The Science of Racism: Radiolab's Treatment of Hmong Experience

October 22, 2012

photo courtesy of author


On September 24, NPR show Radiolab aired a 25-minute segment on Yellow Rain. In the 1960s, most Hmong had sided with America in a secret war against the Pathet Lao and its allies. More than 100,000 Hmong died in this conflict, and when American troops pulled out, the rest were left to face brutal repercussions. Those who survived the perilous journey to Thailand carried horrific stories of an ongoing genocide, among them accounts of chemical warfare.

Their stories provoked a scientific controversy that still hasn't been resolved. In its podcast, Radiolab set out to find the "fact of the matter." Yet its relentless badgering of Hmong refugee Eng Yang and his niece, award-winning author and activist Kao Kalia Yang, provoked an outcry among its listeners, and its ongoing callous, racist handling of the issue has since been criticized in several places, including Hyphen.

When Hyphen's R.J. Lozada reached out to Kao Kalia Yang, she graciously agreed to share her side of the story for the first time. What follows are her words, and those of her uncle.


I was pregnant. 

In early spring, a dear friend of mine,
noted Hmong scholar and historian Paul Hillmer, contacted me to see if I knew anyone
who would be willing to speak to Radiolab, an NPR show with 1.8 million
listeners worldwide. On April 26, 2012, I
received an email from Pat Walters, a producer at Radiolab, saying the show was
looking for the Hmong perspective on Yellow Rain for a podcast. Pat wrote, “I’d love to speak with your
uncle. And no, I don’t have a single specific question; I’d be delighted to hear
him speak at length.” There were two New Yorker stories on Yellow Rain, and
neither of them contained a Hmong voice, so Radiolab wanted to do better, to
include Hmong experience. This seemed
like an important opportunity to give the adults in my life a voice to share
stories of what happened to them after the Americans left the jungles of Laos
in 1975. I asked Uncle Eng to see if he
would be interested. He was. I agreed to serve as interpreter. Before the date of the interview with Pat and
Robert Krulwich, one of the show’s main hosts, 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.

On the date of
the interview, Wednesday May 16, 2012, at 10 in the morning,
Marisa Helms (a Minnesota-based sound producer sent by Radiolab), my husband,
and I met with Uncle Eng’s family at their house in Brooklyn Center. In customary Hmong tradition, my uncle had
laid out a feast of fruits and fruit drinks from the local Asian grocery
store. He had risen early, went through
old notebooks where he’d documented in Lao, Thai, Hmong, and a smattering of
French and English, recollections of Hmong history, gathered thoughts, and
written down facts of the time. The
phone lines were connected to WNYC studios.

Pat and Robert introduced themselves and asked
us for our introductions. The questions
began. They wanted to know where my
uncle was during the war, what happened after the Americans left, why the Hmong
ran into the jungles, what happened in the jungles, what was his experience of
Yellow Rain. Uncle Eng responded to each
question. The questions took a
turn. The interview became an
interrogation. A Harvard scientist said
the Yellow Rain Hmong people experienced was nothing more than bee

My uncle explained Hmong
knowledge of the bees in the mountains of Laos, said we had harvested honey for
centuries, and explained that the chemical attacks were strategic; they
happened far away from established bee colonies, they happened where there were
heavy concentrations of Hmong.  Robert
grew increasingly harsh, “Did you, with your own eyes, see the yellow powder
fall from the airplanes?” My uncle said
that there were planes flying all the time and bombs being dropped, day and
night. Hmong people did not wait around
to look up as bombs fell. We came out in
the aftermath to survey the damage. He
said what he saw, “Animals dying, yellow that could eat through leaves, grass, yellow
that could kill people -- the likes of which bee poop has never done.”

uncle explained that he was serving as documenter of the Hmong experience for
the Thai government, a country that helped us during the genocide. With his radio and notebooks, he journeyed to
the sites where the attacks had happened, watched with his eyes what had
happened to the Hmong, knew that what was happening to the Hmong were not the
result of dysentery, lack of food, the environment we had been living in or its
natural conditions. Robert crossed the
line. He said that what my uncle was
saying was “hearsay.” 

I had been trying valiantly to interpret
everything my uncle was saying, carry meaning across the chasm of English and
Hmong, but I could no longer listen to Robert’s harsh dismissal of my uncle’s
experience. After two hours, I cried,

"My uncle says for the last twenty years
he didn’t know that anyone was interested in the deaths of the Hmong
people. He agreed to do this interview
because you were interested. What
happened to the Hmong happened, and the world has been uninterested for the
last twenty years. He agreed because you
were interested. That the story would be
heard and the Hmong deaths would be documented and recognized. That’s why he agreed to the interview, that
the Hmong heart is broken and our leaders have been silenced, and what we know
has been questioned again and again is not a surprise to him, or to me. I agreed to the interview for the same
reason, that Radiolab was interested in the Hmong story, that they were
interested in documenting the deaths that happened. There was so much that was not told. Everybody knows that chemical warfare was
being used. How do you create bombs if
not with chemicals? We can play the
semantics game, we can, but I’m not interested, my uncle is not interested. We
have lost too much heart, and too many people in the process. I, I think the interview is done.”

