by the uncomfortable silences that Jad, Robert et al incorporated into the surprising turns in the narrative. I feel that the RL team was courageous in exposing their own confusion, letting us hear them not know what to say when the Hmong interviewees broke the frame of the interview and refused the narrative that was being imposed on their experience. In that painful moment, more was revealed about different modes of knowing, about the huge tension between the view that "truth" is multiple and mutable and the view that absolute, "objective" truths exist and can be discovered by rigorous investigation. I know of few other programs, publications, venues in our culture where the producers or writers are willing to hang out with paradox, with not knowing, to question their own biases, conditioning and subjectivity. In Radio Lab's research, the experimenters are part of the experiment. The episode left me feeling humbled. The Hmongs' undeniable pain, their refusal to go along with RL's apparent agenda, revealed a completely different story than the one I thought I was being told. I thank Radio Lab for helping me toward a more generous understanding of life on Earth.

Oct. 04 2012 04:17 AM
Parker from Oklahoma City, OK

This episode was emotional to say the least. But I want to pose a question. Couldn't everyone involved be right? I mean what if the leaf really did have bee poo on it and yet, what if Mr. Yang experienced something totally different? Isn't there the unmentioned assumption that what was on the leaf was the same thing that Mr. Yang saw? If we don't really have a leaf or something that was saved from the day that his horrible experience took place then wouldn't it be best to say that what actually occurred that day, based on the evidence we have, is at best inconclusive?

Also, I love the show. Keep up the good work guys.

Oct. 03 2012 08:13 PM
Yana from La Jolla, CA

I thought Errol Morris set a very high par for truth finding. He went far and above until all evidence was exhausted. This first interview set a very serious investigative tone and high expectations for the second story. As a result, the conclusions reached by the second story were a let down. Only a single person who had been there was interviewed, and other possible explanations were not explored. In addition, the show did not acknowledge that the Hmong people were not strangers to their land - if yellow rain had existed before the war, they would have known about it. Is yellow rain still known to exist in the areas? The show placed much more faith with lab results even after showing how faulty lab science was at the time. Other theories could have included Agent Orange, for example, which was sprayed thoroughly throughout SE Asia for some time before that. I think this topic requires a re-visit and a larger investigation for it to be considered part of a truth-finding mission.

Oct. 03 2012 03:54 PM
Anders from Denmark

This was a truly disrespectful interview. Radiolab displays their lack of sensitivity to the people they interviewed. Also a great disrespect to the history of these people. There are many ways to ask questions, but asking a survivor of a genocide to admit mistake were made is just outrageous. Radioman asked, they answered, and it turned to interrogation and stubbornness from a podcast scientist.

@ I thought that you Robert, had more manners, and more class. I was wrong about that. It's about good manners and being a good person. You can express your scientific opinion after the interview.

Insteàd you acted like a child and wanted this survivor to tell you we're right and that no chemical weapons was used against him and his people.


Oct. 03 2012 06:17 AM
Adam D from Tokyo

A peer told me of this episode. He sounded very upset about the story and about the points of Robert. Before listening, I read some of the comments that people had left. I then read Jad's apology. Then I listened. I hear the points that radiolab makes. These deaths could have been caused by something else but due to the context of the situation, we should not rule it out unless there is more evidence against it.

Many times when listening I have painted the DJ's as playing a good cop bad cop routine. I think it is usually a successful approach, and it's often entertaining.

The difficulty of language limitation is at play here. Unless one is fluent in both Moung and English, we are unable to hear both sides of what was said in this interview. Robert's point about it being here say in one light could just be suggesting that more evidence is necessary. Cultural differences and understanding of spoken tenor, cadence, and tone may have translated a bit differently. I am interested to know more about this subject.

Speaking of the pain of others is never an easy thing to do. Jad's point about the Moung people never having been mourned is spot on. Imagine how the Jews would feel if the camps were covered up after WWII, with only verbal record of the instances. Imagine how many other times similar scenarios have probably played out on our violent earth...

Oct. 03 2012 01:22 AM

you guys are AMAZING.


Oct. 02 2012 01:13 AM
Jprati from New Haven, Connecticut

Gross insensitivity aside, I found the conclusions reached in act 2 to be premature, precarious, and presumtuous. with such little material evidence collected from ground zero, countless alternate plausible explainations could be conceived that might corroborate the numerous vivid testimonies of eye witnesses. In science, the only thing worse than subjectivity is false objectivity.

Radiolab is one of those things in life that really makes me happy, but I also find myself regularly disappointed by its utter lack of humility and grace as it supposedly seeks to find truth in this beautifully complex world.

Oct. 01 2012 05:22 PM
Crystal Kelliher from Greenfield MA

I work from home as an artisan and listen to alot of public radio through my day. I have been listening to radio lab for the past year and am sometimes engaged in interesting questions but often have to turn it off. This Yellow Rain episode is the last episode I will listen to. I find the Radio Lab stories often graphic, unfeeling and sometimes exploitative and end up in tears due to the priveledged, academic, out of touch and scientific commenting on very sensitive and subjective stories of human tragedy . The episode involving the recorded confession of a serial killer also comes to mind along with others. You've lost a listener.

Oct. 01 2012 12:06 PM
Hli from California

I am a Hmong person with no memory of the Vietnam War. But my parents bear the souls of those they have loss in their memories forever. Kao Kalia and her uncle are not ignorant beings who deserved to be presented as such. RadioLab did a great injustice to force Eng to accept their theory that no chemical weapon had been used. There is no definate proof that there was no chemical warfare involved in the deaths of so many people during this time. With so many witnesses able to testify at the consequences of the Yellow Rain and it's affects upon those that it touched, something is lacking here. This so-called truth was inconclusive! Something did happen! The Yellow-Rain did cause great deaths! The truth that needs to be sought is how the bee poop tested free of chemical poisoning in the aftermath? Could there have been some sort of chemical weapon that dissipated within a timeframe? What happened? how did the Yellow Rain kill animals, people? This truth is still a mystery and so I am not impressed with the conclusions these guys came. The show also cut out a whole 1.5 to 2 hours of bullying and probing by the hosts of the show before causing Kao Kalia to break down. Yet, they wanted it to look as though Kao Kalia and her uncle are just too immersed in with their emotions due to the sufferings of their people. Tricking someone to agree to interview is also very LOW!

Oct. 01 2012 01:22 AM

I think in many ways this is the best episode of Radiolab yet, because its the first to really hit hard with the intangibleness of human emotions against rationality and fact. Everyone here seems to be focusing on the middle Yellow Rain act, which definitely says about what it did to their heart strings, but I also think the other two acts which were quite deep as well. Radiolab at its heart, at least to me, is about broadening horizons and questioning assumptions. The very fact that this is so controversial and enraging to listeners really says something about the kind questions being examined. What happened in act two with the Hmong interview I think questioned and challenged Jad and Robert exactly how it is best to approach such issues. I think they learned a valuable lesson and will change their approach in the future, but that it was still a very insightful interview for everyone involved.

I think a follow up short or essay further delving into how things were mended and resolved between Eng/Kalia with Radiolab. This might ease lots of apprehensions on this story, and relieve and calm people down, allowing to further think about the implications of everything said.

Sep. 30 2012 06:45 PM
Dara from Georgia

First, thank you for your honesty in airing this interview even though it exposed conflict between Radiolab and the interviewees. It sounds like you have already done a lot of reflecting on how it went and it really shook all of you and made you wonder, "Were we right to do the interview that way?" I'm sure that same inner voice has suggested that an apology is in order. And in this case, it absolutely is. Can you call the interviewees back and apologize?

This story was a good reminder to me and to many of us: When we are talking to someone who has suffered a great loss, our only job is to listen. Evaluating experiences and evidence to weigh different stories is fine, but should be done later -- there is no place for it when someone is sharing their loss with us.

Sep. 30 2012 02:54 PM

Thanks for another thought provoking episode Radiolab!

Sep. 30 2012 02:32 PM

One last thing and then I'm done. Go ahead, put the Reagan Administration and the Reagan Doctrine on trail, fine by me. Just don't think that re-traumatizing a Hmong genocide survivor is the way to do it. What you did was insensitive, lazy and unethical journalism. To make amends, I have a few suggestions: How about you sponsor a panel in New York and include members of the AAJA on the panel to discuss the ethics of Yellow Rain and how you went about it? Or how about upload the original interview & transcript with Ed Yang to let your listeners decide whether the line of questioning was appropriate? Or how about let Kalia post a response herself? Or how about Robert post a response rather than Jad? There are so many better, more ethical ways this could and still be handled. What makes me sad is that you're probably just digging your heels and feel no remorse for this. You think your "gut-churning" is telling you that you did something right. Your gut is wrong--very wrong. Listen to you heart and your conscience. They may have a better answer for you. This is the time to listen to your listeners. Do not selectively tune them out.

Sep. 30 2012 08:49 AM
Ruth from north Brunswick, nj

I was dismayed to hear the cultural misunderstanding develop between the interviewers and the Hmong witness and his interpreter. It was extremely gutsy of you to put it there on the radio anyway. This segment and the slinky episode are two of the most fantastic pieces of radio I've ever heard. There's a wonderful book called _The Spirit Catches You And You Fall Down_ that chronicles a similar misunderstanding between a deeply caring Hmong family and some well meaning California physicians. If you read it, it might give you a little more peace about how the interview session turned out. In any case, very brave and compelling segment. My husband and I are regular podcast listeners and were greedily devour and discuss every new episode. I treasure our many Fascinating hours-long discussions prompted by Radiolab topics.

Sep. 30 2012 08:00 AM
Rodrigo Teixeira from Rio de Janeiro

Well, in defence of Radiolab I must say that the process of finding the truth is almost never "pain free" and that by exploring the nature of that yellow rain, they did, if nothing else, shine a light on the confusion and disorientation that war brings on its victims, therefore, doing justice to those two people.

Sep. 30 2012 12:27 AM

The trouble with science communication to a lay public all wrapped up in one podcast.

