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On Yellow Rain...

Wednesday, September 26, 2012 - 02:43 PM

We understand that many listeners were offended by the end of our Yellow Rain story. Since we take that conversation with our listeners seriously, let me just tell you a little bit about what we were thinking ... and what we were not thinking. First, it was not our intent to minimize the suffering of the Hmong people, quite the opposite. In fact, the point of the story -- if the story can be said to have a point -- is that these kinds of forensic or scientific investigations into the truth of a situation invariably end up being myopic. They miss and sometimes even obscure hugely important realities. Like a genocide.

That's not a point we set out to make. It's something that arose organically when our producer, Pat Walters, realized, and then openly admitted on tape, that he felt he'd missed something. That is why we included the lengthy and painful exchange with Kao Kalia Yang, even though it may not have been flattering to us. Our goal in our ending conversation was not to be pedantic or insensitive but to be transparent. That was an honest in-the-moment conversation about honest differences.

All that said, the thing I'd most like to respond to is accusations that we were cavalier in our response to the pain that Kalia and her uncle Eng were expressing.

We were all profoundly troubled by the interview with Kalia and Eng. Before heading into the studio, we argued with one another for weeks about what it meant to us personally and what it meant for the story. If we gave the impression that we approached the ending conversation casually, without much consideration or sensitivity, that's on us. And that is something I'd like to correct. So I've inserted a line in the story that puts our ending conversation in a bit more context.

And I would like to say one thing, forcefully: even with the emotional heat of that moment, I would urge people not to dismiss Robert's point. The label "chemical weapon" is not just semantics. The United States almost used yellow rain as an excuse to begin manufacturing its own chemical weapons, which would have invariably led to other countries doing the same, which would have invariably led to many more people dying. So Robert's insistent questioning wasn't for cheap theatrics. He believes, as we all do, that the truth in this situation is a matter of life or death. It's not just bee poop.

What happened in Southeast Asia following the end of the Vietnam war is a huge, complicated story -- and of course there's a lot more to it than what we included in this one radio piece. For more on Kalia's story, and that of the Hmong, check out her book The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir.

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Comments [346]

NA from GA

Like many, I am disgusted by the Yellow Rain segment and can find little reason to justify continuing to listen to Radiolab as a result.

Robert's line of questioning, his tone, and his insistence on his own point of view is unacceptable. That was not journalism, that was not illuminating, that was exploitative and an exercise in bullying. We do not need another bully journalist, especially not one masquerading as independent, thoughtful, and open-minded. The line of questioning was not merely disrespectful but seemed to betray actual animosity and the self-serving 'moment of silence' was insulting, especially considering it was followed by an entirely unrepentant and further insulting commentary.

As a long-time listener, I hope you further address this, but I won't be listening...

Oct. 08 2014 03:56 AM
Elias from Minneapolis

Hey Jab or Jad or whatever your name may be, seeing as you can't recall to Mr. Yang to his name but only to a "Hmong guy". You are a insensitive oblivious liar. I am calling you these things after listening in to the pathetic attempt and what you call a interview in your mixed discombobulated story on "yellow rain", from your article 'Matter of fact'. What still surprises me is after the fact that you distressed the ones who wanted to help you with your story. You still continue to try and water down their story.
Even in this half-ass,half-hearted, couple paragraphs of an fake apology, you said "He believes, as we all do, that the truth in this situation is a matter of life or death. It's not just bee poop." You are an idiot. Why on earth would you, supposedly being a professional journalist, use the phrase "bee poop" when talking about genocide?
Ohh yea because you don't give a shit about genocide, you only care about your part of the story being heard and that your stance on the matter is the one that is "right".
Do the world a favor and never try and cover up your true self again, you are a racist bigot.

Oct. 08 2014 03:48 AM
Priya from Washington

Paul,
I did not say the bee dung theory "happen to be true". I said if it "turns out to be true", leaving open the possibility that it may NOT turn out to be true. I also specifically labeled it as a "theory", meaning I did not automatically accept it as fact. I am certainly not the final authority on the truth, and I didn't in any way suggest that I had the "true" answer.

Nov. 08 2013 02:22 PM
Paul

Priya,
The bee dung theory does not "happen to be true." It is a THEORY. Just because RadioLab sold it as a fact does not make it so. Read the article linked in the window just below yours and check it out. You don't have to take my word for it, either. But let's let scientists debate this rather than radio show hosts.

Nov. 02 2013 12:56 PM
Priya from Washington

I love Radiolab, BUT I think you mishandled the interview, with unnecessary harshness. After reading Kalia's side of the story on Hyphen Magazine, I also think RL was wrong in not properly introducing Mr. Yang and Kalia in the piece. Both of their accreditations ARE relevant to the content. He was an official documenter for the Thai government and she is an author of a book about the Hmong experience in that era. (If she had written a cookbook or something, I'd agree that it was not relevant to the piece).

That said, I don't think anyone should feel that the Hmong's suffering is any less just because the bee dung theory turns out to be true. Genocide is still genocide, no matter what weapons are used. Let's imagine for a moment that someone discovered that the Nazis didn't actually use Zyklon B to gas Jews, and that the rooms previously thought to be gas chambers were actually shooting arenas, where Jews were lined up and shot. Does that change ANYTHING? Out of 6 million Jewish victims, a number of them died while they were on the run from the Nazis in the forests and mountains of Europe, from frostbite and starvation. Aren't they still victims of Nazi persecution, just like those in the concentration camps?
Perhaps victims like the Hmong wouldn't feel the need to cling to the chemical weapons theory if we would be more willing to acknowledge their genocide and validate their suffering, regardless of whether it came from chemicals, or conventional bombs, or dysentery while trying to flee from the Pathet Lao's bullets.

Nov. 01 2013 01:37 PM
Paul

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:

http://bfi.uchicago.edu/humcap/networks/hi/hi_members_only/pubs/KatzSingerYRPUBL.pdf

Sep. 27 2013 09:53 AM
Chue Xiong

Here is something for you to read and view, there is a link below to some photos of kids who are 3 generations removed from the war. Most of these are Vietnamese kids, but rest assured we Hmongs dealt with this stuff too. You can ask the so called professors if these pictures are true, cause it might be fake or acting only, cause you know bee poop can't be that harmful even if swallowed right? Oh by the way idiots if you guys where so smart you guys would have known that we don't really have a word for the color orange too, so when we say yellow we don't mean yellow like bee poop.

As you can see it still angers me that such stupid piece was created and only excuses for such stupidity and ignorance has been made. I am wondering why certain individuals can't be man enough and just come out and apologize. Is it because someone has to much pride and can't swallow it, or someone's true character showed up.

And all you people responding with "good journalism", "the truth", "owns beliefs", go F#&% yourselves, really, I mean it! You think this is a joke, or amusing what we Hmongs had to go through. Maybe for you ignorant fools who know nothing about Hmong people and the Vietnam war, go and read about what we did for this country and what happen afterwards. Not the stuff you see in the news or crappy journalism such as this, the real stuff that your parents don't tell you or uncle sam.

U.S. war veteran Larry Vetter conducts physical therapy exercises with 18-year-old La Thanh Nghia, near Da Nang, Vietnam. Nghia and his brother Toan, 21, are third generation Agent Orange victims, the result of the U.S. military’s use of Agent Orange and other herbicides during the Vietnam War more than 40 years ago. The brothers were born healthy, but began to suffer from muscular dystrophy and other problems as they grew older. They are now confined at home as their bodies and lives waste away. The United States is paying to clean up dioxin around former American bases, but has yet to offer significant aid for victims. Jan. 5, 2013.

Read more here: http://www.fresnobee.com/2013/07/22/3400195/the-affects-of-agent-orange-in.html#storylink=cpy

Jul. 23 2013 02:30 PM
Eversist

After reading your AMA on Reddit, and people bringing up this article:
http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2012/10/science-racism-radiolabs-treatment-hmong-experience

I decided to listen to this episode again. Even more messed up than the first time. :/

Jul. 19 2013 01:42 PM

This is not an apology. This is an admission that you were unnerved by the way the interview ended. You were, um, sharing your emotional reaction to the events.

This does even touch on the disrespect shown to the interview subjects and the fact that you had a set narrative in your mind of what was "true" and that you failed to do what RadioLab says that it does: Listen.

Yang's understanding of what occurred was dismissed because it didn't fit the story you wanted to tell. You didn't accept or consider the scientific resources his niece offered to send to your production team. You don't for a second seem to wonder whether you, the high lords of RadioLab, could be wrong. Wrong. Simply, your understanding was incorrect.

Frankly, this ideological rigidity and inability to even consider that your "take" on a subject is incorrect is incredibly disappointing. Plus, the fact that you will take as gospel anything that an academic says is beyond gullible. Why don't you challenge Harvard professors like you challenged the Yangs? I can see why your privileging the interpretation of a chosen Western scholar over someone who actually experienced the event was seen as racist by some. Professors often have their own ideological stake in such a political conversation.

Here's a thought: Why don't you find an Asian scholar, who lives in Laos, Cambodia or Thailand, to offer their interpretation of what actually happened? This might satisfy your need for academic validation and also offer the perspective of someone who doesn't live thousands of miles removed from the location of the event you are curious about. Who knows, you might learn something new. And isn't that what RadioLab really supposed to be about?

Apr. 13 2013 01:54 PM
D

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 Hmong 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 12:43 AM
Kristen

If listeners are really interested in understanding the context of this broadcast, they should read Kalia's side of the story- http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2012/10/science-racism-radiolabs-treatment-hmong-experience

Mar. 16 2013 06:51 PM
JS from Michigan

This was a brutal interview, and Radiolab will deservedly lose listeners as a result. But then again, Radiolab truly benefits from Jad and Robert’s willingness to take risks and expose themselves. They approach a question with a set of assumptions that are often naïve, and then they are willing to open themselves up and learn from their investigation.

I can also allow that this learning sometimes must happen outside the confines of a single show. Perhaps, following the other comments, a program addressing the Hmong genocide is the best way to continue an inquiry into multiple truths. But whether you follow this advise or choose another avenue (perhaps on genocides or heritage more generally), hopefully this one episode (and your subsequent apologies) will not be the end of this story.

Dec. 08 2012 09:24 PM
Tomah

I don't know, but I do feel really sad that radiolab mishandled this.

Nov. 28 2012 08:11 PM
Paul from St. Paul, MN

@Fossiltooth
I vehemently disagree with your conclusion that "The overwhelming evidence to date leads reasonable people not touched by the complex emotions around this tragedy to conclude that yellow rain was not a chemical agent." Unless you're Matt Meselson or Thoomas Seeley, I don't know how ANY "reasonable" person would come to that conclusion unless they only listened to the RadioLab segment. Go to the City Pages article on yellow rain posted below. Do some broader research. You will find that indeed, your assertion is not reasonable.

Nov. 16 2012 09:39 AM
Merlinda

Yellow Rain

My question is: Dean Capello has posted the list that Pat Walter sent to Kao Kalia Yang, and in the list there was no hint of Pres. REGEAN at all, but in Kulwrich's apology he stated, "Mr. Yang and Ms. Yang were informed about what we were looking for: our goal was to find out if President Reagan's statement was true or false."

This troubles me....what do you all think???

My last question is: Since Kulwrich and the RadioLab team has already concluded that Yellow rain is bee feces then WHY bother to question Mr. Eng Yang? Is it to SUPRISE him that Yellow Rain bee feces?

Nov. 15 2012 11:16 PM
Mattis

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)

http://www.citypages.com/2012-11-14/news/behind-laos-s-yellow-rain-and-tears/

Nov. 13 2012 07:43 PM
Diane

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
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 12:15 AM

This was a good episode, despite its flaws. Thank you for it.

Robert's tone was poor, and his uncharacteristically callous insistence was unnerving. But that does not lessen the suffering of the Hmong for me, or, clearly, for any of the listeners. If anything, it highlighted their plight, as we can see from all the response here.

But I will not accept those critiques that suggest Robert was wrong in his central point, or those that suggest science is somehow the domain of "whites," "westerners," or "privilege." That is plainly offensive to all of us.

The overwhelming evidence to date leads reasonable people not touched by the complex emotions around this tragedy to conclude that yellow rain was not a chemical agent, and that it was not a valid excuse for a US chemical weapons program.

In fact, nothing would be a valid excuse for a US chemical weapons program. As a species, we commit enough atrocities as it is, without even resorting to chemical weapons, and the Hmong are unfortunate proof of that.

My heart goes out to all of the Hmong. They don't need to have been attacked by chemical weapons to have what happened to them be deemed horrible. It is horrible as it is. The truth about yellow rain does nothing to change that.

That was the thought this episode left me with.

Nov. 04 2012 02:25 AM

If you would like to add your name to a petition asking NPR executives to host a meeting with RadioLab and members of the APIA community, please follow the link below:
http://act.engagementlab.org/sign/18mr_Radiolab/

Nov. 03 2012 09:57 PM
Diane from MN

From http://blog.angryasianman.com/2012/10/speak-out-against-radiolabs-yellow-rain.html:

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.

Sincerely,

[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 01:07 PM
BB from Georgia

Radiolab - I respect and appreciated your Yellow Rain show. You taught me about something I knew nothing about and you approached a subject with the truth being more important than political correctness.

Oct. 31 2012 02:16 PM
Gecko

I'm writing in response to the wave of comments attacking J&R.

Initially, like many of these people, I felt extreme distaste about the interview with Mr. Yang and Ms. Yang. In fact, I feel very differently about Radiolab now. But I also felt like airing the episode was the right thing to do and it also, more importantly, gave the Yangs a voice about what happened to them.

There is much racialized ignorance about the Hmong in our country and, more shameful, a lot of ignorance considering how intimately connected the Hmong community in SEA was to our country's activities over there. They are not the only community our military and government have treated this way, but they are certainly among the worst treated and our government could do better to have helped those who came make their lives here. Many didn't come because they were seeking a better life. They came here because their lives were in danger--largely because of our government's actions. They deserve more support.

I also felt like, Mr. Yang really answered Robert's question. He did not see a specific plane specifically dropping yellow rain, but he lived through lots of planes flying overhead, followed by the rain. A strong, but not 100% connection. He could well be wrong, but if he'd said he saw a specific plane open its shoot and out came yellow rain, he could also be mistaken. He's a witness who witnessed the phenomenon under extremely stressful conditions, but I felt like Robert expected a 'no' answer and wasn't satisfied till he got it. I cried when I heard Ms. Yang cry.

But the level of vitriol in these comments enrages me. Jad and Robert were in positions of privilege over Mr. Yang, and the interview no doubt crystallized for them what they may have experienced over and over in this country: the ignorance, the racism, the disempowerment. Ms. Yang pretty much said as much in the interview. Robert and Jad DID NOT create these feelings for the Yangs alone. They seem to have walked into it blindly, with no idea of the minefield they were stepping in. We as a society (this is a collective effort, and that means you, commentariat) treat the Yangs and Hmong Americans this way. Robert and Jad did something right when they aired this for the public to see, but rather than reflect on how this was so painful for the Yangs and why there was this disconnect between R and J and the Yangs, that the source is American society's ignorance and systemic disregard of Hmong Americans and the Hmong SE Asian communities, people instead saw a chance to make themselves feel mighty and superior by throwing stones at "racists".

I wish very much that R and J would let the Yangs respond. I think in fact, that they want this, too. I did feel like Robert's apology could have been more "heartfelt", but he doesn't need to apologize in a way that I find acceptable. He needs to apologize in a way that Mr. and Ms. Yang find acceptable, and the rest is not my business.

Oct. 31 2012 04:45 AM
Katherine

I can't listen to Radiolab anymore. The way you guys handled the Yellow Rain story is pretty abhorrent. As a scientist myself, I understand the need to seek out the truth, but you really didn't even present the whole truth. You denounced as "heresy" the words of an eye-witness and undermined the input from his niece, an accomplished author herself. What Radiolab did is shameful, and I hope they make it right. Many of their podcasts have been among the ones I most highly recommend to friends. Can't bring myself to recommend them anymore.

Oct. 31 2012 12:40 AM
Eleonore from Minneapolis, MN

Here is the "Truth of the Matter:"
http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2012/10/science-racism-radiolabs-treatment-hmong-experience

Oct. 30 2012 04:11 PM
Nat from Chicago

The whole irony of this is that your episode is about peoples experience different truths yet you totally failed to represent your own "truth" in the story... That is your number one concern is to craft a story. Central to the success of your story is the idea that reagan proposes developing chemical weapons on what the science seems to suggest is a falsehood. You bring on the scientists to prove your point and you bring the engs on to - admit it - to be the example of how their firsthand account while tragic is ultimately false.

Its not hard to see why you got "oddly angry". Its because the whole neat, tidy, and in your mind incredibly clever premise of your story - your truth - was challenged. Your dismissal of the engs truth only proves that at the end of the day you prized your own angle to the subject above all others. The reason you were so insensitive to the engs is that you saw and treated them like a story not as people who were sharing terrible experiences with you. The kicker here is when you say that she was trying to "monopolize" your story. As if this was YOUR story.

Any real journalist would conduct the interviews and allow the interviews themselves to shape the story. its fine to have an angle going in, but the fact that you couldnt somehow evolve that angle when presented with unexpected viewpoints shows an intellectual weakness. Would it have been hard to present the science story and then the eng story and pose the question to the audience to the audience and ask them to look at how they experience the truths here? Would it have been hard to admit the interests you had in promoting your own "truth" here?

And thats ultimately the saddest part, a real discussion of all the complexities here would have made this a much more interesting story and actually served your original intentions much better.

As far as racism goes, i feel this is more about what i have described above. That being said, if this was a story where you interviewed holocaust survivors or even say rawandan survivors if you would have been so dismissive and disrespectful. Unfortunately the hmong are such an unreported and unpublicized people that it was probably much easier for you to not care as much.

Oct. 30 2012 01:27 AM
Ryan

I understand how some might claim the segment was insensitive or handled poorly, but I fail to see how it was even remotely racist. At worst, and as the segment itself says, Radiolab seems to have been driving at one truth while missing the other, more broader story.

Some are saying it seems like Radiolab ambushed a poor old man who had suffered enough. And while that may be the case, it's also clear that his niece held the same viewpoints as he did. It seems like Radiolab simply was trying to get to the truth of the the yellow rain. If such truths aren't brought to light, the next generation will continue to hold the same false beliefs, as will the next, and the next. The truth is what's most important, end of story.

Oct. 30 2012 01:08 AM
Kris

I am writing to let you know that I will no longer listen to Radiolab. The show's racist, insensitive treatment of Mr. Yang and Ms. Yang during the interview and after does not comport with my personal ethics and morals.

Oct. 29 2012 11:05 PM
Joseph from Far Rockaway

I do think that Krulwich is an insensitive interviewer and that people who have endured atrocities should be treated much better. There also may be a certain amount of cultural superiority going on here, either because of perceived "backwardness" of the Hmong or because of language issues. One point I would like to make, though, is that the fact that the Hmong collected honey for generations does not necessarily mean that they were aware of all of the bees habits. People did not realize that there were two high and two low tides a day for centuries even though they lived and worked on the water. That doesn't mean that they aren't right about being poisoned, of course.

Oct. 29 2012 01:40 AM
Laura from Tuscaloosa, AL

I think you owe the MacArthur foundation $500,000. How sad that another deserving recipient could have used that money for more noble purposes. Instead, you release an extremely insensitive and, yes, racist 20 minutes of faulty science. Shame on you.

Oct. 28 2012 11:00 AM
Ken Hardy from North Carolina

I have to say, I can't remember the last time I was so flat out, genuinely shocked as I was when I listened to this episode. I couldn't believe what was coming from these people whose work had come to mean so much to me and which I had so admired. Of course, I was even more shocked by how Jad and Robert, after receiving all these largely well-thought out and earnest comments, have reacted...MY GOD YOU GUYS STILL JUST DON'T GET IT! So, I am going to lay it out for you.

1) Yes, this is a complicated issue and your "intention" was blah, blah...actually, dudes, it is also not complicated at all. Now listen, cuz I am going to say this once. This is about Jad and Robert going to their mothers and asking them to explain why they raised them to be such raging, unfeeling, insensitive assaholics. What happened here was just simple, basic self-involved narcissistic rudeness!

2) Robert, the next time your boorish, passive rage behavior hurts someone's fee-fees and brings them to tears, you had better ON TAPE go to that person, put a hand on their shoulder and be a human-being by saying YOU'RE SORRY! In that silence when you should have been yanked out of your white tower bubble and awakened to the pain YOU CAUSED, you, my friend, stood there and just turned the knife. Says a lot about you.

3) Jad, while you're at your mother's, get her to teach you how to apologize because you are CLUELESS. Why do I say that? Look back at how oh so quickly your "apology" becomes all about you. WRONG. Look, man, no one cares about how YOU argued, how YOU struggled, about how YOU talked for hours. Stop trying to make YOU guys look like your fee-fees matter, too because, until you get over yourself and get a grip on how not to be a total asshole and what to do when you are, YOUR fee-fees are shite.

And by the way, you are a LOUSY sound engineer. If you don't learn how to mix the audio on a recording that is going to be listen to on ear buds, head phones, and other ways so that one might hope to come away from it without hearing loss, then the few of us willing to let you try to redeem yourselves will be too deaf to care.

Carry on.

Oct. 28 2012 06:52 AM

An earlier commenter, Marcia Ochoa, really, really hit the nail on the head. Scroll down and read her comment, people.

Don't feel like it? Well, here's an excerpt then:

"The politics of knowledge in science create unquestionable and questionable sources of information. This hierarchy is not neutral, as we hear in the podcast segment - it reinforces the presumed correctness of Western, masculine "rationality" and dismisses the authority of non-Western, feminine, "emotionality." This makes us make mistakes and do bad science. Apart from poor judgment and perhaps a bit of jerky-ness, the hierarchy of knowledge that produced this interaction is what Radiolab needs to address."

So here's my two cents: Instead of scrambling frantically back and forth, defending yourselves right and left, why don't you guys calm down, put your egos and PR concerns aside, and actually take a serious look at the criticisms people are making about this poorly-handled segment. It's not enough to simply acknowledge at the end, "Oops we sounded kind of mean, our bad!" The segment and how it was handled raises real and interesting questions about culture and scientific biases and politics and knowledge. Apologizing for sounding like a meanie is all well and good, but saying sorry for sounding like an insensitive jackass on air is basically the easiest and laziest way out of this situation, and it doesn't address the main problem with the segment that made Kao Kalia Yang cry with anger and frustration in the first place, and why people got mad at the segment and the creators of the segment. And why people are still mad. And why Kao Kalia Yang did that interview with Hyphen which brewed up this storm again.

Also, speaking as a long time fan of the show, it is TOTALLY lame that you guys have now edited out the unsavory bits in the original piece. You recorded it, you produced it and you aired it. OWN IT. Don't start changing it and editing stuff out just because Kao Kalia Yang refused to be a quiet about her dissatisfaction with the segment and now the original version makes you guys look bad because people are paying attention to her side of the story.

Oct. 28 2012 04:08 AM
You should know better

Jad, you and John E. Sununu have something in common. You both have power and with your power have used to it to reinforce prejudice and racism. You should know better.

Oct. 27 2012 11:21 AM
HamdenRice from New York

I hate to say this but part of your argument is so preposterous as to insult the intelligence of your listeners:

"And I would like to say one thing, forcefully: even with the emotional heat of that moment, I would urge people not to dismiss Robert's point. The label "chemical weapon" is not just semantics. The United States almost used yellow rain as an excuse to begin manufacturing its own chemical weapons, which would have invariably led to other countries doing the same, which would have invariably led to many more people dying. So Robert's insistent questioning wasn't for cheap theatrics. He believes, as we all do, that the truth in this situation is a matter of life or death. It's not just bee poop."

Here's the problem with this argument -- that it's important to get to the "truth" even using harsh interviewing techniques because President Reagan wanted to start chemical weapons production.

I hate to have to point this out, but Reagan hasn't been president in about a quarter century. President Obama has no plans to start chemical weapons production. So the motivating factor is moot and irrelevant. It's not a matter of life and death, although it might have been back in the 1980s.

This is just bizarre reasoning and excuse making. What actually were you trying to say??

Oct. 27 2012 10:14 AM
Lauren

I have been a fan for years. I have listened to every Radio Lab episode ever produced. But after Yellow Rain, I ended my subscription. In 2010 I personally met someone (who will remain anonymous) who had been interview by Robert for Radio Lab and had been offended by his interviewing techniques and disappointed with what he perceived to be a lack of journalistic integrity. This person encouraged me to boycott Radio Lab, but at the time, I still loved it too much to let one person turn me off. But Yellow Rain made the truth -- the TRUTH -- all too clear. This time, you guys really broke my heart.

Oct. 27 2012 04:22 AM

You're right, Jad; the truth in this situation is a matter of life or death. Sounds like the Hmong people know that all too well. Jad, what so many people on this planet are in danger of is the covering up of truth with smoke and mirrors. One of the things I took from this shameful segment was how suspect the disparate research on the yellow rain was, and that the discovery of yellow bee pooh doesn't mean there wasn't another yellow substance that was eating through leaves and killing people. Furthermore, considering the overwhelming amount of outright false or misleading "scientific research" (please see the Wikipedia page "Scientific misconduct" for an introduction), the discerning listener wouldn't be so quick buy the bee pooh story over Eng Yang's. The yellow rain story is far from settled, guys. Shame on Robert for badgering Mr. Yang in attempt to get him to acknowledge a "fact" that may, in fact, have nothing to do with the atrocities he and other Hmong suffered.

Oct. 26 2012 04:24 PM
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:

http://www.avclub.com/articles/the-bugle-and-radiolab-make-triumphant-returns-and,85810/

Oct. 26 2012 01:37 PM
Jay from sf

Just apologize without making further excuses. It's immature of you and your producers to justify your position when, in the end, it just came out terribly. Regardless of your intended original viewpoint, you delivered poorly, insensitively, and made big mistake. It's insulting to hear this circus of modified versions of the show to "soften" the edge off of Roberts' tone. Frankly, the post-editing is just pathetic. You are all adults, grow up and accept responsibility for making a mistake without washing everything out. This is unfortunately indicative of a much larger trend of asian americans being marginalized. I can't believe how you addressed the Yang's. Do you typically see critically acclaimed, high-quality journalism where they refer to everyone formally and then racially single out and address someone as "the white guy"?

You're going to lose a large portion of your audience and financial support by not watching your tongue so please be more careful as the show is generally fantastic and educational. Just bury the hatchet. Apologize to the family like an adult (not by post editing and trying to cover your tracks like a child), clean up your mess and move on.

Oct. 26 2012 12:19 PM
Joe

You guys, especially Robert should be careful in the future, because I'm going to cut your fucking nuts off.

Oct. 26 2012 02:36 AM
A. Mac from San Jose, CA

For folks interested in more balanced coverage of this issue I'm including the direct response Radiolab requested from Yang after the initial interview, which she gave to them but which Radiolab then chose not to publish, along with an article in her own voice speaking about the events that transpired.

Let’s see if Radiolab has the journalistic integrity to keep this post up or not… at the end of the day it is the act of silencing that serves as the ultimate disrespect. It is one thing to disagree, it is another thing entirely to silence.

Kao Kalia Yang’s response to Radiolab: “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 cry...as you all laugh on.”

http://hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2012/10/science-racism-radiolabs-treatment-hmong-experience

Oct. 25 2012 03:49 PM
George from Detroit

I love your show. But this is pathetic. Admit that you messed up, that your reporting was insensitive, that you were demeaning and insulting to these people, that you exploited their pain and their story, that you were dishonest in your representation of your conversation with them and of their experience. You claimed to be pursuing the truth, the "fact of the matter". The scope of the suffering that these people endured - the shear loss, the pain that endures - is well beyond your capacity to understand or even attempt to capture in a radio program. The least you could do is to show some humility and respect. Your obsession with the "truth" of "yellow rain" is just petty. Not to mention that your ethical justification of your position is totally vapid. To argue that the "stakes" of the "truth" in this story have to do with the threat of chemical warfare in the context of the Cold War - without once mentioning the reality of the United States' widespread use of Agent Orange in the mountains of southeast Asia during the same time period - is absolutely and transparently cynical and dishonest. You are ethically out of your league on this one, and the least you could offer is an apology, rather than continued, pathetic defense and revision of your conduct.

Oct. 25 2012 12:48 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 10:44 PM
C

Hey cracker, your show is garbage.

Oct. 24 2012 10:43 PM
Canary

I really wish people would stop calling this journalism. Taking an old New Yorker article and putting it on the air is not journalism.

Oct. 24 2012 08:32 PM
Chue from US of A

Jad, I still find your excuse for Roberts excuse pathetic. You guys need to stop and just come out and make a full apology to Kao Kalia Yang, Eng Yang the Hmong Communtiy and all those you guys also offended in the process.

Oct. 24 2012 05:13 PM
Doug Breitbart from NYC


I would like to acknowledge Mr. Yang for the quest and commitment to the honoring of his people, his heritage, the lives of those lost, and the critical importance of publicizing what occurred, and persisting in seeking disclosure and acknowledgement of the truth underlying those events.

Unfortunately, Radiolab and its featured performers and producer, in the interests of expediency and entertainment, completely missed the essence and importance of Mr. Yang's story, as the witness and sole documentarian of no less than a genocide, in their singular goal and mission to expose a misrepresentation of a dead US President to justify chemical weapons development, through a facile invocation of scientist-as-authority, and bee dung.

It is inconceivable that were Mr. Yang Eli Wiesel, and the genocide involved were the Holocaust, that the disrespect and dismissiveness of their behavior would have occurred; and, I completely support Ms. Yang'shanging of a racist mantel around the necks of Mssrs. Krulwich, Abumrad, and Walters, irregardless of their myopic inability to recognize it themselves.

I hope that at minimum, notwithstanding the failure of Radiolab and NPR to acknowledge their profound error and failure of both judgement and journalistic integrity, that the broadcast of the story produces individuals interested in getting to the truth, actions, and actors responsible for what Mr. Yang observed and documented, and the justice demanding to be served, in the face of a genocide unacknowledged.

Oct. 24 2012 04:29 PM
Jim

I kept waiting for you to ask yourselves, "wait, don't people who have lived in the region for generations have experience with the local bees?" Such a simple fricking question.

Oct. 24 2012 03:55 PM
Gina

I've loved this program for years now and listened to this particular episode, unawares, about three days ago. The segment in which Eng/Kalia were interviewed shocked me to the point where I had to stop what I was doing. I sat down to listen, felt myself hunch over, and almost started crying. I felt that the questioning was crass, unprofessional, and lacked compassion. Yes, chemical warfare as a topic is of vital importance. Yes, we must question and research. But to whom do we ask which questions? Why couldn't Eng (through Kalia) be allowed to give his answers fully as he saw fit? Yes, get all angles, represent all sides, but let the man speak to what he knows fully without trying to force him to a new interpretation. It was not the time nor the place nor the person. I know nothing about journalism and can't speak to whether or not, in terms of journalism, this was "good" or "bad." I just know that I have seen this dynamic being played out before, where someone tries to communicate what they've experienced (something that involves pain, injustice, power structure, etc.) to someone who has never experienced that before, and the person who hasn't experienced it brushes off the emotion of the person trying to speak as manipulative or "monopolizing." How could you speak about such a topic unemotionally? Do we lack all empathy? What was the goal of that exchange? We all make mistakes, it was a tricky line, but that was horrible. I don't know what to do with my love of Radiolab from here on out. I can't support any process that cares more about it goals than the pain it might cause someone along the way.

Oct. 24 2012 03:08 PM
austin

I think everybody understands what you were trying to say about Yellow Rain, Reagan, and chemical weapons.

