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Yellow Rain

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

As retired CIA officer Merle Prebbenow explains, once the US pulled its troops out of the region, the communists took over -- the Viet Cong and their allies in Laos the Pathet Lao. Eng Yang, who was living in a tiny village in Laos in 1975, explained what that meant for him, and his family and friends. Eng, who talked to us with his niece Kao Kalia Yang translating, is Hmong. Thousands of Hmong fought alongside the Americans during the war, and when the US left, they were targeted by Viet Cong and Pathet Lao, who were out for revenge. Eng says it started with isolated killings, until one day, his whole village was attacked. He and thousands of other Hmong fled their homes and went into hiding in the jungle. And that's when they started seeing it -- yellow droplets that fell from the sky and splattered the landscape, followed by dying plants, animals, and eventually friends and family doubled over with stomach problems.

When US scientists looked at the yellow spots, they found poison, and pretty soon "Yellow Rain" as it was known, had become a flashpoint in the cold war. Chemical weapons expert Matt Meselson and biologist Thomas Seeley, two scientists bent on analyzing the substance, tell us what happened when they challenged the original reports (which were used to justify the production of a chemical weapon by the US back in the early 80s). And when we explain their views to Eng, who saw loved ones die, and who fled his home in Laos to escape, we have to reckon with a very different kind of truth.

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

Read more:

Robert responds to concerns about this segment.

Jad offers more context on this segment.

Kao Kalia Yang's The Latehomecomer: A Hmong Family Memoir

Thomas Seeley's Honeybee Democracy

Merle Pribbenow's article "The Man in the Snow White Cell"

A two-part New Yorker story that tipped us off to this tale in the first place:



Matthew Meselson, Merle Pribbenow, Thomas D. Seeley and Kao Kalia Yang

Comments [450]

Michael Flynn from New Zealand / Aotearoa

I felt sick after listening to this podcast.

I wished the interviewers had put themselves in the Hmong shoes before they conducted the interview, and reflected on a few epistemological and psychological perspectives. If they had done so, they may have shown more intellectual humility and tact.

To me it was like the interviewers tried to analyse a speck of paint based on peoples' memories and a few faded photos of a heart-wrenching painting. Such analysis is unlikely to produce a solid bedrock of truth as context does matter, culture does matter, and complexity does matter when interpreting an situation where implicit assumptions, unconscious biases, the unreliability of old memories, and cognitive biases can colour the perception of the truth. A cross-cultural dialogue, rather than a journalistic interview, would be more likely to bring people closer to the truth.

Feb. 21 2018 04:43 PM
Gene from California

This episode made me sad.

I feel like Robert Krulwich came off as condescending and dismissive. He was so sure that the "yellow rain" was bee poop. There is obviously more to the story, and I'm sad Radiolab did not delve deeper when it became apparent that it was not simply a story of whether the yellow substance was chemical weapons vs bee feces. I also feel like Yangs (and Hmongs in general) did not get a proper chance to tell their side. Their experiences were brushed aside almost as if they were lies because they did not fit the narrative, nor did it fit with the evidence of the experts Radiolab interviewed. The piece would have benefited from having experts present the other side of the yellow substance possibly being chemical weapons.

Because of how the Yangs were treated, Robert Krulwich's attitude during and after the interview, and the lack of integrity in this segment, I can no longer listen to this podcast I once loved. Goodbye Radiolab, it was great while it lasted.

Jan. 31 2018 06:44 PM

Thank you for this multi-faceted podcast. I don't lean either way, however, for me the main takeaway from this is that in the face of interview mistakes, you didn't sanitise the discussion, but posted it unredacted (albeit shortened). Thank you very much for the honesty and transparency instead of editing the questionable away. I believe this should be the way to go in the face of clashing logics in the face/despite/beyond finding data for the specific scientific evaluation.

»There is no absolutely "objective" scientific analysis of culture [] All knowledge of cultural reality is always knowledge from particular points of view...« M. Weber 1904

Jan. 28 2018 07:24 AM

1) If not for this podcast, I won't know the story of Hmong people and Laos's civil war, even I live in Southeast Asia all my life.

2) I don't feel there is any problem of the questions about the yellow rain by RadaoLab. This is a science subject podcast.

3) But I can understand Ms Yang's sadness and anger of feeling offended.

Thanks Ms Yang, and also, Thanks RadioLab.

Jul. 17 2017 11:46 PM

I don't think Robert had anything to apologize for in this case. Journalism sometimes involves asking tough questions. The questions themselves should not be construed as an attack, even if they do create a heightened emotional response.

Here's an honest question: Obviously a great deal of chemical weaponry was dropped over Vietnam throughout the War, is it possible that these poisons were absorbed by bees through the pollination process and then re-dispersed by the bees for years after the War? So in essence, that both sides of the argument are correct?

May. 04 2016 06:37 PM
King from Minneapolis

I'll just leave this two stories written by the perspective of herself about the even, you can judge the even by yourself and decide which side is wrong.

Dec. 08 2015 09:45 PM
Maggie from Minneapolis, MN

Regarding Evan Lister from California: Eng and Kao Kalia Yang DO have credentials. Kao Kalia Yang is an internationally recognized, award-winning author who has written about her experience as a Hmong refugee; and Eng Yang was a trained medic in the war, was assigned by the Thai government as a documentarian/reporter of the genocide, and was a beekeeper.

Nov. 12 2015 05:07 PM
Alan Bajandas from Knoxville, TN

Wow, Robert Kruwich. Even your apology I find emotionally motivated, equivocating, defensive, and maybe a bit racist. I think that your reaction to the interpreter is more emotional than the interpreter's own reaction itself. The reason that I don't buy your "I'm just a disinterested journalist looking at the facts, mam" bit is that, on your show, you serve the function of the intuitive, essentializing, almost deist foil to the one person on the show (Jad) who actually IS scientifically minded. Time and again, to the point that it has almost become formulaic, you reject the obvious, mainline scientific explanations espoused by Jad and make recourse to the argument "it just FEELS right." This happens nearly every other show.

So I have to ask, why the sudden interest in cold, hard facts, and why now? The only thing I can say is that, to me, it looks like defensiveness motivated by xenophobia, cloaked in the putative virtues of objective journalism. But if you cared about the most important truth here, you would have reoriented the story, and expanded it to explore the real plight of the Hmong people through the LENS of the chemical weapons controversy. And if you had been brave, you could have examined the bizarre emotional imperialism of your reaction to the interpreter's suffering as part of the show. You could have acknowledged the uncomfortable fact that once again a white Western man had all the power, all the cultural capital, and that——even if not militarily——you nonetheless culturally and intellectually steamrolled your Eastern subjects. How familiar.

But you weren't brave, and you didn't do it, and so there was a missed opportunity here. I might venture to say that you missed the chance to create one of your most emotionally powerful and politically ethical shows ever. As Faulkner said, “The best fiction is far more true than any kind of journalism——and the best journalists know this.” If anyone in this show was a "truth fascist," it was not Errol Morris, it was you, Robert Krulwich.
Everyone makes mistakes, and you did attempt to apologize, so I will still listen to the show (albeit with some distaste). But I would urge you to think about your part in this episode with a more ruthless introspection, a more rigorous political analysis, and, lastly, really, just a better eye for the aesthetics of what comprises a good story. Because this one was not.

Oct. 15 2015 04:30 PM

I believe that Robert did nothing wrong and interviewed the witnesses in accordance with journalistic integrity. Since I first heard the story, I have sympathized with Robert's viewpoint. He asked questions respectfully and brought up evidence against people who were adamantly denying anything he had to say which wasn't agreeable with their emotionally backed claims.

Sep. 01 2015 02:45 PM
Evan Lister from California

I am addressing the issue brought up by Teresa a few posts earlier.

I have been listening to Radiolab for a few months. Descriptions are given to interviewees based on qualifications that are relevant to the topic being discussed. When a biochemist is interviewed about chemical weapons, Radiolab justifiably includes this information. This is important because it gives some idea about the interviewees perspective and expertise.

When a witness to atrocities carried out against the Hmong is interviewed, Radiolab includes this information. What more do you want?

Jun. 07 2015 09:31 PM
Mark Talmont from California

"Hunted Like Animals" on YouTube shows victims of some kind of chemical attack it's about 18 minutes in. Other shorter vids up there may show similar evidence but whether or not the chemicals are for real the abuses are so bad it hardly seems to matter. It's possible these are different agents than the "yellow rain", even if so it's remarkable how the UN and "official" human rights types look the other way.

What kills me is how this situation gets "spiked" by the US media, both corporate and "alternative". It's like there is a short list of peoples who Just Don't Count, and the Hmong are right at the top--along with other indigenous and Christians in Vietnam and China. Of course there are 40 million Muslim Uighurs inside China and one of their leaders (Prof Tohti) just got LIFE IN PRISON for speech crimes. And hey whatever happened to the Tibetans?

Feb. 03 2015 12:59 AM

Why is Eng Yang described as nothing more than "the Hmong guy" and Kao Kalia Yang is described as simply "his niece" yet everybody else interviewed gets a title or credentials attached to their name? Are you trying to minimize their credibility by ignoring their accomplishments?

Robert Krulwich, you are an embarrassment to journalists. Shame on you for your insensitivity and shame on you for your half-hearted "apology". I expected more from Radiolab, but I guess my expectations were too high and I need to find something better to invest my attention in.

I am deeply disappointed in this segment and by the elitist attitude present even in (especially in) the amended version.

Oct. 24 2014 11:15 AM

I'm slowly catching up on Radiolab episodes as I listen to other podcasts. Within the span of a few weeks of having listened to this episode, another podcast (Mysterious Universe). mentioned incidents where bees were literally creating poisonous honey. I don't mean to necessarily imply that the two are related, but for anyone interested in looking into it, here's a link to that article:

Oct. 03 2014 05:18 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 and covering their behinds and hoping that the whole thing would go away.

Oct. 03 2014 03:18 PM
Christine from Florida

I love Radiolab but this was definitely the most troubling episode I've ever heard. Despite the fact that this happened two years ago and after reading all the responses and related articles, I still feel the need to comment. While I am extremely disappointed in Robert Krulwich's handling of the interview, I do appreciate that the episode is still available for the public to hear and to make our own judgments. It's not easy to be transparent, especially when it's in such an unflattering light. Now I know the story of the Hmong and my heart breaks for them. Whether or not Yellow Rain was real or the cause of their suffering, they still suffered and the truth is still out there, if it wasn't Yellow Rain then it was something else. I hope the Radiolab team have learned some hard lessons and I hope Ms. Kao Kalia Yang and Mr. Eng Yang continue spread the story of the Hmong and get the peace they deserve. I'm still a fan and I will continue to listen.

Sep. 24 2014 09:47 AM

I am thankful to radiolab for telling the story the way it is. I do appreciate the gesture of apology even though I did not see that there were said something offensive or disrespectful. Questions were ask to find the truth and from my point of view were asked very gently.
On the other hand, I am angry at U.S. government especially in light of recent international events in Syria and Eastern Europe.
Just today U.S. president is blasting at Russia again. How fast are mistake being forgotten?! Is not it a time to learn?!!!
I want to thank "science guy from San Francisco, California" for his respond.

I hope some day people learn to think before they speak. In Russia we have a saying "measure 7 times before you cut". Another words check, double check, be sure with your life at stake and then cut. There were consequences for everyone in USSR - FOR EVEREONE. It does not seems to be the case here.

My hart is breaking to hear this story for all victims in Vietnam. There is nothing to heal the pain and sorrow.

I hope one day the truth will be unveil.

Sep. 03 2014 04:11 PM

The subject of the podcast was TRUTH. Did this show help me understand TRUTH a little better? YES it did. There was the truth that the Hmong people experienced and saw with their own eyes. There was the truth that the US scientists came up with. There is now, in each of our heads, our own idea of the TRUTH. Then there was the truth that Robert believed. When he tried to explain his idea of the TRUTH to the Hmong guests it backfired. That was when I learned that the TRUTH can be painful and at times completely unhelpful.

It was very difficult to listen to the Hmong guests suffer through Robert's questioning but the depth of feeling I got from listening to them was worth it (and I believe it will be worth plenty in book sales to the Hmong family).

In the end, the light this show shed on the Hmong troubles and the topic of TRUTH was as enlightening as any other Radiolab show.

May. 27 2014 06:29 PM

The subject of the podcast was TRUTH. Did this show help me understand TRUTH a little better? YES it did. There was the truth that the Hmong people experienced and saw with their own eyes. There was the truth that the US scientists came up with. There is now, in each of our heads, our own idea of the TRUTH. Then there was the truth that Robert believed. When he tried to explain his idea of the TRUTH to the Hmong guests it backfired. That was when I learned that the TRUTH can be painful and at times completely unhelpful.

It was very difficult to listen to the Hmong guests suffer through Robert's questioning but the depth of feeling I got from listening to them was worth it (and I believe it will be worth plenty in book sales to the Hmong family).

In the end, the light this show shed on the Hmong troubles and the topic of TRUTH was as enlightening as any other Radiolab show.

May. 27 2014 06:26 PM
Nick Hilton from San Diego, CA

Shame on you RadioLab!

Over the years while listening to the show I have cringed every now and then because how badly you mis-characterize science and belittle it. In this episode you demonstrated the worst way people approach a topic, with complete disregard of the scientific method.

I'm not an expert in any of the science, but I understand how science works. It is disturbing to me that RadioLab didn't follow up with any statement about the current state of affairs. Those of us who know how science works, follow the evidence. The absence of evidence is not evidence of absence.

I think RadioLab was too focused on one hypothesis and completely ignored the eye-witness testimony. Granted eye-witness testimony is the lowest quality of evidence, but apparently there were 1000's of reports. Were there any consistent description of symptoms in these reports? I guess RadioLab didn't think to address this.

It is also logical that the "yellow rain" hypothesis is a complete red-herring. And it seems that the 'yellow spots on leaf' lab results couldn't be replicated. Does that mean no chemical weapons were used? Of course not! Just that the "yellow rain = chemical weapons" hypothesis is less likely. It doesn't even rule out the hypothesis, just that there isn't any evidence to support it.

RadioLab needs to save face and admit their mistakes, as any self-respecting scientist would do if their theory turns out to be wrong. There's nothing wrong with making mistakes, as we are all human.

Please follow up with a summary of what we know and apologize for being too narrow in your investigation.


May. 12 2014 09:59 PM

I believe that if Radio Lab was truly interested in what had happened to the Hmong, then they wouldn't have told Kao Kalia that she was "monopolizing" the situation. They wanted answers about the Hmong life and what happened to them, Kao Kalia and her uncles gave it to them, but in return, they start talking about how Kao Kalia's uncle was wrong about Yellow Rain and that he didn't actually witness what were happening to the Hmong at all. They started criticizing their credibility to give details on what they saw happen and threw it back in their faces. Kao Kalia even states that she thought that they were going to share the Hmong experiences but all Radio Lab was interested in was what Yellow Rain actually was.

They sent Kao Kalia the interview questions ahead of time to prep her for the future interview, which consisted of questions asking mostly ABOUT the Hmong's experience, and in turn, she asked that they respect her Uncle's story. I honestly think that they were being really really rude. Despite all their claims that the yellow stuff was NOT chemical warfare but actually, just bee droppings that happened to fall on the villages at the exact same time the planes were there dropping down bombs to kill the Hmong, is totally bull. They are only supporting one side of the matter. They say they aren't sure, but they're so intent on proving that it is not a chemical warfare that they forgot to respect Kao Kalia's decision to have this interview and prove that yes, chemical warfare was being used on the Hmongs because they had indeed help America in their fight against the Laotians. Hmongs have been marginalized just as much as many others in the past, and history is repeating itself over and over if people continue to do so. We have the power to speak, act, and control. From having those qualities, we have the power to make a change. I believe that this is what Kao Kalia is trying to do for us Hmongs who do not have a voice because in Society, we are nobodies just as the average citizens are. We do not have a say in any matters unless they are our own private ones. Radio Lab is only showing us what they want us to hear, and as far as I know, they are more intent on discovering the real truth to Yellow Rain than they ever were about the Hmong people who helped Americans but were not shown gratitude to.

Apr. 25 2014 10:58 PM
DHuh from Los Angeles

I've started listening to Radiolab a couple months ago, and I've enjoyed it, but this is an incredibly troubling and offensive interview. You guys seem to vehemently push the bee dung hypothesis, without even trying to consider the other theories out there? Or even taking more accounts of the Hmong people. Is that holistic, even proper reporting? It seems very spotty to me. To see that you guys are trying to close the book on this, saying yes it was bee dung, we have the facts, is preposterous. I don't see how we can know the answer at all, seeing as the evidence is decades old and the people's memories fade more with each passing day.

Editing begets pushing a certain agenda, that I understand. But what's offensive is the complete lack of initial regard and compassion for Eng Yang's history and his people. It's almost amusing (though sadly not surprising) how the reporters did not see how difficult it would be to separate yellow rain from the intense suffering of the Hmong people. That lack of empathy is incredibly disappointing on your part Radiolab. I've read the follow up articles/apologies, and I'm still unconvinced that your reporters understand the deep hurt you caused and misinformation you spread.

What would have been a proper apology was if Radiolab actually dedicated an hour to that terrible time in Southeast Asia. But I suppose for Radiolab producers, it's only interesting enough as an add-on to yellow rain, not anything of its own merit.

I won't stop listening, because I do enjoy your podcasts (not this one obviously). But damn, this was just poor all across the board, and frankly I haven't been this angry at media in awhile.

Apr. 22 2014 02:51 PM

I respect what you’re saying. The problem I have is that RadioLab contributed to people’s blindness in this piece. If RadioLab staff would simply come clean about their factual errors in this piece then I could agree with you. But they are defending themselves and pretending to have a corner on the truth when they don’t have it. Dr. Meselson is a world-class biologist and a fine gentleman but he is not God. The work of Dr. Rebecca Katz and Dr. Burton Singer, using over 8,000 pages of declassified material not available to or used by Meselson and Seeley, casts serious doubt on the bee dung hypothesis. (See Politics and the Life Sciences 26:1, 24 August 2007): 24–42.) I don’t know who’s right and who’s wrong, but that’s the point. The collective evidence leaves us with more questions than answers. I would like someone from RadioLab to admit that they didn’t tell us the whole story about the science related to this story. They CHOSE not to tell us. And while defending themselves against angry listeners who focused on their insensitivity they kept insisting that they were right and Eng Yang was wrong—-based on science. I can understand why they might have thought that at the time, but they’ve had lots of opportunity to understand what they’ve done and they won’t simply say “we made a mistake.” So I think it’s RadioLab that’s turning a blind eye.

Apr. 15 2014 11:07 AM

If it were not for this story and episode, I would have never known about the Hmong genocide or "Yellow Rain". I certainly would not have done any research to draw my own conclusion about what happened. And who knows, maybe the facts behind Yellow Rain are clouded in deception. It would certainly be nice to know the real truth, whatever it may be. However, people still died, and survivors experienced horrific events. Regardless of how we came across this information, I feel that it is important to know. This podcast brings so many interesting and important stories to light. At any rate, my point is this: leaving RadioLab's listener-ship just because someone's mistake offended you, well, it seems like turning a blind eye.

Apr. 03 2014 08:33 PM

I also got to read Kao Kalia Yang's account for what actually happened.

I also have lost faith in this show. I will have serious trouble listening to any more podcasts without having skepticism and even hate. The apology came off as damage control and did the opposite of helping.

Mar. 07 2014 12:33 PM
Matt Garvin from Toronto

This episode really rubbed me the wrong way. I have lost a lot of respect for Robert Krulwich, and look at him in a different light entirely.

But what is really bothering me is the way Radiolab has done damage control. They alter the original story as it was broadcast, and issue an apology that is wholly on their terms. If you are going to tack an apology on to something, don't edit out or tamper in any way with what gave offense originally. That amounts to a coverup.

Where can I hear the original, un-doctored segment?

Mar. 04 2014 10:55 PM

I honestly don't know who "Brigitte" is, but if "she" is not a significant other or dear friend of someone on RadioLab's or WNYC's staff I would be shocked. No flippin' way does anyone in their right mind call this "journalism." Nor are there multiple perspectives. There are a bunch of people all spouting the same line and then these guys turn on poor Mr. Yang and treat him like he's a criminal. They ignore all the science that came out after 1982, much of which shows there's more than one way to look at this issue. Not that you'd know that by listening to this travesty.
Boys, you messed up big time on this one. Stop hiding behind your WNYC/NPR affiliations and your MacArthur Genius Award, put on your big boy pants and just admit you blew it. That's what REAL journalists do.

Feb. 21 2014 06:11 PM
Brigitte from San Francisco

Dear Radiolab,

This was an astonishing piece of journalism. Great work. It is refreshing to hear a discussion that involves so many perspectives and introspection.

Keep up the great work. I always learn something interesting when I listen to your podcast.



Jan. 16 2014 03:35 PM

I am shocked that so many people have made this such a huge deal. If you listen to it, He does apologize. Were human and make mistakes.

Jan. 16 2014 10:53 AM
Daguroo from Phoenix

When I first heard of yellow rain in 1981 I discussed it with my past Sociology Professor, who took a doubting position of the possibility that trichothecene mycotoxin (T2 mycotoxin) was weaponizwed by the Soviets and used on the Hmong in the attempt to eradicate them after the US ended our war in Vietnam. I wrote a paper on the subject for him to make up an assignment. I recall finding about 15 articles from various sources about various reported incidents and analysis of evidence,and about 13 publications from one prolific individual refuting the others by presenting the bee theory. The USSR had outbreaks of T2 deaths from bad wintered wheat during WWII and a smaller one again in 1958.

Refugees reported incidents of both helicopters spraying and missiles delivering the "Yellow Rain" descending from the sky. When inhaled the first reaction was to cough uncontrollably with burning in the lungs and eyes. After a while blood would come from all orifices of the body (mouth, ears, eyes,etc). The blood system would seemingly explode. It was surmised that the T2 was mixed with nerve gas. People and animals would run frantically trying to breathe until they collapsed and eventually died a horrible death. In the US there were reports of refugees dying in their sleep from their nightmares. There were reports of T2 suspected of being used in Afghanistan. This is why the Hmong survivors have such an emotional response to those who doubt what happened to them. It is difficult to question that the intent of the Communists was Hmong genocide.

I would like to point out the large reaction of the US military to reestablish making chemical weapons over this subject was unnecessary. We have plenty ways to kill people in our arsenal. They were way to eager.

Dec. 13 2013 03:02 PM

Dec. 03 2013 01:46 PM
science guy from San Francisco, California

It doesn't diminish the pain of loosing loved ones in war, but the truth -- the scientific Truth, with a capital-T, shall prevail. In this case, there is no credible evidence that the Soviet Union created chemical weapons, and the U.S. government should formally apologize to the Russian leadership for the unsubstantiated accusation.

And, by the way, one small thing our government has failed to acknowledge in light of the cold war, is that the Soviet Union defeated the Nazis and lost 12 million soldiers in the process! The USA defeated the Japanese in the Pacific. It's about time we recognize the USSR for saving the world from Hitler's tyranny.

I argue that the U.S. did the world a disservice to have contributed to the destruction of the U.S.S.R. In my view, the Russians were a lot more like us in the U.S.A. and Europe than Islamic extremists or the Chinese. It's a much more unstable world without the U.S.S.R. Let's think before we de-stablize the middle east by attacking Iran, one of three nations that helps stablize Arab lands -- the others being Saudi Arabia and Turkey.

Nov. 17 2013 01:34 AM
Sam from Sydney, Australia.

Could the yellow rain have anything to do with the Gamboge which is found in the trees of the area and is known to have negative heath impacts?
Its talked about in this podcast of Radiolab in the colour episode.

Nov. 14 2013 01:58 AM
John L. from San Mateo, CA

A few more notes that make me question the bee poop theory.

-Why should we ignore the first sample that identified yellow rain as a chemical weapon? Do we know for certain that the yellow rain material that was initially identified as a chemical weapon is the same yellow rain material that was subsequently identified as bee poop? Did the researchers who took the bee poop samples bother to confirm whether what they had was the same material that the Hmong were referring to as "yellow rain?"

-Did the villagers still report seeing yellow rain after the first sample was identified as a chemical weapon? How much time had passed between the first sample and the subsequent bee poop samples? It is not difficult for me to entertain the notion that somebody decided not to leave anymore incriminating evidence after the first sample confirmed suspicions that a chemical weapon had been deployed.

-Is the English term "yellow rain" an appropriate translation of the term(s) that the Hmong had been using to refer to the suspicious material? What kind of language barriers were there between the Hmong and the Western scientists who identified yellow rain as bee poop?

Nov. 11 2013 06:35 PM
John L. from San Mateo, CA

If yellow rain is just bee poop, wouldn't it have already been an established natural phenomenon that the villagers would have already recognized and known was harmless, from all their previous encounters with it? From he way the story is told, it sounds like this was the first time that the Hmong encountered "yellow rain." The fact that the they don't start encountering this stuff until their villages are being attacked makes me think that it's some kind of chemical agent, that is, unless bees didn't start pooping until the 1980's.

Oct. 09 2013 10:31 PM
Toua Xiong

Many Hmong believe the Yellow Rain is what killed all those people, animals, and plants. However, according to scientists, it wasn't. Then what did kill all those people? The Hmong are people who are used to venturing into the jungles. Did they all get sick with the same disease and died around the same time? What about the animals? If the pollen was not toxic, then how did the animals and plants die? The truth is still uncertain. For all we know it could have been the yellow rain, something in the ground water (perhaps from the war), allergic reaction to the pollen, etc. One thing I've learned though is to look at the facts yourself and find your own truth. For example, did Japan really attack the US first in World War II or did the US instigate it through diplomatic and economic warfare? The truth may be something you never thought of.

Oct. 08 2013 03:44 PM
Scott from USA

"YELLOW RAIN" it just keeps on Killing, I know all too well, during a ISA Operation dubbed Operation Grand Eagle, Yellow Rain and Atropine and Gas Suits and Masks were given to our Hmong allies, on this covert mission into Laos, Cambodia etc. I wrote about it in BOHICA, got subpenaed to Congress and US Senate in Secret. YELLOW RAIN, VX, GB and M-55 Rockets were delivered to what we were told were our operatives.

We then went into Laos on an Cover mission to confirm or deny detained US left behind POW/MIA's instead it was a Kill mission, and I and Jerry Daniels aka Michael J Baldwin discovered two Americans later to be killed not recused. Then we learned it was Yellow Rain Operation. Jerry Daniels later was found Dead of Gas Poison. NO DNA, Photos, NO Autopsy etc. New book out on his mystery death " Hog's Exit" a must read. Also Kiss The Boys Goodbye" as well. Just this past June-26-2013 Harvard/Sussex issue 04 Chemical Use in SYRIA, mentioned my book over the issue of Yellow Rain. So the clear answer is YES we used many CBW during and after the war concluded. Some from Dugway Proving Grounds, some from Pine Gap, Australia

Sep. 30 2013 11:26 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 09:51 AM
Richard Hurst

I find both more and less fault with Radiolab editorial decisions than others. In the first instance, I think it's condescending to think that the Yangs aren't sophisticated enough to make their points in the face of tough questioning. Somehow to think that being asked about their reported experiences in the face of contradictory evidence is inherently insulting or insensitive is nonsense. Whatever point they had to make in the face of that, they made and made forcefully.

But I do think that relying on the interviewee's niece as interpreter shows a poor understanding of the dynamics of interpreted conversation, and many commenters miss this point too. She wasn't a witness or survivor, but she, merely as interpreter, became part of the story-- and indeed her emotional reaction became the story. But she wasn't interpreting at that point, she was injecting herself into the conversation. Krulwich wasn't directing questions to her, but through her. To the extent there's any truth to his assertion she was "monopolizing" the conversation, it was this. Had she been an interviewee, and been asked to speak about the emotional reality of the Hmong community, and the like, that would be one thing. But she wasn't.

Both sides are to blame for the confusing what role she had to play in the interview of course, so Krulwich's complaint only goes so far.

Sep. 01 2013 04:35 PM

I don't understand the uproar. This was not an ugly interview. Some of the comments, though, are incredibly thoughtless.

I think that Jad's and Robert's conclusion is correct. Namely, that just because terrible things happened to the Hmong, that doesn't give them the right to paint over a potential historical inaccuracy. The Hmong participants were afraid (with justification) that invalidating the "yellow rain" account would encourage people to invalidate the *entire* Hmong tragedy.

We need to get beyond these childish dichotomies. The real problem was that Robert wanted to find the smaller truth. Kao Kalia Yang and her uncle were afraid that this would obscure the larger truth.

Aug. 08 2013 08:23 PM
susie robinson

read, The Spirit Catches me and I fall down". You need to do research on a culture, It's easy for you ta have the opportunity to explain yourselves later, which is not fair the the Yangs. You made such a big mistake, and should feel ashamed. I feel shame for you.

Jun. 04 2013 08:49 PM

I listened to this podcast a few weeks ago and was deeply uncomfortable, but was led to the conclusion that the research pointed to the bees.

Upon reading


I've found myself deeply concerned not just with the editing process, but moreso at the lack of correspondence with the Yang family.

May. 15 2013 09:44 PM

I think people are over-complicating and giving far too much weight to this incident. RadioLab is not about social justice; it is about the "quest for truth," and this mess of an episode was simply the result of questing unconditionally for truth in a context in which it is insensitive to do so. Maybe they shouldn't have made this episode at all, because the subject matter is so painful and recent for many people. If they had to make it, they obviously shouldn't have continued pressing the Hmong family when it seemed that their interviewees were ON THE VERGE OF TEARS. That's just dumb and unprofessional.