If (as some commenters are claiming) the producers were trying to convince
the audience that their, and only their, truth is 'absolute' (which would have been the better option in a business sense) they would have edited out the emotional anecdotes to keep listeners onside. It is well known in the
psychological science that people are more likely to 'believe' a perspective presented in an emotional anecdote over empirical evidence. It seems that the testimonials that they left in were far too strong to be balanced by empirical evidence in the minds of the listeners.

If the producers only want the audience to see their 'truth', then leaving in these testimonials shows that they are either ignorant of research into the persuasive power of heuristics, or, they knew that these anecdotes could backfire horribly and decided to show the emotional side of the story anyway.

Either way, by showing the emotional side, the producers allowed the audience to think for themselves which, (in my opinion) is what Radiolab has always been about. Not a great business decision for the show but it has managed to generate discussion, and in the words of philosopher David Hume...

..."truth springs from arguments amongst friends."

After all, isn't that what this episode is about?

Sep. 30 2012 12:17 AM

One more amazing radiolab

Sep. 29 2012 09:37 PM
Kalaine from Goshen, Indiana

Ugh - I can't believe that I have to write this. I have never heard a Radiolab that did not intrigue, inform and entertain me. I have, until this episode, lauded most of the work that you do.

The peice on yellow rain was shameful, though. From my understanding, listening to the peice, producers misinformed an interveiwee and used the pain that inspired to make a point. I could not believe what I was hearing. You owe that pair a story of their history - you tricked them and it was ugly.

Plus, your theory of different truths does not stand up to reason. The truth of the biological warfare as it was found in the US has nothing to do with the truth of a shared reality for large groups of people. Officials concocted the biological warfare story - that does not mean that hundreds of people were not being poisoned SOMEWHOW.

I really cannot believe how sensationalistic and incredible yellow rain was - it's like I'm going to have to listen for trickery - for ratings? for what? - from hear on out. Ugh.

Sep. 29 2012 08:40 PM

sigh... I was hoping to write only one post. It is worth mentioning that the may NPR story was written in 2011...

Sep. 29 2012 08:30 PM

The bees on Robert's Facebook page are a reference to an NPR story he did in May. The picture can be seen in the link below. Cover photo was updated slightly later in June.

NPR story written in May with bees

Sep. 29 2012 08:13 PM
Anonymous wimp from El aye

Ha ha! TAL's Glass risks his own credibility loaning his prestigious pals to plucky-upstart RL -- this show makes clear what a class act Morris is and how his approach is the antithesis of RL's seat-of-the-pants method for building narratives. All the FX editing in the world cannot make the Yellow Rain chapter anything other than what it is: inept handling of the material, poor research, lousy journalism and excellent audio editing. Abumrad -- write songs and do music -- you're frustrated and it shows -- you don't really care about science to be any good at reporting it -- old guy Krulwhich: get a blog and reinvent yourself as a Lefty Rush -- you're too unhip to survive without young guy Jad sidekick.

Sep. 29 2012 05:59 PM
Diane from MN

Fact: Paul Hillmer is a historian who lives and teaches in St. Paul, MN. He's written a book about the Hmong's recent history as well. This is an article of Hillmer when he launched his book in the Hmongtimes, a local Hmong newspaper.

Paul is not a random person.

Sep. 29 2012 08:51 AM
Paul from St. Paul, MN

@ Dan

"Science journalism is different from all other kinds of journalism in that scientists are to be believed over other people."
As I said, the serious reservations about the bee crap theory come from an Ivy League scientist, not a layperson. The reason the person's name is not being shared is because they are in the employ of the State Department, who did not allow this person to be interviewed. But Pat, Jad, and Robert knew about this person's work and simply chose not to include it, not because it was flat-earther anti-rationalist claptrap, but because it didn't fit into their pre-conceived, subjective narrative. What's empirical about that?

Sep. 29 2012 12:52 AM


Paul is not "random dude on Internet" but a historical scholar-phd-with expertise and personal relationships with those interviewed in this story. I hope you were referring to yourself. Believing "rationality" is anything but a European invention is insulting to older wisdom in older cultures.

Sep. 28 2012 09:55 PM

@ Aaron

Post Modernist thought is boring. Obviously everyone has their own perspective, in science that is called bias and is reduced as much as possible through the scientific method and peer review. Just because science happened to be formalized in the west, doesn't make it western as a method of thought. That is incredibly insulting to non-western people that they somehow cannot understand how to think rationally. Science is intrinsically rational. I know this is hard for Americans to hear because you have been raised since you were knee high to value individual opinion, but opinions are not equal.

Don't confuse the questions of did attacks happen? and were chemical weapons used? Survivor accounts are the correct method for determining if attacks happened, and no one is questioning that or the suffering. The fact that the attacks aren't well publicized and most of the the world remains ignorant of them is unfortunate. Although not surprising given abandoning allies is contradictory to the popular narrative within America of exceptionalism. That has no bearing on whether chemical weapons were used. That is a legal question based on the definition of chemical weapons and needs to be answered through scientific investigation.

As for reading comments, clearly random dude on an internet thread is less likely to have fully viewed the literature than Phds in relevant areas of study. I looked up academic surveys of the studies that have been done on yellow rain on google scholar, the most recent one I found being from 2010 in Thailand and there is not proof that weapons were used according to them.

Sep. 28 2012 07:17 PM

You obviously haven't read the comments
By Paul and others that show how the "science"
Of this show alone is disputed and incomplete
Within the "scientific" community, for whatever
That's worth.

Also, do you think science is not produced
By humans? That it is of some grander intelligence?
Or Are you saying that western intelligence
Is greater than indigenous and other intelligences
That are their own, formed over thousands of years,
Forms of "science"?

Sep. 28 2012 06:05 PM

@ Paul

Science journalism is different from all other kinds of journalism in that scientists are to be believed over other people. The majority opinion among scientists is the rational opinion. The normal methods of journalistic balance are often misapplied to science which is how global warming, vaccine safety, and the validity of evolution end up becoming issues. Is science always right? No. But it has the best chance of being right. Science is organized empiricism. Science is the greatest institution humankind has ever created, bar none. I wouldn't think radiolab listeners would need this explained to them, I guess it is an indication that the audience for the show has expanded.

Sep. 28 2012 05:39 PM
Paul from St. Paul, MN

In response to Kalan from Mobile, AL

I would offer the opposite perspective. As has already been posted, Radiolab excluded scientific analysis that calls the bee crap theory into question. They didn't go into the interview with the Yangs LOOKING for the truth. They went into the interview thinking they OWNED the truth and then used it to belittle and berate their "guests." There was absolutely nothing journalistic about it.

Sep. 28 2012 02:44 PM
Kalan from Mobile, AL

I thought that this was a strong episode, especially the yellow rain portion and I agree with Suvesh P from Boston on the thread below who says perfectly the way I feel about the host's differing reactions. I have no doubt that Jad, Robert and Pat made sure that they didn't mean anything personal by their line of questioning (whether that portion was recorded or not) but there is a journalistic duty to cut through emotion and find the truth if possible--something that is obviously difficult to do and is the point of that story and this episode. Should we fault them for trying to do that? I think we should congratulate them for resisting the urge to edit that part of the story out and for showing as many sides of the "truth" as they could. It's not easy to listen to, but it's part of the truth.

Sep. 28 2012 01:37 PM

Another account of the history of this matter from academics in Thailand. An interesting fact that did not appear in the show is that there is a second possible source for mysterious yellow powder.

"About that time, there also appeared stories from the field that our then adversaries in Vietnam started to use yellow artillery marking powder captured from US Forces and designed to be sprayed from aircraft to mark enemy locations as artillery targets during the Vietnam War. Spreading such yellow dust over a Khmer Rouge or Hmong military encampment never failed to cause panic as the “Yellow Rain” story had became generally known via radio on both sides of the fronts. It thus became an effective “psychological weapon” for Vietnamese field commanders. "

Sep. 28 2012 07:45 AM
Dan from Ukraine

I think the listeners that think the Yellow Rain segment was good should speak up. People like to say when they are angry, lets see more support on here. In a show about Truth, that segment clearly shows how one situation can have multiple truths. I would suggest to the offended people that had no previous knowledge use that offense constructively and do research into the topic and maybe work towards telling the story from the perspective you want it told from. Semantics is important, the entire point of democracy is rule of law, not men, so what laws say matter and who controls definitions matter. What is a Chemical Weapon is an important debate, and it should be carried out logically. Suffering is horrible, Sadness and anger are the proper responses. This story shows were those two truths intersect and we are left with the ethical debate of which is the "real Truth." They both are, and the story shows that. Good job Radiolab. Especially Robert, I know Jad gets credit for a lot, but you are the teeth of the show that makes it really worth listening to. I tend to agree with Jad more, which is exactly why Robert is the reason I like the show so much. I like to hear opinions and views and questions I would not think of or ask, but are legitimate and well thought out even if often uncomfortable.

Sep. 28 2012 05:56 AM

"yellow rain" sounds a lot like agent orange:

which truly is a chemical weapon that was dropped on laos and other places too

Sep. 28 2012 02:23 AM

I am very disappointed by this episode. Perhaps next time you should get all your facts in line and tell the intervewees everything that you're going to be discussing. Not only did you humiliate that man and his niece but you made it seem that that man was a liar for what he witnessed. Not to mention your hosts showing a lack of empathy. Put yourself in those man's shoes and understand what he went through before being so callus.

Sep. 28 2012 01:50 AM
Ethan from South Pasadena, CA

My question after listening to this controversial episode is exactly what did Radiolab ask them in to discuss. If they said the piece would be just on the yellow rain then I don't think they were out of line in asking about the rain and its authenticity, and the guests tried to make it into an issue they weren't in to discuss. On the other hand she kept saying that they agreed to come to interview to talk about the deaths of their people, so if Radiolab invited them in without telling them what the piece was about and just said it was about their people, I think Radiolab is in the wrong for misleading them into thinking the interview wasn't about just the yellow rain.

Otherwise I really liked the episode, its amusing to see an episode on the multiple truths of a topic be argued from so many sides. Can't wait for your next episode one way or another.

Sep. 28 2012 12:47 AM


Again, I was at the Hmong side of the phone interview and unless Pat and Krulwich weren't there while they were bullying Eng, they knew full well that he was telling them things that would make the conclusion that it was bee poop much harder to sell.