But I think you (Robert) are the only one that doesn't understand that you treated the Yangs with an incredible amount of racism.

Unsubscribed, witholding all future donations to WNYC, and telling people I know to do the same

Oct. 24 2012 02:15 PM
Valerie from Milwaukee, WI

There's always been a kind of hoaky, goofing around quality to your programs that, at best, makes them seem improvisational and lively, but at worst, generates suspicion about how little research and thoroughness underpins your stories. I guess those suspicions were warranted. I'm sad for what you put the Yangs through, and of course sad for what the Hmong people have gone through, and embarrassed and saddened by your insensitivity to this terrible chapter of human history.

But I'm grateful for and inspired by Kao Kalia Yang's strength and for her excellent account of this experience at http://hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2012/10/science-racism-radiolabs-treatment-hmong-experience.

I won't be listening to your program any more.

Oct. 24 2012 01:48 PM

I speak from a place of deep and abiding love for this show when I say you are out of your depth here: you need to stop being defensive about criticism re: how you handled the interviews partially broadcast in this episode and start listening really, really hard ('http://hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2012/10/science-racism-radiolabs-treatment-hmong-experience' especially).

Maybe call Ira Glass - the way This American Life handled "Mr. Daisey and the Apple Factory" in terms of acknowledging and following up on the show's own errors might be helpful. In your case, though, you don't have interviewees who lied to your face: you have yourselves and only yourselves to hold to account. It can be done, and radio shows can go on afterward - but you've broken trust with how you crafted this episode and handled the fallout so far, and I can't recommend the show whole-heartedly to anyone again until I see evidence that you hosts understand where you erred and understand too the power dynamics at play that you blithely dismiss or mischaracterize. This stuff is hard, but extremely important: pay attention and get help if you need it, because you can't afford to do this again.

Oct. 24 2012 01:01 PM
Rev. Drew Paton

Having read numerous thoughtful and impassioned responses to this episode, including this one from Hyphen Magazine - which includes a lengthy response from Kao Kalia Yang:

http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2012/10/science-racism-radiolabs-treatment-hmong-experience

...and because I love and support this program and believe in your sincerity and integrity,

I would like to strongly encourage you to create another episode deconstructing the first and approaching the Hmong experience from a new angle, engaging Kao Kalia Yang anew, possibly in consultation with an anti-racist organization like The People's Institute (http://www.pisab.org/)

It could be a fascinating and groundbreaking piece and, it seems to me, it is the right thing to do.

Thank you.

Oct. 24 2012 10:54 AM
sharon

You really stepped it in this time, Jad. I suggest you do an episode on cultural sensitivity and genocide. Perhaps then you will hopefully know enough to approach a survivor with the respect they deserve.

Oct. 24 2012 10:51 AM
so disappointed. from brooklyn

you all messed up so big. you had a chance to establish yourself as a decent platform for information but truly did it all wrong, knowingly. all to fit your bill in your search for verifying your own truth. no longer a listener and telling all my friends not to listen anymore

Oct. 24 2012 10:44 AM
Marcia Ochoa from Santa Cruz, CA

I teach in a graduate program in Social Documentation, and taught this segment this week as our documentarians grappled with notions of fact and fiction. It was a very effective teaching tool in how an interview can go terribly wrong due to the interviewer's rigid attachment to a specific agenda.

I was shocked by Krulwich's tone and insistence in the interview with Mr. Eng, but I had a hard time putting my finger on what *exactly* it was that created that moment of badgering and his insistence on this idea of truth. The response by Kalia Yang published in Hyphen confirmed my initial analysis that something was missing from the picture painted by Radiolab.

The politics of knowledge in science create unquestionable and questionable sources of information. This hierarchy is not neutral, as we hear in the podcast segment - it reinforces the presumed correctness of Western, masculine "rationality" and dismisses the authority of non-Western, feminine, "emotionality." This makes us make mistakes and do bad science. Apart from poor judgment and perhaps a bit of jerky-ness, the hierarchy of knowledge that produced this interaction is what Radiolab needs to address.

I join other listeners in encouraging you to explore the science of racism, and the ways science has been used (and continues to be used) - explicity or implicitly - to legitimate racialized (and gendered) hierarchies. There's a great deal of work on this topic, and I am happy to provide some examples if the producers would like to get in touch. As a professor of Feminist Studies at UC Santa Cruz, I have many colleagues who interrogate the ways science and technology are employed in the service of power.

I look forward to a substantive response from Radiolab. This segment left a bad taste in my mouth. If Radiolab doesn't use this as a way to grow and address this problem, it will lose me as a listener.

Oct. 24 2012 10:36 AM

Dear RadioLab,

This is an addendum to my last comment. Y'all are cool with that, right? ;D

I just found out that in the original cut, you laughed together after supposed-to-be-poignant-closing-conversation between Jad, Robert, and Pat. Then you edited it *out* of this cut. Major fuckup, you guys.

Oct. 24 2012 05:55 AM

"bee shit!? *boioing SFX*", then a quirky audio montage about how bees mass-defecate, bookended by a condescending (he kind of gets a pass because he must be old) ex-CIA guy and a crying woman recounting tales of mass genocide.

I really respect that RadioLab aired all of these aspects of the story as they developed for its hosts. Krulwich royally messed up as an interviewer and, yes, acted like an ass. He also seems sincere in his post-broadcast-apology-addendum about how he failed to grasp the conflicting truths of this Rashomon-like story, which is ironically about conflicting truths in Rashomon-like stories.

And Jad very nicely encapsulated (in the live-broadcast-postmortem-addendum) everything this segment was about... as much as a sound-byte can.

But in listening to this story several times over, I sense Robert (and less offensively Pat and Jad) undergoing an arc. They found out at the end of this story (and probably not for the first time in their lives), that they look down at things from a Tower. It's not just a white-people Tower, or a privileged-people Tower, or a man-Tower; the twenty-first century is re-mixing subcategories and all that. But it's definitely a... Tower of some kind.

I like this show. It's okay. It gets cheesy sometimes, and not in a good way. But the story-selection can be top-notch.

Oct. 24 2012 05:26 AM
max

WOW,
uncle tom much? a white guy gets called out on his privileged and demeaning behavior, on the fact that he, a man with no personal experience of knowledge of what he is speaking about is still valuing his opinion over actual factual accounts and true knowledge and then they get a brown boy to tell people to cut him some slack cause he meant well.

The fact that Robert and you are constantly re-editing the recording and denying your own recorded actions goes to show once again who are the seekers of "truth" and who are the privileged intellectual ignoring any facts that don't support their beliefs.

And all because you seeker of truth can't handle the idea that two things happened. there was some chemical warfare and that yes that was used as a straw man to justify military action.

Oct. 24 2012 05:16 AM

There is no point of putting the story in context when you have modify and manipulate the real story three times before you put it in context to prove your point. See the link below to hear the other side of the story.

http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2012/10/science-racism-radiolabs-treatment-hmong-experience

Oct. 24 2012 04:50 AM
Jeff Johnston from Albuquerque

"The United States almost used yellow rain as an excuse to begin manufacturing its own chemical weapons, which would have invariably led to other countries doing the same, which would have invariably led to many more people dying."

Do you have a citation for this? It seems dubious at best to me. You say in your piece that Reagan mentioned it once in a speech, and you played an excerpt from that speech. But a single speech doesn't prove much. Given the enormous lapses in research on this episode, it seems as though some documentation of your conclusions is called for.

Oct. 24 2012 04:49 AM
Mark Heseltine from Cardiff, UK

You should publish the interview in its entirety.

Oct. 24 2012 02:00 AM
Maria from Tacoma, WA

"The United States almost used yellow rain as an excuse to begin manufacturing its own chemical weapons, which would have invariably led to other countries doing the same, which would have invariably led to many more people dying. So Robert's insistent questioning wasn't for cheap theatrics. He believes, as we all do, that the truth in this situation is a matter of life or death."

Jad, true. This is an important issue. It could have led to something horrific, like many more people dying due to the manufacturing of chemical weapons.

The desire to see suffering alleviated should have made you and Robert (and your producers) ALL THE MORE sensitive to the suffering of this family and the Hmong people. It shouldn't have made you LESS generous, LESS patient, LESS kind. (Think about that for a minute.)

I think you guys need to take a step back and evaluate what factors allowed there to be bullying, hostility, selective editing and outright anger in this conversation. It's not enough to say, We didn't do this well. When a large number of Asian-Americans are taking the time and courtesy to say to you, "Hey, this wasn't cool" and pointing out that race and gender dynamics came into play, you now have an opportunity to not shut down that dialogue (like you did in the interview). You have a chance to do it right this time. Which means stopping and reflecting for a moment, and asking yourself if there might be truth there.

Anyway, I wish you the best. Great show, great topics, great heart for accuracy...most of the time. Hopefully this mistake will actually cause some soul-searching and lead to even better reporting. You've got legions of fans out here of all ages, ethnic backgrounds, income levels, educational experiences. You owe them something better than this. We're disappointed because your program can actually help make the world a better place. It does start with respect, though.

Oct. 24 2012 01:06 AM
anouh from frenso, ca

Jad and Pat-

Your western-centered sense of scientific righteousness is appalling and not a surprise. Until you see your mother shot through the head from a bullet born from war, you will never understand why I and others are angry at your episode. No one seeks an apology from you, RadioLab, or NPR. No one seeks further 'context' to the episode.

What I heard (not what your intentions were) were white men who felt they could take advantage of folks who didn't earn a degree in western science to justify their thesis. Its western intellectual bullying at its finest. From our intolerance to racial bullying to our intolerance of bullying based on sexual orientation - we evolve. Intellectual bullying is, arguably, the one type of bully that continues to persevere.

I don't donate to NPR to promote intellectual bullying. I will withdrawal my donations and organize others to do the same.

I await your episode on the holocaust.

Oct. 24 2012 12:35 AM
EIleen from Olympia, WA

I feel compelled to leave this message. I love Radiolab--my children grew to love it this summer too, because of the way you explore so many issues and as my daughter said, "Blow our minds." But this episode was so sad to me. Instead of the kindly and curious interviewers I am used to, we heard typical white men with their own ideas of "truth" badger a Hmong author and scholar (without mentioning she was either) and dismissing the personal experiences of a man who survived a holocaust.

I am a little familiar with the story of the Hmong people--they deserve more and better than "Grand Torino" and now this Radiolab experience. Please--you owe them a real story, done with compassion and with respect for the wisdom of indigenous people and women.

Oct. 23 2012 11:09 PM
CKT

While I appreciate that you seemed to struggle with how to represent the story and the interview, there still is the great omission from your piece that Eng Yang was more than familiar with the behaviors of bees in Laos, knew what their waste looked like, and knew that the Yellow Rain he experienced did not match. Without that portion of the interview, Radiolab tips the scales towards the "emotional genocide survivor making up a weapon" side--when really we have a first hand account of what could possibly be a much more complicated weapon used on a people left to suffer by American troops as a thanks for supporting us. The treatment of the Yangs was nasty, but the misrepresentation of the story they told you is unforgivable. The rudeness and dismissal of the Yangs has made me dislike Robert--but the manipulative editing of the episode has made me discontinue my support for Radiolab as a whole.

Oct. 23 2012 11:06 PM
Sven from Cambridge, MA

I have been a long time radio lab listener but have now stopped listening. I was going to write an angry and disappointed letter but the internet allows me to share here--

I was so disgusted by the treatment of the interviewees in this episode.
I am a scientist and I understand what the episode was attempting to convey about truths, but the complete lack of human empathy and Robert's bullheaded insistence on being 'right' made it impossible for me to be able to stomach listening to radiolab again.

Oct. 23 2012 10:33 PM
Catherine from USA

It is not right. The interview altered without regard to a deeper truth. Responses from recent postings are only extensions of paternalistic reinforcement of a narrow reception of truth; their tone changed to some sort of comraderie with the 'intelligence' of the production, to what listeners want to believe about intentionality. It is all very disheartening. Agent orange? Where are the connections? They have been severed from whole truths. All the men, all the men, covering their bad judgment with moral positions, so-called noble intention. It wasn't the harshness that offended. It was the omissions, the feigned objectivity, the defensiveness, the turned backs. Edit if you must but you cannot erase the simple truth that the report was culturally insensitive, block-headed, patronizing, exploitive, and ultimately shameful. There are few facts, a selective bibliography which reinforces Robert's disgust with our government's failure to find truth much less speak it. I was around during this era and witnessed the shenanigans as they happened. But I didn't have to duck objects falling from the sky and neither did Robert. Such a seething quality to this whole thing, so wrong-headed, so patronizing.

Oct. 23 2012 10:10 PM
Theo

Another find, a message from Eng Yang: http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2012/10/message-eng-yang

Oct. 23 2012 05:09 PM
NF from NYC

The researchers on this episode were plain lazy. There are obviously two truths here. Why not question experts about the possible connections between people dying and the bee poop in order to possibly find the real cause? Instead they took the word of Harvard or Cornell professors at face value and put responsibility on Kalia and Eng to provide proof as to why they were being poisoned. You guys are terrible detectives.

Oct. 23 2012 03:40 PM
Amelia

How about the episode where your podcast matter of factly, without context or discussion, refers to autism as a "disorder"? For a project that is supposed to be all about science, communication, and society you guys are remarkably, and deeply problematically, off the mark, uninformed, and tone deaf a lot of the time.

Oct. 23 2012 02:30 PM
Theo

Just found this: Kao Kalia Yang's (interpreter for the Yellow Rain piece) first response to "Yellow Rain" http://www.hyphenmagazine.com/blog/archive/2012/10/science-racism-radiolabs-treatment-hmong-experience

Oct. 23 2012 11:31 AM
Dr. Heather in Hawaii from Hawaii

I'm a psychologist, and we are trained in the fine art of interviewing. This interview could have been handled in a way that BOTH highlighted the need to find the truth -- AND in a way that empathically connected with the family's story (and THEIR important truths). What if the interview was handled this way: "We understand that your people went through a dreadful experience that the world needs to know much, much more about. Genocides need to be prevented. If the scientific truth isn't understood more fully, other governments might be allowed to commit such genocide in the future -- and blame nature. So understanding if there is at least some contribution by the natural world, in a way, helps us prevent future genocides. Is it at all possible that "natural" illness brought on by the ravages of war could have contributed at all to what your family saw?" This line of interviewing would have gotten to your goal -- of better understanding the truth -- and of handling this family's (and this people's) painful memories in a respectful, honorable way.

Oct. 21 2012 05:03 PM
Nguyen from Pennsylvania

I feel that the reason why I listen to the Radiolab podcast is because it makes me think about things that I usually would otherwise take for granted. This episode wasn't any different. It was emotionally charged and had an unexpected twist. Throughout most of the episode, I really wanted to know what the "yellow rain" was, when I should have been more sensitive and aware of the bigger picture - the Hmong genocide and how the Hmong people were impacted, which the podcast did point out at the end of the episode.

This episode was a reminder that we are all human - vulnerable, mistaken-prone, defensive, and subject to being lost in translation. There are so many differing perspectives and feelings that sometimes we get blindsided by our own thoughts and emotions, which was reflected by both sides of the story in this episode and by everyone else who listened to the podcast.

In the end, for me, the episode was not about the yellow rain, but was more about the complexities of being human and how to come to terms with ourselves and with society. I've learned that it is difficult to find a balance between the sciences (which focuses on facts and logic) and human emotions (which is based on human experiences and how that makes us feel). It is something that needs to be acknowledged and put into practice. I don't think attacking/boycotting Rob or the Radiolab podcast will bring about any good positive change. I doubt that it was anyone's intention to hurt each other's feelings. I'm sure that Radiolab and Rob have learned a lot from this experience and will try to be more careful in their future presentations.

What is life, but a big learning experience?

Oct. 20 2012 07:57 PM
Mark Boyd from Bay Village, Ohio

I couldn't agree with KC from Brooklyn more...you can't really HAVE science without philosophy. When science is divorced from philosophy, it may lead to amoral experimentation. Plus, boo on people who hate endless speculation - it's FUN! Jeeze, what else is there time for in this universe than wonder, wonder, and more wonder?

Oct. 19 2012 07:14 PM
KC from Brooklyn, NY

please don't stop incorporating philosophy in your episodes. commentators that ask for pure science are not getting what you do. For me, you take empirical data and explore what this means in a larger worldview - philosophy is what makes this show more than just demonstrations of scientific experiments but how those experiments relate to each of us individually, how we see and approach the world. Most importantly, philosophy gives us perspective, and in the case of the 'Yellow Rain' humbles us and our dependence on scientific fact.

Oct. 19 2012 11:36 AM
Leah from Eugene Oregon

I don't think the fact that on person brought back a leaf with bee poop on it is evidence that the Hmong weren't being poisoned. It's completely possible that they were being poisoned, but since the bee poop was the most visible and obvious thing in their environment they misattributed it as the source and brought a sample back. It could happen to anyone. What would you think if everybody around you started getting sick and when you looked around for the source you found a bunch of yellow powder everywhere?

Not having found direct evidence of it having happened is not the same as finding conclusive evidence that it didn't happen. Perhaps if that lab had not made such an egregious error in it's analysis and instead had done their job and found it to be be poop, then others could have continued the search for an actual sample of the toxin, but because of their incompetence no one realized they needed to keep looking until the evidence was long gone. Now we can never really find out for sure what happened.

This is not a tale of Hmong stories misleading a huge government power with their superstitions, but a story of how monumentally a huge governmental power could fail at every step of the process. First the lab messes up the analysis, and then the president is making accusations that have dire consequences without even waiting for another lab to confirm?

That was obviously not appropriate, and personally I would like it if they went and interviewed the people in political positions that were responsible for such monumental errors, and interrogated them until they cried... You know in the interest of fairness.

Oct. 18 2012 11:56 PM
Fat from UK

Why the presenters chose not to research this properly, I don't know. Agent Orange from Monsantos and Dow chemicals seems to have been at least raised once during this interview. But in classic NPR style, they went for emotive NPR formula, skirting around the piles of evidence out there that indicates exactly what the old man was trying to express; they were poisoned. The truth is beyond what the editors and sponsors of this show can handle. Too bad, I liked Radiolab, but now I know where the edge is.

Oct. 17 2012 06:42 PM
Sabino2son from MN

I've listen to countless episodes of Radiolab, some multiple times. Good listening when out on long runs or biking.

1. The topic of this episode seemed out of sorts with typical Radiolab content. I'd stick to "science" rather than "philosophy." Therefore,
2. Do an episode on "Yellow Rain" or "Chemical Weapons" or something more tangible or objective about the plight of these poor South-Asain people cought in the middle of "superpower" war & politics.

I was uncharacteristically compelled to leave this message, as I was really emotionally affected by the interview & episode.

Oct. 16 2012 11:18 PM
Sakura from Boston, MA from Boston, MA

Brava Radiolab for a thought provoking episode (esp. the yellow rain segment). Kudos to Jad + Robert. (although I agree with another commenter that I'd really prefer more science-science stories from now on....)
That said, obviously there's confusion among those who are hurling contempt at the show right now; the Yangs are interested in the truth about their people, but the show is about scientific truth (let's not forget this show is about science and things to do with science). and it's possible that the Yangs thought the two are one and the same. The fact of the matter is (no pun intended), most real life events are complicated and there is more than one CATEGORY of truth. I actually agree with Robert's point that Kalia may have wanted to monopolize, but I think that's unintentional because it's deeply emotional for her family. The fact this event has caused so much suffering for her family and her people obviously makes "the truth about her people's suffering" the priority truth, which trumps the truth about the science about the yellow rain itself. The fact that the Radiolab chose to edit IN the emotional segment (where she breaks down), shows how much bigger person Radiolab is. If you evaluate Robert's questioning from a "human story" point of view, then yes, he was insensitive, but remember this is a science show! I think it's perfectly okay for him to push Eng for answers (and I don't think he did it offensively). So perhaps there's a misunderstanding from the Yang Family that this show is in fact about science (in fact, I think there IS a misunderstanding, since Kalia said in the show that she and her uncle agreed to this interview because she thought they will be able to tell the truth about their people) all the while the show is about the truth to do with whether the yellow rain is a chemical weapon or really bee poop. So really, it's not the show that focuses in on the tree and missed the forest, it's really that the two parties are talking about 2 very different forests.

Oct. 16 2012 07:13 AM
paul

I just want to remind everyone what can happen when rumors and hearsay aren't allowed to be questioned: http://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fan_death

Also anyone who thinks a 2 hour full interview should can be broadcast on an hour long radio show is letting their outrage trump their basic understanding of arithmetic.

The end of that segment was a demonstration of how people can let their emotion cloud their ability to reason objectively, and these comments are further proof. Let's make sure we know the truth before we start pointing fingers. How do you think Russia feels being wrongly implicated as a contributor to genocide? Finding the truth doesn't diminish what happened.

Oct. 15 2012 04:23 AM
Peter

Everything about the situation is profoundly troubling. Thanks to Radiolab for your courage to tackle the issue. No one else in the media is willing to raise such hard questions.

Oct. 14 2012 10:27 PM
april242

Somtimes the truth hurts. Very brave move guys. One of the many reasons why I am a huge fan of the show

Oct. 14 2012 11:03 AM

As an aspiring young audio journalist I was very grateful for you guys showing all the content from this story like you did. I learned quite a bit from the experience you guys went through and hopefully am better armed if there is a situation that comes up similar to the one you were placed in. All the best.

Oct. 13 2012 10:53 PM
John R. Ellis from Texas

There are too many comments on this thread and Robert's thread to read them all to see if anyone else has said this, but I think the "Obvious Truth" explanation was left off the report. At least it's obvious to me as a retired neurologist and retired bee keeper. The Bee Poop was a response by the bees to exposure to an organophosphate nerve toxin, such as Sarin, which was used to kill the Hmong and animals. Pooping is an immediate reaction to such toxins, by insects or humans. The Yellow Rain was the canary in the coal mine indicating a gas attack. It did not cause the problem, it signaled it. This could have been easily explained to the Hmong to show that everyone was right, but correlation was confused with causation.

Oct. 13 2012 03:51 PM
Alex Obregon from TX

This was great, thanks guys.

Oct. 12 2012 03:21 PM
Cheken Farmer from Colorado


I was intrigued by this podcast, and even more so to read this intense string of commentary. I am reminded of the controversy that followed Hannah Arendt's publication of Eichmann in Jerusalem. She was accused (among other things) of being a Holocaust denier, just as some commenters here want to accuse RadioLab of being genocide deniers in the case of the Hmong. In fact what enraged Arendt's readers, and apparently many of the listeners here, is a dispassionate inquiry into the folk history of the 'how' of the genocide. Arendt pointed out that Jewish collaboration amplified the death toll; RadioLab said nothing so inflammatory, but attributed (in an under-researched sounding sort of way) the Hmong genocide to cholera, dysentery, enemy fire, and so on; but not to a single, vicious focused extermination ray). As a descendant of Holocaust refugees, I have always wondered why it is so important to a victim narrative that the villain wield that extermination ray; that no death can be attributed to poor plumbing, or (in the case of the German Jews) human weakness, fear, whatever. Of course, RadioLab probably won't do a story on this question, but it's an interesting one to me. Is it important to the surviving Hmong that the genocide be attributed to directed chemical warfare? Why? Why is it generally so offensive to the survivors of a genocide to investigate the mechanisms of that genocide? I mean this not as a challenge, but as a question. There is some large answer to this question, and it applies to many charged issues where there is a victim, and also a real public interest in understanding exactly what happened.

Oct. 10 2012 01:10 PM
David from San Jose, CA

In light of the whole Jonah Lehrer episode and the Mike Daisy episode on TAL I can understand Radiolab needing to be factually correct especially since this whole episode is about facts. I felt that the Hmong family didn't get this and were more interested about talking about what they experienced and how they felt about it rather than what actually happened. They even called said that how the people died was an issue of semantics. I think in the interview he was respectful but the after interview commentary may have been a bit harsh. But their walking out of the interview was came more form a place of "I went through this horrible thing so how dare you question me."

Oct. 09 2012 04:34 PM
Carlo from New Jersey

I thought this episode was great. I only knew a little of what went on in southeast Asia after the Vietnam war ended, now I know more. Yellow Rain is an emotionally charged issue and emotions can very easily be misunderstood. That is what happened, a misunderstanding.

I also think the issue of Yellow Rain is not settled. Just because some samples turned out to be bee poop doesn't mean chemical weapons were not used on the Hmong people. Some witnesses spoke of a powder falling from the sky. More investigation needs to be done.

Oct. 08 2012 04:11 PM
Dominique Gatland from South Africa

Listening to this episode left me reeling. It was as if a single bee had flown into the room, with a subtle irritating buzz, was then joined by a few more, humming up the anxiety. When Kalia begged for understanding it was the horrific realization of finding yourself in a swarm. This story was handled with an insensitivity I cannot condone, but it did introduce me to a tragedy I knew nothing of. I want to research this story further, I want to know what happened. And I think you owe that family some respect.

Oct. 08 2012 01:06 PM
Rebecca Kimmel from Havertown, PA

I wrote a comment before about my sadness about this story, however, I want to add something I see as very positive: we are talking about the genocide. This story has created a greater, although possibly unintended outcome. Too often genocide, such as the case with the Hmong, the Holocaust, Rwandans, Sudanese, and Muslim Bosnians are swept under the rug.

For this reason, thank you, Radiolab. And for those saying very insulting things to the hosts, remember that you too have offended others. Everyone has, even with the best of intentions

Oct. 07 2012 09:21 PM
Christine

Your openness in sharing your uncertainties, the uncommon veering away from being "experts" -- I'm in the camp that says THIS makes RadioLab stand out in the world. Robert annoyed me no end, but I can reflect on why and no one is pontificating here. I'm impressed.

Oct. 06 2012 07:51 PM
Jilian

As a longtime devoted listener I am heartbroken by the Yellow Rain segment and the muted, equivocating explanation you've offered. I feel like I just watched my best friend punch and old lady in the stomach and then shrug and say, "What? That's just the direction my fist was going. If I hurt her it's not because I intended to." I'm shocked and disgusted and I don't think I can ever enjoy your show in the same way again. You do understand that your precious, privileged intentions don't actually negate the harm you've caused, right? For decades the sacrifice and suffering of the Hmong people has been ignored by we Westerners as we pursued "more important" issues. You recreated that same dynamic in miniature with your pursuit of some hazily defined "truth." Do the right thing and apologize to the Yangs and the rest of the Hmong community ON THE AIR. If This American Life can devote a whole episode to addressing the Mike Daisy fiasco, you owe the Yangs at least a thorough segment on what the Hmong did for America and why it's so easy for the human mind to edit out uncomfortable truths when we think we have a worthy goal in sight.

Oct. 06 2012 10:59 AM
elise from Toronto

i just don't understand. you say that the point is to get at the truth. you say the United States almost used yellow rain as an excuse to begin manufacturing its own chemical weapons, you say this would have invariably led to many more people dying.You say that Robert's insistent questioning wasn't for cheap theatrics but rather he believes that the truth in this situation is a matter of life or death. Who's life? Whose death? The Hmong that died at the hands of genocidal states are already dead. And the US continues to commit atrocities against sovereign foreign nations (with its military) and upon its own citizens (with its police forces) every single day. How important do you seriously think you, Jad, and you, Robert, and your little radio show are, that your quest for a truth almost 50 years old is more important than a modicum of justice for one Hmong man who just wants to tell his story to an audience, albeit an audience of mostly smug, self-satisfied hipsters?

I've got some truth to drop on you, right now: You, and your show, are not that important. Your quest for "the truth" is simply not. that. important.

i hope you learn from this. and i hope you learn how to apologise some day. You have a daughter. for her sake i hope you learn Jad.

Oct. 06 2012 12:07 AM
Ray from New York, NY

*********** AIR THE ORIGINAL TAP FOR EVERYONE HERE ************

Oct. 04 2012 10:32 PM
Jadin from Orlando, FL

I am a huge radiolab fan, and this incident will not stop me from listening in the future.

However...

1) I kept listening for an apology to the Yangs, but one never came. I imagine the interviewer was in shock and did not know what to say. Perhaps an apology was given but went unaired. Regardless, I personally felt like one was due.

2) Consider doing a full show on what the Hmong experienced. Ideally featuring the Yangs if they can be persuaded to try a second attempt, this time focused on the history of their people and their personal experience.

Oct. 04 2012 06:23 PM
Shelli Allen

Bravo on the courage it takes to go forward with this story despite your concerns, and despite the pain that the Hmong woman clearly experienced while doing the translation for the interview. I am truly impressed, no matter the truth.

Oct. 04 2012 06:09 PM
Janet, upstate NY

For the Yellow Rain segment of The Fact of the Matter, my questions posed are these: why is the scientific method, which could be used to demonstrate how different truths can be represented, missing here? Isn't science one premise on which this show is built?

What we do have is an extremely passionate and emotional plea – as expressed by the guest on the show who was working as a translator – which carries a disturbing message and has a deep resonance with people who see the world with their heart first.

The incomplete and conflicting scientific evidence presented – as expressed by the guests on the show who spoke for the scientific community – appeals to those who see the world first through the lens of rationality but is incomplete, at best.

Unfortunately this segment of the show failed to provide a thorough experience on both fronts.

There was not enough depth presented with regard to what was killing the Hmong people, whether it is known or not. Neither does the show provide a satisfactory amount of depth with regard to what scientists do or do not know and what research was done to provide that data, or if any research is ongoing. Nor does it encourage us to do the rest of any of that work on our own, to find where the truth might be hiding.

However, blaming Mr. Krulwich for being insensitive during an insistent line of questioning is ridiculous. Asking a man, who said he saw chemicals reign from the sky and kill a race of people, to be specific about what he saw is not unreasonable. What is unreasonable is failing to ask scientists to provide the rigor attached to their work – the results of which would be directly tied to worldwide chemical warfare. One purpose for such inquiry would be to identify the areas where that research may be wrong or lacking in the same way that eyewitness accounts can be misinterpreted. In this piece, the scientific evidence did not earn the same insistent line of questioning as the eye witness account.

In a time when skeptical thinking, investigative journalism, and interest in math and science are in decline, we all need to do better here.

Oct. 04 2012 03:21 PM
Jesse from Arcata, CA

This may be lost in a flood of responses to this piece, but hopefully not. Personally, I want to thank everyone that put this podcast together. I'm glad you aired everything you did because all of that was part of a very moving story. It seems right that out of all the episodes that you created, at least one would really upset people or at the very least ruffle some feathers.

Everyone else seems to be far more well-informed about this topic than I and I appreciate what they have to say. However, I didn't know that this abuse happened to the Hmong people. So, above all, I want to thank everyone for sharing their stories because it brought to light so much truth: not about yellow rain, not about chemical warfare, but instead, about us.

Oct. 04 2012 05:33 AM
julia hainer-violand from toronto, on

I typically listen to radiolab while jogging and your recent piece on "the truth" regarding the experiences of the Hmong people left me hyperventilating and i had to stop listening. I am glad that there are others out there who were troubled by the myopic view (as Jad puts it) regarding the experiences around yellow rain.

What I think this is a lesson on (and would be a GREAT radiolab podcast) would be the pitfalls of western science. For example, why is a lab report out of Minneapolis more important than the stories of those who experienced the yellow rain or poison, and overall genocide of its people? listen to the podcast "WE HAVE EVIDENCE" is repeated over and over again, as if that is more important than the evidence of testimony and death?

Why is the interviewer somehow disregard their own implication in re-inflicting trauma by re-silencing the genocide of the Hmong people all in the name of "truth"? Don't you realize your questioning has consequences and reinforces hierarchies of whose "truth" is more salient, a lab report or the survivor of genocide whose people have lived on the land for centuries?

