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From Robert Krulwich on Yellow Rain

Sunday, September 30, 2012 - 04:51 PM

After reading a lot of email and angry notes about our most recent podcast, "The Fact of the Matter," I want to respond, and apologize for my harshness during the interview.

It was not my intention -- it's never my intention -- to make the people we interview uncomfortable or angry. My intent is to question, listen, and explore. But in my interview with Ms. Kao Kalia Yang and Mr. Eng Yang, and later in the conversation with my co-host Jad and our reporter Pat Walters, I pushed too hard. I didn't understand how I was coming across. I now can hear that my tone was oddly angry. That's not acceptable -- especially when talking to a man who has suffered through a nightmare in Southeast Asia that was beyond horrific.

This episode of Radiolab was about truth, how different people experience different truths and how those differences can be painfully hard to reconcile. In this segment, our subject was President Reagan's 1982 announcement that he believed the Soviets had manufactured chemical weapons and were using them on Hmong people in Laos -- and a subsequent announcement by scientists at Harvard and Yale that the President was wrong, that the so-called "weapons" were not weapons at all, but bees relieving themselves in the forest.

While there had been previous accounts of this controversy, very few journalists had asked the Hmong refugees hiding in that forest what happened, what they'd seen. That's why we wanted to speak with Mr. Yang and his niece, Ms. Yang.

We sent them a list of questions in advance, including these:

  • "At what point did you first hear about the yellow rain?"
  • "Did you see it yourself?"
  • "What did it look like? Did you touch it? See evidence of it on leaves or houses?"
  • "Do you know about the theory scientists have that the yellow rain wasn't a poison weapon, but instead was bee droppings?"
  • "What do you make of that?"

Many commenters have suggested that we "ambushed" Mr. Yang and Ms. Yang, but I feel that it's important for you to know that was not the case. 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.

We never suggested that Radiolab planned a comprehensive story of the tragedy that befell the Hmong during those years. We had no set view of whether yellow rain was or was not a chemical weapon. We went to Mr. Yang because we thought his voice and perspective should be heard.

I forcefully questioned Mr. Yang to find out if he had actually seen the source of the "yellow rain" because I was trying to understand if the scientists had considered all the evidence. I care deeply about getting the facts right. Looking back on it now, I see that I was insensitive: I sound hectoring and uncaring. For that, I apologize.

I should have listened harder, and been more compassionate.

I am especially sorry in the conversation following to have said Ms. Yang was seeking to "monopolize" the story. Obviously, we at Radiolab had all the power in this situation, and to suggest otherwise was wrong.

If you listen to the whole segment, you will hear that we took the time to tell the story of the Hmong's flight into the woods, the Pathet Lao's assassinations, and the cruel chaos of that war. We did not leave that part out. I just wish I had done my part more gently and with more consideration for their suffering.


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Comments [491]

Joanna from Singapore

Always look forward to Radiolab episodes. Found this episode while looking through the archive catalog. It was an interesting premise but the tone of the interview was very disappointing primarily for Richard being too pressing and one-sided in attempting to convey his version of fact. So in this aspect I respect that in this post by Richard he acknowledged his insensitivity and unfounded anger during the interview and conversation with Jab.

One journalist error should not wipe out Radiolab integrity. To me, Radiolab episodes are always engaging because of how the stories were "sensationalized with facts" to capture the minds of the listeners and to make listeners ponder more, at least it does to me. It is part of the charm of listening to Radiolab.

As I'm not involved in the historical event, I am emotionally separated. I don't know if chemical warfare were indeed used but I acknowledge the possibility of the yellow rain being bee's poop. As much as I understand many people died when the yellow rain occurred, hence the association of poisoning, I also understand the perspective Richard was trying to convey about the possibility of deaths caused by harsh conditions of forest living - being there might be other reasons if the bee's poop was real. Regardless, I felt Radiolab attempted perspective in this episode was to provide the science behind the yellow rain, which they did. Perhaps the attempt to convey this science to a war victim was not the best call. The lack of empathy was the cause of the interpretor's emotional outburst.

I do like how Jab's ending note summarized the episode: what the yellow rain has come to mean to the Hmong people and not the science behind it.

Feb. 13 2018 08:55 AM

You wrote: "I just wish I had done my part more gently and with more consideration for their suffering." "More" implies that there was any in the first place. If you had *any* consideration for their suffering in that moment you would not have behaved as you did. It was so incredibly unnecessary, journalistically speaking, and so hurtful. I didn't listen to Radiolab just for the science; I listened to it for its heart. It's no longer trustworthy in that respect.

Jan. 21 2018 08:12 PM

I've become a recent listener of Radiolab, and it's been a big part of my falling in love with radio overall. I admire much of what you do, but I couldn't help being disturbed by the episode. I understand that it wasn't Radiolab's intention to tell the Hmong story and that it was Radiolab's duty to uncover what happened, but I see no logic behind how the interview was conducted. The positioning of the questions, as least in the edited version in the podcast, was awkward and made it seem accusatory. Mr. Yang was asked if he actually saw the yellow rain falling from the sky after being told the bee theory, which implies that listeners shouldn't believe him. I don't think the question itself was wrong but it would have made the most sense to ask these clarifying questions earlier on in the interview, like how it's laid out here as the second question. It would have been a natural question to ask when Mr. Yang was walking through his first encounter with yellow rain. Then, the use of the word "hearsay" just made me recoil. I'm not sure why you would say that about anyone's experiences, much less to someone who survived a horrible event.

Some have criticized Ms. Yang's response as failing in its logic because of her emotion. As someone with no connect to the event, I feel deeply offended for her and her family and understand her reaction. I admire her bravery for speaking out.

The one redeeming thing about the episode is Jab's, I think, comments at the end about what the yellow rain has come to mean to the Hmong people, regardless of the science behind it. Even as journalists interested only in the science, Radiolab needs to understand the context they're pulling their stories out of.

Dec. 03 2015 10:36 PM
Anon from Toronto, ON

Your devious and biased practices are exactly what taints the very meaning of the word "objectivity" in the world. There never should've been a need for this apology.

Nov. 15 2015 04:56 PM
Mike from Utah

The fact that this man did very probably endure and survive horrible atrocities is completely beside the point. This story was not about personal tragedy, however real it was. If the interviewees misunderstood the purpose of the interview, the only wrong doing on the part of the interviewer would be misrepresenting that purpose. As we would certaintly get opposite stories from both parties involved, speculation would become useless. The thing that disturbed me the most was what seemed like a blatant attempt at emotional manipulation on the part of Ms. Yang, which, judging from the comments I'm reading here, clearly worked so well. Getting angry, and crying should not be an acceptable way to further your own personal agenda. I absolutely feel that she monopolized the conversation. True reporting is dead when emotion trumps fact. Sad to see so many unable or unwilling to see this.

Nov. 04 2015 02:06 AM
Raquel S. B. Harpenau from Tennessee

Not good enough, Robert. Not good enough. I won't be listening to your crap any longer.

Nov. 03 2015 02:18 PM

I've just listened again to yellow rain.
The words that accurately describe my feelings are too intense to include here. I am thoroughly disgusted and outraged.
"Hmong guy"???? and "his niece". Really? That is how you referred to them.
What kind of hideous racists are you?
I am so furious about this and I cannot listen to you again. Also incredibly embarrased because I had previously recommended Radiolab enthusiastically to so many friends students and aquaintences.

Aug. 15 2015 06:31 AM

This was utterly appalling. The callous insensitivity, the complete lack of empathy was actually chilling and deeply disturbing. Wow. The apology doesn't go nearly far enough. RK needs to make proper reparations for emotionally violating these people, Mr. Yang and his daughter.
Unfortunately I am not intending to support Radiolab any longer. This killed it for me.
Ugh!! The arrogance & inhuman clinical coldness that science can foster. The dark tyranny of the analytical mind.
Goodbye Radiolab.

Aug. 14 2015 05:47 PM

The interview sounded like RadioLab found the bee feces story amusing. Classy. RL was determined to get a Hmong person to concede. The interviewer displayed arrogance so blindingly offensive that he could not even find his way back out of the black hole of entitlement to apologize properly. You interviewed the wrong people and you know it. The creators of this kind of interview and its defensive apologists are invited to read some social critique written after the 1950s. If RL wants back in with people of color who know about this, they can write a real apology and donate a significant sum to a Hmong service organization. To save face you pretend this is about emotions but it is really about common decency and common sense.

Jun. 07 2015 10:05 PM
Danny from Portland, OR

The way I heard it, the Yangs took great offense at a simple line of questioning from an outside reporter. Krulwich may have been insensitive, but the Yangs were also extremely sensitive in a way that I did not expect, and Krulwich obviously didn't expect it either. The whole issue was just a cultural misunderstanding... which happens all the time. I'm completely fine with the way it was handled and for me, the matter is closed and put to bed.

Jan. 13 2015 03:19 PM
Tina from Canada

Would you invite a holocaust survivor onto your show to debate the kinds of guns and chemicals the Germans used to kill them? The entire premises is unethical. Let's ask these people to relive a traumatic experience about the systematic killing of their ethnic group on national radio and expect them to remain calm as we ask them over and over again, "inconsequential questions.

Jan. 05 2015 12:32 AM

As a big fan of Radiolab who just discovered this story and the subsequent controversy, I'm profoundly embarrassed and disappointed in the way this piece was handled, and the way the 'apologies' were handled afterward. Any other point I could make has already been made (and better) by other commenters and by Kao Kalia Yang herself.

Nov. 14 2014 03:09 PM

-RadioLab had substantial scientific evidence in their hands before they completed their story that cast serious doubt on the Meselson hypothesis.

-This scientific evidence, authored by Dr. Rebecca Katz and Dr. Burton Singer, was significant enough that both Dr. Meselson and Dr. Katz were invited to speak at a 2006 conference in London sponsored by the Center for Contemporary Conflict, the U.S. Naval Postgraduate School, and King’s College.

-The test allegedly botched in a lab in Minnesota was supervised by Dr. Chester Mirocha, who is still living. Mirocha was not only not consulted for the RadioLab piece where his work is impugned, but upholds his original findings and insists that the bee dung hypothesis is untenable. He also notes that in 1992 Dr. Meselson posited that an anthrax outbreak in Russia was naturally generated and then later had to concede that not only had deaths been caused by an anthrax production plant, but that the plant existed in direct violation of the Biological Weapons Convention.

-When I interviewed Dr. Katz she pointed out that the bee feces theory doesn’t address accounts of morbidity and mortality, anything that happened in Afghanistan, where Asian honey bees don’t live, or any of the corroboration and triangulation of military overflights and intelligence data” she gathered.

-As Dr. Singer has pointed out, Dr. Meselson could have directly addressed and refuted Dr. Katz’s evidence and conclusions, but he never has. Dr. Singer thinks “everything points toward the release of some kind of chemical weapon.”

-Retired General Michael Meese spent his early career as a State Department intern collecting reports of alleged yellow rain attacks. He also reminded me that the first claims of Soviet chemical weapons use came during the presidency of Jimmy Carter. Those charges were taken seriously enough that the United Nations passed a resolution (35/144) condemning the use of chemical and biological weapons. He is convinced by the number and quality or reports that some kind of chemical agent was employed in Laos, Cambodia, and Afghanistan.

-Finally, RadioLab failed to translate Eng Yang’s comments that he knew what bee dung looked like and the “yellow rain” he saw wasn't bee dung. According to WNYC President Dean Capello, “The team did consider including this information. . .[but] decided not to because numerous other lines of evidence. . . contradicted his claims.” Show us your evidence.

-I think some really nice people who didn’t know anything about yellow rain found a good idea for a story and then found some congenial, accomplished individuals who told them a really compelling tale and told it very sincerely and convincingly. Then confirmation bias set in and they just bought the story hook, line, and sinker. And rather than admit their mistakes, they just kept moving on, covering their behinds, and hoping that the whole thing would go away. Not very journalistic.

Oct. 04 2014 12:14 PM
Dustin from Utah

I just want to add to my last comment. That was a very moving interview. The beauty of the emotional portrayal was something hollywood can only dream of producing. I don't agree with all of the criticism in the rest of the comments. Yes, Robert asked hard questions - that's what a decent journalist does. Had he not cross-examined, I would have lost respect for his aptitude. They have another pod cast about a lady that wrongly accused a man of sexually assaulting her. As a result, he spent 18 years in jail. If anyone would have cross-examined her prior to the DNA evidence, she would have had an emotional response as well. But her emotion would have taken away from the truth. Back to the point of this interview, those people were loosing everything unexplainably. Then, the very people that they had supported (the US) turned their backs. But, that doesn't mean that those people can't be wrong in their accusations.

Aug. 10 2014 12:35 PM
Dustin from Utah

Robert was right in the situation. I don't think he needed to apologize. I understand why the guests were upset - they lost their friends, family and community. However, emotion doesn't answer questions. If he would have agreed to everything they said, they wouldn't have had the emotional explosion. Once he questioned their story, they threw everything in his face. As soon as the emotional explosion happened, I knew Robert would have to challenge it. I waited for Robert to challenge it. He had to challenge it - for the sake of reason. I just wish that they could have dug deeper to try to answer more questions. Those people were likely targeted by chemical warfare. They just got bad samples or were mistaken in some other way.

Aug. 10 2014 12:19 PM

I agree with some earlier comments this does sound more like damage control then genuine.

I was and am disgusted by robert's behavior, guising as "truth seeking" that was actually manifested in unnecessary overly prodding of people who clearly became offended and continued to prod beyond that point.

It had stopped being about truth or facts at that point, and more about robert having to prove to Mr. Yang that there were no chemicals.

The behavior was/is inexcusable.

To Roberts you will have to make-up the damages for your actions.
Truth seeking is something you press scientists & researchers for, not a survivor.

You are likely to trust your own eyes before someone elses, if you must understand the hmongs.

Jul. 28 2014 05:06 AM

Wow - you guys really stepped in it. The handling of this whole thing was terrible; before, during, and after. I think you deserve some criticism for not properly communicating the intention of the interview, being insensitive during the interview, and especially for not introducing Eng properly. The episode looks carefully crafted to make a specific point, which might have gone unnoticed by most people if that point didn't partially discredit survivors of horrible atrocities.

The response to this whole thing disturbs me though. The comments here, and Kao Kalia Yang's article, also seem crafted and calculated for maximum rage, maximum offense, maximum racism. I think they took valid criticism about shoddy reporting and transformed it into a narrative about imperialist racism and ignoring genocide, which is quite frankly dishonest.

My respect for Radiolab has taken a hit, because this colors my opinion on how they present the facts in all their other episodes. I don't think they deserve what they got though.

Jul. 13 2014 02:00 PM

I was having a great time listening to RadioLab, until I came to this. I've just been listening for a couple of weeks now, and I have to say that I'm actually nervous about proceeding to the next story. Will Robert continue to have these moments where his search for truth hurts the people he's interviewing? I agree with an earlier commenter that his response sounds more like damage control than a true apology.

Apr. 30 2014 10:26 AM
rjd from Vancouver, WA

I discovered Radiolab just a few weeks ago, and had been enjoying it immensely. That was, at least, until I listened to the podcast "The Fact of The Matter". The confrontation (yes, confrontation, not interview) with the two Hmong was completely pointless, as Robert and/or the producers had already decided that yellow rain was a hoax. Furthermore, it came across like Radiolab and Robert were more upset about the United States building chemical weapons than the genocide against the Hmong. It felt more like Fox News than Radiolab.

For the record, I don't believe that yellow rain was real. It also wasn't the first time that our government lied to us. Remember the Maine? But ultimately, what really was the truth of the matter? The Reagan-led government used this tragedy to build some chemical weapons at horrendous cost to the tax payer. Those weapons have not been used (fortunately) but cost tax payers billions to store and billions more to destroy at a time when our infrastructure is crumbling and our economy isn't good.

The apology from Robert doesn't seem sincere, more like damage control. If it was sincere, why does it sound so defensive? I'll keep listening to Radiolab, but do hope that Robert stops channeling his inner Bill O'Reilly.

Feb. 23 2014 07:37 PM

I never once felt any condescension from Krulwich towards the Hmong. However, I'm often accused of this, especially by women, when I question things based on scientific and observational fact. I think the most important message of this episode was about "what is truth," not what is the truth in the story about yellow rain.

I know facts become very emotional when it concerns history and national/cultural narrative. As a Japanese, I have encountered many Koreans and Chinese who get very emotional when talking about war atrocities during WWII. The fact of the matter is: there is a lot of doubt regarding a fair many of victim's stories. The argument to be made there is not that all Japanese atrocities were lies. It's that some victim's stories are not remembered correctly or are remembered correctly but the victim truly doesn't know the whole story. For example, "sex slave victims" were often sold to brothels by their very own parents. From the victim's perspective, they were carried off against their will by what appears to be a foreign aggressor. In reality, it was a financial transaction, which at that time in history was legal. This fact cannot be told to Koreans without an emotional response. No examination of historical documents or victim's accounts will help extinguish their emotional pain. And this is not racism or elitism.

I sympathize with Krulwich. I hope he is not discouraged. You have supporters who understand the difficult things you must deal with being a public figure who can be misunderstood.

Feb. 12 2014 12:01 AM
Aaron from New York, NY

I'd been joyfully catching up on all the past RL shows/podcasts until I slammed head-on into this disastrous interview. Robert, everyone makes mistakes, of course, but unfortunately, your apology hasn't stopped me from involuntarily associating the sound of your voice with the horrible feelings experienced during this "yellow rain" segment. I'll cross my fingers, listen to a few more shows, and see what happens.

Oct. 17 2013 02:30 AM

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

Sep. 27 2013 09:52 AM
Rick McDonald

I read this, listened to the podcast and spent too much time researching it. In addition to re-editing the piece to hide some of the original offensiveness, I am really bothered by the way your theme influences Radiolab reporting. You decided, based upon the New Yorker article that this story matches your theme, then did the story. If you had approached the interview with open minds you might have researched it more. You might have found that other labs have found chemical toxins in samples. Perhaps some of the samples were bee pollen, but some may have contained evidence of chemical warfare. A more nuanced story might have pointed out that its still believable that the Hmong were targets of chemical weapons, but that once it happened other materials and samples may have been mistaken for chemical weapons. History often takes its time and does not always leave a definitive absolute "truth", and that is something you should have considered.

Sep. 12 2013 11:26 PM

Robert, you're a human being who works as a journalist. Human being, THEN journalist. The so called "search for truth" should never stand in the way of being a decent human being. Which you clearly showed where your priorities lie. Empathy comes first than "objectivity". ALWAYS. Showing the questions you sent to the interviewees before hand and arguing your objectivity shouldn't be a part of the equation. Saying sorry and then listing your thoughts on how that wasn't as bad is worse than not apologizing. Equally stupid, equally smug from your part

Sep. 11 2013 02:17 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:

Jul. 23 2013 03:25 PM
DanX from Texas

It is unfortunate to read how many are saying that the Yangs overreacted to the situation. It is easy to try and relate to what took place but none can ever truely feel what they felt. Too often prejudice and racism has been dismissed with an apology, claim of ignorance, or claim that those who were harmed overreacted. Clearly there was information and parts of the segment that was not released because it would show the true colors of RadioLab and is hosts. RadioLab's attempts to hide the truth about what took place during this interview is a complete contradiction to what they claim to achieve on the show, truth. To be fair, as they claim they are trying to be, they should release this interview in its entirety without any editing. I really do believe that, until those who are so quick to support the actions and apologies of RadioLab and its hosts actually faced the same pursecution, prejudice, racism, and unfairness as the victims here you have no right to criticize them for wanting a little justice. It is because of you and your own ignorance to what these people go through that allows them to be treated in this way.

Jun. 21 2013 07:59 PM
Cody from SC

Everyone here only saw the show RL put on, lol... It would be very cool if we see the whole show.
I sure do love the cut and editing parts....

Keep up the good work RL :)

May. 08 2013 12:42 AM
Jay from California

Having just heard the podcast, and just read Kao Kalia Yang's response from "Hyphen", crossposted to (where comments seem to have been heavily moderated and then disabled), I have to weigh in.

The angry response aimed at Robert Krulwich and Radiolab is both unnecessarily vindictive, and entirely misplaced. It seems like listeners have entirely missed the point of the interview, while at the same time seeking to crucify the journalists who are trying to remain objective in a complex and emotional story.

The stated topic of the podcast was the examination of facts; how do we find them, and what happens when they seem to conflict? The subject of yellow rain is a perfect example of clashing perspectives surrounding an elusive fact: Through ongoing investigation, science has found that the "yellow rain" phenomenon is the result of bee droppings, and not chemical weapons. Eng Yeng's perspective is that he witnessed villagers and animals suffering and dying, which he attributes to the yellow rain corresponding with these events.

Krulwich challenges Yang's position on the basis of the scientific findings. He DOES NOT challenge Yeng's sincerity or invalidate his suffering or that of the Hmong people. Their experience is valid outside of the question of yellow rain, and there is no need to censor questions or facts about the issue to fully respect their history.

Should Krulwich have been more sensitive and cautious in his approach? Yes, in hindsight, which he apologizes for in detail (after a viscous backlash and internet witch-hunt). Is he a racist "imperialist" white man for pointing out a basic contradiction of facts? Absolutely not. Asking critical questions which illuminate a controversy is his job. It's called journalism.

Some of the vindictive blaming and bullying which followed the interview:
"...its [radiolab's] relentless badgering of Hmong refugee Eng Yang and his niece, award-winning author and activist Kao Kalia Yang, provoked an outcry among its listeners, and its ongoing callous, RACIST handling of the issue..."

Kao Kalia Yeng:
"The interview became an interrogation."
"they chose to end the show with hushed laughter". (it was actually ended with an apology and clarification).
"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"
"He [Krulwich] did not mention the RACISM at work, the privileging of Western education over indigenous knowledge, or the fact that he is a white man in power calling from the safety of Time, his class, and popular position"
"Robert’s apologies — which completely failed to acknowledge the dismissal of our voices and the RACISM that transpired/s — Radiolab had simply re-contextualized their position"

May. 03 2013 08:44 PM
Derek from Toronto, Canada

I'm sorry Robert, but you're convincing me at all with your explanation.

First, it's rather strange to title your podcast as the "Truth of the Matter". How are you an authority on this subject exactly to be able to make as strong a statement as "Truth of the Matter". I know you'll probably attempt to suggest that the title is synonymous with searching for the truth, but it actually conveys that you somehow know what the truth is. Journalism/sensationalism at its best?

Secondly, if your research is objectively neutral and exploratory, you wouldn't need to bring that type of tone to your questions. Science is about staying neutral and you don't sound neutral at all. Explaining away your lack of objectivity and offensive questioning by saying that "I forcefully questioned Mr. Yang to find out if he had actually seen the source of the "yellow rain" because I was trying to understand if the scientists had considered all the evidence" simply doesn't make sense and there isn't any logical connection between the two. If you wanted to understand if the scientists had considered all the evidence you'd bring your line of questioning to the scientists and not with Kao and her uncle.

Secondly, you don't address the concerns of Kao Kaila Yang's suggestion about leaving pertinent information out, editing your podcast to bring your tone into a better light, and ignoring other research by other scientists provided by Kaila. You need to address these concerns. The fact that you haven't is troubling.

Thirdly, the fact that you describe Kaila simply as "the niece" and Uncle Eng as the "Hmong guy" clearly shows your lack of respect for who these people are. You still haven't indicated that she is an award winning writer, nor do you acknowledge that Uncle Eng was an official radio man and documenter to the Thai government. If you're going to give credit, especially to all the other people involved, do it consistently and properly.

Fourthly, if you're not trying to deliver a comprehensive story and only wanted to let Kaila and her uncle's voice and perspective be heard, then why not just record what they have to say and leave it at that? In my mind you'd just let them talk about their experience instead of interrogating them as you did in your interview. That to me suggests that you had a motive or preconceived notion about what the "truth" was.

It's always funny to me how people who are in the wrong try to rationalize their behaviour and apologize for things irrelevant to the key behaviour that should be apologized for. In a way, you've sort of supported Kaila's claim of attempting to control the message because you're doing it again, still without addressing the main issues.

Oh, and I forgot to comment earlier about the "monopolize" comment you made about Kao's crying. Classy Robert, very classy. Anybody who has an emotional response to the questionable behaviour of another is obviously trying to monopolize the situation. Right...

Apr. 20 2013 03:02 PM
Paulie Jay from Sydney, Australia

Upon listening to this podcast I felt a lot of emotions, and like most people I kind of felt as if I had been slapped in the face by the end of it. I felt much compassion for the interviewees, as well as enormous amounts of discomfort at their quite obvious pain.

Sure, I think that the interview should have been handled differently. But at no stage did it cross my mind that the approach or tone was racist. Denial may be racism in some circumstances, but questioning is not denial.

What I am thankful for is that I am now aware of the Hmong story, of which previous to this day, I was not.

Apr. 12 2013 09:23 AM
Joe from Brisbane

I see no problem with the interview, yeah it was too the point but isn,t that what people want.. Its time people stopped being so over sensitive and view this interview for what it was.. an attemp to find the truth..

Apr. 08 2013 08:23 PM
Jennifer from Texas

Sorry to be another late-comer to the discussion. I missed the podcast and the controversy last fall.

To me,the biggest problem with the story is not Mr. Krulwich's treatment of the Yangs (which I agree was unnecessarily abrasive,) nor was it racial bias which, if it was present, was certainly unconscious/unintentional, IMV. I do have to wonder,though. If, as a journalist, you already "know" the outcome before you start the interview, then what are you really trying to accomplish -- the revelation of real truth or your truth?

To me, the biggest problem with this story, though, was the apparent scientific bias. Radiolab presented one theory of the origin of yellow rain as fact while neglecting to mention that there are other theories, that there are classified documents involved and that no official conclusion has yet been reached. To my mind, the existence of yellow pollen-filled bee excrement does not disprove the existence and/or use of chemical weapons. As someone mentioned several pages ago, use of observation is a part of scientific inquiry. Is it 100% reliable? No. Is it possible that, when everything is resolved, we really are just talking bee poop? Yes. But we won't know for sure until release of the classified documents on which Reagan and Haig's allegations were based. In any case, I find it reprehensible to have eyewitness accounts dismissed out of hand. I think it is possible for both the bee pollen and the chemical weapon hypotheses to be "true," whatever true means.

All that said, Radiolab is a quality show that I have long enjoyed. I consider this episode an anomaly.

Apr. 08 2013 09:57 AM

RE Maya's comment on Apr. 05 2013 11:18 PM. So when you come into an intellectual conflict with someone or don't get what you want from another person and that person happens to be of a different race from you that constitutes racism even when that person has not made any reference to or cast any dispersions upon race?
Allegations of racism, like those of rape, should be used with extreme care and have at least some factual supporting evidence as they can end an innocents persons career and should not be used lightly as a straw man argument.
By the way things like "knowledge," "truth," "history" "science" and "objectivity" are race neutral concepts.

Apr. 06 2013 03:49 PM

I came to this page after a comment on the Bracket Madness post reminded me of this episode. I remembered how the Yellow Rain interview disturbed me at the time it first came out, and was curious to see how the show dealt with the criticisms afterwards, which I did not follow at the time.

I'm surprised that this is the extent of the response that Radiolab provided.
So it's just that Mr. Krulwich needed to be "gentler" and more "sensitive" in the interview? Seriously?

How can you NOT respond to the accusation of racism in how this particular segment was constructed at all? The historical monopoly of "knowledge," "truth," and "history" by the West in the name of "science" and "objectivity" rehashed on the micro level - that's what the segment turned out to be, and without critical self-reflections, you are reinforcing that racist framework of knowledge. Not engaging the topic doesn't mean you can somehow stay out of the issue. Surely, someone on the production team understands what I'm talking about? Jad, please?

Apr. 05 2013 11:18 PM

After coming across this issue whilst reading the comments on the NPR March madness poll I went and looked for the Yellow Rain episode
and after listening to it I became a fan of RadioLab all over again.
Putting aside any political leanings or sympathies for a people who
clearly suffered a genocide the fact of the matter is covert action
within the US government was used to lie to the American people and to
the world in order to further military interests of the most heinous
sort. Everyone knows the wisdom of the phrase "those who don't know
history are doomed to repeat it", unfortunately a lot of people seem to
not want to learn about history that is unpleasant. If they were things
like the war in Iraq might have been avoided. I think this is far bigger issues than being sensitive to the the hurt of a group of people who while clearly victims maybe do not have all the facts correct.
I also find that Kao Kalia Yang calling this exchange racist, (I saw zero indication of racism in Robert's interview) here;

says everything you need to know about this woman.

Apr. 05 2013 06:09 PM
JJ from Chicago

I do agree this episode was mishandled and uncomfortable. But RL and Robert have earned enough credit in my book to know they are respectful and ethical - everyone makes mistakes.

I find the posts on here quite comical saying they haven't been able to bring themselves to listen in months. Then what on earth are you doing on the Radiolab website? Right... not buying all these posts are credible. Backlash is deserved, but any true listener of the show would know better.

Apr. 05 2013 03:31 PM

Wow. Just caught up with my old podcasts and listened to this episode. Sorry RadioLab, I was a huge fan and longtime listener but it's time to say goodbye. The poor handling of the interview and half hearted apology are an embarrassment, I'm not going to be able to listen to Robert's voice again without feeling anger and disappointment. Not to mention the poor reporting/journalism and one sided presentation of the situation.

Apr. 05 2013 02:54 AM

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

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

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

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

Mar. 21 2013 12:46 AM

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

Mar. 16 2013 06:39 PM
trolle from london

The radio segment on 'Yellow Rain' left me rather sad and confused. It also lead me to read several other articles on the subject as well as comments on the Radiolab page and comments from Kao Kalia Yang.

Both the radio segment and the consequences of the show quickly becomes complicated and take on new dimensions once you start to read comments and other material.

I understand the reaction and emotions of Eng Yang and Kao Kalia Yang. I also understand what Robert Krulwich is after and also accepts his apology. Still, Radiolab has left behind a bit of a mess, which I think that they should take some time to clean up.

I have been a keen listener of Radiolab since the first show, and would be interested in hearing more about what happened to the Hmong people. Why not devote a show to telling this story focusing on the experiences of the Hmong? I do not think that you have to dwell more on 'seeking the truth' about yellow rain. Genocide happened one way or the other - many people were systematically killed.

Radiolab, you have the power to make this right and do what needs to be done.

Mar. 09 2013 10:53 AM

Please issue a proper apology so the listeners can once again subscribe to podcasts whole heartedly. Radiolab, the ball is in your court, it's your move. We really want to like you...

Mar. 08 2013 05:59 AM
Erik from Los Angeles

Wow. I have read the comments on this post and can honestly say I'm surprised by how many people believe Krulwich did anything wrong.

Krulwich simply did what he was supposed to do - ask questions that challenged Mr. Yang's insistence that the "Yellow Rain" was a biological attack. Mind you, Krulwich asked these questions with the knowledge of scientific evidence suggesting that this wasn't a biological attack at all, so he had a basis for his questions.

The Yang's completely overreacted and became defensive to Krulwich's questions and I see no need for this apology, ESPECIALLY when the Yang's already had an idea of Radiolab's intentions prior to the interview.

Is what happened to the Hmong people a tragedy? Yes.

Does Yang have scientific or empirical evidence to back up his assertion that the "Yellow Rain" was a biological attack? No.

Should organizations like Radiolab explore the validity of these claims by asking difficult questions? Definitely.

Mar. 06 2013 05:34 PM

Today I listened to my first Radiolab podcast, and it just happened to be one episode that made me sick to my stomach. As a medical scientist I also consider myself a passionate truth-seeker. But in this episode, the hurt feelings and humiliation were entirely avoidable and unnecessary. It was simple crudeness, insensitivity, and a serious lack of tact, skills, and emotional intelligence. Really, thoughtless and heartless interrogation of victims has absolutely nothing to do with truth-seeking. What bothers me the most is that Mr. Krulwich seems so oblivious to the feelings that most people feel naturally, the ones of sympathy and that there are far more important things than simple truths and this precious radio show.

Mar. 01 2013 09:27 PM
Ian Lome

Has no one bothered to read this?
I have been a true and impressed fan of the show and will no doubt continue to listen to it as such, however I do believe that in relation to this particular show and the issues it brings up, further response from Robert and Pat need to be heard. I do believe in Kao's assertions that both she and her uncle were completely disrespected and that their words were edited to reflect the angle the show was trying to substantiate. I believe Robert showed a terrible display of hubris in this situation. Unfortunate.