Also, Eng WAS there, or do you imagine he is not somebody? While they interviewed him I heard his testimony, and then I heard it again, and then again. because for some reason, Radiolab didn't want to accept his story, and then they decided to leave it out.

Unfortunately none of the interpretation of this was heard on the show (apparently the Hmong that explains this was), but I have to tell you, I was there in the interview, so were the producers, and Eng WAS there during the war, in the jungle, seeing these things happen, as were thousands of other Hmong folk with similar testimonies.

If you mean something different by "none of us was there" please inform. I also suggest you spend some time reading the thoughtful comments by individuals who know much more about this subject than the producers of radiolab bothered to even learn. See "Matt from Maryland" or "Paul from St. Paul" in the comments in the Yellow Rain Segment, or Jad's poor excuse for a response.

Sep. 27 2012 11:11 PM
Boz from gaithersburg MD

Because none of us were there, and no one has difinitive facts; The Yellow Rain piece stands as an emotionally charged question, and a bit of great awkward Radio. This show can't always be perfectly factual, no more than any other piece of "media" can be. Media is media, we all realize facts in the first person, not on TV or Radio. That's a fact.

Sep. 27 2012 08:11 PM
stevie ray from Vienna Austria

What a powerful and haunting episode.
To be quite honest I did not think that this Radiolab was going to where it went, and I think it went outside of many listeners comfort zones.
It is controversial, for sure, but this really was one of the most powerful pieces of journalism I have ever heard on a radio show. It took the show to a whole new level.

I think the "Yellow Rain" story was so disturbing because, let's face it, it put scientific facts and evidence up against people's memories and emotions, and in those memories are probably false.
(And everybody seems to be harping on Robert, but he makes a valid point, the "Yellow Rain" incident and the suffering of the Hmong people was cynically exploited by the Reagan Administration to re-start the American chemical weapons program.)

Sep. 27 2012 08:06 PM
Puglisi, Sarah from Oxnard, CA

I have been trying to put into words why I find your topics interesting but feel this distant annoying chalkboard scratching-like feeling when I listen. I attributed it actually to the flippancy. But after listening to this episode I saw it differently. In the interview over "Yellow Rain" I put myself in the position of someone who had experienced the sheer terror of a horrible situation essentially being "used" so you could "tell your story." And there you are not worrying a single little synapse about whether or not you "did no harm" or added to a person's pain or sense of this misery as unseen and uncared for in the world.
It was such a blatantly unfeeling piece that I have decided to take a break from Radiolab.

I know there are other podcasts where the investigation of something doesn't preclude just giving a damn.

And then to hear your interviewer imply that this young woman was "manipulating" -over his growing some compassion.

I have a suggestion.
Step back and do a series of shows around compassion and what that might look like, feel like, sound like.
Listen to your own words and have others listen to this program as a starting point.
Because frankly as it stands you are making, unintentionally, the best case I've heard in a long while about the blindness of science. And the dangers of losing something very important.
An awareness of another and their feelings.

Really, bad show, poor.
Don't think I can hear your voices for a long time. Truth.....wasn't a part of what I took from that meanness.

Sep. 27 2012 07:27 PM
Sara Mosher from Chapel Hill, NC

I feel so disappointed in Radiolab this week. Please be more emotionally sensitive in your interviews. I am ashamed of your behavior. I felt truly astonished when Robert came out arguing with them about the truth in their terrible experiences - when he should've just gathered facts and accounts and left the speculation for after the interview was finished. Saying "Well I'm not convinced and this is why" once the girl and her uncle were off the phone would have been one thing, and would have accomplished the same thing in a more tactful manner. I think I'll be taking a break from listening for a while. I just can't imagine listening to your voices without feeling upset after this one.

Sep. 27 2012 06:16 PM
Paul from St. Paul, MN

The Radiolab folks were behaving in this episode as if they had the THE truth about yellow rain because Merle Pribbenow, Matthew Meselson, and Thomas Seeley all agree. They led us to conclude that the bee crap case is ironclad. But Radiolab has an obligation to tell us if there are credible alternative perspectives based on science or eyewitness accounts. They gave us the latter, but in truncated, really CENSORED form. As Aaron and others have already told us, Eng kept saying that the Hmong kept bees, understood their habits, and certainly knew what bee poop looked like. But Radiolab said nothing.
Second, Radiolab was given access to an Ivy League-trained scientist (Krulwich, after all, suggests that we should choose between a Harvard-educated scientist or a superstitious, traumatized old man) who found significant fault with the bee crap theory. There are questions about delays between collection and analysis. The ability to detect trichothecenes in a potential sample (to say nothing of determining whether one has a valid sample) greatly diminishes over time, since the substance would degrade, especially if improperly stored. Some have even suggested that mycotoxins metabolize so quickly through the body that they would disappear within weeks of an attack. Then there are verified maladies suffered by the Hmong that cannot be explained by naturally-occurring phenomena. There are other arguments, but my point is that while the State Department wouldn’t clear an interview with this person, Radiolab had access to the work, summaries of it from others, and an individual familiar with it. Radiolab INTENTIONALLY OMITTED this material.
Why? I have no idea. But without absolute certainty, which Krulwich and company CLAIM to have but DO NOT have, they have no business going to Eng and Kao Kali Yang and verbally pistol-whipping them the way they did. Most people just think that Robert was cruel and callous. No. The story as a whole was flawed.
Finally, I feel terrible because I had a role to play in this train wreck of a story. The person that Radiolab couldn’t interview sent them on to me, and I put them in touch with Kao Kalia Yang, confident that Radiolab would take the story seriously and do its usual bang-up job. I was clearly wrong and deeply regret enabling people who felt so comfortable jumping to conclusions and demeaning fellow human beings. When I sent Pat a very testy e-mail about this, his excuse was that they didn’t have permission to interview Meselson’s critic. Apparently, unless someone could spoon-feed the information to them on tape, they felt no obligation to represent their very credible findings in some other way. Ridiculous.

Sep. 27 2012 06:04 PM
Britt from Seattle, WA

I should also add: Please stop using the term "translate". There was NO translation here, there was INTERPRETING. Interpreting is conveying something verbally. Translating is conveying something in writing. Ms. Yang was acting as an interpreter, not a translator. It is maddening in this industry for the media to continually use the wrong terminology. Radiolab - you are too interested in accuracy to continue making this mistake.

Sep. 27 2012 05:29 PM
Britt from Seattle, WA

One of the key mistakes here was a complete violation of interpreting standards. A friend or family member who has a connection to the interview or to the subject matter should never be used. Ever. And a professional interpreter should never insert themselves into the conversation. I understand the niece's desire to protect her uncle, which is especially important given the cultural undertones that were clearly unexplored, but it was not her place to jump in to the conversation when she was not present at the incident being described. Any professional interpreter would never have done that. And a professional interviewer should not have accepted her being in that role. In the future, Radiolab, when you use an interpreter, it needs to be an unbiased professional, and never a friend or family member. Ever.

That being said, Jad's approach was to broach the possibility to Mr. Hong that there is another source of the yellow rain. Instead of outlining the findings, he took it upon himself to point out the ways in which the findings differed from Mr. Hong's experience - this isn't an unusual interview approach. What the interview is missing is trying to take Mr. Hong's experience and think about it as the truth instead. He is being asked to speak for his people and experiences and his story is ultimately dismissed in light of government testing.

Jad never speculates about the government testing. What if a bio-weapon could degrade and leave only a trace of ordinary composites? What if there wasn't a mistake in the first lab when the sample was fresher? What if...? Where was the complete investigation if this is indeed a show about fact?

Sep. 27 2012 04:30 PM
Diane from MN

For those listeners who think this was a great story and very emotional, I want to say to you that if you understood Hmong you would feel differently. The editors of Radiolab are counting on your ignorance of the Hmong language in order for them to deliver the powerful story you heard. The mistreatment of the subjects is beyond the pale. They took out his entire interview and kept the most emotional part of it when his interpreter was trying so hard to speak for him so they can tell a story of an ulterior agenda by Yang and his interpreter. Yang also repeatedly said, in Hmong in the story, he knows what bee feces look like and these were not bee fecal matter. Rather than using some time to explain this, the editors expect you to not know this was in the cut so they spent the rest of the show discussing their reaction to the interview for the sake of “transparency” which doubled as good radio storytelling. Additionally, Yellow Rain occurred in multiple places with similar impact on the refugees but the editors won’t tell you this “truth” because it conflicts with their pre-concieved narrative. You were entertained with science fiction; there was no science in this story and two people and entire group of people’s experience have just been dismissed like holocaust deniers claiming the holocaust didn’t happen. If they are the brave journalists claim to be then they should’ve pursued a former Reagan politician and the Russians for a response to the new scientific finding. Instead they picked an easy target in a Yellow Rain survivor for to create a cheap sensational science fiction story.

Sep. 27 2012 02:36 PM
Chitra from Brooklyn

Very disturbing. I have loved this show, and I am saddened to see the lack of understanding amongst the staff of what the Hmong interviewees were saying. I feel their pain was used as a platform for the kind of sardonic-white-guy discourse and banter that is one of the main arteries of this show, and ti reinscribe the heirarchical reason/emotion dichotomy. I would have tried to resolve this some other way if I were pursuing this set of questions for my own creative project.

Sep. 27 2012 02:25 PM
Nicholas Klos from Milton, WI

This episode delivered exactly what I come to radiolab for. I have been pacing my kitchen deep in thought. While I prefer such times of contemplation to be about scientific ideas or philosophical quandaries, it is important to feel the truth of the human experience. This episode, from the "annoyance" of attempted unveiling of truth (section 1) to the trauma that comes with the denial of what you perceive truth to be, it makes you think.
While I hope for more scientific ideas in the future, and I would not rate this as one of my favorite episodes, I still felt that it was powerful and made me think. Thank you for that.

Sep. 27 2012 01:25 PM

Dear Radiolab,

Maybe this will help put it in some clearer context for you? The irony that this is from an NPR blog ...