That said, I'm a little disgusted with all of you saying that you will no longer listen to RadioLab because of this mistake. This is an incident of short-sightedness and insensitivity, not racism. NPR is not "the man" that you should be fighting. Especially right now. Their programs (including RadioLab) provide a lot more good to the world than whatever would take their place if funding dried up. I'm amazed that the closing words, particularly those of Pat and Jad (maybe Robert not so much), did not impress that fact on all of you. Get some perspective, people.

May. 15 2013 10:58 AM

Although they are accused otherwise, the Radiolab team did serve the purpose of making the suffering of the Hmong known to those of us who listened.

May. 14 2013 02:39 PM
a RL's fan 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...
Ohh...I almost forgot, when ever anything like this happens again, just edited (No one other than yourself will know).

Keep up the good work RL :)

May. 08 2013 12:52 AM
Allisor from Boston, MA

I'm sorry to say that after this debacle of an episode, along with a couple other insensitive RL episodes (one in which Jad said that Buke and Gass have been "raping and pillaging" his iPod, and one which suggested that hundreds of women had sex with Ghengis Khan instead of being *raped* by him), I'm just not interested in listening to RL anymore. Which is a shame because they have brought us many wondrous stories, like that of Emilie Gossiaux. But seriously, when I'm listening to a podcast, I don't want to have to always be wary of getting randomly hit by bullets of Privileged Male Cluelessness. There's no excuse for it. Go educate yourselves, RL team.

Apr. 30 2013 07:40 PM

Interesting program. Tough topic. I appreciate that RadioLab went back and apologized.

Apr. 28 2013 09:21 PM
Sam from Illinois

I really apprecaite that they were willing to look at the boardcast and admit their mistake.

Apr. 28 2013 09:18 PM

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

Apr. 21 2013 01:38 AM
Diane from MN

And the Hmong community as well as the Yangs are still waiting for Radiolab to help them understand how the producers/jouanlists abused their position of power in this story. They've contributed and perpetuated a skewed narrative about the Hmong (they are backwards and uneducated) and have profited from it. The very least WNYC can do is address the concerns of the Yangs about the deliberate attempt to characterize the Hmong in a narrow narrative that is inaccurate and unfair. For one, Radiolab continues to not list the credentials of Eng Yang.

Apr. 13 2013 12:35 PM

Part 2 of 2:

I wish that there were a more deliberate and expansive address of this issue by Radiolab. I wish that Kao Kalia Yang and her Uncle Eng could be included in a way that would allow for some reconciliation, although it is hard for me to imagine how that would be brought about. I wish that Kao Kalia Yang's objections were given direct voice by the show and subsequently addressed individually and specifically. I want to hear a whole show about what all this outrage is about, about what everyone was and is motivated by, about, given a second chance, how everyone would act differently or not. However, it may be the case that I will have to accept that this is not what will happen, that my priorities are not those of the producers of this show, that this is not what Radiolab is. That does not make it a worthless endeavor in my eyes.

It seems to me that if one refuses to recognize the humanity of and converse with anyone who is prejudiced and self-interested and even, at least on occasion, downright offensive, one's social opportunities will be exiguous at best.

Apr. 07 2013 09:15 PM

Part 1 of 2:

I've read a lot of the comments addressing the potentially offensive and generally troubling nature of this segment, as well as the article by Kao Kalia Yang, I also just listened to the segment again (this being the third time, in total) and I am left feeling most of all as though there should be further conversation by the relevant parties about this topic. There are some serious flaws in both the story and the handling of the subsequent outrage, however, taking a position of single-minded indignation, while understandable, is simply not useful to anyone.

What should be recognized first, I think, is that Radiolab is just a radio show about science and science-y stuff made by a group of people who are interested in telling interesting stories. The most basic cause of this problem is, I believe, that in this story they came across and then unconsciously waded into a philosophical space with which they were not equipped by the framework and general narrative of the program that is Radiolab to effectively cope. I can hear in the final moments of the segment, after the gut-wrenching end of the interview a tension between the roles played by the Radiolab staff (Pat, Jad, and Robert) as radio hosts, personalities and their feelings as people. I think that what went wrong is all in those final moments and in a misapprehension of those two personae. The words of Kalia and Eng did exactly what Pat noted: they made the issue of yellow rain and the truth of it's source relatively unimportant (at least subjectively to the listeners). The story was, from the end of the interview on, about the CONFLICT between the two understandings of the phenomenon and what it means. Pat, Jad, and especially Robert were too much attached to the story they were telling. They needed to stop being people whose jobs, careers are in journalism, the alternating discovery and construction of narrative and be radio hosts who are held responsible by their audience for any moral or ethical positions they take, implicitly or explicitly. They are, in short, held to a standard which, in the case of this particular story, they failed to meet. It is ironic that a show about the problematic nature of the concept of truth, especially as it relates to personal experience, reveals that even in setting out with the purpose of questioning not a particular truth, but truth as an ideological construct, it is far, far too easy to become lost in one's attachments to one's own idea of what is and is not true.

Apr. 07 2013 09:14 PM
Thomas from Washington, DC

When this aired, I was taking a class on qualitative research methods in peace and conflict resolution.

It's a really troubling story, for reasons everyone is aware of. But, I have to say, thank you so much for putting it out there. We, as listeners, can decide where we fall on the particulars. But more than that, sometimes interviews go bad. Sometimes even professionals make mistakes, or err in judgement. And while it was painful, I think it was really valuable to hear.

I only hope that you folks at radiolab have done what you can to make things right with your interviewees.

Apr. 05 2013 07:29 PM

The only problem with this podcast: some of its listeners who cannot separate rationality from emotion. It's sad to know that the search for the truth will always be impeded by you.

The show never, in any way, tried to diminish the suffering of the Hmong people. In the podcast we are told that the Kalia knew, going into it, that the podcast will be about the contentious issue of the Yellow Rain. However, to anyone with any real cognitive function unmarred by emotion, Kalia tried to monopolize this conversation. When she saw that it wasn't going her way, she resorted to an emotional outburst and thus hijacked the podcast.

Radiolab gave enough information/explanation about this ordeal in the follow-up to the interview during the podcast (including an apology) and they did more than enough to remedy this awkward situation. They even recognized that Kalia's perspective (an unscientific one) was also one of the truths. If people are still upset about this podcast, I feel sorry for you.

Just to be clear: the suffering of the Hmong people is something to be recognized. It is a terrible historical fact and these fine people had suffered too much needlessly. Unfortunately, if people like Kalia are their spokespersons, their story will never get a fair hearing.

Kalia is supposed to be an award-winning writer. I wonder who gave an award to someone who doesn't know a definition of "racism." Calling Radiolap racist because they didn't take her uncle's "yellow rain" story as a scientific fact is laughable.

I also read her article: "The Science of Racism: Radiolab's Treatment of Hmong Experience." In it she mentioned that she lost her baby. This is a horrible thing and for this all my sympathies go to her. However, you have to ask what this has to do with her issue with Radiolab? Is she trying to suggest that her "ordeal" with Radiolab caused her miscarriage in some way? One thing is clear to me: Kalia is an emotional hijacker. Perhaps that is how she got her award for writing.

In her article what I saw was a young woman who doesn't know anything about the Hmong experience except from the stories of her elders; a woman who, when her schemes fail, becomes very angry and lashes out, stopping at nothing to push her personal agenda. Even the horrific loss of her child was not out of bounds.

My heart is saddened by her loss - I wish her another baby and lots of happiness. My heart is saddened by the suffering of the Hmong people. However, this podcast merely tried to get at the truth and nothing wrong was done.

Keep up the good work and the pursuit of the truth.

Mar. 25 2013 06:40 AM

I was reminded of this episode today when I stumbled across the following quote by historian Yehuda Bauer, "One must never argue with a survivor... and every testimony must be treated with utter respect."

Mar. 24 2013 04:11 AM

My thoughts go out to the Hmong community.
I didn't enjoy this segment at all... but it does go to show the harm caused by the 'relentless pursuit of truth'. I don't think Journalism or "doing ones' job" can excuse the lack of empathy in this story.
Very disappointing.

Mar. 24 2013 03:52 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 Hmong interviewee and his translator in the story.

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

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

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

Mar. 21 2013 12:44 AM
james from la, ca

I re-listened to this show today to pull a quote from the granddaughter.

I feel it is so important for us as humans to embrace the multiplicity of history. The idea that there is a single understandable version of past events is self limiting.

I haven't listened to radiolab since this episode last aired, I hope one day I can return.

This episode literally made me cry again, like it did last time to. very painful.

Mar. 01 2013 12:16 AM
Greg from New Hampshire

Episodes like "New Normal" and "Stochasticity" endeared Radio Lab to me. "Yellow Rain" broke my love affair with the show. I am glad to see so many comments here regarding the lack of compassion, ignorance, and privileged dickheadedness the producers displayed generally, and in particular toward the two people interviewed for the bit. I hope since the piece was produced they have gained the ability to see their error in the execution, and the compassion to avoid repeating it in the future. It would have been very easy, a better story, and much more Radio Lab's style to produce a piece that was an exposé on an interesting historical question of science while also bringing awareness to the humanitarian and social injustices surrounding it in a way that answered the interests of everyone. In their positions as radio producers they have the last word, and it should be, "We see what we did wrong and now know how to do better. We're sorry."

Feb. 23 2013 12:47 AM
Scott from Minneapolis

Robert, keep up the good work. These people are seriously nuts. You had the correct attitude during the original episode...the apology only feeds the haters.

Feb. 20 2013 11:04 PM
Jen Chao

Robert: The quest for truth doesn't excuse you to be an insensitive asshole. You represent the worst of so-called truth-journalism. I expect this from celebrity paparazzi but not from radiolab interviewing victims of genocide. And being sulky and defensive about it afterwards is just plain immature and unprofessional

I hope you sincerely apologized (in person) to the Hmong family.

Feb. 20 2013 06:42 PM

Anyone who commented that this episode was racist in anyway should look up the meaning of the word. NOWHERE do they discount the fact the people were dying but they are trying to figure out HOW they were dying, IF it was from chemical warfare or from something else. Radiolab is a show about science and how it relates to people's lives. Not about making atonement for past injustices to a people.
I'm sad to know that so many listeners are too naive to understand that science isn't always fun and kind.

Feb. 13 2013 08:10 PM

Here's the real truth of the racism, white privilege, and xenophobia demonstrated in this episode, in the interest of white people's 'science."

Feb. 09 2013 10:51 AM
Pat from New York

I am a huge fan of the show and it saddens me that this will be very big minus in my loyalty. I listened today for the first time the unedited version that I downloaded a while ago. I was shocked at the lack of empathy in the staunchly pursue of “truth”. It was clear what was the point of the show and all the stories gathered were focused on the interpretation of truth. But to disregard what is attached to those truths as points that are not relevant to the discussion is astonishing. Those were villages, people dying suffering greatly for generations. This are not statistics or numbers in charts. The disconnection of Americans to the fatalities of war is clearly evident in this piece. My only question would have been: would you have ignored the role of governments in the dispersion of chemical weapons if you grand parents would have been the victims? And do you believe that governments that have made immense mistakes are capable of silencing scientist? (it was enough to silence this podcast which I could not listen to again) 25 years is what it took to make the analysis of data. Conveniently enough it was the bees’ fault. If they could only respond to this…

Feb. 08 2013 01:47 PM
Tudo Nguyen from Chicago, IL

This is difficult for me as a regular fan of Radiolab, but after hearing this piece on "The Fact of the Matter," I cannot help but feel embarrassed for the show at its attempt at damage control. What made Radiolab unique for me was that it always offered a unique perspective on complex, multi-layered issues - often giving voice to primary sources and those less heard. Robert, Pat, Jad, and Dean lack the grace and integrity to admit that this show didn't do that, for whatever reasons they may be struggling with (institutionally and or individually). All of it felt so far the show's mission and the purpose of NPR, and if only the hosts and Chief Content officer acknowledged this, I wouldn't be writing this. I will be asking my friends, family, and colleagues to no longer listen to Radiolab.

Feb. 01 2013 04:57 PM
Ann from Illinois

Radiolab, this disgusted me. Your behaviors and internalized racism have gone too far. I felt physically ill while listening to this.

For those who would like the real story:

Jan. 23 2013 10:54 PM
shoirca from South Carolina

"Meselson's "bee feces" paper and his initial whitewashing of Soviet military complicity in the Sverdlovsk outbreak (the outbreak was eventually found to have been a leak from an anthrax pilot plant in downtown Sverdlovsk) are part of a pattern in which BW activity by the Soviets was denied by Meselson and his political and scientific colleagues in the Harvard Sussex Project - which was pivotal in getting the Biological Warfare Convention approved for signing by the USA, UK and USSR, among other states - until it could no longer be denied. If one of the initial signers of the BWC was found to have continued not only developing, but using biological weapons, then Meselson and his colleagues would be political failures, and Meselson would probably never have been considered for his Lasker Prize (which was, after all, awarded in recognition of his policy successes, not his failures). So much for "bee feces".

Another wrinkle in your search for the "truth".

Jan. 21 2013 10:40 PM
Tony from California

Some where in between this interview/debate, empathy was thrown out the window. Maybe it is the hunger for the truth that treats personal accounts as fiction. Upstanding journalism once again but at the loss of humanity.

Jan. 20 2013 07:35 PM
elbrazo from California

RadioLab did nothing wrong, and their apologies were unnecessary. It's clear that the Yang's had a clear agenda to advance, and employed emotional manipulation when it was clear that the producers were trying to find the, you know, TRUTH instead of just relaying the message the Yang's apparently had in mind.

The interview was not about whether or not the Hmong had been victims of genocide or war crimes. It was an attempt to ascertain the truth about the Yellow Rain, and listening to the episode, I was incredibly angered by the Yang's attempts to make it all about THEM, and not what was actually TRUE.

They were blinded by their pain, which is understandable. But to take it out on others is unforgivable, as are the subsequent charges of racism, which I find unfounded and disgusting.

Jan. 16 2013 08:35 PM
Merlinda from mn

I want to clearify that Kao Kalia is not the only person crying that time, during the interview, Radiolab had a person who was recording the whole interview present as well. Eng Yang and Wife, Kalia and Arron, Kalia's husband was present as well. Everyone present in the Yang's resident cried and felt the intensity of the interview heating up. Kalia's cry was heard because she was translating, or in other words she was given a chance to cry or a spotlight in this interview. Thus, her emotions was carried over and yet sadly, many thinks she is scheming a dramatic scene. During this time, Mrs. Yang, the wife of Eng, passed tissues to everyone there that had also cried but was not heard. Thus, Eng asked for the interview to be stopped and kalia translated the motion.

I am part of the future generation, a college student in learning of the truth to life.

Jan. 10 2013 09:03 PM
Beth from Ann Arbor, MI

Radiolab folks may be interested to know that my bad feelings about this episode continue to linger very strongly months after hearing it. It is in fact so bad that the joy has gone out of Radiolab for me and I am no longer going to listen. It was that serious of a problem. Just wanted to share the impact on one person.

Jan. 06 2013 02:56 PM
First Time Caller from Oakland, CA

Oh what electricity this conversation has generated! The open dialog is invigorating and meaningful, and I encourage everyone to read Ms. Yang's side of the story at

But I see no reason to take aim with Radiolab's producers.

As with all things Radiolab; objective or emerging evidence is fused with loose theory and childish curiosity, and the listener isn't convinced as much as they are made open to new ways of thinking. Facts are knowable, but nothing is concrete in human understanding, and we must be humble to the possibilities that may exist.

Sadly; this has been turned into a conversation about racism, when at no point was the deduction of facts or clues predicated on race or the perceived credibility of those involved, nor their race. It was clear to me that what was questionable was the fact that a single eyewitness seemed to be involved, and that single-perspective narrative was not fool-proof. Was his testimony more valid because he happened to be Hmong? Yang was supposed to act as translator. She made herself become part of the story, which is fine. Yang, a side-line character who was not alive during the incident, made it about "the Hmong people" and implied that the Yellow Rain was an accepted cultural narrative, and that doubting it would be to doubt her culture. That is a sweeping miss-aimed defense.

Radiolab has done nothing wrong, and it has been criticized for trying to make it more right.

The Hmong are an important culture which are at-risk to regional state aggression. But Ms. Yang does not speak for all Hmong people.

In no time has science been free of prejudiced, particularly prejudice based on deep moral feeling. Sometimes these prejudices are institutional (the church for example). But we would be lazy and unthinking to deflect the compassion we feel for Ms. Yang and her uncle onto Radiolab's producers as a by-product of institutional prejudices. The real prejudice would be to grant the accepted narrative dismissal from criticism that without only because someone cried in an interview. The emotions are powerful, and clearly that is why the Radiolab producers left them there.

But why is dismissing sentimental prejudices for clarity of the facts by default a racist motive? How is producing a convincing counter-argument about Yellow Rain, even if it means omitting facts Ms. Yang wishes were present, represent an abuse of position born out of racism? It seem more like Ms. Yang wishes to penalize Radiolab's producers for her own perceived embarrassment (clearly there is nothing to be embarrassed about). There is plenty of injustices in this world we can attribute institutional racism to (the US prison system is a good start). This is not one of them.

Dec. 27 2012 05:47 PM
Angelique Boyd

I just recently heard this episode and I was deeply disappointed and hurt. I will keep listening to RadioLab because I do think that RadioLab has seen that they were wrong and I think they have started a dialogue that needs to be had. I do think that they need to do more about it instead of leaving it the way they did.

I haven't read all the comments so forgive me for inserting things that have already been said. I was really shocked to see a comment that Eng Yang and Kao Kalia Yang had credentials that were not listed. I feel like if Mr. Abumrad and Mr. Kulwrich added that to the segment people would have seen them in a different light, instead of the struggling immigrant family that is still remembering the pain of their stories not being heard, and not knowing the facts because they are acting on pain. Nothing is wrong with being an immigrant family, but the way immigrants are usually portrayed are unintelligent or other negative assumptions. I feel this sometimes because my mom is from Singapore.

I wonder if anybody has seen RadioLab's action in this segment beyond insensitivity and being too focused on facts. I think this is also a privilege issue/First World problem issue. All the people responsible for making this story happened only saw it through the lens of being privilege Americans (white American privilege but I know not everybody's white). They were only concerned about how this would affect American history and not the lives of people who died. Since the Yellow Rain incident happened after the Vietnam war I think RadioLab needs to create a whole show about the Hmong people to apologize to Koa Kalia Yang and her uncle for their insensitivity. This story should not have been solely on Yellow Rain, it should have focused more on the Hmong people or at least inspired them to look more into it after Yang and her uncle's response

I also think that there was nothing wrong with Kao Kalia Yang crying, she has the right to cry and it was not adding "unnecessary drama," this is beyond the story. These are people's experiences that RadioLab has not taken seriously. Radio Lab needs to check their privilege

Dec. 19 2012 05:27 PM
Tong Thao

People who have not been to the scene or have not experienced the experience, please do not belittle those who have seen and went through the experience. Thank you.

Dec. 10 2012 06:01 PM
Jun Z. from Pittsburgh, PA

Radiolab should consider doing a story on South Philly to offset the way this particular piece was handled.

Dec. 10 2012 09:47 AM
J.B. Le Pichon from Kansas City

I just read Kao Kalia Yang's post on the Hyphen website (, very sad. I have mixed feelings about this whole mess. I agree that Jad and Robert were both unfair and insensitive in the interview. It was condescending on their part not to list Kao Kalia Yang’s or her uncle’s credentials. It was also inappropriate to suggest that when she started crying she was manipulating the interview. Finally, it was deeply insensitive to push her and her uncle to admit something that clearly caused a lot of pain. They could have conducted the interview in a much nicer way, presented the facts as they know it after the interview was over, and thus preserve the dignity of these two people who have clearly suffered a lot.

That being said, I think that Kao Kalia Yang also inserted much unnecessary drama in the piece I read. The whole experience about losing the baby, although very sad, was completely unrelated and had no place in this article. Her suggestion that Robert is acting from a male chauvinistic and racist point of view are also both inappropriate and unnecessary. As a result she comes through as someone asking for sympathy, not as someone making a valid argument for her cause. Quite unfortunate.

As a result of all this I was left with a really bitter feeling. So much so that I could not bring myself to listen to the latest podcast of Radiolab that had just downloaded to my iPhone…

Dec. 05 2012 03:12 PM
Ben from Sweden

I just had a discussion about this with a friend and decided to check out the comment section on Radiolab's website. It is overwhelmingly negative and I am really surprised by that. I genuinely thought that Krulwich did the only thing he could do as a journalist and scientist. The premise of the show was to find the truth, which apparently successfully was taken hostage by emotion. Both Radiolab and This American Life are reporting frequently on stories where emotionally skewed truths have lead to conflict, retaliation, animosity and loss.
"Little War on the Prairie" is the most recent an example on This American Life.

I respect Radiolab and Krulwich for being ok with risking to look like insensitive asshats in search of the truth and not bailing under emotional pressure. We need to start to be willing to push our emotional, reactionary self aside in order to make informed decisions.

Dec. 01 2012 03:18 AM
Steve from Los Angeles

I just got around to listening to this episode, and I feel heartbroken.

Radiolab has had my unreserved admiration since I first started listening, but in one fell swoop I've lost a great deal of respect for it.

Like the other commenters here have noted, this level of insensitivity is deeply disappointing and the tone taken seems more berating and condescending than inquisitive.

Like others, I think at least a short on the Hmong people or a reflection on this incident could be a way to mend things, not only to your interviewees, but to listeners like myself.

Nov. 30 2012 04:32 PM
Jack from San Jose California

Man just got done listening to this. Wow, that scientist is an idiot. Who the heck stick around long enough to see airplanes drop chemical weapons on top of them? Let me tell you the dead ones, and you know what they aren't around tell you anymore that they saw it.
And how can the chemical be there then not there? If it was contamination did all other test before the retest find the chemical too? Even the process of disproving yellow rain is in question.

Nov. 28 2012 04:56 AM
Christine from Oakland, CA

As an Asian-American and a long-time listener and fan of this show, I am extremely disappointed in this program. While RadioLab has not had to deal much with racial issues or with other ethnicities than those of European/Caucasian descent before (because this is a science-based show and science is in theory colorblind, I suppose), I had faith that you would be able to handle such topics with sensitivity and intelligence if it came up. Instead, you behaved much as any other person of arrogant privilege would, demeaning the experiences of those who lived through this horrible experience and dismissing them simply because what they had to say did not fit your preconceptions and assumptions. I was nearly in tears while listening to the podcast, and can't imagine why you treated them like you did, with so little of the respect that you usually pay to your other interviewees.

This quote from the citypages articles sum my feelings up succintly:
"This was a racialized event," Shih says. "This was members of an advantaged group speaking for members of a targeted group and saying, 'You don't know what really happened to you. We do.'"

While I will not stop listening to this program, I hope that you take my and everyone else's comments to heart and do better in the future.

Nov. 27 2012 07:22 PM
Jocelyn from Denmark

I am one of those annoying people who quote radiolab episodes to co-workers and cocktail party-goers. I was a high school science teacher for 10 years and have a deep appreciation for the craft of radiolab: taking sometimes incredibly abstract scientific information and dramatizing it WITHOUT distorting the facts so that it goes inside people's brains better, to use the simplest words. This was the majority of what I spent my time doing in that profession. I also love the on-going debates throughout the years about whether logical positivism does a good enough job of explaining our world.

I say all this to explain why radiolab was so personally appealing to me, and the tense of that verb should explain why I feel the need to leave a comment. I am unsure that I will continue to listen to radiolab after listening to this segment. If I do continue to listen, I will be plagued by a dislike for Robert that I am not sure I can shake. The tone and aggresiveness in his questions to Mr. Yang about whether or not he personally observed planes dropping a yellow substance showed a lack of human concern for the subject he was interviewing. I know this method is used often by reporters looking for the truth, but it is ironic to me that in an epísode with this title that Robert could have strayed so far in his search for it. His tone was one used on someone you are catching out in a lie, and it is clear that whatever else was going on, Mr. Yang was not out to obscure truth. Truth, whether it is scientific in nature or not, is so sacred because it is so hard to be secure in. How secure can I be in Robert's truths now?

Nov. 27 2012 11:01 AM
Chueyias from California

I am a long time NPR listener. NPR is the most trusted and reliable news sources. They take “all things considered.” Why not Radiolab? Robert and Pat, you guys blew it big time! Do your research Guys! You tarnished NPR!

Let me shed light into their conclusion. When both Mr. Meselson and Mr. Seeley did their bee droppings investigation in the forests of Thailand, how different was the way the Thai bees and Lao bees defecate or release their poops? Did the Thai bees just shot up vertically into the air, defecated, and came down to their hives or the bees shot up vertically into the air, defecated, and shot horizontally out , and defecated into the distance? Why Mr. Meselson and Mr. Seeley chose to not observe the bee droppings in the horizontal direction. Because the yellow stuffs that killed the Hmong and they experienced covered half mile to 2 miles in length. Why Mr. Meselson and Mr. Seeley chose to not observe the presence or absence of wild life animals and their reactions before and after the bee droppings. Because before the “yellow powder” and the yellow rain drops in the forests of Laos the Hmong heard birds and insects sing morning and evening day in and day out, but after the yellow stuffs landed, the Hmong heard neither birds nor insects sing. Did they think they can easily fool their audiences and the world because they graduated from Harvard and Yale?

Was President Reagan wrong for accusing of the Soviet for violating the Geneva Protocol 1925 for supplying the chemical and biological weapons to its allies to use on the Hmong to justify the US chemical productions?

No, President Reagan was never wrong. Because the Soviet was the main supplier of chemical and biological weapons for use in Laos on the Hmong. How dare a superpower rectified a treaty, violated and lied about its evil actions. How many physical evidences/proves did President Reagan need to justify for the chemical productions? THREE 1. The Hmong died from biological poisons 2. The US scientists found “T-mycotoxin” in the collected samples. 3 The Soviet used it.
The Hmong owe President Reagan and the United States a huge THANK YOU!

Do the US really owe the Soviets an apology?

Absolutely not. The United States owe the Soviet nothing for an apology. The Soviets owe the Hmong an apology for using chemical and biological weapons on them and lied about their evil actions to the United Nations. The yellow rain was not a “bee poop”, black chicken shit, cow shit, or bull shit. The yellow rain was a biological poison and it was a horrible, reckless, and evil action by a superpower the Soviet. If the Soviets come clean, then the Hmong will learn how to forgive them, but the Hmong will remember the Yellow Rain forever!!

Nov. 27 2012 12:13 AM
Jonathan from Minneapolis, Minnesota

Dear Radiolab,

You guys are assholes.


Nov. 26 2012 09:05 PM
Haley from Sydney, NSW, Australia

Why does the search for truth need to eschew sympathy and kindness? I was so shocked and disgusted by the treatment of the Eng family, even more so now that I've learned of the intentional omission of their individual qualifications and expertise on the subject (beyond just their personal experiences). I came into this episode with trepidation, as I believe that truth is highly subjective, especially when it comes to grave imbalances of power in who sanctifies truth. I came away from the episode more cemented in that belief than ever.

Nov. 26 2012 07:19 AM
Jodi from MN

Radiolab, you blew it. And your hamhanded response has made it worse.

Nov. 20 2012 12:04 PM
Jennifer Audette

I feel that the three privileged, white, American men (two of them sitting in the studio doing a post-game analysis of the interview (Jab, Robert and Pat) showed a serious lack of emotional intelligence. She was telling you repeatedly that she felt USED by you! Did you not get that part?!

Don't think I'll be able or interested to listen to Radiolab anymore.

Nov. 19 2012 09:33 PM
HW from Chapel Hill, NC

Quite probably the single worst Radiolab piece I've heard, and I've heard (and enjoyed) most all of them. The troublesome part extends beyond the rude and colonialist treatment of the Yangs, but the total journalistic malpractice of offering ABSOLUTELY NO explanation of the fact that, you know, bees pooped before 1975.

Bees. Pooped. Before. 1975.

But, whatever, Harvard scientists determined that this particular toxic substance in 1975 was probably bee poop, so why bother asking the people who've lived there for millenia if bee poop was also killing scores of animals and humans in horrifying fashion in 1960 or 1930 or 1890 or 1770 ?

Oh wait, because Mr. Yang didn't "see" the yellow stuff falling out of planes, therefor it's more scientifically rigorous to conclude that it was bee poop that was somehow killing scores of humans and animals, despite the fact that no humans have ever or experienced bee poop do this before. OK, fine Mr. Krulwich, if that's your conclusion, you have a few more questions to address:

Was this the first time bees pooped this way? Why? Have bees always been pooping this way but humans and animals living in the bee poop zone were somehow unaffected before 1975? Why? Were people being mutilated and killed by mysterious yellow substance falling from the sky for hundreds of years, but just forgot all about it before 1975? These are questions the Radiolab story had to address and they failed utterly to even acknowledge those questions.

A Harvard professor from thousands of miles away says it was probably bee poop, but a human who actually experienced it didn't see the plane dropping chemical weapons so therefor Harvard guy must be right and there's no need to look into the question of whether or not bees pooped before 1975. Really, the piece was beyond lazy.

Nov. 18 2012 10:42 AM
Peter Grems from earth

If the 5 pages are to much to read for you, at least read the last one of this article that several commentators where pointing out:

I witnessed many interviews with survivors and victims of war (in my case the 2nd world war) and have to say, this is not the way one should do it. I don't want to accuse you of a lack of respect, though I feel like it, but I know it is very difficult to do such interviews. I have to say though, that you where not careful enough at all. It's arguable if intense questioning, rather than a lot of listening is the right way at all. But in this case you really hurt those two. That shouldn't, but can happen if you are careless; but it really stroke me, that you didn't intervene in any manner and aired kao kalia yangs breakdown. I'm sorry for all the accusations, I usually really enjoy your podcasts. I hope you can comment on the citypages article and why you haven't apologized in person. Otherways it would leave me with a dull feeling listening to the other great podcasts you make.