Currently I am taking a course on Indigenous Methodologies, which centers on respect and relationships. Perhaps it would do good for the radiolab folks to get some perspective on their ontological beliefs and their methodologies in which they ground their research.

I think that Robert and Jad should realize that their ways of knowing are not the only ways out there, that their way of looking at reality is not the only one out there. Read "decolonizing methodologies: Research and Indigenous Peoples" by Linda Tuhiwai Smith before you go out searching for "the TRUTH" again.

Oct. 03 2012 10:42 AM
Kim from Berkeley, CA

I wonder if you would visit a Jewish Holocaust survivor's home with the same insensitivity and ignorance as you did the the Yang's. In your search for "truth" you failed to address so many aspects of 'truth' in this story. How do you even REALLY KNOW that the story of Yellow Rain, regardless of its chemical origin, was the REAL reason the US government decided to develop chemical warfare? That this story isn't some advantageous story to justify what the government was already doing at the time? The US government's "discovery" of "Weapons of Mass Destruction" and subsequent invasion of Iraq is a classic example of US 'truth' when none existed to ruin and destroy hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and American lives in pursuit of oil and other political and economic agendas. Why not include this piece of American foreign policy in your story which exemplifies the politics and manipulative nature of truth. Radiolab justified an incredible lack of forethought and human decency in pursuit of a half-baked, superficial narrative on something as philosophically and rationally equivocal as the objective nature of truth. Radiolab and its producers come across as some dim-witted cable program (excuse my french) *ssholes. You owe the Yangs an on-air apology, not only for them but for your fans. You've lost a lot credibility. As a long time fan of NPR and Radiolab, never have I ever heard something so asinine as to write a comment.

Oct. 03 2012 06:32 AM
Zack Stauber from Albuquerque, NM

I absolutely agree with Mr. Krulwich's comments about the truth being the truth, and how it cannot be hijacked by emotion. I want to congratulate RadioLab for sticking to their beliefs. I also think the Yangs were guilty of exactly what they were furious at RadioLab about, which was obscuring the truth for a minor point (one method of the genocide, not the extent, or whether it happened, or whether it should be called genocide). The truth about the method changes nothing about the genocide itself or Laotian history, but it does change American history.

The truth is, and I hope Mr. and Miss Yang are both consoled by this fact, that RadioLab did bring to light the genocide against the Hmong, and no one else has. I have a history degree, in fact I specialized in the Middle and Far East, and this is the first I've ever heard of the genocide in Laos. I've even read through Samantha Power's A Problem From Hell, a book all about genocides, including the one in Cambodia, but this one went unmentioned. I had never heard of this genocide by the Pathet Lao until this very episode, so whether it was by starvation, bombs and bullets, and contaminated water, or bona fide chemical weapons is not important to me because I have not grown attached to a particular narrative. Even if RadioLab made the debate about the method their central point, I think this revelation of secret genocide probably stole the show in the ears of many listeners, and I do not think Mr. Krulwich's comments detracted in any way from that.

Oct. 03 2012 12:51 AM
Hila from Boston, MA

Dear Radiolab-

I listened to your story ‘Yellow Rain’ and subsequently saw your apology, but I am still disappointed and upset and thus feel compelled to write you a letter. I strongly agree with many comments on your site, but I will only write what I believe was not yet mentioned:

Stories and interviews can lead you to unexpected places and you must know how to be flexible and acknowledge where the story brings you. As I see it, the interview with Ms. And Mr. Yang took an unexpected turn and you did not accept that. You had a point you were trying to make but at a certain place in the story, your point was no longer central. Thus, the story started to feel incomplete and unclear, and I was certain you would investigate further, especially given the episode’s name, ‘The Truth of the Matter’. It was hard to listen to Ms. Yang cry and then hear you talk as you did, laugh, and then move on to the next story.

It would have been appropriate to use the last segment to delve into the war and explore Ms. And Mr. Yang’s claims, which remained unsettlingly unresolved. You could have included more interviews by other locals and experts, and perhaps another perspective.

Earlier this year, Ira Glass and the ‘This American Life’ team learned that their story on the Apple factory in China was erroneous. Consequently, Ira and his team dedicated the entire next episode, ‘Retraction’, to amending the mistake and conducting an extensive fact check for his listeners. In addition, at the end of the episode Ira decided against including his usual ‘quote’ by Torey. I realize that the circumstances for ‘Retraction’ were different from ‘Yellow Rain’, but I believe there is much to be learned from the way the Ira conducted his interview, the fact checking process, and sensitivity and care devoted to this episode. Despite the unfortunate incident, ‘Retraction’ is a remarkable example of true journalistic integrity and stands out for me as being done in very good taste.

Thank you for reading.

Oct. 02 2012 09:38 PM
Madeline from Australia

I read this blog post before listening to the (original, unedited) version of the podcast. Even though I was "prepared" somewhat for the fact the segment would be controversial, I was still shocked by the strange tone of the whole piece. The intention was unclear, the interviewing approach off-kilter. I don't know nearly enough about the history and experiences of the Hmong people to comment on the "truth" of the facts presented. However, as an ordinary Radiolab listener I can say that my experience of the segment was that it was a very strange, unsettling, poorly framed piece of journalism.

On a larger scale, I think running an entire episode on "Truth" only a few weeks after the Jonah Lehrer controversy was in... bad taste? I don't know, it certainly doesn't put Radiolab in the best light. I know it's probably just a result of unfortunate scheduling, but I would've loved to see you deal with the Lehrer issue in a much deeper, comprehensive way than just a blog post. Surely an episode on the variable nature of truth would have been the perfect opportunity for that?

Oct. 02 2012 06:05 PM
Michael from WI

Kao Kalia Yang's response:

http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/kao-kalia-yang

A message from Kao Kalia Yang, author of The Latehomecomer, about a piece aired on RadioLab:

“Dear Friends,

“I’m writing you because today RadioLab aired a piece on Yellow Rain. They contacted me earlier this summer saying they wanted a Hmong perspective. I facilitated an interview with my Uncle Eng Yang because he lived through the experience. I agreed to serve as interpreter. The interview went on for about two hours. Robert Krulwich, one of the host of the show, grew increasingly disrespectful toward my uncle’s experiences and his lack of formal education. I lost the reigns on my emotions and I stopped the interview. This is of course the part that the show decides to end on.

“The story is billed as a search for Truth. I am a firm believer that the Truth belongs to those who’ve lived it. I am still processing the story they aired and all the information edited out (my uncle’s explanations about the Hmong experience with bees, how we have harvested honey for centuries, how the attacks happened far from bee settlements, how they were strategic in that they happened only where there were heavy concentrations of Hmong people).

“I am sharing this with you because I believe it can be used for the work you do—to positively influence understanding. If you are Hmong, I’m sharing this with you because it is a valuable statement of media and representations of us…even as we struggle to do our best work.”

- Kao Kalia Yang

Oct. 02 2012 05:13 PM
Kimberly from Texas

I appreciate the discussion that this has sparked on the topic of truth and the plight of the Hmong people. I don't profess to be an expert on either, but I do understand something about investigations and forensics and the ambiguity of the concept of truth.

It is undeniable that eye witness accounts of events, especially in a state of fear, panic and terror, can be inaccurate. But this is not always the case. I believe that where this interview went wrong was in the attempt to raise a reasonable doubt in the mind of the eyewitness. It's akin to a defense expert grilling a victim on the stand. Perhaps in the pursuit of truth, that is what is needed (in a court of law) but I feel that it was out of place here.

As an example, an elderly woman was sexually assaulted and testified consistently that her attacker was a black male. It was undeniable in her mind. Truth. Period. DNA testing identified a man of the crime. He was white. Truth can be fluid. Perspective and paradigm are always in play.

Where science can provide a "truth", reproducibly, independently and reliably, that may be sufficient. I don't believe that the yellow rain case is anywhere near settled on the truth.

Your perspective was the validity of the source/composition of yellow rain. Their perspective was exposing the injustice to their relatives, their communities and their people. Recognizing the potential conflict between those two agendas should have been clear to the Radiolab staff.

(It's true that some eyewitnesses recount their stories when faced with evidence other than their recollections. But it is a difficult and pain-staking journey. For more on that you can see: http://www.innocenceproject.org/Content/Timothy_Cole.php )

Oct. 02 2012 03:36 PM
MW from Baltimore, MD

I'm with the interviewers on this and the decision to air the piece. Listening to this segment makes me realize just how sterilized other media probably is in representing real people and real issues. Or attempting to, anyway. It's not something you often hear on the air: what someone *really* thinks that isn't chopped and cuddled into being politically correct.

That this particular line of questioning became so contentious is precisely what made it worthwhile. If you're asking questions about the 'truth' that don't make people's emotions flare, than you probably aren't asking very good questions. And nothing is off limits. There's nothing sacred about a particular group's experience, no matter how horrible, that should be allowed to persist and distort the interpretation of history.

Oct. 02 2012 03:36 PM
Laetaris from Brooklyn

I'm not sure what is worse in this segment; the awful way that these interviewers treated the Hmong man and his niece, or the ridiculous discussion afterwards. Its incredible to see this made about what the interviewers did or did not think, know, or feel about the Hmong people's experiences and reactions.

There are so many people in marginalized communities whose stories are not told, even when their history needs to be known. This interview is a precise illustration of why so many of people wont share their stories, and they remain hidden within plain sight.

Oct. 01 2012 06:39 PM

Whether or not there was a "yellow rain" weapon is not the same question as whether or not the Hmong were targetted by biological or chemical weapons. The evidence of chemical or biological attack goes much deeper than that. After taking a deep breath, I think Ms. Yang's statement that everyone knows the Hmong were attacked by these weapons, stands on its own. It took me two listens, but I heard.

Oct. 01 2012 05:56 PM

The phenomenon of a yellow rain is not limited to post-Vietnam war SouthEast Asia. I'm talking here about a bright yellow liquid or precipitate coming out of the air or sky, sometimes sticky and landing on things, sometimes sitting in puddles on the ground.

I don't know about anyone else, but I have experienced it myself. I recall it landing on my car. I remember it circling puddles that I splashed through as a child. It was explained to me then (with a tone of utmost authority) that it was sulphur from a nearby refinery.

When I was older, I learned that the folks at said refinery received complaints every year about how they were poisoning the environment and damaging our health with their sulphur output. Only problem was, the sulphur rain appeared when the refinery wasn't even operating, and when tests showed no sulphur in the environment. In retrospect, if the level of sulphur was sufficient to cause the appearance of a precipitate, I doubt any of us would be standing there looking at it with curiousity.

The bright yellow "sulphur rain" (search the term on google if you like) is, of course, pollen. Nonetheless, the folks at the refinery receive complaints about sulphur (occasionally including tearing eyes, respiratory distress, and other symptoms) as regular as clockwork when the pollen count is up and it has been raining. Some refuse to believe the company when they deny having anything to do with it.

Similar phenomena has elsewhere been attributed to nuclear fallout and chemical weapons. I suppose it is possible that someone somewhere is releasing fallout, mycotoxins, or sulphur into the environment and it is bright yellow and looks like a release of pollen; or it could be pollen.

I just saw that Mr. Krulwich apologized. I'll take it at face value.

Oct. 01 2012 01:27 PM
Jonathan from MN

Clearly the point of this story was getting to the bottom of the yellow rain, not deciding whether or not the Hmong people were wronged. There were two truths here. 1) Yellow rain is naturally occurring bee droppings. 2) The Hmong people were victims of crimes against humanity. Just because Robert's questions were aimed at #1, does not mean he denies #2.

Great show as always. I thought you were more than fair.

Also completely agree with Emma above... "Still wish I had more to go off of to envision the inside of Skelly's house though."

Oct. 01 2012 09:25 AM
Diane from MN

So Robert has apologized, but only to the listeners. And only because there's been so much negative responses regarding his behavior.

http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blogland/2012/sep/30/robert-krulwich-yellow-rain/

Why was Eng's Yellow Rain story left out of the final cut and why didn't Radiolab tell listeners that Eng was saying he knows what bee pollen look like in the sound bite they used? Has there been an apology to the Yangs and the Hmong community?

Oct. 01 2012 04:30 AM
Diane from MN

Apparently, an incident of Yellow Rain happened in Japan which the Japanese government claimed it's bee pollen as well. This is the reddit conversation created a year ago. So there was bee pollen in Laos in the 1980's and there was also bee pollen in Japan after the Fukushima breach.

http://www.reddit.com/r/reddit.com/comments/gfy2u/yellow_rain_like_japan_is_getting_in_spokane_wa/

This bee pollen "fact" is sounding more and more like a lie.

Oct. 01 2012 02:54 AM
Sm from SF,CA

Jay

I'd love to hear your take on the holocaust. When is that show coming?

Regards
SM

Oct. 01 2012 02:18 AM
sam from Wausau,WI

Jad and Robert are journalists. The show they have created requires us to think deeply about everything. This story shows us there can be two truths sometimes. Do not let your anger blind you! They left the interview in there when they could have easily edited it out and this wouldn't be happening. Do not pretend the story didn't make you think deeply about a difficult subject. Also, the next time any of you are insensitive towards a person, culture, religion, etc I hope there is an open forum where we can ridicule you just as you have done to radiolab. Remain faithful listeners!

Oct. 01 2012 01:49 AM
Erin

Awful. What an abuse of power. You asked a refugee of genocide, someone who saw his people being killed in front of him, whether or not he saw bees or planes. For what? To fit nicely into what your story's theme? The scientists can't explain why the first sample was contaminated and the latter wasn't. Why didn't you grill the lab in MN? You are after the truth? There are so many other threads you could have followed but instead you chose to harass a survivor of genocide while he attempts to tell his story.
All you can hear in Robert Krulwich's voice is contempt, and self-righteous, cold, condescending indifference in that question. He shouldn't be involved in this program. I have been a radiolab listener for years, and I have absolutely no interest in listening again after this story. Is this what you call journalistic integrity?

Oct. 01 2012 12:41 AM
jimmy

you guys are freaking me out. So Robert posts an apology but its nowhere on the site where anyone would notice? that is insane. Please release full transcript. Please allow us to hear from Kalia and her uncle regarding this. You are still silencing them.

Oct. 01 2012 12:01 AM
jm

Much has been said on the nature of the interview, the editing choices, etc.

I wanted to comment on the presentation of the key lesson of the story. It was not, at all, relevant to the Morris point - that there is an objective truth of the matter with regard to these kinds of claims. There is a fact of the matter about the yellow rain - even if it is difficult to discern.

What the story really brings out is the ethical implications of making truth claims - namely that in a real social situation, telling one truth (assuming the bee explanation is right - I am unqualified to say) might obscure another (the suffering of the Hmong).

This is what was moving about the interview, and these themes do come out of the story, but the presentation is clouded by the effort to relate it to the metaphysical question about truth. The show would have been better served keeping the explicit frame on the ethical, sociological and epistemic issues that the stories actually discussed.

Sep. 30 2012 09:34 PM
Elizabeth from NYC

Well, here it is folks. Should be posted as the top entry on the home page, but it isn't:

http://www.radiolab.org/blogs/radiolab-blogland/2012/sep/30/robert-krulwich-yellow-rain/

Sep. 30 2012 07:17 PM
Kalthy

Given the fact that science has progressed to a point that we are now able to find markers in substances which could lead us back to the facility which produced them (chemical fingerprints, if you will) It does not surprise me that the original samples may have actually gone missing or been replaced with something that looked similar.

** We should all help the yang's get that court order **

************** RELEASE THE FULL TRANSCRIPT **********************

Sep. 30 2012 04:25 PM

I would like to READ THE FULL TRANSCRIPT of the interview.

Sep. 30 2012 03:17 PM
Stephanie Thomas Berry

My daughter and I have just finished listening to your Yellow Rain segment, and we were both left with a very bitter taste in our mouths. It seems in your search for truth you attempted, most insensitively, to consolidate a first-person account of yellow rain with the scientific "evidence" that it was not a chemical weapon. From this listener's perspective it was obvious that scientists have not figured out what the yellow rain really was--there are conflicting lab results! And the assertion that it was bee poop leads to many more questions: why would the bee poop suddenly be so toxic? Surely if it had always been toxic the people would have known about it. Why is it not happening now? There are such obvious holes in the bee poop assertion, and I am astounded that you would not pursue these questions more thoroughly, and instead choose to interrogate rather than listen to the Yang family. Robert was the one monopolizing the conversation. It was the worst kind of journalism, the sort that discounts the experiences of real people because their stories don't jive with a construct. Put Errol Morris onto the task of discovering what Yellow Rain was, and let the Hmong people tell their story without Robert's interfernce. Kalia's husband has an interesting account of the interview here: http://halcyonicpursuit.tumblr.com/post/32527873849/aaron-hokanson-husband-of-kao-kalia-yang-about

Sep. 30 2012 02:15 PM

@lily, Hmong folk are not "uneducated", amd definitely not stupid-- they have knowledge of the land that surpasses a harvard "scientist"--the Hmong lived in those
Mountains for centuries and prior to the war had never experienced the things they experienced, even amongst the bees, that can only be explained by chemical warfare. part of the problem the show wants you to believe they are backwards "boonies" dwellers.

A) they were familiar with bees in the mountains of Laos after centuries of harvesting honey comb and honey. As has been pointed out, bee shit does not just kill entire villages nowhere near where bees live (or shit)
The "science" in this story only ever looked at bees in the hills of Thailand- very different geography and bee behavior than the mountains of Laos.

B) Eng speaks several languages and is respected in his community because of his intelligence. Kalia has multiple degrees from some of The best institutions in this country.

C) This show is depending on a lack of intelligence in its audience that can't see the numerous holes
In what it presents as "fact" and "science". I am heartened to see that for the most part their audience is pretty smart and can see through this.

Sep. 30 2012 11:19 AM
Lily

I found this story interesting but also a bit unclear as to why the Hmong experience was brought up in relation to the issue of "yellow rain." The Hmong people were mountainous farming people with hardly no education. They can tell you what they observed but they will bring no scientific knowledge as to what "yellow rain" really is. I understand Radiolabs efforts to presenting the Hmong story, but if the focus was going to be on Yellow Rain, it would have been smarter to bring in scientists for a more scientific debate. If Radiolabs intentions were to dismiss the experiences of the Hmong to bee poop then they should have made that clear to Kalia Yang. I believe the intention of the radio segment was unclear to her as it is to me.

Sep. 30 2012 10:30 AM
Becky from Columbus, OH

I just listened to this disturbing story and I thought that you entirely missed the point by ending on the idea that there are three, contradictory truths. The point is that these truths are in fact quite connected. The willingness of Reagan to use the Hmong situation to create weapons of mass destruction is part and parcel of the world's ignoring the Hmong themselves. These outcomes are not set against each other but go completely together. Plus all that is connected to our insistence that truth can be solved through technical means, the scientific "fact" of the matter, when what this story shows is that facts cannot be separated from politics. Science in your story appears not as the neutral arbiter, but as politics by another means.

Sep. 30 2012 09:24 AM
Canary

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 08:35 AM
Canary

A response from Kao Kalia Yang from her Tumblr page http://www.tumblr.com/tagged/kao-kalia-yang

“Dear Friends,

“I’m writing you because today RadioLab aired a piece on Yellow Rain. They contacted me earlier this summer saying they wanted a Hmong perspective. I facilitated an interview with my Uncle Eng Yang because he lived through the experience. I agreed to serve as interpreter. The interview went on for about two hours. Robert Krulwich, one of the host of the show, grew increasingly disrespectful toward my uncle’s experiences and his lack of formal education. I lost the reigns on my emotions and I stopped the interview. This is of course the part that the show decides to end on.

“The story is billed as a search for Truth. I am a firm believer that the Truth belongs to those who’ve lived it. I am still processing the story they aired and all the information edited out (my uncle’s explanations about the Hmong experience with bees, how we have harvested honey for centuries, how the attacks happened far from bee settlements, how they were strategic in that they happened only where there were heavy concentrations of Hmong people).

“I am sharing this with you because I believe it can be used for the work you do—to positively influence understanding. If you are Hmong, I’m sharing this with you because it is a valuable statement of media and representations of us…even as we struggle to do our best work.”

- Kao Kalia Yang

Sep. 30 2012 08:01 AM
Mai Ka Vang from Northern California

I am a Hmong woman and I have been listening to RL for the last 2 years. I love everything about RL. I am offended but everything that I want to say has already been say. Therefore, I will share a little about my experiences and myself.

I was born in the hilltops of Laos, with no Doctor, nurses, or clean water to drink. I am a refugee; I have lived in one of the many refugee camps in Thailand that are now close. I still have families member in Laos; we (Hmong people) have been living in those hilltops for generations, living off the land, hunting the animals, planting rice and vegetables year round, and drink the jungle’s rainwaters for generations. I remember harvesting opium in Laos with my parents, beautiful poppy flowers on my parent’s farm. My parents do not smoke opium but it was a means for us to earn money to buy products such as medicines and clothing.
We came to the United States in 1989; a church had donated money for my parents and my two brothers and I to come here, that money paid for airfare and paper works. My parents finish paying the church that had donated that money in 2001. The process of coming to America was long. My story is just one of the many thousands.

I have lived in Laos and I know I probably have bee poop landing on my head more than once but I not stricken of illness.
I know our stories will never heard and/or be understood. Nevertheless, to see your people die in an unnatural way and cannot find a way to explain; there are no words to describe it. My father and uncles fought in the Vietnam War, they and their comrades were promise of protections, land, money and a new home for families from the CIA.

However, when we came to America, we were just another chink walking around, another Chinese or Japanese person on welfare, with no education and could only find a job that paid minimum wage. I have grown to tolerate arrogant people. Whenever I meet someone who has never heard of Hmong people before, I teach people who I am, where I am from, and my journey to America. I love the United States of America; it is my home.

Jad, thank you for your blog and I appreciate that this interview was feature on RL.

I don’t care for an apologize, because an apology is not going to bring the dead back, it’s not going to turn the hand of time back. Acknowledgment is different from apologizing, I can only speak for myself, and I don’t present the Hmong people.

I will still come back to RL because I am a royal listener.

Sep. 30 2012 12:20 AM
Dallas from Minnesota

First of all, let's take a breath.

Second of all, I agree with the listeners who would like you to apologize more openly. In the age of all this information pouring in, it's difficult to discover the "corrections" page on anything, and radiolab is definitely not any exception to this.

And finally, and I highly suggest this again as a topic: Maybe do a show on journalism and how it goes wrong. It's relevant, important, and maybe you could apologize for these recent incidents. Maybe it would give you guys new passion instead of sounding tired...and maybe it would help you understand why we, as an audience, are so upset.

Wishing you the best,

Dallas

Sep. 30 2012 12:19 AM

I found the entire episode ironic given the title "fact of the matter" .... the first segment was absurdly tedious and uninteresting... and brought to mind what well funded, intellectual elitists must do when they get bored and obsessive.
I was shocked and saddened by the "yellow rain"piece ..... to say the least, at robert's callous and dismissive attitude toward the interviewee.
Then without resolution, scientific or otherwise ... the last segment aired... like a heart piece aimed at triggering emotion !!! I was disgusted !!
In the end, there were NO facts and RL acted as if none of it MATTERED.
shame

Sep. 30 2012 12:12 AM
Matthew from Iowa City, IA

Radiolab,
I respect and enjoy your work and appreciate your yellow rain story and your efforts to deal with it responsibly as it has unfolded. At the same time, I understand why many listeners continue to be offended. I think the analogy with the Apple factory story on This American Life is pertinent, and I second suggestions that you give this story further treatment, including airing more of your interview with Mr. Yang.

Sep. 29 2012 11:00 PM
Diane from MN

The interview occurred before summer. Krulwich posted the dancing bees in June this summer as checked and posted earlier by Andrew Herbert. He was asked to take it down by Aaron, Kalia's husband, and others because it's insensitive and further complicates this issue:

The Facebook cover photo on Robert's page was added on June 21st 2012. Two full months before the airing of "The Fact of the Matter." One could postulate that it was an inside joke by Robert after the Yellow Rain interviews. Or, it could just be an unfortunate coincidence. Perhaps we should consider the theme from this show of truth and not create our own truth just because it fits with our current emotional state. Which would include avoiding claims of insensitivity on the part of Robert until we have heard his side of the story.
Sep. 27 2012 01:27 PM

Sep. 29 2012 10:31 PM
CC

So he has had those bees up on his Facebook page since just after that piece came out in 2011??

Sep. 29 2012 10:22 PM
Just Facts


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
Just Facts

The bees on Robert's Facebook page are a reference to a 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
http://www.npr.org/blogs/krulwich/2011/05/24/136391522/natures-secret-why-honey-bees-are-better-politicians-than-humans

Sep. 29 2012 08:21 PM
Michael McCready from San Diego

Best show ever! Don't change a thing. To those of you who disagree: if you don't like it turn it off.

mikee

Sep. 29 2012 07:57 PM
Christopher from california

So since you claim it was the bee poop causing all these problems, surely the Hmong must still suffer from what appears to be chemical attacks ever spring in Laos. Guess what? they don't.
It is not admirable to publish this poor work of "science journalism". Just read Ms. Yangs comments bellow, obviously the left out some very important details to the story.

Obviously Jad and Robert don't want to actually apologize to the Yangs, but know that both of you will not live this down. The longer you wait to apologize, the quicker this will become a real problem for you. Many have already emailed NPR headquarter, WNYC, and On The Media to bring their attention to this flawed journalism. More and more sources both from within NPR and WNYC will contacted, as well as many other media outlets, with every day that goes by without an apology. Is the word sorry that difficult to use in a sentence?

I understand that you largely ignore negative criticisms, but this is from a person who has only had positive comments to leave for the 5 years I've been a listener to your program. Your reaction will dictate whether i continue to support this show or not.

Sep. 29 2012 07:34 PM
Nancy from Montana

I too was disturbed by the young woman's accusations of betrayal and no defense of the interviewers is offered. What is unclear is why the father and daughter appeared to be so insulated that for 30 years they seem to have been unaware of the bee pollen alternative to yellow rain, and why they expected validation from these strangers. The father's story is his own. Certain yellow rain samples were tested and found harmless. The two need not cancel each other.

Sep. 29 2012 06:51 PM
Raynete from Las Vegas, NV

I do not understand why so many people are so offended by this story. i was moved by the reaction and emotional response to Robert's questioning they did not have to leave that in the story. I think that some of you are not looking at this from a scientific perspective, which is very important when you are listening to a show about science. the story is about yellow rain and what it was and all they did was report the truth as they knew it. It seems if they had found proof that the yellow rain was chemical weapons all of the people that are so upset about this would not be. but that's not what happened. I find it refreshing that they did NOT censor themselves and they did not bend the truth to make everyone happy.It saddens me to know that there are those who would want them to.

To all you guys at Radiolab, I applaud your honesty and I hope the negative response by a few people does not sway your storytelling in future.

Sep. 29 2012 06:48 PM
Derek

"Robert's insistent questioning wasn't for cheap theatrics. He believes, as we all do, that the truth in this situation is a matter of life or death."
Because finding out if Eng Yang saw a plane would allow us to travel back in time to tell the Reagan administration to not fully develop those particular chemical weapons which they didn't manufacture anyway?

If IF we lived in an alternate universe where the US had manufactured chemical weapons as a result of yellow rain, then the story you're trying to... forcefully... tell us would be of more vital importance (but would still not be on the shoulders of this one man's story, as Robert implies). But an interesting point in all of this is that when you look at it now, the story in history is: Even though at the time the US had positive scientific indications that the Soviet Union was providing chemical weapons to their allies, the US in turn did NOT manufacture chemical weapons. That would seem to me to send the message that the US won't use chemical weapons even if their enemies are, if you want to look at it in terms of a narrative. I think that's interesting, in light of Robert's continued reasoning.

Side note: I'm not going to be recommending or listening to Radiolab after the way you've disrespected Eng and Kao Kalia Yang and the Hmong community with the way you've handled this interview and that you haven't yet deemed it fit to apologize to them.

Sep. 29 2012 06:43 PM
Zeb from Pennsylvania

You ended the segment honorably, allowing Kalia and Eng to show what an ass Robert was being and then following through with your own criticism of his myopic position. And he was right to insist on the importance of the factual truth in this matter and it's international implications. But he was utterly wrong in using an interview with one man as the place to pointedly pursue that truth. As if Robert could some how uncover something by prodding Eng, or score some kind of victory by getting Eng to submit to the 'Harvard professor.' Robert Krulwich is not an investigative reporter and Eng was not on trial. Let the man tell his story, then back in the studio draw it all together with perspective on emotional vs factual truth and the bigger picture on the world's blindness to the plight of the Hmong and the way governments use and misuse shaky facts to justify militarism. Robert's hubris and self-satisfaction has always been annoying, but in this instance it took a very ugly and offensive turn. His lack of real apology and callous Facebook banner reinforce his image as a self righteous insensitive jerk. He should be replaced.

Sep. 29 2012 06:27 PM
Denis from France

You have my sympathies because you have tested the limits of what is anecdotal evidence and why memories and an eye-witness aren't infallible. And you did so at a cost. You have never questioned the Hmong genocide, not questioned the deaths, you have tested the hypothesis of those deaths being caused by toxic agents. The one who did contradict that hypothesis isn't you at all but that first lab analysis of the yellow stains, the one talking about bee poo. All the subsequent tests did only confirm it. So you were right about questioning the motives behind the chem/bacteriological warfare research. This isn't semantics, it is logics. The interviewee's rage is understandable but it is not pointed at the right persons.

Sep. 29 2012 05:56 PM
Marta

And I would like to say one thing, forcefully: Waiting so long to apologize looks like you are trying to cover your asses.

Sep. 29 2012 05:33 PM
Peter

I was disgusted by the episode and now I am disgusted by this response. I have unsubscribed and will not be listening any longer. You have lost all credibility.

Sep. 29 2012 05:10 PM
chuckwhite from michigan

When I think that NPR did fire Juan Williams for a comment he made, I wonder how it will respond to the dishonest editing (cutting out all the anti-bee-poop evidence) this show demonstrated. Probably nothing because the point the show wanted to make discredits the US and a Republican administration. Why the American people continue to pay for this kind of Democratic party propaganda amazes me.

Sep. 29 2012 02:40 PM
Matthew

Why did you place the burden of proof on Eng and not the Regan administration? I've liked your show and listened to every episode but this was unethical. You lost me as a listener.

Sep. 29 2012 02:00 PM
jim from manhattan

I hope you guys do something to better amend this. This segment sounded like the type of interview take down I expect of those idiots on fox news, but not from you guys. Please do something worthy with this mistake.

Sep. 29 2012 01:26 PM
Sara

As a long-time Radiolab listener, I was shocked and disgusted by Robert's treatment of an innocent man who lived through such intensely tragic events. Getting to the truth of the matter doesn't require losing one's sense of compassion or empathy, especially when someone is simply giving you an account of his/her personal experience. Eng didn't concoct the Yellow Rain himself and he certainly didn't deserve to be questioned in that manner. I support getting to the bottom of an interesting mystery, but, Robert, white male privilege and dominance are so passe. Get your act together.

Sep. 29 2012 01:19 PM
Canary

I hope that Radiolab has the integrity & transparency to upload the original interview and a transcript in its entirety. And if NPR fired Juan Williams for his remarks on FOX and NPR's board forced Vivian Schiller to resign after a gotcha video made by conservative scam artists, I hope the higher ups at NPR and WNYC make Robert Krulwich explain himself directly to listeners in an open forum panel, or at least take a sensitivity training course at the Dart Center for Journalism.