Mar. 01 2013 03:11 PM
Dogtown Refugee from St. Louis, MO

I feel sad for the Hmong people in the interview. I agree that Robert came across harsh and pushed too hard. On the other hand, and this is not a condemnation, just an understanding and empathy with the guests, sometimes, when you are sooo!!!! hurt, and you have the story of what happened in your heart and soul, you want that story to be heard, not questioned. Especially when all your life many people have probably been dismissive out of hand about your suffering. I've been like that, not to anywhere near the degree of these people, but I have, I think we all have. This was a bad benue for this story. Robert was going at the question from a scientific and reporting perspective, and in honesty, I think he got in over his head before he knew what happened. His style is not conducive to a story this weighty and frought with pain and emotion. It needed a gentler touch. Someone like Lisa Ling would have been a far better choice to handle this story.
I for one am glad they did the story, and regardless of how it played out, and of who was right or wrong, I now have a small glimpse of something very important about which I had NO knoweldge. I intend to look into the plight of the Hmong now. It's makes me sad, my step son had a very close Homng friend highschool (An american 1st generation I believe). I had no idea of their story. Now I do.
Robert, I don't think you would purposely hurt these people. This is what happens when we explore. Sometimes things work out great, sometimes people get hurt. But we always learn something new. The reason I listen to Radio Lab. To explore, and broaden my mind. I believe you meant well. Do your best and please keep making a wonderful show.

Feb. 19 2013 07:02 PM
John Smith from Saint Paul, MN

Thanks, Robert for a thoughtful apology. But, I think Ms. Kao Kalia Yang hes greatly over-reacted. I can see how you get the impression that she "monopolized" the story as she began speaking for Mr. Eng Yang instead of helping him formulate a complete answer to the question.

Listening to the story, I understand how it can seem like you were badgering. Perhaps you were, which is extremely unusual for Radiolab. I forgive that and I think everyone who continues to listen largely do so too. I have heard the same kind of hard-questioning come from hosts of radio and tv programs all my life. The only difference I can see here is that this person wasn't ready for it and was forced to react in an emotional way - which is beyond the the capacity of any human to control at that point.

Thanks for the remarkable content and for taking radio to new heights. You guys do excellent work.


Feb. 16 2013 02:48 PM

I've been a fan of radio lab for six years and will continue to listen. That said, I wholeheartedly agree with Peter from Austin. Robert's interview exhibited a callous indifference towards the suffering of people who experienced unimaginable horror and loss. As a child of a survivor of genocide, I can tell you that nothing is more important to survivors than the opportunity to be heard and tell their story. I understand the desire to get at the truth, but the utter insensitivity to the Yangs' experience was heartbreaking. An apology is not enough; I think Radio lab owes the Yangs the opportunity to tell their story.

Feb. 02 2013 04:32 PM
Mark from In your brain

Worse case of jaded pseudo journalism I have ever heard NPR.

Robert Krulwich's arrogant berating of this man and woman was embarrassing to fans of Radio Lab and NPR supporters.

Krulwich exemplifiies the Jewish elitist mentality at NPR we have seen in the last few years (re: Vivian Schiller debacle and others).

Krulwich is so full of himself; he is bloated with hubris and smugness that listening to him is unbearable.

Save Radio Lab, dump that pompous jerk Krulwich.

Jan. 24 2013 01:10 AM
Mark from Abu Dhabi

There was a reason I fell in love with Radiolab more than a year ago - the same reason I still very much adore this show. It is because the show reminds me that the world stripped of prejudices is a beautiful one. That reality without the colours of opinion and just shown in it's naked beauty gives me every reason to be happy to be alive.

This episode hasn't changed my views. To me, it isn't a question of the Hmongs' painful history being sidelined. Instead, I imagine the topic of the story - Yellow Rain - happening elsewhere in a different time. The pursuit of truth would be far simpler were it not complicated by atrocities that happened at the same time.

Another thing I never forget to imagine is what if I was there - what if I was a Hmong in that period? I would feel the same way as the Yangs, certainly. I, too, would feel that sense of missing justice and insensitivity.

But to get caught up in that wouldn't be the right thing to do. What I feel is right is to do two things: first is to forgive Mr. Krulwich, who himself is allowed to get riled up with his passions now and then, especially if it was a consequence of looking for the truth. The second is to acknowledge the context. People died, the world (in the way it so painfully does all too often) turned a blind eye and the Yangs were subjected to a most terrible experience.

Radiolab could have edited out that emotional finale to the interview and it is possible that no one would ever hear it, ever. But they didn't. They did the right thing and made us hear it, made us feel the Yangs' pain even if just for a few minutes. And I will never forget that it was because of this episode that I now know about the Hmongs and have chosen to inform myself about their plight even more.

We can't let this episode overwhelm us with negative views about the show and its reporters. We must instead take it upon ourselves to seek truth in better, more responsible ways in the hope that it would continue to make the world an unlikely better place.

Jan. 23 2013 05:54 PM

I was talking to a friend just last week when the topic of Radiolab came up. She was telling me that her partner was an avid fan until she heard an episode where one of the hosts was so disrespectful and entitled to one of the guests. I was so surprised because I had the exact same reaction to an episode I listened to a few months back. Turns out the episode was Yellow Rain. Robert, what a disappointment you were that episode as a journalist. Your class and ethnic privilege was evident. And your apology lacks sincerity. My love for Radiolad is no longer. What a disappointment.

Jan. 23 2013 08:00 AM

Months after the controversy surrounding this episode has died down, and I still haven't gone back to radiolab. Not that I'm angry, but my old enthusiasm for the show is drained away. The way the Engs were treated was disrespectful, the apology was half-hearted, and the journalism was shoddy. I guess I already kind of knew that radiolab was a program that puts cute storytelling ahead of 'the search for truth'. Now I know that it's also one that puts ego ahead of human decency...

Jan. 19 2013 01:36 AM
Teresa from Iowa

Ok, so Robert made some nice people sad--questioning peoples' deeply held beliefs often will make them sad. Sometimes people have to get a little sad if it means discovering the truth.

Jan. 14 2013 03:44 PM

I was a huge fan of Radiolab. This segment shocked me. I've read Mrs. Yang's response in Hyphen Magazine, I've read Robert Krulwich's apology, and I still don't find that justice has been done. Ultimately, the search for factual truth does not justify the disrespect or abuse of people's experience and emotion. At that moment IN THE INTERVIEW, it didn't matter whether Yellow Rain was actually a chemical weapon or not. What mattered at that moment was that one person who was in a position of safety interrogated another person who was in a position of vulnerability without actually listening to what they were saying, without paying respect to the subjective experience that was being told. That is unethical and below any standards of journalism, factual truth or not. Journalism is always also about the relationships we entertain with the people who help us towards finding a truth, and if these relationships are marked by unethical behavior on behalf of the journalist, I for one lose respect of the journalist. I've lost respect of Robert Krulwich, which pains me, because I don't know if I ever will be able to listen to Radiolab again with untainted joy the way I used to.

Jan. 10 2013 10:48 PM
Joe from New Haven

Just read Kao Kalia Yang's open letter concerning this episode and want to say that I spoke with insufficient knowledge of the issue in my last post. I sympathize with Miss Yang's strife and feel that the whole segment was poorly handled. I have minimal knowledge of the yellow rain subject, so cannot be making any credible assertions. That being said, I don't think Robert is a bad person and I don't think that radiolab endorses racism.

Jan. 02 2013 11:40 PM
Joe from new haven

Woops, meant to say indignation not indignity

Jan. 02 2013 03:14 PM
Joe McCarthy from New Haven

The harsh reaction to Robert's conduct during the yellow rain segment strikes me as histrionic and sanctimonious. Robert is clearly a thoughtful and respectful man who did not intend to hurt the Yang's or denigrate their suffering. Radiolab could have easily cut the contentious, embittered part of the interview and avoided all the aspersions being thrown at them, but by including the Yang's outrage at Robert's unflinching questioning, I believe Radiolab clarifies the depth and scope of the tragedy and elevates and ennobles the victims. Miss Yang's response to Robert's questions was poignant and, like the producer, I probably wouldn't have considered the "volume" of horror still endured by the Hmong people to this day had this squabble not ensued

I appreciate that an opportunity arose in which Miss Yang expressed her indignity at the world's cold shoulder, because without her sorrow and grief, the emotional core of the tragedy would have remained detached or disguised behind the question of chemical weapons. By discarding the original story of yellow rain, a much more important issue emerged, and that wouldn't have been possible if some clashing didn't occur.

As an audience member that greatly appreciates the effort and ingenuity put into all the podcasts by Radiolab's staff, I respect that they would be willing to potentially defame themselves in order to allow Miss Yang a clear channel to express her pain.

This episode, if anything, increased my respect for radiolab. Let's not forget that two other great stories were told in this episode.

Jan. 02 2013 12:20 PM
Lucia M from Pittsburgh, PA

I've heard the story and I've read these comments, and must say: I think this whole thing was JUST a huge misunderstanding.

I think that the expectations of the interview by both the Radiolab hosts & the Yangs were different, which caused all the ensued drama. I'm from a foreign country, and have had my share of these situations where malice was not intended, yet the misunderstanding still feels real and even hurtful, however I'm an adult and a HUMAN to realize it is just a different perspective & expectation of the situation -NOT malice.

I will admit that Radiolab/Krulwich's reaction was abit severe, and as a radio person with experience on interviewing, should have been more sensitive in his reaction to the Yangs in the misunderstanding. Still, I don't get everyone's over-reaction to the episode, or saying that they won't listen to the show ever again: it is preposterous!

If anything, this whole episode sets itself to create another episode about different people's expectations & understandings given people of different cultures. I would be a great candidate for that, and how I;ve learned, and have helped others learn, through these kind of unfortunate situations.


Dec. 28 2012 03:27 PM
Lucia M from Pittsburgh, PA

I've heard the story and I've read these comments, and must say: I think this whole thing was JUST a huge misunderstanding.

I think that the expectations of the interview by both the Radiolab hosts & the Yangs were different, which caused all the ensued drama. I'm from a foreign country, and have had my share of these situations where malice was not intended, yet the misunderstanding still feels real and even hurtful, however I'm an adult and a HUMAN to realize it is just a different perspective & expectation of the situation -NOT malice.

I will admit that Radiolab/Krulwich's reaction was abit severe, and as a radio person with experience on interviewing, should have been more sensitive in his reaction to the Yangs in the misunderstanding. Still, I don't get everyone's over-reaction to the episode, or saying that they won't listen to the show ever again: it is preposterous!

If anything, this whole episode sets itself to create another episode about different people's expectations & understandings given people of different cultures. I would be a great candidate for that, and how I;ve learned, and have helped others learn, through these kind of unfortunate situations.


Dec. 28 2012 03:11 PM

For a show that is so often cavalier with the facts (Uhh, Jonah Lehrer anyone? Getting dates wrong? Obviously untrue pseudo-scientific theories?), Krulwich IN PARTICULAR, it would be laughable if it weren't sad that RadioLab is trying to use "scientific integrity" as an excuse for this mess. This show is the ultimate style over substance.

Dec. 22 2012 01:06 PM
Katherine French

After having heard the Podcast on "The Fact of the Matter" I was sickened by disrespectful interview conducted by Mr. Krulwich. There are enough comments here detailing why this treatment was unjust, so I don't need to cite more examples here. I couldn't sleep after hearing this podcast, it was so upsetting. However, I felt the need to research RadioLab's reaction to this terrible interview, perhaps to find some sort of humane and humble retraction of the story. What I found here is that Mr. Krulwich's apology is barely an apology at all. From the material presented on your own site, Radiolab and Mr. Krulwich don't quite grasp the profound disrespect they showed their guests and, by extension, survivors of wartime atrocities. I am unsubscribing to your podcast and will not be recommending your program to anyone until a more sufficient, thorough, and sincere apology has been issued.

Dec. 21 2012 04:11 PM
Tom from New Jersey

I meant to write "Holocaust deniers" in my previous comment, not "holocaust survivors"

Dec. 19 2012 12:44 AM
Tom from New Jersey

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

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

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

Dec. 19 2012 12:37 AM
KB from Atlanta

I've never been disappointed in RadioLab, until now.

The lack of compassion shown in this situation far overshadows the search for truth.

Dec. 06 2012 07:53 AM
Spencer Holbert from Austin, TX

The controversy surrounding this episode seems to be laden with polemic. I think it would be wise for those who are commenting to remember to be objective while responding. Accusations of "journalistic fraud" are probably unfounded and do not further the discussion, and some are even hinting at a conspiracy theory that conceals the truth of Yellow Rain.

When terrible things happen it is sometimes difficult to accept a simple answer, yet the simplest explanations are generally the correct ones. The point that Radiolab was trying to make was, despite the atrocities committed against the Hmong, and the horrors that occurred in Southeast Asia, evidence supporting the claim that Yellow Rain was a chemical weapon employed by the Russians is and was lacking. Good journalists seek the truth, and the evidence that Radiolab gathered indicates that Yellow Rain was a product of bee fecal matter - simple as that. If they would have found evidence to the contrary - that Yellow Rain WAS a chemical weapon - I'm sure that they would have reported that story.

It is difficult to believe that Radiolab has some kind of agenda to cover up a genocide. It is clear that emotions ran high during the interview. Of course they did. But Robert wasn't trying to claim that horrible things didn't happen, he was trying to determine the correlation between the attacks on the Hmong, the "Yellow Rain" and the deaths and sicknesses (for lack of a better term) that Mr. Yang witnessed. Simple as that. No conspiracies. No agenda. No "journalistic fraud." Simply raw truth, no matter how emotionally sensitive the reality is.

Dec. 02 2012 10:09 PM
Paul from Arizona

I have followed the "yellow rain" story since 1980, and I think, Robert, that you should be easily forgiven for pressing an interviewee too hard with questions. I trust you were not unconsciously favoring the word of white scientists from your own culture over the observations of Asians from a different race and tribal society.

But that is not the core problem here. What you should really apologize for is defending an idea--that the "yellow rain" that fell on the stricken Hmong villages was the same "yellow rain" that is commonly seen on Asian rainforest leaves--as if it is a fact. Especially on a science program that holds a lot of confidence with its viewers who do not have time to investigate every detail for themselves. The truth is that the "yellow rain" issue is still controversial after all these years and furthermore veiled by a political debate. The only facts that can settle the issue are in classified Russian files. Given that, your approach is not good science nor responsible journalism.

The "bee feces theory for the alleged attacks on Hmong villages is not based entirely on definitive objective evidence. It appears that the story line came first, then the facts were carefully chosen to support it. In your reporting, the fact that this idea came from people employed at Harvard and Yale seems to carry more weight than the actual evidence.

I have spent years walking SE Asian rain forests with a Malaysian entomologist friend who specializes on Apis dorsata, the giant Asian honeybee, studying local wild-bee honey hunters. I have often seen the yellow spots on leaves where the mass defections occur. It's a common sight and well understood by local people. Any hiker can watch it happen. In fact an oral tradition about the mythical origin of the bees repeated by local villagers mentions a "golden shower" as the climax of the story. A version of this story is found in the Rigvedas, almost 4 thousand years old.

To report to the Western scientific world that Meselson and Seely "discovered" these mass defections is like an Asian scientist coming to Minnesota and "discovering" the dandelion plant. Local people are already too familiar with it to call it news. It really says nothing in particular. It makes one wonder that these scientists, so intelligent in other areas, really believe their own theory. Or if they have some other unexpressed reason for putting it out there in the public mind.

I didn't vote for Ronald Reagan, but I can accept that he might have been right on a few things. More to the point, no one has been able to refute or even cast serious doubt on the data from Mirocha's lab nor eyewitness accounts.

Any story may be funny, appealing, and easily remembered, but that doesn't make it good science. Ask Galileo or Copernicus.

Nov. 29 2012 04:04 PM
Jenna from Brooklyn, NY

I heard the podcast, and don't feel you need to apologize. If you were any other radio station, possibly, but the fact of the matter is you were talking to the Hmongs about the yellow rain, it was just unfortunate that it's still a touchy subject, that it's a recent occurrence, and that the yellow rain is most likely bee fecal matter. It seems insulting to the Hmongs, but it's not anyone's fault, these things always end up happening. Keep sticking to your guns, because you guys know better than ever how a series of incidents can lead up to amazing or devastating consequences. Also, I really respect you guys for airing it, especially the intense parts.

Nov. 22 2012 02:32 PM
Sarita from Salt Lake City, UT

Joey Z I completely agree. I too read the article Mrs. Yang had in that magazine. I didn't really think it was necessary for her to go into the tale of her sad and unfortunate miscarriage. As a woman having suffered a miscarriage I can understand the need to talk about it. I feel there is a time and a place, and while Mrs. Yang does have my sympathies; telling that story while discussing her interview with RadioLab didn't seem to settle well with me. It left me wondering about her credibility too. Am I supposed to instantly sympathise because she had a personal tragedy around the time of the interview? It was very uncomfortable listening to Mrs. Yang's emotional responses to Robert's pressing questions. But it did make me think, and it made me curious about the suffering she so clearly felt still.

I personally feel we live in such a politically correct environment. I feel for the plight of the Hmongs, whom I hadn't heard of until the yellow rain podcast. I looked up information as well. I even found a website reresponse from a group called Hmong Human Rights. They didn't paint Robert OR Mrs. Yang in a flattering light. Mistakes were made on both sides. I personally feel the most interesting statement I took away from reading this response was that Mrs. Yang was being overly negative in calling Robert a racist. Also the overarching theme to their response seemed to be a kind of 'let's just all get along' attitude.

I don't see why other like-minded folk can't do that. Why CAN'T we all just get along? I certainly hope I'm not the only intelligent, curious, and articulate adult that listens to this show out there. This all seems like a bit of a hissy fit to me...

If you want to learn more about the tragic aftermath of the war and suffering of the Hmongs, and REALLY help them, then go to the interwebs and find out about stuff you can do. Don't harp on one interviewer that was a little overzealous. I fail to see how that would make a difference to anyone...

Having just barely discovered RadioLab I just have to say I'm in love, and keep up the thought provoking work!

Nov. 19 2012 10:52 PM

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 11:14 PM

I don't think I can listen to Radiolab anymore.

Nov. 14 2012 10:06 PM
Langa from TC

There are Holocaust deniers too. I wonder if Radiolab would take this tone with Holocaust survivors. Or is this kind of investigative journalism reserved for Asians. Maybe Radiolab and Mr. Kroolwich should consider combative questioning with other trauma victims without 100% of the evidence they demand. I hear rape victims are good targets for hard hitting news.

Isn't Radiolab grant funded? Are the grants suppose to be funding an anger driven, disrespectful, bully reporter?

Just questions.

Nov. 13 2012 10:18 PM

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

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

Nov. 13 2012 07:40 PM
Diane from MN

Radiolab does NOT belong to Jad or Robert as the show is supported with the public's money. They also don't have the right to commit journalistic fraud by leaving out Eng Yang's expertise on bee keeping so they can frame the story in a slant to fit their pre-concieved ideas of the Hmong or the genocide. The arc of the story was planned as a surprise revealing to a genocide survivor that what they experienced was hearsay, a myth, and never really happened. When the Yangs refused to give Radiolab a sound bite to create the story they've 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 believed to be true. The truth is not done with Radiolab.

Nov. 13 2012 03:55 PM

I have been thinking about this episode a lot since it aired because it was so unexpected even for Radiolab. That is one of the great things about this show. But I was surprised to see so many responses to this that have been negative to the point of membership cancellation and boycotting.

I've listened to the episode several times trying to understand what people are actually angry about and these are the main points that come out of it.

1. Radiolab is Jad and Robert's show. As such, they are entitled to report what they want in order to convey the story they are intending.
2. Every story has a thesis statement, whether implicit or explicit. The implicit thesis statement of the Yellow Rain story is, "Yellow rain is bee poop that was mistaken as a chemical weapon that nearly caused a national crisis"
3. The Hmong interview was conducted only to get their interpretation of Yellow Rain and to supplement their story.
4. The story is NOT about the Hmong genocide and their suffering even though it is a very tragic event.

That being said, I thought it admirable that Radiolab kept the end of the interview in the story. It shows that during the course of their exploration, it took an unexpected turn to another issue: The injustice suffered by the Hmong during the war goes beyond Yellow Rain. Whether that's another episode is up the them.

The clean and easy way to finish the story would have been to leave that part out and finish the Yellow Rain story.

I respect all the comments made by everyone on this story and encourage more but I hope people will stop advising Radiolab to take any action one way or another based on their personal opinions. Jad and Robert created the show. It's their show. The integrity of the show is based on their creative direction and that's why we love it.

This is a comment board, not a suggestion box.

Nov. 09 2012 11:24 AM
Radiolab commits journalistic fraud

For those of you who do not understand Hmong, Eng Yang has a clip in the story saying he knows what bee feces look like and what he saw was not bee feces. Radiolab is depending on your ignorance so they can commit journalistic fraud. If you understood Hmong, you will be able to hear Radiolab deliberately left out Eng’s arguments against the alleged bee feces.

Jay Z: you sound like you are a smart person but yet you take the words of two journalists who have done poor research and broken journalism ethics. Do your own research on the Yellow Rain and you'll find out the "science" behind this is inclusive. Journalists and scientists are not infallible and they have in fact been wrong before.

Nov. 09 2012 01:08 AM
Joey Z

I liked the Yellow Rain segment and thought it had scientific, human and political aspects that were of great interest. The historical context of the yellow rain controversy and its use for political purpose are fascinating. Radiolab’s interview of Eng Yang and his niece Kalia Yang was an important addition to the piece by introducing us to the tragedy of the Hmong genocide, which so far has been largely ignored. The interview’s end with the spontaneous emotional outburst of Kalia Yang powerfully drove the notion that genocide survivors and their loved ones carry long lasting and deep emotional scars. Listening to the podcast I felt tremendous instinctive empathy with the Hmong’s plight. Still, I did not feel Robert’s pursuit of a scientific answer to the question of whether the yellow rain was toxic was dismissive of the Hmong experience. It is not unreasonable to believe that eyewitness reports can be distorted by the chaos and confusion of war. Whether the yellow rain was or was not toxic, as Kalia said, is semantics when it comes to the suffering of the Hmong, which was all too real. Kalia and her uncle, a genocide survivor, perceived the questioning as hurtful so regardless of intentions on both sides, the apologies provided by Robert and WNYC were definitely needed and the right thing to do.
I also recently read the article by Kalia Yang in Hyphen magazine attacking radiolab as racist Kalia and her uncle are fully committed to the belief that the yellow rain was a chemical agent and part of the genocide of the Hmong. They strongly reject that others, mostly scientists unbiased by the Yang’s tragic history, would consider that the accumulated evidence strongly argues against such a notion. Kalia believes the radiolab team was racist because they edited information she presented. She thinks their editing and Robert’s insistent questioning during the interview reflect racism, the fact that she is a weak “woman of color” while Robert and the radiolab team are privileged “white” people. Pointing out what she perceived as a wrong is one thing; calling people names like racist is another and brings into question her credibility. Especially that Kalia also makes blatant and in my view inappropriate use of the sympathy card. She starts her accusatory article titled “radiolab, the science of racism” by stating “I was pregnant” and then proceeds in an emotional, self-pitying tone to describe her painful miscarriage and interview experiences. Why mix the two and what are we supposed to think? Kalia is understandably passionate about sharing her heritage and the tragic history of her people but I wish she would adopt a less hypersensitive and more constructive tone that is more conducive to dialog.

Nov. 08 2012 01:05 PM
JD from Arlington, VA

Not feeling this apology. I used to love this podcast, but now I feel like I am seeing the true personalities behind this show for the first time. I like the information I just don't like the people delivering it. Peace out Radiolabs.

Nov. 07 2012 01:35 PM
sulmer from Jerusalem, Israel

I listened to this story for the first time last night, and in the part of the interview where Robert was directly pressing for evidence connecting the yellow rain to sickness and death my first thought was 'he is pushing much harder than I would' and my second thought was 'this is what makes him a great journalist'. My emotional response was to back off and let the interviewees' narrative prevail, but when I'd identified that as an emotional response I thought, 'actually, this is really good journalism and there is no benefit to the interviewees or the audience to let a possibly false narrative prevail just because it is becoming uncomfortable to listen to'.

It makes sense to me that the Hmong want to be heard, and it also makes sense to me that Radiolab is a science show and is interested in evidence of correlation and causality. It doesn't make sense to me that Radiolab should stop being scientific the minute it realises that an interview subject wants to have his or her loss and grief validated. Yes the Hmong need, and I hope receive, validation. But Radiolab can validate the loss without endorsing a narrative about poisonous yellow rain if there is no other support for the poisonous yellow rain theory. It would have been great to hear in the interview a validation of the loss the community experienced, and I think that Radiolab is capable of both validating those feelings and maintaining an independent stance about what caused those lives to be lost. I'm actually sorry to read that Robert made an apology, because I really admired in that interview that he was able to ask for more evidence and not be pushed into accepting a theory for which there appeared to be no evidence. I would love to see the Hmong community's story picked up in a non-scientific forum to hear more about how these experiences affected and shape the community today.

Nov. 07 2012 06:59 AM
Kurt Nemes from washington, dc

Robert's apology is not really one. "It was not my intent..." just doesn't do it. It blames her and her uncle instead of accepting responsibility for your actions. You pushed too hard for the truth? No you pushed to hard for your ego, smugness, and disinterested irony. Ooh, so edgy. According to her account in an Asian American magazine, you guys did not look into studies that questioned the Harvard study, her uncle's credibility (helping war crimes investigators), and Hmong's knowledge of bees. I think that Robert should resign. I love Jad, but Robert's ego poison's just about every episode.

Nov. 07 2012 04:32 AM
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

I would simply like to respond to the claim that bias does not exist in science, bias does not exist in the presentation of this story, and the suggestion that white/western privilege is a myth. I am a professional mathematician and just returned from an international conference on (my particular area of) mathematics. So I am intimately familiar with logic and the notion of objectivity. I can tell you, simply, that your wrong. Scientists are wrong all of the time, about all sorts of things. Even fancy people at Harvard, who have worked very hard and deserve respect, can be wrong. The notion that an institution completely dominated by one group of people with one specific perspective, in this case white people, can be completely objective is ludicrous and narcissistic. The idea that two reporters can study a story for a little while and come to some conclusion about the "fact" of the matter is also ludicrous and narcissistic.
I don't know who is right or wrong with respect to the yellow rain thing. I do know, however, that a story was aired in which the presenters behaved in an arrogant and dismissive manner. I know that that story was later edited to make these people look better, and make the Yangs look like they're complaining about nothing. What the folks at radiolab should do is make the original story available, acknowledge that their treatment of the Yang's was inappropriate and dismissive (in text), and take some actions in order better understand/acknowledge the complaints of the Yangs (and a great number of other people) with respect to race. I think that would strengthen the relationship between radiolab and its listeners, and also serve to further empower and inform the presenters themselves.

Nov. 04 2012 03:09 PM
Cody Jennings from Shreveport, LA

all publicity is good publicity

Nov. 04 2012 01:01 PM

I agree that Robert could have shown more empathy and been more gentle in this interview. But aside from that valid critique of his tone-deaf pushiness, I cannot condone all this furor. Especially that which is directed at science and empiricism.

I just can't accept those critiques that suggest science is somehow "western," "white," "masculine" or for the "privileged." Honestly, that's offensive to everyone. To asians, blacks, whites, women, men, gays, the poor, the middle class... to everybody.

The scientific method is for all of us. It is not white or western, asian or eastern, for men or for women. It knows no religion and no politics, and it knows no boundaries of race or of class.

Trying to uncover factual truths is sometimes painful. Sometimes "emotional truth" lies in stark difference to factual truth. That was the whole point of this episode, and in showing that, it succeeded.

Those of us who find ourselves closed off to overwhelming evidence are not to be assumed bad or dumb or greedy or foolish. Sometimes they are innocent people, who have suffered, just like the Hmong. They are our husbands and wives and parents and children and ourselves.

The resistance to overwhelming evidence on the part of these interviewees does not make them bad or weak or stupid or less than anyone. It makes them just like all of us -- It makes them human. That was my take-away from the episode.

I agree with Robert's point, although not his tone or the edgy insistence he showed to people in pain. But I did not come away feeling the Hmong's suffering had been lessened in any way in my eyes.

This episode only made their suffering more real to me, more sad, more human, and more unfortunate. In the end I could identify with them. I know just how hard it can be to reconcile emotional truth with the evidence that appears.

I may not have ever suffered like the Hmong, but for a moment, I almost knew what it felt like. Thank you for sharing this story. All parts of it.

Nov. 04 2012 02:07 AM
bruce norris from nyc

As a long time Radiolab listener and fan, I'm slightly appalled by the outcry over this segment. While it's true that the segment was deeply uncomfortable... Wasn't that partly the point? Yes, there are real lives that were affected by the events being interrogated, and yes the emotions of the Yangs were painful and palpable, but let's please recall that Radiolab, knowing these things went ahead and AIRED THE SEGMENT. For that - which in and of itself should constitute some admission of responsibility - Radiolab deserves credit and respect.
The point of the segment - clearly lost on some - was that there is a difference between fact and feelings. I happen to be a lefty, in good ol' left-leaning NYC, but one way in which the political right has an advantage over those of us on the left is that the right frequently makes a point of refusing to kowtow to sensitivities. This allows them a distinct rhetorical advantage over us on the left, who are often highly censorious and restrictive about what may or may not be asked. We restrict our discourse out of deference to those emotions, but far too often what we inadvertently create is a kind of rule by the most sensitive. In other words, if the arrival of tears always signals the end of our ability to ask questions, how do we ever get to the facts? Some in their comments have suggested this is a fair trade-off. But I would say this - let's take a poll: How many people privately suspect that Mr. Yang's experience of events was - despite his tears - empirically speaking, wrong? And if you answer yes, the next question is: Should further questioning, then, be disallowed when it causes pain? Because if we consistently defer to emotion, we may be left with a compelling or moving or heartwarming version of events, but that version will be wrong. We'll be obligated to accept dangerous fantasies, such as the idea that some bee crap is chemical warfare. And now to see that a petition is circulating to compel NPR to attend a sensitivity meeting with APIA - that kind of crap only gives credence to right's belief that we are a bunch of pious scolds. Jesus - Krulwich apologized. Now let it go.

Nov. 03 2012 11:28 PM

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:

Nov. 03 2012 09:56 PM
Andy Cottard from Aspen, CO

Here's some history:
2011: Jad of RadioLab wins a MacArthur Fellowship, otherwise known as the Genius Award, which comes with a $500,000 prize.
2012: RadioLab becomes arrogant, lazy, reckless and defensive.

Here's some math:
Jad + $500K + unprecedented attention & acclaim + a slightly premature reward + no credit whatsoever to the show's co-host or team
= the tone-deaf pseudo science we've been seeing since this year, with Jad as ringmaster of all the insults.

Here's some truth:
Jad + Robert seem in the last year to have been leeched of all their humanity, decency, and valor.
Real men accept their mistakes and die on their swords.
Public radio girly-men hide behind their blogs and their tweets, standing up for nonsense (Jonah L's plagiarism, Robert K's incivility) when everyone's telling them to sit the f**k down and APOLOGIZE.

Were you 2 never on a team, in a frat, on a battlefield, SOMETHING that makes you think hard when your brothers are telling you you're wrong???

Nov. 03 2012 09:05 PM

Hi Robart,

I was happy when you tried your best to clarify the issue. I considered it as a brave action. Most people want to accept and hear what is comforting. But this is a science podcast. If you stop seeking truth, the existence of this podcast lose the meaning. Keep up the great jobs!

Nov. 03 2012 06:59 PM
Pierre from Montreal

Even if it was certain to raise controversy, I found that this Yellow Rain story is one of the bravest and poignant radio pieces I ever heard.

You know, the safest route would have been to drop the story altogether after the dead end of the survivors' interview.

One the contrary, the Radiolab team acknowledged what happened and openly and frankly discussed it for us as a way to illustrate the complex nature of reality.

One point on which I disagree with Jad and Robert is when they imply that there can be conflicting truths. This is a too easy cope out. On the contrary, my take is that universe/reality is one and undividable; it is rather our humain thinking processes that have difficulty dealing with its complexity. There is no paradox in the universe, but only in our minds. Paradoxes only points in directions where our minds should explore more.