All the best,
Peter Grems

Nov. 17 2012 08:39 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 11:13 PM
Former Radiolab listener

I think it is very telling that Eng Yang and Kao Kalia Yang were introduced only as a "Hmong guy" and "his niece", respectively, when both people are actually respected, successful, award-winning professionals. Radiolab makes a habit of clearly acknowledging their guests' professional affiliations - what was different about this story?
Radiolab's sub-par response and conditional "apology" for this misstep also leaves a bad taste in my mouth, and I've removed the podcast from my subscriptions.

Nov. 15 2012 07:43 PM
Oppa Yoon from South Korea

wow RadioLab, you almost got me...thank you for monopolize the whole fact of the matters.

But, luckily the article on citypages: "Behind Laos's yellow rain and tears", by: Olivia LaVecchia; has put the puzzle of this story back to his original place.

and for RadioLab? Well Done!!! i have nothing more to say.

The fact of the matters!

Nov. 14 2012 07:16 PM

i really have to recommend anyone coming to this page read the citypages article. it states that eng yang was trained as a medic during the war and had treated many cases of cholera and dysentery, which is what radiolab asserted was actually killing the hmong that yang came across. aside from all the other bits of credibility due to yang that radiolab neglected (his role documenting for the thai government, the hmong knowledge of bees, etc) i really don't know how this couldn't have come up during the interview and caused pat or robert to stop and actually consider what it is their story was actually about.

Nov. 14 2012 04:23 PM
Chris from Mendota, MN

The thing is, the mistake Radiolab made was taking the New Yorker article and the Harvard study as Gospel, and discounting the statements made by Kalia and Eng. And in my opinion, when Eng said straight out that he knew about bee droppings, and that this wasn't it, that should have either stopped the RL report in its tracks, or drastically changed the tone and direction of the piece. You can hear Eng say this very thing in the recorded podcast itself, but what you don't hear is when Kalia translates those words to English. That was cut out (deliberately in my opinion). Deliberate edits of information for the purpose of telling a predetermined story is what those in the business call "journalistic fraud." It is no different than creationists who pick and choose scientific information to shoot holes in evolution because they want holes shot in it. Truth be damned.

The fact is the Harvard study could very well have been faulty. If this toxin was Sarin or something like it, traces would have broken down long before samples made it to the lab. And since those sample came from the jungle, they would of course have polen on them. Everything did. And frankly, there's no shortage of New Yorker hatchet pieces on Reagan. Their editors still hold a grudge to this day.

Radiolab took the story of the genocide of the Hmong and one of the weapons used against them, and turned it into a puff piece through misleading editing and deliberate story modeling.

Nov. 13 2012 08:38 PM

There is a great news clip from citypages about this topic. The whole article answered many questions that I wanted to hear and I think it would help most of you understand as well.

"Behind Laos's yellow rain and tears"

A controversial Radiolab episode opens old wounds and raises countless questions for Minnesota's Hmong

By Olivia LaVecchia Wednesday, Nov 14 2012

Nov. 13 2012 07:49 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 07:42 PM

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

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

Nov. 13 2012 04:00 PM

I have just listened to "Yellow Rain" on podcast and was so irritated I thought to send an e-mail. Perhaps this comments section will work as well. What I heard at the end of this episode was a well educated bully flexing his mental-muscles to intimidate someone who's story he disliked. What he got instead was a show of character which was unfortunately lost on him. What he offered as an interpretative response was merely a playground response of "you-are."
What questions he threw at Uncle, "did you see the plane" what would have been the next series...demanding to know the type and markings of the plane? The Hmong like the Montagnard made the fatal mistake of befriending us. They suffered terribly for this. These people were indeed gassed and murdered whether or not "Joe Science" cares to accept it.
Some years later there arises a story about bee-scat and wouldn't you know it the few samples are no longer toxic. They must therefore be lying. Later I heard what is probably the true motivation, Reagan took some action and since he wasn't a Democrat it must be discredited. How on earth do people pass themselves as scientists and so obviously discredit the name? How can actions like these do anything but shake public faith in them?

Nov. 11 2012 11:38 PM

Robert and Jad, since you seemed to be so concerned with science of this story, you obviously need to be taught a lesson about logic: The absence of something is not evidence that it does not exist. So, even if your Harvard professor tells you one sample proved to be bee pollen, that does not mean there were no instances of chemical weapons. To treat an eye-witness with such disregard, disbelief, and hostility is abhorrent. Unfortunately, it also falls in line with the traditions of racist and sexism when you 1) assume the superiority of the knowledge of the white males, 2) you minimize the experience/opinions of all others, and 3) feel the need to educate others (and can't even conceive how they might be right).

Nov. 08 2012 06:44 AM

Why do such an interview when you're just going to manipulate instead of hearing their story? I understand you have scholars, scientist, etc... to back up your story but you missed the fact that those people weren't the ones suffering in the jungle. You missed the fact that those people didn't live through what the Hmong people live through. We tried and tried to get our voices heard but yet we were left with broken hearts and broken family because of ignorant people like you. My parents lived through the war. My brother who was born healthy got sick and died because of the yellow rain. My second brother who was also born healthy got sick because of the yellow rain and unfortunately because of the yellow rain he lost his eye sight. Believe it or not, my family survived the yellow rain and they will live to tell the story over and over again weather you want to believe it or not.

I think in the future you should stop your show if this is how you run a show. First of all it's unprofessional and secondly, it's inhumane.

Nov. 06 2012 11:01 PM
Ben from Wisconsin

I would read this because you're not getting the full story here.

I recently discovered Radiolab and was immediately hooked by their interesting topics and stories. So honestly, while I am upset for the Eng and Kalia, I'm more disappointed in how a show that presents itself as pro-science would come into an interview like that with such a strong assumption that they already knew the answer to the question that was the whole topic of discussion. Radiolab wanted to tell a story about how science reveals truth, but they had decided before the interview what the truth was. They only needed some sound bites from Hmong people in order to legitimize their story.

Nov. 06 2012 03:12 PM
Margaret Thompson from Denver, CO

The behavior of the producers with interviews of the Hmong are absolutely shameful. I have read the article, "The Science of Racism: Radiolab’s Treatment of Hmong Experience" on New American Media and am appalled. I have been a journalist for over 35 years and am totally disgusted with your deceit, manipulation and disrespect of Kao Kalia Yang and her uncle. We desperately need alternative media such as RadioLab but not if the producers stoop to the same shoddy tactics as so many mainstream media sources.

Nov. 05 2012 10:32 PM
emanresu from Boston

In the end, I found the show to be exploitive. Worse, for the most part, I think the hosts and the producers know that. I don't believe that they meant to do wrong, but did so nonetheless. What I found most troubling is not that they reported what they found, but that they ultimately failed to do what they say they started out to do - determine the fact of the matter. Instead they became self-satisfied that they destroyed what was effectively an urban myth. But they didn't get to or even seemingly try to get to the heart of the matter - what did sicken and kill the Hmong and the animals? Rather than do the real work, they took the easy way out by recording themselves having second thoughts. Instead they came across as mostly whiney punks, except for Robert, who came across as simply smug.

Nov. 05 2012 10:06 PM
Xai Lee from Fresno, CA

As a Hmong American listening to the program, I didn't sense they were "racist." The programming of the show was clumsily put together and blanketed an academic theory above the real experiences of genocide of the interviewees and their community.

Nov. 05 2012 02:30 PM
Fulfill your commitment to transparency

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

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

Nov. 05 2012 12:13 AM

What happened in the Yellow Rain interview was insensitive. All parties realize this. I do not need to reiterate what few have said above for long, but people make mistakes. How many thought provoking incredible shows have they done in the past? These folks have done more educating and idea investigating then most and are an easy target here. Radiolab did not have to air this episode, they chose to, not because they are racists but because they are interested in the truth. The "truth" in this case is that many folks ignorant of this piece of Hmong history will now do further investigation.

I'm really upset by the racism accusations. I'd like to ask some folks up here- what do you do? How do you contribute to the education of society? Robert is not a racist.

ANd can Radiolab please make more of an in-depth story on the subject as well as a more formal apology here?

Nov. 04 2012 07:45 PM
Maxine from Oahu, HI

Kao Kulia Yang has written several responses to this article, both publicly and to your producers. I had always seen NPR as fair reporters, upholding journalistic integrity far more than many other media can you justify posting defenses of the journalists involved without at least acknowledging the reasons those defenses became necessary in the first place?

It is easy to go back and try and cover up your mistakes by "editing" history, and far harder to acknowledge your mistakes and truly apologize for them.

For those interested in hearing another perspective on this issue (and Radiolab, on the off chance you haven't seen it,) I give you:

Nov. 04 2012 01:18 PM
seth from Venice, CA

Amended and with Jad and Robert responding to comments still does not lesson the sting of that story and the insensitivity. Hundreds of comments below express what needs to be said, I just want to continue to echo that it is not resolved. I get that Radiolab missed a bigger picture in their piece but that's not an excuse. Please address this, don't explain your intent and why you shouldn't be judged the way you are, respect the lives of people who have been slaughtered... What "could of happened" with chemical warfare is not equal to what did happen to those people and you missed that. The fact of the matter is you missed the greater story... which normally you are so good at capturing.

Nov. 04 2012 05:13 AM
Xai Lee from Fresno, CA

Repost from your Facebook account--Point of clarification: I do want to monopolize this conversation.. so you're trying to tell me that more than 100,000 of my Hmong people died in helping to protect downed American pilots, unlawfully recruited by the American C.I.A to support your lofty 1st world experience today, experiencing a genocide due to American secret foreign policy for you to 30-40 years later mock our people's first hand experience/confusion with genocide and unknown chemical warfare on our people with your bee shit theory?

Nov. 04 2012 02:32 AM

I've always been an active listener to MPR, NPR and radio lab, great radio shows. However, the reaction and the irresponsible actions of how the producers at radiolab handled this American propaganda and racist agenda, I've sinced switched to other means of true unbiased credible scientific radio programs. To anyone working at the station, get out while you can.

Nov. 03 2012 11:19 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 09:55 PM
Tonnah Her from CLOVIS, CA

Wow, I'm so disappointed. There was no heart in this interview. We know that the Americans have and can cover up anything and everything. I truly think Hmong people know without a doubt what it was even if the world denies it. Would there be this much pain if there's no truth. Lies have to covered with more lies but the truth is always the doesn't change. Our people witnessed and experienced sickness and death when yellow rain occurred. Though no justice can ever happen truth has been revealed.

Nov. 03 2012 01:40 AM
Caleb Raible-Clark from Squamish, BC

Radiolab has lost a listener. The fact that Robert Krulwich, in his response to concerns about this piece, ignores the essential problem, confirms my discomfort.

The problem here is that Radiolab is participating in ongoing process of systemic racism. Krulwich denies that he is being racist; he says he is just trying to get to the truth of the matter. Beyond the idea that the story of yellow rain is a higher priority than the suffering of the Hmong people, there is a more clear form of racism: their uneven questioning of sides. Namely, when it is the Hmong witness, they push and push and push, but when it is our (presumably white) CIA witness, they simply accept as legitimate that bullets and bombs may have killed those cows and villagers. They don't even question the inclusion of those as potential alternatives.

In other words, the idea that the Hmong people were too stupid to notice bullet holes or other obvious trauma wounds is more plausible than--for example--a swap in the sample of this yellow stuff from a governmental or non-governmental source, or the possibility that this is the wrong yellow stuff.

Furthermore, Radiolab participates in a culture of denial typical to those who deny the holocaust, who often ask "how could you know that there were gas chambers, if you never saw them." Obviously if Eng Yang had been underneath a chemical weapon, looking up at it falling, he wouldn't be able to tell us the story. This is the classic scenario laid out in Lyotard's The Differend (for a brief summary,

This is irresponsible and oppressive journalism, and Radiolab's subsequent attempts to justify their actions are only the typical defense found in the typical racist organization, who would rather remain set in its ways than confront the forces of racism head-on.

Nov. 02 2012 03:40 PM

I am an Asian American woman. I did find the tone in this piece harsh. But after reading more about the story and Radio Lab's intent, I know now that the Yang's were not ambushed. The questions were sent ahead. To call Krulwich a racist is completely out of line, and doesn't accomplish anything. I found Krulwich's apology heartfelt and sincere. He realized his mistakes, and isn't that the end goal here? If anything, all this anger needs to be geared towards the UN and the US government to fully recognize the atrocities the Hmong endured.

Nov. 02 2012 09:54 AM
Jay from New York

Very disturbed by how radio lab handled the situation with Ms. Yang. Radiolab, you've just lost a fan.

Nov. 02 2012 12:12 AM

Well, I support and understand Robert. This is two seperate things. The fact that the Hmong people were mistreated and the fact whether or not there truly were chemical weapons involved. No one disputes that the Hmong people were mistreated. I presume there are lots of proof of that. He just asked question and I didn't percieve them as aggressive. Questions about the truth. In lack of answers they misinterpreted it as an attack on them. That's not Robert's fault. It is also not right or fair to take the truth hostage by emotions. To call Robert racist, on the other hand, is way out of line.

Nov. 01 2012 10:58 PM

The interviewers and producers should be fired. And the end part of the interview where you say "it's not fair to us" for Yang to ask you to stop arguing over semantics is absurd. You're the producers. You have ALL the power. You're not being fair to her and her uncle. Terrible, terrible interview.

Obviously, your guests didn't understand why they were coming on the show. You were interested in talking about the science of Yellow Rain, they were interested in talking about the history, the events, and the suffering of the Hmong group. So, obviously your producers didn't do a good job sourcing guests and preparing content for the show.

Have to say, this is my first experience listening to Radio Lab, and will probably be the last. Shoddy reporting and cold, heartless interviewing.

Nov. 01 2012 08:36 PM
Dan D

Npr, and most liberals in general, are the fakest people on earth. These white hipsters only view race through the lens of how they advance their status.

Nothing else.

Nov. 01 2012 01:57 PM

These guys have fulfilled the stereotype of scientists being cold, emotionless, and so obsessed with truth that they disregard the emotions of others.

Nov. 01 2012 01:55 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 01:06 PM
Eastfist from Green Bay, WI

This is the reason I didn't continue to pursue a professional career in journalism out of college. American journalists have an obligation to promote only American propaganda, so anything that isn't inline with it won't even have a light shed on it. That's why the Hmong and other Southeast Asian immigrants' stories plain don't exist in the American zeitgeist. I truly believe that it was some kind of chemical weapon, just like the many other types of weapons Americans use (psychological, bio, etc.) To dismiss it completely invalidates our existence in America and what purpose we now have to pursue. Thanks a lot, America, that's what it means to be American.

Nov. 01 2012 11:10 AM

The idea that because Radiolab has discussed the Hmong experience more than any other radio show or podcast, they can be completely absolved of any wrongdoing in this segment is so silly and ridiculous that I find myself stunned every time someone brings it up.

Nov. 01 2012 09:11 AM
Krulwich has to go

Krulwich finally revealed himself to be WNYC's Dr Laura - not surprising if you take a closer look at many subtle hints throughout all of his programs. Like every other racist, even now he won't admit his true motives and there is no chance of him doing what every honorable human being would do in this situation: RESIGN. That is why the only proper thing for WNYC to do should be to fire him immediately. As long as individuals like Krulwich find employment and funding for their racist agenda there should be no reason to support this station financially. Fortunately, there are still alternative non-commercial radio stations (like WBAI in NY) that could use even a fraction of WNYC's funding in a much better way.

Nov. 01 2012 05:35 AM

Nov. 01 2012 03:37 AM

This was extremely powerful journalism, and I also felt the need to comment on it. People calling Krulwich a racist are wrong. There is no evidence of that. Krulwich was doing a story about chemical weapons. He wanted an answer about chemical weapons and bee poop, so he kept pushing. There is nothing racist about that.

The word you are looking for is "insensitive." When we listen, we hear a person who was the victim of a forgotten genocide being grilled about bee poop and asked to exonerate his oppressors. Krulwich really was an ass. But the great thing about Krulwich and Radiolab is that they included that interview in their broadcast. I'm sure Krulwich knew that he would look like a jerk, and he also probably knew how powerful that girl's condemnation would be. By allowing us to hear this strained conversation, Krulwich made me understand the sorrow of having your people killed, and then forgotten in favor of stories of bee poop.

So before you keep complaining about Krulwich, ask yourself this question: has there every been any program, paintin, or story that has shed more light on the suffering of the Hmong than this Radiolab program? I don't think there has been.

Nov. 01 2012 01:19 AM
Cara from Canada

I just had to chime in to say this is disgusting. It hurt to listen to. Why does NPR keep a racist on its payroll? I've unsubscribed too, and will look at anything from NPR with a more sceptical eye going forward.

Oct. 31 2012 10:50 PM
lisa from Oakland, CA

I'm a white American woman who lived in Laos for 9 months, and I just felt so upset listening to this segment that I had to comment. I've really enjoyed all of your segments about animals, or friendly conversations with neurologists, etc. I felt my hackles raise immediately at the start of your story with the CIA agent, who described the backwaters of Asia, and the continuing pitting of the experts/scientists/men/institutions of power against the "backwards nobodies" (no qualifying statements about who they were, no institutions or institutional legitimizing knowledge to back up their statements) that were Mr. and Ms. Yang. This kind of language and treatment of people is exactly what legitimizes war all over the world, that makes it realistic to bomb and murder groups across the globe.

I also found it disturbing that there was no mention of the Secret War, framing the American bombing in Laos which lasted for 9 years without the approval of Congress (Laos is the most bombed country per capita on the planet because of this war, during which the equivalent of a B-52 load of bombs was dropped every 8 min, 24 hrs a day, for 9 years. And these bombs continue to kill people, as many are unexploded still. You can read more here:

I really hope that the producers can look back on this and truly reflect/act with awareness, dignity, and a firm anti-racist stance in the future. I am not sure I can continue listening.

Oct. 31 2012 10:41 PM

"I didn't appreciate the volume of pain."

You are reporting on a genocide -- how could this not possibly factor into your account of this story? The whole story is skewed to a Western bias; you open with the account of a disgruntled ex-CIA office calling Yang's village a "remote jungle backwater" and then Pat Walters chimes in with a "yeah..." as if Pat Walters has spent significant time in "remote jungle backwaters" all across Southeast Asia and can attest to their uniform mediocrity (hard times, brah). It's ridiculous to assume that something that happens in Thailand will automatically happen in this part of Laos; and if you had played Yang's full interview (which, at this point, is the very least you can do), you would factor in Yang's assertion that there WERE NO BEEHIVES in the jungles where these attacks took place. But I guess because that information is not coming from a scientist at Harvard with a microscope, so it's not very valuable, is it? It also explains why you describe the constipated bees with more detail and sensitivity than you do the Hmong people; if you are going to make sweeping assertions about Laos and this very horrible part of its history, then the least you could have done was go to Laos and get a fuller perspective on this story. Or interviewed scientists who disagreed with the ones featured here. That's what good journalism does -- it presents multiple narratives and possibilities to its listeners. And Robert Kurlwich should be fired -- there are too many talented people in radio who do exactly what he does and still manage not to be jerks to people who have survived atrocities.

Oct. 31 2012 11:40 AM
Chris from Toronto

You're "journalism" and response to the outcry from your listeners has lead me to unsubscribe from your program.

Oct. 30 2012 08:49 PM

This is the "truth of the matter:"

Oct. 30 2012 04:12 PM
Phuong from CA

The White Man's Version of Creating His Truth

Evidently, the interviewers' motive was not exactly to search out for the "truth." Instead, this interview was to "create" their own, "imagined truth," implying a "truth" that they wanted to be true in their eyes. The white man held close to his political viewpoints and biases. His purpose was to use these political viewpoints and biases to maneuver the interview to go his way. A critical thinker would not be fooled by his tactics. In fact, it is quite obvious that many parts must've been cut off from the interview. There's a curiosity as to what the rest of what Hmong woman and her uncle had to say. How much of that was cut off in order to make them look foolish, when in reality, the opposite happened. The radio themselves, created that foolishness for themselves. Another question is lurking. How come only the interviewers pushed so hard for the evidence to come in parallel views with their "imagined truth?" However, they dismissed the mass amount of available, hard, factual information pertaining to the truth, historically and scientifically of what the chemicals, agent orange, and bombs used?

It's quite obvious that the interviewers purposely manipulated their information and took advantage of whom they interviewed in order to "create" what they "wanted to hear," and "believe."

One more question: "How come the woman's and uncle's background and credentials were dismissed?" Yet, the people against these Hmong individuals, had their credentials rubbed up in the front. In choosing whom to interview, they'd have to be legit people with high credentials.

Interesting: Does the art of creating the truth still fall in the White man's hands? If so, something is morally wrong. Where is justice?

Oct. 30 2012 05:19 AM
Other Becky from North Carolina

You should be ashamed of yourselves and of your treatment of Mr. Eng (who I notice has a name now, instead of just being "Hmong guy"). He offered documentation and background information on the Hmong people's long experience with bees, which would presumably mean they knew what bee excrement looked like. Ms. Eng offered further scientific and medical documentation from a doctor from Columbia University and was ignored. Radiolab was apparently so busy searching for the truth in one specific direction that you couldn't be bothered to listen to, or show the slightest respect for, anything that might conflict with your foregone conclusions.

For shame.

Oct. 29 2012 10:24 PM
Nguyen from Pennsylvania

Oct. 29 2012 04:42 PM
John S.

I will never listen to this program again. I am deeply disappointed that the Radiolab producers were unable to admit to themselves that their story was wrong.

Oct. 29 2012 04:09 PM
Endria Richardson

Wow. This is disgusting.

Oct. 29 2012 01:02 AM

I love to listen to Radio Lab, and have never had any complaint about the program, until now. Robert Krulwich displayed the worst kind of insensitivity and moral superiority that was just sickening to listen to. That he was completely unmoved by the plight of the Hmong people, and actually suggested that the translator was trying to push her own agenda was short sighted and narrow minded. I am very disheartened and disappointed to have listened to Mrs. Yang's heartfelt explanation of their frustration, to have it glossed over with a couple of minutes of discussion and then move on to the next piece. The title of this show is very telling, "The Fact of the Matter", that they were honed in on the matter, the one problem, namely yellow rain. Mrs. Yang and Mr. Yang were understandably upset because Radiolab was only interested in their agenda, and it sounds as though they had been mislead to understand that the piece would actually be bringing the genocide that occurred to a larger audience, and became upset when Radiolab had the insensitivity to suggest that what Mr. Yang was describing was hearsay. I can understand what Krulwich was saying, it was wrong for the US to try to push an agenda based on misinformation, but it was wrong for Krulwich to push his own agenda at the emotional expense of the people who were good enough to agree to an interview. Radiolab should do a story on the Hmong people if they want to do the right thing.

Oct. 28 2012 11:02 PM
Leon from San Francisco

Is it possible that these bees ingested some sort of toxin that they were pooping out, causing their excrement to make people sick? Why had the local people never seen this yellow substance before if it was an annual occurrence? I love the program and think a few of the comments in this section are a little harsh, but I am left feeling very unsatisfied that there was not further discussion of alternative explanations, particularly since the story that followed was some innocuous bit about a chronic liar and hoarder. I would have much rather you used that space to delve into this significantly more important topic, particularly since Robert takes his "journalism" so seriously as to be temporarily blinded to the basics of human decency. That kind of pressing would be appropriate in an interview with a war criminal, NOT the victim of a war crime. Again, I love the show, and understand that nobody is perfect. I just think you missed the mark on this one.

Oct. 28 2012 06:21 PM
rgoelmd from seattle

sorry. wrong thread.

Oct. 28 2012 12:55 PM
Irie from Orlando, FL, USA

ya'll really screwed this one up, Radiolab.

Oct. 27 2012 06:32 PM
Erwin from Ann Arbor

I have been listening to Radiolab for years, when I first discovered the program in high school. I was actually about to donate some of my hard earned money from my meager college job to help support a program I have loved for so long. However, the existence of this podcast and the continued, and persistent, unapologetic attitude of the Radiolab staff has forced me to reconsider my donation.

I hope you learn from the fall out from this, and better a program I have enjoyed for years.

Oct. 27 2012 05:21 PM
HamdenRice from New York

In addition to all the other things wrong with this segment (the insensitivity, the stupefying inability to balance physical science and social science, the dishonest editing, etc.) doesn't it bother anyone else that Krulwich is propagating "junk science"? Just step back a second and look at the competing claims. One is a social science claim that chemical weapons were used in Southeast Asia. It's not like this was unprecedented (eg agent orange). Krulwich's "just plain fact" is that no, this was mass bee pooping, based on one dubious study. After a bit of research, I have yet to find any other example in the human history of the observation of nature of mass bee pooping causing "yellow rain." Whatever happened, whether it was chemical weapons or not, any real scientist or person interested in science would rule out mass bee pooping as ludicrously unlikely. Keep in mind that Krulwich is NOT a scientist. He has degrees in history and law. He covered business and economics at a time when there was a weird trend in economics of assuming that whatever was most counter-intuitive claim was the "real" answer, and that's the sort of junk science theme of Radiolab. This is the sort of nonsense spread by Jonah Lehrer (until he was caught faking evidence) and Malcolm Gladwell.

This story has pulled back the curtain and revealed how shoddy, unscientific and dishonest Radiolab program production and editing are. This isn't really just about the Hmong and yellow rain story; it's about whether anyone can trust the stuff coming out of Radiolab. To me, it's time for the senior staff at NPR to do a "Chuck Lane re-reads Stephen Glass" retrospective of all of Radiolab's "reporting." And in the meantime let Radiolab take a hiatus until we see how much other misleading editing and preposterous junk science they have pushed since they've been on the air.

Oct. 27 2012 09:36 AM
Abet from Chicago

This is disappointing, and so difficult to listen to. "All of this is hearsay?" How could you possibly say this to people who have lost family members and friends in the most devastating ways? Being a journalist involves a certain amount of sensitivity towards the everyday people who have suffered. Finding the "truth" and being "objective" doesn't mean one should ignore the humanity of the issues.

Oct. 26 2012 08:19 PM

It's unfortunate that those you interviewed have a voice and other outlets to spread what they actually said. By all accounts of the 'investigation' you started with a conclusion, and built your case around the conclusion without consulting those with opposing views; quite the contrary you edited out contrarian segments and facts to make your argument. Your lack of journalistic professionalism disgusts me. You make the argument of pursuing the 'truth'...but you ignore research and eyewitness accounts you don't like.

The worse part is that some people are buying your presentation of evidence.

Oct. 26 2012 08:04 PM

As a listener, I've often found that Radiolab often privileges "hard science" in the face of social science and cultural studies. When speaking about social scientific topics, you tend to prefer easy, objective explanations, like evolution and biology, over multiple, shifting perspectives and various ways of knowing. In this way, your show is at least thirty years behind the curve, and in this case that has bitten you in the tushy.

How about gaining a basic understanding that science and knowledge is indeed political, and facts are not objective but depend on the perspectives and values of the people producing them, including scientists? Ironic that your show about "truth" misses this basic point, as many positivist views in "hard science" also do, while social scientists have been discussing this for a century. Read some freakin' Foucault, and maybe even interview a freakin' anthropologist or sociologists once in a while.

Oct. 26 2012 07:52 PM
Andrea from miami, fl

I am greatly disappointed with the handling of this interview, I have never had anything but good things to say about radiolab, its hosts, and crew but this segment left me in shock that such a fiasco could've happened MUCH LESS EVEN BE AIRED!
I hope that as these amendments continue to happen, as the radiolab group is forced to revist the yellow rain controversy, that they will eventually realize that while being "scientific" they didn't bother to bend an ear to the opposing science in the disputed yellow rain.

Oct. 26 2012 07:28 PM

Your show and hosts disgusts me. It's sad that such inconsiderate and disgusting people such as this are allowed to speak to the public this way.

Oct. 26 2012 03:17 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 01:36 PM

The way the survivors of this tragedy were treated in this broadcast is despicable. I am loyal listener of NPR and have much higher expectations for the integrity and humanity of the broadcaster. This story reeks of entitled white men crafty people's lives into a "story". Unfortunately this is without regard to the truth. This was not investigative journalism. This was cherry-picking to prove an agenda.

Oct. 26 2012 01:32 PM
geekoid from Tualatin, Or

This episode was great, and hard. It sin't racist to remove anecdotes from a story and use science. No mater how painful it is, no matter how much is goes against your memory, not mater how emotionally attached you are to the subject, facts always come first.

Calling unpleasant facts that are contrary you your person view racism is morally and factually wrong. Ignoring the facts becasue of this horrific travesty doesn't help anyone involved with it.

This episode was hard to listen to, becasue clearly the man had gone through hell. The show was about the 'yellow rain' becasue that's the question. There is no question that the people were slaughtered. There is no question that is horrific. It wasn't what the episode was about.

Oct. 26 2012 01:00 PM
Michael from Brooklyn

Mr. Cappello's explanation of the accusation that Radiolab refuses the statement submitted by Kalia Yang, is that in essence, she wrote a positive email to them about the story, and then when they asked her to use it as a defense of the criticism they were receiving, she changed her position and wrote a negative statement about the story they wouldn't publish.

Mrs. Yang has every right to change her opinion of the story after she realized the incredible reaction that it was provoking. There is more explaining to do on her end, but perhaps she didn't know how offensive some of the elements of the piece would come off to others. It also seems very normal that the victim of this offense wouldn't know she was a victim until others told her. I think that's pretty common in people's experience of victimhood.