Before we hung up the phone, I asked for
copies of the full interview. Robert
told me that I would need a court order. I offered resources I have on Yellow Rain, news articles and medical
texts that a doctor from Columbia University had sent my way, resources that
would offer Radiolab a fuller perspective of the situation in Laos and the
conditions of the Hmong exposed to the chemicals. My uncle gave Marisa a copy of a DVD he had
recorded of a Hmong woman named Pa Ma, speaking of her experiences in the
jungles of Laos after the Americans left, so that the Radiolab team would understand
the fullness of what happened to the Hmong.
After we hung up the phone, there was silence from the Radiolab

On May 18, I emailed Pat:

"I can't say that the experience of the interview was
pleasant, but it is over now. I've had a day and some hours into the night to
think about the content of the interview. My heart hurts for what transpired.
Our dead will not rise into life. The bombs fell. The yellow powder covered the
leaves and the grass, and the people suffered and died. We can only speak to
what we experienced, what we saw.” I
followed up on my offer of resources, “I said that I had old newspaper
clippings that a doctor from Columbia sent me. I do not want it aired that I
offered material I did not follow up on. If you want them, let me know. I will
make photocopies and send. If you've no time to look through them before the
completion of your show, then please also let me know so I don't waste more
heart in the effort."

May 21, Pat wrote back, “I’m editing our piece now and I will
certainly send it to you when it’s finished. Unfortunately, I don’t think time
will allow me to review the articles you mentioned.” He ended the email with a request for me to
listen to an attached song to identify whether it was Hmong or not.

On August 3, 2012, my husband
and I went in for our first ultrasound. Our baby was 19 weeks old.  The
black screen flickered to life. I saw a
baby huddled in a ball, feet planted on either side, face turned away. The room was very silent. I prodded my baby to move. I thought the volume hadn’t been turned
on. The technician was quiet. She did her measurements. She left the room. The monitor was on. I tapped my belly, asked my baby to move, so
I could see if it was a boy or a girl. Two doctors came into the room. The younger one held onto my feet. The older one said, “I’m sorry to tell you. Your baby is dead.” On August 4, after 26 hours of
induced labor, listening to the cries of mothers in pain and then the cries of
babies being born, I gave birth to a little boy, six inches long, head swollen
with liquid, eyes closed, and his mouth open like a little bird.

On August 6 my cell phone
rang. It was Pat, and he wanted me to
call in to an automated line at Radiolab reading the credits for the segment in
Hmong. I told him I had just lost my
baby. I told him I didn’t want to. He said, “If you feel better, you can call
in.” I didn’t feel better.

On September 24, 2012, Radiolab aired
their Yellow Rain segment in an episode titled “The Fact of the Matter.” Everybody in the show had a name, a
profession, institutional affiliation except Eng Yang, who was identified as “Hmong
guy,” and me, “his niece.” The fact that
I am an award-winning writer was ignored. The fact that my uncle was an official radio man and documenter of the
Hmong experience to the Thai government during the war was absent. In the interview, the Hmong knowledge of bees
or the mountains of Laos were completely edited out. 

The aired story goes something like
this: Hmong people say they were exposed
to Yellow Rain, one Harvard scientist and ex-CIA American man believe that’s
hogwash; Ronald Reagan used Yellow Rain and Hmong testimony to blame the
Soviets for chemical warfare and thus justified America's own production of chemical
warfare. Uncle Eng and I were featured
as the Hmong people who were unwilling to accept the “Truth.” My cry at the end was interpreted by Robert
as an effort to “monopolize” the story. They leave a moment of silence.
Then the team talks about how we may have shown them how war causes
pain, how Reagan’s justification for chemical warfare was a hugely important
issue to the world -- if not for “the woman” -- because clearly she doesn’t care. There was no acknowledgement that Agent
Orange and other chemicals had long been produced by the US government and used
in Southeast Asia. The team left no room
for science that questioned their own aims. Instead, they chose to end the show with hushed laughter. 

The day after the show aired, critical feedback
began streaming in on the Radiolab website. People from around the world began questioning the segment, particularly
Robert’s interrogation of a man who survived a genocidal regime. My cry had awakened something that was
“painful,” and made people “uncomfortable.” Pat wrote me to ask me to write a public response to the show so
Radiolab could publish it in the wake of the critical response and the concern
of its audience. I wrote one.  My response was,

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.

Pat did not publish my response. 

Instead, on September 26, Jad Abumrad,
the other main host of Radiolab, wrote a public letter offering more “context”
to the Yellow Rain segment. There was no
mention of the fact that they did not take up my offer to look at additional
resources that would complicate their assumptions. My friend Paul Hillmer had offered academic
research by another Ivy-league scientist that called into question the Harvard
professor’s conclusions, which the team had refused to look at. Jad wrote about journalism and integrity and
how Radiolab stands by Robert’s “robust” approach to Truth, the “science” of
the matter. 

Radiolab went into the original podcast
and altered it. In Jad’s words, he “inserted a line
in the story that puts our ending conversation in a bit more context.” 

Many Radiolab listeners used the Jad
response as a platform to dialogue and critique the show further. 

