* Retraction is example of economic interests trumping science – professor
* Former member of journal's editorial board condemns retraction
* Scientific ethics watchdog COPE powerless to intervene
* GM industry lobby group uses retraction to push GM eggplant in Philippines
The number of scientists and experts condemning a journal editor’s retraction[1,2] of a study that found serious health effects in rats that ate a Monsanto genetically modified (GM) maize and Roundup herbicide has climbed to 150.
The editor of the Elsevier journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT), Dr A. Wallace Hayes, claimed he retracted the study by Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini’s team because some of its findings are “inconclusive”.[1,2] This rationale was widely derided by scientists, who pointed out that many studies contain inconclusive findings.
The retraction came just months after the arrival of a former Monsanto scientist on the editorial board of FCT.
One signatory of the petition opposing the retraction is Dr Mohamed Habib, Professor of Entomology at the University of Campinas, Brazil. He said the retraction was an indication of how economic interests have influenced scientific journals. Prof Habib said, “It is a criminal attitude. Truth and ethical values have to be considered as more important than money. The article must be reinstated.”
Three researchers writing in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives criticised the retraction as “a significant and destructive shift in management of the publication of controversial scientific research”.
A former member of the editorial board of FCT, Marcel Roberfroid, condemned the retraction in a letter to the editor of the journal, saying, "Your decision, which can be interpreted as a will to eliminate scientific information that does not help supporting industrial interests is, in my view, unacceptable."
In a separate initiative, over 1200 scientists have pledged to boycott Elsevier over the retraction.
Ethics watchdog powerless to intervene
Critics of the retraction have said that it violates the guidelines of the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), of which FCT is a member. FCT editor Hayes, on the other hand, claimed that COPE guidelines supported his decision to retract the paper.
COPE has responded to a complaint from Prof GE Séralini about the retraction with an admission that it is powerless to investigate or make a judgment on the dispute, saying that the decision on how COPE guidelines are interpreted “lies with the editor and publisher”.
Claire Robinson, coordinator of endsciencecensorship.org, called COPE’s response “disappointing”. She said, “This shows the limitations of voluntary guidelines in cases of unethical or unscientific behaviour on the part of editors of scientific journals. Nothing can be enforced, so editors have ‘carte blanche’ to play fast and loose with scientists’ research and reputations.
“In the interests of not misleading scientists who submit papers to the journal, FCT should resign from COPE, since the editor’s actions are incompatible with the COPE guidelines.”
Retraction Watch accused Hayes of doing a “verbal dance” around the COPE guidelines to try to justify his decision. Retraction Watch concluded, “Claiming COPE guidelines somehow support the decision doesn’t seem valid”.
Industry uses retraction to push release of GM eggplant
The retraction is already being used by GM industry lobby group ISAAA to push for the release of a GM pesticide-containing eggplant in the Philippines. Last year seven expert witnesses tried but failed to rebut the Séralini study in a court of law. The court subsequently banned field trials of the GM eggplant, which was developed by a Monsanto subsidiary, to protect health and the environment. Following the retraction, ISAAA wants the ban on the eggplant to be overturned.
Claire Robinson said, “It seems that the editor of FCT, Dr Hayes, effectively did the job for the GM and agrochemical industry that the expert witnesses failed to do. The witnesses couldn’t demolish the study through scientific argument, so it had to be removed from the record. That is what Séralini’s critics told Hayes to do; and he obliged.”
Additional quotes from scientists on the retraction
(all published at www.endsciencecensorship.org)
"The retraction is a shameful violation of scientific and publishing integrity by economic and political interests." Donald R. Davis, PhD, nutritional biochemist at the Center for Sustaining Agriculture and Natural Resources, Washington State University; retired from Biochemical Institute, University of Texas at Austin, USA
"The excellent work of Professor Séralini and his colleagues should be published in all the independent scientific journals of the world, as a form of protest and resistance against pressure of transnational corporations."
Tomás Enrique León Sicard, PhD, Professor of Agrology, Institute of Environmental Studies, National University of Colombia
"Séralini's study underpins the urgent need of carcinogenic risk assessment of GMO crops, and should never have been retracted from FCT."
Henk A.Tennekes, PhD, consultant toxicologist, member of EUROTOX; Dutch, Swiss and British Societies of Toxicology; Society of Toxicologic Pathology; International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)/Commission on Ecosystem Management (CEM), Netherlands
"The retraction was clearly based on political and economical interests and pressure, as it does not have a scientifically sound justification. Science is not built upon ‘definitive’ studies. In fact, within a scientific framework, a hypothesis is never definitive; it can always be re-tested and generate new, more robust knowledge. This is what should be done in this case. The article should be reinstated, and its findings can be confirmed or contested by replication and new studies. It is shameful that, in this day and age, commercial interests still have so much influence in scientific publishing."
Daniel Ferreira Holderbaum, MSc, PhD student in Plant Genetic Resources, Federal University of Santa Catarina, Brazil
"What has been done regarding retraction of Seralini's peer-reviewed publication and defamation is outrageous. It is without precedent, and is completely unacceptable."