So in light of this, I don't think Mr. Cappello's response that, in effect, they didn't publish the thing Mrs. Yang wanted them to publish, because it was inconsistent with what she previously wrote, holds much water.

Mr. Cappello on Yang's grievance for not identifying her and her uncle respectfully is unfounded:

"We did introduce Mr. Yang as a survivor of this genocide, then Kalia Yang as a translator. We did not introduce her as an author because her role in the interview and the conversations leading up to it was one of translator, though we did provide a link to her book on our webpage along with other materials. Radiolab regularly takes a colloquial approach on air and identifies guests as "guy" or "girl" in succeeding references. The use of these terms was in no way meant to be disrespectful."

Radiolab had the choice to introduce Mrs. Yang as an award-winning author and translator but you chose not too. It's understandable and not egregious, but it would have been nice to do it. One thing I like about TAL is that Ira treats his guests and storytellers with a lot of respect - his shout-outs to them at the end of the show about who they are and what they're doing is a kind gesture.

Mr. Cappello's argument that Radiolab identified Mr. Yang as "a Hmong guy" at the end of the show not out of disrespect, but because that's the show's MO is a weak one. Just because this is something the show does normally, doesn't it mean it is right to do in this circumstance, or for that matter, ever.

Oct. 26 2012 11:33 AM
Michael from Brooklyn

A Refutation of Dean Cappello's main points:

Mr. Cappello says:
There was an untrue accusation that Radiolab did not inform Kalia Yang and Eng Yang of the interview topic in advance.

Here's what Mrs. Yang wrote in her Hyphen piece:
I wrote Pat to ensure that the Radiolab team would respect my uncle’s story, his perspective, and the Hmong experience. I asked for questions. Pat submitted questions about Yellow Rain.
Perhaps there is some other accusation he's referring to? If so, I think he should cite it.

Mr. Cappello says:
Pat didn't read the reports Yang sent him because "he had already spent several months reviewing nearly 20 years' worth of academic papers and media reports on Yellow Rain. He declined her offer not out of callousness but because he had already completed an in depth examination of competing theories to the "bee feces" hypothesis."

I don't think there's too much of a problem with the fact that Pat didn't read the reports. He probably knew what they were going to say. The problem I see in Mr. Cappello's statement here relies on the argument that because Pat researched this for months and completed an in-depth examination of the competing theories, that he was right. The amount of time you spend researching and the in-depth-ness of your examination add little to conversations about whether you were right or not.

And also, let's remember this show's defense of Jonah Lehrer even while evidence was mounting that he was making stuff up. You can't just blindly throw support behind someone's work just because they do a lot of it.

Mr. Cappello says:
The accusation that Radiolab selectively omitted facts that bolster Mr. Yang's version of events is false. He says including more evidence would have further called Mr. Yang's account into question.

Perhaps most damning of all the evidence he provides is:
"The fact that a government investigation found that nearly all Hmong who previously claimed to have seen Yellow Rain have now recanted those claims."

This further calls into question the motives of the interview. Why didn't Radiolab want to talk with one of the Hmong who later recanted his version of events instead of Mr. Yang? Probably because they wanted to try and make Mr. Yang recant his position in the interview, because that would be much more compelling radio. This intention was played out in Robert's tone -- he wanted that gotcha moment, but when it didn't go as planned, he got flustered and didn't know what to do.

Oct. 26 2012 11:32 AM
That Asian Guy from Seattle from Seattle

Man, I have to start listening to FoxNews, Rush, and Beck
to get more unbiased views and less racism.
I love the passive-aggressive, progressive ideals from NPR,
perfect for Seattle: Love causes, hate people.

Oct. 26 2012 10:40 AM

Shame on radio lab, this podcast left me in tears. The intent of the program in no way negates the affective outcomes. You hurt many people with this and as a frequent listener of your podcast, I am incredibly disappointed.

Oct. 26 2012 10:04 AM
Ethyl Markham

this podcast is an example of the terrible journalism that comes out when its manufacturers decide on the story before getting their research and stories together, first.

Oct. 26 2012 06:10 AM

Wow - you guys are complete a*holes. Never listening to your show again.

Oct. 26 2012 04:53 AM

Dear NPR, and specifically Radiolab: Quit being gross. Playing the Truth Soldier while privileging (only certain) Western science over indigenous experience and expertise is shitty; responding to subsequent criticism with cover-ups and half-hearted apologia whining about "journalistic integrity" pretty much gets you on the cover of Dicks Weekly. If you want to maintain your reputation of being better than that, maybe you should actually be better than that.

Oct. 25 2012 09:35 PM
KJ from Minneapolis

It seems odd that Radiolab would invite a survivor of genocide to speak about his first-person experience with the main intent to discredit his memories and experiences.

But what bothers me is the final product and what followed the release of the story. Radiolab crafted the story in such a way that Robert was allowed to contextualize Kalia's final reaction in relation to his personal experience as a journalist. He said her reaction "wasn't fair" and that she was trying to monopolize the story. That's quite a claim, since Radiolab specifically invited the Yangs onto the show and asked them to present their side of the story.

And here is where I think the power dynamic matters. Radiolab set the stage beforehand with its invitation and the decision on what critical lens to bring to the story. They also had editorial control afterward, determining what stayed in or was removed (or updated). They got to determine what sources and evidence. Yet they have reacted to Kalia's negative response as if she had equal control over the content of the podcast and how she and her uncle were depicted-- as if she is, in fact, trying to monopolize the story.

The Yangs didn't write to Radiolab and say, "Interview us. We have definitive proof that Yellow Rain existed." Radiolab decided to put their first-person account up against an academic study and see which one might be found wanting. Radiolab also gave Robert the opportunity to frame Kalia's initial reaction as manipulative, as if she were somehow a surrogate for the Reagan administration and not a niece trying to do justice by her uncle's lived experience.

But the thing that truly bothers me is that even in apology, Radiolab maintains that it is defending the journalistic search for "truth." If that is the case, then they should have done one of two things:

A) Looked at the academic arguments on both sides of the debate and interviewed officials from the Reagan administration who support the Yellow Rain theory as well as professionals who refute it.

B) Framed the story around the uncomfortable gap between what scientists discover through research and what people experience, illustrating the complications, nuances and consequences of this gap.

If they had gone with approach A, then they could have interviewed Mr. Yang about his professional experience documenting the Hmong genocide. If they had gone with approach B, then they might have been more sensible to the fact that they were interviewing a real human being about a very real, very emotional and very traumatic episode in his life.

Radiolab needs to more fully own their aplogy and acknowledge that this was not a facebook spat between friends and equals. This was a professional account that exploited one man's personal experience to make what they believed was a profound point about the nature of truth. Kalia wasn't trying to foil "robust" journalism. She was defending the right an interviewee to be treated with dignity.

Oct. 25 2012 08:03 PM
Jae from San Francisco

I just listened to the edited version of this podcast, and was in tears at the end of the piece -- can't image listening to the original version, which by the way you should still leave available so listeners can hear just how badly this "journalism" was done originally (along with original transcript with Hmong translation) and how you've had to edit it to cover your asses, make you sound better, and feebly explain your reasoning for treating the Yangs the way you did. On the home page of the Radiolab website, it states: Radiolab is a show about curiosity. Where sound illuminates ideas, and the boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience. The "boundaries blur between science, philosophy, and human experience"! So why even bother interviewing Mr. Yang if you're going to ultimately try and invalidate his experiences, his story? Just because he didn't see the yellow rain fall directly from the planes and bombs because he was too busy trying to protect himself and survive, doesn't it mean it didn't happen. History tells us that. Poorly done Radiolab.

Oct. 25 2012 07:57 PM
Lindsay from San Francisco, CA

I was really disappointed in this episode and Robert's behavior. It made me angry listening to his treatment of the interviewees, Kao Kalia Yang and Eng Yang. Robert was very disrespectful and a poor journalist.

After this and Radiolab's long defense of Jonah Lehrer, the quality of Radiolab has let me down. If this show is truly interested in finding the truth, it needs to be proven by action, not short and insincere blog apologies.

Oct. 25 2012 06:56 PM
Patti from Chicago, IL

I listened to this when it was first aired, and it felt off. A friend of mine just shared this link to an article written by Ms. Yang that I feel is important for all listeners to read. It is a very poignant and enlightening read in regard to the subtle racism that exists in Western culture, one of privilege and education, and a feeling that an indigenous people cannot possibly know more than a well educated scientist from the US. Or, at the very least will give you the other side of the story. I also learned a lot from reading this article and from this episode. Together they serve as a powerful tool: Do not take anything at face value. This is something easy to forget with a show like Radiolab, which somehow seems infallible to its loyal listeners. (Myslef included.)

Oct. 25 2012 04:25 PM
Gene from Montreal

As diligent as you may be in the search for the truth - in that moment, it was such a prick thing to do.

Learn to back-off - can't imagine Mr. Yang having to sit in the same room as you. That was brutal, completely turned off and disgusted.

Oct. 25 2012 03:25 PM

I think it's interesting how much the controversy surrounding this piece lends itself to the overall theme of the episode. The "truth" can be a shifting, tenuous and painful thing. Even when there is an empirical truth (and here this seems to be the case; the yellow rain phenomenon was either a chemical weapon or it was not, and I agree with Robert that the answer is important), the pursuit of that truth can be a fraught endeavor. It seems to me that this is what radiolab was trying to communicate with this segment, but that message has been lost in the ensuing scuffle.

Oct. 25 2012 01:45 PM

I'm normally a fan of radiolab but this episode was horrible. You try to find the "truth" about this, but we would come closer to actual truth if we actually listened Hmong voices have been ignored for so long. The least you could do is include a link to Kao Kalia Yang's critique of this episode since you interviewed her.

Oct. 25 2012 12:26 PM
Mike M from Pittsburgh, PA

Dear Radiolab,

Your show is terrific, and I will continue to be loyal listener of your show.

It seems to me there was a misunderstanding between you and the Yangs about the purpose and direction of your interview. I believe, from what I have read, that you are largely responsible for that. If you're going to put someone's beliefs "on trial" on your show, especially those of genocide survivors, you need to be more clear to them what they're signing up for. Sending a list of possible questions is perfectly fine if you're asking a climate scientist about contradictory global warming evidence, but not so fine when you're questioning a trauma victim's experience. Think putting rape victims on the witness stand, and you'll see what I mean. So, you screwed up there.

That said, everyone screws up, and I applaud your attempts to make the situation right without appeasing Ms. Yang's misplaced outrage. Yes, I feel she has a right to be outraged for being misinformed about the point of the interview. I also she clearly has a different agenda at this point: redirecting the story to the Hmong genocide and, more broadly, to how the Hmong narrative has been ignored.

Do not give in. What happened to the Hmong is tragic, but it is not in this story. Neither is racism in this story. The story is still, what happened in Southeast Asia years ago, and how important is it to get the facts right before we plan for war?

Hopefully, you'll give a little more thought to context before you interview a trauma survivor.

Best regards.

Oct. 25 2012 11:45 AM

If you truly want to honor the voices of Kao Kalia Yang and Eng Yang, you should include a link to her recent article describing her experience of this story:

Oct. 25 2012 11:08 AM

Radiolab, I am unconvinced that you found the "truth" at all in this story. PLEASE do an in-depth examination on the Hmong experience in Laos and in America. Their story needs to be told.

Oct. 25 2012 10:15 AM

" Three Truth are right."

How can one say that THREE TRUTH are RIGHT? When listening to radio pod cast, I am deeply disapoinnted in their search for the so call "Truth." To call yourself a scientistic, one must not excluded anything. Fact, there were yellow spots. Fact, Bees are also known to make such yellow spots. But what you failed to explain is why & how is "yellow rain" is deeply tied to so many deaths. What properties does yellow rain has, to be non- or posion. Bombing, shooting, is what really caused thedeath and not yellow raing. How can one prove one prove it to be so? If these were to truley be an attribute to the death, then why did such symptom as descibe by Mr. Yang occured? I believe that Mr. Yang would know from a bullet wound be if he saw one. The Hmong fought along side with the U.S in hopes for a better future, but to be left to fend for themselve. Even now, they are still fighting.

Oct. 25 2012 10:10 AM
Bob Collins from Saint Paul, MN.

Dean Cappello, WNYC's chief content officer, responds to Ms. Yang's essay.

Oct. 25 2012 08:21 AM

As someone who works with the press (both on the left and right), I'm not surprised that the producers started with a false premise, refused to entertain another viewpoint and then sandbagged the sources. This is part of their daily work, but that they had no ethnographic knowledge, no sense of the gravity of the Hmong situation, and an altogether false sense of compassion is not forgivable, not even with an apology. This is why WE NEED MARGINALIZED PEOPLE PRODUCING THE NEWS. That they chose to spin their angle and further marginalize their sources is a sick, some might say, imperialistic, attitude that is closely identified with Reagan. I'm sure all of our angry comments are merely empty rants to them, some uninformed unscientific minds trying to deal with issues to great for us to understand. It is in Mr. Krulwich's interest to suppress the Hmong story, his alliance is with the Harvard and Yale scientists and the supremacy of science. That same science created the Holocaust (aka eugenics) by the way.

I worked with Hmong refugees in the early 90s, when the US was finally making good on its promise to provide them safety. They all experienced some form of genocide, they had all seen close family members murdered, they had all experienced starvation. That we did not help them sooner means that we had contributed to the genocidal effort. This too is to Mr. Krulwich's advantage, it means that there are fewer people in the world who would disagree and therefore, undermine, his position.

Oct. 25 2012 05:32 AM
dean from Los Angeles, CA

I was an avid radiolab listener and constantly recommended radiolab to friends.
I can't do either until there is resolution to this (other than a half apology/counter argument)
and the full interview is released.

I just can't trust that other radiolab pieces aren't also built on dubious foundations.

Radiolab, you owe your (ex)fans more...

Oct. 25 2012 02:39 AM

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 02:32 AM

How did this slip through the cracks? Is there no cultural awareness at Radiolab? Wow- we are in 2012 people! Wake up and get real. Let's stop the ethnic slurs and marginalization of minorities (except the uber-rich), thank you!

Oct. 25 2012 02:01 AM
Mike from San Francisco, CA

This segment was a total disaster. I have lost all respect for everyone involved in producing this segment for RadioLab, especially, but not limited to Krulwich.

Oct. 25 2012 01:09 AM
Yang from MN

This is the kind of journalism and news that obscures and hides the truth. And the fact that your data doesn't even match up to the data that had previously already been acknowledge just makes you a lunatic conspiracy theorist wanting attention. To disregard every Hmong refugees account of yellow rain as a poisonous chemical, which it "clearly" was, is disgusting and discriminating on your part. Just because some Harvard idiot or you idiot journalist went to some fancy school and think you know better then then anyone. Think again, the Hmong are not that stupid-they are farmers with an immense knowledge about the jungle, animals, and environment they've been living in for centuries. The Hmong's connection to nature is vastly more wide and innate then any Harvard professor reading from textbooks. For this program to imply that the Hmong suffering from yellow rain can't even tell the difference between bee feces and a death-causing poison is preposterous and racist.

Oct. 25 2012 12:49 AM

As someone who usually enjoys your show I was deeply disturbed to read this:

Oct. 24 2012 11:55 PM

I am disgusted by this interview. Your way of interviewing is ethnocentric, sloppy, unintelligent and worthless. You should be shut down.

Oct. 24 2012 11:35 PM

Beyond all of the vitriol a couple of questions keeps arising to me:

("refugee" implies someone not in their usual environment) How far was Mr Yang from his home?

In the region formerly inhabited by Mr. Yang, do bees do the collective poop thing?

It seems as if a normal occurrence that the bee poop ritual would not be of much import to folks who have experienced it throughout their lives?

Oct. 24 2012 10:51 PM
Diane from MN

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

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

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

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

Oct. 24 2012 10:45 PM

I've been a long time fan of the show, and yet I will no longer listen. Your show has lost all journalistic credibility and has furthered white supremacy. You are scum.

Oct. 24 2012 10:41 PM
Jessica from New York

I haven't been able to stop thinking about this all day. This is an example of journalism, even in a quasi-storytelling form, gone terribly wrong. This is a story of racism.

Since the early days, I've been a fan and anonymous supporter of Radio Lab. But now, I am disgusted.

A story full of nuance and tragedy was turned into something light hearted -- it was just bee poop folks! -- and this is wrong. I completely understand the scientific lens of the story, but the tone in which it was told, and by American men who didn't live through what the Hmong people lived through, made it tacky and disgraceful. I would love to say it was just Mr.Krulwich, but it was also the choices of music and editing. Would you have of been as insincere to a survivor of a different massacre--like the holocaust--that had more publicity?

Sadly, I can't say I will listen to Radiolab anymore.

Oct. 24 2012 10:10 PM

Here are some helpful links regarding this matter. Read the articles and the comments.




Oct. 24 2012 09:15 PM
Neverlisteningagain from Seattle WA

Despite the fact I never do it, I'll give you my email address simply to leave this comment. I love NPR and even thought RadioLab was particularly effective voice for erasing ignorance - BUT NO MORE.

I will never listen to your show again. Your shoddy producers deserve to lose their jobs.

Oct. 24 2012 09:09 PM
john hanshock from Sacramento, CALI

I will never listen to this podcast again. Straight up indirect racist and direct sexist. Those radio hosts will never interview a victim of the Holocaust, 9/11, not even family members of America slavery and Manifest Destiny in such a way, but again they did it and will continue to do it to a quiet Asian man who they refer to as "the Hmong Guy" not a Vietnam veteran, survivor of genocide, and documenter, but a Hmong guy and his niece Kao Kalia, an award-winning writer who they refer to as "his niece." Only an imperialist person can say such thing. I wonder how Abumrad (co-radio host) would feel if his parents were interviewed in the same manner about their escape from the civil war in Lebanon. He'll probably attach himself with a bomb and blow up buildings. O, was that racist? I was just using my own assumption in the same manner as they did to this guy during the interview. If this touches you (Abumrad), you should know how these interviewees felt.

Oct. 24 2012 09:09 PM
Michael from Brooklyn

And now there's this:

Radiolab + WNYC accuse Kao Kalia Yang of misrepresenting her representation of the email correspondence with the show. The show apparently told Current (via WNYC's spokeswoman) that "[Yang] initially reacted positively to the story in a private email to them, but when they requested permission to publish her comments online, she withdrew them and submitted a negative critique."

Stop the bleeding. Put your egos down and admit you were wrong. Apologize. You will not win a PR battle with a rightfully aggrieved highly intelligent young woman who has recently lost a child.

Oct. 24 2012 08:28 PM

This is what happens when you take an old New Yorker article and let that drive both your story and research. That's not poor journalism, that just isn't journalism.

Oct. 24 2012 08:27 PM
Umaa from La Crescenta, CA

I heard about this on a Facebook post of Kalia's story. I then listened to the (edited) podcast. I was crying at the pain that Kalia and her father were subjected to, all in the name of journalistic truth. It seems that Robert was determined to see his point through and adopted his stern stance in order expose their emotions as some desperate attempt to change the subject. Robert, you came across as callous and the subsequent discussion about the Eng's reaction was like watching a train wreck - I couldn't believe you were discussing it analytically. And, btw, you really think the Hmong weren't smart enough to tell they were being pooped on by bees? Kalia's article suggests there is evidence that the Yellow Rain was chemical weapons. Perhaps RadioLab can redeem itself by following through with the evidence she provided them, especially if it leads to an alternate conclusion.

Oct. 24 2012 07:54 PM
Rafter Sass Ferguson

Everyone should read the account of the interviewee in this story, Kao Kalia Yang.
You can find it here:

I'm sickened, and I'm done with RadioLab.

Oct. 24 2012 07:22 PM

Whelp, never listening to Radiolab again. F-

Oct. 24 2012 06:47 PM

The disrespect for a genocide survivor shown in this interview is shocking, disappointing, and deeply offensive. The dismissiveness shown to the interview subjects, calling them a "Hmong guy" and "his niece" while not introducing their titles or expertise, is deeply disrespectful. I cannot imagine why or how you considered this a professional interview. As someone who has done field research and conducted many interviews recording oral history and first-person perspectives in my field, I am shocked that this was even considered ethical for publication.

After reading the response written by Kao Kalia Yang, the so-called "niece" ( my initial shock was confirmed as a profoundly paternalistic, demeaning, and disrespectful treatment of a genocide survivor and his descendant, both with various expertise relevant to this genocide and story (centuries of knowledege of bees, first-hand experience, their own journalism, etc).

Your responses to the criticism of this piece have, unfortunately, only deepened the disappointment and disrespectful treatment.

Before you go searching for the "fact of the matter" on such a hugely important subject, such as genocide, you and your "journalists" (I wonder at what point of egregious treatment of your field and those who enable your field to exist-- namely, eyewitnesses-- you should lose the right to this title) should seriously consider the impact of what you are about to do. Are you just having an intellectual "search for truth" which possesses a similar humanity and respect with which you might approach doing a crossword puzzle? Or are you asking people to trust you with their most precious histories-- histories of genocide, national trauma, mass killings, betrayal, and immense loss?

You have certainly lost a long-time listener.

Honestly, I cannot believe you published this.

"A sad lack of justice," indeed.

Oct. 24 2012 06:20 PM
Laurie from New York

The racism and sexism in this segment shocked me, but then I thought of the sexist tone that I've noticed on this show time and again, and I wasn't all that surprised after all.

Oct. 24 2012 05:14 PM

Robert, I have always had a great admiration for you. You are one of the few people who can get a complex thought into my head so I understand. You had a show on tv many, many years ago on economics I think, and I understood!
I was emailed earlier about this podcast, so I read the article posted first, then found the podcast and listened, thinking there had to be a mistake. Krulwich wouldn't do this. He would actually buy into bee shit? He would actually buy into someone's experience of Being shat on in Thailand? How about being at the Hmongs ex-villages and looking there? Gathering samples? Looking for people who might still be there, look for birth defects, miscarriages, old leaves someone might have saved?
Did you talk to a bee expert? Way down at the bottom of one of these comment areas an apiest mentioned that provisioning could cause such a high incidence of bee shit.
You, Mr. Scientist, did absolutely NOTHING scientific in this piece except to go in with a pre-conceived idea, get rough with these people, edit out the part of an expert bee keeper( to suit your position), insult to a greater degree than you can ever imagine due to cultural differences, until this woman broke down, and then have the gall to say there was more to the interview, but not air it? I might add the very very suspicious background editing noises present in this story that are not present in other ones. THEN you edit it after airing, twice, removing the laughter, removing a sentence here and there.
Since when are you a politician Robert? You have certainly failed as a scientist and as a human being, so maybe you should look into that. Am I being harsh on you? Actually, I'm doing my damnedest to be polite. You absolutely OWE your listeners 1. The original unedited story. 2. An expanded special podcast on this story, only this time do the science. GO to Hmongs villages see what you can physically find. Talk to expert bee keepers about tropical bees. Laotian ones. And then, when you have done all that, go to these people who you have disgraced Personally and tell them what you did and what you found. Man up Robert.

Oct. 24 2012 04:44 PM
Matt from Houston

Everyone involved with this segment should be ashamed. I feel ashamed for just ever having listened to Radiolab before and certainly never will again. Awful.

Oct. 24 2012 04:43 PM
Peter from MPLS

I will not be listening to your show again. People make mistakes, but your half-hearted attempt at justifying your appalling treatment of your guests (including a victim of genocide) is truly horrendous. The fact that you edited out your callous laughter is beyond the pale!

This woman has more dignity, grace, strength, and intelligence than you arrogant weasels could ever dream of. The least you could do is apologize properly. She even lays out the proper course for you dimwits.

Oct. 24 2012 04:09 PM

I'm incredibly disappointed by both Robert Krulwich and Jad Abumrad in this piece. It wasn't about good journalism, but about focusing on who you believed, and wanting to reaffirm it. Robert Krulwich asked (paraphrased): "did you actually see the planes dropping yellow rain?" Well isn't that a lot like asking a Holocaust survivor- "did you actually SEE people being gassed in the gas chambers?" Or survivors of Hiroshima: "are you SURE your cancer is from the nuclear bombs?"

It's about who is controlling the story. Both hosts, holding the power in which way the story could turn, had a responsibility for the non-dominant voices to be heard, and itself, validated as A truth, even if it wasn't THEIR truth.

To bring more of Ms. Kalia Yang and Mr. Eng Yang's voice to the forefront and TRULY hear their side of the story:

I think given how dominant the CIA truth was in this segment, isn't it only fair to give equal weight to the Hmong story? As proponents of "good journalism," isn't it only fair to let the audience draw the conclusion for ourselves, and not draw the conclusion for us?

Oct. 24 2012 04:07 PM
William Shipley from Chicago, IL

I am a big fan of Radio Lab and the work that you do. But the way you handled this story and the controversy that it has created was extremely misguided and I think is revealing of the responsibilities of this program to challenge its own unstated assumptions about truth and factual accuracy.

In this story, a single sample and the testing resulting from it has been equated to be as authoritative as the hundreds of personal accounts Mr. Eng documented simply because "witness accounts are unreliable," and thus the entire focus of Mr. Eng's participation was as to the reliability of his conclusions against those of the scientists who analyzed this sample. Such questioning of a survivor of a Nazi concentration camp ("Did you actually see the gas dropping in the gas chamber when the people went into the showers? Are you sure they weren't just quarantined because they were sick?") would generate a widespread outcry to such inappropriate questioning. But here Radiolab took a very legalistic and skeptical approach, which to me is surprising when considering the fact that Mr. Eng was the only direct witness to any of the subject-matter of this entire story. It seemed you were intent on having Mr. Eng admit himself the potential inconsistencies in his account so that you did not bear the onus of questioning the integrity of a survivor of such an ordeal.

I find it ironic that in the reporting on this story, once again the Hmong voice is subordinated to the perspectives and stories of an ex-CIA agent, a Harvard researcher and a Cornell researcher, and the totality of their stories subordinated to a larger theme of the search for objective truth. Had Radiolab been more transparent from the outset, it would have been clear that the story is not the suffering of the Hmong people or the causes for it or results of it, but only about whether or not it is possible to ascertain whether chemical weapons were used against them or not, and whether the Reagan administration was correct or not in jumping to conclusions on the issue. I think I agree with Jad Abumrad that that is not the most important part of this story.

Rather than treating Mr. Eng as a subject of a very unfortunate and tragic chapter of the United States' warmongering in southeast Asia whose voice has gone unheard for far too long, Radiolab reduced him to a means of elucidating the broader point it was trying to make. It wasn't a desire to "monopolize" facts, but the realization that their suffering was not the focus of the story that led Mr. Eng to react as he did. Because the story's focus is an editorial decision, Mr. Krulwich would take offense to the idea that it was the wrong one. But it was the wrong decision, and it still is. I do credit Radiolab with airing the controversial exchange that took place, but I hope it and WNYC does more to rectify this mistake moving forward than it has thus far.

Oct. 24 2012 03:37 PM
Disappointed from Boston

Why is everyone (RLab producers, commenters - basically everyone except Eng Yang and Kau Kalia Yang) so insistent that Yellow Rain is NOT a chemical weapon? I mean, Pat Walters went so far as to take a serious misstep in his career, insult a guest and make someone cry on air, and receive a ton of angry backlash from listeners, presumably so that he could get to the bottom of whether Yellow Rain is a chemical weapon or.....bee sh*t. Which sounds ludicrous. And it makes me wonder what's at stake. What would be gained by being able to prove that Yellow Rain is not a chemical weapon? Pat seems to state pretty clearly that his fear is all-out chemical warfare. This seems fair enough; he's concerned about the safety and security of people (his own, and, presumably, others too). But the point is that thousands of Hmong people already WERE killed - possibly by a chemical weapon. If I were one of their descendants, I'm pretty sure I'd be interested in uncovering the truth, sharing my story, and seeking justice. I'd also be suspicious of anyone who claimed that the deliberate killing of my people had been...not deliberate, but a freakish act of nature. I have to wonder what motives might lie behind "proving" that Yellow Rain is not a chemical weapon.

There should have been considerably more sensitivity and acknowledgment of the injustice and the history of exploitation and neglect of the Hmong people by Americans. My heart goes out to Eng Yang and Kau Kalia Yang for suffering through this ordeal and for those they've lost. I'm grateful for their grace and strength.

Oct. 24 2012 03:31 PM

I've followed this Yellow Rain-RadioLab-Hmong Interviewees saga with great interest, as a writer and truth-seeker and as an Asian-American woman of color. The first article I read was in Hyphen ezine in which Ms. Yang articulated the sequence of events she and her uncle, Eng Yang, had experienced. I then listened to the RadioLab podcast (its current, edited version), read through comments and later found a tumblr thread which contained further info by Ms. Yang. One need only read her follow-up accounts to realize that Ms. Yang and her uncle were dismissed and even reduced to pawns in the larger scheme of RadioLab's agenda as evidenced by Robert Krulwich and company's editing out the parts of the interview which did not corroborate with Krulwich's take on the Hmong and Yellow Rain.

As a person of color, I find RadioLab's dismissal of the Yangs' accounts sadly familiar. The dismissiveness of non-white culture plays out in America time and again. However, I think it's up to Mr. Krulwich and others on the RadioLab team to self-examine their own hearts and minds on the racism question-- a deep issue with no simple answer. Instead, I will focus on the topic as a truth-seeker for I firmly believe that everyone has something to learn and even gain from unearthing truth. On that note, it is imperative that RadioLab do more to rectify the situation.