On September 30, Robert wrote a
response to address concerns about the Yellow Rain segment. He wrote, "My
intent is to question, listen, and explore.” He apologized for the “harshness” of his tone. He stated,

In this segment, our subject was
President Reagan's 1982 announcement that he believed the Soviets had
manufactured chemical weapons and were using them on Hmong people in Laos --
and a subsequent announcement by scientists at Harvard and Yale that the
President was wrong, that the so-called ‘weapons’ were not weapons at all, but
bees relieving themselves in the forest. While there had been previous accounts of this
controversy, very few journalists had asked the Hmong refugees hiding in that
forest what happened, what they'd seen. That's why we wanted to speak with Mr.
Yang and his niece, Ms. Yang.

did not mention the research they did not look at. He did not mention the Hmong knowledge of
bees. He did not mention the racism at
work, the privileging of Western education over indigenous knowledge, or the
fact that he is a white man in power calling from the safety of Time, his
class, and popular position -- to brand the Hmong experience of chemical warfare
one founded on ignorance. 

tides of audience response shifted. Whereas the majority of listeners were “uncomfortable” with what
transpired, and had called fervently for apologies to be issued to Uncle Eng
and the Hmong community, some of them were beginning to say, “Robert is a
journalist in search of truth.” Others
wrote, “At least the Hmong story was heard.” Few questioned the fullness of what had transpired; many took the
“research” of Radiolab to be thorough and comprehensive, despite the fact that
sound research by respected scholars and scientists believing that Yellow Rain
was a chemical agent used against the Hmong was not discussed or
investigated. Dr. C.J. Mirocha, the
scientist who conducted the first tests on Yellow Rain samples and found
toxins, and whose work has never been scientifically refuted, was not interviewed. The work of researchers who argued against
Meselson’s bee dung theory was also never mentioned.

On October 3, my
husband and I had a spirit releasing ceremony for Baby Jules. The day was cold. The wind bit hard. The ground was dry without the autumn
rains. We buried the memory box from the
hospital beneath a tall tree, much older than us, an old tree on a small island. We wrote letters to Baby Jules on pink
balloons and released them into the sky. I wrote, “Baby Jules, there is no need to be scared. You have been so brave already.”

On October 7, I
received an email from Dean Cappello, the Chief Content Officer at WNYC,
notifying me that Radiolab had once more “amended” the Yellow Rain podcast so that Robert could apologize at the end, specifically to Uncle Eng for
the harshness of his tone and to me for saying that I was trying to
“monopolize” the conversation. I
listened to the doctored version. In
addition to Robert’s apologies -- which completely failed to acknowledge the
dismissal of our voices and the racism that transpired/s -- Radiolab had simply
re-contextualized their position, taken out the laughter at the end, and
“cleaned” away incriminating evidence. 

On October 8, I wrote Mr.
Cappello back:

Dear Mr. Cappello,

Thank you for writing me directly. I
appreciate the gesture. When I lived in New York for several years, I became a
fan of your radio station, and grew to believe in the work you all do there in
furthering understanding.

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. I don't know how much you are aware of in regards
to this matter, but I believe there are certain things you should know very
directly from me:

My uncle and I were contacted by
Radiolab because they said they wanted to know the Hmong experience of Yellow
Rain. Ronald Reagan and American politics were not at all mentioned in any of
the correspondences between me and Radiolab. For the show to say that we were
not "ambushed" and that they have been completely honest with us from
the beginning is a falsehood.

Before the interview, I wrote Pat
specifically to tell him that I wanted to make sure Radiolab would respect what
my uncle had to share about the Hmong experience of Yellow Rain.

During the course of the entire,
unedited interview -- which I really hope that you have listened to -- Pat and
Robert dismissed my uncle's experiences again and again for two hours, thus in
the edited version: you hear me cry. Robert argues this was because my uncle
and I got angry and couldn't buy the "truth" of what the scientists
were saying, but that is not what happened.

During the interview, I told Pat and
Robert that I had additional resources about what happened in Laos, that
complicate the "bee crap" theory, and that I would be happy to share
them. After the interview, despite the fact that it left us feeling horribly, I
honored my words and wrote Pat offering the additional resources. Pat wrote
back saying that Radiolab didn't have enough time.

When the show aired, I was
distraught to hear all that had been edited out: particularly, my uncle's deep
knowledge of bees and the mountains of Laos, as well as his official role as
documenter for the Thai government on with the Hmong during this time. As well,
I was shocked to hear my uncle reduced to "Hmong guy" and me to
"his niece" while everyone else on the show was introduced with their
titles and official affiliations. This, amongst other aspects of this show,
showed a side of Radiolab and a clear privileging of Western knowledge that was
far from the truth.

After the show aired, as criticism
appeared on their site, Pat wrote me asking me for a public statement of how I
received the show. I did so and he refused to publish it, instead Jad's further
"contextualization" was put up. Not only was this disrespectful but
it was a complete dismissal of my voice on the matter. *I reiterate what I
wrote to Pat, only a white man can say a woman of color is trying to
"monopolize" a conversation he has full power of in the asking of
questions, the editing, and the contextualizing and dares to call it
"objectivity" and science.

My uncle and I agreed to an
interview on the Hmong experience of Yellow Rain. We spoke honestly and
authentically from where we were positioned. We did not try to convince anybody
of what we lived through, merely, we wanted to share it. Our treatment by
Radiolab has been humiliating and hurtful not only during the interview, the
editing process, and the airing of the original podcast, but in the continued
public letters by Jad and Robert to their audience, and revisions to the
original segment -- that continue to dismiss the validity of our voices and
perspectives, and in fact, silences them.

While I will not presume to know the
intentions of the hosts, I am responding to you very directly about what
transpired, and what they continue to do. While I respect the work of
journalism, I believe that journalistic integrity was lost in the ways Radiolab
handled my uncle and the Hmong story.