Please Radiolab, continue to be bold and brave!

Nov. 03 2012 10:46 AM

I am a big fan of the show, and I wish that after listening to the podcast I would feel differently, but I do think the show was highly insensitive to the Yang's side of the story and the Hmong tragedy. I can't stop to think that Eng Yang survived genocide and saw war horrors we cannot even dream of.

I think the treatment of the Hmong saga is within a fine line of crossing to racism. I just ask myself: had Robert talked to a Holocaust survivor, would he ever had the audacity of making this questions on the same tone? I can't imagine a reporter with a good reputation in our days asking a holocaust survivor things like: "But, did you see the corpses being burned with your own eyes?", or "did you smell the gas with your own nose?". So, why is pushing a Hmong survivor to answer those question apparently fine? I can't help myself but think that is okay to push because they are a weak minority, poor and with no political power in our globalized planet.

I understand that they received the questions in advance, and they did answer those questions, but they were pushed over and over to answer the same questions. The fact that their affiliations were never mentioned was also very disturbing, to me, it comes as a way to put them as the "natives" or "savages" which only rely on weak traditional knowledge which powerful white male scientists from ivy towers can easily prove false.

Nov. 02 2012 03:04 PM

I really don't understand the harsh words laid at Robert. What I heard in this piece was him being blunt and brutal in his HONESTY. It's very hard to learn the truth about something that is so painful, something where you may have been misled, like the Yang family might have been. But his comments simply were being honest about the nature of TRUTH. The Yang truth, the Hmong truth, Reagan's truth, and what the "absolute" truth might be. I think we all need to calm down and take a step back and listen.

Nov. 01 2012 06:53 PM
Paul from St. Paul, MN

@James from Dallas
May I please ask on what basis you "know" that Robert was right and Eng was wrong? Because if it's only form what you heard on the program, ,you need to do more homework.
This is the greatest offense of this segment, in my opinion. If people only think that Robert was rude, then this too is the fault of RadioLab, which sold the bee dung theory as fact when it is NOT. It's a working theory but one that has been legitimately questioned by more recent working, such as that found in “Politics & the Life Sciences,” 24 August 2007 (in other words, the research is 25 years newer than the bee crap theory, and uses sources either unavailable to or unused by Meselson and Seeley) The fact that RadioLab cherry-picked the evidence to fit their predetermined narrative (That rascal Reagan got us all excited about chemical weapons and it turned out it was only bee crap) is the real "sin" of this piece. The fact that it encouraged you to provide such a certain assessment of Krulwich vs. Yang shows they succeeded.

Nov. 01 2012 01:50 PM
Diane from MN


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

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

Dear Mr. Woods and Mr. Cappello,

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

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

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


[Your Name]

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

Nov. 01 2012 01:07 PM

Nov. 01 2012 03:36 AM
Lilly from Bay Area

Having enjoyed listening to Radiolab for years after a friend introduced me to it, I can safely say that I can no longer continue to listen or recommend it to others. It was painful to hear the interview, and then listen to another privileged white male entirely discount the Yangs and the painful experience of the Hmong people, instead turning to the story of Reagan and how his role in the segment is so much more interesting as it is Western. Time and time again, the perspective and suffering of non-Western people is interesting only as a small footnote in Western history. It is sickening to hear this from a podcast that I used to respect greatly.

I had always noted the way in which it seemed to be very slickly produced and edited, with sound effects added in carefully and tightly controlled pacing to build suspense, but the content seemed to be genuine. Seems that this podcast is just another casualty of the media today, intended to entertain at all costs and reinforce both the presenter's and assumed audience's prejudices about the role of the West in the world. Anything to tell a story, and the West is always right.

You assumed your audience would let this one slide, and you know what happens when you assume.

Also, anyone reading about this should read this article:

Nov. 01 2012 02:46 AM
James from Dallas

Alright, guys. I don't often comment on sites on the Internet for we all know down that way lies madness, but I'm pretty sure y'all just heard someone crying and are having a knee-jerk emotional response. Mr. Yang was incorrect and that's why Robert pushed him.
This was difficult for him and his niece to accept, but that's why they put this segment in the episode. It's saying that truth can have this effect. Had he done the same thing to a fundamentalist Christian I can guarandamntee not one of you would be attacking them like this. In fact, whenever Robert even mentions his own faith, I've seen comments in here telling him to "go back to Fox News" or something to that effect. And Robert is the good kind of Christian.
I honestly cannot see how the Radiolab audience can be so closed-minded. To quote Usher, from his seminal 2004 album "Confessions," truth hurts. Is there a more interactive forum that has been set up for this?

Oct. 31 2012 06:00 PM

I am baffled as to why you wouldn't have made the story of the Yangs and the Hmong genocide its own RadioLab episode, or its own short piece. Just taken it wholesale out of the production of "The Fact of the Matter", devoted time and energy to telling the story right.

I suppose this is my own ethical code talking. I tend to believe that, when faced with an atrocity, a person's priorities *should* shift. Genocide is orders of magnitude more important than hypothetical "what if" debates about whether a man saw a plane five minutes before a canister dropped. When faced with an atrocity, you *should* reorient yourself, so that the most important thing is the witnessing of that tragedy, the healing of the survivors, and the search for justice. Why is anything else more important? I don't get it.

To me, it would have been the easiest thing in the world to make the Yellow Rain piece about the conflict between a minority community's grief and despair, and a larger country's need for one single right answer to one single problem. It would have been easy to make a short piece or a long episode about the genocide of the Hmong, and use the story of Yellow Rain itself to highlight how profound tragedies can get lost in the larger political games that nations play. You could have included the work of Ann Fadiman and Dwight Conquergood, who have studied the Hmong and their struggle to survive their extraordinary trauma. That would have been a phenomenal episode. I would have loved to hear that, and it would have seemed, to me, like another in a long line of phenomenal RadioLab episodes.

I mentioned this idea to a friend of mine, and he said, "But the episode was about objective truth." Yes, it was, and that story didn't belong in that episode. You have produced smaller podcasts about a woman slipping into dementia, about sea kelp, about a man's insomnia, about color, about the music of Bolero, about the game of Tic Tac Toe, about stories of death. Why could you not make Yellow Rain its own story, separate from the rest of this episode? It would have been so easy, and made so much more sense.

Your Yellow Rain piece is, at the end of the day, about President Reagan, white scientists, and your own need for an answer, rather than about what the Hmong suffered. Because the story is framed so that the objective truth of what Yellow Rain was is the final question -- rather than the death, violence, and loss visited on an entire cultural group -- you place the Yangs and the Hmong people squarely in the role of side characters in the overarching drama of the Cold War. Your story would have been disrespectful to them even if you hadn't interrogated Eng Yang and Kao Kalia Yang until Kalia was brought to tears. That you still don't see this after hundreds of comments and emails is beyond my comprehension.

Oct. 31 2012 03:29 AM

This is literally heartbreaking. I've listened to your podcast religiously for YEARS. I can actually track different stages of my own growth as a person using memory markers of long drives down I-81 to X or Y episode. (Where were you when you heard "Bugs"??) And I really, really want to keep doing that.

But if you all refuse to take responsibility -- which would include, at a minimum, responding to the dozen or so dickish actions performed by Robert and your staff as alleged in the Hyphen Magazine article -- I've got to give up RadioLab. There is too much whitewashing of racist bullshit in other science podcasts, and reading that article was just infuriating.

I'm posting this comment because I WANTED to move on, and tried listening to the new episode, but I couldn't stop thinking about what a terrible hatchet job you all pulled. It's beyond gross. All I could think while listening was how disappointing it is to believe now that you're just pretending not to be assholes. PLEASE. Take responsibility, or actually deny each accusation. But don't let this end with your non-apologies.

Oct. 30 2012 08:47 PM

Andrew from Berkeley, CA:

Best comment of all I've read. Sums up the "fact of the matter" perfectly.

Oct. 30 2012 07:50 PM

Here is the "truth of the matter":

Oct. 30 2012 04:11 PM
Michael Acanfora from Denver

I am a huge fan of the RadioLab but this episode has brought a lot of questions to light for me over the cost/benefit of a highly entertaining and highly edited program which at its core is supposed to represent not just excellent journalism but excellent science and a rigorous search for philosophical truths. I think at this point the only way to get to "The Fact of the Matter" is with a release of the entire interview. Everyone knows that RadioLab uses a lot of editing in telling their stories and fans of the show trust the hosts to do so fairly and honestly. At this point I have lost trust in the editing process at radioLab, the only way to restore that is by being open and honest. It seems that Robert and Pat made a mistake; they didn't realize the emotional cost of the conversation they were having because it had no cost to them. They now need to face that mistake: make a full unqualified apology, release the full interview, and release unedited documents between RadioLab and the Yang family. It is only by facing our mistakes that we can move past them. Just look to Ira's episode on how This American Life got it wrong in China as an example. Do the right thing guys; face the criticism, put it all out there, and apologize. Then we can all move on.

Oct. 30 2012 04:00 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 01:25 AM
Katie Sparrow from Seattle

I understand that Radiolab is beloved and lots of folks want to defend Robert. He's a nice white guy, right? He can't do anything racist.
And I also understand that lots of folks don't understand how power, race, and truth interact in this country and around the world as far as who gets heard, who is assumed to know things, and who not. But dude? Ignoring evidence because you assume the source is not telling the truth? That's anti-science, racist, and soooooo lame.

Oct. 29 2012 03:30 PM

probably would be a good idea to address this a bit more fully in the wake of kalia's hyphen article. maybe. maybe instead of addressing it on third party sites. i dunno. just spitballing here. i'm not as good at pr as radiolab.

Oct. 29 2012 10:11 AM
Andrew from Berkeley, CA

I failed to emphasize how much I believe that Radiolab had the best of intentions in this show. I wish I had been clear in my original post.

Oct. 29 2012 12:57 AM

An apology is not even necessary. The only thing that shocks or surprises me is the type of hyperbolic discussion in this post. The story achieved its goal of exploring "the truth of the matter" - the subjectivity inherent in what many may consider to be "fact" or "the truth." These truths or facts are deeply tied into the perspective and world view of the person. We see this conflict come to a head in this interview, but not in a disrespectful or purposefully hurtful manner. The visceral emotional reaction that each side has just serves to emphasize the point of the entire production - that objective facts may not actually exist; that the perception of fact or truth regardless of their objective existence routinely differs between individuals and that this difference of perception often results in misunderstanding or open conflict. Much in the same vain, I am sure that the majority of the respondents to this story are merely using the "facts" of what happened to legitimize and advance whatever world view or perspective they hold (or at least whatever they remember from their cultural anthropology course).

Oct. 28 2012 09:56 PM
Andrew from Berkeley, CA

The piece serves to highlight something that Radiolab does not do well. When I first learned of Radiolab, I understood it to be a very interesting science show (with occasional music segments), and I think at the core this is what it is. Science in the abstract is what Radiolab does very very well. I appreciate that Radiolab is willing to engage the world beyond the scope of science, but I think that requires some modification of your approach. You clearly wanted to keep this story in the mold that you have established, but by trying to remain clinical, you have come across as incredibly insensitive. In the future, I think it would be wise to more directly acknowledge that the fact that you're after is a footnote of something much larger and more devastating. I don't think that most people would expect you to produce "a comprehensive story of the tragedy that befell the Hmong during those years," but you can't just ignore it.

For some reason I think of the movie Rushmore (forgive the tangent, please). There is a point where Bill Murray and Jason Schwartzman are competing with one another. Both are in love with a teacher. They go back and forth playing their games and upping the ante each time. And then, eventually, there is a moment where the teacher confronts Max (Jason's character) in a way that feels very real and emotional, and suddenly you realize how petty the game had been. There is a person there who had been ignored, and who has a say in all of this. This is to say that I love Radiolab, but your interests are yours, and some occasional deference to larger concerns would be very much appreciated in the future.

Oct. 28 2012 08:56 PM
Sarah from US

Dear Robert and Jad,

You should write an actual apology. This is really sad, guys.


Oct. 28 2012 07:39 PM
Laura from Tuscaloosa, AL

Silenced by RadioLab in the two post-interview segements, find Kao Kalia Yang's description of events here:

Oct. 28 2012 10:35 AM

The real error hear was using the genocide of the Hmong people to augment a 'cutesy' story about bee shit and Reagan. The lack of empathy that Krulwich displayed towards Mr. Yang and his subsequent apology is not his most egregious journalistic misstep. The content of the original piece and post-script segments spend little to no time detailing the persecution of the Hmong, who were acting as American allies, and instead celebrates the Ivy League scholars who so "cleverly" discovered that what was believed to be chemical was, in fact, bee shit. Why didn't they invite the Yangs back on the show to apologize? I am incredibly disappointed in Radio Lab for indulging in such American exceptionalism. This makes me realize the value of Ira Glass and "This American Life". They would never have made such a huge mistake. I wouldn't be sad to see Krulwich go.

Oct. 28 2012 10:25 AM

Another commenter really hit the nail on the head to the problem with the segment.

"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."

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 04:17 AM
Jasmine from Los Angeles, CA

I love radiolab and I love your work. Nothing has changed. Keep doing what you do best.

Oct. 28 2012 03:50 AM
Catherine from Cambridge

This is my second comment on this thread, I have to say this story won't leave my mind for better or worse because of the issues it brings up around the nature of cultural production today. I think one can definitely say in this case that the biases that emerged from the author's (Radio Lab) privileged position as white, western, media producers, and mostly male were not examined either in the making of the story or in the patchy attempts at cleaning it up after a harsh public reaction--it was certainly not a self-reflexive performance by any means. I am bothered though because I like Radio Lab and I think your mastery of the medium of radio and skill at storytelling are admirable. So I have been thinking about the size of the claim you were making. If I understand correctly, Radio Lab used to take much longer to produce each show and now the speed of production is up (I may or may not be correct about this). Either way if you had limited time to do your radio segment and you chose to do a story which involved very heavy themes, genocide, the production of chemical weapons, potentially disastrous mistakes that may or may not have been made on the part of the US government, a complex geopolitical moment where even the very notion of war and its morality was being redefined both by national leaders and in the social consciousness, etc.. I think you bit off more than you could chew. In his fiction writing classes Junot Diaz always tells his students that it is a really bad idea, and almost impossible, to kill someone off in a five page story -- there just isn't enough room or time to explain something as weighty as a murder in five pages. I think its a reminder for anyone who crafts narrative that there is a need to be careful about the size of the claim you are making and if you don't have time to properly understand the sources you are dealing with maybe you should edit yourselves either by cutting the project or by taking much much longer to do it (especially if it is something you truly stand behind).

Oct. 28 2012 12:07 AM
Irie from Orlando, FL, USA

After listening to the Yellow Rain segment, this apology, and Ms. Yang's account at: , I can't see Radiolab in the same light again...sad disillusionment.

Oct. 27 2012 06:45 PM
Erwin from Ann Arbor

To echo other comments: This is not an apology.

You should look up apology in the dictionary, reevaluate what you wrote, and then stop trying to defend yourself.

Oct. 27 2012 05:33 PM
Eddie from New York

You are really over-rationalizing if you mean to suggest that, by so offending the Yangs, that Robert and RadioLab deserve some credit by bringing attention to the Hmong people. That's just ridiculous. You must really want to defend RadioLab.

Oct. 27 2012 01:18 PM

I want to give Robert some POSITIVE feedback on his apology. It is really surprising that so many people are hammering at him for the Yellow Rain segment. I must admit that I too was angered and offended by not just his, but everyone's insensitivity to the Yangs, but I DID understand that they had told a lot of the Hmong story during the podcast, and I just hoped that RadioLab had given the Yangs a formal apology. I still hope so. However, consider that by being so harsh with them, RadioLab probably got a lot of people on their side and interested in their story. The fact that Robert wrote an apology (and I don't think he is the ONLY one who should apologize) and is now being attacked by listeners really makes me sad. Robert Krulwich is an excellent journalist, funny, human and fair. Never before have I had any reason to question his work, and one mistake isn't enough to spur claims from people that RadioLab should hire someone else. Robert IS this show, as Jad is this show, and anyone else would not be able to fill the gap. In any case he have my continued support and the support of many others. Please keep being the Robert you have always been!

Oct. 26 2012 09:46 PM
MikeK from Los Angeles

I don't know that anymore can be added other than: Civility- at least the kind understood by the Hmong people and Western males like yourself- would demand that you personally and face-to-face offer an unequivocated and lean apology (unlike the prevarication in your post) with a request for forgiveness. If in doubt, ask Ms. Yang for wisdom on how to make such an attempt at reconciliation.

I will suggest that you will be astonished by the civility and the totality of the response of Mr. Yang and his niece, the award-winning author and activist, Ms. Yang.

Oct. 26 2012 07:56 PM
jacqueline from atlanta

Ugh. "Oddly angry" seems to apply to many white males when confronting women or people of color who react to their claims and queries with anything less than deference. While I don't necessarily agree that this betrays latent racism, I do believe it is evidence of your cultural ignorance and perhaps unconscious sense of superiority. Is science an area that only Westerner's can claim authority over? Is knowledge? Is truth? That's what the segment suggested. And your reaction to a crying woman smacked of sexism to me. She can't be hurt because her long-suffering uncle is dying to tell his truth and is met with a bull-headed "truth fascist?" She's automatically got an agenda to hijack YOUR story? I'm sure if you could have seen the faces of the people you were talking to as they reacted in horror with each question like I did, you might have stopped before it had to get to that point. Or you might have realized there are better ways of asking someone to explain what they saw and describe particular observations that led them to make their conclusions. The 10 year olds I work with have more tact.

Furthermore, I find it funny how Errol Morris (whose work I've long appreciated) got to turn his story of an inconsequential goosehunt into one about the father he never knew -- a much more compelling truth -- but when presented with the Hmong people's bigger truth, you accuse the Yangs of trying to monopolize the story. Shameful.

What's apparent is that Radiolab could benefit from a more diverse set of minds and perspectives. How could you be so unprepared to interview a trauma survivor? How dare you prod him in your "scientific" pursuit more than you questioned the Harvard scientists making claims about bee poop? The tone throughout the segment is so disgustingly unaware of the position of privilege through which you viewed this story and the truth you sought to uncover. Maybe save discussions with trauma survivors for episodes about trauma instead of reminding these people that the only time Westerners have any interest in the Hmong plight is when it serves their own means.

Lastly, since I haven't seen anyone else mention it -- from what wasn't edited out of the broadcast you decidedly left in the insulting comments from the CIA agent belittling the areas he visited as "boonies" and "jungle backwaters" -- which Pat LAUGHED about during the exchange. I suppose that was all of the information we needed to know about where the "Hmong guy" was coming from. Unbelievable. Great way to automatically discredit anything Eng said, since obviously indigenous knowledge is no match for Western science.


Seriously, hire somebody who doesn't have an empathy deficiency. PLEASE.

Oct. 26 2012 03:56 PM
Raymond from New York

This isn't an apology.

You went into the interview already convinced on an answer, and you just wanted the Hmong interviewees to play along and corroborate your conclusions. When they didn't, you pushed them harder, and made them look speciously foolish. Is that really the search for "truth?" How pretentious and arrogant this comes off?

Based on what you wrote here, you sound like you feel sorry about your tone. If you think your only fault was that you didn't phrase things as nicely as you could have, then you are missing the point.

Oct. 26 2012 01:47 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:,85810/

Oct. 26 2012 01:29 PM
Doyle from Washington DC

This isn't an apology.

Oct. 26 2012 12:00 PM
FM from NYC

I am absolutely horrified. I didn't get to listen the original podcast, but even the edited version that is supposed to make up for past wrongs is absolutely horrendous. "What we wanted to find out was whether any witnesses saw a bomb open up and yellow rain come out." Are you (bee)shitting me? During wartime, who is going to be sitting around looking up at bombs and seeing if yellow substance is dropping out? If you can do that during wartime, you must want to die, which is ludicrous. The prejudices and preconceptions you had going into this interview were so clear from the start. Even before the Yangs began talking, there is this light-hearted take on the entire Yellow Rain controversy. "What? They found chemicals before, but now it's bee poop?!?!" Take journalism a little more seriously, please. We already have enough crap (no pun intended) out there. Give us something real. And to boot, give us a real apology. This is pure egotism and narcissism at its best.
And I have to echo Ms. Yang's article, as well as the other online commentators, that this is racism any way you look at it. Just look at the power imbalance alone. Interviewer-interviewee. Who gets to edit the final product? Who gets to set the tone? Don't insert bigotry into journalism, please.

Oct. 26 2012 01:38 AM
Gene from Monreal

I'm turned off even more from this terrible apology.

At this point no one cares about your journalistic mandate for the truth. A sincere apology to Mr. Yang and his family is what you need to post.

Your search for the truth in this story has completely lost credibility after you successfully proved that you're a jerk.

Oct. 25 2012 03:37 PM
Barry from Berkeley, CA

Robert and Jad, I don't know if you'll see this, but I wanted to say that the Yellow Rain story was very interesting and I appreciated that you left such a difficult interview in the mix.

Robert, I agree that you were angry, but that's understandable. You were seeking to validate a very specific piece of information. Your interviewees knew that going in, I would imagine, yet they grew defensive when you asked for proof. Based on the interview it seems that while they claimed to know that chemical weapons were used, all of the proof they claimed was hearsay. Faced with such certainty on the topic of discussion it seems logical and right for Robert to press the question.

The Hmong had a terrible time during and after the war and very little of that had anything to do with chemical weapons or bee poop. To conclude that the stories of chemical warfare are no more than that is not disrespectful. It is honest and does not effect in any way the atrocities and abuses that can be documented and will stand up to fact checking.

Listening to it the first time, I too felt Ms. Yang was attempting to dictate the discussion and there's nothing wrong with pointing that out. She wanted to spread the story of the tribulations of the Hmong people, knowing that that was not the real focus of the interview. It was well-meant and understandable and addressed a bigger perhaps more important truth, but it was still an attempt at highjacking and made it seem that she was not interested in the truth behind the yellow rain stories, but in making you and your listeners feel bad for seeking that truth if it somehow could be construed as reflecting badly on the Hmong. Faced with her attempts to shift the topic away from that agreed upon, it makes sense that you would be frustrated and perhaps even angry.

Ultimately, if there is any fault for this with RadioLab it is perhaps in failing to clarify sufficiently the goals of the interview, though from my perspective it seems that you were pretty clear.

If the yellow rain really was bee poop, that should be known. If it was chemical warfare, that too should be known. If the Hmong have depended on hearsay in these stories, it's okay to point that out. High stress long term situations often lead to those kinds of story-telling and theorizing. It does not diminish the atrocities that did actually occur.

Oct. 25 2012 02:45 PM
Lyndi from Portland

I'm a long time Radiolab listener and supporter. I have loved this show for years and attended your live show just a few months ago. I was shocked by the Yellow Rain podcast. Not only at Robert's "oddly angry" tone, but by the insensitivity and blatant oppression that happened so openly in the Yellow Rain story. Please Radiolab, make this right! Make a real apology for your actions to the Yangs. Stop arguing about who said what when and what emails were sent. Just admit you were wrong. I know this has been said before, but This American Life has some good examples of ways to handle corrections. I really want to continue to listen to Radiolab and I need more from ya'll to feel ok about this one.

Oct. 25 2012 01:38 PM

The hosts behaved badly even IF Mr. Yang were totally wrong. I would expect the folks at Radiolab to know enough about eyewitness testimony and the nature of memory to know that there are a lot of important reasons why Mr. Yang was predisposed to experience the event as chemical warfare, and for the memory of it as such to be strengthened over time.

1. On being predisposed to experience the event as chemical warfare. Prior to the war the Hmong people lived in remote subsistance farming villages. Suddenly they are being bombed, asked to fight, and hearing things (and maybe even experiencing) defoliants such as Agent Orange being dumped on jungles. Skip ahead. They are in the jungle. Yellow spots appear everywhere. People are dying. Whether they saw planes or not it makes plenty of sense for the yellow spots to be interpreted as causing harm.

2. There is no cognitive psychologist worth his or her salt that would claim that people have verbatim memory of life events. Scientific consensus is that memory is constructive, fragile, and prone to suggestion. Given that, why would Robert badger an eyewitness about whether he saw a plane in a jungle decades ago? Even if, as the hosts suggest, the whole story WAS incorrect, years of oral history and retelling of the chemical warfare version of things would result in compelling memories to support that version.

Finally, I don't understand what the hosts expected to gain from their conversation with Mr. Yang. Given that they were convinced of their version of events, and that they knew what Mr. Yang's story would be, what is the best case scenario? Perhaps they hoped Mr. Yang would respond like this:
"Well yes, maybe there wasn't an airplane! Boy, we sure have learned a lot about the nature of truth. No one in this country knows about the abject suffering my people experienced, but at least now they know that it's slightly less bad than we were saying it was before! Still pretty terrible though."

Oct. 25 2012 01:31 PM


Unfortunately... we do not know what Robert's response would have been. I would like to think it would have sparked greater discussion. Though I appreciate the Coen Brothers reference, I have to believe, Robert would have had something more to contribute than that.

Oct. 25 2012 01:23 PM


Point well taken. Calling into question the journalistic integrity of an individual, who is in fact a journalist by trade, is not only fair... but part of the checks and balances that we must engage in if we wish to have a level of accountability. Perhaps what I find most unpalatable is the talk of racism and sexism. I simply do not see an evidence to suggest that either were in play. The "gotcha" moment, and manufacturing of drama... though I don't necessarily cede that was the proscribed intent... is clearly plausible.

Oct. 25 2012 01:19 PM


respectfully, just because other media outlets have a bias going into a story doesn't mean robert's off the hook. and if the story was about the yellow rain and not the hmong tragedy, why interview eng at all? the interview happened so late in the production of the story that pat told kalia he didn't have time to review materials she offered just after the interview took place. if that was the case, what good was the interview other than for a gotcha moment? clearly it didn't matter what eng could contribute because there was no time to do any actual research according to pat. i'm left to assume robert recorded the interview simply to challenge eng's reality, and the fact that he was introduced as "hmong guy" and there was no mention of his role documenting the hmong experience for the thai government seems like a way of further clouding his credibility.

what if eng had said "yes, actually, i DID see the yellow rain fall from planes?" would robert's response have been any different, really? or would it have just been worth a "well, that's just like, your opinion, man?"

Oct. 25 2012 12:02 PM
Jordan from Tampa

I am rather disappointed by the vast majority of comments posted here. The calls of racism and sexism seem entirely inappropriate, and propagate the unhealthiest forms of ethnocentrism and misplaced misogyny. There is no question that Mr. Krulwich comes off as unemphatic at best and boorish at worst, but, accusing him of either sexism or racism in view of his full body of work is irresponsible and absurd. Mr. Krulwich is both journalist and entertainer, and in my opinion was fulfilling his obligation to both. I do cede that confirmation bias of his opinion did encroach upon his journalistic integrity, but, no more so than many other more such "credible" news outlets. We must remember, this story was about the origin of "yellow" rain and not the Hmong tragedy. Unfortunately, the Hmong tragedy, was merely an element of this particular segment. I agree emphatically that Hmong deserve to have their story told, and should be able to do so with their own treatment... so that they are the only element to consider. I am not an apologist for Krulwich or Radiolab et al. I just believe that we use words like racism, sexism and bigotry far too often without considering the impact or relevance that they carry. It is easy to give in to one's passions, it is far more difficult to implore one's reason to see above the fray.

Oct. 25 2012 11:29 AM
Ali from United States

1. Write a real apology.
2. Do a show on the Hmong people of Laos.
3. Make this whole thing more prominent on your webpage. Stop hiding. This is a big deal. The rest of your links have about 5 comments each.
4. Do this kind of journalism:
5. Try to write a letter more like this:

Until you lose your ego and remedy this properly, you have officially lost a listener, and a few others I know.

Oct. 25 2012 10:50 AM

wait...did radiolab edit out the part where, right before kalia's "this interview is over" conclusion, robert says something along the lines of "so you never saw the planes. this is all hearsay?" i really don't understand this whitewashing when the show is reaching out trying to say "we're not racist or classist, we swear!" this american life has had its share of f-ups over its nearly 500 episodes, but it owns up to them and even dedicated a show to one of its more notorious mistakes - and even when it pulls the audio completely due to questionable contributions from disgraced contributors like stephen glass, it leaves the transcript up, unedited. but i guess we need a court order for radiolab to do that!

Oct. 25 2012 10:48 AM
Disheartened from Brooklyn

Dear Robert,

The ability to use inquiry and doubt to get to the heart of a thing are the best things about science. And journalism. And radio.

What I find remarkable here is that all the inquiry and doubt was placed onto the eye-witnesses - not the scientists. If science shows treats scientists ... who are far, far, far away from their subject matter ... who are just as often wrong as right ... who with all their facts also have their own set of agendas and biases ... like "truth"-tellers ... and eyewitnesses as somehow deluded ... it is doing a disservice to its own cause of promoting the principles of science.

And if a show that was about the fluidity of truth and reality goes into a conversation with eyewitnesses "knowing" the truth ... trying to prove to them that their reality is actually "reality" ... then why ask them? To use them? To prove a "grander" philosophical point? With what was their life and tragedy. That, my friends, is doing a disservice to the principles of journalism.

And then ... and this is actually the craziest part of all ... to edit that disservice ... to take out your mistake in a media form that allows you to erase your poor judgement ... after it has aired, after it has done damage ... so that(differently from a newspaper or magazine (and even against web etiquette) the new edited version becomes the new "reality" ... becomes the "truth" ... well that my friends is just a disservice to the ethical standards that both science and journalism stand for. It is a disservice to the Radiolab cause.

It is a disservice to us all. Disheartening.

Oct. 25 2012 10:47 AM
Katalina J from Arizona

This podcast was about seeking "Truth" but gave no credence to hundreds of Hmong reports about seeing, hearing, feeling, touching this "Yellow Rain" and gave all credence to a couple of Ivy League professors that this toxic substance was 'bee poop'. Robert K's apology does nothing for me. He apologizes for being 'rude' but he should apologize for presenting his biases under the guise of 'truth'.

I'm incredulous at the lack of reason and can only attribute this to cultural bias. Like the doctor in "Last King in Scotland" said, "Go home and tell them what you see is going on here. You're white. They'll believe you."

In just 2 seconds I can think of several problems with the professors' hypothesis:
1. Hmong are farmers and fisherman who lived primarily in the jungle/woods of Laos. They've lived off the land for generations. If anybody knows the difference between Bee Poop and toxic substances it would be them.
2. This type of "bee poop" has never been seen before or since (bright yellow, dropping in massive waves and shrivels foliage).
3. The "bee poop" coincided with bombings- highly unlikely that swarms of bees would happen to be flying around at same time as the bombardment.
4. By 1980, the Hmong had been dealing with over a decade of war. It's completely INSULTING to state they wouldn't know the difference between death from bombs or dysentery and chemical warfare.

I"m an NPR member AND financially contribute to Podcasts to which I listen (This Am Life and RadioLab). I no longer will listen to RadioLab and will no longer contribute. That's how disgusted I am with Robert K's interview.

Oct. 25 2012 10:32 AM

@Steve just look at Paul from St. Paul's post below. This was racist (in its dismissal of THOUSANDS of eyewitness accounts by misrepresenting and editing the content of an interview with their Hmong guest) AND it poorly represented the research and science regarding yellow rain. Radiolab are the ones who missed the boat- lazy research, lazy journalism, disrespectful racist behavior and attitudes.

Oct. 25 2012 09:44 AM
Steve from Texas

Being victim of horrific crime and injustice does not give one a free pass on truth, honesty, or credibility, especially when this kind of tragedies were often exploited by people to further their own agendas that resulted other crime and injustice being committed. Whether or not yellow rain was a form of chemical weapon should never change the facts that the Hmong people were victims of genocide during that dark chapter of human history. On the other hand, their suffering should not be used to dismiss any inquiries that are somewhat incompatible with the narratives and gloss over the inconsistency as merely "semantics". People venting their outrage at Radio Lab are missing the point.

Oct. 25 2012 09:01 AM

Maybe if you guys had more minority producers on staff, your insensitive tone would have been flagged early on.

And according to this:, it seems like you guys need to practice the diversity hiring your station and NPR preaches.

As "journalists" (or should I say entertainers) working in the public interest, you guys sound very out of touch.