Sep. 29 2012 12:03 PM
Jenny from brooklyn

found this on tumblr:
A message from Kao Kalia Yang, author of The Latehomecomer, about a piece aired on RadioLab:

“Dear Friends,

“I’m writing you because today RadioLab aired a piece on Yellow Rain. They contacted me earlier this summer saying they wanted a Hmong perspective. I facilitated an interview with my Uncle Eng Yang because he lived through the experience. I agreed to serve as interpreter. The interview went on for about two hours. Robert Krulwich, one of the host of the show, grew increasingly disrespectful toward my uncle’s experiences and his lack of formal education. I lost the reigns on my emotions and I stopped the interview. This is of course the part that the show decides to end on.

“The story is billed as a search for Truth. I am a firm believer that the Truth belongs to those who’ve lived it. I am still processing the story they aired and all the information edited out (my uncle’s explanations about the Hmong experience with bees, how we have harvested honey for centuries, how the attacks happened far from bee settlements, how they were strategic in that they happened only where there were heavy concentrations of Hmong people).

“I am sharing this with you because I believe it can be used for the work you do—to positively influence understanding. If you are Hmong, I’m sharing this with you because it is a valuable statement of media and representations of us…even as we struggle to do our best work.”

- Kao Kalia Yang

Sep. 29 2012 10:10 AM
Diane from MN

So we are being asked to ignore the personal attack from Robert toward Yang because this show is so great and Robert, et. al are good people? I'm calling it for what it is: shoddy journalism and science fiction by arrogant, selfish, morally bankrupt journalists. You're entitled to your imaginary ideas of the editors of the show but in reality they are what they have demonstrated. The Yangs and the Hmong community are waiting for a sincere apology. If Shep Smith, a Fox News anchor, can apologize to his audience then it shouldn't be so hard for Robert, Jad, and Pat (Radiolab).

Writing to our representatives and NPR executives is the Hmong community's only choice to educate people powerful people what has happened. They are as much part of the Hmong community as anyone else and should know of the injustice.

Sep. 29 2012 09:09 AM
cum hoc ergo propter hoc

Sadly the truthiness of your Yellow Rain story is significantly compromised by having fallen for the Correlation = Causation trap.

Did anyone bother to ask, "What do bees do when they're exposed to chemical weapons? In their distress do they leave their hive and create Yellow Rain?"

I can understand the Hmong seeing the unusual yellow spots and assuming causation, but a "Harvard Scientist" has to know better, and so should a science-y radio show.

Sep. 29 2012 08:28 AM
Sam Shortis from Madrid, Spain

Let's imagine that Radiolab broadcast this story at a time when the original analysis of T2 toxin was the official line. Would Robert still question this man's eyewitness account in the same way? Would he say "this is hearsay"?

I agree with a point made here by Melanie from Washington DC: did any of the evidence presented disprove Mr. Yang's eye witness account?"
All this story corroborates is that many samples turned out to be bee-poop. This is clearly separate from the fact that this man was an eyewitness to yellow drops of something that accompanied specific symptoms and deaths, on multiple occasions. Occam's razor, says other things being equal (i.e all the information being known) the simplest explanation better than a complex one. Does bee poop explain the symptoms this man witnessed, on multiple occasions?
"Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable, must be the truth."-Arthur Conan Doyle.

Robert is selectively ignoring this man's experiences, as though the fact that some samples were bee poop, means this man is making it up or just hearing rumors. Where's the investigation into what might cause these symptoms? Where's the reflection?

Personally I expect more from the integrity and dignity of the show, especially one which has a reputation for a scientific approach.
I cannot imagine anyone arguing with the fact that the correct and dignified thing to do is clearly to apologize to this man and his niece, and to pay more thought to what is to be believed, and who needs cross examining.

Sep. 29 2012 04:48 AM

The comments are getting increasingly hostile toward each other and boarding on personal attacks (if not already there). Lets keep it relevant and civilized?

I agree, the interview was insensitive and horribly planned out. And Jad's response, though attempted to give more context (and does a bit), is not enough. Everyone is waiting for a better communicated resolution. But some of the comments here are quite disturbing and uncalled for, and again boarding on personal attacks -- towards the show and to fellow listeners.

We are all intelligent people, no one has been "played" or "scammed", lets give ourselves more credit...
There is no media ploy, just a badly conducted interview. Deal with it, give constructive feedbacks, voice our concerns in a way that is helpful. (Because frankly I just can't see how notifying congress is helpful, I'm sorry but I just can't...)

It'll be a shame to see a show that has contributed so much in the past crumble because of one misstep. This issue needs to be dealt with, but I am still a supporter.

--my second and final comment

Sep. 29 2012 04:31 AM
Diane from MN

Aaron: I will be adding my voice to yours as well. Radiolad (Jad, Pat, Robert, et. al) had the entire summer and a full week after airing the show to offer an apology. Instead, they've released a non-apology and hope we'd go away satisfied. It's not enough to correct the injustice done to Eng and Kao Kalia Yang (and the entire Hmong community). The truth is not done with them yet.

Sep. 29 2012 02:45 AM
Chris H

Jad,

I've taken my Radiolab pin off my backpack. It was the only pin that I've ever felt strongly enough to wear.

Thank you for taking the time to write to us on the blog, but not everyone reads this blog. This needs to be addressed at the beginning of the next episode; I want to hear what Robert has to say for himself, and any follow-up that has been done to apologize to the Yangs. After the TAL ordeal with Mike Daisey and the Foxconn plant, I have only more respect for Ira Glass and his team when they produced an entire episode concerning the retraction. I feel that this is worse, and a blog post isn't going to fix it.

I'll be waiting to hear from you, hoping that I will be able to put my pin back on my backpack.

-Chris

Sep. 29 2012 02:42 AM

I have contacted several executives at NPR as well as huffpost, the NYTimes, Truthdig, Audible, Senators Al Franken and Amy Klobuchar, and Congressman Keith Ellison.

Radiolab WILL be held accountable.

Sep. 29 2012 02:22 AM
cody from Japan

@james:

everyone in here is fake, it must be kalia or eng; you, yourself is fake. you must be rober or jad :)

Plus I'm drunk, so there's that.

Sep. 29 2012 01:40 AM
Rick

This interview was completely undignified.

Jad, as a scientist, doctor and engineer who has worked most of his professional career in humanitarian emergencies, I found this story and the lack of sensitivity with which it was handled to be absolutely repulsive.

Radiolab emotionally attacked its interviewees and used that to try to emotionally sucker punch its listeners. Disgusting and shameful.

That you at Radiolab thought that this was even close to being necessary to tell the yellow rain story speaks to your lack of respect for human dignity. Would you have treated a similar story about the Lebanese Civil War this way?

Sep. 29 2012 01:35 AM
James

@Diane

Thank you for posting the Facebook link... I see that Aaron did make a comment on Robert's page. I also see a few comments from a slightly unhinged woman who accuses Robert of being "sick" for posting a picture of cartoon bees... I wonder who THAT could be? Well, it's certainly not you since in the 30 plus comments you've left on this thread so far you've only accused him of being an "elitist, selfish, arrogant, sociopathic, stupid, holocaust denying dick" all on the basis of a 2 minute long interview segment (which clearly seems fair). But I don't remember you calling him "sick" once... Unless I missed it buried among the tens of thousands of words you've already posted on here somewhere.

Sep. 29 2012 01:25 AM
Diane from MN

Fact: Aaron is listed on Kao Kalia Yang's Wikipedia page. "On August 6, 2011 she was married to Aaron Hokanson in Saint Paul, Minnesota."

Sep. 29 2012 01:22 AM

I have not read all of the comments that I have been left and so I might say things that have already been said. I agree with the first several that were very upset at the ending of the show.

The end of the show made me sick to my stomach. What Robert did to that man was awful. There was no excuse. He just told his story and should never had his story questioned by a bunch of hypotheticals. Get someone from the government to cross examine. The victims had nothing to with the American creation of chemical weapons. It was like it was his fault, because he lied or misunderstood that we live in a world of chemical weapons.

I love Radiolab. After I discovered it, I went back and listened to all of them. I have look forward to the new shows with great expectation. I have developed a great fondness for both of you. Especially Robert, perhaps because I am much older than Jad myself. So this situation is major blow to me personally.

Jad's response was inadequate, worse insulting. Even after reflection, Jad failed to understand what was going on and even defended Robert's remarks. That defense missed the point totally.

How could Robert be so insulting and demeaning to this man. It was as if he was stupid. He lived in the area, he knows the his local reality as much as you both know yours. Robert spoke to him as you would a child or someone stupid. Is there a racist element? Perhaps if he was an educated white man in an expensive suit you would have treated him with respect. Perhaps an uneducated brown man from a small village who does not even speak English would not understand people dying in a strange way that has never happened before and ignorantly blame it foolishly on their enemy's magic dust.

I am deeply saddened by the fact that as I started the next segment I could not bear the sound of Robert's voice.

The solution would be a new show, inviting the same people back. starting with an apology and devoting it entirely to them telling their story. It would be an interesting and compelling show.

Please let them know that many of the listeners were as outraged at what happen as they were. Also let Kalia and Eng know that we think that their response was completely appropriate.

The very least you guys should talk about what happened in a Radiolab short, but please don't repeat the kind of stuff in Jad's response. Read all of the comments and take them to heart.

Sep. 29 2012 01:14 AM
Solon from India

There is one question I was thinking the whole time during the interview about the Yellow Rain. It has been shown numerous times that the native people to their environment know everything about the flora and fauna. Which plants are safe to eat, what the habits of animals are, etc. Every plants that could be domesticated has been. The same with every animal.
Yet, none of them knew about the bees pooping? It isn't like schedule happened only after the war. The bees of Southeast Asia must have been doing that for hundreds of thousands of years. So how does this "Yellow Rain" suddenly appear at the time there are mass executions of the villagers. The bees could not have evolved instantly to do this, and the locals only started fearing the yellow rain when it started killing people.
This is not the whole story, and I feel like there is information missing.

Sep. 29 2012 01:11 AM
Diane from MN

This says it all for me, as 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

Sep. 29 2012 01:05 AM
Diane from MN

Robert Krulwich's Facebook site with Aaron's post on it: http://www.facebook.com/pages/Robert-Krulwich/381848118022

Sep. 29 2012 12:52 AM
James

@Diane

I don't want the debate to disappear, I want your comments to disappear. You have literally posted on this thread over 30 times. Your point has been made. Jad, Pat and Robert aren't Barack, Joe and HIllary so this story isn't as big as you want it to be. It's a radio show. One guy on that show made a mistake during an interview. They'll post a short about it and we'll all move on. I don't mean to be flippant but that's what's going to happen. Quit playing the martyr and go to bed. It's like almost 1am.

Sep. 29 2012 12:51 AM
Diane from MN

Aaron is Kao Kalia Yang's husband. Check out her Facebook site and you will see she is in FACT married to Aaron. He's even posted on Robert Krulwich's Facebook page. Clearly, some listeners are as lazy as Jad, Pat, and Robert (which explains why they have come out to bat for them) that they can't verify that Aaron is Kao Kalia's husband before attacking him. Seriously, James is not interested in a debate but rather he's just a troll. This will be the last time I feed the troll.
https://www.facebook.com/kaokaliayang

Sep. 29 2012 12:46 AM
Diane from MN

I'm not mad but simply making sure the non-Hmong speaking listeners understand how much Radiolab is relying on your ignorance to create the emotional impact in the story. Additionally, the science is not conclusive and the journalism was poor. You all were played. If you enjoyed it and don't mind the shoddy "professional" work and are masochistic enough to enjoy the emotional pain inflicted on the subjects (and the listeners) by all means you're entitled to your enjoyment but it does not take away the FACT that this story is science fiction and an injustice was committed by Jad, Pat, and Robert. Also, if you feel strongly I or those with similar views should "shut up" and you're not interested in the debate going on here then I have to say you've got something else happening on your end.

An injustice took place in this story and if Pat, Jad and Robert are genuine professionals and people of integrity as they want us to believe (and that's really the crux of how Radiolab works: they depend on our trust in order for them to do storytelling) then they must do the right thing here and sincerely apologize to the Yangs and the Hmong community.

As much as you may wish the debate would disappear so you can return to life the way it was, life returning to "normal" will not erase the FACT that Jad, Pat, and Robert took advantage of the Hmong genocide story for their own gain (the same way Reagan manipulated the Hmong to create chemical weapons) and committed an injustice in the process to ensure their "fact" had more power over the subject's first hand experience of Yellow Rain. Jad, Pat and Robert may have fooled some of their listeners but many are not fooled and have already posted their feedback. The facts in how terrible the Yangs were treated and the story was put together will not go away.

Sep. 29 2012 12:38 AM
James

@R

Agreed, but she really is kind of annoying. If you look back you'll see she accounts for close to 25% of the 178 comments on this page alone. So, I think she's voiced her opinion at this point. And Aaron clearly isn't Aaron... come on.

But don't get me wrong, I get it... I agree these guys made a mistake and I was one of the first to call them out on it. But some people just get way to self-righteous (I'm looking at you Diane and fake Aaron) and their weird need to dominate the narrative overshadows people who are trying to voice a legitimate opinion.

Plus I'm drunk, so there's that.

Sep. 29 2012 12:35 AM
ginny from staten island

you guys are outstanding, everyone makes mistakes, but this segment deserves a public admission of mishandling on behalf of the Hmong and a real TRUE public apology and perhaps a re-invite of Kalia and her uncle-- though I somehow doubt they'd return. I know I wouldn't.Anyhow, look how many of us, your die hard listeners, were offended. Please respond with something that is much more worthy your usual awesomeness. The blog post doesn't cut it.

Sep. 29 2012 12:22 AM
R

@James, way to keep it classy, telling someone to shut up was a very important and productive contribution to the discussion. /sarcasm

Sep. 29 2012 12:16 AM
James

@Aaron

Allow me to broach the elephant in the room here which is that you could be any old nutter who just happened to stumble upon Kalia's wikipedia page. In fact, I have yet to hear anything from you that can't be found there http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kao_Kalia_Yang

And you're posting way too many comments here for someone who is supposedly this close to the situation. I have a feeling when this all comes out in the wash we'll learn you're nothing more than an impostor. Which will be pretttttty ironic.

To everyone else, I'm sure it feels good to go after Radiolab after they've made a mistake... It makes you feel better about yourself somehow. But you know deep down that this was simply a misstep by two people with a great professional track record who you know to be good people. And a misstep which will be corrected. So maybe it's time to step down off your anonymous high horses and give them a chance to FULLY respond... Which we all know they inevitably will. Fuck.

Oh, and @Diane... We get it, you're mad. To quote Skyler White, "Shut up...shut up, shut up... SHUT UP, SHUT UP, SHUT UP!!"

Sep. 29 2012 12:04 AM
Joy from Los Angeles, CA

(2/2)
I’m troubled by the fact that it took Mr. Eng’s niece’s cry of despair for your reporter to “fully appreciate the volume of pain that was involved in that moment for them”. Why was that not clear from the outset? And, Robert, I can not begin to understand your cavalier tone in the section that followed: your dismissive “she’s wrong”, your cold description of that heart-rending outburst as “balancing” and your indignant accusation that she was trying to “monopolize” the conversation. Throughout, the way you told this story seemed to betray a fundamental lack of basic human empathy, one that I find disturbing and baffling. I can not imagine that you would have told this story in this fashion, or conducted the interview as you did, had concerned a Holocaust victim. Why was it difficult in this instance to fathom how painful it would be if most everyone you knew and loved were slaughtered? Why was that hard?

And that’s the story that I would love to see you guys do: a story on empathy. How do we make the unconscious decision to put ourselves in the position of others and imagine what they are experiencing? Why do we do it in some situations but not in not others? Why were you caught off guard by the passion in that woman’s voice? I think such an episode could make some good out of this deeply disturbing segment.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
Joy
Los Angeles, CA.

(If you recognize my name, it’s because I’ve submitted a recording of the credits and a photo of my eye in the RadioLab app. I really have been a big fan of the show.)

Sep. 28 2012 11:59 PM
Joy from Los Angeles, CA

Dear Jad and Robert,

I had to write you after hearing the “Yellow Rain” segment of the most recent RadioLab. This is actually the first letter of this type that I’ve ever written, but listening to that segment was so upsetting that it actually left me with a headache. After sober consideration, “obscene” is the only word I can think of to accurately describe your attitudes in the piece. I don’t use such a loaded word lightly: the definition—“offensive to moral principles; repugnant”—fits.

It pains me to say that, because I think RadioLab is a brilliant and transformative program. I admire the virtuosity with which you manipulate the form to convey the spirit of your content. I have been glad to see other shows begin to emulate your work; I’m sure more will.

But I was very troubled by the segment’s dismissive tone towards the “thousands” of people killed in the Hmong genocide. The victims seemed quite literally to be an afterthought; the “bee poop” (and, oh how awful to hear that silly phrase tossed around while Mr. Eng was talking about the bombing of villages) narrative seems to rely upon not being too nice about the cause of the deaths of “thousands.” That question you seemed to dismiss with a shrug: “maybe dysentery or something, who knows?” But when it came to the question of the yellow rain, you pursued with pitbull-like fervor. You chose the wrong question to be apathetic about.

It is wrong to bring up the story of a largely forgotten genocide and its unacknowledged victims, and use it to make a narrow point about ambiguities about the evidence of what caused some of those deaths. I understand you claim that the cold war frame makes the question important, but it’s a feeble argument. The story of the genocide of the Hmong people is not about us; it is a strange form of solipsism to put the United States at the center of the story. For us, t’s a footnote in the larger narrative of the cold war; for the victims and survivors, it was a Gotterdammerung that proved that “the laws of humanity had been terminated.” It was a mistake to pursue this story, it was wrongheaded to frame it as you did, but the interview was egregious and cruel. It was wrong to ask a survivor of that holocaust to reopen that well of pain to engage in an irrelevant and academic debate about bee poop. The real, human significance of the story you were telling is infinitesimal compared to the story Mr. Eng so desperately needed to share. I return again to that word: obscene.

(1/2)

Sep. 28 2012 11:58 PM
marina from brooklyn

someone needs to start a thread on this on reddit or boing boing. The way this story played out deserves a much larger audience than what its getting here. lets spread the word.

Sep. 28 2012 11:39 PM
Diane from MN

The blog post above is Radiolab's (Jad, Pat, & Robert) "cogent response" and it is not appropriate because it attempts to create sympathy and empathy for their position. What I am interested in is an apology to the Yangs and the Hmong community as it seems they are due a sincere apology. Jad, Pat and Robert were not prepared to hear a different truth so when they could not be the cavalier cowboys (and dancing bees) they thought they were they had to discredit a genocide survivor in order for their "fact" to be true. The science of Yellow Rain is not conclusive so they do not have the "truth" as they claim. They may have fooled you (because they are counting on you to be ignorant of the Hmong language) but they cannot fool most of us, especially those who understand Hmong. Non-Hmong speaking listeners do not know that Yang repeatedly talked about his knowledge in bee keeping (it was in the show) but the editors did not explain that. Instead, they pieced the interpreter's emotional advocacy of her uncle over his voice and used her sound bites for the show. Yang's entire interview (or story) was cut from the show. I was not present during the interview but as a Hmong-speaking listener I can clearly hear this disconnect in the story. As I've said before, the show already established its "truth" and should've gone to a Reagan or Russian politician to get a response but Jad, Pat, and Robert were lazy journalists and they deliberately went to confront a genocide survivor, whose experience may be a genuine chemical attack, to destroy his dignity--the same way a holocaust denier would confront a holocaust survivor. For the rest of us listeners, please continue to speak up because an injustice really took place here.

Sep. 28 2012 11:19 PM
Jonathan from Greenville, SC

I am a long time Radiolab listener and lover of science and the Radiolab hosts as well. But I must say that this story was handled with an offensive level of insensitivity which for me is undiminished by the postscript explanation attached to the top of this page.

Let’s take it as a given that the Radiolab staff interpreted and expressed the scientific facts of this story correctly. At the point when Eng and Kalia expressed what was clearly a feeling of having been misled and betrayed by their interviewers, that’s when you should have the conscience to stop long enough to apologize and reevaluate the WAY you’re handling the story. Airing this story in its current form mocks them and their pain. It’s a story worth telling, but not this way. And none of your attempts at candor in the story seem to have been adequate to convey to the audience what you describe in your postscript.

Robert Krulwich’s comments were singularly insensitive and compassionless. Although it can feel very self-satisfying to assert scientific findings to those with emotional investment in denying them, there is such a thing as speaking the truth in love. It was not done here. Krulwich’s reaction is an example of how science gets a bad name.

President Reagan’s actions are an entirely separate issue, which I agree with Robert is worthy of consideration. Using the Hmong experience to justify chemical weapons manufacture was a bad idea. But I never got the sense that Eng and Kalia were justifying Reagan’s decision. What Eng and Kalia were talking about is the way that the killing of minority peoples almost always goes unnoticed by the world and is ignored or explained away by various means. That is clearly a crushing, dehumanizing experience that they re-experienced in the interview, and for which there was no apology.

Normally the Radiolab theme of discovering novel or revelatory scientific explanations is intelligent and enlightening. In this instance it was condescending and all but heartless. This story was too big for your format, and that is a fact and a truth. It needed more depth, more time, more compassion in its handling. This was far more than a science story. You haven't lost me as a listener. Everybody makes mistakes. But if you cannot give a story the breadth and depth of treatment the material deserves then you should let other shows air it. I hope you will consider this in future episodes.

Sep. 28 2012 11:11 PM
Jon

@Everyone... Shut up!

I was upset at first too but now you're getting a little too self-righteous. Anyone who listens to these guys knows they're top-notch and will wind up doing the right thing. Just give them two seconds to put together a cogent response. For fuck sake!

Sep. 28 2012 10:51 PM
Sarah

I sent the following to the WNYC and NPR email addresses:

To borrow a phrase, I was "profoundly troubled" by the RadioLab story "Yellow Rain." As a sociologist, I am held to the standards of human subjects protection--based, one could say, on the medical doctor's creed of "first, do no harm." But Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich (especially Robert Krulwich) did cause real hard when they badgered, bullied, and belittled the Yangs on their recent program on "truth."

Ironic, don't you think, that on a program titled "The Truth of the Matter," the hosts chose to run down the "truth" of genocide by challenging the victims of that genocide. Would they investigate Holocaust deniers by interrogating people who lived through concentration camps? No, the hosts chose to interview victims instead of going after those who had power--government officials, Regan staffers, or Russian officials. I kind of get it. It's much easier to interview "down" than "up," isn't it? The powerful feel empowered to say no, to hang up the phone, to stonewall and protect their own interests. The Yangs thought someone cared about a forgotten, neglected people, and they paid for their mistake with bitter pain and tears. Not to mention the fact that the hosts did not present the whole truth, did they? The fact that other Ivy-league-educated scientists challenge the Harvard-educated scientist's conclusions? Nope, that did not make the story. Ironic.

Musings on truth aside, there is another fundamental truth: any decent human being, when realizing that they have caused harm to another--even in pursuit of "truth"--would apologize. But instead all we get is Jad's transparently self-serving and wholly inadequate non-apology posted to the RadioLab web site. If the comments of Kalia's husband are true, the Yangs are still waiting for their apology. And Robert Krulwich's defense of his arrogant, belligerent attitude? In Jad's words, that "The United States *almost* used yellow rain as an excuse to begin manufacturing its own chemical weapons, which *would have* invariably led to other countries doing the same, which *would have* invariably led to many more people dying." [italics mine]

Almost, would have, might have, maybe, somewhere in the multiverse...

The truth is, it didn't happen. And basing such behavior on a "woulda coulda shoulda" is bad journalism and even worse science. I'm profoundly troubled and disappointed. I doubt I'll stop listening, like some commenters threatened, but I will stop donating to WNYC (as I have every year for the past three years, when I discovered the program) until RadioLab apologizes and makes amends. This program on "truth" really opened my eyes to how the hosts themselves edit and frame "truth" as well. What's to say they haven't done similar things in the past? Or feel fine about doing it again? I am interested to read Kao Kalia Yang's book, so I guess I got that from the program. And a greater appreciation for human subjects review boards.

Sep. 28 2012 09:44 PM
chuckwhite from michigan

Can any one imagine how the RadioLab guys would respond to a US Army claim that the human and environmental devastation caused in VietNam by Agent Orange was really caused by bee poop? How differently would Kalia and Eng have been treated if they had been telling an anti-US story instead of anti-Soviet story! By the way, if it were really bee poop, why did the deaths not continue? Did the bad bees go extinct with the end of the Cold War?

Sep. 28 2012 08:34 PM
Howdy Goudey from El Cerrito, CA

Count me as another disappointed listener. It is not so much the content of the Yellow Rain story, but the manner in which it was presented that is offensive. The lack of demonstrated compassion during the interview hung over the remainder of the show with the same aloof neglect that the Yangs had just described enduring. Instead of a dignified resolution we were offered juvenile giggles following a declaration of a three way tie decided with rules written after the fact and without all participants present. There is nothing intelligent to be said (at least to be respected by listeners) after presenting a heinous social turd without an adequate public acknowledgement and apology. Musing amongst yourselves is not an apology. Interjecting new audio after the initial release to make it slightly less awkward is not an apology. This blog post is not an apology.

It's a little late for tonight since you are about to go onstage, but I think a fitting apology would be to invite Kalia and Eng to one of your "In the Dark" shows and publicly apologize to them before a live audience. Show some humility and respect by handing over a few of the moments of celebrity and rapt attention you have earned with your audience to allow Kalia and Eng an opportunity to tell their story, and to give your audience the opportunity to show Kalia, Eng and all Hmong people the recognition and respect that they have been denied for far too long.

I hope Jad's comments about "selectively tun[ing] out listeners" in his July Transom article http://transom.org/?p=28787 are reconsidered in this case with hundreds of comments piling up about the Yellow Rain story. We are not telling you that "you are on the right track." You may be "doing your job," but you are doing it badly. We are not "addicted to [this kind of] newness." We do not "crave it like crack." This is not the admirable avoidance of the "dinner date in sweatpants" scenario, it is the unresolved feelings as a result of an emotionally indifferent spouse scenario. Please do your selective tuning wisely.

Sep. 28 2012 08:25 PM

This will not pass. If you listen to the sub-text of the 'after-chat' Robert (in my personal interpretation) is basically inferring that if these people had not misinterpreted why they were dying and hadn't been ignorant enough to confuse this 'bee-poop'madness with chemical warfare... the exalted President Reagan would never have had his hand forced and the 1980s chemical weapons race would have never happened. In other words, these accusations by these people could have cost the lives of thousands of people.

Listen to his justification again for being so hard on these people. If I am wrong in my interpretation - let me know.

Sep. 28 2012 08:01 PM
Canary

The saddest thing is that I truly believe Radiolab will not learn from this. Not. At. All. Robert is probably reveling in just how "right" he actually was, rolling his eyes and writing us all off. He could learn a thing or two from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma. There are codes of conduct and ethics regarding the treatment of trauma victims in interviews. There are MANY MANY journalists who would never ever ever treat Eng the way Robert did. Ever. Radiolab's "In the Dark" show takes on a whole new meaning now.

Also, I really hope people continue to read Kalia's husband's posts as he witnessed the entire interview. Here's part of his response.

Aaron
@Srini I am Kalia's husband, This is not a prank. The family is distressed, especially the younger kids who were born in America and believe in the power of media, to see their uncle, who they trust, respect, look up to, and love used and misrepresented... we are all distressed, and we as well are waiting for a response.

As mentioned, the interview included about two hours of Uncle Eng explaining his experiences, most of this is left out, because it would call into question the "truth" that this show presented, it would make it more complicated.

Unfortunately, I fear, the radiolab is hoping this will pass. I suggest reading the comments left by "Paul from St. Paul, MN" who was the access point to Kalia's family, and who is a historical scholar with personal connections to the people in this piece. Read his comments, and you will see, that Radiolab is simply hiding, afraid to admit they failed miserably, in every direction, not only in their treatment of Eng, but also their exploration of this subject.

Sep. 28 2012 07:42 PM

Plus,

If you guys at Radio Lab don't realize you have a waaaaaaaaaaaaaaaay bigger story here than you thought you did... I suggest you at least hand over your information to someone who can handle the heft of this story.

Anyone, even those without the conspiracy-chip, smell more than bee poop regarding the first assessment of the chemical sample vs the official report of the sample. Also, a whole new chemical industry is brought back to life because the Russians are blamed for using chemical weapons on a disenfranchised people? Who was the company that got the contract to build this 'new' chemical bomb, who benefited the most from perhaps making it appear the Hmong people were under chemical attack. Where is the paper trail that leads to the justification of the US building this bomb.... we are people who listened to our leaders speak out Weapons of Mass Destruction and metal tubes... do you think we really think this was the first time this type of tactic was used to reinvigorate the war machine and weapons contracts.

You opened up this can of worms...

The answers to this story and why it became such a mess are still hanging in the air... low hanging fruit. You may be almost there.. are you hungry?

Sep. 28 2012 07:13 PM
David from Canada

I think it's interesting that while the overwhelming majority of comments are critical of Radiolab's handling of the interview, they receive negative ratings, while those that defend Radiolab receive positive ones.

I would be interested in hearing these people's point of views, even if they simply represent the opinion of the Radiolab staff.

Sep. 28 2012 06:46 PM

To Will R.

It was not aired in its entirety. It was edited to justify the 'candid' conversational points at the end. Even before airing the last conversation they stated that the "tears" were not the end of the interview... there was more conversation after that emotional moment.

No one can justify what happened in this interview... if they could - they would provide the full transcripts of the whole conversation. My suggestion is they provide their listeners with the peace of mind that a proper apology (especially from Robert) will be given to Kalia and Eng.

Otherwise I will question my support of this program. Because I do not want to support reporting that thinks its being edgy when, in fact, the reporting is an example of arrogance and overconfidence with a super-scoop of unprofessionalism.

Sep. 28 2012 06:34 PM
Will R.

I'd just like to say that while I was shaken by this piece, I find that it made its point in an extremely effective manner. In the part of the piece in question, there was a point where it became clear that Eng and Kalia were no longer interested in talking about the Yellow Rain- their aim was to get their own story out there, and then they felt that their story was not geing given the center stage that they expected, they reacted badly. This may have been a misunderstanding on there part, or it may have been a lack of sufficient explanation on Radiolab's part. However, it did prove the point of the show in a very interesting way: When asked to comment on what he saw, Eng instead chose to comment on what he "knew". Robert became impatient with a man that wasn't answering the questions asked. That may have been a poor decision, but those saying that it (and later the airing of the episode) was bad journalism are patently wrong.

Bad journalism would have been to sweep the episode under the rug. To leave out that section of the interview. To cover up the real outburst of suffering from a man who was there at the time, and to see how a search for a simple truth can be derailed by emotion.

Radiolab didn't seek to invalidate the suffering of anyone. They didn't cover up the statements. They didn't shy away from criticism, or hide emotion away behind a facade of logic. In the search for a single truth (the true nature of Yellow Rain), they found themselves embroiled in a far bigger story, which went beyond the realm of simple truth. The story was not about "were chemical weapons used on the Hmong?", it was about "was Yellow Rain a chemical weapon", with the answer having far-reaching implications.

I won't comment on Robert's handling of the interview- it was less than deft, but airing it in its entirety shows that not everything goes perfectly, especially when you're talking about "the truth." I will, however, applaud Radiolab for airing what they did, because it showed an integrity that they are willing to expose themselves to the world, and not hide away something that may be embarassing, just because some may think it reflects badly on them. Kudos to you, Radiolab, and keep up the good work.