Sep. 27 2012 01:12 PM
Diane from MN

I just checked Robert Krulwich's FB page, after another commenter said his FB banner has dancing bees on it, and I am just flabbergasted with his lack of sensitivity. It's not like FB put banner pictures on FB pages, this is done deliberately and intentionally by the owner of the FB page. Folks, if you want proof what at d**k Krulwich is then look no farther than his FB site and the character we've already seen in the Yellow Rain story. It's just low.

Sep. 27 2012 12:59 PM
Diane from MN

I just checked Krulwich's FB page too. How low can you go? Seriously, proves again what a vindictive sociopath he is and that he is the bully he's come off as in the story as he is in real life. Complete lack of sensitivity. Low, low, low.

Sep. 27 2012 12:50 PM

Registered so I could comment. Krulwich currently has a big banner of dancing bees on his facebook page, which I find disrespectful and sick in light of the sullen, contentious tone he took after his interview with Eng and Kalia. They monopolized his interview with their emotional reaction to his nit-picky questions? While I was listening, trying not to cry at the clear trauma he was forcing on both his interviewees, it sounded akin to: "But did you SEE the shower heads in the gas chamber? No? Mmm... heresay." My next e-mail will be to Kalia and Eng, to express my condolances to for having been so disrespected by someone I have openly recommended to friends. Shame on you, Radiolab. Others have artfully provided so, so many reasons as to why this piece was offensive but I just wanted to add my two cents. Krulwich, you owe them a geniune apology.

Sep. 27 2012 12:36 PM

"yellow rain" was incredibly misguided but other people who are way more eloquent than i am are making better points than i could hope to. i do think it's strange to not discuss jonah lehrer in this episode. it doesn't even have to resemble the retraction this american life had with mike daisy's foxconn monologue or the way they completely obliterated any hour-long episode that even had a mention of stephen glass (though, to their credit, transcripts are available online and are just as compelling). at least playing devil's advocate with lehrer wouldn't have been so culturally insensitive or offensively flippant. i think there is a real discussion to be had on whether or not editorials lose any impact if the facts aren't so factual.

Sep. 27 2012 11:29 AM
Diane from MN

Jad, one more thing: Spare your listeners the sad story of how much you all struggled with the story and had to put in a raw discussion of what that struggle was like. You want us to have compassion for you while you again work hard to distract us from what we know has happened--that you all were stupid and lazy with your due diligence. An epic wrong was committed here and you fail again and again to take full responsibility for your stupidity and lazy work. In all your efforts to spin and rationalize your behaviors, you come off as more arrogant and selfish, further solidifying what listeners know and are concerned about in the story.

Silence... crickets chirping... The Hmong community and the Yangs are still waiting for an apology.

Sep. 27 2012 10:34 AM
Diane from MN

In response to Jad’s blog response: In other words, Krulwich is the hero here because he is trying to protect the idea of how morally wrong it was that our President exploited the Hmong’s Yellow Rain story to make chemical weapons. If it weren’t for the Hmong’s story of genocide from Yellow Rain, then Americans wouldn’t be put in a position where they were about to make chemical weapons?! You want us to accept that Krulwich’s has the moral authority to seek the “truth” and we should afford him the respect of his imaginary superiority? Jad, no matter how you rationalize this the three of you were lazy journalists looking for the truth in the wrong place. You put the burden of proof on a genocide survivor rather than the people who were going to make chemical weapons. How about going to the Russians for an emotional response if you’re too lazy to go to former Reaganites? You were lazy journalists who were out for a quick and easy story because you already had the story you wanted to tell and just needed a sensational twist. Krulwich’s treatment of the subjects during the interview and in the wrap in the story does more to show he is sociopath than a man seeking the “truth.” Additionally, your acknowledgement that the interview changed when you realized what you did wrong indicates you all didn’t do your homework—again, not the work for people with superior skills. That would’ve been the moment to say you’re sorry but again you are too above mistakes and “real” professionals just don’t say sorry because it makes them look weak—another thinking of sociopaths which we find in business (sometimes I think professional schools train our elites to be sociopaths) today.
There is no such thing as truths as it is a condition that can’t be defined or obtained. You can only find facts and build a “truth” with the accumulated facts. You pitted one fact with another fact and when they clashed you had to find a way to make your facts more true than Yang’s. The only way to make your fact powerful was to dismiss his story and the experience of an entire group of people who suffered from Yellow Rain.
If there is a truth (and the facts show) then it is that you all were elitist, selfish, arrogant, sociopathic, and stupid. As much as you try to salvage the story and spin your side, the listeners can see it and have eloquently expressed their disgust and dwindling trust in your judgment and professionalism and moral superiority. For those listeners who see this story as a great one with professionals coming clean at the end, I say you have successfully created science fiction and the promotion of pseudo-science further perpetuating a stereotype about the Hmong that they are uneducated, backwards and don’t know what they’ve experienced. These listeners didn’t walk away being educated, they walked away with being entertained and science fiction. Do the right thing and apologize to the Hmong community and the Yangs.

Sep. 27 2012 10:15 AM
Tempest from NYC

There's so much to unpack here, but seeing that many have already commented, I'll keep this brief.

Overall, I was disappointed but not surprised that RadioLab did an entire episode about Facts yet didn't mention Jonah Lehrer. That's... something. I know Jad "addressed" that situation in a blog post, but I found that whole thing lacking. And then to not address it at all on air is cowardly.

But I shouldn't have expected better, especially after listening to the Yellow rain segment.

To be blunt, Robert was a real d*ck. And a really bad journalist. Even without having read some of the comments on this post and the ones on the Yellow rain post and Jad's further explanation of fail, I cottoned on to the fact that the scientific exploration aspect of this story was severely lacking.

There was no multiple sourcing, no more recent scientific findings discussed. And while they were all in a rage to prove how ridiculous Reagan's policy was, they forgot to even attempt to answer the question: what really did happen to the Hmong?

The handwavey "oh well it must have been dysentery or something else from having to run through the jungle" is very vague and based on nothing but speculation. Plus, it treats these people like backward, ignorant savages who don't understand anything, really.

You did a disservice to the people you interviewed, the people who suffered and died, and your listening audience. It's disgusting and wrong.

Sep. 27 2012 08:44 AM

Wow...I knew you'd catch a lot of flack for this episode. Didn't imagine it would be this much though. I think the Yellow Rain story was handled a bit...forcefully. It seemed the line of questioning taken seemed like you were accusing them of lying which I wasn't a fan of. I did like however the wrap up afterwards and the questioning of your own intent with the story. I would have liked to have seen a bit more of that. All in all though I thought it was a pretty solid episode...and rather interesting at the least.

Sep. 27 2012 08:24 AM
Maria Mitchell from El Cerrito Ca

I was reminded of one of my favorite lines in a book -

“The truth will set you free. But not until it is finished with you.”

― David Foster Wallace, Infinite Jest

Sep. 27 2012 04:44 AM
Maria Mitchell from El Cerrito Ca

Just brilliant!
Yellow Rain was both beautifully painful in its shocking truth. I think that you honored their pain by acknowledging it was real even while slamming them for being so naive. How much more effective could they have been with their own safety and defense if they had more logically approached what was happening?
Sure they clearly endured far too much tragedy but they created an even more painful myth for what gain? Seems like an unnecessary layer of misery.
However I think their defensiveness is a genuine reaction to their own personal dismay at suddenly realizing perhaps they were wrong. Uncomfortable to listen to for sure.
Oh and the risks it created? Holy bee shit!

Perhaps in a few years they will consider acknowledging their mistake. The evidence is clear.

So was any justice delivered for what really happened to them? That would be a nice way to make this a prettier story.
Then again, surely more layers on an onion.

I almost wish you had asked my permission before telling me Secret Skelly even if after squirming through the bulk of it I realized 'hey good for Skelly'. He WAS trying and that IS something.

That was the most hardcore Radiolab ever!!

Sep. 27 2012 04:31 AM
Bee Yang from La Crosse

Before you interview someone get your facts straight. Tell the interviewee what they are being interviewed for. Until you have lived in the jungles, lost thousands of people that were your family, friends, and fellow men and women then you have no right to say that she was "monopolizing" your story. This has by far, been the most insulting thing I've ever heard of as a fellow Hmong.

Sep. 27 2012 12:35 AM

I'm a longtime listener and fan of the show. Your team usually does such great work, but I think that you handled the interview with Eng Yang and Kao Kalia Yang incorrectly. I was disturbed and couldn't finish the show. I agree with the commenters who point out the imbalance in power dynamics between the producers and the interviewees, and the importance of giving all information to the Yangs before the interview began. There are many ways that you could have shared this story and simultaneously treated/portrayed the Yangs and the Hmong history with full respect and humanity. I think that an honest apology to the Yangs and examination of and change around the power dynamics on the show are needed!

Sep. 26 2012 11:19 PM
VS from Tampa, Florida

I found the treatment of the Hmong guests very disturbing. It sounded to me like the guests were not clearly told why they were asked to be on the show. Or, if they were clearly told, nobody made sure that they understood.

The niece says clearly that they thought they were invited on the show to talk about what happened to the Hmong people. It seems to me Robert Krulwich (not sure how to spell the last name) had the unfortunate idea that proving a scientific principle was more important than considering his guests' feelings about a very painful and much-neglected topic. Moreover, he insisted that his guests were wrong not to agree to admit that the yellow rain was (or wasn't) a chemical weapon. The show is not a law deposition. It is a factual inquiry. As such, some sensitivity is in order, even if it means not getting to the desired answer.

Sep. 26 2012 10:33 PM
David Baker

Well, I can see there are negative comments, so I won't simply blast you. I think perhaps we are all missing part of the story here, perhaps there was a political stance from the Hmong interviewees that don't make it into the show. As it is... Robert went off the rails with not only his question, but his anger at the man's apparent denial of the role of yellow rain in the creation of US chemical warfare.

Am I alone in thinking not only are you projecting a motive here Robert, but you served as an example of the conflict the Hmong have with the US? You're so concerned about the US response in warfare and weaponry, but you lack outrage at the abandonment of a people, leaving them to slaughter? Ignoring that slaughter in the media? Heck, with your tone-deaf approach you even furthered the apathy the Hmong have been facing? The Hmong could in the end care less about bee poo. They can still feel the soil under their nails after burying their dead, even down through the surviving generations.