Oct. 25 2012 07:11 AM

This is unbelievable! This is pure garbage! This is the reason why journalism is given a bad name! The way you questioned and had no disregard for the feelings of the Yang family is so insulting and so degrading! Surely you had listened to this segment before you had posted it up and yet you think a simple apology that does not even sound sincere will qualify as a right in the people's eyes? No! You have hurt the feelings of this family who believed that you had good intentions; absolutely horrible. You said that it is your job to ask questions and receive truth? Try going in with an open mind at least rather than being so judgmental and unbelieving. I believe that as a journalist, you should not be biased towards one subject and what you had said, especially at the end of your segment shows that you are not fit to be in the journalism field. You should be ashamed of yourself!

Oct. 25 2012 03:57 AM
Christina from Colorado from Aurora, CO

The problem with Mr. Krulwich's response in the podcast and his subsequent apologies is that he has tunnel-vision and focused on Ms. Yang and Mr' Eng's interview. Instead, he needs to ask himself about the faulty premise of the story, namely that he is dealing with the "truth" or the "fact of the matter".

There are way, way too many gaps in our knowledge to treat "Yellow Rain/Bee Poop/Toxin mixed with Pollen" as anything other than competing theories. The podcast doesn't mention that you examined any documentation from the communist governments. There is no way to examine the US documents because Reagan's papers haven't been declassified yet. One of the "experts" interviewed can't even disclose where he was stationed because he hasn't been cleared to do so. Mr. Eng was an investigator on behalf of the Thai government (which you neglect to mention, did you review his reports before you interviewed him to look for any ways his story may have or have not changed in 20 years? Were there medical studies on the Hmong survivors?

Mr. Eng observed people suffering significant health issues soon after an aircraft flying over head, yet you dismiss his account as "heresay". What about when the chemical weapons expert states that he heard from an associate who heard from an "unnamed" individual "off the record" that we "owe the Russians an apology". Why don't you call that heresay?!

Why did you accept as a basic fact that the Hmong, after living in the area the majority of their lives, wouldn't recognize bee poop? Why did you leave at the part where he discusses their knowledge of bees? Mr. Eng said that the yellow stuff was "burning through the leaves". Does bee poop do that normally? Or are we to believe that Mr. Eng is lying when there is nothing presented in your investigation that even remotely tackles his credibility. Why am I to take the American interviews at face value and question every aspect of Mr' Eng's interview?

In my opinion, the podcasters were so convinced that they held the truth that they were trying to make the interview fit the pre-established narrative. Trying to do so made the interview a utter disaster.

The way this was investigated, conclusions drawn, Robert's claiming that Ms. Yang was being "unfair" to him, and the defensive tone to the apologies, make me question the quality the work done in this podcast.

Oct. 25 2012 02:47 AM

This is utterly heartbreaking. Radiolab, I love you normally. Only you guys could do an episode on sperm and have me bawling.

But this is awful. Like, really, really, really awful. You were totally, completely and deeply disrespectful of "Homng guy" and "his niece" and I can't believe that anybody is making excuses for you. I rant about Radiolab all the time to anyone who will listen, and am constantly linking people to episodes.

Upon reading Kao Kalia Yang's article (, I immediately felt horrified. I hadn't gotten around to listening to the episode in its entirety, but had already suggested it, and other episodes, to a number of friends who are Hmong. And now, awesome! They get to hear about how what their parents, or grandparents went through was probably just the fecal matter of bees.

Please, please please pleeeease make this right. Bring Eng and Kao Kalia Yang back onto the show, and let them talk. Publish Miss Yang's response on your website in place of these half-baked apologies. Give them the respect you have given other guests in the past- their titles, their accomplishments. Don't keep editing and backtracking- just accept you did wrong and then make a plan to do right.

I love this show. I really do. I don't want to believe that this show is racist and sexist. Please make this right.

Oct. 25 2012 01:55 AM

Robert, you did the right thing! Yang is charging the people at Radiolab with racism, insinuating that her miscarriage was somehow related to this, and labeling you an imperialist. All because she was featured as an interpreter for her uncle on a radio program that questioned his perception of events that were later used to justify the development of WMDs by the U.S.

She makes no effort to offer any serious evidence to support her uncle's claims, and dismisses all criticisms as "semantics".

Instead she writes a piece that blatantly attempts to emotionally manipulate the reader into unquestioning sympathy for not only her and her uncle, but her entire self-serving narrative of the Hmong people and their role in the war in Laos and Vietnam.

For this, she is celebrated by the editors of Hyphen as "brave" and a climate of intellectual relativism and chauvinism is fostered with respect to the actual events in Laos.

Meanwhile, some of her readers are actively trolling the FB pages of Radiolab, referring to people as "whitey", "viet-cons", and generally name-calling and shouting down anyone who disagrees.

Oct. 25 2012 01:20 AM

Hey cracker, your show is garbage.

Oct. 24 2012 10:42 PM
Nancy Healy from Minnesota

Robert, your handling of the Yellow Rain was insensitive, disrespectful, dismissive and egotistical. Your first mistake was to do the interview by phone. Anyone whose first language is not English needs to be able to see you to interpret the tenor of your speech, even if there is a translator present.Your second mistake was in the implications of questions like "Did you see it your self?" and "What did it look like?" and "What do you make of that?" People in a war zone, running from bombs, are not going to look up to see what is falling. Mr. Yang did go into detail about what he "made of that" (an English phrase that had no place in an interview with a non-English speaker)but you chose to ignore his expertise. Your apology just seems defensive and insincere.

I suggest you do a follow up podcast that is balanced journalism--the kind NPR is known for. Otherwise, you stand to lose a lot of listeners.

Oct. 24 2012 08:31 PM

This is what happens when you don't do your own reporting and use an old New Yorker article to drive your story and research.

Oct. 24 2012 08:01 PM
Paul from St. Paul, MN

If you want to know just how irresponsible RadioLab was about the science of yellow rain, chase down an article in “Politics & the Life Sciences,” 24 August 2007, starting on page 24.
The RadioLab team had access to this article, as well as a dissertation written by one of its authors, well before they interviewed Eng Yang. The article proposed a methodology for evidence collection, chemical analysis, & attribution assessment allowing for transparency “so that assumptions and rationale for decisions [and theories like Matthew Meselson’s, one would think] can be challenged by external critics.” The authors used a wide variety of previously unused evidence, including “8,529 pages of United States government documents, declassified . . .and released through a Freedom of Information Act request, including medical records, laboratory reports, diplomatic communications, internal memos, and protocols originating primarily from the Armed Forces Medical Intelligence Center. . .and interviews with 48 individuals with expert knowledge related to Yellow Rain, including 20 who were directly involved in investigating allegations. . .”

A few of the many conclusions in this paper:
“Between 1979 and 1982, refugee reports of attacks were consistent with other intelligence data, including known battles and flight paths of aircraft, more than 60 percent of the time. . .
Clinical complaints and findings among self-described victims and detailed refugee accounts of attacks were sufficiently similar in Laos, Cambodia, and Afghanistan to suggest a key common factor, most plausibly a Soviet link, in influence and support of direct operational involvement. . .
Clinical complaints and findings of alleged victims as documented by photographs, medical records, autopsy results, and third-hand accounts are consistent with mass simultaneous poisoning and not with any known natural disease endemic to Laos, Cambodia, or Afghanistan. . .
Approximately 75 percent of alleged attacks involved seeing or hearing a helicopter or airplane, followed by seeing or smelling a gas or powder fall to the ground.”

RadioLab sold the bee poop story—based on work conducted nearly 30 years ago— as incontrovertible fact instead of the questionable theory it is. And they had evidence in hand that made that clear. (Did they take the time to read it?) So it’s not just that they were rude and insensitive. They completely misrepresented the science behind the story and used their “certainty” as justification to treat Eng Yang like a superstitious, ignorant man. Eng protested during the interview [in Hmong] that his people kept bees and knew what bee poop looked like. Of course, Radiolab didn’t tell us that, either. This piece was inexcusable science, nothing close to journalism, and if only “a story,” one that cements erroneous ideas in the minds of its listeners. And all they want to admit is that they were overzealous in their pursuit of the “truth.” That’s simply a lie.

Oct. 24 2012 07:57 PM
Kathy from Saint Paul, MN

Your rudeness and disrespect to the Hmong community is unforgivable. You have sunk to the level of FOX media and Saint Paul, MN (one of public radio's biggest communities) knows that you are spin doctors and not journalists now.

Oct. 24 2012 07:19 PM
MaddHatter from California

So after listening to the interview. I some what felt that this was not at all an interview the first portion was mostly discussion between the radio host and chemist who identify the "yellow rain" as T2 a poisonous toxins and then another chemist later on identifying the "yellow rain" as bee shit. Anyone with any brain matter in their skull would understand that this does not make any sense. I think that the sole purpose of this interview was to discredit Mr. Yang. Does it matter if it was the "yellow rain," a bomb, or a gun that killed thousands of Hmongs? The sole purpose of this interview should have been how the Hmongs were killed after the Americans left South East Asia. This interview was a waste of Mr. Yang time, you did not want to hear his story you only wanted to prove your point that "yellow rain" did not kill thousands of Hmongs.

Oct. 24 2012 06:15 PM
Dustin from New York, NY

Why ask a person for their account when your tone sounds pointedly against understanding it. I found you to be completely disrespectful and contrarian. It was really quite painful and embarrassing to listen to.

Oct. 24 2012 06:03 PM

To say "if you listen to the whole segment" or "we did not leave that part out" is so ridiculous. If you want people to judge for themselves what happened, why don't you post the entire interview? That's the only way we would be able to see whether or not you're being genuine and the only way we could judge for ourselves what Kaila said. Words cannot express how disappointed I am with how Radiolab handled this story.

Oct. 24 2012 04:31 PM

Are you guys kidding me? I mean, seriously. Give it up already. Give a real apology, act like humans, swallow your pride. You were wrong. Give airtime so that the Hmong can tell their story. Stop being babies.

Oct. 24 2012 04:26 PM

i don't understand - why are some people thanking radiolab for leaving in robert's callousness and harshness? they had complete control over the line of questioning and editing of the interview but left in the hushed laughter at the end of the segment - laughter which was only taken out recently, well after jad provided "more context" and robert's forced contrition. how is that transparent? instead of posting what ms. yang wrote to radiolab in response - a response radiolab asked for, by her account - we've got the nonapology apology of "i'm sorry that my tone was offensive" and the editing of the episode itself to blunt the harshness they've already apologized for.

there's no transparency to applaud here. stop, please.

Oct. 24 2012 04:20 PM
Catherine from Cambridge

Your apology is about tone but that is not the top issue at stake here. What is at stake are some basic assumptions you were making about the nature of truth and methods for uncovering it. Not all evidence can be methodologically unpacked the same way, any trained historian would tell you that--and not all "evidence" is produced by science. It is merely material used to support a claim (criminal justice system?) and often times there are two conflicting claims made by individuals who can both offer "evidence" in support of their theory's correctness. I think you guys saw a neat hook Reagan =Cold War=Bee Poop and ran with it, a quick google search on the topic brings up all sorts of material that shows this matter is far from settled and is in fact considered a historical controversy. I'm just not sure how Radio Lab, in this particular instance, proved that their team has enough credentials as historical experts or skill at handling and understanding complex forms of evidence, especially that coming from non-western sources, to announce this matter "decided." Forget whether the 'Harvard scientists' or 'Hmong Guy' were right, I'm personally not convinced Radio Lab ever had the authority to make this call in the first place.

Oct. 24 2012 03:49 PM
Hanna from Lincoln, Nebraska

I posit that the remote nature of the interview - the fact that they were not face to face, but were phone to phone - promoted the vast communication dissonance that occurred. All manner of visual social cues were missing in this highly sensitive interview, that, if present, I would hope would have moderated Krulwich's style and substance, and shifted the outcome more positively for all concerned.

Some conversations must be had face-to-face, especially when the topic is a traumatic piece of history experienced by one of the participants.

Oct. 24 2012 03:45 PM

Racist radio whitewash by ivory tower white man sends racist white radio producer scurrying to cover own ass.

Film at 11:00

Oct. 24 2012 03:38 PM

Why didn't you explain their positions/expertise?

Why did you edit out everything about their knowledge of those mountains and the bees?

Why didn't you follow-up with the additional resources offered to you?

I'm definitely not donating to NPR until these problems are fixed, and I can't say I feel like listening to it either.

Oct. 24 2012 03:11 PM
David Berg from Chicago

I was very disappointed by R Krulwich's arrogant Perry Mason approach in the Yellow Rain story, especially given that he was interviewing a deeply wounded survivor. His inability to appreciate this dimension of his interviewee has seriously undermined my respect for him. Jad's on-air muddling did not enhance the issue. By the way, I don't remember the phrase "Hmoung guy" (I don't want to listen again), but if you said that, it reveals unfortunate vestiges of racism. I hope you don't start referring to other interviewees as "the black guy" or "Jewish guy" . . . but maybe you have. I'll have to listen for it.

Oct. 24 2012 02:43 PM
Audrey from Minneapolis

Kao Kalia Yang and her uncle are no longer just looking for an apology. They are looking for a chance to reach a broader audience and tell their story and the Hmong story. You have the resources to do so or at least help them to do so. You are all a well respected, intelligent group who take it upon yourselves to learn and educate. This is the moment in which you can help share the Hmong history, one that unfortunately so many people are unaware of. From where I stand, I can only see your efforts to defend yourself and the lack of action taken from your end to do something truly great. I have started to lose faith in the possibility that minority voices can and will be heard and appreciated in my home country.

Oct. 24 2012 02:41 PM

You still have not addressed why you edited out Mr Yang talking about being very familiar with the bees in the area, and the Hmong in general being familiar with them, and this being a totally unprecedented phenomenon. Not super science or journalism, there. Or why you simply referred to him as a "Hmong guy" and "his niece" while everyone else was given their nice full titles.

Oct. 24 2012 02:39 PM
Karra from Los Angeles

I'm sorry you are unable to give a meaningful apology including airing Ms Tang's response; give the transcript to the Yang's; and perhaps acknowledge that generations of people who have extensive experience and knowledge of local bees might know the difference between bee droppings and a damaging chemical (weapon). I am extremely disappointed in your coverage and your apology. I am extremely disappointed in Radiolab and NPR. This is coming from a monthly subscriber. I encourage you to take action to rectify this situation for both the Yang's and many of your listening public AND supporters who are ashamed of you.

Oct. 24 2012 02:23 PM

Ms.Yang's account:

Oct. 24 2012 02:00 PM
Adam from England

I have just read Ms Yang's article about her experience with Radiolab called 'The Science of Racism'. If anyone owes an apology, it is Ms Yang. In the article she accuses Radiolab of racism, ambushing her and lacking journalistic integrity. From looking at the questions provided before the interview, I think Radiolab made clear the direction the interview would take.

In the article Miss Yang uses the word 'respect' multiple times. It seems like what Ms Yang views as 'respecting the Hmong story' is blindly accepting anecdotal evidence without questioning it. Unfortunately for her, Radiolab does ask questions. Radiolab is a science podcast and the truth is found by asking questions. They should not apologise for this.

Regular Radiolab listeners have heard many stories of people having to accept evidence no matter how much they wished it wasn't true. I would recommend Mr Yang and his niece to listen to 'Cosmic Habituation', the story of Jonathan Schooler, who had to put his emotions aside for the good of science.

Also, I recommend This American Life's segment on Jonathan Brody, who thought he had discovered a cure for cancer but had to face the evidence and let go of his ego. Both stories the truth came out after misleading results after early lab tests, similar to the On Yellow Rain story.

Oct. 24 2012 01:55 PM

This apology is meaningless towards listeners and should reconnect with Mr. Yang and Ms. Yang for a possible second interview including a proper apology.

Oct. 24 2012 01:35 PM
Ben schulz from Virginia

A show dedicated to genocide and the horrors therein might be in order. I do agree that the truth of what happened is more important than an idividuals feeling being hurt. If the Nazis hadn't actually used gas to commit genocide, it would have been no less of a tradgedy. Telling the story of Serbians/Cambodians/Rwandans/Hmong/Armenians is a job that all of public radio can work on. PRI/NPR/BBC/Radiolab and others can collaborate to tell the true story. No matter how painful, no matter what misconceptions are uncovered. The truth and facts do not diminish the feelings and loss suffered. I applaud Radiolab for bringing the plight of the Hmong to my attention, and wait for more on this sad story.

Oct. 24 2012 01:16 PM
Teachable moment

This has the opportunity to be a great "teachable moment" as my mother used to say. How better to examine how "truth" and "privilege" intersect, how privilege distorts truth, how objectivity can be wielded as a weapon, than another show that is a deconstruction of what took place here. Why were decisions made the way they were, what was thought about and what was omitted, what is the role of first person accounts in reconstructing history, etc etc. So you have your material for a fascinating show. It could also function as a coming to terms with mistakes made, etc. None of us, privileged or not, escape from this lifetime without various degrees of internalized racism and oppression. It comes out in all sorts of ways. We need not run from it, or be overly PC, or get down on our knees and cry, but we must be unflinching in examining what happened when it comes to the surface. How about it radiolab?

Oct. 24 2012 01:15 PM
Nolan from New York

I am not going to donate to NPR, APM, or WNYC until this episode is corrected with more than a brief note. The Hmong individuals interviewed need to be credited with the positions of expertise they hold. And in recognition of that very real expertise, the findings of the Thai government's former employee need to be considered fully as valid as Matthew Meselson's.

Both of them did the same thing: went to the area and investigated what they saw. Neither conducted much in the way of experiments. It isn't exactly science, and this whole debate spun out of it certainly is not.

Powerful Americans are denying that their powerful government did anything wrong. But did it!? Next time on Radiolab. That is not science.

Oct. 24 2012 12:51 PM
Amanda in MN

read Kao Kalia Yang's version here

Oct. 24 2012 12:50 PM
Eddie from New York, NY


I actually do appreciate your perspective on this, but..

..I think that your commitment to a scientific perspective (and the specific question at hand) also blinds you to the sensitivities in play here, and places you and RadioLab in a very uncomfortable position. Perhaps it's a product of exactly what Ms. Yang was referring to, the deeply under-covered genocidal chapter of the Hmong people. If that moment were more well-known, numbers quantitatively applied, atrocities documented, perhaps it would have changed your approach to the whole interview? Please forgive my use of an extreme analogy here. Though just for the sake of illustration, this interview was like listening to someone pressing (and cornering) a victim of the Holocaust about some esoteric academic nuance about the exact type of gas used in the gas chambers. Obviously the victim doesn't really care about the "semantics" of the chemicals, whether it be carried as weaponized cargo or transportive fuel, when placed against the deadly fact of witnessed deaths, of any sort. You were asking questions for your radio show's weekly topic; They heard you denying that genocide ever took place. Obviously both sides were talking about completely different things. Unfortunately, your usually keen focus, which serves you well to stay on subject, here from the Hmong peoples' perspective, it made you come off as just another indifferent "Westerner" who has his own agenda. And considering the misunderstanding that took place, would they be wrong about that?

Oct. 24 2012 12:10 PM

I agree with the listener in South Korea. After reading the article in Hyphen I think Radiolab's behavior was disappointing to say the least and the show has much farther to go in making this right with this family, the hmong community, and their listeners.
I don't want to have to make the choice to stop listening to the show, but unless I see more of an attempt to rectify this situation, I will stop listening all together.
As awesome as this show and it's staff are, they screwed up and they need to responsible thing and fix it. There's not excuse for not doing so.

Oct. 24 2012 11:29 AM

It truely saddens me that there are (very few) comments on this thread that call the numerous appeals to human decency and care "radical"

Radiolab must be very proud that the only people who seem to be defending it are barking about reverse racism, and in the process being pretty ignorant and defensive of the privilege, and RACISM, that white men like myself perpetuate every day, and that is completely evident in this program, the producers' responses and now even WNYC themselves.

Oct. 24 2012 11:25 AM

Robert: do right by Ms. Yang and her uncle. You have not done so yet. Work with her to make it right. Admit your mistakes, let their story properly be told. Not only because it is the right thing to do, but also because it might--if you are lucky and if people are forgiving--remove the black stain from your reputation as a journalist.

Oct. 24 2012 11:23 AM
Someone who used to recommend RadioLab from South Korea

Like many listeners, I was disappointed by the Yellow Rain bit a few weeks back. I complained to my friends, which was slightly embarrassing because I'd previously been a strong word-of-mouth supporter of the show.

Now I've just read Kao Kalia Yang's article in Hyphen. Even if I take her post with a grain of salt--no easy task, since she seems to use a lot of cut-and-paste from correspondence with RadioLab staffers--but even it I take it with a grain of salt, RadioLab comes out pretty bad on this one.

You guys, seriously. Does public radio really need another enemy right now? You screwed up. Big time. It doesn't mean you're bad at your job, but if you let this go with a few simple online posts and such as your excuse, I can't listen anymore. Have the guts to make a full retraction of the piece on air, a la This American Life.

The show has been well above average in general, but you can't reasonably expect the audience who listens to you to tolerate this kind of half-assed explaining away was obviously a mistake.

Make a new RadioLab short of about 20 minutes. Say you're sorry. Get the guests back on air (if they're willing) and do justice to the topic that *you* proposed to tackle in the first place.

I'm sure that other listeners like me will cut you some slack if you just 'fess up.

Oct. 24 2012 10:49 AM

I am not overly familiar with Hmong culture, but I am familiar with many cultures where the linguistic tone is more deferential than America, therefore your "hectoring" tone could be interpreted as even more forceful and accusatory to non-American ears.

I think you have more to apologize for than what you have apologized for, but that aside, I have often wondered, especially listening to BBC radio programs which really actually fairly often have the journalists badgering the survivors of mass murders and other horrific war events, if it is appropriate to take in linguistic sensitivity to other cultural norms when seeking information/truth from people from other cultures.

I don't like being yelled at, and find that I am less likely to be open and informative and helpful when someone addresses me harshly, so I just wonder if that is ever journalisticly productive and if culture is ever discussed in good journalism.

Clearly it wasn't thought about thoroughly in this story.

Oct. 24 2012 10:20 AM
Privilege from Philadelphia, PA

Wow "Rationalism", way to write a comment that exemplifies the exact type of defensive—ethnocentric—racist response that caused this row in the first place. I cannot explain to you the notions of white privilege here, nor is that my job. I will only say that the idea of white privilege is meaningful to some of us. If you are interested, you should look it up.

The point is that the Hmong have experienced wide ranging racism, discrimination, and genocide. As westerners, it is our option not to know this. The Hmong do not have this option. To disregard indigenous knowledge while robbing them of their own voice as to why they were killed en masse— replicates the exact type of discrimination that westerns have continually perpetrated on them (both before after coming to the United States). It is easy to disregard the voices of those whose world views are unfamiliar. Instead, I would encourage you to read again the words of someone who was deeply hurt by the actions of radio lab:

Instead of dismissing her, I would ask you: what experiences has this person, and her people, had that would explain her take on this incident? Starting with a question may lead you to a different, and more complicated, answer than you expected.

Oct. 24 2012 10:04 AM
rebecca gaffney from brooklyn

ridiculously slanted and pathetic work - terrible journalism. this guy should be fired at once...he clearly has some issues he needs to work out with racism and patriarchy - and his backpedalling and rewriting and rewriting the story to cover himself is pathetic beyond belief. FIRE THIS LOSER AT ONCE, COME ON NPR!!

Oct. 24 2012 09:43 AM
Katherine Lee from Yonkers, NY

I usually love Radiolab, but I missed this podcast until someone sent me a link to Kao Kalia Yang's response in Hyphen. Having listened to the updated podcast, I've come to the conclusion that this interview was wrong from its inception. While you say that Yang and therefore her uncle knew from the onset that this interview was going to address whether or not Yellow Rain was a chemical weapon, that was not her understanding. And frankly, going in with that mindset to talk to a victim of genocide was appallingly lacking in empathy.

Yes, this is a show about science and this particular podcast about truth. I get that, but I fear that in a bid to play gotcha with the Reagan Administration, you left a man who has already suffered the decimation of his village and his people and his way of life feeling further victimized. You convinced me that what happened to the Hmong might not be what they thought, but did you have to do it in this way? I don't think you did.

Krulwich says that he went in with an open mind, but it doesn't sound that way. Not when the interview is interspersed with the cultural information on the Hmongs the way it was. And not when you do not identify Yang as an author or her uncle as someone working with the Thai government to document the Hmong experience after the Americans left Laos. Not doing so set the scene in a certain way. Do you really not see that?

And considering the freshness of this wound, why would you pick at it in this fashion? I just...I don't understand what you all were thinking in pushing a scientific truth on someone who might not have suffered what he thought he had, but who undeniably did suffer, and suffer greatly.

I've already made my annual pledge to WNYC. I can't imagine not making it or withdrawing it because of one disappointment, but I can't deny that this leaves me really sad.

Oct. 24 2012 09:04 AM
Mary Chen

Why was your tone "oddly" angry, Robert? Do you have any insights into what was behind that?

Oct. 24 2012 06:35 AM
not racist?

I wonder how many people who believe that this radio show was not racist are white? hmmmm...

Oct. 24 2012 05:37 AM
Jeff Johnston from Albuquerque

What surprises me is how trusty people are when presented with a veneer of truth. A radio program like this one can demonstrate clearly that it's terrible at doing background research - and yet people still believe its overall conclusions are correct. I don't think we have any reason to believe that the interviews of scientists done for this program were any more correct in their execution; and this casts doubt on the whole idea that "bee poop" was responsible for the Yellow Rain. And in particular, it seems as though we ought to have a healthy skepticism when Robert Krulwich insists that the Yellow Rain incident led directly to the development of the Bigeye Bomb.

Oct. 24 2012 04:44 AM

If you're going to apologize at least mean it, people are not idiots, they know!

Oct. 24 2012 04:13 AM

Kendra from MN is the only non-radical response on this entire thread. Congratulations, Kendra. You are a contributing member of society.

I thought that the segment was poorly researched, poorly presented, and not lengthy enough, given the gravity of the subject matter. However, I do not see it as being even remotely "racist"; nor is it a "white male privilege" issue (also, newsflash tumblr feminists: "Jad Abumrad" isn't a very anglo-sounding name). Mistakes happen. They messed up. They apologized. The entire world isn't against you. This isn't some plot. So congratulations to Kendra, the only rational person who posted here.

They should release the full interview, post the responses from the Yang family, and consider producing a "one-off" episode that focuses solely on this issue. However, it is their prerogative to simply move on, just as it is yours, without shaming everyone else, and breaking your "no shaming" oath.

How many came here, linked from tumblr, pinterest, or some other reactionary, social media "re-share without actually researching because it fits into my political worldview" site? All of you? Did you even listen to the podcast, or did you simply see something with "women", "racism", "privilege" and then swarm to the comments section, to artificially inflate your worldview, much like the Mormons did with Proposition 8.

Check your privilege, tumblr feminists! Ignorance is no excuse for white-shaming! PROBLEMATIC!

I don't feel like the majority of you quite grasp the English language, when you call something like this "racism", and compare it to Holocaust deniers. Robert never alluded to doubting that the Hmong people had been brutalized; he simply doubted the existence of any sort of weaponized "Yellow Rain" device, given that Eng, or any others, had recovered any hard evidence. Could Robert be wrong for doubting him? Absolutely. But we may never know who is telling the truth in the matter of Yellow Rain, just as we may never know who actually killed JFK, and why.

Stop using the term "privilege" as a P.C. excuse to "white-shame" (or "white-male-shame") anyone who disagrees with your delusional comprehension on society, your intellectual dishonesty, and constant disregard for actual discourse and conversation.

And most importantly, stop "white-shaming"! Yes, tumblr feminists: I just coined a term that the rest of the skeptic community is going to hereby use to describe your broad generalizations, conspiracy theories and victimhood posts, about how everything bad in the world, is because of white men, and their system that they put in place to subjugate everyone except white men, but that also, sometimes, hurts white men.

Oct. 24 2012 04:09 AM
Ken from California

I'd forgotten how upset I was after listening to Krulwichs' "interview" of the Hmong until I read excerpts again on Zite. How incredibly ethnocentric. Abumrad needs a new partner. I'll never be able to listen to Radio Lab with the same feelings I had prior. In fact, I may never listen again. Krulwich embarassed the USA. He can't apologize enough. I'm ashamed to be associated with the name.

Oct. 24 2012 04:05 AM
A Pauley from Seattle WA

I am so deeply disappointed in your Yellow Rain story & continued bungling of the issue, as I see are many others. So many mistakes, and the worst of it is you STILL can't seem to see or own them. In your one and only meeting/ interview, you had already decided your conclusion. Is that scientific? Journalistic? You've been dismissive of people who you knew were already marginalized, who are from outside of scientific institutions, and who's basis for talking with you was from a hope of sharing, and an implication of simple respect- people you sought out because of their unique perspective! You failed immediately, but worse, you've defended and repeated your mistakes.

I am a biologist. It is incredibly frequent that I don't get an answer I expect, or one I can use for the issue at hand. I have to be accountable when I'm wrong. Sometimes it takes time to see the problem & correct course. It's OK to be wrong. Even here, where the issues are so sensitive; this is how we learn- individually, institutionally.... But- It's far worse to insist on staying wrong, especially when your position is so clearly in service to your own ego & a priori positions. Frankly, your apologies ring false & self serving. I really hope you figure this out & correct it- anything less is an insult to all of your listeners.

Oct. 24 2012 04:02 AM

The sad thing about this entire saga is that it absolutely highlights white privilege, and Robert Krulwich, with his half-hearted apology, does not, and will not, ever understand it.

As a white, educated male, Mr. Krulwich, the world has treated you vastly differently from the way Ms. Kao Kalia Yang and Mr. Eng Yang have been treated, and your lack of empathy and compassion shows the sad ignorance wrought from a lifetime of privilege. I hope you'll take this as a learning experience and become a much better man for it.

Oct. 24 2012 02:49 AM
Jeff from Los Angeles

Apologizing well is so difficult. I understand if you feel you need to defend your actions and task as a journalist, Mr. Krulwich. But then you also have to understand that you haven't apologized for what the Yangs and others believe is your mistake. It seems that your task became more important than the people you were talking to and you were not able to make the turn that your co-workers quickly did. The "I'm sorry, but..." kind of apology isn't going over well.

Oct. 24 2012 02:48 AM

Krulwich obviously did not intend to respect, empower or give voice to the Yangs or their people from the get-go, much less get "their side" of things -- he immediately framed them as people having difficulty accepting the truth; giving that context to everything they could possibly say removes any pretense that this was a respectful, honest pursuit of knowledge. Krulwich had decided what was true and what wasn't before he heard what the Yangs had to say -- he was talking to them to tell THEM what was what, not to gain further information.

Oct. 24 2012 02:48 AM

I came here tonight to listen to my last Radiolab episode after reading an article called: The Science of Racism: Radiolab's Treatment of Hmong Experience. The show has always provided me with great stories and "science" to listen to on a regular basis. From hearing about how Radiolab helped a mother with her child as he would only be calm when listening to the show to listening to Robert's personal translation of the story of Job, I've felt Radiolab was relatively on point throughout on the many different topics it touched. Hell, it even made me like the show more during one episode, after introducing the show's theme, Jad tells us to "stay with us... bitches" Did Jad just call me a bitch? And managed to catch the synchronicity live show.
However, after reading the personal story of Ms. Yang and her relationship with Radiolab it saddened me. I have no prior knowledge of Yellow Rain and I think it to be the least important subject as you, Robert, respond to this episode. I am not here to give you a long speech of where Robert or Radiolab made mistakes as they are many. The one that needs to be addressed though is the fact that although you are reporters you are still human. Are you content on inuring someone to get the story you want? Are you the photographer that takes the picture of the naked crying child framed perfectly to show the war stricken backdrop and to walk away and claim that you are only doing your job? In our lives we need to take into consideration the other perspective that is contrary to our own and consider the people or person behind that perspective as well. You made a mistake. If you want clarity and to clear your name publish the full interview and apologize for that, not for the piece you edited so that you would come off nicer and tell us then that "your town was oddly angry."

Oct. 24 2012 02:43 AM

Dear radiolab: don't do the story where you tell a black person that slavery never happened. It won't go well just like this one. You can thank me later.

Oct. 24 2012 02:33 AM
Lana from Colorado

For people who find this apology sincere and one that took courage are people who do not understand how it feels as a person of color to have their recollection of an injustice discredited.