Sep. 28 2012 06:15 PM
AP

I want echo the other comments that request a follow-up. I've loved radiolab up until this story that made me doubt Robert Krulwich's humanity. Obviously "truth" is a complicated concept. What's not complicated is how to be kind. You don't need to bully and belittle people in order to prove a point for a radio story. (Not to mention, this story raises obvious questions about whether or not the tested sample was actually the same substance that the Hmong people associated with illness.) There are so many better directions this story could have taken. There needs to be more discussion and apology. Everybody makes mistakes, just admit it. Otherwise I'll be really disappointed and my enthusiasm for the show will not recover.

Sep. 28 2012 06:11 PM
mary from harlem

You guys owe Kalia and Mr. Eng a better apology than a blog explanation.We as listeners who invested in listening to this story, and support you, deserve a bit more than what we had to deal with.

Sep. 28 2012 05:38 PM
Kathy

The title of this broadcast: The Fact of the Matter

This show's days are numbered if Robert continues to expose what a bully he can be... it comes out every so often. But, this was blatant. Robert's response to these willing participants was cold, unfeeling and verged on something that seemed to run so deep down within him (almost a character trait) that it sounded like he had actual contempt for Kalia and her uncle Eng. Leaving the raw moments in only reflects on your desire to fill time - you came to no conclusions that were beneficial - made no points that were worthy - yet you caused harm.

Also, I heard a naivety that was so exposed during this segment that I had heard before in your stories. The difference this time for me? When I have heard it in the past - it seemed young and fresh and innocent. This time it seemed calculating and appeared to be used as a crutch to get you out of a rather problematic ethical dilemma: To keep or not to keep a story that died on the vine right in front of your eyes while laying waste to the the impact of genocide.

You can throw science at someone all you want Robert - and your greater point that she was overlooking your science and wanting to monopolize the interview speaks volumes.

The odd thing is, prior to airing the segment on your group discussion... you mentioned, Jad, that you all had had several heated discussion before taping the discussion that aired. Yet, Robert, after having time to reconsider his callous and poorly justified act of inhumanity - brought that same conclusion to the table. With the summary: "She was trying to monopolize the conversation."

The Fact of the Matter, indeed: This segment showed all of your weaknesses and I call for a re-do. I want to see how you would handle it if you got a second shot.

All the elements are there: Government official, eyewitness reports, war criminal, genocide, scientific discoveries, Regan, The USSR, can you do it again or are you just going to be naively satisfied that you were able to give people a greater knowledge of Bee Poop. 'Cause that is just sooo cute to say.

Honestly, when you are dealing with people's past pains, and you dig up atrocities - you should do so with more care and more humanity (especially you Robert because YOU should know better.)

But at least you all got to say Bee Poop.


Sep. 28 2012 05:37 PM
Keyvis

I think the miss connect between you guys were that Kalia and Eng thought the focus was on genocid while your focus wasn't because in today's world genocide is really more of another sad story of the evils of the world that we tend to expect as horrible as it is. I think they aren't use to that sort of perspective on the world and expected more shock and concern on the genocide rather then the weapons used or not used and the future weapons to be made or not made. Because as the saying goes guns don't kill people people kill people. And I believe to her the real story the real thing of interest and news was the lack on humanity (as stated in the podcast) which is why she also said the bombs had chemicals as a means to show the method doesn't matter but the results. Which was the loss of life

Sep. 28 2012 04:02 PM
Alan Ashton from Winnipeg

If the purpose of the interview was not well explained to Eng Yang, I agree that is a problem, but I have little doubt that he and his niece were aware of the disputes around the nature of "Yellow Rain" before they agreed to the interview. That is not new, or even recent, information. It sounds like she refers to this in the segment when she says "That what we know has been questioned again and again."

I guess I heard the piece a little different from some (& I appreciate the respect with which you disagreed, Paul). I didn't get the sense that Krulwich & co. tried to trump their absolute truth over others. The exchange with Eng and his niece seemed to me to result from statement he made about what he "knew" - that he knew chemicals had been used against the Hmong. In keeping with the theme of the episode, Krulwich was trying to ask what he actually witnessed rather than what he "knew" to be true.

If you are asked to believe that that the Hmong people were poisoned by a Soviet-backed regime who were out to punish them because some supported the USA, and that Eng Yang and thousands others they suffered horribly as a result, then doubt not. If Mr. Yang asks you to believe what he saw, why doubt at all?

On the other hand, if you are asked to believe that the 1970s Soviets had the technology to deploy an aerosol (airbourne) mycotoxin capable of killing 10,000 people and if you know that this idea was used to justify the manufacture of biologiocal or chemical weapons, it is no shame to ask for a high standard of proof. Yes, even if that means questioning good faith eyewitness accounts from survivors of genocide.

Sep. 28 2012 04:00 PM
Claire from Sacramento

I guess that’s it then. It’s been weeks since the original interview and days since the episode aired. Jad, Robert and Pat have assessed the situation, reviewed the reader comments, and made up their minds: Mr. Eng and Kalia do not deserve an apology from them.
I was raised to believe that, when you hurt someone, even if you didn’t mean to, you say you’re sorry. The idea is that, whatever you originally intended and however much you believe you were in the right, when you cause someone pain, you own that. Apologizing with sincerity and humility is courageous and unites us as compassionate human beings.
Eng and Kalia, I am truly sorry for your pain. I understand that my offer of condolences is no substitute for the apology that is due to you. I have been a listener and supporter of Radiolab for years because I have found their programs enlightening and entertaining. This program was neither. Eng, I am especially heartbroken that, after all the pain and unthinkable loss you experienced, your story was used by someone I have long admired to make the rather obvious point that objective facts are hard to come by.
Eng and Kalia, I’m sure you’ve read through the many comments from listeners who have objected to the way the interview was handled and have challenged the journalism. I hope you found comfort in those comments. Other comments make it clear that some listeners believe that Radiolab didn’t do anything wrong. But I doubt even these folks can deny the honest betrayal that was evident your voices when you discovered that the point of the interview was to present you with Radiolab’s view that you were mistaken about the particular type of the chemical weapons used on your people.
At this point, I suppose it’s unrealistic to hope that Jad, Robert and Pat will change their minds about how to handle this situation. They may even feel as though allowing listeners to express their deep disappointment in the comments section is “hair shirt” enough. But I won’t stop hoping they’ll do better by you and by their listeners in the future.

Sep. 28 2012 03:56 PM
ATV

Ya, I've agreed with a lot of these comments, both for and against. My brief thoughts are these...I think the interview was poorly thought out in terms of CONSEQUENCES. I think we all understand what the point was. At least for me, I understand you were looking at crazy events taken as "truth" and the actions that can result, from what we understand as "truth". You should, however, have been able to imagine that interviewing some one who was so emotionally connected to this event, was going to go horribly wrong, given your objectives. This would be like interviewing some one who claims to have seen the virgin mary along with 100,000 other people, and point out to them that the virgin mary doesn't exist. Yes, I would concur with your "truth finding" that the virgin mary doesn't exist, but the interviewee is gonna be pretty upset to find that out. To be clear, I'm not equating delusional virgin mary sightings with what happened to the Hmong. Just making the point that people involved emotionally, no matter what the situation, are not going to take kindly to the cold, scientific scrutiny of the RadioLab interview. I do not believe your objectives were to be insensitive to these people. I think it was just bad judgement, and an apology is in order. I think, because you were focused on the objective of truth finding, you found yourself in a bad situation you should have seen coming. The trauma these people have been through is going to connect them to a lot of memories...some real, some false, some distorted. They are never going to be "objective" as you are. I think an apology is in order explaining that you just f*d up this interview. That this is really not what you intended the outcome to be, that you meant no offense, and that you certainly aren't minimizing what happened to these people. I think they are big enough to understand that, and I think you guys are big enough to do it.

Sep. 28 2012 03:24 PM

I’ve always loved Radiolab because it created connections. Because stories are told that may have otherwise been overlooked. That’s why I find it ironic how disconnected this story seems. So many factors have been overlooked. And I believe good science looks at all the factors.

What about a different chemical, a different color?

Robert seems convinced that it is “unfair” to overlook that the fact that the US almost started producing chemical weapons. How can no one mention that Agent Orange was sprayed intensely over that entire region not five years prior to the Yellow Rain incident? People are STILL suffering from adverse health effects in the regions along the Ho Chi Minh trail almost 50 years later. Children are born with mental and physical disabilities to this day. The people of Laos and Vietnam long been “dying ugly deaths” directly because of the chemical agent that the US developed and deployed. You think you missed something? I’d agree. That’s the truth.

Sep. 28 2012 03:08 PM
Paul from St. Paul, MN

Alan,
I respectfully disagree. While yes, there are concerns about tone, civility, and arrogance, the broader issues are that Radiolab cherry-picked their scientific evidence, sold it as absolute truth, ignored other valid scientific reservations about the bee crap theory,(I laid this out in a comment on the episode site) and then got all bent out of shape when someone else challenged THEIR "truth." Radiolab is pretending that they have the irrefutable study of a Harvard-educated scientist, but his findings have been found wanting by another Ivy League-trained scientist. They knew this but never told us. So in an episode about the potential relativity of truth, Radiolab imposed their absolute truth on someone else and we got to listen to Robert Krulwich make an absolute ass of himself and a travesty of the segment.

Sep. 28 2012 02:15 PM
Joe

I love the ignorance put on display by people defending RadioLab. There is simply no excuse for the way they,(Robert in particular) handled the interview. There are some comments implying that those of us who defend Eng are playing in to the victim and treating him as if he could not handle the interview. That is offensive. The "truth" of this interview, which this whole awful show was about, was that RadioLab INTENTIONALLY MISLEAD the interviewees, THEY SET A TRAP. More than a gotcha moment, more than an emotional interview, more than a challenge on how Eng sees the Yellow Rain. It was predator and prey and I guess it is those of us who feel like the bear should apologize to the salmon who are naive.

Sep. 28 2012 01:51 PM
Alan Ashton from Winnipeg

I think much of this criticism is off-target and disrespects both Krulwich and Yang. Both are intelligent adults capable of expressing themselves and pursuing their own goals.

So this was culled from a 2-hour interview where Yang shared experience, knowledge and arguments refuting the idea that the yellow rain was anything but a chemical attack. Krulwich lost patience. His goal - to focus on eye-witness details - was frustrated and he became a cross-examining lawyer. Without hearing the whole interview, I don't know whether he had good reason to take his approach with Yang.

The theme? "The fact of the matter." All three stories deal with the problem of getting to the truth. The point wasn't to discredit Yang's experience, it was to explore the alternate explanation vs. the official account -- bee poop or chemical weapon? Reagan claimed "conclusive proof" of the latter. It is legitimate to examine whether the official account holds water.

Would you be so hard on Krulwich if he had interviewed a government official? Doubt it. Treating Yang as the weak party, the victim, seems to be a first requirement in much of this criticism. If you view him as a strong, independent agent capable of expressing himself, why the fuss?

I understand Radiolab has the power of the soapbox. If they ignored good info provided in that interview, that's a problem. Expediency and bias affect every journalist everywhere.

No one has discredited the experience of the Hmong people. There is no holocaust denial here. The Hmong were murdered, tortured, and subject to genocide. Intentions aside, people are talking about it, and Yang has a spotlight to shine on his experience. Radiolab present information which gives doubt to the official account. None of that discredits the experience OR takes away the right to insist chemical weapons were used.

Krulwich & co. didn't have to agree with Yang. If they hadn't talked to him, we'd criticize them for ignoring first-hand experience. If Krulwich had taken it easy on him, we'd criticize him for being a bleeding heart liberal blanching at the first sign of tears. He didn't do either. That doesn't make this bad journalism.

My advice:

Mr. Krulwich, I do think you were a bit of a jerk. Next time "hearsay" comes out of your mouth when talking to someone who has first-hand experience of a genocide, it might be time to back-off. Just a little.

Radiolab, stick to your guns. You've offended some. Let Eng Yang (& supporters) have his voice and criticize your methods and conclusions. Some of it might stick and land. That's what you get for taking on a hot issue.

Eng Yang, carry on doing what you are doing. If Radiolab and a few scientists want to doubt that you were attacked by T2 spores, counter if you want. "Yellow rain" got wrapped up in cold war politics, but you were there. Your voice is strong and important. Don't let anyone (least of all some of your well-meaning defenders) treat you like you're weak.

Sep. 28 2012 01:41 PM
Der from Minnesota


“When we look at modern man, we have to face the fact that modern man suffers from a kind of poverty of the spirit, which stands in glaring contrast with a scientific and technological abundance. We've learned to fly the air as birds, we've learned to swim the seas as fish, yet we haven't learned to walk the Earth as brothers and sisters.”

~ Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Sep. 28 2012 12:59 PM
Joe from UK

I'm interested in the following:

a) more interviews with more survivors. Wouldn't a story based on what they actually saw be of interest? OK, possibly one person might be unreliable in the sense of it being a single source but maybe a lot of people saw the same thing. Isn't that possible?

b) a discussion about disagreement in science. If you have two academics, you usually get two different opinions, even on the results of basic qualitative analysis. Given that an eyewitness appears to be being disbelieved because he is one source, why should a single scientist be believed?

c) a discussion about when science gets things wrong. You said the sample maybe got contaminated in the lab (really. oh well that's great for every law case which depends on scientific analysis isn't it?) - maybe the retested samples got contaminated. Maybe the scientist's hypothesis is wild and disputed. Maybe what was collected wasn't the 'yellow rain' which was causing the problem.

I don't know what you were trying to prove here. That science is always right and an eyewitness cannot be trusted..?

Sep. 28 2012 11:01 AM
Bill

I thought it was good interview, based on good intent. Questioning emotional events that are assumed to be established fact is a tricky proposition.

Perhaps you should have prepped the interviewees that you were not questioning the persecution of the Hmong people, but that you were looking into an interesting alternative theory regarding the yellow spots.

-Bill

Sep. 28 2012 10:19 AM
Douglas Plante from Boston

Dear Radiolab (Jad, Robert, Pat, et al):

By now, there has already been a flood of messages left on your site regarding the Yellow Rain segment, many expressing feelings similar to my own. However, I still feel compelled to let you know how I feel, even if a lot of it has already been said.

I've been a television editor for a number of years, and so am not ignorant of the fact that it can be difficult to craft a story, and make decisions about what material to leave in or out when trying to communicate a very complicated idea. I understand that pieces like this grow organically, and can take directions you didn't expect even at late stages of production.

However, in both the ending conversation of the segment, and in the note tacked to the front of the website, I feel that an important point has been missed. You've re-characterized your ending conversation from "pedantic" to "transparent", utilized editing to provide more context for the conversation, and provided a very sound rationale for Robert's line of questioning. But these are all academic treatments. They ignore the pain in that room during the interview, and they really minimize your admission of being "profoundly troubled".

What possible benefit could there be to curing the myopia of one man who lived through a genocide almost 30 years ago? The message Robert seems so concerned about (how misinformation can affect world events and thus countless lives) was important. But did it have to be paid for with someone's pain in that manner?

Yes, you've generated some good discussion. But you've also exposed the pain of these people, and responded with nothing but an academic analysis, offering no equivalent exposure on your own part to make any kind of public apology to them.

I am "profoundly troubled" when I watch scenes of war on the news, or see someone being cruel to an animal, or receive news of the death of a friend. I do not consider what happened in your interview to be in the same league. When I inflict pain on another person, whether through ignorance or good intentions, I would hope to be more than simply "troubled". In those situations, I hope for something more from myself: compassion, sorrow, regret. Your note, the new edit, the justification for the line of questioning, don't quite cut it.

Semantics again? Could we argue over what "troubled" means to you versus what it means to me? Perhaps. But again we'd be missing the point. After bringing someone to tears like that, more is owed than just a cerebral analysis of the meaning of truth. There is truth in a simple "I'm sorry", and I believe that is what is called for here.

And I also think that in the future, as much as it might reduce my interest in the program, it might be better if RadioLab stuck to being a lite show about quirky science.

Emotional reporting should be left to those reporters who know how to balance the pursuit of truth with a proper amount of restraint and empathy.

Regretfully,

Doug

Sep. 28 2012 09:21 AM
Canary

Here is the rest of the Kalia's husband's response. Krulwich tells them they're going to need to get a "court order" if they want a copy of the interview. My, how sensitive.

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. 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”.

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

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. 28 2012 08:41 AM
Canary

WNYC Laura Walker: lwalker@nypublicradio.org
NPR CEO Gary Knell: gknell@npr.org
NPR's Ombudsman: (202) 513-3232
NPR's Board of Directors: http://www.npr.org/about/aboutnpr/people/board.html
WNYC's Board of Trustees and Meetings (Oct. 4): http://www.wnyc.org/about/board/

I also urge everyone to read Kalia husband's response (he was present for the interviews), which I am re-pasting below.

Aaron
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.

Sep. 28 2012 08:22 AM
Canary

I can not even begin to articulate my disappointment with Radiolab both with the Yellow Rain story and with this self-serving response. I hope everyone who is vocal on this comment board can create an organized response (Change.org petition?) that they take to NPR's CEO Gary Knell, WNYC's Laura Walker, NPR's ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos as well as Radiolab's funders. Or maybe even a protest outside one of their live shows. The arrogance revealed in the Yellow Rain show and with this response proves that Radiolab does not like to listen to anyone but themselves.

Sep. 28 2012 07:42 AM
theotherday

Wednesday, September 26, somewhere deep in Radiolab.....

“Do you think we should apologize?”
“No. That would imply that we did something wrong. We're privileged upper-middle class men that host a radio show, we couldn't possibly have done anything wrong.”
“Yeah, and they're members of an oppressed ethnic minority whose genocide our government played a role in and which we've never taken responsibility for. I mean, who knew, right? We sure seemed surprised.”
“They should really be apologizing to us.”
“Totally. They made our story way too complicated.”
“I mean, if it had been a Holocaust survivor, then yeah, we would apologize. But we would never bully Holocaust survivors, because we have respect for them, so we'll never have to worry about that.”
“It's American chemical weapons that were almost, but not ever developed as a result of this guy not seeing a plane (that's our story, right?) that's important here. Never mind that we and the Soviet Union were developing thousands of nuclear warheads at the time, and that for years before that and for years after that we and the Soviet Union had accused each other of providing different chemical weapons to different peoples that we had pitted against each other in different places.”
“Yeah.”
“Yeah.”
“Remember Jad, be forceful.”
“Don't retreat, reload.”
“Bee poop. Hahaha ha. Why are people calling us pricks again?”

Sep. 28 2012 07:28 AM
Dan from Ukraine

You all have nothing to apologize for. The segment was well balanced and you certainly were not cavalier. Truth and reconciliation is the proper way to deal with tragedies. The fact is the term Chemical Weapon is worth arguing over, as shown by the scientists and Robert's logos and Kalia and Eng's pathos and ultimately Radiolab's ethos.

Sep. 28 2012 04:48 AM
David from San Francisco

My key point is that the bee poop or yellow substance is a correlation. What if the toxin was pharmacologically active on insects, causing incontinence?

Sep. 28 2012 04:15 AM
David from San Francisco from San Francisco

Please consider the following points, especially the last one. It is not possible to rule out chemical weapons being used on the Hmong people during the Vietnam War. Several assumptions led the interviewer to be both cavalier and insensitive.

Specifically regarding the re-testing of T2 mycotoxin samples:

1. How reliable was their sample collection in the first place? Who was doing the collection? How many places were sampled? How many samples were there?

2. How reliable was the re-testing?
What were the assays used to determine the presence of T2 mycotoxin (ELISA or Mass-Spectrometry?) What is its stability long-term? (look at all those esters on the molecule, wouldn't they get hydrolyzed over time?). If it was there, how are they sure that it did not degrde?

3. How are they sure it was T2 mycotoxin, and not some other (unknown, undetectable) toxin?

4. How are they sure they collected the right samples?
They focused on the yellow material because it was the most obvious, and a constant across accounts. Even if the most parsimonious explanation for the yellow material was bee feces, is it possible that the toxin itself is active on insects as well as humans, perhaps causing the bees to poop simultaneously? This would account for the bee poop, but again, it is an assumption that this correlated "yellow material" contains the toxin.

Sep. 28 2012 04:11 AM
David from Canada

I have listened to all of your shows and podcasts to date, and have always enjoyed the way in which you present important and interesting ideas in such a unique way.

Having said that, I was disappointed in your treatment of the 'Yellow Rain' story. Scientific inquiry can do a lot of things. In this case, it showed that the yellow residue that was tested was not a chemical weapon. What it can't do in this case is determine whether or not these people were the victims of chemical warfare.

You had someone on the show who shared his perspective, based on his own experiences in the area during that time period. It's important to note that you presented no evidence to suggest that what the man described didn't happen - even if the exact details may not have been correct.

Instead of considering that there may be alternative explanations that still involve the poisoning of villages in the area, you chose to frame the interview in a way that presented you as the informer, and Eng as the informed. It is not your place to 'inform' someone like Eng that his experiences are mistaken, and I'm disappointed that your show went in this direction. In a show about finding the truth, you chose to create it.

I have always talked about radiolab fondly with my friends and family, but I feel less inspired to do so in the future.

Sep. 28 2012 03:52 AM
Adam G from New York

How did Robert expect Eng Yang to react when he got to the part about bee droppings? Is there a point to interviewing a genocide survivor and asking him to talk about traumatic experiences if it’s all just for the sake of telling him he’s mistaken about the details? It’s as though Robert was going for some “gotcha!” moment that never materialized, so he just kept fighting harder to get to that point.

I’m sure the narrative of the Yellow Rain segment was ever supposed to be about war crimes and human suffering. I think it was supposed to be a quirky exploration of problems in science, as most Radiolab segments are. But then why would you interview someone who experienced these tragedies first-hand, if his personal story wasn’t the story you were setting out to tell? Or worse yet, why would you argue with him, and criticize him afterwards for caring more about the atrocities he and his people endured than the story you’d rather tell? Robert’s point about how important the label “chemical weapon” is to international politics, no matter how valid it may be, has nothing to do with the Yang family. A refugee is not a policymaker or researcher. To defend interrogating the Yang family so aggressively by acting as though they need to be held accountable for the missteps of the Reagan administration is absurd.

But most importantly, even if Radiolab did feel airing the segment/interview was appropriate, then instead of closing it off with a Socratic discussion about the nature of truth, they should have issued an apology. Robert’s conduct was unprofessional, and clearly very hurtful, and he/Radiolab should take responsibility for that instead of just acknowledging there was more to the story than you’d considered. Apologizing for how Kalia and Eng were treated on your show is more important than meditating on what you’ve learned from it. Talking about the latter isn’t a decent substitute for an apology.

Oddly enough, NPR’s On the Media just aired a show about fact-checking and reporting the truth as well. I wonder what Brooke Gladstone and Bob Garfield would have to say about Robert’s interview style…

Sep. 28 2012 03:36 AM
Yilan from Taiwan

I'm disappointed in listeners saying things like they should just "stick to stars and colors". Why can't they discuss "big boy" topics, if done to your standards?

I listened to this segment last night and it left me a bit at a loss. On the one hand I think it was appropriate for them to include their argument. On the other, it seemed odd to then go into the third segment like that.

I personally would like to hear a follow up episode where they interview Kao Kalia Yang and give her the forum to express her concerns. I don't think this is a Mike Daisy thing. I think more than anything that RL went into the interview with a different understanding of what was being discussed than the Yangs.

Robert's point is valid. Kalia's distress at how things went is valid. I think they thought two different interviews were taking place.

Please consider a follow up. I'm sure there's a way it could be done to fit the format and style of the show.

Sep. 28 2012 02:08 AM
Jimmy from Kansas City

I just listened to this episode on the podcast and I am profoundly offended and disappointed in the "Yellow Rain" segment. Moreover, Jad's 'response' or attempt to put the interview in some context is similarly disappointing.

First, I felt Robert's line of questioning at the end was terribly inappropriate and ridiculously insensitive. To then proceed to defend your insensitivity by claiming you are trying to get at some larger truth by completely delegitimizing the trauma that Kalia and Eng felt and experienced is shameful.

Then, to offer up an explanation that fails to simply say something to the effect of 'we apologize for offending anybody' betrays a level of insensitivity that is staggering. To then conclude that all of this was somehow alright because Robert was trying to make a larger point about the US government relying on faulty information to justify actions that could lead to the deaths of hundreds of thousands of people is pretty weak. There are copious examples of this without having to delegitimize the trauma that Kalia and Eng feel.

I sincerely hope you realize how your insensitivity in this matter has harmed people. If you don't, or you somehow feel as though you aren't responsible for the pain you inflicted, shame on you.

Please know that this segment and your subsequent response has made me lose a great deal of respect for this program and it will be hard for me to listen to another Radiolab episode ever again.

Sep. 28 2012 01:24 AM
Jessica from New Jersey

Hi I just listened to the segment and I realize that much has already been said but I would just like to add that what I understood listening to the interview was that they were interviewing this man to obtain an eyewitness depiction of what appeared to be happening to the Hmong people from their own perspective. But what I understood from Robert's later questions was that the Rabiolab interviewers were trying to gain some sort of confession from this man about the accuracy of this account. That seemed to me a poor use of this man's time and his story. What happened in Southeast Asia and what is still happening is very complicated I agree but I feel like a civilian perspective from a time of war is not a narrative useful to scientific fact checking. I was very disturbed by that. But even moments like an interviewee calling the Vietnamese "backward" for not producing their own arms revealed a kind of dated perspective and also a dangerous power dynamic that set the tone for the whole segment.

Sep. 28 2012 01:17 AM
James

Robert's is right, it's more than just "semantics". The world needs to know how you are being killed. If a thousand people are being killed by machine gun fire, well that's fine. But if a thousand people are killed by chemical weapons, or even worse, nuclear weapons, then we care. It's not you being killed, it's how your killed, that is important.

Sarcasm set aside now, I think this show was brilliant. It demonstrats how a single story has multiple truths which impact range from a family's nightmares to nations on the brink of war. I think it was a rare gem to see radiolab leave the ending interview intact and not try to gloss over the messiness of an interview gone awry.

However, I do think that Kalia's point is being missed. We need to go back to the original question of why chemical weapons are banned. Is it semantics, or does the method of death really matter? Is it a numbers game, does the duration of suffering matter? Is a single death by gun any less worse than a single death by chemical weapons? Or, as is probable in this case, a death due to exposure due to fleeing from immediate death?

Sep. 27 2012 11:52 PM

I hope the ridiculous conspiracy claims that RadioLab "played" their interviewees in order to sell a delicious piece of entertainment to its unassuming and ignorant listeners would stop, because frankly those accusations alone reflect incredible ignorance. Its obvious enough that this piece reflects negatively on its producers, but choosing to air it, in my opinion, is not a media ploy, but plain simple honesty. While my first impression of the segment aligns with most of the negative reviews expressed here, I do believe RadioLab did right in airing it the way they did. There's no point in shrouding what had happened during the interview, it is what it is. The story unfolded that way, and changing it or leaving it out would be the biggest irony for an episode themed "truth".

The method in which the interview was conducted may be questionable, and we've all expressed our criticisms already. But leaving comments like "I'll never support RadioLab ever again" as punishment for airing the segment is incredibly arrogant and shortsighted. Hasn't it been apparent that where RadioLab failed to elaborate on the sensitive history of the genocide, we as responsible listeners have been (at least we should be!) passionately educating ourselves on the matter?

Even if people are still whole-heartedly repeled by the episode, almost everyone had said that this was one piece of bad journalism from a record of very good ones; this does not deserve the death sentence. RadioLab by its very nature is experimental, shaped just as much by our constructive feedbacks as by the creative energy of its producers and hosts. "RadioLab never again!" is not constructive in any way and does not resolve anything.

Where the story itself went wrong has been expressed clearly enough, but integrity was never lost from the show in my opinion. They fumbled, ok, resolve and communicate it, then move on having learned from it. Beyond that, RadioLab still deserves their listener's support. It has mine.

Sep. 27 2012 11:17 PM
Matt from Maryland

I agree with Hazel from Seoul – Radio Lab should stick to stars and colors.

You are not qualified to discuss big boy topics like this and now there is a big big mess and you won't clean it up.

BUT, I know it was hard to resist once you heard about the poop.

You did, however, speak with people who pointed to important facts and sources that would make the Hmong look more like the proud survivors they are.

Some of your key points and insinuations you should discuss more clearly:

1.“The lab that detected T-2 was contaminated.” You failed to mention that other, independent labs found T-2 in other, independent samples. You also failed to mention the blood samples that were positive for T-2. I agree it would have been harder for you to mention the other labs and samples…so good job getting a foundational point totally wrong.

2.“Anyone who lives around bees knows they shit en masse” and “the Hmong were on the run, getting sick by drinking from contaminated streams, etc” Stop, think, listen to your common sense! The Hmong are genetically and culturally adapted to the living, running, and hiding in the mountains, just survived years of warfare, and as Eng said…raised bees, and knows what their shit looks like, knows what dysentery looks like, etc. Are you to have us believe this was the first time they saw bees crap like that? Thank God some academic from Cambridge set those noble savages straight about what life is like in the mountains of Laos.

3.You failed to mention Meselson’s bias and investigative failures as clearly as you point out the Hmong’s attempt to “monopolize” the story. Meselson is a well known opponent of bio weapons and is interested in making sure no one uses them - nothing special about that...unless it makes you predisposed to pretend that no one is using them. Review his wrong position on the Sverdlosk anthrax outbreak of 1979, where he went to great lengths to disprove that the Russians were developing weaponized anthrax. This was later admitted to by the Russians and he of course reversed his position. He may do the same someday for Yellow Rain.

All you did was cherry pick facts to support the view of one of your own tribe: an expensively educated, disarmingly charming, but wrong academic.

Sep. 27 2012 10:45 PM

Jad, Robert and Radiolab team,

We need to make this right. An apology and an open-airing of the journalistic path and process is in order. I offer this comment as a long-time listener, a dad and a proud Minnesotan. I listened to your show yesterday (9/26), driving from my home in southeast Minnesota enroute to Minneapolis. It's usually an hour trip for me, perfect for listening to one of the longer shows. On other occasions, when my kids have been in the car (they're middle school age), I've eagerly pulled past episodes from your show to play as examples of good storytelling, great radio and sound journalistic principles. Which they are. But Yellow Rain isn't. If my kids would have been with me yesterday, I would have found myself speechless on US-52, probably just north of Cannon Falls, embarrassed to have to shut off the podcast. I'm sure our conversation would have turned to bullying. I probably would have talked about Mike Daisy and that affair and the need to fact check. And as as we rolled into the Twin Cities, I would have added that a lot of Hmong people call this state home and I'm honored to be their neighbor. That's enough. Simple human decency. Treating people like you'd like to be treated. I'd like to hear the whole tape and have native speakers shed light on what I'm missing because I don't understand the language. It appalls me to have to pre-screen my favorite radio show for younger and eager listeners. So step up, and air an entire segment (as Ira Glass did) as to what exactly happened here.

Tom

Sep. 27 2012 10:42 PM
Brodie

There are numerous well thought out critiques that echo much of my reaction to this story. I will keep my comments brief.

First, Jad, you suggest that the "the truth in this situation is a matter of life or death". This is a gross exaggeration as the question had been settled by policy makers decades before Robert's interview. The truth in this matter may 'have been' a matter of life or death, but no one's life hung in the balance of Robert provoking a genocide survivor.

Even were it such a matter, there are far more appropriate interview techniques than that employed, particularly because it was obvious several questions earlier that both Eng and Kalia were being upset by the line of questioning. There was little to gain by such aggressive questioning that only threatened to inflict emotional and possibly psychological harm. Had an academic researcher undertaking a review of conducted the interview in the same manner they would have been in very clear violation of their ethical obligations. In fact I plan to use this interview in my research methods courses as an example of what not to do.