I wonder, if the sap from the trees around those villages produce the most brilliant yellow ink... with you then ponder the worth of Hmong?

Sep. 26 2012 10:23 PM

I've been a fan of Radiolab for years ... I'm a first generation Hmong American, so you can imagine my glee when I started listening to this episode and heard Hmong voices... The truth of the matter is that my community has been traumatized by war. Every Hmong family has a story - all of us were uprooted, all of us lost someone, all of us are changed forever. So, what was the point of telling this old man, this elder, that his version of truth was unproved by science? That my people's account of yellow rain was in fact "just bee excrement?" What you don't understand is that we are used to being told that our experiences don't matter, that the tens of thousands of lives that were lost in that ugly war were just collateral damage in a geopolitical showdown. The truth is that you Radiolab have been given this incredible gift to explore life's mysteries, and you squandered it.

Sep. 26 2012 10:00 PM
Kim from Los Angeles

I usually love Radiolab, ever since it started. But something, I don't know, subtle has been bugging me a little lately, I can't quite put my finger on it, but certain storytelling devices have left me irritated or feeling "dragged around", with little good reason or pay off. THIS however, is beyond the pale, and aside from their original intent, the handling has put me wayyyyy off Radiolab. For shame, Radiolab, have you no decency?

Sep. 26 2012 07:35 PM

I guess the next show will be The Holocaust Never Happened?
Perhaps your next interviewer should be Geraldo Rivera and then put your show on Fox and remove it from NPR.
You HAD the best show on radio - you have ruined your show for me.
This is a sad day in public radio.

Sep. 26 2012 07:06 PM
Nick Bergs

Wow. Next time why don't you get a Holocaust survivor on the show and then ambush him with Fred Leuchter's claims that the gas chambers were just showers. Distasteful to say the least.

Sep. 26 2012 07:03 PM
Fia from sweden

I think Krulwich should be kicked from radiolab. It is okey to not share someones opinion it is not okej to be this mean.

Sep. 26 2012 06:59 PM
Brent Casey from Los Angeles


Sep. 26 2012 06:02 PM
jones from Boston, MA

I find it ironic that in this show, Radiolab advertised for upcoming shows in Wisconsin, a state which has one of the largest Hmong refugee populations in the country (outside of MN and CA). Their story is important and often ignored - I have found few people outside of these states even know about them.

By the way, the Hmong are not a "tribe," but an entire ethnic group.

I believe the interviewers went into that particular segment with little knowledge of the Hmong people and their history.

Very disappointed.

Sep. 26 2012 05:56 PM

Question: Why was there no discussion of the hypothesis that the poison may have been contaminated with pollen not the other way round?

Horrendously mishandled. I find it hard to believe there was any intent here to display the complexities involved in 'searching for the truth' rather it was just a pure out and out mess. You missed the real story of two people trying to draw attention to attempted genocide and having spent 20 years being sidetracked by a quaint story about 'bee faeces.' It's not that you messed up that's got everyone so irate, it's the way you handled it afterwards.

Complacent, arrogant, insensitive, lazy, unbalanced and narrow-minded. Krulwich, you came across as a dinosaur and an entrenched relic of a time gone by. Yes, the implications for the development of chemical weapons was significant, but you tried pitting that against someone who had already watched whole villages of men, women and children die in agony - without any explanation as to why or how. That's the truth that was being sought, and you guys sound like you got annoyed because it messed up your 'puff piece.'

I heard nothing and have read nothing post-interview to suggest that your responses have been anything more than defensive, self-righteous and childish - a hint of sulk for being slapped on the wrist.

With every episode I have enjoyed this show tremendously like a breath of fresh air and have been singing your praises to all and sundry. I believe you hold yourselves to a higher standard and hold the world around you to a higher standard - like-minded people and the world in turn hold you to a higher standard.

When you get caught with your pants down, sometimes the best thing to do is just pull them up straight away and apologise. At the very least, pull them up and apologise before you continue discussing the vagaries of your pants falling down.

This is the flip side gents, you have enormous capacity to inspire, educate and entertain and have been very successful in doing so. However, in an increasingly and depressingly commercialised media, there surely has to be a fundamental common sense attached to responsible journalism and reporting?

You have been doing great - now is not the time to slack. For every Jersey Shore and Honey Boo Boo, for every new innocent victim of extremist ideology, I feel the world grows a little bit stupider and uncivilised and there's not nearly enough RadioLabs as it is.

Yours hopefully,


Sep. 26 2012 04:34 PM

Hey everybody, Jad offers some more context on the Yellow Rain segment here:

Sep. 26 2012 04:21 PM

There's just no truth to Robert's comment about Kao Kalia Yang trying to "monopolize" the story. Kao Kalia Yang and her people never had and never will have the power to monopolize the story.
Yes, the U.S. almost manufactured chemical weapons is important, but not more important than the suffering of the Hmong people.

Sep. 26 2012 03:31 PM

I was present for the phone interview. I observed and listened to the two hours of mistreatment that resulted in the emotional response that was heard on this program. I am Kalia's husband, a PhD candidate in culture and teaching. I thought Radiolab would do a good job and honor Uncle Eng's truth.

Turns out I was wrong.

What is heard in this program is only the start and the end of the interview, after an hour and a half of Krulwich and his producer pressing Eng to get him (or Kalia) to respond in a way that matched their narrative. Some facts:

a) Eng described multiple times the Hmong centuries old familiarity with bees, bee behavior, and the location of bee dung. However, each time he would describe this the hosts discounted his knowledge suggesting that a "Harvard professor" had discovered yellow rain was not a chemical weapon. Engs experience and knowledge conflicted with this. This sort of cultural centrism and ignorance of the truths of people who lived, experienced, and had intimate knowledge, not only these events, but also bees, because they dont share an educational pedigree is anti truth.

b) Eng described canisters he saw; Canisters he explained released these chemicals. The hosts referred to this as heresay, they implied Eng didn't actually see what he saw. Eng.'s response after explaining several times what he DID SEE [paraphrased], "Who watches planes drop bombs on them? you have to run"

c) The statement that time was monopolized is hateful. From the beginning, and through the interview, Eng tried to talk about his experience of yellow rain. He tried to do this for two hours. In the final edits we are instead presented with a character, nothing like Eng, but everything like the stereotypes of an old man who "doesn't know better". Hmong speakers have recognized that, in fact, Eng is telling the producers--this WAS translated for them in the moment-- that he KNOWS what dyssentary looks like, that he KNOWS what bee poop looks like, how bees behave, where they live, and where they poop. He explains yellow rain could NOT be explained by any of the explanations the producers chose to privilege.

d) At the end of the phone interview, no apology was given. No recognition of blindness to the truth of experience was shown in the final edits.

e) When Kalia asked if she could have a copy of the entire interview, Krulwich responded "youll need a court order for that"

Eng is a smart man, who experienced these things. Kalia has degrees from Carleton and Columbia, for what that is worth. They know things, they just are different from what the producers present as facts and in fact complicate these “truths”.

There is real knowledge and experience that were gifted to the producers. However, they decided to leave these out and pretended that Kalia’s reactions were to something other than their bullying. Radiolab has done nothing more than actively ignore real people with real experience and bully a survivor. There is no excuse for this.

Sep. 26 2012 02:47 PM
Andy from Brooklyn, NY

I just had a comment about the first act (the one about the cannonballs). I think one avenue of thought that wasn't explored was the idea that these cannonballs were resting in the sides of the road (the hills) and they photographer wanted to show just how many cannonballs had been shot into the area by rolling them down the hill. I don't believe he had any malicious intent, or intent to deceive. I think he just wanted people to see what wasn't obvious in the shot of just the roadway.

Sep. 26 2012 02:42 PM
mdel from MN

It was painful to listen because it sounded like the interview was going a different direction from what the Yangs agreed to do. The Yangs agreed to share their story/account of what they experienced and no one can dispute that as it is their story to tell. The host had their own agenda and wanted to interview the Yangs not to hear their accounts but to question or interrogate them. I mean, when the host asked, "did you see yellow rain after a helicopter/plane"-it's like asking, when the bombs and guns were going off, did you stood there to watch a plane drop a bomb on you? Obviously, if you were in a war zone, you would run as fast as you can away and of course come back home to see the damage/aftermath. Btw, Kao Kalia is an accomplished writer and the hosts should have recognized this. Shameful and disappointing, not truth-finding in science at all.

Sep. 26 2012 01:32 PM
Rob from Toronto

I think for the first time since the beginning Radiolab has disappointed me. The yellow rain segment was appalling to listen to. Besides being insensitive to the plight of the Hmong people and exploiting the emotional testimony of a genocide survivor to make a point about the nature of truth, Robert's approach to the interview was also methodologically suspect. The scientist's testimony was taken for granted and not held to the same standard of incredulity as the eye witness account. Any possibility of experimental error, or faulty memory from the part of the professors was not explored, and the scientists were taken on their word because of their credentials. This came across as imperialistic, condescending and worst of all, for me at least, ironically epistemologically shoddy.

Radiolab missed a chance to explore some really deep issues such as the problem of induction or our tendency to commit the fallacy of "appeal to authority" for the sake of sensationalism. I appreciate that Jad tried to outline some of the implications of conflicting testimonies and what was really at stake, but Robert entirely dropped the ball on this one.

Sep. 26 2012 01:14 PM
Jamie from Adelaide

I think the show was great, and the yellow rain segment clearly had a point, best explained by Suvesh in these comments. I hope that the rest of the interview would have been redeeming to most of the complaints made here.

I guess the only question is on their intentions. Was the intention to illustrate the trouble with finding truth and facts by instigating that interview in a manner by acting as fact/truth focused? Well that seems likely, I don't really know how I feel about that. I figure the other portion of the interview would have shown a more understanding and compassionate side as I assume there was some devils advocate stuff going on.

Ultimately it was a risk, and personally I thought it paid off. I would however like to know though that the Kalia and Eng were okay with the interview.

Sep. 26 2012 12:07 PM

I think people are being way too harsh on Radiolab! I agree though that the interview came off as insensitive, and I don't think it was necessary to confront a poor old man who has suffered so much with the disputes about yellow rain, it could have been done more delicately and respectfully. But Robert had a legitimate point, this yellow rain was used to justify the USA producing its own chemical weapons and it is important to find out the real story. I still love Radiolab and the stories and issues it raises.