Let's assess where things stand now. Krulwich's public apology appears to be no more than damage-control with listeners. The RadioLab "truthiness" of the Hmong story hangs out in the open like a crap-stained rag. Nobody at RadioLab has touched it. What does a genuine effort in reparations look like? For starters, it is bringing forth the truth about Mr. Eng Yang's qualifications as a credible source--he was a spokesperson for the Hmong community and documentarian working with the Thai, as well as, a credible source for the Hmong centuries-old practice of bee harvesting. Also, RadioLab should acknowledge Ms. Yang as not only a qualified interpreter for her uncle, but also as an award-winning author and activist.

True reparations would amount to RadioLab bringing the Yangs back on the air in a new, enlightened capacity and a fresh conversation on what happened to the Hmong during the Cold War. This is a long-shot but if this occurs, then will I believe in RadioLab's apology and sincerity in raising listener awareness in a responsible, truly journalistic manner.

Oct. 24 2012 03:23 PM
K. A. Hays from Pennsylvania

I agree with commenters about the problems of this segment; they've addressed those well enough that I don't need to re-articulate them here. I'm posting because many are adding that they will never listen to Radiolab again. As any long-term Radiolab listener knows, a show of this kind is rare and special--compared to the rest of the media's offerings, an oasis--and of course, the irony that Radiolab's episode about truth led to the mangling and manipulation of truth is not lost on their intelligent listeners (nor should it be lost to the intelligent makers of Radiolab). Recognizing that irony, and writing to the show's makers, articulating the problems here, seems essential. I suspect that Radiolab will learn from this, and will quite likely become a better show because of it. Listeners, I think it's fair to say, tune in to Radiolab because of its belief in dialogue and in the capacity to rethink, to evolve, to come to greater understanding. In relation to this episode, I believe Radiolab will do just that, given time, and that it would be unproductive for listeners to tune out now.

Oct. 24 2012 02:57 PM
Zephyr McConnell from Boulder, Co

Wow. Now the question remains, what are you going to do Radiolab, to get back your listeners?? Read about how this show was edited as well. I hope that for the announcers reputation that someone had a gun to your head while you were interviewing. Just sick.

Oct. 24 2012 02:29 PM

I do not believe Radiolab's original version of this story can be defended by reason, both because of its tone and refusal to allow for experts who differ with their point of view. And the treatment of the memoirist Yang and her uncle is rude and unprofessional. I can see no need to listen to future shows.

Oct. 24 2012 02:13 PM
Marty from NM

Shame on you Radiolab and especially Robert Krulwich. This episode and the subsequent handling of the back lash has really made me begin to doubt the integrity and professionalism of your program. If anyone is interested in reading Kao Kalia Yang's, or the "niece's", side of what happened check out her article on Hyphen.

Oct. 24 2012 02:07 PM
Amy from Minnsota

I am deeply disturbed and sickened by this interview. Racist and insensitive. The interviewers only re-traumatized the victim and his niece. The interview and the editing process only worked to silence the victim's voice while trying to protect it's own authenticity. I am disgusted.

Oct. 24 2012 01:31 PM

Radiolab did not deny or diminish the Hmong genocide - the topic of whether the Hmong were brutally and systematically hunted down and killed was never under contention. Nobody is denying that it happened, or that it was horrific. When did you ever hear Robert or Jad claim or imply that there never really was a genocide, or that suffering of the Hmong never really happened? The only question being examined was whether "Yellow Rain" was really a chemical weapon, a fact which is still legitimately under dispute. A lot of listeners (and apparently Mr. Yang and his niece themselves) seem to equate questioning the nature of Yellow Rain to dismissing the suffering of the Hmong entirely, which is ridiculous.

I also think the way people are casually tossing around accusations of racism are borderline hysterical, and in some cases actually racist themselves. Robert and Jad's doubts about Yellow Rain being a chemical weapon aren't based on the Hmong not being white. Their doubts are based on the scientific evidence conflicting with the eyewitness testimony (and with other scientific evidence). It's not racist to put more weight in scientific inquiry than on anecdotal evidence, especially since plenty of studies have clearly demonstrated that eyewitness testimony is almost always unreliable even in the best circumstances. Assuming that Robert, since he is a white male, could only possibly question the story of a member of the Hmong community because of racism, is actually spectacularly racist itself.

Having said all that, while I think Radiolab's critical stance on the story was legitimate, I think it was incredibly callous of Robert to challenge Mr. Yang so aggressively to his face the way he did. It was totally unnecessary, and extremely disrespectful to a guest on the show who had just shared a very painful and personal story. Question and analyze what is said all you want later, but let Mr. Yang tell his story unchallenged and unantagonized. I don't think it's necessarily wrong to put the search for truth above people's feelings (sometimes it's absolutely necessary), but this is a case where the hosts definitely needed to conduct their interview with more tact and restraint.

Oct. 24 2012 12:59 PM

Isn't it common practice to be explicit about what you've changed about this story since it aired? There should be a clear explanation above detailing precisely what's been added and removed, and where in the podcast. It's not just shoddy journalism but an obfuscation to leave out this context - especially because of the response to this story.

Oct. 24 2012 12:52 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 12:15 PM
An Asian-American Listener of Radiolab from Chicago

I'm saddened by the number of commenters that say they will no longer listen to Radiolab because of this segment. No scientist or human being is infallible. The hallmark of a good scientist and a good person is the ability to learn from one's mistakes. Radiolab listeners should be reassured by the fact that the Radiolab team did decide to air the embarrassing (but important) podcast, warts and all. It is evidence that the folks at Radiolab possess the critical ability to hold themselves up to the light and reflect on their shortcomings and failings. (It would be another matter if this were a repeat offense by Radiolab.) This world is filled with true racists, ranging from the overt (Aryan Nation, White Revolution, etc.) to the manipulative and insidious (Fox News, Tea Party). I encourage Radiolab listeners that are outraged by this podcast to stand up against the real racists in the world who are affirmatively trying to take away the rights and protections of minorities. People, Radiolab is a far, far cry from Fox News.

As for the Radiolab team, I strongly encourage Robert and others to learn about the insidiousness of microinequities in our everyday interactions. A phenomenal speaker on this topic is Stephen Young of Insight Education Systems who is the former Senior Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer at JPMorgan Chase, where he managed the firm's diversity strategy worldwide. Mr. Young has a truly illuminating seminar called MicroInequities: The Power of Small™ that might be appropriate for the whole Radiolab team or any group or other institution, for that matter.

Oct. 24 2012 11:31 AM
Neal Young from Maine, USA

It is sickening that someone who has survived genocide is seen as prey to be attacked through interrogative and ruthless questioning about his experiences. Mr. Yang should have had all of his credentials listed. You would never address a well respected member of American or European society as "French Guy and his Niece" but for some reason you see justice in addressing someone who is accomplished AND a survivor in these terms. I have listened to NPR for years and always count on them to be apart of a small group of scientific and reasonable reporters. Radiolab and NPR owe it to apologize for the mistreatment and racist denouncement of Mr. Yang. You have lost all integrity in my opinion not only because of your rude treatment of a survivor of genocide, not only because you blatantly dismissed any account by a Hmong as somehow less worthy than a Westerner but also because when given the time to reflect you STILL see nothing wrong with your actions.

Oct. 24 2012 11:14 AM

At the beginning of this segment, even the country, Laos, was derisively labeled, "backwaters." it was as if they wanted to preface the interview by saying... we're in the land of total hicks and idiots and to dismiss their cultural expertise (nevermind the fact that the Hmong were specifically recruited by the US CIA because of their expert understanding of the region) i thought it was an unnecessary commentary, but when you have 3 white guys talking, anything that isn't modern is considered backwards. that's how they conducted the interview and that's how they viewed Kalia and her uncle. very frustrating.

Oct. 24 2012 10:46 AM

I was unfamiliar with the controversy surrounding this story until I read the niece's account at

All I can say is, wow, Pat and Robert. You really f-ed this one up.

Oct. 24 2012 10:29 AM

Amidst all other myriad concerns with this story, I just wanted to reiterate the bad journalism (dare I say racism/classism) behind not giving official titles and equivalent 'qualifications' to the Hmong speakers.

I have seen this often in opposition pieces to my activist work, and frequently as a way to dismiss the opinions of those who you don't wish to hear, and am disturbed to see these subtle insults in a Radiolab piece. I think it will be a long while before I can listen to this show again, if ever.

Oct. 24 2012 10:07 AM
Christine from West Virginia

I cannot get this podcast off my mind. It is very troubling and I had to leave a comment. Robert accuses the niece of trying to monopolize the conversation, like she has some agenda, as if she insulted him by continuing to emphasize the fact that so many Hmong died and that was the main point to her. Well, isn't that the main point? Or did you want to belabor your agenda that it was actually bee sh*t and oh how funny is that? Silly Hmong! It was bee poop. The yellow rain that fell, while your people were dying, it was bee poop. And oh did I mention, it was just some crap from constipated bees? What a laugh! Fooled you guys! Robert, you came off as insensitive and arrogant. I have immensely enjoyed Radiolab, but this podcast disturbed me so much I do not think I will continue as a listener.

Oct. 24 2012 10:03 AM
Michael Crowley from Vermont

I'm really saddened that RadioLab has been so irresponsible and unable to see their own racism for this story. I suggest that the show commit at least one full episode to the "science of racism" to uncover how racism is ingrained in our culture. Start by posting Kao Kalia Yang's account of her horrible experience on your show:

Oct. 24 2012 09:39 AM
Bill H.

From the first listen this segment left me feeling queasy. Robert was insensitive, period. On second listen, I realized that your editorial decisions were suspicious. The CIA operative refused to reveal the location of his posting and the Hmong family was not introduced in the usual style of your show (where the guest plainly states their name and credentials). Yet the CIA source is given more credibility despite hiding the truth from the start.

Exploring the boundaries of fact and truth is difficult. As you learned, facts and truth may even disagree. But you laughed at this conclusion as it applied to genocide! Until you re-examine this episode, I will no longer regard your show as science, but science fiction.

Oct. 24 2012 09:36 AM
An Asian-American Listener of Radiolab from Chicago

Would Robert have asked the same probing questions of a white interviewee that he did of Kalia and her uncle? I think so. He may need a course in microinequities to understand how he carries inherent biases that lead him to treat people of different races and cultural backgrounds differently. However I don't think he was being racist per se during the podcast. Racism is a severe indictment. I don't think his actions rose to the level of being racist. He is unaware of the microinequities that persist in his behavior, as are most white people. I would save the world "racism" for truly racist behavior and use the semantically appropriate term "microinequities" for what played out on the divisive but important Radiolab podcast.

Oct. 24 2012 08:59 AM
omissions from Baltimore

This page's guest list already shows your bias.

Eng Yang is not listed as a guest

Tags you have conveniently left out genocide.

Then again, having a guest spread hearsay just isn't your style.

Oct. 24 2012 08:47 AM
Jon Delperdang from Minneapolis, MN

If you do not respect your guests, do not conduct adequate research and even laugh at one of the most tragic realities for any people in recent history you do not deserve my support.

You DEFINITELY do not have my support anymore until you post a new segment with 1) A thorough apology and 2) The truth according to the Hmong people, not according to White guys.

I STRONGLY encourage you to pull this segment off your website.

Oct. 24 2012 08:16 AM
A Hmong-American from CSULB

It can get quite confusing reading other people's response and listening to this podcast to understand whether it's focused on finding the truth behind Yellow Rain or the Hmong being subjugated to chemical warfare or something else. The fact is, your research was not thorough. You've gone to Thailand to first hand experience the Yellow Rain when it is in Laos that people are dying. You made this a laughing matter when someone is exposing themselves bare of all arms, to tell you their life experience. If you had "rightfully" search out the "truth" of exposing what Yellow Rain was then you would not have made the mistake of insultingly interviewing a Hmong elderly to only prostrate him to the lowest level and then dignifying yourself later in the matter. This is speaking from a Hmong point of view of course, a world you would never have to subjugate yourself to ever understanding or knowing even if you tried.

You pushed questions on them as if you were a interrogator, "Did you or did you not see a plane?" Seriously? Please ask that to a Japanese veteran of the Hiroshima bombing if they had ran for cover first when hearing the loud engine of the plane or waited and looked up to make sure it was dropping bombs over their heads. Of course he did NOT see the airplane, he's STILL alive isn't he. Being a "Hmong person" as you refer to us, I knows the Hmong language. And your editing of the interview with the attempt voice over "translation" really sucks. As a listener, you guys probably doesn't even know what words or phrases you cut and pasted without understanding the language. I don't understand how people can take the "truth" from you seriously from this podcast. But it seems you guys do have some very competent listeners so I'll give you the benefit of the doubt. But you are not forgiven, because it was not the editing or the laughs or incomplete research that I disliked this podcast. It was that you helped the increased the media in viewing that the Hmong community is insignificant and uneducated. We, as a community, have been working hard to rise up in a foreign land where we now have important proud role models and educational mind sets for our kids. After reading Kao Kalia Yang's article, I thought I was late in finding the article and was shocked to find the date.
The "you" is referred to the whole Cabinet of RadioLab. As you as a whole should take up responsibility.

Oct. 24 2012 06:32 AM
Melissa from San Francisco

I'm appalled by how RadioLab handled this story, how they enacted overt racist and insensitive tactics, and I will never listen to RadioLab again.

Oct. 24 2012 06:14 AM
John Whang from Portland, Oregon

I was a fan, even a cheerleader for Radiolab. Unfortunately, no longer. Your actions are unforgivable, and you've lost my ears and those of everyone I can get to listen to me. This makes me so sad.

Oct. 24 2012 05:15 AM
Howard from San Diego

I typically love this show. I really do. I look forward to it every week.
But what you all have done with this segment is cruel, heartbreaking, and infuriating.

Oct. 24 2012 05:01 AM
Eric Bernetti from Davis, CA

I, like many others wholeheartedly support programs like radiolab in its journalistic endeavors. But this segment was appalling; downright disgraceful actually. Who would have the gall to actually interrogate Mr. Eng like he was lying for sympathy? He doesn't need your sympathy, he survived a genocide while you were attending your cozy middle-class University on the other side of the world. I just can't put into words the frustration I felt while listening to this hogwash of "journalism".

Oct. 24 2012 03:29 AM


Oct. 24 2012 02:29 AM
Nickhe from Morgantown, WV

Having said what I said, I ow urge the listeners: do NOT give up hope on Radiolab. Don't decide to stop donating or listening. Radiolab has been good to us all, but this segment stepped out of line. They tried to criticize themselves to an extent near the end, but yes, it was still out of line. However, they are taking steps, if only short incomplete steps, to own up to what they did and make the situation right. They have a way to go, but they are stepping. Radiolab is a wonderful program and opportunity for millions of people to learn about topics which would otherwise be closed off to them. Do not make a harsh decision based off this--instead, show your disapproval and demand penance in the loudest voices possible. Just don't give up on Radiolab.


Thank you.

Oct. 24 2012 01:35 AM

I am sorely disappointed in Radiolab, it's hosts, producers. I guess being NPR radio darlings doesn't make you culturally competent, aware, or sensitive to human suffering.

This segment is a testament to the ignorance of the mainstream, privileged community to the human rights violations and genocide that was inflicted on the Hmong people, as well many other groups in parts of the world that are inconvenient for first-world academics to pay attention to.

Oct. 24 2012 01:19 AM
nickhe from Morgantown, WV

Hi, Radiolab! Since my friends introduced me to Radiolab back in August, I have become a humongous fan--I listen to your podcast at work, while running, cooking, even when I'm trying to get to sleep! I can't thank you enough for the joy and entertainment I have reaped from hours of listening to your voices.

With that said, I, along with what appears to be hundreds, if not thousands of other dedicated listeners, believe you owe it to your own integrity to read Kao's article (attached) and respond publicly with either a Radiolab Short or a fat letter owning up (REALLY owning up) to some of the journalistic and humanistic neglect you may have made during this interview and the making of the podcast, such as those mentioned with acrimony in Kao's article. Do yourself right: if there is one thing that suppresses growth, change, maturation, it is self-denial and dishonesty. One must be critical with himself and hold his own feet to the fire. You made mistakes during this interview, and you abused your privilege of being in charge of production. Turn it into something honest now.

With love,


Oct. 24 2012 01:19 AM

Dear Radiolab, you have lost me as a listener- you should know why. Further, I will tell everyone I know- classmates, family, professors -to stop listening as well.


Oct. 24 2012 01:03 AM

I loved this segment! An emotional, self-serving "eye witness" account, which was used to justify the development of weapons of mass destruction is debunked by cold, hard facts. The Hmong were then, and are now, hardcore nationalists, who threw their lot in with the invading US Forces. The Hmong committed many atrocities against other Southeast Asians in the course of fighting and perpetuating a war of oppression.

They did pay a heavy price for being on the losing side, and have not stopped exploiting and manipulating their story to their own ends ever since.

I knew you were in trouble when the Hmong translator took the manipulation to the next level, and started crying. Her subsequent cry of "rascism", and her cynical exploitation of her own miscarriage show the depth to which these people will sink.

There would be no "outrage" if you hadn't chosen to air the reaction to your criticism and exposure of the facts. Please don't cave in to the ridiculous and baseless charge of "racism", and continue to stand up for truth, science, and reality.

Oct. 23 2012 11:55 PM
Jennifer Graham

Here's the thing--when I heard this segment on-air, I was devastated, moved, and impressed. Part of what impressed me was that you included a portion of the interview that made you look like total assholes--and the fact that you included that made me respect the editorial eye in a way I might not have otherwise. You didn't let yourself off the hook. The story ended up being not just about the narrative complexity you'd set out to examine but about your own complicity in an ugly, painful piece of history. That took courage, and I commend you for it.

I didn't have a problem with Krulwich's skepticism. That was a part of what was being explored, after all: the damage caused by truths being covered up or exploited or manipulated. Skepticism in a world like ours is a virtue.

That said, my opinion did change, as it apparently did for many, after reading the Hyphen article. The most damning thing for me was in how Yang and her uncle were contextualized. No mention was made that Yang is an author and activist. No mention was made that her uncle was an official archivist of the Hmong experience on the ground. They were painted as ingenuous villagers who couldn't be trusted to believe their own eyes. And then to be told that she needed a court order to see her interview? That's garbage.

I believe wholeheartedly that you intended to produce this segment with humanity and with a respect for the horrors of the Hmong genocide--you could have no reason otherwise to include the clips that paint you in a negative light. But some of your editorial choices reveal a incredibly privileged bias that undermines your project. Whether or not your intentions were good I do believe you owe this woman more than an apology. You owe her an opportunity to be heard.

Oct. 23 2012 11:54 PM
Betsy from South Carolina

I find it ironic that the Yellow Rain theory was considered less parsimonious than a theory requiring coincidental occurrences of massive bee flights on Hmong areas, ignorance of Hmong people to such bee behaviors, large numbers of deaths from multiple jungle-related causes (including deaths of plants and animals?), a chemical mix-up in the lab, and political motivation to propagate the Yellow Rain theory.

The willingness to overlook this simple consideration--and the eye witness testimony supporting it--in favor of a few Western scientists' opinions is in itself evidence of racial bias and discrimination.

This goes without saying, but I expect more from Radiolab--a program I have enjoyed and respected over the years. This story will no doubt taint my experience of any future episodes, assuming I choose to continue listening at all.

Oct. 23 2012 11:49 PM
An Asian-American Listener of Radiolab from Chicago

Was Robert insensitive in his interview with Kalia? Yes. Did the Hmong people endure unimaginable suffering? Most definitely. Did the Radiolab team brush aside the suffering of Kalia's uncle and her people in its pursuit of scientific truth? Yes. Was the point of this segment to uncover and document the suffering of the Hmong people? No. Was (and this question is for all the Hyphen readers) Robert racist in his handling of the interview? I don't think so. What was the point of this podcast? Well, Jad underscores the important point of the podcast:

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

Last question: Is it a good idea to examine and probe at the scientific aspects of a genocide without so much as acknowledging the profound suffering of its victims? No. But I trust that the Radiolab team is hyper aware of its embarrassing shortcomings in this regard and will never again be cavalier or insensitive to human suffering in its pursuit of the truth.

Oct. 23 2012 11:45 PM

I think you need to amend this further and apologize to the family you interviewed. I have always loved listening to you shows and after reading the article written by the young woman, Kao Kalia Yang, I am so disappointed in how she was treated. RadioLab... You need to make this right. Do something. At least answer her letter to you. I'm hoping that you are bigger than all this. Step up and make it right.

Oct. 23 2012 11:32 PM
Sarah Ou, MSWI from Cupertino, CA

I used to be an avid listener of RadioLab. Like many others, I read this article:

I don't care what "truth" you were trying to discover. You do not treat people like this, especially not a Hmong refugee who wanted and needed to be heard. Hmong refugees have been through so much (a gross understatement) and they are a culture made up of incredibly strong and brave individuals. You could have learned something from them and clearly, you missed your chance. All you have is a podcast - one that I will no longer be listening to. You have lost my viewership and my respect.

Oct. 23 2012 11:20 PM
Kayo from MN

What if the samples of the "yellow droppings" were contaminated after weathering through the years of being stored away?
I mean, whoever created the genius idea of mixing chemical with pollen is sure enough, able to create it so that it leaves no evidence behind.

I'm sure bees don't defecate multiple days while plans are flying around and polluting the air with the bombing and shooting. I'm sure the feces were similar to what was really used.

Also, during warfare, who will still be standing to observe the planes shooting and dropping bombs at them? Apparently they didn't survive to tell what they saw.

The Soviet Union, obviously have not asked for an apology. Therefore there is truth in what they were accused for.

Talking about contamination, they sure contaminated the interview by opposing the views of the interviewee. They were correcting the interviewee of what he saw.

The Secret War, after 30 years is still not acknowledged and still not in the history textbooks of America. Not even a small sector. What a shame.

Oct. 23 2012 11:06 PM
Daniel Parsons

Bitterly disappointed in Radio Lab!

Oct. 23 2012 09:57 PM


Oct. 23 2012 08:59 PM
Mindy Heu, MSW from Denver, CO

History written by white men. Dismissing and interpreting our experiences because they are "privileged." Disappointed and disgusted by Radiolab. Heart broken for Hmongs.

Oct. 23 2012 08:40 PM

Wow. I have lost respect for this program after reading this:

Poor journalism and seriously deficient human decency.

Oct. 23 2012 08:17 PM

You guys just basically spit on the grave of the Hmong people because you couldn't connect the dots for your radio show. I mean seriously, this was so insulting. And your apologies felt intellectualized not earnest. This was my favorite show, but now I am totally disappointed.

Oct. 23 2012 08:15 PM
Ignorance from Minnesota

I just have to say STOP the damn ignorance and critiquing to prove the story from a Hmong man who was given the responsibilities to document his own witnesses to be wrong. IT'S NOT ORAL evidence you dimwit. Truth is invisible and Science is never the truth. There are always experiments that are ongoing and it does not confirm anything unless it stays consistent in results for centuries. Its JUST THEORIES and facts upon assumptions! For one thing media lies under the influence of people’s moods and one way perspectives. Radio lab isn’t the complete truth. The truth is what really happened and NONE of us know. Here is my plain assumed perspective, this whole story goes by with this guy who sees himself as ambitious and successful in his works, believes in his works and the science view. He encounters people that TO HIM in his own perception are low in status. To this he doubts them even from the beginning, with added on stereotypes. Although he gives an ear to try to listen but only fail not to and take out the parts of the interview to point a certain route where he wanted. It’s the same notion of how people take parts of the bible to make out what God is trying to say. Only it comes by more twisted than ever. HE IS COMPLETE HERESY. Beside with the complete ignorance feeding up to his status and ego, he decides to discriminate them and see them as non-evidential and uneducated. To evidentially make his point he edited and excluded the professional name of the two Hmong people. As you can already see his actions and thinking of the two Hmong people reflects back to him as a hypocrite. Rob or pat don’t be too indulge in your levels of statuses because one day it’ll come back to bite your donkey. Research the facts before your stereotypes; you are culturally uneducated. I also have a point to make WHITE is a COLOR, so it’s part of the group of COLOR PEOPLE, don’t forget we are made the same and equal just the same. Don’t get your ego too high because maybe you’ll need to learn that PEOPLE in general should LOVE PEOPLE. Hurting your people comes with a consequence too because you’ll lose their heart fell trust. You are forgiven but learn to love and care for the people but don’t benefit out of them or excludes others.

Oct. 23 2012 08:03 PM
Kimi from Delaware

I have appreciated and avidly listened to the work RadioLab has done in the past, so when opening this episode, this was not something I had expected at all. I echo many of the comments already listed concerning the way the interview had proceeded and how the damage control has been handled since. After listening to the first airing, all I could think about was how it seemed as if science and compassion were not compatible and that the quest for evidence and verification suddenly became more important than acknowledging the experience of another human. As the interview progressed, my focus wasn't about verification of the evidence anymore- it became about how communication deteriorates when listening is taken out of the conversation.

This is not to say that we should avoid complicated topics or simply accept everything for face value. I would like to ask RadioLab to continue questioning who, why, and how- but also to consider that content and meaning come through avenues that may not be quantifiable.

Oct. 23 2012 06:53 PM

I am a university based academic scientist and physician, and I am so incredibly disappointed in Radiolab's complete lack of respect and empathy in this interview. Your commentary does not state how you would prevent this from happening in the future and frankly seems to express apology without remorse or understanding. As a physician and scientist, the reality is that our world is not black and white in terms of right and wrong answers.

Oct. 23 2012 06:35 PM

I will no longer support or listen to this station.

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

Oct. 23 2012 06:32 PM
Patricia from California

Kao Kalia Yang's article that was posted on today's Hyphen magazine blog has lingered in my mind all day and while I thought it would have dissipated by now (its been six hours since I first read it), it has, multiplied instead. I was compelled then to come to search for the Radiolab website and listen to the original piece to hear what was aired. This man is a victim of a genocide, not a tool for journalists to prove a predetermined point. Shame on Radiolab, who took every opportunity to listen and approach a subject with real guts and honesty and simply blew it.Reading the responses from listeners from the original air date only asserts the fact that something was really wrong, and rather than face the wrongs and pain afflicted, I'm horrified that the radio program chose to layer their subsequent edits and responses with yet more excuses.

Oct. 23 2012 06:14 PM

The Radiolab guys clearly did not do a very job with this. I'm not totally satisfied with Kalia's response either -- for one thing, in Hyphen magazine she accuses Radiolab of identifying her uncle only as "Hmong guy" and her as "his niece" when the Radiolab folks did give their names earlier in the segment.

However, when it seems to me that when you do a segment on something like this the people at Radiolab should have gone in with a little more perspective. Even letting the CIA officer at the beginning of the segment refer to Laos as a "remote jungle backwater" without challenging it is a failure to give your subject its due. The same goes for the unexamined assertion that "in Southeast Asia, generally, there tons of rumors" seems a bit myopic -- the suggestion that Southeast Asia is some kind of hotbed of rumors and hearsay (as opposed to, one presumes, the land of reason and logic that is the West) doesn't seem responsible. The same goes for the disdainful way that the Vietnamese are described as having been "backwards" (perhaps we see some hints here of why CIA's operations in Southeast Asia during the late 20th century were not entirely successful). Finally, Robert's assertion at the end of this that how this event impacted the Regan administration's policies is on the same level of importance as how it was part of what the Hmong people consider a genocide, seems like a matter of misplaced emphasis. How an incident impacts the U.S. is not always the most important aspect of that incident.

I usually enjoy Radiolab's segments and I appreciate that no one is infallible, that everyone makes mistakes (e.g. "This American Life"'s segment with Mike Duffy). But this was definitely not the show's finest hour.

Oct. 23 2012 05:32 PM

I am posting these links, which have already been posted, because I feel it is important for Radiolab listeners to know that the Hmong family has released statements about the interview and the events surrounding it. The first one is by Kao Kalia Yang, the niece of Eng Yang. She writes about the way Radiolab handled the interview, some additional context, and her and her uncle's professional credentials, none of which were mentioned during the show. The second is a statement by Eng Yang himself thanking listeners for speaking out about their feelings on the interview.

Oct. 23 2012 05:26 PM

Another find, a message from Eng Yang:

Oct. 23 2012 05:08 PM
CJ in NYC from NYC

I LOVE radio lab, but this was truly the most disturbing episode I have heard.

I appreciate the first part of this episode but the last part was not necessary.

For one, the scientists have no evidence at all that the Hmongs were dying or poisoned by anything other than the "Yellow rain." They simply asserted a theories and possibilities.

I heard nothing in this episode that made me think without a shadow of a doubt that the bee droppings were not some how poisoning the Hmongs.

To then take this "theory" and turn it against your guest was shameful and abusive.

I'm truly disappointed.

Oct. 23 2012 04:11 PM

Goodbye Radiolab. Shame on you.

Oct. 23 2012 04:09 PM
NF from NYC

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

Oct. 23 2012 03:46 PM
Andie from Denver, Co

I've long been a fan of Radio Lab and have often appreciated the ways in which traditional science is nuanced and complicated by social factors such as power and control, colonialism and racism. This episode has made me question how far that nuance extends. After listening to the podcast, reading Robert's apology, and also reading Ms. Eng's response, I am disappointed that Radio Lab did not delve deeper into the many different elements of this story. I understand the intent was to call into question the way science can be used to justify political decisions, and certainly the initial determination that the substance was a chemical weapon deserves to be interrogated like any scientific conclusion. But simply replacing one conclusion with another doesn't rectify the issue. Ms. Eng says she provided additional research and resources which are left out of the story. Its impossible, of course, to follow every possible lead, but to leave in the heartbreaking exchange where a people who experienced the tragedy firsthand PLEAD to be heard (after generations of being ignored completely) you do a disservice to not only them but science to continue to ignore the many complicated facets of this story.
Science is NOT, will never be and has never been the straightforward bias free discipline we so desparately want it to be. I appreciated Radio Lab for its acknowledgement of that. So why was this abandoned when the criticism was turned to Robert? I am sad and disappointed and hope that the team takes this experience to heart in how it continues to produce relevant and important shows that respect people as much as they do "facts."