It was unfortunate that in a show about truth there was no discussion on ethics and truth, because researchers working with accounts of genocide and violence must grapple with these questions everyday. It is not that you question received wisdom that disturbs me, but that you seem to have no idea how to do so once your questioning real people.

Sep. 27 2012 10:11 PM
Aaron

@Srini I am Kalia's husband, This is not a prank. The family is distressed, especially the younger kids who were born in America and believe in the power of media, to see their uncle, who they trust, respect, look up to, and love used and misrepresented... we are all distressed, and we as well are waiting for a response.

As mentioned, the interview included about two hours of Uncle Eng explaining his experiences, most of this is left out, because it would call into question the "truth" that this show presented, it would make it more complicated.

Unfortunately, I fear, the radiolab is hoping this will pass. I suggest reading the comments left by "Paul from St. Paul, MN" who was the access point to Kalia's family, and who is a historical scholar with personal connections to the people in this piece. Read his comments, and you will see, that Radiolab is simply hiding, afraid to admit they failed miserably, in every direction, not only in their treatment of Eng, but also their exploration of this subject.

Sep. 27 2012 10:07 PM

I thoroughly enjoyed the show, and was surprised at the very negative reaction. The show was about the nature of truth. This was a brave way to illustrate how emotional involvement colors our willingness to follow the evidence wherever it may lead.

Sep. 27 2012 09:23 PM
Jessah from Harlem, NY

I was profoundly affected by the inclusion of the exchange at the end of the segment. I found it to be incredibly, as you stated above, transparent. And, I found it to be incredibly profound in the discussion of truth. It has led me to begin examining truth in an essay I am writing on my blog. I did not feel that Radiolab was cavalier. I felt, as you had said on the show, that three truths were present and all of them held significant value. The Hmong people's suffering is deplorable, and I felt you shed light on that. This segment has been one of the most real and enlightening forms of journalism I have ever come across.

Sep. 27 2012 08:49 PM
Srini

I had left a comment here earlier expressing my displeasure with the 'Yellow Rain' segment, and this topic has weighed heavily enough on my mind that I have been checking back to look at other comments.

Originally, the strangeness of the episode made me wonder whether something deeply wrong with the ideology of the RL folks, that had always been there, just happened to slip out in this episode. But then, having listened to the program for years, I find it hard to believe they can be *this* tone deaf. With something like this, you would expect a more substantial response from Radiolab, or coverage on NPR or someone other media outlet, but yet all we have is... silence (I include Jad's feeble posting above in that category).

Does anybody else think that this might be an elaborate prank unleashed by RL that the Yangs might also have participated in? I know there are other posters who claim a personal link to the Yangs - and their angst seems genuine and very affecting, but in this day and age, that is not difficult to orchestrate.

Or perhaps it is just that I would rather be "had" in this way by a prank than admit to having liked a show that so flippantly places its own "search for THE truth," in a snappy radio segment, right next to real horrors suffered by real human beings.

Sep. 27 2012 08:44 PM
Andrea

Radiolab's final analysis that the interpreter and her uncle wanted to co-opt the story was misguided. The conclusion reached by Radiolab that the interpreter was upset because of the fear that if the yellow rain wasn't really yellow rain it would somehow discredit what happened was clearly false. The interpreter and her uncle were upset because they were relieved to finally have a chance to tell their story of suffering, but instead the interviewers kept needling and pushing the same question about the bees. It was insulting and upsetting to in the interpreter that the interviewers only wanted to look at a scientific little puzzle that interested them for their Radiolab bit rather than hear the whole story of her people's suffering. Although the question of chemical warfare vs. bee poop may mean a lot to the US side of the story, what ultimately mattered to the Hmong people was the massacre that happened to them and the opportunity to tell their own story. Even in their interpretation of why she was upset, Radiolab missed this.

Sep. 27 2012 08:01 PM
Dina from California

It was hard for me to listen to the ending of the interview. Hearing Kalia and Eng break down on a nationally produce radio talk show is just heart breaking. Nobody will know what the Hmong endured unless you are Hmong. Sure, go ahead and call it bee poop, but to the thousands of Hmong who lost their lives to this mysterious yellow rain, it's something else. You can use all the scientific method to prove it was bee poop, but it's useless to me. Why? Because there was no scientist there with the Hmong when they were showered with this mysterious yellow rain. They tested a sample that villagers found on leaves, but had no evidence to prove that it was from the same yellow rain that ended up killing thousands.

Sep. 27 2012 07:53 PM
Sue Johnson from Richmond, CA

I thought the interview in the Yellow Rain segment sounded clumsy, like RadioLab hadn’t found the right sources to interview or hadn’t prepared properly. It’s an interesting question and seems to me to be an eminently empirical one: was Yellow Rain bee poop or a chemical agent? It seems equally clear to me that if someone is trying to hunt down and kill me and my family, I am not going to get hung up on observational niceties like “did you or did you not hear a plane prior to seeing the yellow rain?” I got the impression that the production team just hadn’t located the right person to interview, or explained clearly to them what the interview was about. The interviewer deserved and got a reaming, and to the program’s credit they aired that reaming.

To use the ‘derailed’ interview to raise questions about the nature of truth was total over-reaching, in my opinion. The way the story was presented, I didn’t get the sense that this was a contest between alternative explanations as much as people talking past each other about things they felt were very important. I’d look forward to reading the story of Yellow Rain from someone with a track record in relevant scholarly and scientific fields.

The Skelly segment, though, was a good story and showed just how fluid the boundaries of ‘truth’ are when it comes to building and maintaining social relationships. That segment resonated with me because I have worked with people who struggle with dementia and delusion. You can’t just negate a deluded person’s ‘truth’ if you care about maintaining a connection with them, so you have to figure out a way to negotiate the truth badlands. It’s complicated.

On the whole I think I’d enjoy hearing more stories about the sociology of science and knowledge in the RadioLab format. However, I’d like the stories to be more rooted in the relevant scholarly literature and more, um, informed in their choice of interviewees?

Sep. 27 2012 07:42 PM
Karl from Inglewood

I will keep it short. Just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of boos. I agree with many of the comments and was saddened and disappointed by the piece. I hope that someday, when that coward Krulwich has lost somebody that he loves, that a bully with a microphone doesn't pretend to be interested in his loss and then hijack the story to beat a scientific drum with the bones of the deceased. No one deserves to be treated like that.

I have unsubscribed from the podcast and have called my local NPR station to ask the to remove RL from their programming. I will no longer support the show financially as I have in the past. They are morally bankrupt and I hope this piece leads to their financial ruin as well. Don't cry for Krulwich when the show folds. With the cruelty he showcased, he can probably get a job hounding celebrities for TMZ. Sadly, even they deserve better.

Sep. 27 2012 07:35 PM
Michael Cohen from Japan

I agree with a lot that has been said here. The interview was without a doubt manipulative. The last question had been answered at least three times, and did not have to be rephrased again. A simple acknowledgement of their pain and suffering would have been a lot more sensitive, and would not have changed the conclusions to the story in any way. I find it ironic that a story on the nature of truth made me think of another side of it: the way a broadcasting agency can shape the "truth" it presents, in choosing who to talk to, how to frame the interview, what questions to ask, and most importantly, how much and what parts of the interview to show.

Finally, I have one additional point which may or may not have been brought up earlier in these comments: the laughter at the end of the story. EXTREMELY inappropriate, in my opinion, and it goes against the explanation you gave to what happened. Maybe talking to the producers about how to air the story was a tough discussion. But whoever thought having light laughter at the very end of the post-story discussion was a good idea... was very wrong.

Sep. 27 2012 06:29 PM
Steve from PA

This discussion has been occupying me all day. I've gone back and listened to the segment two more times now. I don't want to fill the comments with an essay, nor am I as articulate as some of these other commenters, but here are my assorted thoughts on the topic and some of the comments. (Forewarning that I am taking defense of the show, which i'm sure some of you don't want to hear at this point):

-The "Gotcha" moment would have been much better served on someone else rather than Eng and Kalia. However, i don't believe it was the true intention to create this highly emotional response. It makes perfect sense to interview someone with the first person account for the story. I'm sure they knew that the interview would reach a point where they bring up the science that counters the chemical weapon theory, but i'm not sure that there was any avoiding it either. Listening to how quickly the emotionals escalated, it seems that Kalia was no longer talking directly to Robert but expressing pent up frustration from decades of ignorance from the world as a whole.

-What are the alternatives that we should have expected from Radiolab? Should they have ever approached someone with a first person account for the horrors suffered by the Hmong people? Would it have been the more ethical to simply to interview Eng as if they are only interested in his story, tell him nothing of your factual disagreements only to then rebut his accounts in the radio segment without giving him a chance to state his case?

-The true tragedy of the entire story is the neglect shown to the Hmong people. They have been through so much without the attention and reparations that their history deserves. But what if the argument had persuaded him? There can be consolation in finding out the truth. Assuming that you agree that the evidence that the Pollin based Yellow Rain was a chemical weapons is shaky (Which I do), would it not serve the the cause better to set aside the Yellow Rain account for the facts that are less susceptable to scrutiny?

-As I stated below, I worry that there is a degree of disrespect to Eng in the outcries to supposedly defend him. We should not let our deep sympathy with his endurances cause us to view him as someone that cannot defend himself or who cannot handle a discussion. To me, the diea that he was bullied, or even can be bullied, is hurtful in pinning him as an utterly defenseless victim. He was strong enough to endure the genocide he faced and he is strong enough to handle an interview.

Sep. 27 2012 06:15 PM
Nadine

Thank you for taking the risk and providing your audience with evocative reporting. It WAS uncomfortable to listen to, but I don't believe apologies need to be made.

Sep. 27 2012 06:11 PM
Der in St. Paul, MN from Minnesota

This is Bob Collins of Minnesota Public Radio's take on this discussion. I agree, Mr. Collins.

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/news_cut/archive/2012/09/why_the_radiolab_interview_wen.shtml

Sep. 27 2012 06:03 PM
Joe from SLC, UT

There are some comments trying to defend Krulwich which is going to fall on deaf ears, in my opinion. The overall feeling of the interview that RadioLab set these people up, and it will be hard to convince people that you did not. The producers of the story knew exactly what they were doing and what the story was about, and they DELIBERATELY mislead the Hmong interviewees so they could make a point about "truth" and how the "most powerful man in the world" ordered the U.S. to start production of chemical weapons. It is sad that you let your feelings drive you to such lengths to prove a point. I challenge those responsible for this story and the interview in particular, to acknowledge just how selfish and petty that interview was.

Sep. 27 2012 05:24 PM
Elizabeth from NYC

This is my 4th and (hopefully) final comment (I do not want to dilute the comments so that people think only the same loud voices are repeating over and over here).

I sent an email to On The Media through their contact page asking them to report on this story. If you agree that this is worthy of further media attention, please join me in sending an email to On The Media using the following webpage:

http://www.onthemedia.org/emailform/contact-otm/

Kalia and Eng Yang deserve better than what RadioLab has so far done in terms of addressing what they did wrong. So I say we need to take our voices beyond this comment section.

Sep. 27 2012 04:53 PM
Brian from San Francisco, CA

This response is inadequate and fails to address the issues that trouble your listeners. It’s puzzling that RadioLab fails to offer a simple apology and move on. Other radio programs have apologized for their missteps and have been forgiven. Resistance to offering an adequate response implies contempt for a community of people and for the listeners, who have clearly, and eloquently, registered their displeasure with your conduct.

RadioLab, until now, was great. You made a great product; delicious pieces of intellectual candy so good that it caused everyone to crave for more. However, this episode was defective, we consumed it and it poisoned us. The comments here should be sufficiently loud and clear to you. Listeners have gone out of their way to tell you that something is wrong with this episode, that your product is defective. Not ten, not fifty, but at least 90% of your listeners have complained that your product has caused pain. The remaining listeners are immune to the defect, it doesn’t bother them, and that’s OK. But how do you respond, RadioLab? You tell us that nothing is wrong with your product. You tell us that it is not defective. You dismiss any pain that the listener experiences as being a result of our collective emotional over-reaction because we are failing to capture the “truth” of the matter.

Yes, the product is free of charge, after all, you get what you pay for, right? On the contrary, RadioLab is held to a heightened standard of responsibility because you are the party offering this product to the public at large. The more you delay, the stronger the appearance of contempt towards the listening public. Your reply is not only unresponsive and unethical, but most of all, it is just bad business practice.

Sep. 27 2012 04:33 PM
GregW from MA

I wish Robert had stopped pressing Kalia and Eng sooner than he did. It felt cruel to me. I got the point long before those last few questions.

Sep. 27 2012 04:10 PM
Elijah Portugal from Utah

Like many other listeners, I was offended by the way the interview with the Hmong man and his niece was conducted. Robert was insensitive and the whole segment portrayed the man and his niece as emotional and illogical. It seems very possible if not probable that if the 'Yellow Rain' indeed was bee poop and not a chemical weapon that some other chemical weapon was used against the Hmong people after the Viet Nam war. I realize this subject was not the original focus of the piece but if you are going to interview a survivor of a relatively recent genocide (who's people were essentially left by the United State military, post Viet Nam, to be slaughtered) then you (as producers) should be ready to dig a little deeper into their story instead of solely focusing on the myopic details of 'Yellow Rain'. I have been a loyal listener and financial supporter until now. The way in which you respond to this segment (more than a few paragraphs from Jad) and listeners responses to it will determine if I stay a loyal listener. Thank you

Sep. 27 2012 04:01 PM
Aaron

@Claire I agree with your call for Radiolab to pay attention, but you must also see in the course of these emails, the number of holes people have punched in the "technical correct" ness of radiolab's argument about yellow rain (see @R right below).

They were neither morally, nor technically correct. They egregiously jumped the fence on the first, and didn't even bother with the second except by making it seem as if they were.

Sep. 27 2012 03:56 PM
R

Radiolab,
I'm not that surprised I guess, because the level of sensitivity you provide to interviewees hasn't always been high. But this was particularly egregious, as you may have heard.
And as you may now know, if you have a bone to pick with the fact that Reagan used one sample set tested by one lab as the basis of developing chemical weapons, then that's on the Reagan administration, not a survivor of the genocide. And so in the context of your story, your original reason for interviewing Eng Yang ("let's put a genocide survivor through a 'gotcha!'") was unethical and was certainly unfair to him, his family, and his community. Furthermore, your show's presentation of the science did not disprove the use of chemical weapons ("one lab, then some others, tested the one sample and came to a different conclusion, therefore, no chemical weapons were there at all!" was how it was presented), nor has your presentation of the science disproved that yellow rain was a chemical weapon.
It is quite interesting and perhaps telling that you didn't put any of the other guests in the segment though the same level of rigorous questioning and skepticism as you did Eng Yang. Here are some sample questions that you could have perhaps used if you had wanted to badger some of your other guests in this particular segment: There seems to be some controversy over some of your lab's other findings/reports that were favorable to the Soviet Union that go back to the period of time near your own yellow rain report, can you address that? And to follow up on that, has your lab ever made mistakes, have you ever knowingly lied in a scientific report? Also, if another lab had a shadow of controversy hanging over them, would you hold their lab findings suspect? How rigorous has the scientific study of yellow rain been, at any point in history? Is it all based on that original sample set? Were any other samples of yellow rain ever collected/tested? Why are there still scientists that contend that yellow rain is a chemical weapon? If it is the case that yellow rain is bee poop, does that mean that no chemical weapons were used? None at all? Did you SEE every plane and did you SEE what every plane dropped and so can then tell us that no chemical weapons were used?
And while you're at it, why not press the Russians on whether they had ever developed or used any chemical weapons? I imagine that would have been far more productive for your angle than badgering a genocide survivor as to whether he had SEEN the plane.
I know you've heard all of that before from others here. But we want you to do better than this Radiolab. And regardless of how much or how little of the interview you aired, this was the sort of mess of an interview that calls for an apology, to Eng and Kao Kalia Yang and to the Hmong community. Not for the sake of the listeners, but for the people that you hurt, however well-meaning your intentions may have been.

Sep. 27 2012 03:49 PM
Claire from Sacramento

Dear Jad, Robert and Pat. I hope you are paying careful attention to the comments of your fans and supporters. We are people who care about your work and your contributions to our lives. We are asking you to stop defending a position that is technically correct but morally wrong. We need better from you. Thank you.

Sep. 27 2012 03:43 PM
Elizabeth from NYC

Please see the below link for a Minnesota Public Radio editor's view on the segment. As we know, this family and a large Hmong refugee population live in Minnesota, and therefore the story is locally relevant to him:

http://minnesota.publicradio.org/collections/special/columns/news_cut/archive/2012/09/why_the_radiolab_interview_wen.shtml

Sep. 27 2012 03:28 PM

Here's a quirky article that estimated the odds of people being pooped on by bees at 1 to 352 million. It was posted in 2010 and has nothing to do with this story.

http://www.plantertomato.com/2010/06/odds-of-being-pooped-on-by-bees-1-to-352-million.html

My take:
I believe the man if he says there are no bees around and it doesn't make sense that it only happens on large concentrations of people. Why are there no other hypotheses about how it could have happened? I think there will need to be more said on this topic. A Radiolab Short would suffice in my opinion. I think they should respond quickly. This did not stop the feelings of hurt.

Sep. 27 2012 03:28 PM
Diane from MN

Science was poorly presented, journalism was poorly executed, human dignity was poorly handled. It is not a choice of whether you believe the science is true or Yang's story is true. Both are. I am upset with how poorly the science and the human subjects were handled. You can correct the science but the only way to correct the indecent treatment of the Yangs is to apologize which the silence from Radiolab is deafening.

As I think about Jad’s blog response, I’m having trouble what he’s asking us to do.
You want us to have compassion for you because you struggled with how you’re going to present the story? You’re asking us to dismiss what we’ve heard as not true like you’ve dismissed Yang’s experience as a myth? Why won’t you release the interview to the Yangs? Was there professional misconduct that occurred during the interview? I really now wonder... It seems you’re the same logic Reagan used to create chemical weapons for your story. In both situations, the Hmong’s genocide story is still being used to create a purpose for your weapon of mass (media) destruction.
Stop trying to pull the wool over our eyes. You may have fooled a few of your listeners but the majority us are not fooled. Where are the truth champions now when they are the perpetuators of lies? Seriously, you are not what you think you are. There is a real dissonance with what you think you are upholding and what you actually did in reality. The science is not conclusive and real people died from Yellow Rain. There are so many questions you didn’t raise about the bee feces as a biologist pointed it out in an earlier post and the inconclusive science behind it.
You admit in the blog post above that you went in with a different intention. This supports the Yang’s allegation that you had an angle already and were not genuinely interested in Yang’s story. When he presented you with a fact you hadn’t considered, you couldn’t handle it because it didn’t fit with your narrative. In the moment of this conflict, you had to dismiss Yang’s story to ensure you preserve your angle in the story. You were still beholden to your narrative that when you pieced the story back together, you took out his entire story and kept just the part that makes your story interesting. Seriously, guys, this is low and you’re not fooling most of us. The ends do not justify the means.

Sep. 27 2012 03:21 PM

It seems at this point that it is important to clarify whether your issue with the segment is because you believe that the yellow rain was indeed Chemical Warfar in which Radiolab is pushing incorrect facts, or whether you think the lines were overstepped in pushing what you believe to be true onto someone else.

These are two entirely different discussions in my view. If you disagree with the conclusions drawn on yellow rain, it goes without saying that the segment disgusts you. In that case, the debate on the latter is not even applicable.

Sep. 27 2012 03:10 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 02:21 PM
Mauvis Ledford from San Francisco, CA

Search the page for the word "Sorry" in this article. Find only long explanations. Close tab.

Sep. 27 2012 01:52 PM
Elan' from Los Angeles, Ca.

A lesser show would have edited out that emotionally charged moment. I felt that the period of silence after it showed respect toward Kalia and Eng's family, the friends and family that they lost and the Hmong people. Also, this is at its core, a science show.

Science isn't exactly compassionate and the devil needs an advocate if we're looking for scientific truth. But science with all the beautiful, interesting and innovative things-- science is not everything.

I think you handled it well. I mean, how do you properly handle the genocide of the Hmong in a science show? That moment was something bigger than you expected and you kept yourselves honest. I respect that.

Also, I hope that there's a radiolab listener out there who is also a filmmaker with the right resources, talent, and heart who's saying to themselves "I might want to make a documentary about this."

Sep. 27 2012 01:49 PM

I'm really surprised by this sort of reaction to the show. Setting aside the debate on how the interview was conducted, the episode was as sincere as possible in the way it was edited and released. The moment in question was spontaneous, and they made the right decision in the long run to air even the most threatening parts. Regardless on any opinion of the interview, i greatly appreciate the way the show handled the interview after-the-fact.

As for the interview:
I was waiting for the line of questioning to eventually stop before it reached the point that it did. I could see where it was heading and beginning to cringe. My entire family was part of South Vietnam during the war so i have heard my share of horrified stories.

However, i think Robert deserves some slack. The extreme attacks on Roberts character in the comments are unbelievable. It seems that most of the negative response came from the intense pain that Kalia and Eng showed through the end of the segment. I sure felt a deep sympathy for them, but you cannot hold Robert soley responsible for this. He just happened to be the trigger in that moment by digging too deep. If the ending was not so emotional, if Kalia/Eng simply stated that they disagree, would there be this much venom in these comments?

Last thing i'd like to say is that I do read some of these comments as extremely condescending. Although I do not agree with how far the questioning was pushed, i interpret many of the comments below as saying that Eng and Kalia are unable to handle a discussion on the facts at hand which I find equally, if not more, offensive.

Thanks Radiolab. The episode (controversy included) gave me exactly what I look for when i listen to your show, which is something to think about.

Sep. 27 2012 01:34 PM
Andrew Herbert

The Facebook cover photo on Robert's page was added on June 21st 2012. Two full months before the airing of "The Fact of the Matter." One could postulate that it was an inside joke by Robert after the Yellow Rain interviews. Or, it could just be an unfortunate coincidence. Perhaps we should consider the theme from this show of truth and not create our own truth just because it fits with our current emotional state. Which would include avoiding claims of insensitivity on the part of Robert until we have heard his side of the story.

Sep. 27 2012 01:27 PM

Jad, I have been trying to find a source that either (1) the U.S. produced sarin gas in the 1980s and (2) that production was based on the apparent revelation that the Soviets had supplied the Laotian communists with "yellow rain" or some other chemical weapon.

I am sure there must be something out there, and that it was well researched, since it is what Mr. Krulwich justifies for his very robust cross examination of Mr. Eng.

Sep. 27 2012 12:58 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 12:56 PM
Hannah

I regularly enjoy and have respect for Radiolab and Mr. Abumrad and Mr. Krulwich. In this case, reporters and producers made a mistake, and you need to address that on a future show as well as personally with the interview subjects if they are at all open or interested.

In my view, there were multiple mistakes but a profound one was the lack of acknowledgement of power in truth-telling and truth-adjudicating. Yes, that yellow rain was probably not a chemical weapon is the truth and has moral and political consequences. Yes, that the Hmong experienced terrible suffering and an attempted genocide is the truth and has moral and political consequences. But as you so ably demonstrated, determination of the first truth has advocates and interested parties in two of the most powerful governments in the world, multiple science labs, and your own reporters. Determination and dealing with the second truth, and the reckoning with justice and reparations and pain it might require, seems to have been left by the wayside by everyone but the Hmong who experienced it.

In the wake of this silence, the idea that Eng has any responsibility to act as a witness in the ongoing dispute between all of these powerful parties regarding yellow rain feels ludicrous compared to his ongoing mission to awaken people to the reality of what he and his family experienced. In your post-interview conversation you acknowledged that part of why the interview may have been so difficult for Eng and his niece is that the telling of the Hmong story is tied to this issue of yellow rain, and losing the latter feels like losing the former. But you didn't acknowledge that this is the case precisely because yellow rain has been the only lens through which non-Hmong have been interested to hear Eng's terrible story, which seems a much bigger blindness to the truth, and to the "fact of the matter," than what you chose to focus on.

I hope you wrestle with this issue more, internally and externally, with any of the involved parties who are interested.

Sep. 27 2012 12:48 PM
Tzipporah from Israel

The way that interview was conducted was disgusting. You pushed and pushed at a survivor of genocide to get them to 'admit' somehow to their suffering being false. I don't care if the yellow rain was bees or chemicals, it was insensitive and disrespectful for the interviewer to hound him like that in an attempt to get 'good radio' and force him to accept that the meaning he has attached to hissuffering is false. And to sit there afterwards justifying it by bringing up Ronald Reagan? Pathetic. Like the survivor accepting that it was bee pollen changes any of that? If you were trying to get a politician making decisions today to change his views, fine. But to try that on a survivor of something so tramatic is just scummy. The man suffered and watched his family and friends die and you are trying to get him to 'acknowledge the other side"? Shame on Radiolab.

Sep. 27 2012 12:12 PM
Seth from Dallas, TX

Attacking Radio Lab on this segment is shooting the messenger.

Radio Lab brought to life HOW governments and large organizations process and utilize information. I feel fortunate that bee poop did not set off WW3, but I am now convinced that chemical warfare DID occur in those jungles as well. Seeing potential future consequences of system wide assumptions does not disrespect or disregard the Hmong people. No other form of journalism has acknowledged their inaccurate representation of reality; no other journalist has shared their journey to knowledge the way Radio Lab does every episode.

The failure to consider the misunderstandings of our shared reality would be the biggest failure of all, dooming future people to repeat the same mistakes. Discovering and sharing information that affects us is very CORE of quality journalism, a rarity in the US. Robert and Jad are an egoless team. A sincere expression of empathy with also an embrace of reality is the strongest form of compassion. There is no attempt to undo or erase the interview because THAT would be unethical and would confirm the guest's worst nightmare; the death of the message of death. The guests said they wanted people to hear their story. Removing this segment would have calmed masses, but not hearts.

Thank you, Radio Lab. Sincerely.

Sep. 27 2012 11:36 AM
Christopher h from ca

Dan is absolutely correct, nothing about his was science based, nor was it any way adequate journalism. It is horrific that you would ever interview a person in such a manner. This genocide survivor was generous enough to share his very traumatic story with you and you treat him like someone on trial. Robert and Jad are ethnocentric and inconsiderate, while often bearing the guise of Science, this show is just really bad journalism.
Roberts point is absolutely moot, He is just a egotistical and borderline racist. It really isn't important that we almost began to make chemical weapons again as they, like all our nuclear stockpile at the time, would have never been used.

Sep. 27 2012 11:34 AM

"... we included the lengthy and painful exchange with Kao Kalia Yang, even though it may not have been flattering to us. Our goal in our ending conversation was not to be pedantic or insensitive but to be transparent. That was an honest in-the-moment conversation about honest differences."

Jad, thank you for including all the tape as it happened, we can hear how Pat may have been affected "organically" during the interview's devolution, and how you must have felt during playback and the resulting arguments/conversations about the direction of the piece. We can hear you advocating on the Yang's behalf, underscoring the point about the dangerously myopic constraints of certain science.

But please, it's time for Robert to take another look at himself here (regardless of how hard it will be on his pride.) A written apology to the Yangs would be so appreciated and is so necessary for them and for many of your listeners to regain our trust... then we can all move on. Please, it's the right thing to do.

I've emailed Ms. Yang, and there's still pain here and some injustice that could be abated so easily.

Thank you for hearing us.

Sep. 27 2012 11:21 AM
Thomas from New Orleans

Let me see if I can edit this for you:

"We here at Radiolab are truly sorry for the interview with Eng and Kalia. We are also sorry that we did not apologize in the interview with them, and for assuming that Eng didn't know the difference between dysentery and suffering caused by chemical weapons. But most of all, we are sorry that we gave Eng and Kalia the false impression that we wanted to hear an untold story about communist genocide in Laos when what we really wanted was for Eng to tell us that the yellow stuff was probably just bee poop and that it was all Ronald Reagan's fault. After further reflection, we realize that even though we don't like Ronald Reagan very much, it was kind of obnoxious to say that a Hmong survivor telling his story that few Americans have ever heard was 'monopolizing' the radio show. Again, we reiterate that we are truly sorry, and we have personally called Eng and Kalia, apologized to them, and asked them to come back on the show so that we can hear their story, without an interviewer making hearsay objections."

Until I hear an apology along those lines, I think I'm done with Radiolab.

Sep. 27 2012 11:09 AM
Dan from San Diego, CA

As a fan of the show, this episode was terrible. You made it seem like Radiolab was a scientific show, but it's not. You never verified the Minnesota lab results. You merely took what a Harvard professor said as truth. How is that science? Yang was absolutely right in calling out Robert: it was words of a Harvard professor vs her uncle's, and it was obvious which you valued more. In fact, why did you even interview them if you were just to refute all that they were willing to share with you? This entire set up makes no sense and if this was a deliberate troll to puff up controversy, I feel fooled. Either case, I will no longer be supporting Radiolab.

Sep. 27 2012 10:49 AM
Aaron

@Charlotte It is interesting that you find it necessary to stand up for Krulwich. Comments about his bullying are, in fact, directly from this episode, because he was a bully. He showed a bias toward only one way of knowing, toward only one narrative, that should be disspiriting to Radiolab listeners (such as myself-- who witnessed the bullying not as it was edited, but as it happened in real time).

In short, it is not only how he behaved in the interview (again, not just in how it appeared, but how it HAPPENED) the decisions that were made in the editing of this piece, and then in the silence afterward that we can begin to make larger assumptions about the man and his integrity.

Would a man who made a mistake be so defensive as to tell the person he interviewed and brought to tears with forceful interrogation that they need a court order to get a copy of the interview?

Think harder-- He decided that it was not his own fault but the fault of those he interviewed that the story was taken off course. Does this not show somebody unwilling to deal with the damage he creates?

In addition, the fact that he has not apologized, but instead must hide behind the defenses of a few listeners such as yourself, and can continue thinking that he just "made a mistake". Im glad you can be a bigger person, but you are ignoring the real damage he has done not only to Eng and Kalia, and the way the Hmong community continues to be represented (if they are represented at all), but his OWN show.

Sep. 27 2012 10:49 AM
Chris

Charlotte +1

Sep. 27 2012 10:34 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 10:29 AM
Charlotte

It's a bit odd to read these comments and see people refer to Robert Krulwhich as a bully. Not that he was acting like a bully, or that he made a serious mistake, or that he failed to be compassionate, or that he trivialized someone's story, but that he IS a bully, he IS a terrible person and that's that.

Those comments, I assume, are coming from people who are not regular Radiolab listeners.

People make mistakes. You are all demanding an apology without any awareness of whether one has taken place to the people who deserve it. You are not owed an apology, somebody else is, and frankly, how many people would complain that Robert is only apologizing for good press, or whatever, if he were to post here saying he had apologized? Do you think that the only things that happen are the things that you are told about? That that is the only way an event can be validated? Is if your precious ears hear the apology. This is not about you.

Stop making a claim for compassion when you don't understand what it is. People make mistakes and screw up and they should make amends. All of you who have condemned a man for being utterly wrong, but thinking his wrongness should be aired anyway because it was important to examine, are not compassionate. You think you are, but you draw the line. You're making clear boxes of good and evil and truly, thinking of the world like that will only hurt you and others in the end. Open your mind. Feel sorrow for the wronged, and stop bullying and attacking the person who wronged. Let him make amends, and don't expect that they be made to you just because you clicked download and then took a few minutes to make a comment. Have true, genuine compassion, people, instead of spending your time telling other people how terribly they are and what a sensitive, beautiful person you are.