I appreciate what you have to say
about the role of journalism and the fact that many of your colleagues are now
interested in pursuing more of the Hmong story. I have a proposition for you:
that one of your colleagues do a story on the Hmong experience of what happened
in Laos after the Americans left, a story that will respect the Hmong voices,
and redeem all of our faith in good journalism that transcends cultures and
revives history so that our shared realities become more whole. I am happy to
help in any way I can. I cannot afford to give in to cynicism.

For Radiolab specifically, my uncle
has put together a small message in English for the many listeners who have
responded to him compassionately and kindly
. I want Radiolab to air his message
to their audiences, so that his voice can be heard and his message of love and
human rights can be delivered. It is short, and it is a clear reflection of
where he is positioned in all of he has said to me throughout this
whole travesty, "Me Naib, bullets didn't kill me, so how can words uttered
on airwaves I cannot see hurt me?" -- even as he suffers before me.

I await your response to this email.

There has yet to be a response.

I am no longer pregnant. I am no longer scared. I, like my baby, have been so brave already.


Introduction by Hyphen columnist Kirti Kamboj

[10/30/2012 UPDATE: Please join us at 18 Million Rising, to tell NPR that what happened is unacceptable, and Radiolab's dismissal of the Hmong experience must be addressed.]




For the people here who are saying that this act is not racist, in ways like "Not racism, more like horrible lack of empathy" or "Using a term like racism out of context in an attempt to stir up more outrage or garner more sympathy is just as offensive as misusing the term holocaust or genocide.," may I ask you what exactly is your definition of racism? What is the context it should be used in?
You have to admit, she obviously experienced it as racist. To her, the reason why she and her uncle were not treated with respect was racism. Doesn't that matter, that she experienced it that way? Who are we to argue with her experience? Gosh, that's what she's saying all along. Just hear my experience...just let my voice be heard. You don't have to believe it. Why would we bother to argue with her point by point?? It is enough to let her voice and her experience be heard!!
Yang's side includes empiricism, too. See: Yang's mention of published research that was not considered in the Radiolab piece, especially that by Dr. Mirocha. Here's a hit of empiricism for you: there is no actual conclusion as to where Yellow Rain came from. There is evidence missing and, as of yet, no certainty about how Yellow Rain was produced. Analysis of raw, --empirical-- data has been contested. Just take a look at the Wikipedia article on Yellow Rain. It chronicles the debate and shows you just how many holes there are in the data. Yang's point is that the Hmong side of the data was ignored, glossed over, handled dismissively. It's not that the white U.S. folks have the empirical data vs. the Hmong with their personal experience. And, by the way, personal experience actually can count as empirical data. Empirical data actually means information acquired by observation using any of the 5 senses, which is what Eng Yang provided the Radiolab interviewers with.
Let me begin by saying that I believe that there is a clear and important relationship between racism and the production and handling of the RadioLab “Yellow Rain” segment. I’ll add that if you don’t believe the same, then I have no pretensions of convincing you otherwise. We simply disagree over the definition of racism. However, if you are undecided, then I hope that my perspective will prove persuasive. I understand racism as “a system of advantage based on race.” In the US, that advantage is accorded to people who have come to be known as white. We can even measure the extent of the advantage by studying certain social metrics: life expectancy, educational attainment, net worth, rates of incarceration, etc. In other words, we can measure racism. Again, we may disagree over the definition, but at least you now know why I believe that racism is a system. If racism is a system, then there are elements that operate within it. One way to think about these elements is as “racial projects.” Racial projects redistribute resources along racial lines. They can be as basic as laughing at a racist joke or as large and complex as the war in Vietnam. The “Yellow Rain” segment falls somewhere in between. Some racial projects become especially powerful when they are authorized within social institutions such as, well, the mass media. The “Yellow Rain” segment is a racial project that maintains the status quo of the system of racism. It redistributed resources along racial lines. Not many people can honestly say that the Yangs occupied the locus of prestige and authority in the segment. RadioLab minimized Eng Yang’s perspective and the perspectives of the Hmong affected by chemical warfare. It did nothing to dismantle the negative racial stereotypes of Southeast Asians in general. The inclusion of casual talk of “backwater” tribes and the exclusion of Eng Yang’s expertise (smaller racial projects themselves) may have even strengthened the stereotypes. If we can agree that the “Yellow Rain” segment did nothing to change negative racial stereotypes in our society, then perhaps we can agree that it did nothing to interrupt the system of racism. Thus I think it is fair to call the segment racist—but only if we have the same definition of racism. However, doing so may not be very productive. This is because the adjective “racist” has a hard time shaking its connotation of hate even though all it is doing is describing a particular kind of racial project, one that maintains or strengthens the system of racism. Kalia Yang’s essay and all of the supportive comments on it are also racial projects but of a different kind. What is asking RadioLab for equal time if not asking for the redistribution of resources along racial lines?
Eugenics is a perfectly apt example within the context of my argument because it was an utterly non-imperical view that merely clothed bigotry with the trappings of scientific parlance and method. Just as young-earth creationists write peer-reviewed papers in attempt to further a plainly non-scientific view, eugenicists of the early 20th century created a "scientific" discipline that had literally no authentic data to confirm its veracity. The point being that you can dress anything and everything in this world as somehow being confirmed by science, but if the data isn't there, well then that's the end of the story. So yes, there is something more pernicious and duplicitous on display when scientific parlance is used to justify the old "I believe it is so it must be so" way of engaging with the world. But aside from intent, how is this different from saying "I saw yellow rain so therefore yellow rain exists?" In closing, I need a word for the following phenomenon: you misunderstand my point, and your first reaction is to deride said point as being "ridiculous" even though you wholly misunderstood the point in the first place. I just ask because if that word exists, it would have been useful for describing Kirti Kamboj response.