Oct. 23 2012 03:37 PM
thenewsjunkie from New York

While I understand the opposing reactions to this story and the resulting controversy I am having trouble understanding why some people believe Radiolab's treatment of Eng Yang and his niece was racist. As journalists they set out on this story with a specific goal in mind. That story needed to be told within the context of the Hmong experience. In trying to get to a conclusion perhaps they left out details that Eng Yang and his niece consider crucial to their story about a genocide. I don't doubt that they felt deceived by the folks at Radiolab as to what the end goal was. But I'm having difficulty accepting the idea that their treatment of the Yangs was racism. Is it the assertion of the people commenting here that the act of omitting some portions of the interview is itself racist because the journalists seemed to be saying "we know better than this old Hmong man?"

Oct. 23 2012 03:06 PM
Kaia Simon Power

I was incredibly sad and angry and disappointed with this segment. As I listened to this segment, I was struck by the lack of background and context about the Hmong experience that Radiolab did not include. With this lack of context for the conditions surrounding the Hmong experience, not just in the jungles of Laos but in the more than thirty years that they have navigated their relocation to new homes in the US, Radiolab missed an opportunity for a more nuanced consideration of this Truth that they're chasing. Hmong people had no home to return to because of their alliance with the CIA and the Secret War they fought on behalf of the US. Their persecution did not end when they made it to refugee camps in Thailand and it has not ended as they've been relocated to places in the US. Knowing this, considering it, and imagining it in the context of the intent of the segment might have made you make some different choices about how best to include Eng Yang's story. Or whether or not to include it at all. I listened to the interview and Kao Kalia's breakdown and the fumbled response in the name of Science and realized that Radiolab did an injustice--a sort of violence--to these two individual Hmong people as well as Hmong people in general. When I learned today that the "niece" identified as the translator is Kao Kalia Yang, I was even more shocked that you did not even mention her professional success as an award winning (and amazing) author. As someone familiar with her work, I should have known that it was her voice.

Oct. 23 2012 02:34 PM
Andrew X. Pham from California

I am the awarding-winning author of CATFISH AND MANDALA and THE EAVES OF HEAVEN. I have long followed the news and plight of the Hmong. I have also read Kao Kalia Yang's account of the unprofessional and racist way you and your journalists have treated her, her uncle, and the Hmong experience for your benefit and agenda.

I am publicly announcing my disappointment and disgust at your handling of this matter. I will no longer listen to Radiolab and will recommend a boycott to everyone I know.

Andrew X. Pham

Oct. 23 2012 01:16 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 01:16 PM

This professor speaking of Reagan being the first creator of chemical weapons conveniently forgets about Agent Orange affect on the local ecology.

Maybe these scientists need to include other variables:

Oct. 23 2012 12:45 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 12:38 PM


Oct. 23 2012 09:24 AM

Hi folks. I reached out to Kalia Yang, and this is her take on her experience with Radiolab. Please read through her experience, since Radiolab didn't print her words:

Oct. 23 2012 02:38 AM
Scott from Houston, TX

The comments on this episode are tremendously interesting in themselves. A majority of the comments are from listeners writing from their immediate emotional response to this story: upset over the treatment of the Mhong family. A few contain some understanding of what the point of Radiolab's investigation was: to determine if the evidence that the US used to justify the creation of chemical warfare had substance. Within that group, some were still upset by Radiolab not having any empathy toward the emotions of the Mhong family or for not pursuing a broader epistemologic search for chemical warfare in the area: we already know the evidence the US used was shaky so why confine the questioning of the Mhong man to just the yellow rain?

Most interesting is how this show on "truth" ended up revealing what a sampling of listeners (albeit biased by selection of those roused enough to write a comment) consider truth: the hard evidence required by science or the experiential evidence of witnesses. This show was intended to be about the former, but the comments reveal how much viewers value the latter. The emotional response of these listeners comes from the disconnect that occurs when Jad & Robert enter an interview in a search for hard evidence with someone who has never been brought up or educated to place extra value to that kind of information. To me, Robert's brutishness in not anticipating this divide is certainly a mistake, but not an uncommon or unexpected one amongst those in science. Those in science frequently forget how their search for truth is not the same as those in the general public (e.g. any science vs religion debate). It doesn't make Robert evil, just human. All those in science would benefit from a reminder of how our values have diverged from the general public.

Oct. 21 2012 03:26 PM
Jim from Boston

Everyone here is bashing the RadioLab guys, and people are saying they will never watch the show again. Why?

When Howard Stern was commenting on the 9/11 attack, he was angry. Hugely, impossibly angry. He said things like "we should just level their whole country" and "why don't we just kill them all?" Does this make him a disgustingly horrible person? No. It makes him HUMAN. Millions of people were saying the same things because they were scared, and angry. It doesn't mean that they actually believe in what they were saying.

The Robert showed his vulnerable, human side in this episode. It makes me angry, seeing all these comments bashing him. It's pompous and hypocritical. EVERYONE has had a moment like this. We're all human.

I'm not saying it was a good decision, or that it was a respectful conversation. All I'm saying is that the response of not watching RadioLab anymore, or saying that he ruined RadioLab, is not the right reaction. He slipped up. Everyone slips up. That doesn't make him a bad person.

My grandfather and I were very close. For a long while, I saw him as perfect. He was kind, happy, and never raised his voice, EVER. But I learned sometime later, after his death, that when my Dad was a kid, he had an alcohol problem. He would become mean and violent, and even hit my dad with his belt. But that didn't make me love him any less. In fact, everyone in my family agreed that after he quit drinking, he was possibly the greatest human being on this planet. He touched everybody he came in contact with in a great way.

It's the same for Robert. He made one mistake, but that doesn't mean that he isn't a great human being. He learned and admitted that he was wrong. In fact, I now see him as more of a person that the distant "radio-voice" I saw him as before.

Oct. 21 2012 11:45 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 07:51 PM
Harry from Minnesota

I am surprised that no one apparently considered the possibility that whatever was producing illness that included gastrointestinal symptoms in humans might also produce gastrointestinal symptoms in insects that resulted in yellow rain. Did anyone ever consider that the yellow rain simply have been a marker for a chemical attack rather than the chemical causing illness and death in the Hmong? This explanation would be true for both sides, that the Hmong were ill and dying and the yellow rain was not the cause, but a parallel effect.

Oct. 19 2012 10:35 PM
Samuel Barker from Melbourn, Australia

Hi everyone, I thought I would get down a couple of thoughts on this thread. Below is all very emotionally charged and I do not seek to pretend I am a person with direct connection to this story, but it touched me nonetheless.

By only treating the Hmong story as only small element to be distilled from the larger Cold War discourse, I think, is offensive to the horrific plight of the Hmong people. However, history tells this is the sad truth. The telling of history in a global view, at times, reduces incidents of attempted genocide, torture, rape and murder into simply an "event" making up the patchwork of a much larger quilt - too often historians / lecturers / politicians care too much about the quilt, and it is not all that matters. Caring too much about whether this yellow rain was in fact chemical warfare that was used to fuel the later actions of the American Government does this, it is not an irrelevant question, it is interesting and historically with merit for discussion, but Mr Yang was correct to feel that his story, and the story of his people is cheapened when reduced to intellectual questions seeking answers as to the political actions of the Cold War.

I find this in my line of work also, having just graduated from Arts/Law and starting my career, I am often disturbed when legal cases define legal issues as the central point to terrible events, rather than the event itself. For example, the interrelation of torts law and the stolen generation, a dark chapter in Australian history - reducing these events to questions of the finer intellectual points of torts law and the limitation of actions act, I think, walks a fine line of being cold and heartless by making it a legal question, rather than acknowledging that it happened, and the law should react nonetheless.

Having said all of this, it is not the conduct of Robert I was taken back by. It was simply how the story was framed. Regardless of the question of yellow rain, the killing did happen, and these people were left with little defence. I read Roberts apology, I found it heartfelt and sincere. I always appreciate and respect his ability to test the veracity and credibility of guests on Radiolab, it was too heavy handed here when it really didnt need to be, but nonetheless, it is for this kind of reporting I listen to Radiolab. This was not an apology he was forced to give, and the fact Robert was able to listen back, reflect and tell us how he felt after reviewing the interview, at least for me, was great to see.

Oct. 19 2012 06:28 PM

I found this very disrespectful towards the Hmong.

Oct. 19 2012 12:07 PM
Leah from Eugene Oregon

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

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

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

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

Oct. 19 2012 12:00 AM

For those interested, here is a link to an article by Meselson about the yellow rain controversy (essentially, it is a summary of the skeptics' position on the issue).
I post this out of scientific curiosity and in no way, shape or form intend to pass judgment on the individuals involved in the interview, or on the Hmong who have endured so much.

Oct. 17 2012 11:38 PM
Sabino2son from MN

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

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

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

Oct. 16 2012 11:13 PM
Mandy Thor from Madison, WI

Wow. This is sad, it breaks my heart. I've been writing and rewriting a response to this for 3 hours. I give up. All I have to say, is that this is sad.

-Another First Generation Hmong-American

Oct. 15 2012 10:55 PM
David Shih from Eau Claire, WI

I am surprised that among the almost two hundred comments and tens of thousands of words on this page, the word “racism” appears only twice, and only once in the sense suggesting that the RadioLab interview and highly-edited podcast are evidence of racism.

When I say racism, I’m not talking about hate intentionally or unintentionally exchanged between individuals. I am talking about a particular consciousness cultivated by a national society that has reified and privileged whiteness for well over 300 years. It is a consciousness that has continually centered whiteness within public and private discourse, despite having to do so less obviously over the past half century. This episode of RadioLab is a perfect example of that consciousness and of modern racism. What we hear tells us an awful lot about whose truth and whose humanity matters the most to the RadioLab team.

When members of any advantaged group begin to speak for the experiences of members of a targeted group, they probably ought to ask themselves, “What if it were true that they know their lives better than we think we know their lives?” This is a simple enough point, really, but one that is often lost on those who are accustomed to speaking for members of targeted groups and then not being called on it. The authority given over to scientific discourse by our society further imbalances the power differential.

If you listen to all of the edited podcast, you’ll hear less of the valuable knowledge that Eng Yang was prepared to offer and did indeed offer (much of it not making the “cut”) and more of the hand-wringing soul searching of the hosts. As if white privilege did not exert itself enough during the highly-offensive lead-in and actual interview, now the epistemological crisis of the RadioLab team takes center stage as they discuss how much they have "learned" from this whole experience. Guess what? I could care less. I wanted to learn more from Eng Yang, but the team assumed that their therapy session would be more edifying to listeners than Eng Yang’s invited accounts would be. Even apologies recenter whiteness.

It is as if the end of this podcast were an obscene remake of the racist film Gran Torino, which foregrounded the learning of a white male lead and relegated Hmong people, history, and experience to a supporting role.

I hope that the hosts of RadioLab make this right. The process should indeed begin with a self-reckoning of everyone involved with the production of that particular podcast. But I would also say to them: Don't expect the Yangs or other people of color to lead you through it.

Oct. 14 2012 02:43 AM
Diane from MN

The crux of why the "truth" in Yellow Rain is science fiction: it was decided by Robert that he has the power to dictate which truth is real. In reality, Robert was banal, self-delusional, removed from reality, self-focused, and 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 01:30 PM

Some essays and articles critiquing this episode:

Oct. 12 2012 10:43 PM

This will be my last comment. I want to encourage anyone who hasn't looked too far down in the comments to read the one by Aaron, Kalia's husband, who was there for the entire interview. Incredibly important words and first-hand insight.

Oct. 12 2012 04:50 PM

Time time has passed and I tried to listen to your new podcast after being so upset over the Yellow Rain fiasco. The truth of the matter, I can not listen to your show anymore. Your voices ring untrue to me. If a radio personality loses the power of his voice to touch the audience... the personality loses his listener. Your voices still sting my heart. You have not handled this situation well. The problem is still hanging in the air and you have lost me as a listener. Where I once heard kindness in your voices I now hear condescension, where I one heard child-like interest and enthusiasm I now hear feigned and manufactured intrigue, where I once heard newness I now hear the repetitive patterns that you churn out and the format is inelegant to me know because it no longer can conceal your arrogance.

Maya Angelou: The first time someone shows you who they are, believe them.

This quote applies - you have lost me as a listener. I feel I have seen who you both really are and you have done nothing substantial to change my mind.

Oct. 12 2012 04:34 PM

Hi Jad an Robert, I hope you will read this essay at the Good Men Project written about this podcast.

Oct. 12 2012 04:04 PM

This one just sort of taints the whole program for me. It's like seeing one of my favorite Podcasts with new eyes. I have been listening for years, and have not always agreed with every conclusion drawn, but have always enjoyed these. Now it feels like I have to make a judgement call and decide if this show is something that I want to support. I don't agree with how this situation was handled (including the apology). I can't say that I'll be recommending this podcast to any of my friends.

Oct. 11 2012 03:04 PM
Vue from USA

Where are the original scientist? Where's the original sample? The original reports? How can a contaminated sample miraculously decontaminate itself? There was more than one sample sent in. Where are those now? Why not invite a first hand account witness? Why not invite the original scientist to refute the later questioners?

Please investigate if you are looking for the truth.

Oct. 10 2012 11:51 PM

Wow - it was amazing listening to the interviewers trying unsuccessfully to process the possibility of wrongdoing by the USA in foreign countries. NO - COULDN'T HAPPEN! (sarcasm). We have ALWAYS done things like that in our colonial pursuits. CLEARLY we were experimenting with chemical weapons on the locals and then blamed it on the Soviets - so that we could, in turn, use THAT (our own chemical attack) as a pretext to develop chemical weapons officially. Absurd - yet still a classic manoeuvre out of the US/NATO playbook.

Oct. 10 2012 06:41 PM
Fred Lee from Los Angeles

The arrogant interviewer is the one trying to monopolize the discussion, not the interviewee--the whole world is not about the United States and the USSR in the Cold War. The so-called "search for truth" cannot happen if the interviewer already has the prejudgment (i.e. prejudice) that science has told them the "right answer" in advance of discussion and that the job of the interviewed is to get in line with this already known answer. The answers sciences provides are provisional, always being revised, and far from infallible.

Oct. 10 2012 05:51 PM

Hello ignorant fools,

Its called IMPACT VS. INTENT. Do yourself a favor and ponder the meaning. Thank you.

Oct. 10 2012 02:41 PM
Clark from Los Angeles

If I had tested a new chemical lethal weapon on people in remote villages, I would definitely use secret agents (or any person who could do the job for a decent amount of money) to collect all the proofs and replace them with something funny, like bee poop or bee pollen. I would probably do that during the shipping of the samples...
Or if I find out something very embarrassing or very scary about the poisons used I would make them disappear and pretend that they never existed to prevent outrage or panic...
Maybe I am watching too many movies...

Excess trust in scientists and scientific data can make you interview an indirect witness in a clumsy way...

Keep on with the great podcasts, Radiolab! You're still by far the best science podcast out there and hopefully for a long time!

Oct. 10 2012 01:17 AM
Michael Langston from top

First of all, I have read multiple comments and believe that most of the irrational comments left are from those who hold a very strong subjective view. Why does Robert owe us an apology? He did what any researcher would do. Present his research that will help strengthen his argument. Has anyone ever presented an argument and stated the opposite to their argument? Probably not, unless you are taking the GRE.

I felt that Robert did his job well. Lets take this cast slowly. The Hmong people were in a strong state of psychological distress. They are searching for answers as to whom is attacking them, and it is just as easy to put the blame of yellow rain on the Pathet Lao and the communist vietnamese. We want to self-validate ourselves that its a war tactic to kill most of the Hmong. I do not doubt that many were being killed by gunshots, being raped, and also took in as prisoners. However, I do know that in a state of strong psychological distress people will have their memories distorted, and even have their beliefs of the situation distorted. Their are multiple accounts of the yellow rain, and many people died, but does this necessarily mean it was a war tactic or chemical weapons? Remember, Eng Yang stated that no one ever saw a plane fly in right before the rain dropped. No one died right away. Someone could have heard an airplane. Better yet, why must they say that there was to many gunshots being heard that no one saw or heard an airplane...airplanes are loud. Also, they state that yellow rain was being dropped on mass amounts of Hmong people. It is possible that there are ways to track and send the yellow rain to the big masses of Hmong people. Is it also plausible that Bees will also be frightened or threatened by the large masses of Hmong people and will let loose their poop, which they know may be used as a defense mechanism.

If the British, U.S., Swedish specialist say it was bee shit, then it was probably bee shit. I'm sure there are other labs that stated it was chemical weapons, but why did the U.S. decide to not go in and stop this? Maybe, because the idea of chemical weapons and bee shit proved to be contradicting and drew upon a stalemate.

Was it justifiable that with Kao Kalia Yang crying that most people jump onto the sympathy train? No doubt Kao Kalia is a bright intelligent writer, but when faced with a difficult challenge of people stating their argument and presenting evidence for their argument and the one eye-witness account can only be relevant to their personal understanding of the situation, she has to cry? Look at the court of law, eye-witness testimony is not the most efficient way to prosecute anymore. The reporters were trying to justify a different perspective and not trying to cause an emotional upset. They weren't saying the Hmong people were wrong and that their stories are all false, but to consider a different explanation to the events.

Oct. 09 2012 03:30 AM
L Sackette from San Jose, Ca.

Can we agree that no one is perfect? It seems that many don't agree with Robert's approach. While you don't have to agree, you shouldn't be nasty in your criticism either. I felt the story was difficult, so I am glad they try to look at it from different angles.

Keep goign RL. I will always be a faithful listener.


Oct. 08 2012 01:40 PM

i didn't really appreciate the yellow rain story. what am i left with? a dull tarnished point about multiple truths? I'm not sure what this story says. Multiple truths and nothing is satisfactory? is that deep? i feel like i just listened to a snuff film. we couldn't come up with something more.... i dunno.... to whom do i write? who offers an apology or conciliatory message of understanding? where is the agency of the story or is that the point?

Oct. 08 2012 06:32 AM

This is a load of shit! It gets my blood boiling just listening to how they just totally dismiss the fact that this shit killed thousands of hmong people and it is simply dismiss because some f--ken professor claim no one saw a plane dropping theses. Well, of course not! All the one that saw what happen are dead!!!

Oct. 07 2012 01:14 PM

Tell the truth of the pain of the Hmong people. Not just of the yellow rain but of their whole history and their current reality, which has been devastation upon devastation. That is the story that is asking to be told here(among others, as people have mentioned here.) Yellow rain is a symbol. Tell the story of that symbol.

Radiolab is not strictly journalism but that is what I love about it. Don't act as though you are otherwise, guys! I mean that kindly and from my heart. Radiolab tells stories, not in the way that the news does but in a narrative and even literary way that is beautiful; that is why people listen to Radiolab, because you tell stories not as conventional, supposedly "objective" journalism but as art. There is nothing wrong with that mode-- you don't have to pretend to be other than it. Tell the story of the Hmong people. Bring that woman back and let her speak her truth. The story of the Hmong and all of the other ethnic hill tribes in that area is profound, devastating, and needs to be witnessed by the world community.

Oct. 07 2012 01:05 PM
윤예빈 from 한국 서울

It seems easy to me. What better way to appease another powerful empire than to suddenly say that the chemical weapons were caused by something else? Perhaps if the West continued its accusations, the Soviet government at the time would not have been pleased. I think it was a way of saving the Soviet government's face.

Oct. 07 2012 12:46 PM

Clearly this story affected many listeners deeply. I too, a faithful RadioLab listener, was distraught by the Yellow Rain story. How Robert handled the Interview, but also the follow up remarks. It seems to me that the RadioLab crew settled on the conclusion that there were no chemical weapons used, but that the Hmong were killed by other means. A few previous commenters noted that it is well known Agent Orange and other toxic chemicals were widely disseminated across South East Asia during the war. If it was bee poo (which also seems unlikely considering the local people were surprised by its presence - would they not have seen that phenomenon before if it was a regional occurrence?), could it be possible that the bees ingested toxins and that their poop was contaminated? And if there were chemical weapons, was it leftover American or Russian chemicals being used? It seems that the biggest disservice to Kao Kalia and Eng Yang was to reach a conclusion at all. To honour their truth, and to recognize that the "truth" is not always found in fractured facts would have been a more honest conclusion.

Oct. 06 2012 03:10 PM
Brian Mc

This was a disgrace. Just another no-name journalist trying to make a name for himself at the expense of some innocent people. He talks about himself getting angry, yet they didn't even play it. They keep talking about the truth, yet only play part of the story. Radiolab, just like Robert whatever his name is, is a joke.

Oct. 05 2012 07:28 PM
Elise from Toronto, ON

I love radiolab. i feel inspired by it. but now it is sullied and ugly to me. listening to this piece, my jaw dropped. the "truth"? what exact "truth" is robert krulwich seeking? why not focus on the truth of chemical weaponry, the grave injustices committed in the name of capitalist power, the disgusting inequalities and racism that permit not only the slaughter of hmong people to take place but also this revolting, depressing, utterly blind to privilege interview.

one must come from a fantastically privileged and pedastled place to be so ignorant, willfully cruel, and committed to some weak and frankly quite disingenous concept of "truth".

I am so tired of "truth".

I don't know if i can keep listening to radiolab after this. i just don't know.

Oct. 04 2012 10:54 PM
Ray from New York, N.Y

************ like everyone in here, AIR THE ORIGINAL TAPE *************

Oct. 04 2012 10:38 PM
Kays 2 Cents from Cheese Country

No wonder no one listens to this crap; it's their show and they do what they want. So instead of all of us complaining; let's just take our stories elsewhere. Blah.

Oct. 04 2012 10:00 PM

Disappointed because once again people think our story, the Hmong story, is wrong and that since we were not scientist at the time what we experienced, this "Yellow Rain," was not the chemical agent that brutally killed hundreds of thousands of our people in the mountainous jungles of Laos. You will never be able to understand our experiences with just mere science.

Oct. 04 2012 07:53 PM
Josh from Texas

I have to say that while I won't quit listening to Radiolab, I have lost respect for Mr. Krulwich. For those saying he was just doing his job as a journalist: this is RADIOLAB, it is journalism in the loosest meaning of the word. Radiolab is interesting and informative, but nothing more. Why was Krulwich so adamant in grilling Mr. Yang. Does the "truth" about yellow rain rest on this one man's shoulders? No. So, Mr. Krulwich, lets have the truth about you're attitude to these people. And let's here the entire unedited interview. Here's some truth: Mr. Yang saw yellow stuff fall from the sky; Mr. Yang saw his friends & family die.

Oct. 04 2012 04:14 PM
Mayank from Vancouver, Canada

I've seen the other comments and the apology, but I still feel like I should add that I was quite saddened by this episode. I've been exposed to enough journalism to understand that the purpose is to collect information from different sources to form your story, not coerce your sources into agreeing with each other.
I would have liked to have at least seen some consistency in the reporting style. For some reason, you seemed a lot more sensitive to the emotions in the next story.

Unfortunately, this was the first Radiolabs podcast I've ever heard. I hope it gets better....

Oct. 04 2012 01:26 AM

Heard this on podcast today. Wow, it was incredibly moving. And, to seek the bright side, it educated me a bit about a plight I'd not heard of before.

But I don't for a second think Robert's approach was intentionally cruel. The show's hosts' path and that of the Yangs were simply at odds. Robert is pursuing an angle of questions focused on how one identifies objective truth. Mr. Yang and his niece Ms. Yang were seeking a platform to air their rich historical story -- something she very clearly and plainly said after things went off the rails. As they were given questions and information about the show angle prior to the interview, it seems they made a mistake in understanding just how their goals might clash with the goals of the program.

That's really unfortunate.

It was a collision of approaches. In a story about finding truth, it is not out of the ordinary to ask a man who claims chemical warfare was falling from the skies as spread by planes if he'd seen the planes. That's just... basic fact finding. And to report things that one has not seen themselves but has simply assumed based on the statements of others... that is indeed hearsay.

I heard it coming early in the questioning, they were clearly not having the same conversation, nor was it going in the direction each anticipated.

To those who are demanding individuals, programs or stations to cease, shut down, etc... grow up. Adults talking about important things often find themselves in difficult situations. You deal with them as they come, and you continue to ask, to listen, to speak. You don't demand silence of the other. Our country and culture is losing the ability to come to the table and work something out; instead extremists on both sides simply spout hate and demands.

I've read all the comments on the piece, the apology, etc. There are many good points. I don't see a problem that RK didn't apologize until people voiced opinion that it was necessary; have you not done something you felt completely reasonable and in the right, and remained that way until someone showed you how it looked from another angle? It hadn't dawned on me after listening that an apology was necessary. But it's very nice that one was given.

And for all those who say they won't listen to RadioLab... I'm giving $$$ for the first time.

Oct. 03 2012 12:44 AM
Hila from Boston, MA

Dear Radiolab-

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

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

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

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

Thank you for reading.

Oct. 02 2012 09:15 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 05:14 PM
Hickorychip from NYC

Should we remain factually ignorant in the face of emotional distress? Often emotion dictates fact for those directly affected by an event. To look at a situation objectively to uncover truth is not insensitive, it is the right thing to do. But, this interview was the venue for that type of exploratory journalism - these kind/gentle guests told their emotional story for Radiolab's benefit and to undermine them was inappropriate and obviously not the premise of their inclusion in the show (based off her reaction to the shift in questioning). If Radiolab wants to critically approach the validity of Yellow Rain, they should produce an appropriate forum and question the scientists and politicians who advocate for the story - not an unsuspecting citizen who is emotionally affected. Good segment, but insensitive to the guest.

Oct. 02 2012 11:39 AM

I think the critical commenters here are overlooking how sensitively the hosts dealt with the interview in their subsequent conversation. They explored the possibility that their line of scientific inquiry simply didn't connect with the experience and convictions of the interviewee. It's a pretty big deal for them to question the validity of science like that when this is a science show. Also, they could have edited out the incident entirely but decided to include it, clearly to give credence to a voice that has felt silenced by science and history. In a lot of ways, they were making the same point that many commenters have here.

That said, I think the proper Radiolab response would be to go into greater depth on the incident, provide a full translation of the interview, and explore further the stories of Hmong people who stick by the chemical weapon allegations. I hope they do.

But overall, let's not beat them up over this. I think they handled it very well.

Oct. 02 2012 04:40 AM
Concerned Citizen of America from St. Paul, MN

Another fact for readers to contemplate:

4) Of all the Southeast Asian refugees (South Vietnamese, Cambodian, Lao, and others) the Hmong American population have the highest cancer death rate in American today. They also have a disproportionate population who suffers from liver and kidney health issues. These statistics cannot be explained by economic conditions (poverty) alone when you compare them to other SE Asians of comparable experience. The word on Yellow Rain has not been finalized so don't jump on the wagon of the doubters yet. The Hmong population who now live in American bear the evidence in their blood and in their genes today. The statistics on Hmong cancer deaths, infertility, and other health issues will ultimately give us a clue into the truth of Yellow Rain and their exposure to it.

Oct. 02 2012 12:41 AM
Concerned Citizen of America from St. Paul, MN

This journalist's name is "Cruel Witch". What more can be said? Once again, the Hmong got slaughtered to advance the publicity of a dying radio station struggling in hard economic times. Martin Luther King, Jr. said that hard times will reveal one's true nature. Radiolab's true nature has been revealed today. When will Americans stop drawing Hmong blood to advance their political, economic, and social agenda? 25% of the Hmong population wiped out because of a needless war caused by America. Is that not enough? Mr. Cruel Witch, if you made up your mind already, why did you pretend to want to hear Mr. Eng Yang's story? Can't you just advance your opinions as fact? Or was this the day you were itching to punch some poor sucker in the playground and Eng just happened to cross your path?

1) When in nature do we see a bunch of bees poop all at once on command to produce enough poop that "rained" from the sky? What species on our planet poop simultaneously like this? Please name one.

2) It is undisputable that the US dumped Agent Orange and other chemicals in Vietnam, which have massive devastations today for US veterans and Vietnamese alike. There are massive birth defects among exposed populations. This historical fact leads to questions about why American scientists (probably the very scientists who developed these chemical weapons to be tested in Vietnam) have been so adament about the "bee dung" theory. To admit that perhaps some of these American chemical weapons had fallen to the enemy who later used them on the Hmong who the US abandoned would only point the finger at the US yet again. It's less expensive to pay some reputable scientist from Harvard no less, to point the finger at the bees. Besides, the Hmong are just "primitive people." Like Eng Yang, they cannot articulate their personal stories without interpreters and, yes, they have NO EVIDENCE because they are dead or were fleeing from the evidence that's killing them.

3) These stories are told by different Hmong of all ages and sex who came from different regions of Laos between 1975 and 1985. These witnesses lived in different refugee camps in Thailand. They've never met one another. Yet, they're all saying the same things. Please, use your freaking Harvard brains and explain it to me.

Stop using the Hmong to advance your radio ratings. They've paid enough. You should be ashamed as a human being, Cruel Witch. To call you a "journalist" is a travesty of shame upon the profession. You not only need to apologize, you need to be retrained in journalism school.

