Science in Society Archive

Science and Scientist Abused

I-SIS Letter to Nature Biotechnology

To: Andrew Marshall, Editor, Nature Biotechnology
Richard Charkin, Chief Executive, MacMillan Ltd
Annette Thomas, Managing Director of Nature Publications, London
Philip Campbell, Editor-in-Chief, Nature Publications, London
c/o and

We are writing on behalf of the Institute of Science in Society* to express our deep concern over your recently published article about Dr Irina Ermakova and her work (“GM soybeans and health safety - a controversy re-examined”, Marshall, A. Nature Biotechnology 25, 981 – 987, 2007, ).  The article is grossly unfair to Dr Ermakova and certainly not in the best traditions of scientific publishing.

We have been told Dr Ermakova was given to understand that she would be the co-author of an article describing her work. What actually appeared was one written by you, containing comments by a panel composed entirely of people linked to the biotech industry. These comments were never shown to Dr. Ermakova before the article was published, and she was given no right of reply.

There are journals that routinely publish criticisms of papers along with the papers themselves. This can be an effective way of drawing attention to important but possibly controversial work, while not allowing it to go unchallenged. These journals generally adhere to some important rules. The target paper is written by the researcher(s); not by a journalist.
Comments from other scientists are published along with the paper, followed by a general reply by the author(s). Some of the commentators may be known to be critical of or even hostile to the author’s point of view, but the panel will include others who are not. That is quite different from what you have done.

You were wrong not to make it clear to Dr Ermakova how you proposed to use her contribution, even to the extent of not showing her the proofs of what would actually appear in your journal. Such practice is more appropriate to a tabloid newspaper than to a serious scientific journal, and a public acknowledgement of the oversight from you would be in order. You were also wrong not to allow Dr. Ermakova to reply to the criticisms. She must now be given the appropriate platform in your journal to respond fully to the criticisms of her work, without further comment either from you or from your panel of committed biotech supporters.

Dr, Mae-Wan Ho
Professor Peter T. Saunders,
Institute of Science in Society

*The Institute of Science in Society is a not-for-profit organisation dedicated to providing critical and accessible information on cutting-edge science and to promoting social accountability and ecological sustainability in science

Article first published 20/09/07

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