It took courage for the Yang family to bring forward this piece only for it to be shot down. There is no courage in this apology, there should only be shame. When this happens how will you ever expect another person of color to present their recollections on this show? I am disgusted and label this piece as racist.

A white man trying to tell a Hmong man what the Hmong went through - That is not science, that is not knowledge, that is white privilege.

Oct. 24 2012 01:40 AM
daniel polnau from minneapolis,mn

Until you have the courage to air the statement Mr. Eng has prepared in english regarding the infamous interview i will forever immediately turn off Radio Lab whenever it comes on the air and continue to spread the word to people of intelligence and integrity
. Court order? - you people are shameless.

Oct. 24 2012 12:23 AM
T from Oakland

This is a garbage apology. The goal of the piece you are doing shouldn't limit the view of the facts that are presented. You clearly edited the piece in you favor and dismissed everything about Mr. Yang and Ms. Yang.

Oct. 24 2012 12:22 AM

Lia from Not Tacoma: You are proud of Robert's initial conviction?? Robert asserts that he "had no set view of whether yellow rain was or was not a chemical weapon" and "our goal was to find out if President Reagan's statement was true or false." How is it appropriate for an investigative journalist to have "conviction" on a matter that he is supposedly exploring and trying to find the truth behind? It is very apparent that Radiolab was trying to play up the "some people can't come to terms with the truth" angle, and were manipulative, dismissive, and aggressively disrespectful in pursuit of their predetermined storyline. They should be ashamed.

Oct. 24 2012 12:19 AM
Vanessa Au from SEATTLE, WA

This episode was nothing short of infuriating. This was not a misunderstanding or miscommunication. It was dismissive, condescending and plain racist. I've never heard such a lack of respect on NPR. I donate annually to public radio and believe in it, but this is not what I consider a good use of my membership. It was a slap in the face. You should all read this instead

Oct. 23 2012 11:51 PM

Why did you not ask if Mr. Yang ever saw bees in the vicinity since you were so intent on whether he saw "yellow rain" coming directly from a plane? In trying to capture a story of Mr. Yang, for which instead you had already written, you did a great disservice to the Yangs, the show, and to journalism indeed. And thanks for letting us hear it and learn from the mistakes.

Oct. 23 2012 11:39 PM
bher from MN

Every Saturday, I look forward to driving in my car and listen to your show. I would rather listen to Pandora, next time.

Oct. 23 2012 11:38 PM
MK from Texas

I am very disappointed in your show, how disrespectful you were during the interview, and in the treatment of Mr. Eng Yang and Ms. KaoKalia Yang.

I will no longer be a supporter of your show.

Oct. 23 2012 10:50 PM

I've been a Radiolab listener for a few years now, and this has ended my relationship with the show. I read Kao Kalia Yang's account of your treatment of her and her uncle and I am devastated for them, and embarrassed for you. Setting aside your tone, the editing of the show to eliminate the expertise of Eng Yang, the refusing of additional research and the re-editing of the show after the fact tells me one thing: I can no longer trust what I hear from this podcast. You're tone was despicable, your flagrant manipulation of the story to your own end is unforgivable.

It has been posted before, but until we see a real apology, it deserves to be posted again:

Oct. 23 2012 10:24 PM

This isn't FoxNews; there are repercussions for people acting like d-bags. You will lose listeners over this -- and you will absolutely deserve it.

Oct. 23 2012 10:23 PM
Andrew from

For Ms. Kao Kalia Yang's side of the story:

It's long but well worth reading.

Funny how you can tell someone, who was actually there, what they saw, even though you yourself were not there... It's kind of like how the persecution and slaughtering of Jews never happened. That is until American soldiers saw for themselves what the Jews were going through in the concentration camps.

Like a lot of people are implying, this is a sorry excuse for an apology...

Oct. 23 2012 10:12 PM
Paul R. from San Marino, CA

I'd recommend that folks click on the link to Hyphen's report, below, which conveys Kao Kalia Yang's take on her experiences with Radiolab's producers and host in the months leading up to the show (helpfully provided by "sharon from California" at 9:13pm on October 23). I'm deeply disturbed by the revelations it contains. I'd also call on NPR to restore the unedited version of the show, as it originally aired, and to issue an adequate apology on behalf of the show's producers and hosts that doesn't merely try to justify an undertaking that appears to have been morally compromised from the outset.

And otherwise help us get a firmer hold on the "facts of the matter" instead of pathetically obfuscating. Sincerely, a onetime Radiolab listener.

Oct. 23 2012 10:08 PM
Lia from Not Tacoma

I still support Radiolab. From what I observed, there was an unfortunate misunderstanding between Kao Kalia and Robert. The "back-pedaling" by Robert was the upstanding thing to do in this case of severe overreaction on Kalia's part, no doubt due to her emotional state with child. This has been blown way out of proportion and I am appalled that Robert has now been accused as a racist. I have listened to and read all accounts I could find between Robert, Kalia, and Eng. I was proud of Robert's initial conviction, harsh or not. Why must we be so sensitive? Kalia no doubt feels no justice and I do not blame her for her long winded rant about Radiolab, I would probably do the same if I felt my beliefs and integrity had been degraded. But I think its a bit much to condemn a renown show with passionate journalists over this one misunderstanding. It was never apparent to me that Robert badgered (yes, quite insensitively, but whhaaa) Kalia and Eng because he thought that they were ignorant indigenous people, but I seem to be the minority on that notion.

Oct. 23 2012 10:05 PM

I'm absolutely disgusted with how Kao Kalia Yang and her Uncle were treated during this segment. I'm disappointed in radiolab and this sad attempt for an apology.

Oct. 23 2012 10:00 PM

That apology was insufficient. All you say is you wish you had been "more compassionate", as if to suggest that you were compassionate, but just not quite enough. How narcissistic and blind can you get? You suppressed data that challenged your point. You let your racism show through. You never responded to the basic hole in your theory, that the chemical weapons were "bee poop", but the Hmong had been beekeeping for centuries. How racist do you have to be to think so lowly of the Hmong? They are just stupid savages, right? You are way smarter in your Saab drinking your Starbucks, aren't you? You are honestly disgusting and this won't be put right until you are fired.

Oct. 23 2012 09:53 PM

This is a sad excuse for an apology. I am a Radiolab listener no more.

At least publish the entire interview and review all their evidence - I can't believe how racist you guys are.

Oct. 23 2012 09:14 PM
sharon from California

Oct. 23 2012 09:13 PM
Kendra from MN

I feel, as was perhaps appropriately the theme of the whole podcast, that understanding the facts of this situation is nuanced and includes missteps on both sides. I agree that simply including titles and full names for Kao Kalia Yang and her Uncle Eng should have happened. And I agree that there were harsh words said and as a result the overall effect was very, inexcusably hurtful to the Yang family and presentation of the Hmong experience. However, reading the full response from Krulwich, and being fully aware that I have deeply hurt friends and family with things I have said as I pursue my own goals, we cannot take back things we have said or done. We can move forward from them and try to make up for them. In my take, it would have been far more unjust and painful to have asked the Yang's for this interview, come to the same end and then never aired it for fear of the backlash. Sharing the story has sparked thoughtful and genuine conversation, and an awareness for me of a situation in history I had previously overlooked. I appreciate the posting of what I believe was a truly challenging and thought-provoking piece. I hope that Radiolab continues to move through this by sharing more of the Hmong experience and the information and memories shared by the Yang family. Mistakes are made. What matters are how they are handled (which isn't always perfect or easy either) and I hope in the next few weeks or months, we can look forward to a thoughtful and respectful piece to help ameliorate the frustration and offenses felt as the result of the original story.

Oct. 23 2012 09:05 PM
Mr: Vue from wi

YellowRain Kills all Hmong

Oct. 23 2012 09:03 PM
Tina from South Korea

At its best, Radiolab has been a problematic collection of pop pseudo-science stories, catering to a bourgie pseudo-interest in all things "clever". That was annoying, but expected. There was always, as well, an element of unchecked privilege that these two men had, a lack of real consideration of anything other than their Western-educated male perspectives. That was grating, and I could only listen to Radiolab podcasts when I was "in the mood" for those complications.

But now, now we have real and unmasked racism. We have brutal and imperial silencing of other viewpoints. The "niece" in this story is an award-winning writer. The "Hmong man" in this story was officially documenting the plight of the Hmong for the Thai government. Throughout the story, there is no mention of either of these facts, though there is an endless parade of titles and backgrounds marched through, white male after white male, credential after credential, until you get to the "Hmong guy" and his "niece", whom the string of titles serve to discredit. This self-serving form of journalism, this white-washing of real experiences and valid credentials in service to a predetermined conclusion is not truth-seeking. It turns "truth" into a vicious device of oppression and dominance.

I am done with Radiolab. I am done with my annual donation to public radio as well. If you want to know more about this issue, Hyphen published an article by Kao Kalia Yang on her experience, appropriately titled "The Science of Racism: Radiolab's Treatment of Hmong Experience".

Oct. 23 2012 08:55 PM
Phyllis from USA

This is a horrible abuse of position. Why have a show when you already have a set conclusion. These are supposed to exist for the sake of knowledge. Sorry you have lost a listener. Disrespectful bullies who are not up to snuff with public radio. I hope you lose your job.

Oct. 23 2012 08:45 PM
That John

A friend introduced me to Radiolab on a long roadtrip two years ago, and I remember us goggling at some of the unrecognised privilege back then.

Radiolab has always struck me as "Jad and Robert Mansplain It All", which is often illuminating -- but often fails to take into account perspectives from outside the Abumrad/Krulwich bubble, and often ends up being unknowingly insulting to people who find their lives and circumstances being mansplained, or where the mansplainers don't actually have a good enough grasp of the subject.

It sounds like that's happened here, but with someone who didn't just sit down and take it: kudos to Kao Kalia Yang, who deserves Radiolab's and WNYC's thanks.

It seems to me that Radiolab needs to restore its listeners' faith. That could look like:

• return the episode to its original format, potentially with a postscript acknowledging that it's problematic
• find some respected voices who didn't work on the Yellow Rain episode to look into what happened and make some recommendations, then get them to produce an extended short on "what happened here"
• produce an episode centred on Yellow Rain, the Hmong experience and the issues that it (and the Radiolab first treatment of it) raises
• more widely, consider adding people with a different mix of life experience to the Radiolab mix

This experience has doubtless been painful for Jad and Robert — though, equally doubtless, much less painful than for the Yang family and the Hmong community. I hope that Radiolab has the courage to learn from this in a grownup way.

Oct. 23 2012 08:36 PM
Ben Landsee

I am done with Radiolab. I regret suggesting it to friends and colleagues. This is such a disappointment.

Oct. 23 2012 08:15 PM

I hope you read Ms. Yang's summary of her experiences with you. The disrespect and disregard you have shown her and her uncle -- which were in no way supportive of the journalistic pursuit of truth, but in fact counter to it, and simply reinforce your own privileged position and that of your colleagues -- are ghastly and this apology does not even begin to address them (you are even actively denying some of them, which she describes in detail.) Please try to learn from this experience and amend your mentality and practices accordingly.

Oct. 23 2012 07:53 PM
Matt from Montreal

I used to love this show. You've crossed a line and - with your half=apologies and rationalizations - you don't even seem to be aware of it. I'm no longer a listener.

Oct. 23 2012 07:52 PM
Rachel from Illinois

I cannot believe the level of disrespect shown to Ms. Yang and Mr. Eng by Radiolab. To hear Ms. Yang's story and what transpired behind this segment is saddening. I believe that to restore trust to the Radiolab community a release of the full transcript is in order.

Oct. 23 2012 07:50 PM
Jamie from Durham, NC

Obviously, Ms. Yang's post has brought a lot of attention and criticism here. I am looking forward to seeing Radiolab's response to her story.

Oct. 23 2012 07:43 PM

You've heard Robert, Jad's and Radiolab's take, now hear it from the woman herself. Kao Kalia Yang's voice in this account of Radiolab's ill treatment of her, her father, and the Hmong people is heartbreaking and worth a read:

Oct. 23 2012 07:36 PM

I was so disappointed when I listened to this episode, and I am so pleased that people are calling this what it is: racism. It isn't easy to say or hear, but casually dismissing the stories and suffering of people of color, and laughing at the feelings of a woman of color, are not an issue of tone or bad wording. We white folks have been taking and telling the stories of people of color all around the world to fit our agendas for too long, and hearing this dynamic played out with so little awareness is disturbing. I was furious listening to this story and I can't imagine how it made it onto the radio. The fact that there is no genuine apology, or a chance for Kao Kalia Yang to share her story on this site or on the podcast, means I won't be listening any more. Please consider some self-reflection on the role of your place of power as a white man in the world. You are alienating a lot of people and reinforcing the idea of science as a white man's game.

Oct. 23 2012 07:17 PM
cm from San Jose, CA

I donate to public radio to help educate the public about history and today's happenings. This BS interview towards my community is far beyond my support moving forward.

I gotta say, unprofessional journalism as such should be shutdown immediately.

Oct. 23 2012 07:10 PM
Maria from Tacoma, WA

This is a terrible example of an apology. You spend so much time back-peddling and explaining why you had good motives in treating someone poorly, it comes across as insincere.

I commend you for clarifying some ways that you treated these two people in an unethical, insensitive manner. But dude, you were a jerk.

It's a big step to admit you're wrong and that your actions hurt others, though. (Golf clap.) The next step is getting help in preventing this from happening again. Why did you react like you did? Do you feel entitled or superior? Were you frustrated, because this seemingly ignorant, backwards man who didn't even speak English contradicted you? Why did you leave off his credentials and his niece's credentials? Were you trying to fit them into a box to suit your purposes? Is there a sense of exploitation here? Did something you see in them de-personalize them in your eyes, that you could act the way you did?

Perhaps along with being blind to the tendency to self-justify in your "apology," you may also be unaware of internalized racism that allows a white man with power to mistreat and denigrate an elderly Asian gentleman and a female writer of a different ethnic background. Seeing them as outsiders, as the Other, often is the first step in cruelty.

You even confess that you were unaware of your own anger, harshness and accusations. This seems to suggest something deeper and unexamined was controlling your emotions and manner.

Racism is something we all struggle with. We grew up in a racially-charged society with messages of racial superiority and inferiority. Even people of ethnic backgrounds self-inflict racial stereotypes and attitudes. We actually even denigrate each other and our institutions, values and practices. (Google "self hatred" "internalized racism" etc.) That's why, harsh as this comment sounds, I'm guilty of it, too. And I'm glad to say, it's something we can work on.

I don't think you're intentionally a racist, but if you want to change how you treat powerless people of different ethnic backgrounds--when they resist your power and your plans for them--you'll have to look into this dynamic and be willing to be honest about your dark side. This time, you chose the path of oppression, force and degradation. Next time this comes up you have an opportunity for a better reaction.

Good luck with the show. You're doing great work. Our flaws don't stop us from doing good in this world. But you're better than this, dude.

Oct. 23 2012 07:08 PM
Chue from USA

What a pathetic piece radio lab did here. I am a young Hmong Man in my 30s and have seen pictures and stories from my father (who was a officer in this war), father in law and many other man who fought and shed blood.
To say you guys have the truth but yet in the interview talk as if the uncle or Hmong people had no clue. I heard no talks about scientist getting actual samples from ground zero. Also have you guys heard of agent orange? If not, do your homework radio lab, and if you didn't know orange could of been called yellow. Also most American don't even know what ehtnic Hmongs are let alone the secret wars with the CIA, so before claiming such so called truth do your home to save face.

Oct. 23 2012 06:42 PM
Salil from Arlington, VA

Rather than continue the blame game, I'd suggest that Radiolab demonstrate its sincerity with an actual followup piece instead of apologies by Robert Krulwich and further editing of the already-published piece.

This story deserves more respect than it got here, and the comments seem to reflect that. I cannot for the life of me imagine how it could be conceivable that someone who has kept quiet for 20+ years could be accused of "monopolizing" anything at all when finally given a chance to speak out.

In fact, anyone with the slightest bit of humility would take that as a great opportunity to shut up and listen.

Oct. 23 2012 06:34 PM

There are two sides to every story.
here is Kao Kalia Yang's side.

Oct. 23 2012 06:22 PM

Wow. This is interesting and it’s really blown up. Here’s my 2 cents:
• Krulwich was harsh, he’s apologized. He generally seems like a very kind person but seemed insensitive to the suffering in this case. Fair enough, that’s why he apologized, presumably he genuinely regrets his handling of the interview.
• I don’t know anything about the Hmong experience but it sounds like it was horrible, filled with injustice and inhumanity. I don’t think radiolab intended to discredit that in any way. However, Radiolab did seem more focused on the question of the yellow rain than an overview of the Hmong experience.
• Asking ‘Did you, with your own eyes, see the yellow powder fall from the airplanes’. Might be impolite but if the answer was yes then it would be a question the Yang’s would be happy to answer.

Just because something is hearsay doesn’t mean it’s untrue, but whether or not Mr. Yang had direct experience of the yellow rain being delivered seems to be a reasonable line of questioning. I don’t think this crosses the line, but it does show that being respectful was of less importance to Krulwich than learning the truth.

Most importantly I don’t think being rude or insensitive is synonymous with being racist, even if the rude person is a white male talking to an Asian woman.

I still like Radiolab. A little empathy fail on this one though.

Oct. 23 2012 05:50 PM
Justin Cunningham

It's disappointing to see so many people who claim to love Radiolab say that they'll discontinue their enjoyment for something that was clearly a mistake. Who could really listen to all the shows that the Radiolab staff has put together and then think them monsters for this slip-up? They even kept the "break down" portion of the conversation in the segment; clearly it reflected poorly on them (the Radiolab staff) but they chose to keep it in anyways. To me, the show sounded like they were talking about science and provable things one minute, and the next, the guests were breaking down because the subject wasn't being discussed in the way they wanted it discussed. Most certainly, Radiolab didn't call them up and ask them to discuss the emotional trials of their horrific time of war; certainly, that could be the subject of another show, but this show was - supposed to be - about bee dung and facts. Instead, it seemed the show took a drastic veer off-course and turned into something sad for all involved. As a result, the hypersensitive internet community has resorted to name-calling and vilification.

Considering all of the open-minded segments from Radiolab that have brought hours of intrigue and contemplation into my life, I just have to face the internet community of recent Radiolab nay-sayers and ask: are you kidding me?

Oct. 23 2012 05:38 PM

I used to give money to public radio. Behavior like this on the part of public radio staff is the reason I absolutely don't believe the public should subsidize so-called public radio and why I don't give anymore.

Oct. 23 2012 05:35 PM
CD from philadelphia

Can you address why you didn't accept any of the documentation Ms. Yang presented to support the argument for the use of chemical weapons? I don't see how this demonstrates your aggressiveness as in pursuit of the truth.

I will no longer subscribe to your podcast, and will be sharing the article below with friends who I know are fans:

Oct. 23 2012 05:17 PM

I am sorry to say that after listening to this episode and reading Robert Krulwich's statement I will no longer be a subscriber to your programme.

Oct. 23 2012 05:11 PM

Another find, a message from Eng Yang:

Oct. 23 2012 05:07 PM

It will take a larger acceptance and statement of accountability on the part of Radiolab for me to continue to listen/support the program anymore.

Oct. 23 2012 04:19 PM

Totally disappointing. I was previously a huge Radiolab fan, but there is something so ignorantly self important about Robert's voice in this episode that it's over for me. He sounds like an irritated boomer arguing loudly over his receipt at Whole Foods, oblivious to everything but his needs and sense of purity. How embarrassing.

Oct. 23 2012 04:15 PM
Jun Zuniga from Pittsburgh, PA

Disappointing, I expect more from Radiolab and public radio.

Oct. 23 2012 03:17 PM

Another Radiolab listener writes:
"What I heard on this episode, was the truth almost abandoned by emotionally monopolizing and deluded villagers - who's fully story deserves "another show"."

I think that this may be the saddest aspect of this whole event: not just the interview, not just the interrogation, but the presentation of a story on science in a biased and patronizing way. The above listener is *championing* Radiolab in this instance, claiming that they've exposed the ignorance of "deluded" villagers. Don't you see that by mistreating their story and not following up on their reports, you have exposed the Hmong experience to public doubt and derision? The true danger of this story lies in its ability to reach and mislead listeners.

This is not about being "compassionate" or having human empathy--it is poor journalism. Kao Kalia Yang claims she offered articles from other scientists, even putting you in contact with universities. Why were these ignored? If journalism is so bent on finding the Truth, then the time should have been taken to explore all possible avenues.

Finally, I appreciate Robert's apology. I love this show and truly believe it does good work, and would hate to turn against. This situation may be rectified, by publishing Kao Kalia Yang's responses on the RadioLab boards, and giving her and her uncle a chance to respond and share ALL their information in a follow-up story. You'll gain the respect of your listeners for opening yourself to criticism in the pursuit of journalistic integrity.

Oct. 23 2012 03:11 PM
Jesse from Philadelphia, PA

Radiolab's conduct in this matter has been deplorable. I sincerely hope that you will make amends. If not, i cannot continue to listen to this show. How about a show on how power imbalances affect the way stories are told? Now that would be brave journalism.

Oct. 23 2012 02:53 PM
John Harrer from Minneapolis, MN

I just finished reading Kao Kalia Yang's account of the history of your Yellow Rain segment, and its follow-up on Hyphen. To say that I am disappointed in the conduct of those responsible for a radio broadcast that I have respected and valued would be an understatement. It started with the apparent lack of openness about the true subject of your piece, continued with your dismissive lack of identification of Ms and Mr. Yang, particularly his knowledge as a Hmong, native to the land in question, and his status as a documentarian of the experience for the Thai government. Then you refused to pursue the alternative sources offered by Ms Yang, which may have substantially altered the viewpoint you represented, or allow the open and complete expression of Ms Yang's account of these events, and her great distress. I must now wonder if I can listen to any more of your programs without nagging doubts about the integrity of what I am hearing. How often might hidden agendas, repressed information, and the resultant slanted reportage determine what I am hearing from you. It saddens me greatly.

Oct. 23 2012 02:37 PM

I'm sorely disappointed with the way Radiolab chose to handle this story, and even more disappointed at the feigned apology that really amounts to yet another attempt at maintaining power and control over a story that was mishandled from the beginning. You're off my list. Here is an article that illuminates Ms. Kao Kalia Yang and Mr. Eng Yang's experience of what happened. Mr. Krulwich, I especially hope you read it.

Oct. 23 2012 01:49 PM
Diane from MN

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

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

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

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

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

Oct. 23 2012 01:12 PM
Aidan from New York

As a long time listener, I was severely disheartened to hear this story and read the responses. Radiolab has always been a bit selective in the research they choose to use on the air to support their arguments. I have no problem with this when the purpose is to entertain, or to invoke thought or discussion and I've thoroughly enjoyed the programs on open issues like 'evil' or 'sounds'. However when the same selective bias is used to tell a genocide survivor that his first hand experience is wrong, I'm frankly stunned. I've been reading the dialog about this story, and your insistance that it was just a matter of 'tone' is pretty insulting. If you wanted to make this right, you would air a reasonable representation of the other side of the story, including the parts that contradict your narrative.

Oct. 23 2012 12:59 PM

This makes Robert Krulwich and Radiolab look bad. If you can't do an interview the right way, then please don't even act like you care or show support in something that your not interested in.

Oct. 23 2012 12:40 PM

Please read both side of the story before you agree on one side and ignore the other side.

Robert Krulwich was not interviewing but interrogating.

Oct. 23 2012 12:37 PM
Diane from MN

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

Oct. 23 2012 12:34 PM

Oct. 23 2012 12:11 PM

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

Oct. 23 2012 11:29 AM
Deanna Myers from Chicago, IL

I was so incredibly disappointed to hear the multiple accounts of what happened during the making of the podcast from the people to whom it happened.
As a listener of Radiolab, and even one of many people who bought a ticket to the show in Chicago this past september, I can't tell you how disheartening this was.

If I had known that Robert had treated people this way when I found out about the Radiolab show, I never would've purchased the tickets.

You've lost a really loyal fan, Robert.

Oct. 23 2012 10:19 AM
Michael from Japan

Please read this article. If even half of what is in here is true, it is absolutely racism, and a complete violation of scientific and journalistic ethics. At the very least, Radiolab should acknowledge this controversy and let her talk about what is alleged here. If true... it's an absolute disgrace.

Oct. 23 2012 10:10 AM

Robert, I found this episode very moving and my first reaction was empathy towards your guests and anger towards you for your harsh response as well as a commitment to never listen to your show again. The story however was very moving so I contemplated this further including your commentary.

Being scientific and factual is one thing but in the great scheme of things the truth, facts, and science will only take us so far. It is how we treat others that truly counts in the long run and you either failed on this point or you used this situation to further your personal interests. I hope you will follow up to rectify your harsh response.

Oct. 23 2012 09:30 AM

I was also disturbed by the relentlessness of the questioning of an old man who had suffered greatly and witnessed terrible things. I sensed no malice behind the questioning, but I did sense irritation and impatience. One cannot expect to challenge an age-old hurt, regardless of its truthfulness, and change minds in an instant. People do not work like that.

Here's a bonus lesson I learned from Radiolab about truth, and that's from Robert's mistake. As much as we value truth, the pursuit of said truth also matters. There are ethics to it. And even if we can prove people wrong, how one wields the truth is also important.

Oct. 23 2012 03:57 AM
David D. from Memphis, TN

I'm confused. I listed to the episode and I heard no malice. What I heard was Robert on one side trying to get information for his story and Mr. and Ms. Yang on the other side wanting to tell a different story. This wasn't malice and it wasn't insult it was merely frustration. Robert was trying to answer a question that is, quite frankly, very important for Americans to figure out. I don't think he expected them to come to the interview with their own ideas of what was being discussed.

I applaud Robert, and the RadioLab staff, for airing that part of the interview. It was powerful, and it made me stop and reflect on what those people went through. That moment on tape did more to make me consider the effects of war on innocent people than all the stories I had heard about wars combined in my 41 years. Robert didn't mean to cause them pain, but that pain was amazing and powerful and it came through the radio and hit me with almost physical force.

This is what science is about, this is what RadioLab is about! You try something and you make mistakes and you admit to them. You put them on the air and say, "wow, that was not what I was expecting" and you let us all learn from them. All the people saying they aren't a listener anymore, we are better off without them. They are the people who try to shame us into avoiding mistakes, they are the people who don't leave the carport when it's raining, they are the ones who don't risk failure and thus don't enjoy amazing success. Robert and Jad, keep doing what you are doing. Keep taking risks and keep making mistakes. I deeply appreciate you bringing us the stories and insights other people are afraid to touch. Thank you!

Oct. 22 2012 07:56 PM
Dominic from Beijing

For the first time ever I am disappointed with Radiolab for 3 reasons:

1) How can you interview an old man that witnessed his own people being slaughtered and include this in a show questioning the meaning of "truth"? Can you imagine doing the same with a holocaust survivor?

2) You say the programme was about how sometimes 'the truth' is difficult to pin down. And yet at the end of the interview with Mr Yang you seem convinced your version is correct. This is patronising, insensitive and at odds with the theme of the show.

3) For a show that focuses on demystifying science, the bee poop explanation leaves more questions than it answers. How can a natural process be so toxic? And even it it was, wouldn't the locals know and be used to dealing with it?

Oct. 21 2012 09:50 AM
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 07:59 PM
maria from vermont

im really sad that there is no update of an in-person or at least recorded phone call with Kalia and Mr. Eng so that we can be a bit more satisfied with the obvious injustice done here. it seems to me that now Radio lab hopes this tiff will disappear. I hope they sue you, as the distress you put them through for all to hear is shameful and should be handled with legal action at this point. I tried to come back to radio lab to listen to new podcasts but now every time I hear your voices my stomach turns.

no longer a listener.

Oct. 20 2012 05:25 PM

Will we ever hear the full interview?

According to a Kirti Kamboj post on When Robert Krulwich was asked about releasing the full interview/transcript, he told Kalia and Eng Yang that they would "need a court order for that."

This plain and simple, all emotions aside, was just not good journalism.

Oct. 20 2012 01:28 PM

"if you're not sure what the point of a story is, you're not ready to tell it."

Oct. 20 2012 01:18 PM
Maddie from Madison, WI

"The Fact of the Matter" was my first time listening to a Radiolab podcast. I really enjoyed the first segment. Then came "Yellow Rain." Your naive, facile handling of a not even particularly complex topic left me disgusted with my decision to try out the program. Would it not have been sufficient to present the stories and truths to the listener? Was browbeating an old man until he agreed with your stance truly necessary? The listeners already knew a decades-old memory filtered through wartime experiences wasn't the whole truth. Undermining his niece's passionate defense was so frivolous and vicious that it undercut any illusion I might have retained about your good intentions.

Thoughtless. Immature. Reeking of institutionalized racism and sexism, rife with mansplaining. Even this apology just cries out "But we wanted that woman and that old man to know they were WRONG and we were RIGHT!"

You made it perfectly clear that I never need to listen to Radiolab again.

Oct. 19 2012 02:10 PM
Leah from Eugene OR

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. 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 11:51 PM
Matt Duffy from Los Angeles

I don't think Robert should have to apologize.

I appreciate that he stood up for journalistic integrity, especially in the context of an episode wrestling with the nature and meaning of "Truth".

What the Khmer Rouge did to the Hmong was horrible -- nobody disputes that. But journalists aren't in the business of being nice or consoling the downtrodden.

A journalist's primary obligation is to get to the bottom of things, to ask the tough questions, and to not let dishonest people off the hook, even if they've been through a tragedy.

American culture has created a generation of vanilla "can't we all just get along?" journalists who would never dare challenge their interview subjects or make them feel uncomfortable -- PR reps insist on seeing questions beforehand and editing tape afterwards, and won't allow their clients to go into a potentially humiliating interview. American news media has shown its willingness to compromise values for ratings' sake. Our public discourse and our nation as a whole have suffered tremendously as a result.

An honest person with nothing to hide would never be offended by any question he or she was asked during an interview. I applaud Robert for remaining skeptical in the face of an emotional tirade and for later explaining why this is so important.

Oct. 18 2012 09:28 PM
Calvin from Toronto

For all the people who thinks apology is not needed, have not suffered, and does not understand human psyche.
As inquiry minds, we go into a situation with an cool detached reasoning, which is all fine and good, until we hit something that's completely raw and emotional.

"Can you reopen your deepest and most personal wound again, a wound so big that engulfs all of your people, so we can verify that you were wrong, to your face?" (Robert and co knew they were wrong before the interview)

What the interview should be in this case, is never imply the interviewees thought wrong to their faces. They can ask neutral questions related to it. But at this point, interviewees need to be shielded from something that would destroy their psyche. They don't need to know our conclusions. We want to know, but that doesn't mean anything to them.

You don't talk to a rape or abuse victim like a scientist. You investigate like a counsellor.
A research method / questions like what happend in the interview will NOT pass the ethic committee at any reputable school.

Wisdom > intellect

Oct. 18 2012 07:47 PM
DS from Nebraska

I love this podcast, and I have listened to every episode. This was the most difficult interview that I have listened to, and perhaps that is appropriate for a story on truth. I think Robert's questioning was ugly, but at the same time I appreciate that Radiolab chose to broadcast the ugly parts along with the science.
Let's just take a step back an acknowledge that there are two "truths" here. The story Radiolab was primarily pursuing was the truth about Yellow Rain. But for the Hmong people directly involved, there is another, bigger truth --the truth that their entire community was under attack and their families and friends were killed and they had to leave their homes to hide in the forests. Under those circumstances, do you really care what those yellow specks actually were? So I can understand fully why Ms. and Mr. Yang were angry and fearful that their truth might get buried because of some folks trying to disprove some other related matter. At times, Robert's questioning came across as trying to do just that: trying to disprove a point about yellow rain, and as a consequence seeding doubt in the Hmong people's accounts of the whole affair. I have enough faith in the show to think that this was not the intention, but I think the interview could have been conducted more responsibly.
As a biologist, I am genuinely curious about Yellow Rain. But this curiosity, however important, must not trample over people's hearts.