Oct. 02 2012 12:24 AM
Diane from MN

No one wants Radiolab to go down, we're only asking for Radiolab to direct a public apology to the Yangs and the Hmong community. What the public radio corporations decide to do with the show is up to the executives. Robert, et. al went to the home of the Yangs to inflict emotional pain and suffering and humiliate them so Radiolab can have an emotional twist to the story. These were people who suffered a trauma and death and Robert, et. al manipulated their story for their own gain, like Reagan did to the Hmong's Yellow Rain story so he could create chemical weapons. Would they go to the home of a holocaust survivor and confront and deny the victim their experience is false?

This is not just one mistake but five: the first with the shoddy research, the second with lack of sensitivity toward the interviewee, third with how the story wrapped up, forth with a non-apology from Jad, and fifth with no direct public apology to the Yangs and the Hmong community with Robert's apology to Radiolab listeners.

The Hmong community and the Yangs are still waiting for a direct public apology commensurate with the public infliction of emotional pain and suffering and humiliation by Robert, et. al (Radiolab).

Oct. 01 2012 10:10 PM
Jeff L from Texas

I love RadioLab and this story hasn't changed that. Robert did what journalists do, he pursued the truth. He may have been a bit rough in doing so but he did not victimize these people. The interviewees knew his intentions going into the story, he sent them his questions in advance. I see a lot of people posting the same thing multiple times, and trying to stir up hate against RadioLab. These people have an obvious and sad agenda and probably never heard of RadioLab before this story.

I stand by the program and cannot believe the temper tantrum I am seeing here. If you don't like it don't listen. If reality is so hard to swallow, you're in the wrong place. The fact that RadioLab played the interview gone wrong instead of sitting on it should tell you something about their integrity. Most would have covered this up, but these guys put it out there honestly.

Those of you who want to take down RadioLab over this are wrong and you will fail.

Oct. 01 2012 09:05 PM
Diane from MN

I speak Hmong and can hear Eng telling the interviewers repeatedly in the final cut he knows what bee pollen looks like. It's disingenuous for you have us assume you understand Hmong. Radiolab is counting on your ignorance of the Hmong language to create the emotional story you heard. If you are Hmong-speaking you'll hear how poorly the story was put together. If they went to Eng for his story, they did a very good job at keeping it out of the final cut because they cut almost all of the interview out and kept just the anguished cries of the interpreter (I refer to Kao Kalia as an interpreter because Eng was supposed to be the primary interviewee), who was compelled to advocate for her uncle when Robert, et. al started to inflicted emotional pain on Eng. Even Kao Kalia's husband, who witnessed the interview, has said Eng was talking about his knowledge of bees and told the interviewers he is an experienced beekeeper. Did you hear any of this in the final cut? Not unless you understand Hmong!

If you bother to read the comments below you will find public comments from Kao Kalia, her husband and Paul Hillmer, who Radiolab contacted initially for a lead and was referred to Eng Yang. Read Kao Kalia's comment about how it came about she took on the interview. Read her husband's first-hand account of what he witnessed before you make more assumptions about the Radiolab story as you've been fooled.

Lastly, the science on the bee pollen is inconclusive and it is alleged that Meselson did not collect samples in the area where the Yellow Rain genocide took place. Here is an excerpt and link to the article refuting his research:

"A particularly vicious piece palmed off as scientific research was
published in the Sept. Scientific American by Harvard biochemistry
prof Matthew Meselson and two others. Meselson, whose trip to SE Asia
had been financed by the leftist MacArthur Foundation, collected bees'
feces (droppings) far away from any war zone, examined the material by
electron microscopy and other methods, not surprisingly found some
toxins in it, and not surprisingly found no man-made toxins
attributable to Soviet weapons." -Wall Street Journal in 1987 by William Kucewicz:

As far as I'm concern, Radiolab's story is science fiction.

Oct. 01 2012 05:18 AM
Myfanwy from Melbourne, Australia

@Diane from MN

Firstly, Yang's interpreter, as you persist in calling her, was his own niece, Kao Kalia Yang - a gifted intellectual in her own right. Have some respect yourself and give her her name and relationship to Eng Yang. These are important facts as she is not a disinterested observer - she is very much a part of the interview and her reaction is, I think, what shocked so many of us here out of our complacency.

Secondly, it's not "science fiction" to examine a set of scientific data and try to make sense of it. The bee pollen hypothesis is perfectly valid based on the evidence collected - and I HAVE done some rudimentary research. That doesn't mean it is correct, just that it fits with what was collected. Survivor evidence, however, does cast doubt on it. That doubt was well and truly brought to the fore in this segment. And I feel it has made a lot of us rethink our assumptions on the nature of 'truth'.

Thirdly, the article was from the New Yorker magazine, NOT the New York Times, and it is two decades old. I doubt they stopped their research at something two decades old.

I think it's disingenuous to argue that "the editors left the audio in but didn't tell the listeners..." - that implies some intent to deceive. And in the finish, given how tragically wrong the interview turned, I don't think the point of playing it to us was to clarify what Yang did or didn't know, but to give us enough information to show how different our realities are. It's a timely reminder that while science claims to be blind to race and cultural boundaries, ultimately we are dealing with the stories of real people, whose knowledge and understanding we are neglecting.

I deplore the way the interview turned out, but I applaud its inclusion. In showing the dark, human side of the Radiolab team, they have revealed something very valuable. And it has promoted the Hmong plight in a way I don't think would have brought such attention had it been merely a reading from a book, or an historian describing it. The real story did come out here, even if some details were left on the cutting room floor.

Oct. 01 2012 04:51 AM
Diane from MN

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

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

Oct. 01 2012 04:30 AM
Diane from MN

The Radiolab "Yellow Rain" was science fiction. They cut almost all of Eng Yang's story because it didn't fit with their pre-concieved narrative and left Yang's interpreter's anguished plea to allow Yang to tell the story Radiolab had told them Radiolab were interested in hearing. In the story, if you are Hmong-speaking, you can hear Eng repeatedly tell the interviewers he knows what bee feces look like. However, the editors left the audio in but they didn't tell the listeners. If you enjoyed this story, the editors of this show are counting on your ignorance of the Hmong language to create an emotionally powerful story. In Jad's blog response, even he acknowledged they had their own direction for the story and when they didn't get it (when Yang's story didn't fit with with their narrative) they realized they've done something wrong, especially when they made Yang's interpreter cry and caused emotional pain on Yang and his interpreter. Instead of apologizing to the Yangs, the editors chose to ridicule Yang in the interview and again in the final story.

The science on the Yellow Rain is inconclusive and there is still much debate about it. If you google "yellow rain bee pollen" you will hit information that refutes the scientists Radiolab presented in the story and their research. This is a quoted from a story in the Wall Street Journal with scientists refuting the bee pollen research.

"A particularly vicious piece palmed off as scientific research was
published in the Sept. Scientific American by Harvard biochemistry
prof Matthew Meselson and two others. Meselson, whose trip to SE Asia
had been financed by the leftist MacArthur Foundation, collected bees'
feces (droppings) far away from any war zone, examined the material by
electron microscopy and other methods, not surprisingly found some
toxins in it, and not surprisingly found no man-made toxins
attributable to Soviet weapons." -Wall Street Journal in 1987 by William Kucewicz:

Additionally, reddit has a conversation opened in 2011 about incidents of yellow rain in Japan after the Fukushima incident which the Japanese government also claimed is also bee pollen.

The bottom line is Jad, Robert, and Pat saw the NYT story, referenced in the first link, and decided they have conclusive evidence the Hmong Yellow Rain genocide didn't happen so they decided they would spring the bee pollen "fact" on a Yellow Rain survivor to get his emotional response for the story. As you can see, it doesn't take much to find conflicting truths out there but Jad, Pat, and Robert are lazy journalists and storytellers so they are sticking with their original narrative. Do your own research and learn more about Yellow Rain. Please understand, this Radiolab story was science fiction.

Oct. 01 2012 04:02 AM
Amanda N. from San Diego

severe human* injustices.

I do plan on reading the rest of the material written about this piece, its reactions from all sources I can gather.

After reading many more comments, I still stand by my appreciation for Radiolab, but am reaffirmed that the interview with the Yang family was a completely journalistic tragedy and terribly disrespectful to the Yang family. I agree, that Robert seemed to have wanted a reaction from Eng when he continually stated his understanding of the study.

Oct. 01 2012 03:51 AM
Amanda N. from San Diego, CA

This is the most wrenching Radiolab yet. I fully appreciate the recorded conversation between the three men after the interview. To me, this is an example of Radiolab's dedication to the particular topic of truth/truth-seeking and just 'attempt'. I do firmly believe the attempt by Radiolab and it's dedicated staff to articulate and elevate the understanding of many a-topic of history, science, philosophy, and heart is not purely for journalistic gain and targeted answers, but an attempt to subsume the facts, points, opinions, and narratives into a reasonably cohesive (but not necessarily comfortable) story. What happened during the interview with the Yang family is, as stated, an interview 'tragedy'-- because of the question what justice or light can a narrative bring to the forefront of journalism? This is inextricable to the 'Truth of the Matter' framework for this podcast. I do and do not agree with Robert in his targeted criticism of why he thought the story was 'unfair' for Radiolab, in that, his hope to yield specific answers in hopes for a greater combing of historical injustices is a righteous focus but does overshadow the interview-- which is composed of human accounts of the same historical and humane injustices.

Oct. 01 2012 03:24 AM
Lima from MN

Robert Krulwich you don't have the skill or depth to understand or represent the human heart, especially a broken one. For me to listen to radiolab again I want this next segment for you to say sorry ON AIR so that we can all hear and that our soft, human heart can rest.

Sep. 30 2012 11:00 PM
Amy college student from CA

I will do whatever it takes for Radiolab to say sorry to the Yang family. IF it takes to go protests against Radiolab I will, therefor this world is changing to become a better place not place to look down on others. Robert Krulwich you asked Mr.yang what is the truth, let me tell you what the truth is; the truth is that Mr.Yang is smarter than you even when he is not highly educated like you. With all the education you got, you even went against a man that lived his life in the jungle, and through a war that we all lost. Let me try asking you to go live in the jungle, I believe that you will not survive. If Eng Yang got the education you got he will be far more a greater man than you Robert Krulwich . The truth is the life that Eng Yang lived!

Sep. 30 2012 10:27 PM
Myfanwy Coghill from Melbourne, Australia

Like many, I was also quite shocked listening to the story, but to the people accusing them of dishonest editing I ask, how would you have liked them to edit it differently? The real power of the story was in highlighting the often fraught interface between the reality of the scientist investigating an incident and the reality of those living through it. And I really applaud the decision to leave in the most difficult part of the interview - I believe it showed Kalia and Eng in a wonderfully human light, which is often missing from science investigation. Listening to their distress, I viscerally felt the dislocation between one truth and another. And I think Robert, in putting forward the scientific and political view, did a great job of throwing the often cold and dispassionate world of science (and politics) into sharp contrast with the human face of tragedy - that the 'greater good' often tramples on the lives and histories of real people.

The juxtaposition between this story, with it's unequivocal aim of showing competing truths, and the first guest who flatly denied that there can be more than one truth was a deliberate attempt to turn us on our heads. I don't think I've ever felt as wrung out - or as enlightened - as I did after this episode.

Thank you, RL, for being brave enough to broadcast an interview that cast you in a poor light. And thank you to Kalia and Eng for sharing their story - I had never heard about your plight before and now I want to know more, because RL introduced us. I hope that means, for you, that something good has come of this.

Sep. 30 2012 09:57 PM
St Louisan

Here's how I think you went off the rails. Your show is always highly produced and controlled to be one thing, no matter what the topic: an entertaining & flippant-style parade of intellectual curiosities. You don't have the skill or depth to understand or represent the human heart, especially a broken one. Given the nature of your show, I don't see how you'll recover from airing this unless you really grow a heart and change almost everything you do.

Sep. 30 2012 07:34 PM
Marty from NYC

I lost a lot of respect for Robert Krulwich after listening to this episode. He was being downright cruel to a man who had endured such horrible things during his life.

A new low for Radiolab. Frankly, I'm shocked this interview was even aired. It was just disgusting.

Shame on you, Robert.

Sep. 30 2012 04:22 PM

Leave the truth alone - Words are limited in expression and cause confusion.

Sep. 30 2012 02:05 PM

Just to add to the chorus here: I was really horrified by this segment. Scientific fact aside, the interview was extraordinarily disrespectful. At least in the parts that aired, it felt like listening to an ambush. It was so tone-deaf, so insensitive. I expect better from Radiolab.

Sep. 30 2012 01:53 PM
Brian Eggleston

This segment was heartbreaking.

Sep. 30 2012 01:40 PM

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

Sep. 30 2012 08:47 AM

A response from Kao Kalia Yang from her Tumblr page

“Dear Friends,

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

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

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

- Kao Kalia Yang

Sep. 30 2012 08:03 AM
Justin from Kumasi, Ghana

I have been a Radiolab listener for years, and I am extremely disappointed with this episode. It is one thing to slip up during an interview and overstep boundaries. It's another to not own up to the fact that you were pushing your agenda and what you took to be true against someone with personal experience in the matter.

I don't expect Radiolab to be completely versed in all the topics you report on. I do expect you to act like human beings and productively, compassionately seek truth in difficult topics.

Sep. 30 2012 12:05 AM
Diane from MN

Just Facts: How do you know that the dancing bees cover photo of Krulwich's Facebook page was put there in 2011? I just checked his FB page again and see that the dancing bees were added on June 21, 2012. The interview with the Yangs took place about the same time or about late spring. While it may be a coincidence the bees are on his page about the same time, my concern is here is you're passing falsehood as fact. Exactly what Robert, Jad, Pat did with the Yellow Rain story. It's not surprising they attract listeners who have a low benchmark for facts and due diligence.

Sep. 29 2012 10:54 PM
Aaron from Colorado

This story was interesting right up until Mr. Krulwich started antagonizing his guest. I couldn't believe the arrogance I was hearing coming from Mr. Krulwich- especially in the follow-up session. I usually love listening to Radiolab, but you guys really missed the mark on this one- really? bee poop? and all those accounts from thousands of refugees? I was truly embarrassed and offended by how you treated this man and his niece. However, one thing positive that came from this interview was the clear voice of Kao Kalia Yang as she spoke from the heart and told her uncle's story. Mz. Yang, thank you for your heartfelt expression.

Sep. 29 2012 10:29 PM
Just Facts

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

Sep. 29 2012 08:29 PM
Just Facts

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

NPR story written in May with bees

Sep. 29 2012 08:24 PM

I just saw that Robert Krulwich decided to change his Facebook banner to a cartoon of dancing bees. I will never listen to Radiolab again.

Sep. 29 2012 07:26 PM
DJ Shiva from indianapolis, USA

How to say what is on my mind after this segment?

While I personally believe that the scientific evidence is decided, at least insofar as the chemical makeup of the yellow dots, I do not believe that badgering an unsuspecting interviewee into seeing that viewpoint was necessary, enlightening, or otherwise germane to the story.

It feels like the interviewer had a very specific agenda, one that he neglected to share with the interviewees. It was disingenous and heavy-handed, and not worthy of what I have always considered to be a thoughtful show.

Finding a bigger philosophical truth IS important, but it's unfair if those involved in the story are not let in on that agenda. They obviously believed they were there to tell the story of the suffering of the Hmong people, while the interviewer obviously wanted to use them as pawns in his intellectual exercise of proving long held beliefs to be false. That's not seeking truthseeking; it's manipulation. And it was ugly and intensely painful to listen to the results.

Do some introspection and realize that was super jerky. You owe them an apology. And frankly, you owe your listeners one too.

Sep. 29 2012 07:18 PM

I've never posted here, but have been disturbed for days after listening to this episode. This was at best sloppy journalism and at worst extremely disrespectful to the thousands of Hmong people who died and their families who were left in the aftermath. Shame on Robert Krulwich for taking a know-it-all stance in the face of the people who ACTUALLY lived through this horrific experience. His tone and attitude towards these people was reprehensible. An apology needs to be issued, by NPR if not on part of Krulwich.

Sep. 29 2012 04:47 PM

Robert was right in his final taped comment, but should have been able to emphasize with the Hmong gentleman he was interviewing.

I would love to see Radiolab do an episode on the Hmong story. Radiolab calls attention to meaningful, undiscovered topics and this is definitely one of them.

Sep. 29 2012 02:44 PM

The issues raised by the “Yellow Rain” segment have been hashed and rehashed. Little remains to be added. Some good can come from this unfortunate episode, however, if it encourages listeners -- and RadioLab staff -- to become more familiar with Hmong culture and history. A compelling and easily accessible introduction, ironically, is available in Kao Kalia Yang’s own prize-winning book, The Latehomecomer: a Hmong Family Memoir.

If you want to take only 10 minutes, you can get a flavor of Ms. Yang and her story by watching a video segment from Minnesota Originals at:

Sep. 29 2012 12:53 PM
Julia from Baton Rouge

After reading through all the comments and thinking long and hard about what exactly irked me after listening to this story, I feel Chris from St. Paul said it best when he wrote:

"I think that anyone who listened to this story would agree that, as Jon Stewart might say: YOU'RE MISSING THE POINT! Thousands of Hmong people died for supporting the United States in wartime. One of the myriad suspected causes was a chemical/biological weapon that the Hmong had never seen before, despite living in the Mountains of Laos for generations.
I really think that something like bee poop would be a recurrent issue they would all be familiar with. Why would they report an unusual yellow rain if it had happened seasonally or on a regular basis in the past. "

Why didn't you follow up with this line of inquiry? Without it , this segment feels underreported and worst of all very dismissive of something as serious as the potential contributor to a genocide. I wish you had extended this segment about the Hmong people into a full hour or just left it out of the Fact of the Matter podcast as a whole. I think devoting a full hour to this story might have given you the time to explore all the channels and to show your respect for a controversial issue. Its a very big topic and deserves more then 20 minutes sandwiched between two lighter stories, which only adds to appearance of insensitivity. I think its a matter of bad decision-making on your program's part.

Sep. 29 2012 12:05 PM

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

Sep. 29 2012 12:04 PM
Jennifer from Minneapolis

I just wanted to add my voice to the chorus of disappointed fans of RadioLab because of the treatment of Kalia and her uncle Eng. I agree with the many, many previous posters who correctly point out that whether yellow rain is bee pollen or poison the people subjected to the "gotcha" should not be survivors of war atrocities. Robert's defensive reaction clearly demonstrates that he is at best ignorant of the way many Hmong were taken advantage of by the U.S. during the war and then marginalized in U.S. society afterward. I applaud Kalia, who is a strong voice in her community and quite capable of advocating for herself. Bringing her narrative to the national stage, even in this clumsy way is the best service this story did. I think a lot of people are eagerly following this story, hoping for a more satisfactory apology to be offered to the Yangs and hoping that RadioLab will offer more of their story. I agree with that, but want to remind anyone interested that you don't have to wait for RadioLab to learn more. Read Kalia's wonderful memoir, The Latehomecomer, and watch her speak about her and her family's experiences in a more unmediated interview on Twin Cities Public television at

Sep. 29 2012 11:07 AM
Jenny from brooklyn

found this on tumblr

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

“Dear Friends,

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

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

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

- Kao Kalia Yang

Sep. 29 2012 10:11 AM
Alex from Reno, California

apologize from the heart is never too hard to say; but that's only if they see their mistake. In this matter, there's no humanity so the word "sorry" has never cross their mind....

Sep. 29 2012 04:51 AM

In retrospect, it is ironic that the first section included the idea of "emotional truth": that the photo of the cannonballs may have been staged in order to convey some sense of what the experience of the event was like. I am astounded that it took Ms. Yang's eloquent and heart-rending cry for Pat to “fully appreciate the volume of pain that was involved in that moment for them”. I am saddened and troubled by the fact that Robert was unable to make the connection afterwards.

I have read Jad's blog post and it is wholly inadequate. The Yang family deserves an apology for the way they were treated. I can only describe your behavior as obscene; it is a harsh word, but, sadly, it is also an accurate one.

Sep. 29 2012 01:40 AM

There is not much that I want to say that hasn't already been said, but I wanted to add my comment to the chorus of listeners that were disappointed and repulsed by the way that RadioLab handled this story.

I unsubscribed from the podcasts today. I am no longer interested in listening to this show.

Sep. 29 2012 01:17 AM
MW from California

Wow. This segment just blew my mind - in a very negative way. I felt that the interviewer basically tricked his Hmong guest and translator. Clearly, the Hmong man was led to believe that the show would tell the truth about what happened to the Hmong during the war. That is what his translator states. And clearly, Radiolab had a very different point in mind. The show was about the pursuit of truth as a philosophical concept, not the pursuit of truth as suffering that had happened to the Hmong. Two very, very different angles. I think a good journalist does not keep the angle or point of the story from the people he interviews, unless he's trying to get a confession of wrongdoing from a crook -- definitely not a category that this interview falls into. During the ending of the segment, the host essentially ambushes the Hmong man, puts him on the spot, tells him that what he saw and believes happened during the war is a lie - and thus invalidates his experiences. The host did this in a very insensitive way. It was a "gotcha" moment -- a "gotcha" of someone who had lived through terrible experiences, who had seen family members and neighbors killed, and now was being told all that didn't matter because some scientists had discovered "it" was just bee poop. Let's assume the yellow stuff was bee poop. But we can never be certain that there were not other chemicals released from airplanes at the same time. Radiolab did not attempt to explain why people were dying, throwing up, had rashes, etc... something was causing this. Bombs kill people, but they don't cause a host of other symptoms which the Hmong described. The host of the show was so utterly insensitive about what happened during the war to these people. I do appreciate Radiolab's transparency on this, and for having the guts to air this failed interview. However, I feel like the show did not deal with what happened in the best possible way... the follow-up conversation after the segment was badly lacking.

Sep. 29 2012 12:52 AM

Wow. This segment just blew my mind - in a very negative way. I felt that the interviewer basically tricked his Hmong guest and translator. Clearly, the Hmong man was led to believe that the show would tell the truth about what happened to the Hmong during the war. That is what his translator states. And clearly, Radiolab had a very different point in mind. The show was about the pursuit of truth as a philosophical concept, not the pursuit of truth as suffering that had happened to the Hmong. Two very, very different angles. I think a good journalist does not keep the angle or point of the story from the people he interviews, unless he's trying to get a confession of wrongdoing from a crook -- definitely not a category that this interview falls into. During the ending of the segment, the host essentially ambushes the Hmong man, puts him on the spot, tells him that what he saw and believes happened during the war is a lie - and thus invalidates his experiences. The host did this in a very insensitive way. It was a "gotcha" moment -- a "gotcha" of someone who had lived through terrible experiences, who had seen family members and neighbors killed, and now was being told all that didn't matter because some scientists had discovered "it" was just bee poop. Let's assume the yellow stuff was bee poop. But we can never be certain that there were not other chemicals released from airplanes at the same time. Radiolab did not attempt to explain why people were dying, throwing up, had rashes, etc... something was causing this. Bombs kill people, but they don't cause a host of other symptoms which the Hmong described. The host of the show was so utterly insensitive about what happened during the war to these people. I do appreciate Radiolab's transparency on this, and for having the guts to air this failed interview. However, I feel like the show did not deal with what happened in the best possible way... the follow-up conversation after the segment was badly lacking.

Sep. 29 2012 12:45 AM
John from queens

if you guys were "so troubled" by the interview why would you keep kalia's crying like that in the interview, practically begging for your atleast partial understanding abt a history? so, so ,so mean. It's fair for you want to consider other possibilities, and its fair for you to disagree, bt you could have approached this in a way that was a bit more fair. this show was just shameful, and your blog followup was 100% unacceptable.

Sep. 29 2012 12:11 AM
Jonathan from Los Angeles

Thanks to Canary, here are some contacts:

WNYC Laura Walker:
NPR CEO Gary Knell:
NPR's Ombudsman: (202) 513-3232
NPR's Board of Directors:

If you are in NYC hit this meeting up on the October 4th:
WNYC's Board of Trustees and Meetings (Oct. 4):

Sep. 28 2012 11:50 PM
Jonathan from Los Angeles

This story was so poorly handled I cant help doubting the integrity of the whole operation at radiolab.

Is the radiolab team really that out of touch that they thought this was a well conceived story? It comes across so ill-concieved that I'm having trouble even describing how terrible this program was.

Reading these comments really drives home just how terrible this story was handled and how insulting it was to the Hmong people and to the listeners intelligence.

Krulwich comes across as an out-of-touch academic in search of ego gratification and the radiolab team is there blindly cheering him along.

The show will never be the same for me again.

You have completely violated my trust.

Sep. 28 2012 11:39 PM
Howdy Goudey from El Cerrito, CA

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

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

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

Sep. 28 2012 08:21 PM
Thomas from CA

I miss the early years of Radio Lab when it was a fun and well put together science program. But more and more I am hearing segments that seem to be nothing more than an attempt at "touching" story telling. And more often than not these types of segments are poorly executed and always feel forced, the Yellow Rain segment being the biggest offender yet. I can't help but think that the Yellow Rain segment was created simply to be captivating and emotional. But it is not. I don't need to explain what is so wrong about this segment since so many others already have. Please bring back the old Radio Lab and stop with the sentimental stories.

Sep. 28 2012 04:04 PM

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

What about a different chemical, a different color?

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

Sep. 28 2012 03:30 PM
Bob from Eau Claire, WI

The PubMed database of studies on Yellow Rain:

I hope this contributes to the conversation.

Sep. 28 2012 02:40 PM

If you have thoughts about the Yellow Rain segment, it might be a good idea to share them with and the foundations that sponsor the show.

Sep. 28 2012 12:54 PM

This ("yellow rain") game was rigged, as in most episodes. Harvard/science v. Yang/humanity was unsurprising. It's the intensity and the shamelessness of the rigging that is shocking in this case. What Krulwich did (what we hear, at least) to Kao Kalia and Eng was a violence, pure and simple. Looking forward to following the back-pedaling and apologia that more or less has to ensue.

Sep. 28 2012 12:50 PM

I am extremely disappointed and angered after listening to this segment. The search for 'Truth'.. really? To doubt the interviewer's account of what happened. Wow. Just wow.

They need to watch this:

Sep. 28 2012 12:30 PM
Juan Vasquez

Radio Lab and Robert Krulwich need to apoligize for this debacle in the forum that it occured ON THE SHOW. Jed's snarky "context" is not sufficient to address the harm they did to these people on the show.

Sep. 28 2012 11:47 AM

WNYC Laura Walker:
NPR CEO Gary Knell:
NPR's Ombudsman: (202) 513-3232
NPR's Board of Directors:
WNYC's Board of Trustees and Meetings (Oct. 4):

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

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

Turns out I was wrong.

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

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

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

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

Sep. 28 2012 08:23 AM

I can not even begin to articulate my disappointment with Radiolab both with the Yellow Rain story and it's self-serving response. There are ways to compel them and NPR into a conversation, but it's not by reaching out to the show. I mean, after this, it's obvious Radiolab won't really listen to anyone and Krulwich is just a hostile and mean person who won't listen to reason.

I hope everyone who is vocal on this comment board will create an organized response ( petition? I'd sign it.) that they take to NPR's CEO Gary Knell, WNYC's Laura Walker, NPR's ombudsman Edward Schumacher-Matos as well as Radiolab's funders. Or maybe even a protest outside one of their live shows, I'm sure those buying tickets may not even be aware of the Yellow Rain controversy. There are ways to make Radiolab listen. Sadly, it can't be through a conversation with them because they'll just ignore it.

Oh, and finally, this was the last straw. I'm done with Radiolab. The whole thing makes me question all of your stories. You have no integrity. I guess the only good thing about Yellow Rain and Radiolab's response reveals its true colors.

Sep. 28 2012 07:54 AM
Silence Do Good Gauge from St. Louis

I've been reading a book by Edward de Bono that helps understand the wrong in the Yellow Rain story. de Bono describes how science has failed to advance the understanding of perception. He explains the false dichotomy logic has in providing answers. Most problem's don't have an answer or there are so many logic fails to hint at the best. de Bono says we must advance the science of perception. Perception is not binary. de Bono describes three decision points in perception.

1. Truth
2. Fallacy
3. PO (The right reserve judgement for a future data).

In understanding the false dichotomy of logic it is apparent why religion has been so polarizing. Not because religion is bad. It is because religion is based on belief not logic. The science of perception is better equipped to deal with belief than logic.

The Do Good Gauge thesis advances perception through association. Association is nothing new, David Hume discusses it Chapter IV of "A Treatise of Human Nature" title "Of the Connection and Associations of Ideas" in 1740.

I have a suggestion to explain Eng and Kao Kalia Yang's story of the Hmong people. I'll start the story by copying thoughts acquired from Wikipedia. Others will have to apply association. Unlike a binary form of "Facts", the Do Good Gauge sees association as a better method to acquire a higher level of perception.

This exercise will require those familiar with the plight of the Hmong people to associate their knowledge. For those in contact with Pat Walters please advice him of the concept of Association and how it relates to facts. It's not that his story of Yellow Rain is wrong, it just he misjudged the role of belief and perception with truth.

The Do Good Gauge website is a prototype for a better way of discourse. Association is one of the tools it demonstrates. Please create an account and help build the story of the Hmong people. Let's exercise a collaborative effort to clarify perceptions.

Sep. 28 2012 05:54 AM
BA from Seattle, WA

Re: Ben - "...neither side of the 'yellow rain' has absolute conclusive evidence that biochemical warfare was or was not used....negative results of one study absolutely does not confirm that chemical weapons, be it 'yellow rain' or perhaps a different unidentified source (or perhaps identified but not yet released by the U.S)

Yes, exactly. What motives did all of those governments have either way? Why dismiss an experience that hundreds of people from across several countries have described similarly? Perhaps Jad's sumary from this story should have been that we all want to think we know the truth, but there is still so much more to every story.

