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, http://www.nature.com/nbt/journal/v25/n9/abs/nbt0907-981.html
). 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
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 scientistsare 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
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
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