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Why did Seralini block pre-publication access to his paper?

One of the charges being made against Seralini's team is that they sought to manipulate media coverage of their study. As the BBC reported: "In a move regarded as unusual by the media, the French research group refused to provide copies of the journal paper to reporters in advance of its publication, unless they signed non-disclosure agreements. The NDAs would have prevented the journalists from approaching third-party researchers for comment."

What could possibly justify blocking pre-publication access to the paper?

Well, how about what has happened to other studies with findings that raised concerns about GM food crops?

In the case of Arpad Pusztai, for example, after news got out that The Lancet was planning to publish his research showing harm from GM potatoes, attempts to rubbish the study began well ahead of publication, with one UK newspaper's science correspondent even running a spoiler piece claiming that the research was going to be published despite having failed peer review. The claims made in the article were quite untrue. In reality, Pusztai's Lancet paper had successfully come through a peer review process that was far more stringent than that applying to most published papers.

The Editor of The Lancet not only came under a sustained campaign of pressure not to publish the research, but according to an article that made the front page of The Guardian, was aggressively threatened by a leading member of the Royal Society as to the consequences for him personally if he went ahead with publication.

And this is far from the only example of attempts to intimidate, block publication or run spoiler articles to diminish the public impact of research findngs. The shocking treatment of Dr Ignacio Chapela after some of the details got out about his research pre-publication is rightly notorious.

And, of course, researchers have complained, though on an anonymous basis, about how it is only GM-industry-approved studies that see the light of day, with legal threats being used to block publication.

U.S. entomologist, Bruce Tabashnik, told the journal Nature, "I encouraged an employee of the company [Dow] to publish the data and mentioned that, alternatively, I could cite the data. He told me that if I cited the information...I would be subject to legal action by the company. These kinds of statements are chilling."

As Clive Cookson, the science correspondent of the Financial Times has commented, "Imagine pharmaceutical companies trying to prevent medical researchers comparing patented drugs or investigating their side-effects – it is unthinkable. Yet scientists cannot independently examine raw materials in the food supply or investigate plants that cover a lot of rural America."

This is why Seralini's team had to go to extraordinary lengths, and maintain extraordinary secrecy, just to obtain the GM materials in order to carry out their study.

Then there are the attempts to try and shut down or shape media coverage of research by rapid rebuttal. The UK's Science Media Centre are past masters of this. As the journalist Joanna Blythman has noted, "the SMC is a well-oiled PR machine, funded in part by chemical, pharmaceutical, and biotech companies with a vested interest in seeing potentially profitable new technologies and products commercialised. Recently, the SMC tried to stifle concerns arising from a study by molecular biologists at the University of Caen, which showed that rats fed long-term on a combination of GM corn, and its partner pesticide Roundup, developed higher levels of cancer than normal Within minutes of the results being published in a peer-reviewed journal, the SMC swung into action, spoon-feeding journalists ready-made quotes from eight hand-picked scientists, rubbishing the research and its authors. The SMC introduced these experts to the media solely by listing the universities and public institutions that employ them, failing to give the full flavour of their interests: seven out of eight are either evangelical advocates of GM food, or have received funding from, or worked with, prominent biotech corporations."

The director of the SMC claims credit for shaping coverage of the paper in the UK. An article in Times Higher Education titled Shock troops check 'poor' GM study says Fiona Fox "took pride in the fact that [SMC] scientists' emphatic thumbs down had largely been acknowledged throughout UK newsrooms... She had also heard that several television news programmes had also rejected the story after reading the [SMC's] quotes." And that impact was achieved with the non-pre-publication-disclosure policy in place. How much of a hearing would the research have got without it?

The reality is, as another article in the journal Nature notes, that papers suggesting that GM crops might cause harm attract a hail of abuse and find it immensely difficult to get a fair hearing.