Sep. 27 2012 10:25 AM

I've been thinking about this show since I heard it. Usually with NPR/PRI/podcasts, that's a good thing, but this time it's not. I've tried to not let the "hive mind" of angry, vocal commenters sway my own thoughts, but the fact is, I've felt more and more sinking about this since I heard it.

It seems quite "meta" that these questions surround this show on what is fact and truth, if those are the same, and our perception of them. It felt like an entirely inappropriate place to talk about a genocide, and the specific tortures a people suffered therein. Your listeners are not stupid; we realize the larger story you were trying to tell. But regardless of the larger point, this felt inappropriate.

I do not believe Robert Krulwich is a bad man. Historically on the show, I feel like he has been the emotional foil to Jad's rationality, which made this all the more bizarre. It's hard to judge "truth" from radio shows which must be edited down for time, but I feel like either his character was skewed in this episode or we haven't seen this side of him before. The comments from the family involved in the interview are more damning in this regard.

Another commenter mentioned this would have been a good episode to talk about the elephant in the room of Jonah Lehrer. Even after you stood by him, then he admitted fabrications for his books, I thought, "Radiolab doesn't owe us an explanation for why they stood by him. That is their call." But with that incident in combination with this one, I am not sure what to think. To go in depth with Leher in this episode would have been fascinating. His controversy is the heart of truth vs. facts.

I don't write this with anger or demands that you "make it right" to me, but as a loyal but confused listener whose trust is currently hurt.

Sep. 27 2012 10:10 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 10:07 AM
kaying from CT

As a Hmong American and long-time fan of the show, this story outraged and saddened me. In every episode, you introduce your guests by offering a brief description of their credentials, you never once mentioned the fact that Kalia is an accomplished writer who was the first Hmong American to pen a memoir of her experience nor do you ever offer her uncle's biography. It was clear to me as someone who could understand him that he is an intelligent man whose opinions mattered as much as the Ivy league educated scientists you regularly feature on your show. All we know as listeners is he is Hmong man who lived through decades of war only to be humiliated on national radio. Secondly, Hmong people are farmers by nature, our entire lives were once rooted in the cycle of nature, we are attune to the changing tides of the jungle and weather, we know which plants can poison us and which can heal us. We are not ignorant - we know the difference between bee pollen and weapons of war so to portray us as if we are a community in need of education and correction is arrogant at best. And finally, Radiolab, I belong to a community that is beautifully resilient, that has a rich history and is thriving in spite of the horrors of our recent past. For you to assert that our collective sorrow is entangled in the myth of yellow rain just confounds me and speaks to the lack of cultural and historical understanding you have of communities such as mine.

Sep. 27 2012 09:52 AM
Heather from Switzerland

I think this was an excellent and thought provoking episode, and I feel like listening to it has made more aware of both the suffering of the Hmong people and also the dangers of chemicals weapons and the misconceptions behind Yellow Rain.

I think it was a little unfeeling to say that Kalia was trying to monopolize the story, though. The real cause of her tears, and some people's outrage, in my opinion, is that clearly she and her uncle didn't truly understand the reason for this story. They didn't seem to fully grasp the subject matter until the end, when the debating about Yellow Rain started. It does leave me to wonder how the story was explained to them before they were interviewed. Given the way it ended, I think its evident that they thought they were going to be given an opportunity to tell their story, while your team wanted to make a point about Yellow Rain. These are two very different goals. I think its sad that there was this kind of misunderstanding, for everyone.

Still, it was something worth sharing, and hearing. I think your decision to broadcast it was brave. I do hope though, in the future, that you vet people better, and make sure they know what they are getting into.

Sep. 27 2012 09:46 AM
Nicky

Read the book The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir, don't listen to the radio show. They focused on bee poop and not the Hmong. If you want to learn about the Hmong, the book is a better source, if you want to learn random facts about bee poop listen to the show.

Sep. 27 2012 09:39 AM
Chris

This discussion is proving the very point Jad and Robert were hoping to elicit. What do you do when equally valid "truths" collide?

Did parts of the interview come across as callous? Yes.
Would an apology be in order? Yes.

That apology, however, has nothing to do with radiolab listeners. It is owed to the interview subjects that were left with the perception (which I am sure was unintentional) that there reality was being easily tossed aside.

Flip it around, would there be this kind of outrage if radiolab had brought Reagan policy-makers on the show and put the same story to them...leaving them uncomfortable and questioning things they once assumed were true?

This story deals with the very nature of truth and - while it was certainly uncomfortable for all parties involved - if you are disgusted by it, I think you're missing the point.

Sep. 27 2012 09:14 AM
Scott Lilley

Now let me get this straight. You dismissed the first lab's findings as suspect because you assumed the sample must have somehow been contaminated? That's it? No investigation? No interviews with the lab director? No journalistic due diligence? How unprofessional. How embarrassing. How unethical. You deserve the criticisms voiced by the vast majority on this board. Shame on you. Shame on Krulwich the Bully.

Sep. 27 2012 09:03 AM
Ashley from Virginia

I don't see a need to be harsh, as I believe the people at Radiolab are good people, but, guys, I think you made a mistake. I came to this page wondering if everyone else was as shocked as I was. Whether or not the yellow rain was a chemical weapon is important, but it won't change any country's arsenal today, and thus the truth wasn't such an immediate need that you couldn't have approached the Hmong family with more compassion. I hope that you apologize to them, and I thank you for making a normally inspiring show.

Sep. 27 2012 08:15 AM
Taylor from Andover, MN

Radiolab, if you can't do a show about 3 truths in one show then maybe you shouldn't have tried. This episode showed us your true colors, and while, we like to think of ourselves and scientific and intelligent folks who inquire, we certainly draw a line when the "inquiry," is just plain wrong. This puzzle does not fit matter how you try to twist and turn the pieces. When this happens, some might consider scrap, appologise, and try again. Only this next time, know that we deal with real, living people and not card board pieces.

Sep. 27 2012 07:33 AM
Robert from Minnesota

Jad, you tried, and for that, you deserve the credit owed you. However, as a long time listener of the program, I thought I knew you gentlemen to be fearless in your questioning of what we might think we "know." This episode, the way it is presented, and Krulwich's cross examination of someone's actual experience was not just insensitive and callous, down right borders on abuse given the very obvious trauma his people have experienced. Sure, Krulwich probably came of age during the Vietnam War, experienced his social consciousness during the Cold War, got a couple of diplomas and awards from institutions that are suppose to teach us to be PREPARED for life, but these qualifications do not give anybody the authority to invalidate someone's life experience for the sake of making a Cold War argument. You see, sirs, your push for your ideas mowed over someone's actual life. You made pawns of the interviewees who trusted Radiolab to actually be frank, fair, and balanced (like we all did).

Others have already said this, but I feel strongly that Pat, you, and Krulwich take a good look at the devastation you caused and REALLY appreciate why. Once you have obsorbed fully the fact that you have failed to fully question your Harvard professor, CIA operative, and other "expert" sources, and chose to question a presumably uneducated villager who experienced deaths and warfare the way you were able to recite, but unable to understand, then the next step should come naturally to you as seekers of the "truth." If you had done your homework and found that Kao Kalia Yang is as educated, talented, and recognized by her peers as you were (and by the same institutions as yours), would the interview you had with her uncle have changed? If you had done your homework and found that her uncle has a reputation in his community for veracity, integrity, and knowledge, would you have treated him the way you did?

No matter how you editted this piece, your insistence that Eng Yang was so stupid he didn't know the difference between the yellow rain that killed his people to the likely bee fecal matter tested by Western scientists, does not go down well. Who is to say the bee crap the scientists tested is the same yellow substance that killed thousands of lives? The fact that because Reagan misused or somehow took the reports of chemical warfare from SE Asia to justify his own policies should not be a basis to deny Eng Yang's tragic experience. The headline for this story is not "yellow rain," but "shallow brain."

Sep. 27 2012 07:19 AM
Bev Jackson from Netherlands

As a devoted Radio Lab listener, I want to add my voice to the disgust expressed by others. You should have realized that you were interviewing the wrong people for your story, people with a huge stake in an issue beside and beyond the one you were addressing. You treated them shamefully. Now you are going to have to make amends, somehow.

Sep. 27 2012 07:03 AM
Ed from UK

I have been listening to the show for years and have always enjoyed it very much. Until now. Your tone during the interview with Kalia and her uncle Eng was extremely disrespectful. These people have done nothing wrong and gave up their time to provide content to your show in the hope that they could highlight the suffering and systematic mechanical murder of their innocent friends and relatives.

Immediately after being told that the Hmong survivor saw the whole issue of 'bee pollen versus chemical warfare' was just "semantic debate", and that he was only really interested in addressing the "sad lack of justice", you went on the attack, with:

"Your uncle didn't see the bee pollen fall. Your uncle didn't see a plane. All of this is heresay." Well done there; showcasing your hard-hitting no-nonsense journalistic rigour. Not really an appropriate time or place though, was it?

Your apparent flippancy and dismissive reaction to their story was disgusting and insensitive. It sounded like two Western jocks riding roughshod over the feelings of two South East Asians. Given the subject matter under discussion, this was very apt but in a very bad way.

Sep. 27 2012 06:38 AM

From the blogpost:
"What happened in Southeast Asia following the end of the Vietnam war is a huge, complicated story -- and of course there's a lot more to it than what we included in this one radio piece."

If that really is the case, then you should never had aired the story. This is sensational journalism as it very lowest, it the exact opposite of what I would expect of RadioLab. Shame on you.

I've been a steady listener of the RadioLab podcast for years, and have on numerous occasions recommended your show to others.

That will not happen again anytime in the future and I'm still contemplating if I will ever listen to your show myself ever again.

I was listening to the Yellow Rain segment while driving from work and was extremely moved my the heartfelt cry from the Kalia and her uncle Eng. And the silence that followed was very appropriate since I assumed that you also was very moved by this and had a hard time speaking the words "I'm very very sorry".

But you didn't. Instead you negated the first person account of what have happened.

You, the RadioLab team, own everyone an apology. To the listeners of your show, but first and foremost the Kalia and Eng who volunteered to be interviewed by you.

Sep. 27 2012 06:28 AM

I too came (and registered) just to express my disgust from the segment.

You've misled and harassed victims of terrible atrocity that is in their hearts every day forever. Not only that but you completely ignored their suffering, even though she explained explicitly that they were happy someone finally wants to hear their story.

Not only that, you were so fast to accept the formal explanation, you left huge gaps in the story. Dysentery caused the villagers deaths? Don't you think they would know the difference between disease from contaminated water to a full-on attack on the village? Why it never happened before, or after that time? Why did the first lab found something the rest did not? Why did it take so much time to find out? Why the US president was so hasty to declare the first lab results as the only truth, and even so, depend on circumstantial evidence to blame Russia?

This whole story smells like it is half baked, with the full truth not yet known to us. You could have stayed true to the episode's title and leave the question in the air - what really happened there? here's what the scientists say, here's what the victim say.. This could have been a respectful and sensitive interview that would have intrigued the listeners to search for the truth, and continue searching and debating - which is what I thought your whole purpose was.

And even if I do agree with your final conclusion, there was simply no reason to bully this respected man and his daughter into admitting that their eye sight, or memory are bad, and none of this really happened.

Respect thy interviewee.

I've been a huge fan until now - not sure if I will listen to even one more episode.

Sep. 27 2012 04:45 AM
Zack Fish from Glendale, CA

Jad's "forceful" defense of Robert's point misses the mark: you do not have to ambush a genocide survivor in order to make the point that Reagan's basis for creating a chemical weapon was wrong. A story about the US govt. mistakenly thinking that bee feces was evidence of Soviet biochemical warfare can certainly stand on its own (!), and of course the intelligence officials and biochemistry experts certainly add to the story. Why did you have to confront an elderly Hmong man, who thought he was being asked to tell the unknown story of what his people endured in the Vietnam war, and publicly tell him in front of a national audience that he is wrong about a part of that story? If you wanted to confront someone to create tension, why didn't you find someone with ties to national security, past or present, who supports Reagan's building of that chemical weapon, and confront that person with the truth? Why pick on a powerless private individual?

You could take a lesson from Errol Morris here. When he sets out to disabuse someone of a false belief, his targets range from police and prosecutors who have convicted the wrong man, a man enjoying success on the holocaust denial lecture circuit, some prominent art critics and historians, an eminent philosopher -- that is, people who put themselves out there in the public sphere and make truth claims that Morris thinks are in fact false. That's an important thing to do. He doesn't pick on uneducated and elderly genocide survivors and then record and broadcast how upset they get when confronted.

Not only did you choose to run with the exploitative audio of these two Hmong being overcome with so much pain and grief after you ambushed them, but then you took a page right out of the cable news playbook to cover yourself: you concluded with a discussion about whether what you did was ethical or not. This is like CNN giving around the clock coverage to Casey Anthony or some other sensationalistic story for an entire week, only to have Howard Kurtz come on at the end of the week and ask, "Are we spending too much time on Casey Anthony?" Nice try.

Sep. 27 2012 04:41 AM
Elijah from Montreal

I hope you guys do not shy away from controversial subjects in the future, nor worry so much about saying the "wrong thing". We all put our foot in our mouth every now and again. There is a need to make amends here, (but it is not from Jad) and then to dust yourself off and keep doing what you do.

"If all printers were determined not to print anything till they were sure it would offend nobody, there would be very little printed."
- Benjamin Franklin

Sep. 27 2012 03:40 AM
CW

I don't know how to say this any clearer, but I have now a second occasion whereby Robert Krulwich is being a *insert rude word* in interviews. I take it that Robert did not have time to issue an apology as he was working as a NFL referee in Seattle this week.

Radiolab has an important role in the public understanding of science....and you presented the strawman that data/science doesn't care about feelings and to nail down this fantastic point, you used and pushed two trauma survivors to the point of an emotional breakdown. Sarcastic slow clap for Radiolab and a f-bomb at Robert.

As a scientist, I will be hard pressed to ever enthusiastically recommending the Radiolab program to my friends and students.

Sep. 27 2012 03:26 AM
Tracy from Davis, CA

I appreciate the style of reporting done on RadioLab and I am a regular listener but I have to add my voice to the chorus of critique on this segment. Robert Krulwich's insistent questioning of a genocide survivor, and then his characterization of Ms. Yang's reaction as "monopolizing the interview" was truly insensitive and callous, and I agree that he ought to apologize on the air to both interviewees. Yes, perhaps yellow rain was not the specific cause of the violent physical reactions experienced by the Hmong people. But ultimately, the voice of so-called experts many thousands of miles away was being used to define the experience of the victims of a genocide, victims who also happen to be far less-resourced and darker skinned. And even though he may not have been dismissing their suffering carte-blanche, he robbed them of the authenticity of their experience because it does not fit into his western, linear, positivist way of thinking. And ultimately, the focus on the yellow rain and the bee poop (which did take up a significant portion of the entire segment, an editorial decision made well after your painful and uncomfortable interview) had the impact of minimizing the horror of genocide and brushing away the question of whether other forms of chemical weapons were used, in the form of yellow rain or not.

Equally insensitive was the whole framing of the bee poop piece, as this light-hearted neat-sounding scientific fact contrasted against the horrific backdrop of a genocide.

If the point of Mr. Krulwich's incessant questioning is to point out the grave impact that Reagan's decision to produce chemical weapons might have had, at the very least he could have made the connection to the way in which the Hmong people were being used as a pawn in the global game of warfare. I have certain doubt that it was concern for the Hmong, rather than the coldwar arms race against the Soviets, that motivated Reagan to act. But I would think that the victims of a genocide probably don;t have global geopolitics first and foremost on their mind. They just want their story to be heard.

I do appreciate that you included the entirety of the interview and your reflections on it afterwards, and I don't think you're a bunch of heartless jerks who want to dismiss the stories of genocide victims. After all, we wouldn't have even known that Ms. Yang and her uncle Eng were so upset with the interview had you chosen not to air it. But in the end, the fact that you chose to produce the segment the way you did still smacks of an insensitivity to what the Hmong people experienced, a privileging of "experts" over the voices of impacted people, and an unrecognized culturally and racially insensitive bias over what you believe is the most important news to report.

Sep. 27 2012 02:53 AM
Deborah from CA

Too bad you didn't ask Errol Morris to vet the bee poop
story before you chose to air it. He might
have been able to save a lot of grief
by reminding Robert that nothing is obvious,
least of all the jumped-to conclusion
that the bee poop finding was the final
word on the use of chemical weapons
targeting the Hmong. In truth he had no
evidence to make that case. That story
would have required a lot of real
reporting by journalists capable of far
greater enterprise and humility than
demonstrated in "Yellow Rain."
Next time your producer
suggests "you missed something,"
consider he might be right and have your
moment of silence off the air.

Sep. 27 2012 02:38 AM
Mark from CA

Thanks for the response, Jad. I think folks will still be waiting on an apology, however. Not that they personally need an apology, but they do need to know that amends were made with Kao and Eng.

Also, I don't think people are unclear as to what Robert's point was, so I'm not sure why that point needed to be made again ... "forcefully." It's not too complicated, actually: The US was looking for an excuse to create chemical weapons and they found one. The issue that's bothering most of us is why it was necessary to bully a victim of horrible atrocity to get to this point? So insensitive. Which is why there are so many calls for some kind of apology--not just a response.

There are scientific and journalistic principles, sure, but this calls for a different kind. Better yet if it came from Mr. Krulwich.

Sep. 27 2012 02:20 AM
L

Firstly, as I read the other comments I am impressed at the number of people who have come to the site for the first time in order to express their distaste with the yellow rain segment. I am among that group, and I hope that you at Radiolab take note of the degree to which you've moved your audience to respond--negatively.

Secondly, I was appalled at the handling of the Hmong story, for many reasons that other commenters have already named and so I shan't repeat, but mainly because of the editing of the interview, which I perceived as a dismal failure to meet the challenge it provided. As I listened to Kalia's building emotion, and then final comment that "the interview [was] over", I waited in your long contrived silence to hear the response from her interviewers, only to be deeply, deeply disappointed to hear one of them finally say, "the interview wasn't over..."

Believe it or not, I do not listen to Radiolab for your clever edits and annoying repetitions and quirky sound bites, I listen in spite of them, because I imagine myself to be hearing good, fair, intelligent and progressive journalism. I wanted nothing more than to know how on Earth you were going to answer that woman, and you let yourselves off that hook with editing that I can only describe as cowardly and incredibly self-absorbed.

My advice to you is to do a major overhaul on your professional priorities, and when faced with an uncomfortable and challenging opportunity in future, rise to the occasion, in a way you didn't with this show, and certainly are not doing with the above defensive non-apology.

Sep. 27 2012 01:11 AM
Kyle from Los Angeles

I agree with the sentiment of many who posted on these boards. This was probably the most insensitive interview of a survivor of war crimes that I have ever heard. While I understand the broader implications of the use of chemical weapons to society, that doesn't matter to the person who witnessed the slaughter of their family. With that said, the fact that you included the train wreck of an interview (even though it made you look terrible) shows a great deal of integrity. I don't think that Fox News would have done the same. Bottom line, thank you for having the honesty to broadcast this, but please apologize to your interview subjects on behalf of all of your listeners. You put them through unnecessary and unwarranted pain.

Sep. 27 2012 12:48 AM
LM from Earth

Not to pickle the discussion further, I have nothing but respect for both the Radiolab crew for its humility and honesty with this segment, but also Eng and Kao for having the courage to take the mic on public radio and share their personal and cultural struggles so openly and candidly. From the standpoint of a social worker in the homeless, mentally ill population, there is never a good answer for why horrible things happen to anyone on any scale.

While I empathize with the survivors of heinous injustices like genocide and the (under acknowledged) tragedies unfolding with the aftermath of war, I also am sensitive to the serious implications of assuming chemical weapon use in light of contrary theories, not to mention the egregious passing of blame laterally to other authorities without evidence beyond fear and suspicion. Whether or not the painful memory of lost loved ones in a chaotic post War era is due to chemical warfare or an unsettling assault from Mother Nature does not change the fact that a nation and community lost their families and friends without reason.

I could write endlessly on the philosophical, psychological, emotional, and spiritual ramifications of unexpected, unexplained loss (particularly from my own litany of untimely departed beings in my own life) but I will conclude here.

To Eng and Kao, your pain is heard, felt, and under substantial reconsideration thanks to your brave portrait of a painful reality on the public radio platform. I thank you for your candor and strength to come forward.

To Radiolab, as always I am grateful for the opportunity you provide both those featured, whom you honor by broadcasting their stories, and for pushing your listeners outside of their comfort zones and into, really, the thorn of the human condition: ambiguity. Not an episode passes that has not made me rethink, reconsider, and reflect.

To those offended and disarmed by Radiolab's commitment to questioning presumed "truths," I implore you not to lose faith in Radiolab, or public radio in general. Don't quiet your unease but rather speak up. Really, it is when the conversation stops that we have failed both our ancestors and our children.

Sep. 27 2012 12:41 AM

Jad, unlike many that are commenting on here, i think the show was well done considering that it was trying to push for the truth and facts and it was clear that Eng and Kalia were looking strictly to get their story out. I also had no issues with Robert insisting on his line of questioning since it sounded like he was trying, unsuccessfully, to find out how much Eng witnessed with his own eyes versus how much he saw of the aftermath. Was it gut-wrenching listening to Kalia at the end? Yes. But i'm glad you guys left it in. It shows you're not afraid to put yourself in a position of vulnerability and spark a conversation on what truth is and can be.

Sep. 27 2012 12:29 AM
Travis from Denver

It definitely seems as if the Yangs were not properly briefed as to the foregone conclusion of the segment they were brought in on, and their inclusion was just to act as a set piece to the already decided narrative. The airing of the painful breakdown in no way absolves radiolab of their lack of sensitivity and forthrightness with an already traumatized family or their people. Buttoning the story with, "We're all right." was more than enough evidence radiolab dismissed proper reverence or respect for the plight of the Hmong in exchange for a close the second act of the show. It's tragic that no producer, researcher or host considered that maybe Hmong people wouldn't just be impressed that some scrappy little American radio show thinks they disproved the cause of the nightmare that they were subjected to, essentially by their abandonment of the U.S. government. Still the story gets spun as if, because the U.S. war machine, with a little free time suddenly on it's hands, used the chemical attacks against the people they just abandoned as a reason to fire back up and take the fight against Communism from southeast Asia straight to the USSR with careless accusations and ramping up arms production, and so somehow Hmong should be grateful we didn't somehow make it worse. But radiolab in it's insensitivity, misunderstanding and mishandling of the tragedies still befalling the Hmong in Laos are contributing to the conspiracy of silence surrounding the great suffering there.
All so the story could be *wink* Bee poop! Isn't that hilarious!
Ironic, though, on the episode about the subjectivity of truth, radiolab tried to perpetuate the fluctuating propaganda of western military, covert, and scientific sources, both to, and in favor of, the testimony of a man who lived through the war by the U.S., and the retaliatory war against our abandoned native allies. A man who lived, assuredly, more in tune with, more familiar with, his natural environment than maybe westerners could imagine.
Honestly, and I don't think it's at all hyperbolic- the way Robert treated Eng was akin to interviewing a Holocaust survivor to convince them many of their former fellow prisoners weren't killed by Zyklon B, but rather malnutrition, or their weak Jewish constitution, only to blow up when the interviewee tried to still hold the Third Reich responsible for their suffering. It was repugnant, and only serves to perpetuate ignorance, intolerance and unaccountability.
I hope radiolab is now feverishly working to make amends, but I fear this virtual non-statement by the host who wasn't even a party to this horrible insult of an interview will be the extent to which this issue is addressed. Forgive me, Jad, if you read this- you didn't start this, and I know you're trying to address the issue here, but it's not enough.

Sep. 27 2012 12:12 AM
Sean from El Salvador

I am regular listener of radiolab, but the yellow rain segment was not only offensive and in unspeakably bad taste, it was also bad, sloppy journalism. It is pretty hard to believe that you somehow considered what you were doing "truth seeking", it was ignorant cultural grandstanding. You lost a fan on this one.

Sep. 26 2012 11:33 PM
Jack from Berkeley

I do not believe that anyone needs to apologize for the interview. By Kalia's response, I get the sense that she regard those who think yellow rain is not a chemical weapon as disregarding the deaths of the Hmong people. However, nobody disputed the fact that the sufferings of the Hmong people are traumatizing and real, whether or not the yellow rain truly was a chemical weapon. (Indeed, I think that some commenters who debate whether the yellow rain was a chemical weapon are misguided.)

That said, I'm not blaming Kalia for saying that. Under the pain that the Hmong people endured, it's natural for the Hmong people to relate (if not equate) the yellow rain to the sufferers. Emotions sometimes stray us from being perfectly rational. Nobody can say that this process is right or wrong (because emotions alone is neither inherently good nor bad), so nobody can say that Kalia was unjustified for her accusations.

And finally, aren't the Hmong people entitled to know what really happened? So what's wrong with pursuing the truth?

Sep. 26 2012 11:31 PM

Look, I'm still going to listen to you guys. I absolutely love the show and eagerly look forward to new episodes... and yet this segment really shook me. To be fair, I'm going to give it another (very close) listen. But yeah, everyone sounded pretty freakin casual at the end. I don't think we (the listeners) need an apology, but Kalia and Eng do. Because they clearly thought that interview was for something else entirely.

This segment actually brought to mind This American Life's Retraction episode with Mike Daisey. Because to me, it felt like an interrogation and a quest to bring falsehoods to light. Except unlike Daisey, Kalia and Eng didn't do anything wrong. What would have been gained if one Hmong survivor of war atrocities had realized that the chemical warfare was actually bee poop? Absolutely nothing. It makes for "dramatic" radio, not much else.

Sep. 26 2012 11:27 PM

It was very painful to hear this interview, however, I think radiolab did the right thing by leaving everything in. I love this program because it is honest and Robert and Jad don't always put themselves in the most flattering light. Im sure after some retrospection you both saw how you stumbled but thats what happens when your not sure exactly what your walking into. Although I found the interview a little insensitive to be fair it is quite a great deal of understanding and emotion to take in as your recieving it...im sure it wasnt so much insensitivity as dumbfoundment..hopefully in the future it is an interview to be learned from and you guys can take the time and care to maybe prepare a little better..although i love the impromptu nature of the show..you just cant win..anyway i think you guys are doing a wonderful job..keep up the good work and stay curious

Sep. 26 2012 11:21 PM

I've never come to this site before, but I came here to check if anyone else was as disturbed and bothered by this segment as I was. Glad to see many people were.

I was also hoping for a simple, straightforward apology from Robert Krulwich, but no such luck. I have to say, between the choice of silence on his part, or some more defensive explanations as to why treating those people like that was truly important, I much prefer silence. So there's that.

Sep. 26 2012 11:18 PM
Jean from Rochester, NY

As I listened to Kalia's emotional response at the end of the interview, I was dumbfounded. RadioLab's entertaining little foray into discovering the "truth" about yellow rain was suddenly dwarfed by the enormity of the horror of the Hmong story to the point of irrelevancy. To say that Chad and Robert missed the real story here is an understatement, but it's worse than that. Was it really necessary to invoke so much pain in two people that have born so much by informing them that the nightmare that haunted their lives was "heresay"? It just seemed cruel and for the first time I am very disappointed in RadioLab.

Sep. 26 2012 11:07 PM
Fia from sweden

You where mean. The truth is not meaan it is neutral until someone use it in a mean way. And the science part was badly made. True or not you should not tell us that they analysed some yellow stuff and it was be poop. Okey so that sample was be poop does thhis means all the yellow rain was bee poop or that they did not analyse yellow rain instead they analysed bepoop by mistake because it looked a bit like yellowrain to the ones that piked that sample.
I am not saying this is what hapend I am just saying that challenching the science to see if it is true is intresting and not mean.

Sep. 26 2012 10:55 PM
David Baker

Guys, I think you did a whole show on my sentiment to Jad's (where the hell is Robert) reaction. To Wit:

BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!

Sep. 26 2012 10:54 PM
J

What I'm hearing in this statement (it's clearly and I'm assuming purposely not an "apology") is, "Sure we may have misled a genocide survivor and his daughter about the true nature of our interview and harassed them to the point of tears but don't forget that there was a larger truth about Reagan and chemical weapons so everything's fine!"

Come on, there's a right way and a wrong way to make your point. I can't go blow up a bank and then turn around and say, "Wait, settle down everybody... I was only blowing up the bank to make a larger point about how capitalism is destroying America." No one cares what my point was... I just blew up an f'ing bank!

So, I'm not buying this defense from Jad or the handful of defenders who are giving the same excuse.

Sep. 26 2012 10:54 PM
Rob

I think many commenters are missing something important. Yang was highly critical of the way this interview was conducted. Radiolab broadcasted that criticism.

Sep. 26 2012 10:44 PM
Hazel from Seoul

I thought the segment left a lot of questions unanswered. I didn't buy the explanation that the deaths that the Hmong were attributing to yellow rain were just cases of dysentery and other diseases. Surely, having dealt with so much death, the Hmong would be observant enough to know what death by dysentery looks like. Also, I was under the impression that the Hmong were an agricultural people. They lived in that area for centuries. Wouldn't they have noticed things like "bee poop" at some point in their history? How would bee poop escape their notice for years and years and then suddenly pop up at that point in time?

I admit, I am not a scientist and there may be reasonable answers to such questions that the segment simply didn't have enough time to cover. Regardless, Robert's attitude at the end of the interview was disgusting. He was just so determined to get this man to admit that he was wrong about everything. "Oh, look, you've been traumatized by this so-called chemical warfare but you've just been imagining it all! If you'll just admit that you've been completely stupid and blind about the TRUTH everything will be fine. Stop monopolizing the interview with your trauma already!"

It is the truth that the US government tried to use yellow rain as an excuse to produce their own dangerous weapons without any conclusive evidence. Robert was right to say that it is a dangerous thing when governments start manipulating the facts in order to justify doing morally questionable things. But it is also the truth that the Hmong suffered horribly and have not received much recognition or justice for what they have been put through. It was incredibly ironic that the segment chose to focus on just one truth and not the other. I understand that you included that last part of the interview to be honest about how the pursuit of truth can turn people into assholes, but then you closed with the interviewers giggling and accusing Kalia and her uncle of "monopolizing" the interview. The lack of empathy just made me sick.

Maybe Radiolab should just stick to things like stars and colors.

Sep. 26 2012 10:30 PM
Sandra Comstock, Reed College from Portland Oregon

I do not think that radio lab producers adequately appreciate the role power differences played in producing this story and the distress it caused. First, did radio lab know going into the interview with the yangs that the point of this piece would be to reveal the fact that yellow rain was bee excrement and not chemical warfare? If yes, that should have been disclosed to the interviewees at the outset ... in recognition for the yangs' right to know the implications of their participation.

Second, analyzing the role that those interviews play in the story, one might say the yangs' story served as a red herring that would lead listeners to expect one kind of story .... and set us up to be surprised by the unexpected "bee excrement ending." The yangs story was not essential to revealing the Reagan administration's duplicity. However, their story was essential to telling a "detective story" dependent on unexpected plot turns and human interest for its emotional payoff. I have to question why radiolab put a plot device above the ethical implications of asking the yangs to participate in a story whose contents they were not fully aware of. why not choose a different story arc that would not have asked the yangs to involve themselves in repudiating the one instance in which the Hmong tragedy was widely recognized? Isn't using the yangs' story to generate Radiolab's surprise "duplicitous Reagan Administration" ending a little like Reagan using the Hmong's story to serve his agenda of proving the Soviet empire evil? In both cases radio lab and reagan are not so much interested in what happened to the Hmong as concerned about how the Hmong tragedy can be exploited for other purposes.. All the while purporting to care.