Sep. 27 2012 05:00 PM

One day in about 2040, a person born today who is a ph.d historian or actuary scientist will come to conclusion that 9/11 wasn't technically a tragedy because 3000 deaths is a fraction of the lives lost in the Revolutionary War (50,000), Civil War(650,000) and WWII(1,076,245). 3000 deaths isn't even comparable to the amount of car crash deaths per year(37,261 in 2008) or death from Suicide per year(37,00 in 2009) so it's not a event worth calling a tragedy. That person may even argue that, breathing in debris isn't technically deadly by itself. All those things may be correct as facts and numbers but try telling that to someone who was in NY that day. Who lost someone in that tragedy. Try telling that to a person who watched it on TV and was alive that day.
It's easy to put science and research on a pedestal because it's how modern society defines facts and it is usually correct but in the end all observation whether in a lab or in life is a matter of human judgement. No matter how much you believe in lab work and the scientific method, BEING THERE makes a source more credible than a PH.D and a spectrometer.

Sep. 27 2012 03:26 PM
Nathaniel Cannon from State College, PA

It is clear at the end of things that the intent of this piece was to string together loosely associated facts surrounding the yellow rain story in order to paint a broad brush picture of the State manipulating a conflict, and potentially falsifying data to do so, in order to elicit support for military development. Setting aside how horribly shallow and irresponsible THAT piece is on its own, we are confronted with the real heart of the story and how that heart is caught in the crosshairs of what essentially amounts to a sciencey gloss-piece to prove a political point. It's clear they set out with this intent from the beginning; to ultimately discount some rube from "the styx of Southeast Asia" to argue that the ignorant accounts of a bewildered and besieged people was misappropriated by the U.S. government. The Hmong story is just fodder here, and any Hmong insistence contrary to the story's narrative was bound to be trampled.

Kalia pleads that there is so little heart left among the Hmong, and I hurt to see what little heart there is ripped out and stomped like that. All for the sake of some speculative editorializing. Sure, speculation is interesting and a useful tool. The balancing of science as an objective pursuit of truth and as a political tool is essential reading. And getting to the truth of how the State uses deceit to gain power is universally important. But some truths are more important than others. And some truths are so important that, once stumbled upon, they will monopolize the story no matter what. We see that unfolding right here in the responses to this piece. I hope that process of unfolding monopolization, painful as it was to arrive at for those involved, begins to put back a measure of strength into the hearts of the Hmong.

I wanted to write this as a raw reaction, and then read others' comments. I just want to add in response to Aarons thoughts that the "real knowledge and experience that were gifted" in that interview really were gifts, and the beneficiaries of it are grateful.

Sep. 27 2012 02:48 PM
Diane from MN

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

Sep. 27 2012 02:40 PM

@A.M. The show was actually insidious because neither side of the 'yellow rain' has absolute conclusive evidence that biochemical warfare was or was not used. If you listen carefully and research the history, you'll realize that negative results of one study absolutely does not confirm that chemical weapons, be it 'yellow rain' or perhaps a different unidentified source (or perhaps identified but not yet released by the U.S.), and certainly does not implicate false testimony on behalf of Yang. In fact, the British Ministry of Defense concluded chemical attacks "probably did occur" based on epidemiological evidence and ALL of the similar testimony, despite the fact that no one could track down the supplier or the specific incidents. (Source:

Radiolab might have convinced you that they had proof he was lying, in fact they did not have this proof.

Sep. 27 2012 01:43 PM
A.M. Germain from Philadelphia, PA

I can't believe how many people are arguing that "emotional understanding" is more important than the TRUTH. I agree that it seems stupid to press an emotional person on the details of a tragedy, but the notion that "victimhood" gives one the right to change REALITY (even if subconscious or unintentional) is positively LUDICROUS. Think about all the cases we have of people being falsely convicted or even put to death on the basis of victims incorrectly identifying their perpetrators.

A victim can't be blamed for not fully understanding a traumatic event, but the notion that FALSE CLAIMS shouldn't be challenged because it will hurt someone's feelings is misguided and dangerous. Uncovering the truth does not trivialize actual tragedy.

Lastly, it seems ironic that people are accusing the reporters of sensational journalism given the fact that they are trying to CORRECT falsely reported sensationalist/yellow journalistic news stories of the past. Their work was sloppy and indelicate, but not sensationalist.

Sep. 27 2012 01:30 PM
BNK from WashDC

Come on Radiolab. If you took this seriously, then turn it up to 11.

No it wasn't "cheap theatrics". But even I recognized that nothing was to be scientifically gained by pressing a single atrocity survivor 2, 3, 4 times like a hostile witness. If you want to pursue that course, why didn't you survey a sample of 1000 survivors with say, 2 clarifying questions?

Informed consent. From his final comments, it seemed like Mr. Yang consented to the interview under a different premise than the show's. Was he so badly misinformed or did he badly misunderstand? Or was it poor editing? Investigative ethics.

Mr. Krulwich's defense seemed illogical. As I heard it, he made it seem as if Mr. Yang sought to steal or reframe the narrative. I hope this was simply a thoughtless remark.

Sep. 27 2012 12:07 PM
Diane from MN

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

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

Sep. 27 2012 10:34 AM
Diane from MN

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

Sep. 27 2012 10:16 AM

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep. 27 2012 06:36 AM
RadiobadHz from WI

Hmong people do not care about Yellow Rain. I've never heard of it until now. You are wrong in thinking that we've somehow tied our sob story to the existence of Yellow Rain as a weapon. The one who cares so much about Yellow Rain, and who so unapologetically asserts that IT is the bigger story, is the Cold-War obsessed gentleman on your show who speaks with a lisp (I don't care that he has a lisp, but I didn't know how else to identify him). He is so worried about the hypothetical dead from Ronald Reagan's unused bio-chemical weapons, that he doesn't even give a thought or consideration about the actual Hmong people whose lives ended or where forever drastically altered by their participation and aid to the US during the Vietnam War. Now I have no delusions that you guys give a rats ass about Hmong people, and I know that was not the point of your piece (like they said we are no longer surprised by America's reluctance to give us a place in its history), but did you make it clear to your guests that the sole purpose for their appearance on the show was to be discredited and talked down to? Lisp guy is so focused on being right that he completely overlooks his own actions and instead finds fault in hers! I sure hope that I never become as emotionally retarded as this man.

Sep. 27 2012 02:17 AM
Elizabeth Adams

Thank you, Robert Krulwich, for mansplaining the Hmong genocide to its survivors. If you think that US policy on the manufacture of as-yet unused chemical weapons is more important than the _actual_ people who died, you are a racist. In trying to impress that idea upon a genocide survivor, your callousness only confirms your bigotry. You should be ashamed of yourself. We are all ashamed and appalled on your behalf.

I hope you take the time not only to apologize on the air and do a full show to redress our ignorance and cultural amnesia about the Hmong, but also to reeducate yourself on how to keep racism out of 'science' -- it's not like they have a history together or anything! What are you going to do to combat the structural bias that has been so clearly operating through you?

Sep. 27 2012 12:59 AM
Penny from Melbourne, Australia

Please contact the Yangs and show them how strongly Radiolab's audience have responded to this story and the interview that was conducted. Eng Yang agreed to do the interview saying ‘he agreed to do this interview because you were interested… [and] the world has been uninterested for the last 20 years’ he says that he wanted ‘that the story would be heard…’ Radiolab listeners are showing (through these comments) clear interest in the Eng’s story and have been moved by what he wanted to communicate.
Please, ask him to tell the story the way he would like to tell it and air that story.
My own response to the story is conflicted, but I would like to thank Radiolab for making the difficult decision to air this interview.

Sep. 26 2012 09:14 PM

It's been said before, but the thing that was most distressing about this interview was Krulwich insistently asking for proof from a survivor of genocide--proof that he could not hope to provide. This is tantamount to asking a concentration camp survivor whether they actually had proof that gas was used to kill their family. It's not just insensitive and it doesn't just miss the point. He knows that the interviewee CAN'T have that kind of proof (did he have a lab with him?) and yet asks him over and over, emphasizing that in this case, the interviewee's experience and loss is not what matters, an extremely limited scientific investigation is. You could have said "hey, we think maybe it wasn't the yellow rain that caused the deaths, but it could have been (and likely was) some other form of chemical warfare." That is the intellectually charitable response: there is some truth in each story. Picking on someone who was already audibly upset earlier in the interview about their particular belief about the specific chemical cause of their people's genocide is absolutely outrageous.

Sep. 26 2012 08:41 PM
Josh from Bellingham

This was a great story. Never knew about the Hmong. Though Mr. Krulwich is most likely correct, there is a right time and place to stand your ground. Its like telling a grieving mother that her son died with all the correct facts as you dismiss her human ideas of wanting justice followed by peace which may not stem from accurate information. There is obviously still some grieving with this family, right or wrong. I am glad you played this though.

Sep. 26 2012 07:30 PM
Paul Hillmer from St. Paul, MN

I sent a copy of this to the NPR ombudsman, who I think needs to be involved in this story:

This piece had all the intellectual maturity, journalistic integrity, and noble humanity of a wet t-shirt contest. It’s insulting, culturally chauvinistic, and a lethal blend of ignorance and arrogance.
1) Walters and Krulwich act more like stenographers than journalists in this story, blindly accepting stories told by a CIA officer (they ALWAYS tell the public the truth) and a scientist who is primarily interested in proving something didn’t happen (how’s that for objectivity?).
2) Dr. Meselson is set up as the only expert and the final word on yellow rain and all the studies that came before him. In fact, Walters and Krulwich INTENTIONALLY OMIT more recent studies that find fault with Meselson’s conclusions. While the State Department did not give permission for an interview with Meselson’s chief critic, they had access to the work, people involved with it, and summaries of it, but just decided (I’m sure because of their great expertise in microbiology, bacteriology, epidemiology, etc.) that they knew more than real scientists. They also don’t tell you that the Hmong kept bees and collected honey.
3) In bizarrely juxtaposing the suffering and death of thousands of Hmong with their juvenile obsession with bee poop, Walters and Krulwich serve to marginalize and trivialize the Hmong and make it clear that they think the entire culture is composed of people too ignorant, traumatized, and superstitious to actually know what they’re talking about.
4) They go to interview Eng Yang having already made up their minds. They plan to learn nothing of value from him. Their pseudo-certitude encourages them to verbally pistol-whip two people who have no idea what they’re in for. Again, Walters and Krulwich’s “authority” is based on willfully dismissing legitimate scientific criticisms of Meselson’s work.
5) Krulwich, who has already shown his true colors in the interview, whines haughtily afterward because the Yangs are “monopolizing” “his” interview. He is clearly far more interested in sticking it to Reagan, and the Hmong are just setpieces in the “more important” story he wants to tell.
6) This piece revealed more about the willful ignorance and woeful arrogance of the interviewers than it did about yellow rain, the Reagan Doctrine, or the Hmong people who were so appallingly misused and abused in this travesty of a story.
I myself am agnostic on the subject of yellow rain. Matthew Meselson may be right, but he is not the last word. I certainly have no stake in trying to defend the reputation of Ronald Reagan. But this shoddy hatchet job had no place on your airwaves, and Walters and especially Krulwich owe Eng and Kao Kalia Yang a sincere and abject apology.

Sep. 26 2012 07:09 PM
Sheelue from St. Paul, MN

As a journalism major and a member of the Hmong community, I can't explain how disappointed I am in Radiolab's journalistic integrity. In an exploration to find "truth," Radiolab has not only disregarded but dismissed the excruciating pain of the Hmong and their on-going journey for truth and justice.

Sep. 26 2012 06:42 PM
Shell from Stanford, CA

Most disturbing segment from radiolab I have ever heard. It was disrespectful to both the interviewer and the translator-- and the Hmong experience.

Sep. 26 2012 06:13 PM

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

Sep. 26 2012 04:26 PM
Andreas from Sweden

Unfortunately I'm such a slow typist that I hadn't read Aarons response before I clicked "Post Comment" so I'll take this opportunity instead to say thank you for your recap of the interview.

I also wanted to link to Jads response to some of the feedback:

Sep. 26 2012 03:48 PM
Andreas from Sweden

@Sandra Comstock:
"[...]and second in the radio lab's use of their story and words and pathos as mere decoration to a story about something altogether different."

Leaving aside that you're laying a heavy burden on Radiolab for a moment, is it just that though? Isn't cold, hard facts (or at least witness statements that concur with the available evidence) a lot harder to refute or create doubt around? Obviously those are hard to come by even at the best of times, let alone in wartime and in an already desperate situation (or a long time after the events took place for that matter) but still, shouldn't that be the goal?

At least to me it seems that to settle for less unless you really have to is to do the people you're trying to help a disservice. This because while for a lot of people that will be enough and for good reasons, for a lot of others it won't (for some good, some not so good reasons). Also and maybe more importantly, for better or for worse - in the end, the more you have to back up your claims the easier it is to hold people responsible and maybe (and I know this is a stretch) prevent it from happening again.

Certainly calling things into question can be used to belittle and dismiss peoples experiences but it is my sincere belief that it could also be used to empower the disenfranchised. How to best do that isn't always obvious, which I guess is a lot of what we are arguing about.

Now, which brings me back to my initial statement, I don't think this is the main purpose or even necessarily the responsibility of this show or the job of just these journalists but the domain of a lot of professionals and activists, not least the ones you mention. While I'm thankful for the insightful comments you made I still think you're being way too harsh and more than a little speculative about the producers intentions. That's not to say things couldn't have and probably should've have been handled differently in light of the excellent points you bring up.

Lastly, I'd also like to praise all the well thought out (and for the most part, well mannered) arguments, critique and discussions here - that, if nothing else, has surely given me a lot to think about and I don't think I'm alone in that.

Sep. 26 2012 03:16 PM

In addition to Anne Fadiman's book. Kao Kalia Yang, from this story, is also the author of "the Latehomecomer" an award winning memoir about her family's experiences in the war, in the refugee camps, and as new arrivals in the United States. Not sure why this was omitted in the broadcast.

Sep. 26 2012 02:51 PM
mitch from wisconsin

aaron: thanks for those behind-the-scene insights.

the only thing i'm grateful for here is that so many have immediately seen the despicably narrow and ungenerous approach Radiolab has taken to "seek the truth" here. whatever you hoped to win by this manufactured gotcha moment, i hope you can see how much respect and credibility you've lost.

now the question remains: how will you respond?

Sep. 26 2012 02:42 PM
dani from NY, NY

If you want to better understand the Hmong, their culture, their involvement in the war, and history of relations with the US, read "The Spirit Catches You and You Fall Down" by Anne Fadiman. Probably one of the best books you will ever read.

Sep. 26 2012 02:31 PM

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

Turns out I was wrong.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sep. 26 2012 02:26 PM
Daniel Ayer from San Francisco

I felt very sorry for Krulwich in this interview. It might have been the editing, or it might have been his zeal for "the truth," but he did not sound like a journalist to me. A journalist is after truth. However, an interview is not about finding the truth of the matter, but in finding the truth as known or ascribed to by the interviewee. Upon unifying many interviews and other source materials the journalist creates a narrative and allows the audience to come to their own conclusions; even if there is a particular conclusion the journalist is hoping his audience comes to.
Kao Kalia Yang was dead on when she lamented that the interview was missing the forest for the trees, so to speak. Krulwich was so intent on leveling the claim that Reagan had leveraged the Hmong genocide to create chemical weapons that he failed to simply report the narrative of truth as relayed by an eye witness. In so doing Miss Yang fairly pointed out in both words and tone that the original horror of the events her uncle witnessed was compounded by this new and continuing politicization of the Hmong experience.
I was also sad to see that the basic journalistic integrity of fact checking was left out of this piece on "truth." The basic fact to check, and which remains in question, is this: How long does this mycotoxin last in nature? As a biologist by training I have a bevy of questions. Could bees infected by a fungus (myco toxin comes from fungus after all) create toxic bee droppings? Could the toxin initially identified have degraded or been metabolized by other organisms or processes during the intervening time between tests? Could aerial spraying of chemical weapons force bees out of their sleep and therefore cause them to perform this cleansing flight? Why were none of these questions addressed?
I fear that the real answer has to do more with logistics than with a lack of imagination. However, the fact that no attempt to validate the narrative of the Hmong interviewees bodes poorly for the RadioLab team. I love your program, and will continue to listen to future episodes. That does not mean I support what you did in this piece. I hope this leads to a better RadioLab with more journalistic integrity and "truth" than this episode showed.

Thank You,

-Daniel Ayer

Sep. 26 2012 01:52 PM

I guess I want to know that you guys get it. Yes this is a huge story involving the biggest players. But I want to know that you get it that what came across was - We can discredit the witness - they dont know what happened to them. No it wasnt poison that killed them its just they were tired and sick and covered in bee feces.
I am not sure if there is any person who could go through the ordeal the Hmong have gone through and have an interviewer tell them - By the way what you thought was toxic its just bee poop haha.
One of my co-workers is Hmong and was telling me how there are videos and photos his family has showing deformed children that they attribute to the chemical weapons used on the villagers. I really hope you understand what you did.

Sep. 26 2012 01:19 PM
Diane from MN

This show is the wrap up after the interview. There has been no apology from the editors. The Hmong community is still waiting.

Sep. 26 2012 12:36 PM
Sandra Comstock from Portland, or

I the human sciences (anthropology, sociology, psychology etc) we have an ethical code of conduct ( human subjects review) which involves a pretty-interview/experiment write up considering the possible harm that interacting with others for the purposes of inquiry and research may have on those human subjects. It has been developed precisely to address the power differentials that exist between researchers and the persons they are often interested in - often people who have experienced trauma of some kind or are in other ways socially marginal. One of the requirements of our humans subjects review is that we disclose accurately the purposes of the interviews they are asked to take part in.

According to the standards for involving human subjects in most fields of inquiry, and particularly so for those who have faced this type of oppression, silencing, and trauma, the ethical approach would have been to disclose from the beginning to the laoations you interviewed that purposes to which their participation would be put. Unless radio lab was entirely ignorant of the fact that yellow rain was not chemical warfare, your choice to involve those unsuspecting people was deceitful and deeply self serving and cruel. Indeed the story could have easily been told without those interviews.

The point the translator makes about the fact that people have not cared about the terrible tragedy which befell these people - that the American government and most of the American public cared nothing for what befell those people for supporting the US in Vietnam -until it served the interests of others ... Is true twice over. First in the US govt abandonment and silence on Laos until yellow rain presented political and tactical opportunities , and second in the radio lab's use of their story and words and pathos as mere decoration to a story about something altogether different. Their inclusion in the story was to mislead and surprise your radio audience wasn't about those people and what they experienced. They served to set up a particular story arc ... Ultimately, I think the fact of non-disclosure to your interviewees and the ways in which their story was more about story arc than story substance suggest that this piece was deeply exploitative... And even the way the translator's last words were framed ... Felt that way - exploitative of her suffering ... She wasn't given a chance to speak back or address the conversation that radio lab guys had following.

Journalists need a thoughtful process for considering the potential harm their work may have for those involved - especially when those involved experienced trauma, tragedy, exploitation and silencing such as this.. I would hope you would give those people a chance a) to respond to the segment and b) a chance to tell their story on their own terms .... about what happened to them and why it is the world only cares when in serves some other purpose..

Sandra Comstock reed college

Sep. 26 2012 12:30 PM
Jondy from Kansas City, MO

I thought the interview was significantly mishandled. But I don't think Radio Lab did a sufficient job of even disproving yellow rain (which seemed to have been the "gotcha moment" that backfired). All they proved was that many labs tested bee feces. A conclusion was made that all the samples that were tested was that same thing that the Hmong people were seeing when attacked. That was never satisfactorily proved.

It seems more plausible to assume that, although an effort was made, a sample of the yellow rain that killed many (verified by eye witness accounts) was never acquired for testing. The subsequent samples that were taken were merely bee feces assumed to have been the same substance. Shouldn't that assumption be scientifically scrutinized? Seems like a case of a "straw man" that was intended to cast judgment on the actions of the US governemnt while dismissing the pain of an entire people.

Sep. 26 2012 12:27 PM
Rebecca from Michigan

I am a huge fan of Radiolab. I share your show with friends, family, fellow doctoral students and professors (we have even discussed certain episodes in class). But wow, after hearing this segment, I think you may have lost me. The arrogance, ignorance, flippancy, and downright cruelty displayed by Krulwich in this interview was appalling. The only bright spot here is getting to read the thoughtful and insightful comments of fellow fans. Please take our objections to heart, issue an apology, and invite them back on the show to tell their story (if you haven't already destroyed any semblance of trust).

Sep. 26 2012 11:07 AM
Jim from New Rochelle, NY

I have to question the professional judgement of a journalist that continues on a line which clearly provides zero upside to the story even if that journalist is correct in his skepticism. What a hero you would be if you could have just gotten that lying old villager to admit that you were right and that it wasn't the bee poop but maybe just the bullets, "conventional" bombs and other more traditional methods of murdering entire villages of people and forcing them to flee their generational homes that upset him so much. This of course all happening after they were abandoned by the United States Commie Fighting Brigades.

No one advocates for tough journalism and confrontation of factual inaccuracies more than I do. Especially given today's world of he said/she said journalism. But this was clearly a situation that did not call for that type of questioning. This was an interviewee who was a victim and who was relating his experience which was clearly very difficult to do. Mr. Krulwich I do not know who you were trying to be a hero to by showcasing your unbelievable tone-deafness in this particular instance. You were meanly seeking accountability from a place it could not come from.

The most painful part of it all was that you already proved your point to the audience well before it became your zealous mission to extract a confession from the poor man. We had much more respect for his culture and perceived history than you could ever understand.

Disappointed would be an understatement. This was so bad on many levels. I I need to see some follow up on this before I can feel comfortable listening to your fantastic show again.

Sep. 26 2012 10:57 AM
Erik from Austin

I agree with many of the other comments here, this was handled inappropriately by the interviewers. The people here have experienced the trauma of war and an injustice with no comfort or resolution. Presenting the "facts" of your investigation with no attempt to acknowledge their experiences and loss and instead offering evidence to question them, especially by an outsider, appears callous to the listener.

Sep. 26 2012 09:16 AM
Aaron from Toledo

I also felt compelled to share my disappointment.

This story was far from the usual Radiolab quality, thoughtfulness, and storytelling. It came across as insensitive, disrespectful, and outright shameful. The Yangs did not deserve to be treated the way the where.

While I understand the story trying to be told and Robert's perspective, there are a thousand other ways 'perspectives on Truth' could have been told that don't insult victims of genocide or question the 'Truth' of their experiences.

Radiolab owes them, and the Hmong, an apology and the opportunity to share their story, without the ambush journalism.

Sep. 26 2012 08:52 AM



Sep. 26 2012 08:27 AM
Andreas from Sweden

Firstly I'd definitely agree with previous posters about the powerful impact this segment had, especially the ending with the long, heavy silence that followed the last part of the interview. Knowing a bit (although not as much as I'd want, thanks for the links!) about the persecution of the Hmong and the chaotic situation on the ground during the time described, it was heartbreaking listening to the rightful frustration and sorrow in the voice of the interviewees.

I would however disagree with those that seem to suggest that cultural truths (or narratives, or what have you) should trump scientific truth so I actually appreciated that you didn't yield on that point and unlike some I don't necessarily think it either detracted from or lessened the impact the story of the suffering of the Hmong (and many others involved in the conflict). I would also point out that we don't really know exactly how the interview got wrapped up or what might have been said afterwards that either got edited out or didn't get recorded at all and I would therefore be cautious about calling anyone "sociopathic" or the segment "yellow journalism" and the like, I think the people behind Radiolabs have earned that much courtesy from us listeners.

With that said, I think the situation probably could have been handled better with regards not so much to the tough questions as to the line of questioning in total and perhaps some of the phrasing of the questions. It is however, hard to tell how what might have been done without knowing more about the editorial considerations that were made and probably other details as well which is why, considering the response this episode has gotten (at least here in the comments), a clarification probably is in order. Perhaps as a short, a blogpost or a addendum to the next episode. If nothing else it would give the producers a chance to defend themselves and hopefully also give the people that were upset by how the situation was handled some explanations, if not closure. I think (perhaps naively) the excuses or explanations to Eng and Kao Kalia Yang already have been done and if not, probably would mean more if made directly and if possible in person, not as a part of a general statement.

Small caveat about the tone (and spelling) of this message, since English obviously isn't my first language it's somewhat difficult to convey some nuances pitch perfect, hopefully the essence comes through at least.

Sep. 26 2012 08:26 AM

The Fact of the Matter?

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

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

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

PS: Click ctrl+f and search for "disappointed" on this page, and sit in awe at how many times it can be found.

Sep. 26 2012 08:16 AM

I have an actual truth for you. After listening to this episode, I'm done with Radiolab. Krulwich, you're insensitivity was mind boggling. The Hmong survivor was not the person to be questioned about this. You don't even have all the facts! Just because one substance was misidentified, that doesn't mean another didn't exist. I'm not even going to get into this any further. Others have posted good critiques that I need not repeat.

Sep. 26 2012 08:04 AM
Krista from Ireland

I listened to the "Truth" podcast yesterday and can't stop thinking about it. The yellow rain part specifically. It was really interesting and illustrated how a perception incorrect or otherwise can set off a chain of events..especially ironic and weighty when informing political and cold war superpowers. I think you were trying to point to this fact, that such colossal decisions could be based on untruths, perceptions. I also think, krulwich, that you were trying to encourage the interviewee to challenge his beliefs about what really happened. But...and this is huge..your stance, method and approach was shockingly insensitive. I mean cringeworthy and to be honest deeply offensive. What happened there is that by being so aggressive, arrogant and unempathetic to your interviewee to illustrate the "truth" you completely alienated them and they shut down. Then the interview went from being about historical fact and perception to honoring the despair and suffering of the subjects. If you could have treated the subjects with deep empathy, gentleness and made a deep effort to put yourself in their shoes you may have been able to open the truths, encouraged them to see that there may have been other causes for the deaths (than the yellow rain as they believed) in a way that honored their loss and didn't diminish it.

Sep. 26 2012 06:33 AM
Shannon from Deutschland

Radiolab is about pealing back layers to deepen our appreciation of an issue and to remember that a story doesn't have two sides- it has innumerable sides. And innumerable weights assigned to these sides. I would have been disappointed if, in an interview, the host didn't ask an eyewitness to clarify not only their broader personal account, but to provide insights into details that have come into question over time. This is done in the fields of journalism and humanitarian/human rights all the time. Interviews can be painful. Anyone who has been on either side of interviewing (and recalling atrocities of any sort) knows this. My heart goes out to this woman, her uncle and all people who suffer in war and violence. But if we are going to deepen our understanding of history, and learn to question "facts" taught to us by elected leaders, we have to accept that painful, pointed (and sometimes ungraceful) interviews are part of the process. Thanks radiolab.

Sep. 26 2012 05:47 AM
Eli Sweet from Atlanta via Chengdu

I am a big fan of Radiolab, but I agree that Krulwich comes off as insensitive here.

I agree that the use of the yellow rain as a justification for the US manufacture of weapons is not irrelevant.

But they could have done a better job of communicating the reason for the line of inquiry to the interviewees. It seemed like they felt that the purpose was to indict their version of history, and undermine the legitimacy of their suffering. While the former may not have been Krulwich's intent, the latter was clearly the perceived outcome.

Sep. 26 2012 03:50 AM
Harmond from Philippines

I feel for the community and the lady who cried but there's no to issue an apology. The nature of the topic is to dig deep on the matter and I may sound arrogant here but versions of reality/truth can be hurtful for other people. There was not intent, I assume there wasn't, for the show to make the guest feel as if they were wrong. Think of the our time when we defended our thesis proposals, that much as we think we've covered all grounds, our professor continue to pinpoint loopholes. The episode came as though there's an attempt to paint out all perspectives, without saying that the story of the guest was not right

Sep. 26 2012 03:11 AM
Vinny from Los Angeles

Bravo. You guys never cease to amaze. So impressed Radiolab was brave enough to broadcast such a powerful segment, especially considering the potential to come across as bullies. So rare in today's media- you guys got my respect.

Sep. 26 2012 03:10 AM

Wow I am so disappointed in this show after hearing this story. A formal apology should be issued for the way it was handled. Regardless of the fact that the yellow rain wasn't a chemical weapon it should not undermine the terrible genocide at hand. Please issue an apology.

Sep. 26 2012 02:39 AM
JB from NYC

I am also disappointed in Radiolab. Just focusing on the fact that the yellow rain was not the cause is not sufficient for a good story. Bringing the story to an end where Krulwich confronts the result arrogantly to the victims doesn't make it better. (Even worse the laughing before blending over to the next part of the episode made it worser). You should have broadcast the story only then when you had a plausible explanation for the victims what actually caused their deaths instead of the yellow rain and who was responsible for that.

Sep. 26 2012 01:40 AM
Der from St. Paul, MN

Really, Krulwich? Really? Hearsay? Monopolizing the interview? What a poor job you did. What a poor soul you have. Not only for your complete refusal to actually inquire the interviewed, but your lime light hoarding. When you go back to listen to this segment, do you cringe and hear that weird ringing in you ear? If you do, then perhaps your humanity is still salvageable.

Epic fail Radiolab and Krulwich.

Sep. 26 2012 01:04 AM
Diane from MN

Maria from LA: Your point is correct which is why I have a real hard time understanding the goals of the editors of this story. It was cruel for them to confront Yang and edit his story out while keeping his niece's anguished plea for them to stop and return to the story they told Yang the story would be, which Krulwich in his elitist arrogance accused the translator for having an ulterior agenda. The translator was pushing for the Radiolab's agenda! The editors should've confronted Reagan's mouthpieces but instead they were too lazy to do that and d