Richard Doherty, MD, retired Faculty Professor in the Departments of Pediatrics, Genetics, Radiation Biology & Biophysics at the University of Rochester School of Medicine, USA
"This study should be reinstated or studies supporting the safety of NK603 should retracted as well: they are no more conclusive."
Vincent Detours, PhD, IRIBHM (a research institute of the Faculty of Medicine), Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
"Withdrawal and censorship of the Séralini report is an act of complicity to conceal the flaws of a lethal technology. This is criminal behaviour."
Miguel Lovera, PhD, Universidad Católica de Asunción - CEIDRA (Studies and Research Center for Agricultural Law and Agrarian Reform), Paraguay
“What happened to the Séralini study is not science, it is censorship. Scientific data should not be suppressed merely because it does not conform to pre-determined beliefs or conflicting interests. The Séralini study should be reinstated and if necessary, repeated.”
Catherine Greenall, MPhil, MRSC, CChem, C.Sci, MCIWEM, CWEM
"This retraction is politically motivated and ignoring science that is now consolidated in many studies showing that glyphosate is a damaging substance both for human health and the environment generally."
Malcolm Hooper, Professor Emeritus, PhD, BPharm, MRIC, CChem Royal Society of Chemistry, Society for Medicines Research, British Pharmacological Society, UK
"This is reminiscent of trials of Galileo at the hands of the Vatican. These tactics bring shame onto the scientific fraternity and erode the confidence of the public in the scientific process."
Shideh Pouria, PhD, MBBS, BSc, MRCP (UK); Vice President, British Society for Ecological Medicine; Visiting Research Fellow, King's College London, UK
"Science must remain independent if it is to be relevant and must be evidence-based not results-driven. Elsevier are shooting themselves in the foot as they have lost all credibility as a science publisher and made a mockery of the peer review system."
Vivienne Laval, PhD, molecular genetics, UK
. Hayes AW (2013). Elsevier (2013). Elsevier announces article retraction from Journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. 28 November. http://www.elsevier.com/about/press-releases/research-and-journals/elsevier-announces-article-retraction-from-journal-food-and-chemical-toxicology#sthash.VfY74Y24.dpuf
. Hayes AW (2013). Letter to Prof GE Séralini. 19 Nov. http://www.gmwatch.org/files/Letter_AWHayes_GES.pdf
. http://www.endsciencecensorship.org/en/page/press-release#.UxNhjl4vFY4 ;
- Heinemann J. Let’s give the scientific literature a good clean up. Biosafetycooperative.newsvine.com. 2013. http://bit.ly/1aeULiB ;
- Schubert D. Science study controversy impacts world health. U-T San Diego. http://www.utsandiego.com/news/2014/jan/08/science-food-health/. Published January 8, 2014;
- European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER). Journal’s retraction of rat feeding paper is a travesty of science and looks like a bow to industry: ENSSER comments on the retraction of the Séralini et al. 2012 study. 2013. Available at: http://bit.ly/1cytNa4. Accessed February 21, 2014 ;
- AFP. Mexican scientists criticise journal’s retraction of study on GMO. terra.cl. http://bit.ly/1jVl1HZ ; English translation available at: http://gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archive/2013/15225. Published December 18, 2013;
- Antoniou M, Clark EA, Hilbeck A, et al. Reason given for retraction – inconclusiveness – is invalid. 2014. http://www.endsciencecensorship.org/en/page/retraction-reason#.Uweb4l4vFY4.
. Robinson C, Latham J. The Goodman affair: Monsanto targets the heart of science. Earth Open Source and Indep Sci News. 2013. http://bit.ly/1hC69y4.
. Portier CJ, Goldman LR, Goldstein BD (2014). Inconclusive findings: Now you see them, now you don’t! Environ Health Perspect:122(2).
. Roberfroid M (2014). Letter to the Editor of Food and Chemical Toxicology. Vol 65, March: 390. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0278691514000039
. e.g: http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Open_letter_to_FCT_and_Elsevier.php ; http://bit.ly/1fw9BT5 ; http://www.endsciencecensorship.org/en/page/Statement#.UxC23l4vFY4
. COPE (2013). Members: Food and Chemical Toxicology. http://publicationethics.org/members/food-and-chemical-toxicology
. COPE (2014). http://www.criigen.org/SiteFr//index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=480&Itemid=144
. Republic of the Philippines Court of Appeals, Manila, Former Special 13th Division (2013). Greenpeace Southeast Asia et al. vs Environmental Management Bureau of the Dept of Environment and Natural Resources et al. CA-G.R. SP No. 00013: Resolution. 20 September. p. 10. http://www.gmoseralini.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/02/court_resolution.pdf
. Matthews J (2012). Smelling a corporate rat. Spinwatch. 11 December. http://www.spinwatch.org/index.php/issues/science/item/164-smelling-a-corporate-rat