Finally, laudably radio lab includes the devastating effects of their interview. Laudably, they reflect on it.... a little. But in the end - radio lab gets the last word ... The yangs are not invited to the interview post mortem. They are not asked to frame the interview process from their perspective or to tell the radio lab producers what they REALLY missed. Lao kalia and her uncle should have been given time to process what happened and offered the chance to have the last say about what happened in the interview and its effects.

As a sign of remorse radio lab should devote a program to tell of the Hmong tragedy for its own sake, not as fodder for a story about something else. You may say "but that is not what radio lab is about.... " Well maybe, but it is what real contrition and recognition of the damage and inequity of this episode would look like. I also hope future story development at radiolab will include more thoughtful discussion of the ethical implications of who one chooses to interview, how interviews are conducted and what is disclosed to interviewees at the outset.

Sep. 26 2012 10:22 PM
Allie from portland

That is a non-apology and it is from the wrong host.

Why are we listeners always subjected to Krulwich's "I dunno, I like to think that there is a god, chance, fate" soliloquies, but when Mr. Yang was stating his life story he was challenged so rudely? Why do we get episodes where a bunch of people say "I invented the high five" with the conclusion from the hosts "oops, guess we'll never know, gee this was fun" but when there is a true mystery with real consequences we get a hard chase for ONE explanation? It smacks of cultural superiority. It needs to be addressed.

Here is a template:

The entire staff at RL apologizes for mishandling and mis-editing our interview with Mr. Yang. I, Robert Krulwich, have personally apologized to the Yang family. The full transcript of Mr. Yang's interview is available on our website, with links to all the evidence we could find in any direction. We encourage you to read them as well as other accounts of Hmong genocide, available at these resources. We will certainly be taking time to educate ourselves as well.

Sep. 26 2012 10:21 PM
Josh Kramer from D.C.

Just two brief notes. I believe the reason that Robert's comments struck me as odd and misplaced is that he seemed to be conflating the reactionary behavior of the Reagan administration with the violent memories of one aging refugee. Maybe there is another explanation of what this man experienced, but Robert claiming "all of this is hearsay," shows a lack of respect for this man's experience, and more importantly, a lack of compassion. Why be so aggressive with the victim?

I'm also a bit disappointed that there was no mention at all of the bigger context of Hmong refugees. The United States allowed over 100,000 Hmong refugees to relocate here largely in acknowledgment of the position we had left them in at the end of the Vietnam conflict. (Which is described in the show.) We are forever connected to the Hmong and this episode just reads as another unfortunate misunderstanding of the Hmong people and their culture. I agree that "The Sprit Catches You and You Fall Down" takes a great approach to this subject.

Obviously I'll keep listening, Radiolab is great. Please never give in to the "gotcha" interview.

Sep. 26 2012 10:18 PM
Sheelue from St. Paul, MN

Jad,
While reading you explanation, I couldn't help but notice how defensive you were. I question your understanding of the feedback given so far. It seems to me, and as far as I can tell many others, Radiolab insists the published story has no flaws; that Eng, Kao Kalia and the Hmong are misunderstanding the situation--that the most important evidence, the eye-witness accounts, are misguided and even more so, invalid. It also seems to me that while attempting to defend this story, you've once again "minimized the Hmong suffering."

It is much too clear at this point, that Radiolab has no intention of issuing an apology.

Sep. 26 2012 10:12 PM

So RadioLab doesn't want to apologize to the Eng and Kalia? RadioLab caused them pain, Krulwich's comments caused them pain. What could you mean you don't want us to dismiss Robert's point????? If he had a good point, he shouldn't have been making it in in direct confrontation with a survivor of the genocide he's trying to discredit. That was painful to listen to. Especially with no apology.

And what about Kalia's husband, Aaron, and his comments? It really put RadioLab in a bad light and we can't ignore something like that.

Sadly, this entire episode is more myopic than was intended, and void of emotional respect and insight.

Sep. 26 2012 09:58 PM
Xue from Minnesota from St. Cloud, Minnesota

hmong man from st. cloud

the hmong were so excited to have our perspective and experience of yellow rain discussed on a national, well-respected show. as a member of the community, i am sad at the disrespect hosts of the show has shown our story.

the truth is: both america and russia were testing chemical warfare in southeast asia. the truth is that "yellow rain" is only one name for the poisoning of our people. the truth is that radiolab was not prepared to test out a more complicated and critical research assignment. if you want to be provocative and cutting age and brave, then tackle the truth NOT a hmong man who trusted you to honor the truth of his experiences.

your conclusion: you didn't know that chemicals killed people in a war full of bombs?

radiolab, you've disillusioned a people, betrayed them once more. the good thing is that this time the science of radio and internet has gotten you on tape. if you are looking or evidence of what happened to the hmong, look no more. but here i give you too much credit. you were looking for yourselves...at the expense of everyone else.

Sep. 26 2012 09:37 PM
Troy from Michigan

Am I alone in thinking that just because someone squirts some tears, it doesn't make them correct?

The way in which the Hmong were systematically made homeless and destroyed, and their turbulent integration into Western society, is heartbreaking. I'm not a monster. But because of their emotional reaction to your questions, we don't actually get to the bottom of whether or not there were chemical weapons being used. "Was the yellow rain a chemical weapon, either wholly or in part?" is not a semantic debate, or scientific tunnel vision.

I thought Robert made some very valid points: Eng and her uncle admittedly accepted the interview in order to frame the story in a certain way, but there are other important parts to the story than the one they wished to present. In an episode about the search for truth, I think it's wholly appropriate that eyewitness testimony proved inadequate as a resource.

Sep. 26 2012 09:36 PM
Xue Yang from St. Cloud, Minnesota

hmong man from st. cloud

the hmong were so excited to have our perspective and experience of yellow rain discussed on a national, well-respected show. as a member of the community, i am sad at the disrespect hosts of the show has shown our story.

the truth is: both america and russia were testing chemical warfare in southeast asia. the truth is that "yellow rain" is only one name for the poisoning of our people. the truth is that radiolab was not prepared to test out a more complicated and critical research assignment. if you want to be provocative and cutting age and brave, then tackle the truth NOT a hmong man who trusted you to honor the truth of his experiences.

your conclusion: you didn't know that chemicals killed people in a war full of bombs?

radiolab, you've disillusioned a people, betrayed them once more. the good thing is that this time the science of radio and internet has gotten you on tape. if you are looking or evidence of what happened to the hmong, look no more. but here i give you too much credit. you were looking for yourselves...at the expense of everyone else.

Sep. 26 2012 09:35 PM
Bob from Wisconsin

I was moved. In both directions. Good job.

RJB

Sep. 26 2012 09:30 PM
Tim

I'm sorry SJH, while you speak many good things, I just can't fully disagree. On an episode of truth, ALL they know is that the yellow stuff was bee poop. That does not answer what the Hmong saw, all it answers was that the bee poop was obviously not the chemical. Isn't it possible that there was a spray, a chemical weapon but we didn't get a sample of that? That they misattributed one chemical for another?
The Hmong are NOT responsible for this misattribution! What they could have stated is that they know horrible things happened, are sorry that it happened and that while they believe them, the actual yellow stuff was not the chemical but that we don't know what it was.
That would have been closer to the truth.
I just might cool down and start listening to radiolab again in the future. But right now, I'm not feeling it.
The Hmong are also not responsible for the political ramifications that occured because of the so called "yellow rain". Yet, they were essentially, though I'm sure not intentionally blamed for it.
Highly irresponsible.

Sep. 26 2012 09:27 PM
Patrick

Absolutely loved the show. Fun, raw, emotional and intriguing, one of the best yet. Thanks and keep it up!

Sep. 26 2012 09:25 PM

I really appreciated the segment, and what I loved most is that the Radiolab guys were not swayed by the emotionality of Eng and Kalia. While their grief and loss are real, what is NOT real is the belief that emotionality trumps truth. When I heard the segment, my first thought was, Oh no, I hope that this doesn't blind Jad and Robert to the reality of the situation.

I do NOT believe that, when people are emotional, that means that the provocateurs of that emotionality are being inhumane. Just because people become angry or upset, when presented with the truth, that does not mean the truth presenters are being insensitive.

We live in a world where emotionality and anger controls people into suppressing the truth. This is bad. This mentality says: My anger and upset is more important than the truth. Jad and Robert refused to subscribe to that incorrect perspective, and for that I applaud them for braving the discomfort and inevitable backlash.

Sep. 26 2012 09:04 PM
Joel from Seattle

I thought the story was thought-provoking. It revealed a fundamental truth about truths: there are many, just to different stories. I thought Jad did a good job in the end of the original piece at highlighting that some truths - in this case, the story of the persecution of the Hmong - are more important than others.

Sep. 26 2012 08:46 PM
cyndyw from Howell, NJ

"Yellow Rain" was startling to me. So much in the piece to digest. Though very insightful, I wonder if there is much more to this than what your investigation uncovered. As an American citizen and practicing buddhist I will keep Mr. Eng, the Mhong people of his village, and Kalia in my prayers and would be honored to include them in my center's next Medicine Buddha puja. My condolences to him and Kalia as they still grieve for these overlooked people and my profound apologies that our country could not have assisted them more. Thank you, Mr. Eng and Kalia for your brave interview.

Sep. 26 2012 08:15 PM

So let me get this straight: Radiolab gives listeners hundreds of hours of thought provoking listening that you can have for free (if you choose not to donate). They do one segment that makes people uncomfortable and suddenly people come on to post that they'll never listen to Radiolab again?

Please.

Keep up the great work, guys. I look forward to more episodes in the future.

Sep. 26 2012 08:03 PM
Tim Griffiths from Liverpool England

I made a post in the other thread talking about what I thought the show was attempting to do and I'm glad that it turns out I was right. I think what people are missing at this point is that by the time the show realised the mistakes they where making the damage was already done. They could have just scrapped the segment or to reattempt to tell their original narrative with new more aware interview made after apologies if those involved where willing but instead what they did was say "We made a mistake in how we went about this story, we did something bad, we hurt these people as you can hear in their own words but we are not going to apologies for the wanting to find the truth of this issue" that is not something that normally happens is the only intellectuality honest thing the show could do given the philosophy of how they attempt to grow a story out of conversation.

The core issue here is that there are two stories. There is the story of Yellow Rain in a cold war context the truth of which is very historically important to the west and that either way has deep and meaningful things to teach us about how we should act in the future.

Then there is the other story, which is the Hmong's story of the role the yellow rain played in their genocide. It seems that the yellow rain is a symbol of that honorific event. I'm lucky enough to have lived a life that means I can not understand how they relate to it and to my shame what this show taught me is that because of that I did not even stop to think of the question being asked from the Hmong's point of view. I couldn't see how questioning how this awful event happened would cause pain because it was not a question of if... only to the Hmong it was... from now on I will never again take for granted the apparent innocence of my actions.

I'm not defending the actions in the interview and nor do I think is Radio Lab, it was deeply flawed but it had happened. Nothing they could do could undo that and while they've likely learnt the same lesson I have from the interview only respectful thing I think they could have done is attempt to help others learn those lessons with out any one else having to be hurt in the process.

You can can issue with the exaction of that attempt, I think the show made another mistake by not making a more explicit apology for the interview, but I don't think it's fair to attack them for trying to make it. I also think it's vastly unlikely that they went out seeking this outcome or where happy with it.

To me it was a mistake not manipulation and having made that mistake they sought to explain it and teach other's the lessons they have learnt from it while keeping intact the deeply complex moral issues of the duel nature of the questions being asked.

I think every one has the right to be angry but anger is only so useful when some one who has made a mistake had realised that mistake and owned up to it and attempted to bring something positive out of it.

Sep. 26 2012 07:55 PM
Charlotte

As part of an episode about the search for truth, this segment could – and should – have done more than suggest that scientific inquiries into the ‘truth’ of a situation end up being myopic. This was a missed opportunity to show that there are multiple truths to be found in a story, all of which are equally important. From his distanced standpoint, Krulwich had a valid point in trying to uncover the ‘truth’ about a particular aspect of this tragic history – but Kalia and Eng Yang’s heart-wrenching perspective is equally true, equally meaningful, and equally important. In failing to recognize that, it was Krulwich, and not Kalia, who tried to monopolize the conversation and press for his interpretation of the ‘truth’.

I appreciate Radiolab’s honesty in including the conflict between Krulwich and the Yangs – but I’m disappointed that the search for scientific truth blinded Radiolab to the very real truth of human experience, trauma, and memory.

Sep. 26 2012 07:41 PM
Josh

"We understand that many listeners were offended by the end of our Yellow Rain story."

Come on guys....Non apology apology! really!

Sep. 26 2012 07:37 PM
Aaron

Also. It is insulting to say that the insistent questioning of Eng was to reveal a truth greater than "bee poop" why not grill the scientists you interviewed in the same way?

This makes no sense.

Sep. 26 2012 07:37 PM
Aaron

There is a time for being defensive, and a time for an apology. This unfortunately reads only as a defensive tact. The show holds real power, and so could do us all a favor by apologizing but instead you spent your time "elaborating" to tell all of your listeners that they just "don't get it".

Have you read the comments? They are mostly smart, informed. Nobody commenting here has anything to gain, yet apparently you have so much to lose, and you don't even realize what!

You should have no reason to be defensive, you held and hold all of the power here.

Find some humility, you still managed to put science against indigenous wisdom, and feed the flame of the real spiritual and cultural genocide that occurs in this country every day, against those who understand and experience the world differently from those in power, such as yourselves.

Again, a defensive statement does not work as an apology. An apology requires courage and humility. It was already clear, but is becoming clearer, you have neither.

Work at it harder Radiolab. Maybe youll get it right.

Sep. 26 2012 07:30 PM
Melanie from Washington, DC

All this interview proved was that truth cannot be forced to fit into a single neat package. How true is an interview in which we hear only the parts the editors choose to reveal? How certain can we ever be in our judgement of lab results performed years apart, as many scientific commentators have noted here? Did any of the evidence presented disprove Mr. Yang's eye witness account? Did Robert truly have to bully an old man who has lived through hell in order to make this a good story?

Like many who have written here, I am a long and dedicated fan of and contributor to RadioLab, but the handling of this story has shaken my faith in your integrity.

Sep. 26 2012 07:26 PM

As uncomfortable as it was to listen to the end of the Yellow Rain segment, and as much as I disagree with Robert's explanation of Kao's emotional reaction, as an editor I also understand just how easy it is to edit out controversy, silence disagreement, and whitewash a story until it says exactly the thing you set out to prove. This is not that. There is a self awareness to it, and It feels transparent, genuine, and vulnerable - like watching a train wreck with open eyes. But its not raw spectacle, and that's why I like Radiolab. We get to see human beings wrestling with issues amongst themselves rather than merely pontificating to an assumedly inferior audience. That is rare.. and welcome.

Sep. 26 2012 07:10 PM
Sophie from New Zealand

How completely disappointing.

If there was a realisation that the story had become myopic, isn't that a sign that the story's fallen over? To keep it and play it to us as an exercise in transparency, what was the higher lesson learned from that?

Robert's debate at the end wasn't justified in the slightest because Hong's clear dispute of dysentery and violent sickness wasn't investigated. You made him look stupid. Other comments have alluded to that also (including Kalia's husband, apparently) - perhaps you'd like to speak to that?

Even if evidence for bee droppings was as clear as rocks falling downward in the Crimea, more care should have been taken to ensure the Hmong interviewees (and their people in general) were respected. On or off the record. It just makes another example of why stories about opressed minorities should come from within, like Kalia's wonderful book exemplifies.

I'm sorry but your response doesn't satisfy the deeply wrong things about this story. I think you guys need a sabbatical and I won't be tuning in for a while yet.

Sep. 26 2012 07:05 PM
Dan from Portland

I loved this episode. And, I loved the interview with the Yangs and ensuing discussion that it provoked.

To my mind, the point that Robert appeared to be making by arguing that the "Yangs were monopolizing the conversation" was that our fixation on yellow rain was actually masking the "real" story. That, to the extent any of us know of the Hmong plight, it tends to be focused around yellow rain -- that the Soviets deployed a horrible chemical weapon in the wake of the US evacuation. But this hides the broader story--a vibrant and special people were systematically exterminated--behind a monolithic story of the Cold War. In some ways, yellow rain, true or not, has come to be the sole narrative shorthand for the horror visited on Hmong people. It would be as if the only thing we focused on was the type of gas Nazis used to kill jews in the concentration camps. Important, sure, but such a reduction would serve to reduce a three-dimensional horror to a single, one-dimensional plot line.

I never heard Robert suggest that Hmong people were not murdered. Or that we ought to minimize the horrors they faced.

Could the interview have been more graceful? I don't know, because I wasn't there! But, I think that the point of pursuing the questions was to probe the process of how we build our narratives. And what happens when key "facts" in those narratives are questioned.

Ultimately, could there be a better way of demonstrating the slippery way in which we tell the stories of life, of the ramifications of how we organize the narratives of ourselves? Likely not!

Thanks RL crew. You make me think!

Sep. 26 2012 07:04 PM
Shell from Stanford, CA

Eng Yang remains victimized by the interview.

Sep. 26 2012 07:01 PM
Daniel Ayer from San Francisco

Hello,
Jad, thank you for responding to us, the listeners of RadioLab. Why are you the one responding though? It was Krulwich who drove the interview, and the objectionable part of it to be sure. And, if the comment board is to be believed, Krulwich was the one who told the Yangs that if they wanted the full transcript of the interview they would have to get a court order. I am more interested in the academic rationale of the interview. What was Krulwich thinking? What was the goal there? Was there some emotional bias that crept into the discussion from experiences during the Reagan era? Is the impression of hostility from Krulwich towards the Yangs a mis-characterization and an artifact of editing?
It was surprising to hear what seemed like an obvious emotional point being continuously pushed for no real apparent gain. I am as much confused as I am offended. More questions....

Sep. 26 2012 06:54 PM
Andreas from Sweden

@Kelly: I still see Aarons comments, both on the episode page and the segment page so why would you think they've been taken down? Though I guess it doesn't hurt that they're here as well.

Sep. 26 2012 06:29 PM
Rob

Regardless of the validity of the point being made regarding the topic, Robert's tone and attitude was insulting. To say Kalia attempted to monopolize the conversation was disgusting. It has nothing to do with the topic of the show, and everything to do with lack of respect exhibited by Robert towards Eng and Kalia.

Sep. 26 2012 06:14 PM
Kelly from Sacramento, CA

Here is the second half of Aaron's original post:

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. 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”.

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

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 02:26 PM

Sep. 26 2012 06:10 PM
Kelly from Sacramento, CA

I wanted to make sure these comments are seen and am not sure why they were taken down. Because of the 3000 character limit, I will post in two phases. This is the first:

Aaron
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.

Sep. 26 2012 06:09 PM
Travis from San Francisco

This episode of Radiolab was essentially about truth, right? There is, in all circumstances, an objective truth. For me, the Yellow Rain segment was almost perfect. It was about what happens when a belief is at odds with the objective truth. This is not a small issue, especially given the current political climate in the U.S., where a substantial segment of our society has pitted its beliefs against scientific truths. Eng and Kalia's insistence that their version of reality and history is true, regardless of overwhelming evidence to the contrary, is directly analogous to evangelical Christians insisting that the world is five thousand years old, or conservatives insisting that climate change is a myth.

Robert's questions didn't offend me. What disturbed me was the degree to which Kalia defended her clearly irrational beliefs. She did so to the point of tears, and that, to me, is truly frightening. What difference does it make that the Hmong suffered these atrocities through the use of bombs and bullets rather than chemical weapons? Both are equally terrible. Both are equally indefensible. The only difference is the destruction of the mythology the Hmong themselves have built up around the massacres. The passion and emotion with which they defend this myth, alongside Robert's point about the U.S. Government's hasty and potentially deadly reaction (undoubtedly relying at the time on its own Cold War myths), form a valuable lesson about the power and danger of belief in the absence of truth.

Thank you for airing the segment the way you did.

Sep. 26 2012 05:55 PM
Diane from MN

If you were genuinely seeking the truth then the logical thing to do is get someone from the Reagan era who pushed for chemical weapons to respond to your story. Instead, you picked a low hanging fruit and went to the home of a Yellow Rain survivor so you can confront him with this new scientific finding. Regardless of how you rationalize this, you were a bunch of lazy journalists who chose not to do the hard journalistic work by going to the US government for an answer. To make matters worse, Robert had the audacity to accuse Yang's story as hearsay and his niece's ardent advocacy for his perspective as "monopolizing" the story. You didn't do your homework so you put the burden on a war victim to provide the emotional twist in your story. Many people have already posted about what is missing scientifically from the story--another area you didn't cover in your story--that could explain why the chemicals disappeared. You chose to leave these pieces out of the story. Frankly, this is pure imperialistic exploitation and manipulation of an old tribal man for your gain. And you lied to him about wanting to hear his story when you already had a story and angle you wanted to tell and was only looking for a reaction from him. That's what is despicable about this story.

Sep. 26 2012 05:55 PM

This episode was moving and thought-provoking, and I hope the fact that some listeners have vocally taken offense does not deter RadioLab from airing complicated and honest stories in the future.

Sep. 26 2012 05:45 PM
Jill Donnelly from Los Angeles, CA

Jad, thank you for your letter. I, too, found the end of this episode quite disturbing. I appreciate your honesty in leaving Ms. Yang's comments in, but (as many have already stated), the subsequent discussion felt like it was accusing the Yangs of having some sort of ulterior agenda. That's not to discount Robert's point about the political implications of the facts, but Mr. Yang was the source to corner. Would you press a Holocaust survivor on the accuracy of their memories of the gas chambers? I think you are wonderful, well intentioned reporters who have erred in the handling of this issue and interview.

Since today is the Jewish Day of Atonement, you would consider making up for this offense by doing a show on the history of the Hmong (it's pretty fascinating)? I know yours is not a history show, but perhaps you could focus on Anne Fadiman's wonderful book, "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down," about the Hmong in the American Medical System. Just an idea.

Sep. 26 2012 05:43 PM
Nate T.

I just wanted to say that as heartwrenching as their personal testimony was, I don't see how it's insensitive or cruel to maintain the search for truth, instead of throwing it aside in the face of emotion. I don't think Jad or Robert acted in a disrespectful way, and Robert's point stands, whether it's upsetting or not. Yes, we need to care about, understand, and support other human beings, but truth doesn't stop mattering because the search for it upsets us. That's when it matters most.

Sep. 26 2012 05:43 PM
Adam Zhang from Minneapolis

Sorry Jad. Your intentions and what actually came out was completely different. You ripped those poor people to shreds for no reason. If you wanted to talk about science then talk to a scientist. If you wanted to talk about a human story, then let them talk. Instead, they were ambushed and abused beyond reason. I have listened to all of the RadioLabs and this one made me turn it off. I'm not sure if I'll be turning it back on.

I wish you the best RadioLab.

Sep. 26 2012 05:38 PM
Joao de Souza from Brooklyn

The part that bothered me was the insistence. By the time the questioning started, it had already been established that the "yellow rain" was not some new kind of chemical or biological weapon. The interview could have just asked what he remembered seeing, and what happened to their people and why. The end. But to keep insisting over and over again on what exactly the old man saw, and what were the exact sequence of events, over and over again even after it was obvious the line of questioning was making them both very upset, it was like watching some cheap courtroom drama where a lawyer or prosecutor is trying to get a witness at the stand to admit they've been lying. That's what upset me.

Sep. 26 2012 05:19 PM
Srini

As much as I have enjoyed Radiolab over the years, I worry that I have witnessed a Romney-esque 47% moment here that is deeply revealing of the show's ideology, usually hidden in the peppy hourlong segments. Jad's comments don't really allay those fears, which Robert's statements towards the end of the show brought to fore.

How does one even begin to counter the argument (?) that one has to balance the depth of Eng's story against the danger posed by qualifying it as a chemical attack (too easily, in the show's telling)? The hunger of the American military industrial complex is legendary, and it is impossible for any story to be told, ever, anywhere, if one is worried about feeding that beast. You might as well pack up now and go away. This reeks of the disastrous self-censorship (among those who were not actively cheer-leading our many war efforts) during the Bush years. More disturbingly, I find it to be similar to the narrative one heard during those years that our own rightward tilt was somehow created by "those people", conveniently ignoring all past horrors we have inflicted on lands far away with or without such a triggering event.

The problem is not that you made light of one man's suffering publicly - although that *is* a problem, it is one that doesn't have to be the reflection of a deeper malice. I find it difficult to not see these repeated attempts to draw an equivalence between Eng's story (and more generally, the story of the Hmong) and your "story" as a window into a flawed, outdated, and offensive view.

It is almost like I am back in 2003. I think we need to see other people for a few months, Jad (I am not talking to Robert). You are creeping me out.

Sep. 26 2012 05:16 PM
jon from Ohio

As a long time listener, this 'explanation' still does not suffice to excuse the tone and attitude of the interview. It's still not an apology or admission of any wrongdoing on Radiolab's part and actually makes me more pessimistic to continue listening. Also, to say that Kalia tried to hijack the interview was in very poor taste, when she clearly misunderstood your intentions for the interview in the first place.

This has been one of the weakest shows to date in regards to science, and definitely the most offensive. Can't Radiolab just own up to its mistake, apologize and move on?

Sep. 26 2012 04:49 PM
Jon from Baltimore

This doesn't address the fact that the Yangs did not seem to be fully prepped on the nature of Radiolab's intentions. They stated several times that they were under the impression the interview would be about the Hmong genocide and seemed confused by the incessant questioning about bee poop.

I understand that you were trying to make a larger point but you ambushed unsuspecting people... Exploited a genocide survivor in order to make it.

I appreciate Jad's response but it's pretty obvious the person who needs to speak up is Robert. Anyone who listens to that segment can tell he crossed a line at a certain point in that interview and just kept on going (in my view to get an emotional response). He was completely unapologetic in the ending segment and even dug the knife in deeper by accusing her of trying to "monopolize" the conversation by expressing her anger and grief.

No matter what your intentions this was just bad on several levels.

Sep. 26 2012 04:47 PM
Adam

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,

A

Sep. 26 2012 04:45 PM
Elaine from Crown Heights

When a show pushes boundaries, it runs the risk of getting into trouble. This is what happened with Yellow Rain. Thank you, Radiolab for taking us into uncharted territories on a regular basis. This is why your fans love you. I do not think anyone working on the show should be shamed for this problematic episode. And thank you, Jad, for responding. But please apologize to Kalia and Eng for their brutal treatment and acknowledge this misstep. These people were condescended to and later treated dismissively (the tone of Robert's voice!) We know you are people trying to do good! And the points you raise are all valid. But the outcry over this episode doesn't reflect people's close-mindedness or over-sensitivity, but rather empathy toward these people and incredulity over their treatment. You can use this opportunity to have a much better discussion on truth, power, positionality, and authority than the minute following this painful interview! Please apologize, please share your reader's reactions with Kalia & Eng, please keep the dialogue going! And please don't let this make you shy away from the kinds of great topics you take on!

Sep. 26 2012 04:41 PM
Ben from VA

Like many, I am disgusted by the Yellow Rain segment and can find little reason to justify continuing to listen to Radiolab as a result. 

Robert's line of questioning, his tone, and his insistence on his own point of view is unacceptable. That was not journalism, that was not illuminating, that was exploitative and an exercise in bullying. We do not need another bully journalist, especially not one masquerading as independent, thoughtful, and open-minded. The line of questioning was not merely disrespectful but seemed to betray actual animosity and the self-serving 'moment of silence' was insulting, especially considering it was followed by an entirely unrepentant and further insulting commentary. 

As a long-time listener, I hope you further address this, but I won't be listening...

Sep. 26 2012 04:31 PM
Andreas from Sweden

I think I've taken up enough space in the other comments so I'll just note that I greatly appreciated the episode, warts and all, though I'm sorry it came into being the way it did. The speedy response and transparency is to be commended but how to make amends with the Yang family still remains to be seen.

Sep. 26 2012 04:22 PM
Ann

Thanks for responding, Jad.

Sep. 26 2012 04:21 PM
Vinny from The North End of Boston

I was offended by Robert's insistence that she was trying to "monopolize" the conversation. The interviewees wanted to express their suffering, and interviewers were trying to tell a different story. That's completely appropriate, and Robert's offense at this shows a serious lack of empathy. I like Robert a lot less after hearing this story.

Jad, I did appreciate how you balanced the perspectives out, and that nicely drove home the point of the whole show. Thank you, Jad, for not being judgmental and impatient with your guests.

Sep. 26 2012 04:06 PM
Elizabeth from NYC

Also, I have to respectfully disagree with Emma Fryer's point regarding good journalism. I think this segment sparked conversation because it was bad journalism from a program that usually has very good journalism, unfortunately.

Sep. 26 2012 04:02 PM
Elizabeth from NYC

Hi Jad. Thank you so much for responding to listener concerns. I am grateful that you did leave in the painful, unflattering aspects of that interview and for that you have my respect.

Also, I agree that the truth of the situation was a matter of life or death during the Cold War, and may have had implications beyond that. However, the way in which Robert pursued that truth, in my opinion, was insensitive and shameful. A more sophisticated way of interviewing the witness could have shed even more light on the truth of the situation. As many other commenters have said, there are so many ways the truth could be more complicated than just "the samples we tested were bee poop and therefore there were no chemical weapons used". Instead Robert managed to make this victim of genocide feel invalidated in his experience of the war.

Grilling one man who experienced the horrors of war in an antagonistic way about what he experienced does little to further the truth and does a lot of harm to that man, his niece, and your reputation. I am also surprised that none of you guys thought that your line of questioning would be potentially incredibly upsetting to this family.

I really hope that you and Robert will handle this well going forward because I have greatly enjoyed your program (especially the episode on colors--blew my mind), and I don't know if I can go on enjoying it if this situation isn't addressed properly. I appreciate you opening up a dialogue here as a way to begin that process.

Sep. 26 2012 03:55 PM
Emma Fryer

I thought that leaving that segment in the story made the very clear and valid point that, regardless of whether or not something is proven to be factually true, people will believe their own versions of the truth in order to justify their own emotions. In this case, I believe Kalia's bravery in participating in the discussion poignantly highlighted the horrible treatment of the Hmong people. However, I do have to agree with Robert's point that refusal to accept the alternate truth of the "bee poo" is just as dangerous. I do have to say that I think it was a brilliant choice to be transparent and leave the interview segment in the story. The fact that it sparked such a debate just proves that it was effective journalism. It definitely made me think. Thanks for being so honest.

... Still wish I had more to go off of to envision the inside of Skelly's house though.

Sep. 26 2012 03:48 PM

Jad, thank you so much for responding. Also, thank you for leaving in the audio that you did- that was very brave. I do not accept that you were not trying to manipulate the Yang's into an emotional response. If you were not trying to do that then you or anyone could have clearly explained on tape to Kalia and Eng why Robert was so insistent on blowing holes in Yang's testimony prior to pushing the questions, instead you did not explain the almost "huge" consequences in the interview because you wanted the raw response. Well you got your response. P.S. A note on some of your younger listeners: we are and have been aware of our government doing dubious, ethically questionable things... we became adults in the post 9/11 era- the patriot act, Obama's drone program... the potential of a US manufacturing chemical weapons and all the invariable what-if's that come with it don't scare us anymore than what we're already doing eleven years deep in war. We don't have the cold-war mindset, we're not afraid of global meltdown, instead... we care so much more about what has actually happened and is happening. Don't tell us one thing would have invariably led to another- the world isn't a game of dominos to us.

Sep. 26 2012 03:14 PM

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