Sep. 26 2012 11:05 AM
Tim Griffiths from Liverpool England

I'm confused some what by the reaction people have to the interview. You think they handled it wrongly and it upset you? Good, as far as I can tell that was the intent of the piece. For me the team was very strongly trying to show the issues that can arise when some one is doggedly perusing the truth of a single fact from a much wider and large ranging story.

The interview was mishandled, they went in blind to the context and as such where unable to realise how upsetting they where being in pushing to try and establish the validity of the yellow rain story. It took the breaking down of the people they where interviewing to make them realise just how monumentally they had missed issues by being so narrowly focused on the truth of one small fact.

It would have been very easy to simply not use the piece at all, it would have been very easy to leave the interview where it was and apologies but it wouldn't have been intellectually honest. There are points that had to be raised in light of the subject the show was trying to explore and some of them are not easily tackled.

Firstly they where not wrong in trying to work out the truth behind the yellow rain. It's important. I'm sorry but it is, the US accusing the Russians of supplying weapon used in a genocide is not a small thing. Historically it's important that we understand either way the truth of the yellow rain and learn the lessons it had to teach.

Secondly and more importantly they had to address what they had so utterly failed to realises, and what I think most of us are lucky enough to have also not realised. how for the Hmong the yellow rain is tied so closely to the most horrific event imaginable, watching the genocide of your people, that attack on it's truth is an attack on that memory.

We can all I think intellectually understand that the use of a chemical weapon or not is irrelevant to the fact (the much more important fact) that the genocide did happen. What I think happened and what the show is trying to get you to see, is how they had very clearly got too tied up in the intellectual puzzle that question presented that they didn't really stop to think about or have the personal experience to question how for the Hmong this is and can never be an intellectual question.

The result is what was presented as the end of the interview which personally made me feel deeply ashamed for falling in to the same trap. The show taught me a deeply important lesson by so very clearly exploring their own mistakes.

All that said I do think an implicit apology for that mistake should have been made. I can understand why they may not have wanted to and I think it's clear they are sorry for how the interview was handled if not wanting to interview and wanting to ask those questions but it's clear from the comments that not every one feels the same.

Sep. 26 2012 10:42 AM
Elisha from Toronto

I'd like to hear a program about 'bias.' Science is a struggle for objective observation through the empirical method, and bias is a factor that needs to be routinely investigated and challenged.
The same is true for great storytelling, which is Radiolab's strength. And it seems the audience for Yellow Rain feels uncomfortable about the story's bias. I'm sure that the adventurous producers of Radiolab decided to risk playing all of the Hmong family conflict for a reason. Maybe it seemed like a fair way to be transparent, and share Eng and Kalia's subjective position. It's also an opportunity to expose the truth of radio editing - it was unusually raw to play all of Kalia's eloquent attack.
Science is evidently burdened by social bias because it prefers the observations of a small group of (usually white european) men with science degrees. When Radiolab has interviewed minority groups, some women, and children, they usually provide samples rather than observations or conclusions. This isn't new, and it isn't just Radiolab, it's a hegemonic bias.
But in the storytelling choices of Yellow Rain, that bias is more emotionally painful, and I think the producers underestimated its impact. Apparently Yang said in Hmong that he has an experiential education in bee feces, but he is never treated like an expert. Meanwhile, although Errol Morris and Tim Kreider's stories are heavily based on conjecture, they are treated as experts. I wonder Jad, if you hung back in the interview because, like me, you are also part of a minority group, and suspicious of these conventional biases.
Because of Radiolab's storytelling choice, and Kalia's eloquent argument, the story bias feels much more biased than usual. It's actually refreshing to have the majority of the audience denounce the biases stacked against a minority group. I'd love to hear Radiolab tell stories about the problem of bias versus science.

Sep. 26 2012 10:02 AM
Alexz from Poland

I remember good episodes about the universe, time , the beginnings of life and so on. These were amazing. The recent ones however , kind of disappointing. Well . I think the show is just evolving . It is not a show about amazing scientific phenomena and wonderful people anymore. Shame.

Sep. 26 2012 09:09 AM

I think most of this is emotional over-reaction. Unsubscribing? Taking extended breaks from one of the most interesting shows out there? They've given you 55 hours of some of the most thought provoking radio over the past several years, for free, and you turn on these guys so readily? Really?

Imagine her reaction had been belligerence and outright denial of what they were telling her instead of audible crying towards the information she was receiving. I doubt most of you would feel so heartbroken, and instead ask why she didn't just accept the science.

If you had spent your whole life believing something that was patently false, wouldn't you want to know?

Sep. 26 2012 08:38 AM
Chris from Jersey City

I've noted an increasing emphasis on the clever, slick and heart-string-tugging aspects of the show over the "science". This episode jumped the shark with the Hmong interview. I'd already gone from giving the show donations to cutting off episodes halfway. The show used to get me thinking, now it just makes me think how spoiled and isolated we are--poking people under the guise of science/journalism for a little irony, a little inspiration, a little laugh. I'm unsubscribing. Too bad, as the show had an excellent run there for a good long while.

Sep. 26 2012 08:23 AM

The Fact of the Matter?

What kind of 'fact' did RadioLab expect to find in an interview with two Hmong people who saw thousands upon thousands of of their people slaughtered, their homeland destroyed, and their lifestyle forever changed? This has got to be one of the worst excuses for professional storytelling / podcasting / journalism I have ever ever ever had to sit through.

I'm taking an extended break from RadioLab. I'll come back only to check on the APOLOGY Yang and his niece are certainly due. Better yet, why don't you bring them back and let them tell their story? Krulwich should sit that interview out, along with anyone else who wants to condescendingly snicker and giggle in light of such a tragic story of the slaughtering of a race of people.

So disappointed. If I were a producer or host of RadioLab, I would feel humbled and humiliated.

Sep. 26 2012 08:12 AM
Samuel from Boston

An episode about fact versus fiction and no appearances by/stories about former golden boy, Lehrer?

Jad and Robert: please tell us we're going to hear about him soon!

Sep. 26 2012 06:00 AM

There have already been plenty of critiques in the comment section for this episode of Radiolab that echo the opinions I had over your Hmong segment, but I'd like to voice my personal feelings as well.

You created an episode on Truth, but you didn't bother to even broadly define the concept in the context of this episode, and as such, the first and second segments seem to be at odds with one another.

What is truth? Is it natural? Is it social? Can it ever be fully and objectively accessed? Your introductory segment featured something scholars in the social sciences would think of as the 'assumption of truth' in a photograph. As photographs seem to be more exact representations of events/objects/interactions/whatever than other forms of artistic representation, we often assume what we view in photographs to have 'happened' or to be true. Yet your guest notes that even if the photograph was staged, it still authentically depicts the 'feeling' of war, and still contains a nuanced 'truth' that remains a valid representation of the experience of warfare. So here we at least see you're both willing to admit that truth is as much a social convention as it is a natural event.

Yet you delve without empathy into your next story on the Hmong experience of violence and political instability. You refuse to acknowledge the truths held by your interviewee, instead emphasizing a very narrow need for some kind of scientific truth. By doing this, you invalidated the memories of overwhelming fear, violence, and displacement that in real life affected your interviewee and thousands of others that shared his ethnic background.

Your unwillingness to approach what 'truth' is and what makes 'truth' important from multiple points of view really underscores a broader social conflict of scientific truth vs. social truth that we currently wage with one another in the West. This episode did very little to reveal the social or natural (or really both) nature of truth.

As an anthropologist, I found the treatment and protection of your interview subjects to be inappropriate at the least and highly unethical at the most. As scholars who work with human subjects in at risk populations, we have a duty to protect the integrity of our subjects, even at the expense of our own podcast, article, story, etc. It shouldn't even be a second thought. While I understand ethical issues like these should be openly discussed, this was absolutely not the format to do so. The self reflection your interviewer had post-interview about how his 'perspective changed' was too little too late and simply came off as being egotistical. This was both shameful and upsetting and I can no longer listen to your show.

Sep. 26 2012 04:23 AM
AJ from SoCal

When I come to Radiolab, I look for stories that are well researched, and handled with the right amount of respect and sympathy for all of its interviewees. That wasn't the case with this recent episode. I couldn't even finish the last (yet quite boring) story because I keep thinking about how insensitive and heartbreaking the ending of the yellow rain segment was. As if the deaths of innocent lives meant nothing to you, but just information for your precious radio show. I hope you guys gain a better understanding of the plight of the Hmong people, and to at least give that poor woman and her uncle an apology for your behavior. That would be the kind thing to do. For now I'm gonna have to take a long break from Radiolab.

Sep. 26 2012 04:00 AM
R. Michael Miller from Pune, India

Wow, I'm deeply disappointed about the way you guys at Radiolab handled the yellow rain story on this last podcast. I understand the perspective that you bring to the story; you're using science to illuminate one facet of the tragedy that unfolded in Laos during and since the Vietnam War--and furthermore using this evidence to indict the Reagan administration for misleading the public into building chemical weapons. However, I can't help but become angry over the ironic use of the "truth" theme to try and force Eng into a "gotcha" moment. That's shoddy journalism. I was shocked that the hosts seemed to expect Eng to totally change his mind after you discussed the evidence collected and disavow his very personal experience. Honestly, what did you expect?

And then for the hosts to comment in a disgusting tone of contempt as if Eng was not entitled to his emotions because the hosts offered "irrefutable" evidence that the yellow rain was simply bee crap. Not to mention that the "truth" about what America did in Laos is such a huge topic that a little bit of research may have deterred you from taking such a hard, uncompassionate line. I hope you and others have learned that this topic is not so black and white as your "evidence" might suggest--It's much more uncomfortable than that, and at the very least you brought some attention to what happened to the Hmong people.

I was impressed that Kalia spoke up through her tears to defend her uncle and speak out about the Hmong people's suffering; that was much more brave than anything Radiolab has ever done.