After reading and considering your reaction to my previous comment, I want to apologize for its exceeding glibness.

It wasn't my intention to make you feel uncomfortable or dismissed? And looking back, I agree that my tone was oddly dismissive, which isn't acceptable, especially when talking to those who seem unused to their views being forcefully challenged.

On reflection, I think that the crux of our disagreement lies in the fact that you have a definition of empirical evidence that contradicts the standard definition? ("In scientific use the term empirical refers to the gathering of data using only evidence that is observable by the senses or in some cases using calibrated scientific instruments.") The Hmong directly observed the effects of chemical weapons. "Uncle Eng" was tasked with collecting the observations of the Hmong by the government of Thailand -- in other words, officially tasked with gathering this empirical evidence. In the interview, "Uncle Eng" stated: "I saw with my own eyes bee pollen on the leaves eating through holes. With my own eyes I saw pollen that could kill grass, could kill leaves, could kill trees."

Yet instead of arguing (a) this particular sort of empirical evidence is unreliable, vague, or somehow biased, (b) it is insufficient to support the theory of chemical weapons use, or (c) it is directly contradicted by overwhelming empirical evidence that suggests otherwise -- instead of arguing along these lines (I would've disagreed with you, but would've seen where you were coming from), you categorically stated that there was "no emperical evidence for this assertion". It was a concept of empiricism different from what I was taught by my parents (both are scientists with PhDs from Western universities, since this seems important in your context) and at my (Western) university (one of my degrees is in statistics), different from any I've read about. And yet you position your view of "empericism" and "authentic data" as the unarguable standard? Trying to reconcile this caused an unfortunate moment of cognitive dissonance in my mind (a moment that hasn't ended, even more unfortunately).

You did this while positioning yourself as the defender of Western science and empiricism, and furthermore compared thousands of direct observations of the effects of chemical weapons, thousands of recorded data points, with belief in God, UFO sightings, fundamentalist Islam, eugenics, and young-earth creationism? This exacerbated my sense of cognitive dissonance!

You also contrasted Western academic canon with eugenicism, when the science of eugenics developed out of Western academic canon, and in the first half of the 20th century, was considered part of Western academic canon, with its most enthusiastic proponents being mainstream Western scientists and the well-educated Western elite (Francis Galton, Ernst Haeckel, Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, John Maynard Keynes, Linus Pauling, Herbert Spencer, John D. Rockefeller, I could keep going on all day)? Needless to say, by this time I had no idea what to make of your context, and forcefully questioned it, because I care deeply about getting these facts right.

So, yes, based on these things, I suspected you of, at the least being farcical, and at the worst being a troll. I genuinely and regretfully apologize if you were hurt by my dismissive tone, and my unfortunate use of the word "ridiculous" (you are completely right, what is and isn't ridiculous depends on the context, and yours is completely different). It was not my intention to offend you in any way; my intention was to question and explore, and get to the facts of the matter. But looking back, I admit that I was insensitive, and should have listened harder.

But that said, if I did inadvertently offend you -- engaging further would probably only lead to you being more so, because you seem to keep saying things that are factually wrong, and then insist that they aren't when looked at from your context, which is unlike any I've ever come across, including the mainstream Western academic context that I often critique for its bias, and that you position yourself in. I don't know what to make of it?

So I'm going to bow out of this discussion, and again, apologize for any negative feelings I might've inadvertently caused by being insensitively glib. And in the future, I'll try and present facts more gently and with more consideration.

It is a universal experience in the life of a journalist, that if you write about race, you will be accused of racism. My own experience as a reporter writing about an Asian-American youth conference in Seattle 10 years ago. I interviewed five or six children, and then wrote the following 12-inch article (all the editor would allow). The next day the kids wrote me to tell me I was racist for my failure to include all the other stuff they told me. While I think it was a mismatch for a generally cheerful show like Radiolab to take on such an emotional and controversial topic, this is not racism. Having an interview that doesn't go the way you want it is not racism. You should also consider the usual journalist's alternative to dealing with something complex and controversial, which is to walk away from it and do an easier, simpler and cheaper story. Here, the story of the Hmong is mentioned, not as the center of the story, and can lead a listener to more research.

It's a "universal experience" in the life of a racial minority, if you talk about the ways racism has directly impacted your life, that you will invariably be accused by progressive, well-intentioned white liberals of bringing up the race card.

They will then proceed, with the best of intentions, to enlighten you on what racism truly is and how it has truly impacted your life (all things that they are, of course, infinitely more qualified to judge than you are). They will tell you that what you have experienced could not possibly be what you call it. They will go on to say that, instead of poisoning rational discourse by such crude, irrational attacks, you should instead take a moment to consider just how lucky you are to be getting any attention at all, and be grateful for it.

is the sheer number of people who have had zero interest in hyphen or the issues it covers up to now, who have nevertheless felt compelled to comment solely on this article. Specfically, to let Kalia and the rest of the asian community whose space this is know that its bad, wrong, and somehow generally mean for them to bring up racism as an issue. Just because some of these radiolab fans feel discomfort with racism being brought up here? Doesnt mean racism doesnt actually exist in this situation. People of color have to deal with racism in every aspect of their lives, whether outsiders acknowledge it or not.