Oct. 16 2012 02:11 PM
ForgotMyOrange from Australia

I'm so glad the hyper-sensitive, emotional-laden apologists around here don't get to edit the show.
What I heard on this episode, was the truth almost abandoned by emotionally monopolizing and deluded villagers - who's fully story deserves "another show".
Consider this, if we are to accept the weeping woman's wishes, and accept the story of deliberate poisoning, then this pushes an evil-doing unto someone else. If you're Russian, and perhaps it can be assumed that these people would guess that's who's responsible, then how are they to respond to this emotional entrapment?
If we grant them truth, then someone else has to accept responsibility for being the poisoner.
I felt like this was emotional blackmail. And Robert's comment about monopolizing was a fair comment, that needed to be made.
Given this was news, and news about the truth, I accept that Robert may need to appease the flower-petal-people, in retrospect, but as far as I'm concerned, he doesn't need to make an apology. This is an interviewer doing exactly what he should have done.
These people have a lot to say, that needs to be said, but we must expect them to balance reality, for their own sake and for anyone else involved.

Oct. 16 2012 07:25 AM
Claudia Bonsignore

My question is will you be releasing the entire interview with Mr.Yang and not just your show for us to hear all of Mr. Yang's replies to the questions.

Oct. 15 2012 12:19 PM

I don't feel you should have to apologize for your tone. The mission of the episode was clear. The interviewees knew this and were told in advance. After listening to the entire piece, we all have a greater understanding of the facts (and questions) and hopefully have empathy to understand the frustration on both sides. Radiolab continues to provide the kind of programming that we don't get anywhere else in radio or television journalism.
Also I recommend this book:

Oct. 14 2012 10:19 PM

Just having listened to the Yellow Rain segment from the "Fact of the Matter" episode... I was struck by interview with the Hmong leader Eng Yang. My first impression was being a little surprised by the tone and directness of Mr. Krulwich's line of questioning.

However, after listening the episode in its entirety, I overcame the initial injury to my delicate Midwestern sense of propriety. I thought, "Wow! Listening to an interviewer who wants to uncover the truth instead of playing footsie or arm wrestling his subject is incredibly refreshing."

This episode, "Fact of the Matter" was about Truth, and it seems that Mr. Keats may have been only partly right... Beauty may be Truth, but Truth seems to consistently come up short in the beauty department. It may have been off-putting for some listeners to actually hear an interviewer question unsubstantiated statements made by the interview subject. Of course, as Ms. Vang relates, the yellow rain was eating away the grass and leaves like acid, although a leaf specimen tainted by yellow rain has been sitting in an American laboratory for more than 30 years without any evidence of corrosion. It is far too often that the media either push pointless exercises in the Q&A bum-rush or softball stroke sessions as professional interviews. I am sick of hearing interview subjects disseminating their own truthy perspective via the news media with impunity.

So, Mr. Krulwich, I have never been uninterested in your unique brand of storytelling. If you are guilty of anything, it's wearing your journalist's hat at an inappropriate time. But, the serendipity of that error was that. in the end, you illuminated the protean nature of the Truth.

Anyway, you were right to question the validity of any statement that led to our government further weaponizing the Nazi nerve gas, Sarin. In my opinion, there is no worse way to die than exposure to nerve gas. A loathsome and inhuman technology. Sarin's initial creation was abominable enough, we didn't need to start working on it again. Just to note, in 1993, the UN Chemical Weapons Convention, signed by over 150 member countries, banned the production and warehousing of Sarin.

Oct. 14 2012 09:41 AM
Scott Currie from Bloomington, IN

You people are ridiculous. Science asks questions, every question. I have nothing but respect for Jad and Robert for airing this exchange, especially when I remember that they didn't have to air it at all. It made you "uncomfortable"? Guess what science is? Facing the uncomfortable.

Robert, you've definitely opposed my personal views rather strongly in the past, refusing to face the vast emptiness of the universe, the apathy of nature, the void, but I appreciate your candor. Don't pay any more attention to these easily offended milquetoasts.

Oct. 13 2012 09:40 PM
marshall veach from los angeles

I, for one, find it sad that he was compelled to make this apology. I think everything he said was true. He has the right to invite people to discuss a question of his framing. And his point about the wider implications of this question were also deeply true.

It's shocking to me that anyone would want to dilute the search for truth simply because some answers have political implications.

I am not without empathy for the interviewees. In fact, as the translator was making her final point, it moved me to such unabashed tears that I had to pull over to the side of the road. I was crying so hard that I couldn't drive safely.

And yet... and yet... Robert is right. And I would go even further and suggest that there is something deeply scary and unsettling about the idea that we would let tragedy (no matter how tragic) dictate the frame of a discussion. Radiolab entered that interview asking a question; and it has every right, even obligation, to pursue an answer to it.

It won't be the last question asked or answered. No matter what the interviewees felt, the answer won't negate the tragedy in people's minds.

And not for nothing, we should remember that if people feel the tragedy of what has happened to the Mung people has not been fully acknowledged for 30 years, then perhaps attaching this tragedy to the idea that the Soviet's used chemical weapons isn't as effective as people believe.

Oct. 13 2012 08:43 PM
Diane from MN

There hasn't been any public apology directed at the Yangs (or the Hmong community). This is an apology to the listeners and Robert, et. al do not intend to apologize to the Yangs or the Hmong people as Robert has made it clear to Kao Kalia already that it will take a "court order" for the Yangs to get a copy of the interview. What really did happen in that interview and why is Robert so afraid to allow the Yangs to have a copy of it?

Robert, et. al is counting on listeners to be ignorant of the Hmong language so listeners don't know that Yang was recorded and his words were added to the final cut (but not interpreted) saying he has expertise in bee keeping and refutes Robert's opinion that what Yang saw was not bee pollen.

You are were fooled if you thought this piece of pseudo-science and hogwash of journalism was an example of good journalism or science.

This will get written up again and again, and shared far and wide in the Hmong community and to anyone willing to listen as a pure demonstration of how white privileged elites go into a tribal community and distort their stories for the gain of the white people.

Oct. 13 2012 06:57 PM
Elisabeth Sederberg from Minneapolis

Thanks for making this statement; I felt really uncomfortable listening to this segment (that's never happened listening to RadioLab before!). I hope that the Yangs are able to understand what happened as well. I love the show, and it means a lot to see an apology/statement. We all make mistakes--thanks for owning this one.

Oct. 13 2012 04:02 PM
Thi from Bay Area

To ask a victim to pit his word against a scientist is to put him on the defensive. To ask him whether he looked carefully up at the sky when he was under attack is clueless and totally insensitive. I am glad that an apology was made to the interviewee and the translator for that. But I question the value of interviewing these particular people to find whether truth justified government actions during the Cold War. It sounded like you were trying to make some villagers accountable for the decisions of our own president. Can truth even be assumed to be the deciding factor there?

Oct. 13 2012 02:12 PM
Diane from MN

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

Another analysis of the Yellow Rain Radiolab story:

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


Oct. 13 2012 01:39 PM
John R. Ellis from Texas

There are far too many comments on this thread and Jad'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 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 12:57 PM

Please use the attention you've drawn to the Hmong genocide to benefit survivors in some way. Please look into what made you so uncharacteristically cold. Thank you for airing the segment.

Oct. 12 2012 10:59 PM
alex from TEXAS

I don't feel an apology was required. The Yangs knew the questions beforehand. The reporters asked those questions, and then the Yangs became upset that those questions were asked?
I feel it did put Robert in an unfair position. And i do respect Robert's apology. He is not required to apologize, but he did, because he felt it was the right thing to do.
But resignations? Really?
peter from austin equated this to holocaust denial. That is insane. It is about pursuing evidence. The current state of evidence shows that yellow rain was probably bee feces. Look it up, do some research. Prevailing evidence also shows the holocaust happened. Plus, there is no denial or trivialization of the slaughter that did occur. It just states it happened in a different way.
Are we now to allow people to live in a delusion because it is tragic. Mr. Yang DESERVES the truth. His people were slaughtered, and he should know how it was done. He should blame the CORRECT people for that tragedy.
How is feeding an incorrect view more respectful then telling the person the truth?
Discrediting Mr. Yang's Experience? How? They never deny that he went through hell. They just point out that one thing looks like it didn't happen.
Robert came out an apologized. He knows he said insensitive things.
But i think you all need to apologize to robert for the ridiculous comments you are making afterwards.

Oct. 12 2012 06:51 PM
Kham from Vientiane, Laos

The comments between Mr. yang and Robert was totally went wrong. The Hmong cause and have been genocide by the Lao PDR regime have never been erased from Hmong Hearts. The Americans bone whom missing in Laos and Hmong should be loved equally. I am A laotiane whom fought from the other side I believed the yellow rain which Laos pdr drop in Laos the Chaofa areas would be truth.

Oct. 11 2012 01:54 PM

This apology is so ridiculously contrived and late that it makes you look even weaker than before.

Oct. 11 2012 01:22 PM
Claudia from Chiang Mai, Thailand

I do not feel that Robert was being harsh, but rather trying to show that what terrible things had happened may have changed in memory. I think he was asking the questions that needed to be asked. It is an emotional subject (I have been to a Hmong refugee camp still in existence in Petchuburi, Thailand), but all questions need to be asked in order to find what we are looking for--truth, or some sense of it. I also commend Radiolab for showing themselves as human and sometimes wrong. They did the same thing with "Falling Cats," and "Killing Babies, Saving the World." For the show to be willing to put themselves out in public is one of the reasons why I am such a dedicated fan.

Oct. 11 2012 01:07 PM

Although I appreciate Robert's apology, I don't think it fully addresses the aspect of his behavior during the interview that most troubled me. I perceived Robert's harsh and insistent tone as an effort to convince Kao Kalia Yang and Eng Yang that Eng Yang's perception of the events was wrong. This was unnecessary and short-sighted. The RadioLab team had already clearly established for the audience that the yellow rain was not a chemical weapon. They had already established that Eng Yang's recollection and belief was that yellow rain was a chemical weapon. By not stopping there, by persisting in his efforts to convince Eng Yand, Robert acted not as a reporter, but as a bully.

Oct. 11 2012 11:41 AM

Robert Krulwich's apology should not be for "my harshness", but for "my lack of respect to Mr. Eng Yang." Robert Krulwich accomplished his job well as Grand Inquisitor; albeit, he recognizes that he should have been more gentle.

Oct. 11 2012 06:44 AM
Mary from South Africa

I found this episode very moving. I appreciate both you and Jad's responses. I would recommend a great book, The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down: A Hmong Child, Her American Doctors, and the Collision of Two Cultures, by Anne Fadiman. It really hits home the idea that most American have no idea about the horrors of genocide or even war. We live in our little bubble and it is very easy to gloss over or make insignificant the unbelievable difficulties other cultures have endured. There's a scene in the book where a little child writes a story for a school assignment and tells about fleeing her village and siblings dying on the paths, terrible horrors no child should ever have to go through. But the teacher only comments on the child's grammar and spelling. Truly heartbreaking.

Oct. 11 2012 05:51 AM
klausoppenheimer from seattle

i suppose if jackie kennedy claimed it was bee sh** that killed jfk, i would expect her view to be challenged.
the double blasted episode was just as weighty a topic as this one and it was done flawlessly.
the man perceived that he made a mistake and apologized for it.
if you're angry, maybe you should take a lesson from him and save yourself the apology.

Oct. 11 2012 03:21 AM

The comment left by user werdnagreb below ( Oct 7 4:41PM EDT) really nails it as to how and why the Yellow Rain story went so terribly wrong. RadioLab should never have attempted to touch on such an emotionally weighty topic like genocide from its usual light-hearted and intellectually curious perspective. What were you guys thinking?! Would you have interviewed Jackie Kennedy to "get to the truth" about the single shooter theory? And challenge her version as "here-say"?

And by the way, we listeners are not the ones who deserve an apology. Probably most of us would rather see some kind of reparations for the Yangs and the Hmong people. How about a fund drive, starting with a generous donation from Jad and Robert?

Oct. 10 2012 10:47 PM

Thank you for your apology Robert--I appreciate your willingness to listen again to hear what I and other listeners found offensive. I sincerely hope that you have conveyed this apology to your interviewees.

I agree with a few previous comments that the episode seemed unfinished. Frankly, I wasn't convinced by your arguments that it was bee poop and not kind of some chemical weapon embedded in the pollen. Also, you didn't address whether or not the chemical could have decayed after the sampled were reexamined years later. I kept thinking how I would feel if I was watching my children and parents die an atrocious death by SOMETHING in the atmosphere. How unimaginably awful. Does it REALLY matter exactly what it was? If it wasn't the bee pollen, then it seems pretty clear that SOMETHING was in the air killing them...some kind of nerve gas, poisen, etc. An article that ended where that was acknowledged would have been far more appropriate and humane, than one that ended with such a dismissive tone.

Oct. 10 2012 08:47 PM

Thank you for publishing your apology. As an avid fan of the show, I am always eager to have dialogue with friends about your topics. Seeking the truth is part of the human experience and in this situation was evident that no one had made that consideration for Mr. Yang and his niece. (As she revealed that no one had cared to ask before now). The interview was shocking, as were your comments, but I think it opened up the possibility for others to think more deeply about truth and its components. You have the respect of my friends and I for taking culpability in this way. Indeed, it is something as "small" as that that would have made all the difference for the Hmong so many years ago.

Oct. 10 2012 08:44 PM

I have no qualms regarding your action's Robert... what I do find "disturbing" are hypocritical comments made by many of your listeners. Many of you argue that he was trying to somewhat downplay the Hmong peoples plight, though that is what you are all doing at this moment. You are directing most of your attention away from the true story and turning it into a chastising event for a journalist doing his job.

Oct. 10 2012 03:02 PM

Thank you for your apology and the overall episode. As an aspiring journalist, I'm always asking ethical questions about the pursuit of truth and at what cost it should be obtained. Airing the "incident" in full -- with both your subject's emotion, your comments during and after the talk, and now this apology -- was a very honest and respectable thing to do.
Although it's regrettable that it happened and that your original handling of the situation was lacking, I think it's appropriate that it occured during an episode about truth. There was truth to her emotions, and your response was due to you seeking the truth. During it, she had a truth that you were being insensitive while your truth/belief (whther it was objectively true is another story -- but at the time, from your point of view, it was)was that she was being unreasonable. And now with your apology, we get yet another truth -- a new light on what happened, and a new examination of both her actions and yours. Thank you, Radiolab, for being truthful in all things and airing (literally) your mistakes uncensored.

Oct. 10 2012 10:57 AM
BNK from WashDC

I accept. Let's move on.

Oct. 10 2012 12:12 AM
Tom Marcham

I think the most frustrating thing about this story was that it seemed to end well before they had found the 'truth'. There appeared to be quite convincing evidence that the 'yellow rain' was not a chemical weapon but they were far too quick to dismiss what the Hmong eye witnesses experienced without trying to investigate what else could have caused those symptoms. It didn't feel like the story was over.

The interview was distressing but I felt that it was an understandable mistake, they obviously didn't intend to cause that reaction. I feel like the more damning part was the subsequent discussion - I'm sure it was intended well but it came across as very self involved - by including it you came across as more concerned about documenting your own 'soul searching' than genuinely concerned by what had happened. I guess the intention of including all this was to be open and honest but in this case maybe it would have been better to just leave it out.

Oct. 10 2012 12:01 AM


Thanks for this post. Some recognition of the tone deafness and understanding of the context of it all is what I needed to restore my confidence.

In my view, A career of good work is not tarnished by one rough day. Especially given the context.

Oct. 09 2012 07:43 PM
William Brazelton

This was an enlightening and powerful piece. I agree that some mistakes in tone were made, as Krulwich has now acknowledged. But the larger point of the piece was not lost.

Keep doing what you do, RadioLab. Please. The world needs more of this kind of journalism.

Oct. 09 2012 02:38 PM
Harry Charles from madison

I will never listen to your show the same way again. I have loved you program for a long time. I don't remember exactly when but it was a while ago that it took the number one radio spot in my heart over TAL. There's no two ways about it, every time from here on out that I mr Krulwich's voice I will think back to this appalling episode, he will be forever in my mind a fool who's out of touch insensitive comments have put a pox on this tremendous show. He must step down.

Oct. 09 2012 12:04 PM
Jack from Los Angeles

I'm surprised to see how many people found this episode offensive. It's ironic that this episode was about seeking truth, and yet some people on here CRIED about how it should have been edited to be less harsh. I respect the fact that they DIDN'T edit it and gave the interview to us as it was....the truth, as deeply unsettling to some as it may have been.

Oct. 08 2012 08:44 PM
AnneL from Everett, WA

The segment on the yellow rain was very disturbing to me but maybe for different reasons than others who have commented. I got the impression that Yangs felt Robert was minimizing or denying the massacre of the Hmong because he was questioning the identity of the yellow rain. I never got that impression but I think it points out another aspect of "truth". Unlike a courtroom drama where perjury invalidates a witnesses testimony, in this case part of the story can be incorrect and yet the whole story is true. For instance, yellow rain may be bee excrement and yet that doesn't negate the truth that the Hmong were brutally killed. I was disturbed to hear the guest cry because she wanted her story to be heard and felt it was being lost. No Ms. Yang, I heard and so did many others. Perhaps it wasn't a chemical weapon but it was an inhuman heinous mass murder. And for that I weep with you.

Oct. 08 2012 08:23 PM
Johnny from Live from NYY-BAL ALDS Game 2 , Camden Yards

Sanctimonious people will be sanctimonious, and they will wake up in the morning looking for things to be offended by. You presented things from your perspective, which is what all media is. I have no problem with that. I might disagree with you, but I will not complain on a website just to make myself feel better.

Keep doing what you're doing.

Oct. 08 2012 07:30 PM

I continue to be a loyal fan but did find the segment disturbing. I don't think Robert did more than try to get to the truth of the matter, and if this were a court case or an inquest it might have been worth opening painful wounds. But let's be honest, Radio Lab is enlightening, but it is still entertainment. I think the real problem was not how the questions were asked, but that the questions were asked simply to get the "answer" to a philosophical pondering of "what is truth?" It simply wasn't worth the emotional cost to the interviewees AND the audience.

Oct. 08 2012 04:04 PM

I loved the story and thought it was great that Radiolab aired the episode, with the Yang's point of view properly included. It gave the story a level of complexity that perfectly highlighted the difficulties and conflicts involved when one pursues the truth. My one complaint is that Radiolab did not further explain why it is and was so important to get to the truth about Yellow Rain, only brieifly mentioning that circumstancial, and discredited identification of Yellow Rain as a biological weapon was used to justify the United States developing weapons of chemical warfare.

Oct. 08 2012 02:12 PM

I don't understand what the negative commenters aren't getting about this situation.

We were told about the Hmong genocide.
Who listening to this story didn't walk away horrified by what happened to the Hmong?

The entire episode was about truth- not just what is the truth of the situation- but about who controls truth, how knowing the truth changes or doesn't change that situation, and about whether or not knowing the truth is important, or valuable. Aren't these the questions we are all left grappling with now?

This show is art, not just fact telling. The Hmong suffered a genocide and then have to deal with an "explanation" of what happened. The story here isn't just that these people were killed but that there is a QUESTION about whether it was a man-made or natural tragedy. And we are left with the emotional job of deciding whether it matters what the truth about yellow rain is.

We didn't leave the episode thinking "oh the Hmong died but it was bee poop so who cares"... come on! We are upset that the Hmong died and there is ambiguity about why or how, and the "truth" of the matter doesn't feel right .
That is the purpose of this show and all these comments are proof that they did the job!

Oct. 08 2012 01:18 PM

The point of this show was not to highlight the Hmong genocide. No one is denying this happened. It was to prove/disprove the use of a possible chemical weapon on the Hmong people. The only evidence Mr. Yang had was strictly anecdotal with no concrete evidence. Nothing Robert did in his questioning of potentially untrue claims was unethical. There is nothing Robert needs to apologize for. People are only making a fuss about this interview because of the fact that Mr. Yangs translator broke down and cried on tape. Learn the difference between what is journalism and what is not journalism people.

Oct. 08 2012 06:16 AM
Darwin from Madrid

Sounded like lawyers trying to catch the Reagan Administration and the Defense Department in some sort of nefarious cover-up. (Intellectuals vs. Fascists) The argument had been crafted, but Mr. Yang, the misinformed star witness, did not allow himself to be led. Ironic, giving the title of the episode. But maybe I just heard it all from a skeptical POV.

Oct. 08 2012 06:11 AM

I have waited a couple of weeks now, hoping that my strong negative emotion would go away. But it has not. Robert, your apology somehow misses the point. Not sure how to get you to hear what people are saying. People reacted very strongly EMOTIONALLY. There seemed to be a deep cruelty to what was happening. That is why your guests and listeners reacted the way they did.

What I am left wondering is how the staff at Radiolab did not pick up on this? How could the producers allow this segment to be aired? Jad mentions that this was talked about the segment in the cold light of day and yet it was aired anyway. It seems like all of the staff was "blind" to what they were hearing.

I have not been able yet to listen past this segment.

I am afraid that this is not going away and something else has to be done. I really hope that you both can figure out how to do this. Please somehow make it safe for me to listen again. Currently, I am telling my friends who listen NOT to listen to this show, because it will ruin Radiolab for them as it has for me and many of your listeners.

Please listen to the fact that this is not some mistake you can explain away. In the very least, and it may not do much but we need to hear from the NPR Ombudsman.

Oct. 08 2012 05:04 AM
Kim Brakeley from south bay, CA

NOT GOOD ENOUGH ~ you went in with your idea, your agenda. your "truth", and produced your own conclusion (huge surprise!), with an unbelieveable amount of arrogance. Harsh, and cruel, in a way which I am so surprised to hear on public radio. Surely you listened and had a chance to edit this before it aired? And this was the version you decided was the best??? What of yourself did you leave OUT, sir? Even worse, you bought, sold, & believed your own puffery. Gag, I remain disappointed in a former favorite show. Oh well, there's still This American Life, and Harry Shearer's Le Show (take a note from him, maybe.). Nice to know you.

Oct. 08 2012 04:14 AM

Socrates said "The unexamined life is not worth living" and that the only evil is ignorance. While my heart does go out to the Yangs and those who fell victim to the yellow rain, and I am empathetic to the voices of those who feel that feel Robert may have been too harsh, I feel that Robert truly meant no disrespect or harm. He was merely trying to pursue the unexamined to get to the heart of what had happened. My sympathies to the Yangs and those who were disease-stricken or died by the yellow rain, but I believe that regardless of what the yellow rain was, Robert merely was looking for answers to the hard-hitting questions, and I highly doubt he ever meant to hurt them in his response. Was the part about her monopolizing the truth a bit insensitive? Yes, but he has since apologized for it, and they still aired the whole segment, which only leads me to believe that Robert is truly sorry for his actions, and that his intentions were not evil, but to examine the still undiscovered points of the issue. Thank you Robert for apologizing, and my sympathies to all those who were taken by the yellow rain or family and friends of those who were.

Oct. 08 2012 01:43 AM
W. M. Plachy from San Diego

"Yellow Rain" show was simply dreadful. Taking the Hmong at their word:
1) Many people got sick and died with symptoms resembling nerve gas.
2) At or near the same time, there was a strange yellow rain.
People made the connection and tried to prove the yellow rain was the cause. That seemed to be effectively debunked. However, that has nothing to do with disproving 1). The Hmong still got sick and died. Your interviewers was so locked onto the Yellow Rain question, that they acted as if debunking it meant that nothing unusual had happened to the Hmong. There was absolutely no evidence for that. Your disrespect and general tone-deafness was offensive to the Hmong and to your listeners.
Let me point out that if Sarin gas (or some other agent)had been dropped on the Hmong, they would have gotten sick and died and possibly connected it with the strange Yellow Rain. The important fact is: they really got sick and died!

Oct. 08 2012 12:43 AM

I've been a journalist at a regional daily for years and though I don't pretend to be a Pulitzer Prize winner, that segment was disturbing. Every time I thought of a followup question I was surprised it wasn't asked. One problem is I think the hosts found their own idea of what the truth was and they clung to it. They became more important in their own eyes than the story itself. Also, the smug disrespect for your sources was appalling. Even the seemingly craziest people I interview get more respect than that and the Yangs were completely dismissed by the end despite so many questions going unasked. Had I been an editor, the reporter would have faced disciplinary action at the very least and as a reporter, I would have been ashamed to release that story as is.

Oct. 07 2012 08:36 PM
BARBARA from Los Angeles, CA

To Mr.Robert Krulwich,

take this gift, you need it for a life lesson learned (too bad the university!!
"Disrespectful"- exhibiting lack of respect; rude and discourteous; "remarks disrespectful of the law".

IF you're thinking that I'm being rude, maybe Im not as rude as you!

Oct. 07 2012 04:59 PM

I have been listening to radiolab for years and generally find it one of the most thrilling podcasts around. I have never had an experience listening to radiolab quite like I did when I finished listening to the Yellow Rain segment.

At first, I was extraordinarily angry for the way Robert and the other interviewer treated the Yang's. I understand that the "point" of the interview was not to talk about the genocide, but about how the genocide occurred. But you can't talk about the "how" of genocide without talking about the genocide itself. This goes 10-fold for people who directly or indirectly experienced these horrors. This is worse than being just a little insensitive.

I don't believe that this was done on purpose. Robert brought his same sense of scientific naivete to this interview as he does to all of his others. And this works great when the interview is about something we can appreciate on an intellectual level. But, it comes across terribly when interviewing people who have deep, deep wounds from a horrible experience that the world knows little about.

Now, after some more reflection, I appreciate Robert's and Jad's honesty about the subject, and how they are talking about this openly. They could have covered up this whole segment (or only aired pieces that made them look good).

Perhaps some good could come out of this fiasco if the story of the Hmong's could get more widely known. Yes, the truth about whether or not the yellow rain really is important, but not as important as the story of the people in it. So, in my mind, one way to make up for this is to tell more of the truth about the Hmong's. I am looking forward to learning more.

Oct. 07 2012 04:41 PM
Heidi Larsen from Olympia, WA

Thank you, Robert.

Oct. 07 2012 03:36 PM

Great and sensitive journalism here. I appreciate your advocacy for truth and clarity, and I admire your humility when you think you might have done so with less tact than you might have wished.

Oct. 07 2012 03:14 PM

1. Make this an apology of action. Revoice the apology on air, and then find a way, whether on RadioLab or through one of your sister programs, to give voice to the story of the Hmong people which you discredited in this show.

2. Because you based this episode on the belief of a filmmaker, that "if you look hard enough, you will find a truth," the whole episode is problematic from the start.

"Truth" and "facts" are, at best, tricky in science. Scientists seek the truth, but all we ever have are pieces of evidence. When we are lucky, that evidence helps us eliminate or support possible explanations. But there always exists the possibility that some long-held belief will be turned on its head by a new piece of evidence. That is part of the beauty of science--that even when we are most sure of our conclusions, we can never claim to know an absolute, immutable truth. Where was this perspective in your show?

Oct. 07 2012 12:49 PM

I'm reminded of the struggle Jews faced in the early days of WWII getting people to take their stories of concentration camps seriously. (As late as 1943 the "reports on atrocities at Auschwitz were deemed to be gross exaggerations"

Mr. Krulwich has apologized, but his fine reputation has been damaged in my eyes. Perhaps Radiolab should do a story on cultural insensitivity. A good place to start might be the Harvard Implicit Association Test and its underlying psychology.

Oct. 07 2012 12:10 PM

Mr. Yang could be wrong about the yellow rain. Why can't that be explored? The show and the interview was quite obviously about whether or not yellow rain was actually chemical weapons, and to me it seems Ms. Yang wanted it to be about the Hmong genocide, and becomes more and more agitated as the interviewers continue to focus on (what was supposed to be the point of the show) on the yellow rain. I can't believe the responses I've seen to this show. Robert is a journalist and journalists asks questions. This hyper-sensitivity only serves to muddy the truth. N

Oct. 06 2012 11:24 PM

No woman no cry.

Oct. 06 2012 06:43 PM

I appreciate Robert's humility in his apologies, although I felt they were not required.

After listening to the specific segment three or four times now, and hearing it in the context of the larger program, it seems that the interviewees were getting into the larger story of genocide, which was a story that was outside the focus on that segment. This segment was about finding out the perception of truth around yellow rain as a phenomena of bees or a warfare agent.

Again this is a misunderstanding, perhaps on both ends, with fault to share; Interviewers for not knowing the full significance of that family's immediate and the greater culture's experience after Vietnam, and being *perhaps* a bit overly direct in challenging the events of one tiny part of that experience as it related to bees and yellow pollen. The family's for taking offense by turning specific questions into something bigger than they were, and taking the direction of the story into their own agenda and beyond the purposes of the story.

Kudos must be given to Radio lab for airing more of context of that portion of the interview than they had to (even airing it at all was a much appreciated, and responsible gesture on their part), for giving the Yangs a forum to voice more of their story of genocide than was necessary for the segment, and for not dodging any of the results of the miscommunication.

Robert, you bring a very important, and thoughtful voice to the program. You and Jad balance each other quite well, and I value all of Radio labs contributors and associates for the hard work and terrific content they bring to this wonderful program. Don't let miscommunication deter anyone from the goal of communicating more clearly, it can be a bumpy ride sometimes.

Oct. 06 2012 02:21 PM

Like others, I am a huge fan of Radiolab but was stunned and horrified at the end of this interview. No matter what the rationalization or intellectualization Mr. Krulwich gives to justify his own comments, it was like a cold knife through the heart to hear him. I can honestly say I don't know how to listen to the voice of Mr. Krulwich again.

Oct. 06 2012 12:25 PM

This is another example of how consumers, or in this case listeners, have certain expectations of the product they consume. And if these expectations aren't met they sometimes can get very upset and even feel cheated or betrayed and outraged.

I have listened and enjoyed every one-hour show and pod cast and personally don’t expect or want Robert or Jad to act like Barbara Walters when they talk to certain guests.

What I like is the child like fascination and curiosity both have with the subjects and stories they present in their own unique way. It’s the same approach original artists have.
That to me is a great part of what makes Radio Lab special and outstanding.

This kind of approach may come across as being insensitive at times, but I don’t tune in and listen for Jad and Robert to act like psychological counselors when dealing with uncomfortable subject matters.

Mr. and Ms. Yang apparently agreed to be interviewed by an American journalist, so they can tell their story they are convinced to be the truth.
They understandably got upset when they felt the interview was going in a different direction that would undermine their horrible personal experiences.

Interpretation can be a bummer sometimes, but keep doing what you do so well and please don’t start sanitizing your shows because of some angry and demanding comments you got about this particular show.

There is so much more to explore and learn about.

Oct. 06 2012 11:14 AM

Mr. Krulwich, I've tried to write this comment a number of times. I still don't think you did anything in the wrong, but I think I get it now: You didn't acknowledge one of the most articulate and crescendo-ing sobs ever recorded. The inheritance of an identity was replete as your guest ended the interview. But that's not your fault. It's not your fault that the story your guests had been telling themselves was false. It's also not your fault that you didn't know how important that myth was.

I fear something changed in Radioalb because of that interview. Please don't become more delicate. Most people can and have moved on when they go to talk publicly about something deeply important to them. I don't think your guests knew quite what they were doing with something important to them, or maybe they were caught up in a powerful emotional moment.

Like a lot of other good podcasts and radio programming, Radiolab is about telling uncomfortable stories from time to time. These things happen, and sometimes we don't know their impact until after the fact. This doesn't mean that a matter was mistreated, however. It means that you breached it, that it does matter, and now we know better because of it.

Oct. 06 2012 04:17 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.

Oct. 06 2012 12:10 AM
Jenni from Brooklyn, NY

Hi Robert,

I wanted to thank you for posting this apology. I've been a Radiolab listener for many years, longer than I've lived in New York, and I've always believed you to be a generally compassionate radio host and interviewer. I was stunned listening to your interview with Ms. and Mr. Yang, so much so that I actually exclaimed out-loud in a public place while listening - much to the shock of those around me not privy the sound in my earphones. It did seem to me though that listening to you, that you were not fixated on what was happening in the moment so much as on the idea you wished to get to the bottom of, missing the importance of the grief of your interviewees. I am relieved to read here that, that assessment is correct. I look forward to continuing to support Radiolab as a listener, and to less fraught interviews in the future. Thank you again for taking the time to set things right.



Oct. 05 2012 08:11 PM
Mark from KC

If it looks like a duck and quacks like a duck and walks like a duck, it's a duck. The Soviet Union, well-known makers of military bioweapons, just like the good old USA, made a poison they could hide by looking like bee poo. The scientists said it was man-made, then they said it was bee poo. They dont sound very credible. So whats more likely, Soviet chemical attacks or magic bee crap?

Oct. 05 2012 04:17 PM

I understand your mission, but did you have to come off as heartless and ignorant of these people's suffering over the past few decades? There are so many different ways those questions could have been presented to not diminish the plight the Yang family went through, and I was very disappointed in you during this podcast, so much so that I actually created an account and log on to make this comment. And according to Ms. Yang, you actually did not include some crucial points regarding the bee population in those areas. You were never my favorite host for a variety of reasons, including slight inclinations that you might be a bit racist, but I always enjoyed the show until your rude accusations towards the Yang family. And they were accusations, not questions, especially with that tone of yours. So disrespectful.

Oct. 05 2012 04:17 PM

I also found this to be one of the most moving segments I have heard on Radiolab. The way the segment was edited and the inclusion of Ms. Yang's emotional response made me so much more invested and sympathetic for the horrors the Hmong people have been the victims of than if the story had simply been told with the "journalistic" detachment some of the previous comments have called for. This segment created a visceral reaction, not just for the trauma of death and witnessing the suffering and death of friends and neighbors but also for the pain of dealing with an ludicrous seeming explanation that none the less has prestigious scientific support. This story is important, and the way it was presented on Radiolab gave it a weight and resonance that could not be brushed aside,the unfortunate but common reaction to genocide.

The Eng and Yang families certainly have a right to their feelings and perceptions of the story and their experience, but I hope they will take solace in the realization that the listener was not left with the feeling that the story of the Hmong was less important or tragic because of the bee dropping theory but more so.

I appreciate that Radiolab does not give me the facts of the story and tell me how to feel about them, but rather creates an experience ( even when it is heart wrenching or uncomfortable) that leaves a real impression, and lingering thoughts and questions.

Oct. 05 2012 03:45 PM

I turned this episode off because of the lack of respect showed in this interview. I have been a fan of Radiolab because it provides an interesting perspective on science that is much more full of humanity than usual scientific accounts. This episode embodies the worst that science has to offer.

Oct. 05 2012 03:39 PM

I found this to be one of the most poignant interviews I have heard from any radio show in a long time. The reason it was so effective for me was because I was right there with you, the interviewer. I was carried along in the mystery, the surprise twist, and I was cheering for the truth, and damn the consequences. I was actually getting annoyed at the *interviewees* for what a took as irrational, blinkered confirmation bias towards their own recollections.

Then when she finally cracked, and the pain was sharp and raw, and that long moment of silence... *I* felt like a heartless ass for cheering for cold forensic truth. That feeling of immediate guilt was far more effective at driving the whole point of the piece home than any carefully worded, politically correct monolog.

I am sorry people had to feel hurt to make it happen, but wow what a powerful piece of radio.

Oct. 05 2012 02:31 PM
Alexander James Rios from Naperville, Il

I think there is nothing to apologize for. I didn't listen to this radiolab to hear about the Hmong people's plight twenty years ago, nor for an exceptionally uncomfortable meltdown from a young lady. That being said, it was enlightening to hear about it, but not in this venue.

Oct. 05 2012 10:53 AM
Alex from NYC


If there was someone who needed to be hammered, it was a spokesman for the military on why they still have Yellow Rain in their biological weapons manual. Not these poor people who are still haunted by the persecution and murder of their family, relatives ... of their entire people. You lost perspective in the interview. When I heard it, and you kept pressing, I actually lifted my head and stared at the radio and got extremely angry with you. I have never had a reaction like that before. The only way I can excuse you is to believe that you are ignorant of the Hmong people and what awful tragedies they have suffered.


Oct. 04 2012 10:03 PM

You cut too much into a topic that you'll never be able to get all the information correct. Why would you ask if Mr. Yang saw such an event take place? Would you ask a suicide bomber how he feels when he's carrying out a successful mission? Since you believe that what Mr. Yang experienced is false why don't you go and test it out yourself?

Oct. 04 2012 08:20 PM
Josh Patterson

I think the one thing we cannot lose sight of, as those who were outside of this event, speaking to people who did experience it, is that there is a certain truth in experience. Whether the Yellow Rain was or was not a chemical weapon cannot change the experience of despair and terror felt by the Hmong people who experiencing the campaign against them. Their experience, that chemical weapons were being used against them was true in their perception of it, and the repercussions of that for their life cannot be discounted and should have been treated with a respect that I don't believe was acknowledged in the interview. I believe Mr. Kruliwich apologized precisely and sincerely, but I don't believe that the truth of the experience has been acknowledged, it is a different truth, but a Truth none the less.

Oct. 04 2012 06:31 PM

Thank you, Robert. I cried when I listened to that interview, to hear their pain, but I did not condemn you then, and I certainly don't now. I have worked through an interpreter to talk with people about health concerns (though not nearly so traumatic as chemical warfare) and it can be difficult speaking through someone else. I appreciate your self-reflection and insight. Keep making wonderful radio!

Oct. 04 2012 06:07 PM
Kate from Madison

I'm a reporter, so I know how interviews can sometimes devolve despite good intentions. So I thought it was courageous to air all of that interview past the point when things broke down. I was out running, and I had tears streaming down my face. I heard the harshness, and I understood why you were asking those questions. But I also got to hear the articulate, heartfelt response from the Yangs. And I am glad for that.

Oct. 04 2012 04:43 PM
Keith Snyder from New York City

I understand why people think leaving the emotional content in is suffering-as-spectacle. But imagine if they'd removed it, archived it onto a backup hard disk somewhere, and never aired it. That would be a much worse offense against both the Yangs and humanity in general than anything Robert did--and frankly, I think the main thing he was guilty of is too narrow and too rigid a view of the issues he was stepping into.

Thank you for leaving it in. It gave a voice to these two people that they didn't have before. It also arrested and affected me deeply, not to mention that this is more than I knew about the Hmong before I listened.

The genocide wasn't the story Radiolab was after, but it was the story the Yangs wanted to tell. The fact that they got to tell it despite it not being what their interviewers were interested in says something, I think, about the generosity of the interviewers, just as the tone of the interviewers says something about their limitations.

It was a troubling segment, and enlightening, and interesting, and messy. One thing that does seem to distinguish truth is that it doesn't wrap up neatly.

Oct. 04 2012 04:07 PM

OK, I found some online references, including a 2001 review by the late Jonathan Tucker (expert on biological & chemical weapons, and arms control).

The discovery of pollen in the samples came independently from several labs. They were compared to known samples of bee feces on leaves and found to be identical. Hmong refugees were presented with known samples of bee feces on leaves and identified them as “yellow rain.”

But it wasn’t just the “bee feces” theory that cast doubt on the official account. Many have alleged that proper forensic procedures were not followed, and that field and laboratory evidence contradicting the official account were ignored or not made public. The collection of eyewitness accounts by the U.S. had serious (obvious) flaws. One former CIA division chief testified under oath that the Yellow Rain evidence and analysis had been distorted for political reasons, and that even the US embassy in Bangkok (who initially reported the accounts) wasn’t buying it.

Meanwhile, several CIA analysts stood by their analysis that T2 mycotoxins had been deployed in Laos and Cambodia. A former Reagan administration official said that evidence for mycotoxin use may have been insufficient to convict, but that a public expression of concern was necessary on humanitarian grounds and waiting for incontrovertible proof could have been deadly.

Tucker himself stated that “whether or not toxin warfare agents were used in Laos and Cambodia between 1975 and 1983, and if so, which ones, remains a mystery.” He suggested, however, that the debate over the existence of the yellow rain weapon may have obscured the conclusions of many that some kind of toxic weapon(s) was being deployed against the Hmong.

After my reading so far, I have little doubt the Hmong were attacked in some way. I can’t help but doubt that even with Soviet help, the communists were capable of carrying out a massive mycotoxin attack in the form of “yellow rain,” starting in 1975. I suspect the yellow spots were (forgive me but I don’t know how else to say this) a red herring.

Radiolab didn't present a full review of the evidence and arguments either for, or against, the use of a “yellow rain” mycotoxin weapon. You couldn’t fit that whole argument into their format. Yes, they presented arguments that cast doubt on the official account, but be honest: they didn’t present a conclusion either way.

This may be a case of biting off more than they could chew, and Krulwich may have been oddly insensitive. Given the inconclusive accounts elsewhere, however, the harsher critiques of Krulwich et al and their purported bias(es) are excessive, in my opinion.

Oct. 04 2012 03:08 PM
Elijah Portugal from Utah

Thanks for apologizing Robert. Personally I feel a lot better about the whole story after hearing your apology. Count me back as a loyal listener.

Oct. 04 2012 01:07 PM
Jonathan from Los Angeles

Not a great apology.

It was the myopic view of "truth" that brought about my disdain and frustration coupled with the callous handling of the interview subjects.

For me the only argument here is how complex and morally ambiguous "truth" can be. Radiolab bit off more than it could chew here and ended up vomiting something up that is both offensive and only partially digested.

In my opinion the scope and complexity of this story was too large to address in a straight forward, matter-of-fact, scientific manner that the show usually has such success with.

This segment needed a whistle-blower to say "hey, maybe this story is a little too complex and we're only addressing a narrow slice of what we've opened up here, and, um, we're doing a shitty job."

I'm looking for integrity and this segment had none of it.

Oct. 04 2012 12:15 PM
MN from USA

wow!! I think I should post this on Ellen Show or oprah winfrey's shows. I have been talking about this to all my family and friends about this. People like Robert need to be out in public beacuse he must think he is too good for human kind. Maybe after this I go post this up for the TV shows so that they can come and interviwe Mr.Eng Yang so that I can have a better understanding the real story of this yellow rain.

Oct. 04 2012 11:03 AM
Jo Dollarhyde from California

I had recently listened to a previous Radiolab podcast in which Lulu Miller gave a heartfelt "I'm so sorry," to a woman interviewee, even though that podcast's overall subject had nothing to do with the woman's pain. Quite a contrast to the "Yellow Rain" piece. I would love to hear a followup piece discussing validation, why it is so important to us, and why most or all of us are guilty at some point of withholding it.

Oct. 04 2012 10:04 AM
AceCat18 from Dorchester, Mass

A holocaust survivor just smacked Robert in the back of the head. A slight change of words could have prevented this interview from turning into an interogation. Sensitive topics, such as this, deserve more respect. Great episode and great show.

Oct. 04 2012 09:41 AM

I appreciate Robert's followup statement and apology. It is helpful for me to know back information about the questions that were sent ahead of time. It answers some of my initial questions upon hearing the interview.

I do hope that this apology, without the added justification/explanation for the benefit of listeners, was made to the interviewees.

My job is to help people tell their stories in ways that honor their experiences. One of my other favorite podcasts is Snap Judgment. Glynn Washington ends one of his own stories with a sentence that has become a creed for me, "Do not take another person's story."

Your show was about finding truth, and in this segment, you did. You re-framed an event in history in a fascinating way, and it is that kind of work that makes me love your program. But I don't think your job was not to convince a trauma survivor that his story was wrong, because in the end, what purpose does that serve? It was your search for truth, but it was his personal trauma, and sometimes that is more important. Your frame does not change the level of emotion or loss.

Oct. 04 2012 06:53 AM
Mark from Chicago

I think Robert's tone was brash and--as he put it--strangely angry. And that's what he apologized for. Good for him. I can't speak to the authenticity of his apology in that, but I have a good guess that, whether truly contrite or not, it wouldn't have mattered.

I've been watching the controversy over this story and have found myself wondering whether people are upset at the tone or the topic. Because the two are not the same. Many people on this board seem to want Robert to apologize for having made a story questioning the existence of a chemical weapon, and I find that odd. Many have made tortured analogies to holocaust deniers. That saying "genocide was commited, but probably not in this particular way" is tantamount to denial is an obvious fallacy.

I'm glad Robert apologized for his demeanor and tack. The story was a rough one and he came across grossly cavalier both in the interview and the post-interview discussion. But, substantively, he was right: the show was about truth, and the difficulty in seeking it out. Compare the beautiful, meticulous and disattached tactics of Errol Morris with the soft, subjective claims of posters angry at Radiolab saying "he knew about bees." Is anyone upset with Morris for uncovering the fakery in another scene of murder and war? I should hope not. He wasn't out to expose the tragedies which (no doubt) accompanied The Crimian War anymore than Robert was out to expose the tragedies of this genocide. The tragedies are evident. The tragedies are there. But the truth is different from the narrative. Generally, the real truths, the real facts we can find in this world aren't huge super-narratives of humanity suffering or humanity suffering: they're a couple of rocks rolling down a hill, or bees on a cleansing flight. That's not an easy thing to come to terms with. But it has a existential wonder to it. And the hard work that goes into discovering those little rock falls and bee poopings is courageous and of profound importance.

Of course the human and political story of these events outstrip that of the yellow rain question. No one, and I should think especially the folks at Radiolab, would fail to understand that. But that is not this story. This is a small story that takes place is the strangely solid shadows of those larger ones. It tells us things that don't have to line up with, inform or even contribute to the larger tale. It is the rocks falling. It is the bees pooping. It is the stuff we have a chance to say for certain. As I'm defending the story, I'll take the chance to say that I am also sorry that those little truths and attempts at truths can be so hurtful. But if we were to not explore them because of the potential for upsetting ourselves and others, we would have no truth at all. Or none we didn't want, which is shockingly close to the same thing as having none.

Oct. 04 2012 04:53 AM

Does this also mean that you try to be less precious generally in the future? I am, after all, not a student in your first grade class.

Oct. 04 2012 12:50 AM
Moonie from Saint Paul, MN

Your apologies are not sincere. You shouldn't have to wait this long or have people to write and tell you that you were wrong to be able to apologize. Apologies should have been said during the last segment when she said the interview was done. If someone was to question what you had experienced yourself personally, wouldn't that have offended you as well? Wouldn't it hurt you to hear someone act and say that what you had experience was not true? How can you even question the reality that someone went through? I hope you know that not all sciences are discovered or even so, science changes. Ignorance is what I heard during the interview and even after the interview and even in the apology made. Shame on you and those who said it wasn't necessary for an apology.

Oct. 04 2012 12:40 AM
Peter from Atlanta


Sorry. I know you're really confident that the theory was completely and totally refuted. But, to be honest, I don't trust their judgment, even if he was a professional beekeeper by trade. I point you back to Paul's statement on Meselson - it's not that I know that he's wrong, I just don't know that he is right. Just as Meselson's claims should have been more carefully investigated, the Yangs' claims deserve the same amount of skepticism. But at the end of the day I'm not related to them. So I'm going to view them with more skepticism than you will. Once again, there is no disagreement here that what happened to them was tragic, a genocide, and should be documented more. If it were not for this segment I would not have known anything about the issues. But now that I know, finding out the truth is an important thing. And now since I've been downvoted into oblivion, adios.

Oct. 04 2012 12:17 AM

After listening to the segment carefully, I could find no place in which Robert was out of line. While what happened during that time was horrendous, that was not what the interview was about. Robert trying to steer the interview back on track and asking for evidence that this "yellow rain" was being distributed by planes is the JOB of an interviewer. The truth of the matter is that those interviewed have for so long believed this was a chemical weapon, no evidence to the contrary will sway them. While of course the topic is emotional, to bring that emotion in as 'evidence" flies in the face of what this episode as all about; the truth. After all, the question was not "did horrible things happen to your people," it was "was the yellow rain a chemical weapon."

Oct. 03 2012 11:41 PM
Zack Stauber from Albuquerque, NM

These demands for an apology to the Yangs are out of line. They are a perfect example of where people depart from the truth when emotion is involved. Survivors of genocide are treated as sacred. They cannot be questioned, contradicted, or even analyzed, even when they are clearly wrong, as in this case. This laxity in fact checking has allowed people who claimed to be Holocaust survivors, who weren't even Jewish, like Binjamin Wilkomirski, to build entire sham careers out of telling and selling stories that turned out to be complete artifacts. Mr. Yang did survive a genocide, RadioLab publicized his suffering, but to bow to a demand that RadioLab repeat something that has been proven false as a condition of continuing an interview is not something a journalist can do. Holding Mr. Yang's story to the same standards as everything else is not something Mr. Krulwich should apologize for.

Oct. 03 2012 11:19 PM
True from Camarillo, CA

Im going to make this story alot shorter and easier for you guys to understand.

The story you guys heard from RadioLab was flipped around. RadioLab's "Plot" was to edit the story into their own interview. They also made their story sounded like they were innocent, and they were just following their "agenda list" like they were suppose to. Also they made it sound like Mr.Yang was ignoring their questions. Then RadioLab made it sound like they were just asking more questions, because they weren't getting enough information from Mr.Yang. Which was their biggest mistake.

RadioLab, Since this interview has gotten out of hands. We would want you to post the original tape. So everyone could hear Mr.Yangs real answers, instead of us hearing a story from a second person.


Its not a surprise to hear from RadioLab that the original tape was "Cut". Even though you guys "Cut" alot of the tape recordings, we can still hear your own mistakes. Which was when you guys tried forcing Mr.Yang into answering the questions you guys wanted to hear.
Robert Krulwich asked if Mr.Yang saw the yellow rain when the bomb fell on top of you guys.
"How dumb is that question?" whats your answer to that?

Mr.Robert Krulwich/RadioLab!! "Owes" Mr.Yangs, and Ms.Kao Kalia Yang an apology. On radio and in live.

Oct. 03 2012 10:16 PM

@Peter, in case you were not following this conversation I was there for the conversation. Kalia knew about the bee crap theory, and referred to research that called it into question. Additionally, Eng and Kalia discussed Yellow Rain and were in the interview to discuss Yellow Rain for 2 hours straight. They pretty much were able to pull apart the bee crap theory immediately, for two hours the conversation went in circles with Krulwich and his sidekick Walters pushing Eng telling him that a Harvard professor watched bees poop in Thailand and so that told them everything they needed to know about bees in Laos (which Eng spent two hours explaining his expert knowledge of and experience with).

Kalia and Eng were familiar with the bee crap theory, also like the producers of this show they were familiar with not only the Hmong experience, but other western science and military reports that call that theory highly into question.

Oct. 03 2012 10:06 PM
Peter from Atlanta

Aaron Hokanson:

I read it. The producer says there's controversy about the supposed bee poop that is also happening to kill people, and that this is a very important story. Are you reading the email conversation as a bait and switch? The fact that he doesn't answer Kalia's three questions about the purpose of the interview? The fact that questions about the massacre come before the last questions about the bee dung?

If so, and of course that is a very big if, I think that's very extreme projecting on your part. I don't think Pat Walters was actually thinking, "Let's pretend like the bee theory isn't valid, only to spring it on them last second." I don't think Kalia's statement that the Hmong have harvested bee honey for centuries should have put to rest any and all theories for Pat. I don't think that Pat not answering the three questions was because he wanted to disguise his true intentions? And I don't think the list of questions asked was a misdirection before springing the question of the bee poop explanation on Kalia and Eng.

As for the second part of Paul's statement, I largely agree with it - at least with the idea that it's not clear how Radiolab went through the evidence and came to their conclusions. Right now, I'm hearing a lot of alleged counterclaims, but no obvious refutation. Should they have gone through a more exhaustive detailing of the issues? I think so. I ended that segment confused as well. But everything hinges on the truth of what actually happened. If it was indeed a chemical weapon, then ultimately the Yangs were insulted - but it's not possible to tell whether Radiolab did this malevolently, as if they considered the evidence and said nah, let's throw this out. If it was not a chemical weapon, then the Yangs are doing a disservice as well.

Oct. 03 2012 09:43 PM
Adam from Los Angeles

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

Oct. 03 2012 07:36 PM
Parker from Oklahoma City, OK

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

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

Oct. 03 2012 07:08 PM


Read @Paul's account of what the producers communicated to the Yangs about this interview. Also making assumptions about what people think is insulting.

Oct. 03 2012 07:03 PM
Peter from Atlanta

Those demanding another segment to cover the story of the Hmong are showing their own biases. Consider the response from Audrey (and so many others from WI or MN):

"It's not about the yellow rain to Mr. Yang or Kao Kalia Yang or their family or the Hmong community. I understand that this is what the segment was about, but again, that is why I firmly believe that there needs to be another segment done, this time giving focus on the voices and truths that have been pushed aside and unheard and giving them a chance to speak."

You understood the point of the segment and you intentionally dismiss it anyway. I bet that's what the Yangs did too. "We get a chance to tell our story! This is our moment! Wait, why are they asking these stupid and irrelevant questions? Can't they see we have a story to tell?"

I sympathize with jumping on every available opportunity to speak to a large audience, and getting frustrated when your voice is restricted or people asking you questions that you either don't want to spend time answering or don't see as relevant to your own agenda. People were tragically and systematically murdered. And now in your emotions, if they weren't murdered by yellow rain, they weren't murdered at all. So now you feel like the white man is holding you down. But this is the wrong forum to fight for justice. Find a stage where your statements won't be challenged and will be allowed to stand on their own, and you'll get the response you feel you deserve.

Oct. 03 2012 06:55 PM
K Her from St. Paul, MN

I read the "apology" posted on MPR. My thoughts...Mr. Krulwich - Your apology is extremely disingenuous. Who apologizes but then justifies their position? I think you are sorry for the backlash from this story but not about what matters.

The assumptions that you made of Kao Kalia; that she didn't want the other side of the story to be told and that she didn't care about the deadly consequences of the use of chemicals; big assumptions considering that all Kao Kalia was trying to do was interpret the Hmong experience for her Uncle and for asking you not to interrogate him as if he somehow had personal responsibility for the U.S. creating chemical weapons.

What you should be sorry for is the lack of focus in your story. Was it a story about Hmong people and the perceived harm of yellow rain or was it about the government and their justification for creating chemical weapons. Your comment, "The world's most powerful person, Ronald Regan, used this to order the manufacturing of chemical weapons..." would seem to indicate the latter. How is it Hmong people's fault that the President ordered the manufacturing of chemical weapons? Is the government not responsible for its test results? The actions they take based on these results? If it truly was not yellow rain, is the government not responsible for finding out the cause of the genocide? Wouldn't it be the least it could do for the sacrifice, death and suffering the Hmong people endured to support American ideology?

As a Hmong person I don't need your apology. However, Kao Kalia and her Uncle do for your insensitivity, for making them relive their trauma and invalidating their experience.

Your effort to discredit the Hmong experience and a man's firsthand account did not help you accomplish your goal of getting the truth out about what the government did and how they justified it. The government was looking for a reason to create this weapon. It used the Hmong people to give itself the permission to do it. Let's not forget how the evidence of weapons of mass destruction was used to justify war with and the killing of Saddam Hussein.

Oct. 03 2012 06:53 PM

I've only recently been listening to radiolab but really enjoy it. When I initially heard this episode I was every upset and felt like Mr. Krulwich came off very mean but I am willing and ok with this apology and explanation. On no other episode that I've heard has he come off this way and so for me it's easy to accept his statement.

Oct. 03 2012 05:56 PM
Brend-I from Wausau, WI

I have read many comments, and the comments that say the host Krulwich does not need to apologize, well, hmmmm. He offended a whole ethnicity. He offended a group of war survivors. He offended intellect, in the name of personal arrogance. He offended, plain and simple, as was easily heard in the interview posted online.

I do not know what else was said or done in the full interview as Radio Lab will not release this segment(full) without a court order. Is there something to hide? Maybe, maybe not. But like Mitt Romney refusing to release his tax returns, is there something to hide? Maybe, maybe not. But we shall never know. That does not seem truthful. It seems like a half-truth, or half-falsity, at best.

He offended the Hmong. I live in WI where my city has almost 4,000 Hmong people, or 10.5% of the population based on the 2010 census. He offended me. He offended my city, he offended my neighbors, he offended all who buy vegetables at the farmers market, he offended all school children and their teachers. He offended humanity.

He got offensive not when searching for the truth, at all, but trying to "prove" his personal truth. It was at the expense of war survivors, of a whole culture. It was at the expense of actual events. It was at the expense of truth!

Maybe he has gotten one too many personal compliments, or his show one too many accolades, or maybe he just has a problem controlling his own ego(which I myself am guilty of too). Next week on Radio Lab, "Robert Krulwich explains to women to truth of child birth(hosts first-hand recollection, not to be missed)" But bottom line is he offended HUMANITY. And his arrogance will still not allow the truth to be told, nor for a correct, "truthful" apology to be issued.

If you wanted to do a piece on the Hmoob(Hmong) I suggest that you know what you talk about before you talk! Because I care, because truth does matter, here you are:


Oct. 03 2012 04:54 PM
Audrey from Minneapolis, MN

@Diane from MN: Thank you for letting me know. Now I just hope that one will be made to the family...there shouldn't be a question about it.

@Michael M from San Francisco, CA: "Dodging" is the wrong word to use. Mr. Yang was not dodging anything. He saw an opportunity to tell his story and the story of so many others in the Hmong community and wanted to tell it. His perception of the interview was different from Robert's, that is clear. They were both trying to tell/get to two different truths. But I don't think it was obvious that Mr. Yang wanted to "dodge" questions or "not admit" to anything. There is nothing for him to dodge or not admit to. He just wants to tell his story and its not a question whether the Hmong were right or wrong about the yellow rain. I think what they say at the end of the segment is on the right path. That when the focus is on the yellow rain, they are shoving aside a much larger story that hits at a much more different type of truth. One that has not been told and one that so many people do not even know about. It's not about the yellow rain to Mr. Yang or Kao Kalia Yang or their family or the Hmong community. I understand that this is what the segment was about, but again, that is why I firmly believe that there needs to be another segment done, this time giving focus on the voices and truths that have been pushed aside and unheard and giving them a chance to speak.

Oct. 03 2012 04:39 PM
T. Nagy from Ann Arbor

I am a HUGE fan of RadioLab and just recently listened to the "Yellow Rain" part of the episode. I found it very disturbing and had to stop listening to it at some point. I eventually went back and finished listening to the piece and the conversation that came after. And then read all the comments.

I am distressed at how many people don't think an apology was necessary. This is almost as disturbing as the interview itself. I think a personal apology should be extended to the Yangs. It does not need to be public, and it is not that anyone needs to apologize for trying to understand the "truth" of the matter. The apology is for the dis-respect that came off from the line of questioning during the interview, as well as in the comments afterwards.

I was hoping that in the discussion afterwards there would be discussion about the fact that the interviewing went too far, pushed too hard, was too hard on the uncle - who was clearly distressed by the apparent dis-trust in his first-hand experience. Instead it was more about how it should be presented, did they manipulate the conversation, and a little about the handling of the whole thing.

They came to the interview in good faith. They knew the line of questioning that was going to happen, but they - for sure - would have expected a level of respect for their experience that was not evidenced in the show as it was aired. Perhaps it went better in parts we did not hear, and I do appreciate sharing all the tape, even that part which was not your best moments as interviewers. But still - I was disheartened by the way the interview went and how it ended. It was hard for me to listen to.

Guys, you do such a great job, and always have fascinating stories - but please - keep in mind when you are addressing such painful topics - that the human experience and personal pain should be respected above and beyond all things. Even as you try to disentagle the personal experience from the facts - personal pain has its own truth that no one can take away.

One good line I always try to remember is "there, but for the grace of god, go I" What would we feel like if we were in their shoes? when this happened in Laos? during the interview? How would I feel if I was on the other side?

Oct. 03 2012 04:01 PM
Diane from MN

@Audey from Minneapolis: There has been absolutely NO direct apology to the Yangs or the Hmong community.

Oct. 03 2012 03:31 PM
Rebecca from Windermere

I think the thing that I found most jarring about the "yellow rain" segment was how cruel Mr. Krulwich was in pressing for answers from the Yangs. Even when there was distress in their voices, even when there were audible tears being shed, he continued hammering on.

I think this moment illuminates a thing we forget about our Radiolab "friends" whom we've gotten to know over the years. We don't actually know you at all. And the avuncular image I'd formed about Mr. Krulwich will be forever tarnished, forever changed... which is a new form of truth you probably didn't anticipate as the result of an episode on Truth.

Oct. 03 2012 02:59 PM

Well orchestrated, yes. Fantastic narrative, yes. Good science, no. Journalism, good-lord-no. Geez, stop drinking the Kool-Aid fanboys.

Oct. 03 2012 02:57 PM
Jeff Wagg from Chicago, IL

I believe the Yellow Rain segment was one of the most powerful things to come out of Radio Lab. Though it ended on a negative, it demonstrated the nature of "truth" more than any scripted or well-orchestrated segment could have.

It's regrettable that the Yangs were upset, and I do wish Radio Lab would do a story just on the Hmong as there is a lot to learn there, but in the end, an excellent piece of media was created that can foster useful and compelling discussion.

I'm now donating to Radio Lab monthly, and I encourage you - especially those of you calling for harsh action – to do the same.

Oct. 03 2012 02:48 PM
sonya kohut from Montreal

As a longtime listener who has listened to every single episode of Radiolab ever made, I was really upset at the conclusion of the "yellow rain" segment, because I'd never heard a Radiolab interview conducted so insensitively and which made me feel the interviewees were treated unfairly. It seems I was not alone in my reaction judging from the responses above.

I'm no journalist but I can understand that in some cases, journalists and interviewees go into an interview with divergent goals, even if the stated reason for the interview is clear. In this case, you described a story to an interviewee concerning the status of a piece of scientific evidence, while in the minds of the interviewees, the scientific evidence was but a part of the larger story of wartime atrocities directed at their own ethnic group. Of course they were upset when you debunked the yellow rain story; what did you expect them to say? "I guess our people were dying from their own delusions or extenuating factors?" How could they not be upset, when the significance of their story was about to be overturned by focusing on one small piece of the bigger picture? Alleged chemical warfare would be one of many ways in which the Hmong were targeted during the war.

Of course it's important to fully examine the evidence at hand, but it seems cruel to press Mr. Yang repeatedly on one point after he repeatedly expressed distress that the story of what happened to his people wasn't being heard. If you're going to keep pressing, at least first acknowledge that you heard what he said more than once, right in front of you - his people were targeted and were killed (to him, it mattered not so much specifically how it happened, but that it did happen)and their story deserves to be told.

I love Radiolab and it's brought me so much joy; it pains me to see the investigations of the show cause someone distress. I hope you've made amends with the Yangs, which in my opinion is even more important than making amends on the blog.

Oct. 03 2012 02:42 PM
jordhan from San Francisco

After reading all these comments, it is clear a majority of America does not know who the Hmong are, what they went through and their current situation. I don't believe that even the hosts of this show are aware. I am Hmong-American, and I am a big fan of Radiolab. I am also a cardiac ICU nurse at one of the nation's leading hospitals, so I understand the process and rigor of scientific inquiry. But I am appalled at how the normally sensitive Krulwich demeaned the entire experience of Mr. Yang in his blind effort to make his point. At some point, you have to step away from the microscope and realize what you are seeing. There was a whole other, more fantastical, more heart-wrenching story here that the host and producers completely missed. The scientific process often leads you to more questions, new stories, and a different outcome than you hoped. Radiolab was severely amiss in seeing this. It boggles my mind that, being normally so perceptive, they would discard this whole story in this manner. Our story, the Hmong diaspora, is so unknown, and now because of Radiolab, there is an element of uneducated hysteria attached to our people because of Radiolab. It is shameful. It would not take very much for Radiolab to produce a short to address their shortcomings in this matter but I guarantee you it took a lot of Mr. Yang and his niece to open up about a painful horrific time only to have it summarily dismissed as the rantings of ill-educated immigrants.

Oct. 03 2012 01:20 PM
Michael M from San Francisco, CA

I'm with you 100% Robert. The Yangs were dodging the questions that needed to be answered...did he see the yellow rain coming from a plane, or did he actually witness the rain causing harm? What happened to the Hmong was horrible, and no one was contesting that. But if chemical weapons were manufactured due to an inaccurate account, that is a huge problem.

To me, it sounded like he didn't want to admit that the Hmong were wrong about yellow rain. I believe he felt that if the yellow rain were merely bee s***, it somehow diminished what his people went through. But at the end of the day, this is a very important nugget of information. And you were right to try and get a straight answer. It was uncomfortable, it was awkward, it was emotional, but it was a great moment that made a story about bee s*** mean so much more.

Thank you for your journalistic integrity, and for always pushing for the truth!

Oct. 03 2012 12:46 PM

Post the transcript. Ira does. If Krulwich thinks he can protect publicly-funded content from public scrutiny, he is more misguided than we have now know. Link to the articles that call into question the science on which Krulwich bases his opinion. That is what it is, not truth, not even journalism in this performance. Jad, this guy is bringing you down. Don't make excuses for him.

Oct. 03 2012 11:46 AM
Rick from Sacramento, Ca

Saddened at your perceived need to apologize. Yes, it was uncomfortable and confrontational, but so is life at times. I found that segment to be one of the most thought-provoking segments on this podcast - it made me think about the editorial process and integrity of the story-tellers to the story they're telling - not wanting to be pushed off track by emotions. In all, it actually made me consider the mass loss of life even more than if it were just another story on a brutal act of war in a far off place - it was personal, emotional and truly awkward... the way life is. Great, great segment. Thank you for keeping it in the show - warts and all.

Oct. 03 2012 11:41 AM
Matt from Chicago, IL

All I know is Radiolab has always been a fun, thought provoking, and interesting hour for me and this was not fun; it wasn't Radiolab. It started that way but took that turn with the interview. Let's get back on track.

Oct. 03 2012 10:44 AM
Jason from Waterloo, Ontario

I felt the Yellow Rain episode was actually pretty balanced in that the Yangs' story was being challenged in appropriate and interesting ways. Clearly there was a large part of the community, and Robert himself in retrospect, who felt the tone of questioning was too insensitive. Fine.

But although the tone may have been disagreeable, Robert was right not to let the Yangs' account go uncontested. Surely those of us who listen to podcasts like Radiolab know how horribly problematic memory is. First person accounts should always take a back seat to physical evidence. Post-hoc rationalization actually does modify memories retrospectively. And the science is pretty weighty on this point: the more certain we are about a memory, the more likely that it's got non-trivial details wrong.

I thought the decision to play Ms. Yang's emotional monologue in (what I assume was) its entirety _was_ treating them with respect and sensitivity. I found it very touching, and really did make me rethink the past few minutes of interview.

If anything else, the Yangs did succeed in their goal to voice their story and make it known to a wider audience. Count me among those who have been exposed to the horrors of the Hmong people for the first time.

Oct. 03 2012 09:35 AM

The Yangs still await an apology.

This is an apology to your audience, and not for the right things, you (and the radiolab team) must apologize for misleading about the "fact of the matter" of "yellow rain" science.

You Still owe a direct apology to the Yang family.

Paul from St pauls 2 part letter below Provides an account of what happened prior to the interview with the yangs. and an account of the actual science Radiolab dismissed exposing lazy journalism.

Oct. 03 2012 08:07 AM

This was a powerful piece of storytelling -- messy, painful, gutsy and brilliant.

You did too good a job of pulling us into that dark, confusing place at the heart of any real conflict. You did that too well. I expect very few people will appreciate that, but I hope people forgive you for it.

Oct. 03 2012 04:15 AM
Catherine from Binghamton, NY,

I wrote this to you, and just see your apology now and so many comments...

Dear Mr. Krulwich,

I listened to the show today, doing dishes, the baby, the usual. I was in between active listening and was jolted back by the conversation with the woman translating for her Uncle. In your tone, I'd never heard it before, appeared the scientific ego, the black and white, the right is right and wrong is wrong. She said "Semantics" and writing now, I recognize the irony in you taking her to mean semantics, when what she really meant was something like "soulmantics." But I forgave you when I understood your underscoring of the U.S. exploiting this Untruth to develop chemical weapons unchecked. Our politics and history, especially these last ten years, have been devastating, and often a kind of cynicism digests these heartbreaking realities for us, it was unusual to hear it in your voice, you who I know you give his to the light.


Catherine M.M.

Oct. 03 2012 02:51 AM
AMReimer from Soldotna, Alaska

On the positive side it's nice to see so many people prioritize basic human values over an admittedly interesting thought experiment. I listened to this story today, found it fascinating, then disturbing. Resolved to come home and send Radiolab a nasty email. I'm heartened to see so many people were able to see where the train fell off the tracks.

P.S. It's irrelevant how you prepared them for the interview. The Yang's nailed the "Truth" of that situation, it's unclear if you guys ever figured it out.

Oct. 03 2012 02:24 AM

I loved the podcast (as always), and I must say that I understood you completely. Fighting for the truth doesn't mean you're an non-compassionate person, it's just a way of living. I could feel the pain of the Yangs, and it has its place in their subjective experience. I think we should be empathic to their suffering - and I felt you were. But understanding a person's feeling doesn't imply we should lose track of reality, and this is what I love the most about RadioLab - you don't try to please anyone. You don't try to hide the truth to make people feel good with themselves. You just supply the mirror showing us all the harsh (and beautiful) reality that's out there. So Kudos as always to you two.

Oct. 03 2012 02:00 AM
Anitra Nottingham

For what it's worth kudos to you for allowing us to hear the emotional pain you inflicted in that interview — which I believe you didn't intend to do to those poor people BTW. Yep, you owed them an apology and good for you for doing that.

I was impressed though you had the guts to let us hear the interview in it's entirely, you could have edited it out. You didn't. Those people went through hell and the emotional pain I heard in Ms Yang's voice bought home to me what those people suffered far more than the dry "truth" of the matter ever could.

Oct. 03 2012 01:49 AM
Jessica from France


Thank you for turning your face to us as the RadioLab listerns and made your "apologize" but why not direct to your guest-speaker: Mr.Yang and Ms.Yang??? I feel that the Yangs are not as important as your audiences, if you understand that the messages that we are sending you is that..IF YOU WANT TO MAKE YOUR "AudienceS HAPPY" go and make a "Live ON-Air" talk with the yangs so that we all can have a better understanding of this segement.

-YOUR own audiences

Oct. 03 2012 01:35 AM
Dupaothao from USA

You deserve to lose your job, due to your actions. Your whole website should be shut down.

Oct. 02 2012 10:54 PM

This is not an acceptable apology to me. Neither is Jad's explanation. Trying hard to come up with a reason to keep listening. Radiolab handled this very difficult and painful subject in an awful, awful way. Not only was the browbeating 'interview' on your part inexcusable, but the science was incomplete as well.

Ever consider that a weapon may have been deliberately designed to resemble 'bee poop?' Or that bees may have been an unwitting transmission vector for something? These are just two big questions of many that remain unanswered.

I've listened to the segment several times now. Remarkably, I didn't hear any conclusive evidence on your part. Certainly nothing to justify the way you concluded the interview. Most ironic when the podcast is about the quest for the truth of a matter.

Yes, epistemology is a difficult thing, but there are significant conflicting factors and huge remaining questions that undermine your 'explanation' of things as well. The arrogant way you confronted the Hmong survivors on this left more than a bad taste in my mouth. It left me weeping.

Add my voice to the many calling for the complete transcript of the entire interview.

Oct. 02 2012 09:22 PM
Dan Lowe from Missoula, MT

Good to see that people who may or may not have listened to the program prior to this episode and may or may not be Hmong or have any relationship with the Hmong people, and may or may not have any personal experience with human atrocity on this scale, are using it as an opportunity to display their moral character on the internet. Demanding an apology then requesting further refinement to that apology is just another opportunity to 'do' good before going back to whatever contemptible lives we're probably all leading, at least so far as this situation should be considered contemptible in the first place. For a radio personality whose character is apparently condemned forever (by some) for five minutes of (what some have perceived as) indiscretion.

Robert never needed to publicly apologize. If on reflection he agreed that his tone was unfortunate, then that's a conversation between him and the family he was interviewing, and at best the Hmong community as a whole. To whatever lengths he has or will now do that is none of our business, and this apology (as a catch-all PR gesture to those he cannot personally apologize to individually) should be adequate to keep listeners. If it's not, then stop listening, but don't demand that any more time be spent to keep you.

That said, I'm glad that a dialogue will come out of this, an episode on the notion of truth, and I hope revelations about the way we handle knowledge don't get lost in the vitriol. Namely, that we seek ways to reinforce a truth we have relied on (that perhaps both producers of the show and their guests are guilty of), and to resist anything that takes away from it. Not because we're unscientific or misguided, but because our perspective of the world we live in -- and thus the world itself -- are derived from whatever conclusions we come to.

Oct. 02 2012 07:59 PM
Cristiano Ferreira Bucek from Brazil

I can fully understand Ms. Kao Kalia Yang and Mr. Eng Yang reaction and their pain. We can always understand both sides if we want...
But hopefully "understanding" or even "being compassionate with" doesn't have to mean "agreeing with".
Honestly I see no reason to apologize...
If Ms. and Mr Yang had to react like this in front of so objective questions, how would be possible to carry on an interview with the most remote scientific purposes?
What about everyday life? Should we stop asking important questions to do not hurt people who, for any reason, refuses to question themselves?
You guys run the radio, but I felt like they had room to say whatever they wanted during the interview.
If you close debate because such a simple question is considered unacceptable... well, for me that does mean monopolizing the true.

Oct. 02 2012 07:44 PM
Janus from Toronto, Canada

When I was 14 I decided to use my allowance to personally treat homeless people to meals and give them an ear to talk to because I've walked by the displaced for years and never knew what had happened to them or why. It was a turning point in my life and with Vancouver, BC being multicultural and along the Pacific, many of the stories I heard were from Asian immigrants including once a wonderfully articulate Hmong woman who echoed many of the sentiments expressed in Yellow Rain. I cried with her then, I cried again here, but I'd like to say that if you can empathize with the Hmong man and his niece you should be compassionate and sympathetic enough to understand and empathize with Robert's position without being so inflammatory.

Robert was wrong in his harshness but I hope we understand that it's unworldly to respond to Robert’s harshness with even more harshness. Again, if you can empathize, I’d hope you are sympathetic to everyone equally. Everyone makes mistakes. You forgive them, comment, and hope they learn. Berating them, insulting them, does nobody any good and it’s shameful to see such here.

When I first heard this piece I was emotionally adamant and sympathetic with the Hmong man because it is indeed a story few people have heard and among the worst modern tragedies that has yet to receive proper justice. But, though Robert has apologized for his use of "monopolize", I think he had every right to say such when it's clear that the Hmong man and his niece were focusing only on getting their own story out, which I’m sure we all understand why, including Robert, including myself with all the time I’ve devoted promoting awareness of First Nations land issues, but in that they denied Robert and Pat a fair discussion about Yellow Rain in all its aspects. The end result of these conflicting intentions was painful for all involved, but adding even more harshness into the conversation does no one any good. Forgiveness is as important as compassion.

Radiolab could have never released this story and we would be none the wiser, but they did, and it wasn’t because they believed they were adamant in how they treated the issue. I write this believing that next time Radiolab produces a segment with as much weight in it as this, they will still release it despite their fears, even though they will undoubtedly be less harsh next time having went through this learning experience. I also hope next time the listeners will not let their emotions burn their ability to empathize with their fellow man, which includes not only victims, also those who have done wrong. There was no need for such incendiary comments to Radiolab. Had some of the listeners the capacity to comment with respect for all parties, this episode would’ve been resolved, learned, and built upon with far less negativity for everyone involved. Again, Robert was in the wrong here, but people don’t need to be beaten to learn something. Be respectful and forgive.

Oct. 02 2012 06:09 PM
Bonnie from Colorado

As much as I want to trust this apology, I don't think I can. The fact that it only came after backlash from listeners is one thing. But the fact that NO ONE who was involved in the production of this show realized before it aired how offensive it was is incredibly disturbing. The fact that many listeners including myself had an immediate urge to write and condemn it without even having time to ponder the intricacies of the story makes this failure even more baffling. I have been a faithful Radiolab listener up to this point, but what this story reveals about the people who produce it is too obvious for me to forget about. I never expected the arrogance and pretentiousness that is so typical of educated, privileged Americans from Jad and Robert. I am generally not a fan of political correctness, but this is not a case of political is a case of lack of respect and empathy and basic humanity. Other listeners have already identified the myriad of ways in which this story was horrendous, so I won't repeat them except to say that, having spent a lot of time in a community in Central America that was incredibly traumatized in their civil war, this story deeply offended me on their behalf. To them, like to the Hmong, it doesn't matter what some privileged American scientists say, or even that what happened to them had larger implications in the Cold War. It only matters that they suffered and watched people they love die and how traumatizing and wrong that was. It's okay to ponder the greater academic and philosophical issues surrounding these subjects, but it is NOT okay to disrespect these peoples' own truths and experiences in the process.

Oct. 02 2012 05:53 PM
Michael from WI

Kao Kalia Yang's response:

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 05:12 PM
Michael from WI

I have listened to RadioLab for a long time now and this is the first time I have ever been moved to comment on a piece.

Thank you Robert and Jad for your apologies and I hope that Mr. Yang and Ms. Yang received it well.

It would only be fitting for the RadioLab team to lend their resources to give a voice to Hmong.

Oct. 02 2012 04:51 PM

I couldn't believe what was happening during and the conversation following this interview. I thought it was awfully cruel and agree that an apology was important but should be extended to your subjects as well.

I know sometimes in the pursuit of science-minded thinking we neglect to focus on what's important.

Trauma & compassion should be show topics.

Oct. 02 2012 03:27 PM
Haley from Athens, OH

As soon as I listened to the podcast, I immediately intended to e-mail Radiolab about the Yellow Rain segment.

Robert, your apology seems completely sincere and I think everyone has experienced the inability to perceive how they are coming off to others. But I think I won't be alone in suggesting maybe you should dedicate an episode, or maybe even just a short to the Hmong people so they can really tell their story.

I had a roommate who was Hmong a few years ago, and she said her people still feel deeply hurt and betrayed by the fact they helped America during Vietnam and were abandoned when we pulled out. It was genocide, people. A genocide we did nothing to stop. I knew absolutely nothing about this when she told me at 20 years old. I went all through high school without hearing about it, my father was in the military and he never mentioned it in his many history lessons.

Radiolab, please, give these people a voice. You use radio as a force of good and the seeding of knowledge, make use of it here.

Oct. 02 2012 03:23 PM
Audrey from Minneapolis, MN

I am not here to berate Robert or his apology. I think he has expressed as much as he can through the limits of a blog post and I would like to believe that generally people are good and that the first thing he did was apologize to Ms. Yang and her uncle Mr. Yang. I don't have any way to prove it but I'm sure he has.
I haven't read through all the comments, but it seems to me that a lot of the issues and criticisms on both extreme sides (one basically saying that RadioLab is a bully, the other saying Ms. Yang should have known what she was getting into) can be solved with one thing: Kao Kalia Yang or someone who has experienced this unique yet unspoken history be given the chance to publicly tell the story of their experience so that their tragedy is recognized. I for one felt after this episode that there was still something missing, that the story was not complete. And maybe it is a completely different story from the one originally intended but I wanted to know more. And it seems like a lot of the other listeners do too. And ultimately, isn't that what any of this is about? I want to hear a voice, a point of view, a perspective that has not been given a big chance to do so to a wide audience. I know Ms. Yang has written a book, I've read it. But if she were given a chance, the one that she thought she had through this program, to tell her story, it could reach an audience that normally may not actively go and seek out to pick up a biography of a Hmong immigrant family. So, my request is: Please give Kao Kalia Yang a chance to share the history of her family and the Hmong people who have survived this experience. I don't care if its not done through RadioLab, from my understanding this is not that type of radio program. But I'm sure those at RadioLab know people who know people and can push to find someone who is willing to host a story like this. If this interview with Ms. Yang struck something in you to the point where you were debating about it for weeks in the studio, then doesn't that mean there is more to tell? And doesn't that mean there is more to do? Please, help her share her story. Thank you.

Oct. 02 2012 02:58 PM

Like about half the folks here, I would also like to say that I understood the point you were trying to make and, while the line of questioning came off as harsh, did not believe you were bullying the Yangs or trying to deny the atrocities the Hmong people survived (seriously, people are actually and honestly trying to compare this episode to holocaust denial? That's insane). The apology is appreciated, if for no other reason than to demonstrate that journalism is a forum and that the search for truth is always a discussion. It seems that the majority of commenters here are on their own search for a truth they've already settled on. I'm seeing a whole lot of conjecture and conspiracy theory and not a lot of evidence.

If I could make one suggestion, I think a lot of people would appreciate a show that takes the Yellow Rain story, as well as the recent redaction of many of Jonah Lehrer's contributions, and uses it as a platform to further discuss the pursuit of truth and the ways in which human interests and scientific pursuits don't always mix well.

Again, the apology is appreciated. Some people love a witch hunt and will never be satisfied until they can find a set of facts that fit their narrative. This show was not my favorite, but it is valuable in the ugly truth(s) it lays bare for discussion.

Oct. 02 2012 01:25 PM
Daniel from San Francisco

I appreciate the written apology. I do feel that the Yangs deserve an on air apology as well. Furthermore, though I can understand if the Yangs decline, I feel that RadioLab SHOULD do a show on the Hmong and their experience. The story is a compelling one and well suited to RadioLab. It is both a humanities piece, and has the potential to be a political, economic, and science piece. RadioLab could examine the Hmong existential experience, the economic impact of their flight both in their home country and the communities which welcomed them here in the U.S., the neurological impact of living through such trauma, coping mechanisms, and as Krulwich has stated the show could examine the political exploitation of the Hmong's plight by the U.S. government.

Thank You,


Oct. 02 2012 12:57 PM
Concerned Citizen of America from St. Paul, MN

This is my final comment on the issue because I don't want to raise the rating of radiolab by exploiting Hmong stories like they did. Eng Yang, for those of you who are curious (and in response to the one comment below about his lack of English), ranks as one of the more educated Hmong of his generation. His is literate in multiple languages, he travels globally between Europe, Asia, and the US. He is a businessman and a producer of movies and historical documentaries for Hmong public consumption. He is the brother of Sai Shoua Yang, the former sub-district leader of the region that the Lao communist now categorized as the "Saisombone Special Zone" (I'll leave you all to wonder why "special" given this issue about Yellow Rain here and Pathet Lao extermination of Hmong in the area to the present day). After Vang Pao left Laos in May 1975, Sai Shoua Yang (Eng's brother) was the military commander of the region. As such, Eng's testimoney is credible as a witness. His story is not the only one. That's my point. And the global community have ignored testimonies like this from both sexes and people of all ages who came from different parts within this "special region" and arrived in Thailand at different times.

The question is, are we to give more credence to the Harvard people whose own research and conclusions have been questioned by other scientists as well--a fact ignored by this radio show. The recent scholarship on Yellow Rain disputes the Harvard Prof's findings. One dissertation done in 2005 on YEllow Rain came from Harvard itself. Moreover, researches done by scientists at the University of Minnesota also disputes the Harvard authority. Are we to dismiss all these additional research and give total authority to Harvard brains alone? Krulwich has ignored these facts. In this show, he choses to interrogate Eng who is just an eyewitness. Krulwich did not invite other scientists who dispute the Harvard findings, nor did he present their research. So his sole intention was just to re-raise the issue to discredit Eng (who is a Hmong) once again. And the worst travesty is that while not up to date on the current research, he passes off his show as a fact-finding scientific event. It is not a matter of him just interpreting what Eng says, but that he interrogated, argued and dispute what Eng said right to Eng's face and then turned around to accuse them of "monopolizing" the conversation even when we all can hear that in this power dynamics, Krulwich was the dictator who made sure Eng and Kalia got silenced. Again, shoddy research (not up to date on current works on Yellow Rain), manipulative politics, no sensitivity or research protocols, you name it. Where's the science?

Oct. 02 2012 12:44 PM
Paul - Part 2 from St. Paul, MN

Again, quoting you: “I forcefully questioned Mr. Yang. . .becauseI was trying to understand if the scientists had considered all the evidence.”
Right. This is where your credibility is most lacking. It seemed much more the case to me, and clearly to a large number of your listeners, that you felt you already understood the situation perfectly—that “yellow rain” was unquestionably bee dung—and that this poor unfortunate soul needed to come to grips with this “reality.” When he and his niece refused to submit, you felt you needed to “forcefully question” him. You called his personal experience “hearsay.” You accused Kalia of trying to throw you off track. But Meselson and his cadre never underwent this kind of critique, even though your team had evidence in hand, provided to you by the Ivy League scientist (that seems important to you) who did the research and had access to information Meselson did not: 7 boxes of unanalyzed data on yellow rain from the Defense Intelligence Agency, interviews with ca. fifty people, toxicology analyses, photos of victims, use of differential diagnosis software, declassified reports of military overflights in affected areas, other intelligence data, etc. There were questions about symptoms suffered by victims that could not be explained by natural phenomena; questions about the accurate selection & proper storage of samples; questions about the degradation/metabolization of potential toxins in a sample; questions about Meselson’s motives. You couldn’t put the person who’d done the work on tape, but you had access to all the work and someone who could help explain it on-air. All this was given to you on a platter, and you said. . . NOTHING.
It’s not that I know Meselson is wrong; it’s that you can’t possibly know he’s right. But you acted like you did, and it’s why you thought you had the right to treat Eng and Kalia as did. And now that you’ve “apologized” for being rude, many people have come to the conclusion that you were right about the science but just had bad manners. In fact, you showed equal contempt for the scientific method and the dignity, value, and sagacity of fellow human beings. You and Jad have been completely mute on this issue of evidence, hoping most people won’t notice. What angers me most about this piece is that you played a significant role in depicting Hmong people as hapless, witless victims. Some of the responses coming in after your “apology” only further convince me that this is the real legacy of your piece.
If Radiolab can acknowledge that, then we’re getting somewhere. I’ve been a big fan of the show. I’m a bigger fan of forgiveness and mending misunderstanding. But I don’t think you’re being as straight with us as you should be.

Oct. 02 2012 12:23 PM
Paul - Part 1 from St. Paul, MN

I must say “Thank you” for making this stab at an apology, but it reads like it has been vetted carefully to address only your most obvious offense.
A few thoughts:
First, it should be aimed at Kalia and Eng, who deserve it far more than we listeners do.
You say “[O]ur subject was President Reagan's 1982 announcement that he believed the Soviets had manufactured chemical weapons and were using them on Hmong people in Laos -- and a subsequent announcement by scientists at Harvard and Yale that the . . .so-called "weapons" were. . . bees relieving themselves in the forest. . . [The Yangs knew] our goal was to find out if President Reagan's statement was true or false.”
Since Kalia is already dealing with another personal tragedy and is gun-shy about being in front of the public again, she sent her bigmouth friend the e-mail string between herself and Mr. Walters. I’ll follow your precedent of quoting from them. In his first e-mail Pat says only “I'd love to speak with your uncle. And no, I don't have a single specific question; I'd be delighted to hear him speak at length.” On April 29, as they are working out scheduling, he asks, “Did you uncle personally witness the yellow rain?” Kalia responds that many of her relatives suffered from the effects of yellow rain and adds, “My uncle would be more comfortable if you could send a list of questions my way before the interview so he can prepare accordingly.” Pat replies in part, (and this will be seen differently by various listeners, I’m sure) “One of the things I'm trying to reconcile in my mind is the fact that several scientists have argued that the "yellow rain" was merely bee excrement ... but that does not explain the Hmong accounts of terrible sickness and death brought on by chemicals that fell from the sky. . . This is a very important story. . . that I don't think can be told properly without input from people who were there.” Some will say, “See? Pat brought it up. Full disclosure. End of story.” Other will see that Pat also quickly disqualifies the bee crap theory as sufficient, giving the impression Radiolab isn’t going to give it much credence.
Kalia responds: “I understand what the sources say. The professor from Harvard who. . .summarized ‘bee dung’ as the rather condescending to my mind as the Hmong have been harvesting honey for centuries.” (So you already knew this going in.) Kalia thinks she is laying aside this issue & assumes her soon-to-be inquisitors have, too. Then she adds: “Can I ask? 1.) How big is this piece you are working on? 2.) What are your aims for the piece? 3.) What are you hoping to find?” Pat eventually sends Kalia a list of questions, including the ones you posted, but never answers the three questions Kalia put to him. The agenda of Reagan and the Soviets is never mentioned. The question about bee dung comes at the very end of a long list of questions that reads like a request for Mr. Yang’s life story.

Oct. 02 2012 12:21 PM
Peter from Atlanta

- Krulwich clearly indicated that they sent questions ahead of time indicating that they were going to pursue the truth of Yellow Rain; for the Yangs to not expect a dispute on the origin of Yellow Rain was a grave error on their part.
- The genocide of the Hmong people is not hearsay, but the mechanism of genocide is what is under question. If the Hmong people had been killed by guns and weapons fire, would that have somehow reduced the number of deaths? No. The claim of chemical weapons increases the shock value and the outrage, but it is ultimately less important than the idea that Hmong were murdered, which, again, is not in dispute.
- Claims about Meselson not conducting research properly are just that - claims, not facts. If the statement that "Yellow Rain is bee poop" is debatable and should thus be ignored, then Meselson's supposed errors should be treated likewise. If Yang's personal experience with bees invalidates all other possible explanations, then there is an error in reasoning. Personal experiences point to facts - but they are NOT the same thing.
- It is quite true, however, that Radiolab did not disclose their consideration and conclusions of all available evidence. I found the end of the segment wanting, because it didn't describe how they considered and rejected the evidence before them. This could have been discussed in more detail, and hopefully they do so. It is necessary to limit detail in a radio program, but given the sensitivity of this event a better discussion of rationale would be helpful.
- Presuming that Radiolab deliberately decided to discredit personal experience is not based on fact and is projection. Without hard evidence, it is easy to claim that Radiolab is simply biased against Hmong people, and then to look for evidence that supports that idea.

Radiolab is a nonprofit program that combines personal experience with scientific research. Let's suppose that Yellow Rain was indeed chemical weapons as claimed. My guess is that people like "Diane from MN" would rather the segment be a straight interview of the Yangs, that interviews of others - especially white people - would simply pollute the story. If you consent to this belief, then you are ignoring Radiolab's purpose as a program as well as the theme of this episode, which is to pursue how we know what we know. Maybe that's fine for you - describing the Hmong experience would be all that's necessary - but then it would never have made it onto the Radiolab program in the first place, and would be better suited for some other program exploring world history or war or genocides.

Let's now suppose that the truth is that Yellow Rain wasn't a chemical weapon. My guess is that you would STILL have the segment be a straight interview, because the "truth" of their experience would be above all else. Introducing a debate about their experience would be too painful; no matter what, they would take offense. And you would allow their claim to stand without challenge.

Oct. 02 2012 12:03 PM
Cody Wilson from Cambridge, MA

I appreciate the apology in print. I hope Radiolab will give the the Yangs space and platform to share their reaction to the continued updates about this issue.

Oct. 02 2012 11:07 AM
Concerned Citizen of America from St. Paul, MN

Robert needs to resign or be fired for this shoddy crap he calls "journalism." He is no better than Reagon who used the Hmong's story to advance his own agenda. By the 1980s the US had returned home to lick its wounds. All it wanted to do was forget Vietnam. The US government would have ignored (did ignore) any kind of genocide or chemical war that was carried out by the communists in SE Asia. For a while there, the US ignored what was happening in Cambodia even when Cambodian surivors of the Killing Fields were saying genocide was being carried out by the Pol Pot government. Why? Because the US was licking it's wounds and would just as well turned a blind eye to the debacle they left behind. I'm shocked that it's been some 30 plus years after the fact and, with all the new revelations in research, this radio show still can't get the story straight. Robert is still advancing the leftist political agendas of the 1980s. We're freaking beyond that now. Why don't you do a follow up on the political contexts behind why the US and their paid scientists would deny the Hmong's stories? Why don't you explore questions about how the Yellow Rain issue was handled by the US government and the global superpowers? The proper thing to do at the time would have been to assign experts to immediately go interview these refugees in the camps to ascertain the facts, and to collect scientific evidence. But, no, instead the US government and the powers that be sent Harvard scientists to collect bee shit in the forests of SE Asia so that they could quickly discredit the survivors' stories while hoping that these survivors died fast and the truth be buried with them forever. Anyone with half a brain, let alone Harvard experts, would question this action alone. You, Robert, have just become part of this conspiracy to silence and hide the truth while advancing your own agenda against Reagon. And you call yourself a journalist, seeking "truth" based on scientific grounds. That Reagon may have used the Hmong's story for his politics does not immediately make these eyewitness accounts untruths. This is simple scientific logic, which you have shown that you DO NOT possess. Shame on you for enticing Eng Yang and Kao Kalia into your own leftist agenda against Reagon only to appear so rightist leaning, it makes me puke. And I am speaking as a leftist, liberal person here.

Oct. 02 2012 11:00 AM
Mike from California

Look, I understand people are sensitive to tragedies that happen to them. It is perfectly natural. I think your characterization that I was comparing tragedies is wrong. I wasn't comparing them.

Look, here's another thing to think about. In the movie "Ted", there was a joke where someone said to someone else "I hope you get Lou Gehrig's disease." This, naturally, prompted responses from ALS sufferers that it was terrible for this movie to make a joke about that because ALS is such a terrible affliction. And it is. However, if the joke were not about ALS but about some other affliction, would the ALS sufferers be upset about it and calling for a boycot? No. The point here is that people's direct involvement with something terrible of course makes them especially sensitive about it. If Robert asked the same questions in the same tone to someone who wasn't there, yet held the same beliefs about it as Mr. Yang, would the questions have been out of bounds and should Robert have had to apologize? Most people would say no.

I think the segment did a great job at showing this part of human nature and how personal experiences and biases can get in the way of fact finding. Mr. Yang did experience many terrible things first hand, and he is to be applauded for his courage and strength in dealing with them and trying to get his story told. To me, it does not seem that Robert was intentionally trying to be mean and intentionally trying to hurt Mr. and Ms. Yang. His questions would have been acceptable to anyone else who did not experience the tragedy first hand. Now don't get me wrong, I think the kind thing to do is to show some level of empathy and care when talking to people about the tragedies they have suffered, and honestly feel Robert lived up to that standard.

Oct. 02 2012 10:44 AM

This apology restored a good part of my love for Radiolab. To be honest I felt a bit relieved to read this here, as I really didn't want to be left disappointed at this fascinating show. Now that Robert eventually admits it and apologizes openly, I personally don't blame him for not recognizing his wrong before criticism pouring in. I don't see why it took this long, but we all sometimes do things unbelievable in hindsight.

Having said, I second that Robert owes an apology directly toward the Yangs. That should be the next step, and then I look foward to the next episode as usual!

Oct. 02 2012 10:32 AM

mike, it's a dangerous game to try to compare tragedies or make analogies using one to explain how to respond to another one. 9/11 was horrible, obviously, but what the hmong have been experiencing is a little more systemic and sustained.

Oct. 02 2012 10:15 AM
Mike from California

When I first listened to the episode I did feel it was a very emotionally charged segment, but didn't at the time feel Robert behaved poorly. I listened to the segment again after seeing this apology, and still don't think Robert behaved poorly. I understand that the Hmong people suffered terribly at that time, but I don't think it is wrong to ask those sorts of questions. Robert's tone did not seem overly harsh, but just very direct and matter-of-fact.

I don't know what really happened to the Hmong people. I feel deep empathy for Mr. Yang having gone through that. But, he may be wrong about the yellow rain and it is not out of bounds to press him on that. Look, if someone had family who died on 9/11 and was out proselytizing that the US government was behind it, would it be wrong to follow up with tough questions about the legitimacy of those claims? Is it up to journalists to pull punches because of the amount of pain this person and many others suffered that day? I would argue no.

I do not think an apology was needed, especially considering questions were provided in advance.

Oct. 02 2012 10:08 AM
jon from ohio

Thanks for this apology. I wish it had come a bit earlier, and not forced by your commenters, but better late than never. It conveys to me that 'the story' is not more important than the people's lives that you touch. It also allows me to continue listening to your program in good conscience.

As one last parting thought (before I leave the issue to rest): If your attempt was to point out the wrongdoing of the Reagan administration, Yellow Rain need not be mentioned. NOTHING justifies the manufacturing of chemical weapons that kill indiscriminately on such a large scale. I'm guessing even Reagan realized that in hindsight. Not every show can be as spectacular as the next, but this one fell far short on all angles. That said, keep striving to produce great work.

Oct. 02 2012 09:44 AM
Mike from U.K.

I think that this was a fantastic segment.

Yes, Robert makes a difficult and uncomfortable point. But it's a point that is perfectly fair. Jad's summing up and discussion of the three separate truths at the end hits the nail on the head.

The plight of the Hmong people was movingly and dramatically represented, but that was not the point of the piece. In pushing further to get to the truth, Radiolab demonstrated that, after all, the truth does hurt - that there are truths that we would rather not know or that we would prefer not to be presented with. It was clear that Mr. Yang and Ms. Yang were in distress, and for a