Sep. 26 2012 03:51 AM

Radiolab is far too interested in creating a show that is emotionally compelling, humorous, and filled with vivid scenery porn to be concerned with a matter such as the truth.

Sep. 26 2012 03:30 AM
Diane from MN

This story was lazy journalism, poor storytelling, and just plain cruel. The editors deliberately edited out almost all the interview of Yang and kept the translator's words in which she was compelled to advocate for her uncle because of his pain--you can hear this if you understood Hmong. If you thought this story was a good one then you don't understand Hmong. Yang repeatedly said in Hmong he knows what bee fecal matter looks like and the substance was not bee feces. The editors are counting on you to not understand Hmong so their pre-concieved and pre-packaged story can be neatly delivered to you. If you understood Hmong, the interviewers were mean, cruel and insensitive, especially when they called Yang's experience hearsay and laughed. Krulwich made matters worse by accusing the interpreter for "monopolizing" the interview when she simply was trying to get them to return to the reason why they were there in the first place, to get the story of Hmong genocide from a Yellow Rain survivor. There was no misunderstanding about Radiolab's desire to get the Hmong's Yellow Rain experience. It was Radiolab who was dishonest and shady about their ulterior motive. Why didn't the editors go to Reagan mouthpieces to confront them on the scientific finding? That would be the logical angle for this story but being the lazy journalists they are they'd rather confront a Yellow Rain survivor so they can get his reaction to the new finding.

Sep. 26 2012 03:01 AM
Richard from Nebraska

The yellow rain interview was rough. Definitely think Robert played it right though. It would have been more distasteful if he'd spoke his mind after the interview.
I'd have perhaps been a little more sympathetic, but to me, the interviewees response to knowledge was infuriating. I know it's a sensitive subject for them, but they were completely unwilling to face reality and facts because they wanted something more emotionally significant to be true. That kind of thing just drives me nuts.

Sep. 26 2012 02:58 AM
Jay from Sydney

The interview in the yellow rain segment was appalling. I am honestly in disbelief at the lack of compassion and sensitivity shown to man and his niece by Robert. You're not David Frost interviewing Nixon, this man is a refugee; that man did not speak English, he lives in a country that is not of his culture, history or geography, and not because he wants to, but because the persecution and atrocities committed against his kind in his own country have made it necessary for his survival.

Roberts persistence on the question of if the Hmong man ever directly witnessed a plane drop the 'yellow rain' was shockingly smug and condescending but most disturbingly, he was either oblivious to the emotional distress of his interviewees or completely insensitive to it.

I hope Robert can realize that while he is driving back to work thinking smugly to himself about what great radio that interview will make, and how cleverly they'll be able to slide that story in to a broader, esoteric debate about the nature of truth and reality; those two Hmong people will have to go home and back to their everyday lives and community, in which unlike Robert, they have no audience, no public arena, no voice. They thought that Robert was there to give them that voice, instead they were embarrassed, their expectations were dashed and their intelligence insulted. Now they are left to quietly contemplate how they have been portrayed and have to live with the accusations of being either a people too primitive and stupid to discern between bee pollen and chemical weaponry, or a people cunning and conniving enough to lie and exaggerate their suffering to maximize their personal gain. Would you pressure a Jewish holocaust survivor if they ever directly witnessed Nazi doctors conducting human experimentation in the same way?

In any objective reality the Hmong people suffered, whether chemical weapons were used or not, and those that are not lucky enough to live in the West continue to suffer. Cultural narratives are a source of empowerment, in challenging the Hmong in the way that Robert did without even the courtesy to qualify his line of questioning with an explanation during the interview, or to acknowledge other aspects of Hmong suffering, he has taken a vulnerable and traumatized people and treated them without dignity and respect for the entertainment of middle class public radio listeners.

I think I've had enough Radiolab for a while.

Sep. 26 2012 01:49 AM
Shari Mleczewski

Given that the US pressured Hmong people into a war that led to nearly-total destruction of the Hmong culture, it seems that North Americans owe our Hmong brothers and sisters gratitude and an apology, or at the very least some common respect. However, the way the Radiolab-interviewers ultimately handled this story about a Hmong man's experience is very saddening. By bluntly labeling the Hmong survivor's words as "heresay", Robert appeared both unethical and even imperialistic. Having a pre-arranged and detailed focus for an interview, asking a genocide survivor to share his profound story, and then essentially calling it false seems like not only a set-up, but also another example of the priviledged mistreating the underpriviledged.

It's probable that the unedited version reveals a more complicated context, and who among us has never made a mistake in the heat of a moment? However, in the "wrap up" of this story, it seems that an apology or some ameliorating statement could have helped immensly. Radiolab should never resonnate a Jerry Springer episode.

Sep. 26 2012 12:33 AM
Sophie from New Zealand

When it comes to fearless & tasteful exploration of larger truths, you've been a reliable source. But in today's podcast on Truth itself, I've had to double take on that assumption.

I'm a huge fan of Errol Morris and his sublime dedication to seeking truth. So was really excited to hear his ideas translate to Radiolab! Sadly like some others here, I couldn't listen further after Yellow Rain. But I had to listen again to understand why, because I figured the contentious stuff would be there for good, valiant reasons.

The story came across as, "Gee, facts can sure be important AND irrelevant... *shrug*". What made me uneasy was the sensitive material you chose as fodder for your point.

Giggling about a deep source of trauma for Hmong and calling Kalia a monopoliser (for the sake of making light and playing Devil's Advocate/Truth Fascist respectively) didn't seem right. Neither did it seem right when Robert pushed the facts on Eng for the sake of demonstrating the incongruity of truth. It might've been better if Eng was in on the game... Was he?

Hurt was caused and we have to assume Robert & Pat apologised off record and got permission for the interview to be used after all. And at the end of the day, I'm more worried about that than the Complexity of Truth.

Sep. 25 2012 10:20 PM
Alain Boisvert

I think Radiolab blundered on how they managed this. It seemed like cold hard science VS human suffering. The end was the best part of the whole interview.
That silence says it all and really had me thinking. Sometime balancing facts against human perception, human lives and expectations is not the best thing to do. At the end we feel so much for this perceived betrayal.

Sep. 25 2012 08:37 PM
Xiong from Minneapolis

I love radiolab. I am Hmong. That ending to yellow rain was excruciating to listen to.

Sep. 25 2012 07:33 PM
PMLaw from Hudson Valley of New York

Apparently, the two parties came into the interview with different agendas- for the Hmong, a chance to tell the larger world how they had suffered, they wanted justice. The Radiolab interviewers wanted to dispassionately explore the notion of what is a fact and how we use or misuse facts to define the world. They wanted science.
With two such different and unspoken agendas, there was bound to be conflict.

Sep. 25 2012 06:40 PM
Ben from Chicago

This episode is very new, and I'm very much hoping that more people will call for a response. I want Matt Meselson and Thomas Seeley to be more sincere and honest with the truth that they themselves do not have conclusive evidence that some form of biochemical weaponry was used on these people. (Listening again, they are seriously heard GIGGLING about the mass-defecation of bees.) I want Robert to tell me exactly WHY he feels that this particular story's integrity was so essential, going beyond that it caused the US to manufacture chemical weapons in the midst of the cold war... why was that really "so huge." I am unaware of the deployment of these US weapons and the war IS OVER. Nothing happened. Sometimes you need to push aside your "huge" theoretical consequences and philosophical anxieties and actually LISTEN to what people are telling you. Because you know what did happen? A genocide in Laos and 30,000 Hmong people killed fighting for the U.S. But I suppose that only matters "to her" and her "monopolizing" responses.

Sep. 25 2012 06:19 PM
Silence Do Good Gauge from St. Louis

Thank you Radiolab for the Yellow Rain story. It proves my point. Facts are not the argument and a debate is often a competition of disjointed arguments.

The link below is a small point in a greater thesis describing a better way for discourse.

Please, Just the Facts

Sep. 25 2012 05:23 PM
Fran from Nebraska

I also disagree with the majority of the commentators. I think that the ending of that Hmong segment tied back to Errol Morris, in that you pursue this thing and it's truth, and in the end, that truth isn't what matters. What really matters is not the bee poop, but what happened to the Hmong and the government's manufacture of biological weapons.

Sep. 25 2012 05:21 PM
Brodie from Fresno

Jad & Robert,
I would love to know what your expectations were when going into an interview with people who had been present at the destruction of their homeland, keeping in mind that your intention was to tell them how wrong they were about some of their experiences. Knowing, as I am sure you must, that the Hmong people have never had their story properly recognized, why would you enter a conversation with members of their community with such a cavalier attitude toward the suffering they had witnessed? I find it distressing at best, cruel and tone deaf at worst.

Sep. 25 2012 03:27 PM
Eva from New York

I too was disturbed by the way the interview was handled. Mostly because as a child of a Taiwanese immigrant, there is so much trauma and injustice in Asian cultures that I think most Americans don't and will never understand.

I love that science is the main focus of any Radiolab story, however, when you lose sight of the bigger issue at hand and don't apologize for that at error, I can only feel a tinge of "did they really go there?!" Do better next time guys.

Sep. 25 2012 02:28 PM

Wow, this was devastating to listen to. And completely culturally insensitive, as is science in general, but that interview really crossed a line into complete disrespect.

Sep. 25 2012 02:20 PM
Stephen from Brooklyn

Bravo to Robert!! Bravo to Radiolab! This segment was brilliant. Those who felt that it didn't offer nuance or enough compassion, well, I don't know what you want. I can understand that you may want to know the truth of what happened to the Hmong people, and you should pursue that. But this piece was masterful at pointing out was isn't always easy to do: our perspective of history can be wrong. The Hmong people WERE the target of a genocide, the fact that the Yellow Rain turned out not to be chemical weapons DOESN'T change that. But, the geopolitical repercussions of the yellow rain not being chemicals weapons are huge. That is what the victims in the piece, and commenters here don't seem to understand. Don't let the, justifiably, emotional landscape of the issue cloud truth, especially when it has much larger repercussions. The production of more chemical weapons puts more people at risk of suffering the same fate as the Hmong people. Yes, we should be sympathetic to the plight of the Hmong! We should do everything in our power to prevent something like this from happening again. That is exactly what identifying the the true nature of the Yellow Rain does. It arms us with the knowledge, and truth, to confront our leaders when finding justifications to beat the drum of war. Again, brilliant Radiolab!! Well done!