This is a very good point! Quite a peculiar logic seems to rule in these situations -- that until outsiders privileged by racial hierarchies (i.e., people who've never directly experienced racism) come to a enlightened consensus that what we experience is, actually, racism, we cannot be so insistent on calling it such, and doing so might even make us the real racists.

People who believe this are probably also die-hard fans of Catch-22.

And why was your stillborn important to your story? Why would you even include that? Sympathy card? To me it invalidated your whole article, and instead of reading it as an event of racism that happened against you, it became woe is me.
I am ashamed that Radiolab would conveniently edit out your and your uncle's perspective. I am upset that this radio program does not acknowledge their preferred vantage point (whether you want to view it racially or not), even upon amending the podcast. I have listened to a few other Radiolab episodes prior to finding your post. My impression was that there is a single emotional note they like to strike, and that -- through, frankly, unnecessarily confusing editing and sonic overlap -- they complicate simple facts (e.g., a story earlier this summer about genetic mutations). In this case, they simplify a multitude of Hmong perspectives -- still pained -- in favor of an indifferent, sterile shrug.
It's a "universal experience" in the life of a racial minority, if you talk about the ways racism has directly impacted your life, that you will invariably be accused by progressive, well-intentioned white liberals of bringing up the race card. They will then proceed, with the best of intentions, to enlighten you on what racism truly is and how it has truly impacted your life (all things that they are, of course, infinitely more qualified to judge than you are). They will tell you that what you have experienced could not possibly be what you call it. They will go on to say that, instead of poisoning rational discourse by such crude, irrational attacks, you should instead take a moment to consider just how lucky you are to be getting any attention at all, and be grateful for it." . You really jumped the shark on this one. Why do you presume to know his experience or intent better than him? . Keep in mind your posts have been written on the basis of how could you people understand what we went through?
It's easy for a white person to only use one angle of approach (science) to resolve the "Yellow Rain" debate. A Hmong person may give testimony to what was witness as well as digest reasonable evidence disputing their claims in a well-informed manner. A person of color has more advantages in that they are able to find validity in both truths without discrediting the other--mainly because they have the cognizant ability to share those experiences and see the possibility of scientific discoveries that may add or subtract to the story. Storytelling has long been frowned upon as a source of truth because of the lack of records, experiments, or evidence to prove accountability. However, what is scientific knowledge without the act of storytelling? Many personal accounts lead to the discovery of new knowledge--whether it disputes it or gives credence to it. As a second generation Hmong individual, I had no prior knowledge pertaining to the "Yellow Rain" debate; which, I think gives me an advantage to see validity on both sides. Although, I must admit that I am entangled with emotions over the issue; it does not cloud my judgement in gleaning some significance of Radio Lab's portrayal and production of Kalia Yang and Uncle Eng's narrative. Keep in mind that your truth may not be my truth, and my truth may not be yours. However, would it not be more wholesome and complete were we to include all perspectives on such a controversial topic? I think the possibilities would open doors to a person who is able to use science and empirical evidence as modes of discovering different truths; and then using those different truths to understand the implications surrounding the debate. It does not matter who is right or wrong in the situation, but how the discovery process of handled. Kalia Yang was merely sharing Uncle Eng's experiences as he experienced it and in return, discovered that there are reports that it may have been "bee poop." However, Uncle Eng's side of the story--whether true or not--has enriched my life in ways that science is not able to. Had I not heard about it, I would not have known that "Yellow rain" existed as a part of the Hmong experience in the war and that it could either be a chemical warfare or "bee poop." Either way you look at it, it still resorts back to the fact that people died from it. So, let's share our opinions, perspectives, and factual beliefs--but let's not disrespect, dismiss, and discredit either argument. I don't see Kalia Yang refuting the "bee poop" theory. I simply see her responding to a need of adding another important element to the debate. My interest is not surrounding the "Yellow rain" debate. Rather, I'm more concerned now with how Radio Lab handled the production of this segment. There's a time and place for interrogation and humiliation and then there's a place where we share our knowledge in order to understand each other--both are ways to enrich and inform ourselves in more broadly and full developed ways .
SuJin you clearly missed the mark on this one, the same way Robert Krulwich missed the mark with his interview. Juxtaposing the Radiolab incident and the miscarriage was a way for her to show how 2 very difficult truths occurred (the death of her child, and the mistreatment and injustice with which Robert and Radiolab treated Uncle Eng and Kao Kalia Yang), and how she handled them accordingly. I found this blog to be spot on about why Kao Kalia Yang's response mentioned her miscarriage. You'd do well to read between the lines next time instead of taking everything at face value, because that's what Radiolab seems to expect of its viewers--to never challenge anything they (Radiolab) offer but to simply accept it all as truth.
RadioLab to Eng Yang: "I know better than you what really happened to your body." Some commenters to Kalia Yang: "I know better than you what really happened to your body."
You are an idiot. Your comment shows proof that you are. To say chemical weapons were not the cause of thousands of Hmong death, instead it was Bee Poop, is idiotically stupid. If you truly believe in what you commented then I have a beachhouse in the midwest awaiting for you.
thank you for this beautiful response. i am late finding it but i listened to the radiolab story when it aired, and was shocked and horrified all the while. i remember saying to my partner, "are these motherfuckers for real?" i thought their non-apology at the end made things even worse. i am sorry that you had to endure this and hope that radiolab will be made to pay in some way. thank you for sharing your story with us - i learned so much from listening to you and your uncle.