Sep. 25 2012 02:18 PM
Jim from Phoenix

The interview could have been handled in a more tactful way. Yes, truth must always be the ultimate goal in reporting on events, however, sometimes it comes down to how one says it (and subsequently where further questions lead) and not necessarily what one says. Tough one guys.

Sep. 25 2012 02:10 PM
D.M. from Houston, TX

What upset me about listening to this episode is not that difficult questions were asked of the survivor and his niece, but rather the way in which it was done. As a listener and hearing what the woman and her uncle thought as I assume was explained by Radiolab the interview would be, it was not clear to them the route the interview would take and it was not as clearly as it should have been explained to people who have suffered so much.

Sep. 25 2012 02:01 PM
Sarah from Chicago, IL

I was disturbed as well by the Yellow Rain segment. It seemed there would be other ways to discuss the issue and search for the truth without traumatizing a genocide survivor. It seemed that the interviewers were deliberately trying to provoke an emotional reaction in the interviewees and for the purposes of making that pain an entertaining part of the show. I can only hope that the interviewees were ok with the final segment as produced and felt their point of view had been represented accurately.

Sep. 25 2012 01:17 PM
Rafael Adorno

I'm a little confused by some of the comments here. I thought the host reactions were incredibly nuanced and thoughtful. No other show would air a guest taking them so thoroughly to task and then respond with such nuance. This is why I listen to Radiolab.

Sep. 25 2012 01:10 PM
Jason Hutty from St Petersburg FL.

Like others, This interview bothered me, mainly because to me, it is clear the truth was not discovered. I don't understand how the immediate reaction on a show dedicated to the truth isn't to explore it further. Just because the Yellow Rain turned out to not be a chemical weapon, does this mean that chemical weapons were not used? I hope someone does some more research and in a year or two, we get to the heart of it.

Sep. 25 2012 01:01 PM
Erica from NYC

I think Radiolab DID honor the Hmong translator and her father by allowing the audience to hear the entirety of what we heard. To hear all that pain. Any other show would have edited this out. It was very moving and convincing and the kind of radio/tv/anything that one never hears. I was also touched by how everyone subsequently allowed their immediate thoughts and reactions flow to the audience. Jad and Robert sounded like they were genuinely affected by what happened. This too in unusual.

I will add that Robert -- who I adore! -- did sound a bit defensive. Sorry Robert. But if you felt angry with her expression of deep pain, you might want to think about that a little bit more.

Nevertheless, very honest. Very brave on both your parts. Great episode.

Sep. 25 2012 12:46 PM
Erin from New York

Having worked as a refugee caseworker, I know that the chance to tell their story and have it truly heard and acknowledged is a prime emotional need for many refugees and victims of persecution. Many of these populations have been marginalized and demeaned for generations, and I do not blame them for "reading" the challenges of the interviewer as just another chapter in this story. I applaud the interviewer for honoring their intelligence by not backing down from the facts, but his response to her was completely inadequate. The guy with the mentally ill friend was treated with much more compassion and nuance by the interviewer than the Hmong refugees, something I find troubling. This one let me down.

Sep. 25 2012 11:42 AM
jon from Baltimore

"Hmong" people... Sorry.

Sep. 25 2012 11:41 AM
Suvesh P from Boston

I agree that there are ways things can be handled when it comes to issues like this. Also I mentioned that the segment had a strong effect on me as well, I am in no way saying that I was oblivious to their pain or that I am not empathizing.

But anyway, most of you seem to be implying that the problem is the show "went on" as if nothing had happened, or that questions were asked that raised painful memories.

But if that had not happened, I don't think the segment could have reached the point of arriving at that exact philosophical quandary. Think about how many MORE people now know about what happened with the Hmong people compared to before. Think about how many MORE people it affected, because of the way it was presented. And most importantly (Yes, this is most important TO ME), think about what this story represents when discussing the the subject of the "pursuit of truth".

We want our journalists to be human, too human sometimes. All I'm saying is, I would forgive them if they end up making the point at hand. I definitely don't think anyone involved did not show compassion and humanity. They gave a voice, to Eng and Kalia; and an outlet for their concerns. That in itself is a victory, and a feat not achieved by others.

Sep. 25 2012 11:39 AM
jon from Baltimore

I have to agree with the comments above. I'm a longtime listener and this is the first time I've felt like Radiolab exploited a guest to make a "clever" point.

That man was under the impression that someone was finally interested in shining a light on the atrocities the Hung people faced after Vietnam. Instead the slaughter of his family, friends... entire villiages were reduced to an argument about bee poop.

He may have been mistaken about chemical weapons but he didn't imagine the bullets, bombs and dead loved ones. And that point seemed to be lost on the hosts and whittled down to "Oh, isn't it interesting how some people can live in denial."

I think you owe that guest more than an apology... You owe him the interview he thought he was getting. You owe him the opportunity to tell his story.

Sep. 25 2012 11:31 AM

Re: Suvesh P,

You make very valid points Suvesh, but the point is there is proper way to do things. There is a tactful way to handle going after the truth especially when emotions are involve. There was a point in the interview when the interviewer kept forcing the uncle to admit if he did or did not see where the yellow rain came from and at this point the interview had already taken its toll on both the uncle and the niece. At that moment, that type of question was cruel and unnecessary. And that's the part that bothered me, it was like kicking someone when they are down, just really uncouth. The uncle had given an account of the events as best as he could remember them, he answered all the questions as best he could. From a psychological perspective, that interview experience seemed like a re-traumatizing event for him. I wondered if that fact was lost on the interviewer or the host. The uncle sacrificed more in the name of the truth than I think the interviewer or the hosts can possibly understand.

Whenever truth is sought, there is much that needs to be sacrificed before she can be found.

Sep. 25 2012 11:29 AM

I love Radiolab but couldn't finish listening to this show after the Yellow Rain segment closed. I was really disturbed by the way it was handled. The interviewees seemed unaware that their experience was just being used to prove a philosophical point (the multi-faceted nature of truth).

@Suvesh I don't think there was any problem with the conclusions they made. It was the casual laughter and lack of compassion that I disliked. Showing more empathy would not have invalidated their conclusions.

Sep. 25 2012 11:28 AM
Jer from Appalachia

I think this story was the definition of what makes radiolab great. The search of truth, and the discussion of difficult topics. I heard no disrespect and I applaud the commentators on continuing on through the high emotion portion; sometimes the pursuit of truth isn't easy- most times it isn't. This is the same.

Sep. 25 2012 11:16 AM

I agree, I always admired how inquisitive and probing the hosts were but in the yellow rain segment its as if they checked their compassion and humanity at the door. I understand that there is some doubt about the yellow rain being a biological weapon. However, the scientist failed to explained how these people died. Their guesses was just that guesses, no concrete scientific alternative explanation for the deaths of these people. The hosts should feel ashamed of themselves for attempting to make the uncle and his niece seem like primitive people who can barely tell their a$$ from their elbow. Their treatment was appalling and proof or nor proof their people was slaughtered and their pain is no different from those who experience the holocaust. Shameful.

A true seeker of truth would have the wisdom to temper their objectivity with compassion. Otherwise your just cold.

Sep. 25 2012 11:13 AM
Suvesh P from Boston

I would disagree with the other commenters here. That segment was definitely the most most emotionally charged and overall one of the most powerful pieces of journalism I've ever heard. It really affected me too, I had to turn off the podcast for a while to really take it all in.

At the same time, we all have to remember what the pursuit of truth means. Think about the photographer taking a picture of a dying child with a vulture next to it, and being ridiculed and criticized for not doing anything to help the child. Or ANY journalist covering casualties of war and poverty. I'm not saying that this comes to close to those instances, it might be more or less horrifying than those scenarios depending on your opinion. But that's what hard journalism is!

Honestly, I loved the differing opinions presented by the hosts after that segment. This was about the pursuit of truth. And in presenting a piece and a question as philosophical as this, do we want our presenters to act the way we want them to act, or actually stick to the subject at hand?

I listen to Radiolab because it pushes me and makes me think in ways that I probably would never have. If the hosts had apologized, broken down, felt bad and cut off the segment, we'd never get to the question of "What truth matters here?".

So yes, what truth matters here? How about a beautiful demonstration of the way the human mind can approach a tough question like that?

1. Jad: Focusing on the pain and suffering of the Hmong people, and abandoning the quest for anything else around them.
2. Robert: Focusing on the fact that chemical weapons were actually manufactured, and international diplomacy threatened, because people were willing to accept facts without questioning them.
3. Pat: Focusing on "listening" to the woes of Eng and Kalia, providing a shoulder to years of pent up anger and sadness.

That the segment managed to arrive at all three possibilities and question them all equally, THAT is the real takeaway for me here. Wonderful job, guys!


PS. Remember that the producer said that the interview with Eng and Kalia actually went on, and that wasn't the end. It is easy to imply that apologies were made. (But hey, did that REALLY happen? Should we investigate?)

Sep. 25 2012 11:06 AM


Sep. 25 2012 11:00 AM
Tanya from Philadelphia, PA

I too had a hard time listening to the RadioLab guys reaction. I understand this story is geared towards finding a truth but it seemed she was genuinely upset at the lack of understanding of her (and her uncle's) pain. Did anyone apologize to her at all? Was her point acknowledged? She made me cry - did you guys cry? It was such an emotional outpouring on her part, and thank you for putting that in the story, but the reaction to it lacked ... something.

Sep. 25 2012 10:41 AM
klayzer from Waltham, Mass

I'm really troubled by the way the show handled the emotion of the Hong interview. There was very little attempt made to honor the pain and emotional exposure of those being interviewed. Clearly the man and his niece felt betrayed by the show, whether or not this was the show's intention. Yet nothing was said, no apology or acknowledgment was given—and then the interview was broadcast as part of the "story" you were telling. It was followed by awkward commentary, snickers, and shrugs. I understood why the uncle and niece became angry. I felt angry too. I'm a longtime Radiolab listener, and I have to say this really, really bothered me.

Sep. 25 2012 09:42 AM

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