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 pollen 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.
More perspective on the Radiolab piece and "Yellow Rain":
Food for thought. I think the loss of the baby, though very sad, needlessly and (I hope unintentionally) clouds the issue at stake and should not have been included in this article. I think that it is a very dangerous thing to draw a gulf between non-white experience and science. This risks perpetuating the 'uncultured savage' stereotype. Science is not racist. It can be insensitive, inappropriate, even plain wrong, but to say science is a white man thing is to condemn everyone else to ignorance and backwardness: itself a racist point of view. I am very disturbed by the editing of the podcast, as opposed to a clear apology or retraction. This is not the way to correct a journalistic mistake, if you believe you have made one. And if you edit like this, you are conceding a mistake. I generally love Radiolab and I do not believe they should stop challenging 'belief' with 'show me the proof', even if it hurts those whose beliefs are tested. However in this case I think they probably didn't realise the offense they were causing until too late, and I'm sure in retrospect they would be a lot more respectful.
I have to say, after listening to the Radiolab podcast, reading the responses by both Ms. Yang & Radiolab, I have become extremely educated on a subject I was never aware about. After reading through a lot of comments, it seems as though more and more people support her and her uncle's story, which is a great thing for the Hmong people. It's an unfortunate way to have her uncle's story told,, but in the end, the effect and the outpour may have done more to bring about the truth.
Short and simple. They were belittle because who they are, their experience where being disregarded and consider false because they are uneducated jungle people who don't know what is actually happening, which ironically they aren't. It was not about scientific evidence versus personal experience. That just a rationale used to make people feel better.
US poured "yellow rain" in the jungle in its "scorch and scratch" military campaign. USSR sold T-2 Mycotoxin to Vietnam, in the intent to "wipe out" traitors and friends of the red devil Americans. Look at the war refugee exodus in Southeast Asia, the death were left to rot in the jungle and the sick were plenty. Refugees, particularly the Hmong, were documented and treated accordingly before they left to the United States and other countries of the world. I'm confident the UN and US have various medical documents on this subject in SE Asia. For truth or lie, look at the evidences. Also, can someone follow the "chemical" trail? how much the US government bought toxin chemicals from chemical companies from 1965 to 1975? I bet you the Pentagon and these chemical companies have tons of secret information. Mr Yang and Ms Yang vs Radiolab is not a fair fight.
I'm an occasional Radio Lab listener and came across this recently. This was one of the podcasts I had missed several months ago and after reading the post and comments I was initially very concerned with the accusations directed at RL. However, I took the time to listen to the entirety of that episode and now have to say that your accusations here are largely unfounded. "That the story would be heard and the Hmong deaths would be documented and recognized. That’s why he agreed to the interview, that the Hmong heart is broken and our leaders have been silenced, and what we know has been questioned again and again is not a surprise to him, or to me. I agreed to the interview for the same reason, that Radiolab was interested in the Hmong story, that they were interested in documenting the deaths that happened." And Radiolab certainly did that. They prefaced the interview with the historical context to the awful violence, played your heartfelt description of the atrocities that occurred, and never for a moment questioned that people were violently murdered. What Krulwich asked about specifically was whether your uncle saw planes dumping yellow powder. You immediately took that as doubt over whether violence had happened and unreasonably accused him of trivializing what happened by asking about that detail. Yes it was difficult if not impossible for victims of violence to have paid attention to fine details during the middle of AN attack. But it is unclear why you made this statement when what your uncle was describing the scene of dead livestock covered in yellow powder in the aftermath (not immediately during) whatever might have caused their deaths. And since the livestock had clearly already been dead for some time, it seems you were conflating the general sense of urgency during OTHER times of violence with this particular narrative/evidence being presented during the interview. Were bullets whizzing by and shells exploding all over during the time he had witnessed the dead livestock covered in yellow powder? Or did he experience these situations separately? The sequence of events was not made clear and Krulwich's inquiry about this led to your scathing accusation that he was inconsiderate. Whether yellow substance was a chemical weapon or not does not challenge the fact that people were killed. Nor does it say your uncle's memories are invalid. The animals and people he saw suffering could have been affected by another weapon, chemical or otherwise, that was deployed before the bees started migrating. Maybe the yellow substance was indeed a chemical weapon. Either way, Krulwich's question about it was in no way doubting whether your uncle was telling the truth about whether people died. I understand this is a tough subject to talk about, but I also have to understand that you put RadioLab in a terrible position the moment you started accusing them of denying that any violence had occurred. The moment you stepped over that line was the moment RL could have justifiably developed reservations about your own credibility; they might have included more of the audio you allege they left out (including your credentials and your uncle's credentials) had you not made such an accusation over calm rational question about the facts and blown up the rest of the interview. I would have given your concerns about "racism" here significantly more weight had you refrained from crossing that line. Yes, it is a terrible subject to recount, but that's not an excuse to suddenly accuse someone of being "racist" or glib about genocide. As for all the comments here about institutional racism, note that it is also due in part to the subaltern's lack of active participation in calm, rational discussions within the scientific community and other communities for that matter. Blowing up with emotion while failing to address the rational questions at hand do a disservice to the people who are not heard. Increase their participation, and you will eventually have more awareness of narratives you once thought were kept out by "institutional gatekeepers". I will continue to listen to RadioLab because they do a lot good work to present stories that are otherwise not discussed or heard elsewhere. And I would encourage you to continue to present your story and your uncle's narrative with the corroborating research and turn your bitterness towards RL into motivation to pursue a rigorous investigation into the truth.
Was her miscarriage due to Agent Orange? Have there been any studies on miscarriage and Hmong born in Laos/Thailand?
WRONG NAME: Jad Abumrad is the name of the co-host of Radiolab ... not Pat. This entire column uses the wrong name! She never once learned the real name of the person she was so mad at? Surely Jad signed his emails and spoke his name to her and her uncle at some point in all of this. Can we get that corrected in this post? Thank you.
I have listened to the story and the interviewee (Kalia Yang) respond but there is one question still unanswered for me and that is why the story had been aired by Radiolab and what was their goal and did they achieve it or not ?
After hearing this podcast it has amazed me. Just because the Hmong people are not educated and use to be jungle people does NOT mean they do not know what happened. Personally, I think that people who had lived through the life of yellow rain would know much more then people who are doing studies or who did studies. And bee-poop? really? It saddens me how people view the Hmong people. Kao Kalia is right, they came to her wanting to know more. Whatever his name was at the end, his apology did not sound sincere. Others may argue that Kao Kalia and Mr. Eng Yang couldn't accept the truth. But the question is what is the Truth? Scientist? Or people who lived through the lives? This podcast just saddened. You can tell that they edited this podcast also because sometimes they had Kao Kalia translating the wrong part sometimes. This was not a good edit if they were trying to make the interview sound "not as bad" Radiolab.
I completely agree with Kalia, the comments were harsh and hurtful. The rude words that Rob had stated about kalia and her uncle about hearsay and monopolizing was completely irrational because they had all the power to edit the interview and they asked the questions. I agree that the truth will be the truth regardless if uncle Eng was standing in the middle of the chemical droppings or not. I’m torn by Radiolab’s lack of interest. They claim they didn’t have time to look at the sources Kailia offered. This goes back on their words about looking for the truth; if one is looking for the truth they should not be bais and welcome any evidence, sources and items that may bring out the truth. Radiolab denied the evidence from Chemical weapons expert Matt Meselson and biologist Thomas Seeley who analyzed the chemicals the hmong brought and said they were harmful. The Hmong people have witnessed death of starvations and it did not compare to the filth that was left after the chemical droppings. If RL questions Mr. Eng about seeing an airplane dropping chemicals and if he didn’t then it wasn’t chemicals being dropped. That could easily be turned around and you can ask if Mr. Eng saw bees flying over, if he didn’t then that too is not valid as a result of the yellow stuff left behind. Yes some researchers have gone out to see the bee poop droppings, but even so if they claim that happens once a year, then how do they explain the constant “bee pooping” that kept killing the hmong? It’s clear that it wasn’t the yellow bee pooping the hmong were seeing. Maybe it was yellow bee pooping that was left but that does not solve the problem of why so many hmong deaths were loss, the heartaches we all have to go through. Atleast RL could acknowledge the truth of what Mr, Eng saw. The truth is the truth and many americans can’t handle their failure in helping the hmong when the hmong helped them.Many people search for the truth, but go into researching not realizing how biased they are already about a topic, and how opinionated they are already along with their subjective questions. RL should look over their values and relive them fully with the truth.
Re-read the second full paragraph. Kalia says she was in contact with Pat Walters, a producer at RadioLab. PAT, NOT JAD. It doesn't seem like she had much contact with Jad through the process, as far as I can tell.
In my opinion, one that is detached from any level of pain that has been experienced by your uncle, is one I try to keep as transparent and separate from personal bias. But I will admit me simply posting in response to this, in it's nature, is already on a level of bias. But I digress. My intention of this comment is to completely agree that Krulwich did indeed go about his questioning in the end with a large amount of disrespect for your Uncle's emotional trauma with the experiences he and his family has gone through. With that being said though, it was done with the original intention that the interview was planed from the get go with searching for a level of "truth" and the final question of physically seeing a plane does 100% account for hearsay. Now with me stating my opinion on that, I also do not claim or belittle the emotions and trauma. It saddens my heart that anything of this nature could ever happen to anyone. But when one is to look at a situation with scientific clarity, emotion must be detached, especially when the consequences could lead to justification to produce chemical weapons on U.S. soil, or anywhere for that mater, in defense. Never once was it said that these questions were being pushed due to a belief that your uncle was un-knowledgeable. I can see that a perception of this can be bestowed on the situation, but that is all on a personal assumption on your level. Regardless of the fact that Krulwich was not stating otherwise, doesn't change the fact that this was a lot of assumptions on your party's end. and to expect for more satisfying apologies for self assumptions of that degree is something I find hard to understand, personally. But as I have stated from the get go, I have no such experiences and just simply wanted to put my perspective into play.
RadioLab did everything they could to present their information, as well as the history of the Hmong people, in the context of this segment. Accusations of racism are totally out of line, suspect, and should be looked at with suspicion! I will continue to listen to, as well as support RadioLab.
Hello! 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. By the way the best paper writing service that I saw: