Science, Society, Sustainability
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ISIS Report 11/12/13

Over 1170 Condemn Retraction and Pledge Elsevier Boycott

An open letter protesting journal retraction of Seralini study and pledging to boycott publishing giant Elsevier attracted  1 175 signatures in less than a week Dr Mae-Wan Ho and Prof Peter Saunders

Twenty-eight scientists from six countries launched the [1] Open Letter on Retraction and Pledge to Boycott Elsevier (SiS 61) at 7:00 pm GMT 4 December 2013, inviting both scientists and non-scientists to sign on. The letter condemns the gratuitous unilateral retraction of a peer-reviewed paper published in the Elsevier journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) a year ago; and those who sign on pledge to boycott the publisher unless and until the retraction is reversed. In less than a week, it attracted more than 1 175 signatures: 419 scientists and 756 non-scientists from 54 countries around the world, among them, distinguished award winning researchers and celebrities (see Box 1 for what some signatories say).

The paper - retracted by the journal editor despite robust protest from the scientists who did the research - reported excess premature deaths, tumours including cancers, and illnesses of liver and kidney in rats fed GM maize and/or exposed to Roundup herbicide [2] (Retracting Séralini Study Violates Science and Ethics, SiS 61).  The project, led by Gilles-Eric Séralini at Caen University in France, is the most in-depth, long term toxicological study on GMOs and Roundup herbicide to-date. It confirmed, corroborated, and extended previous research findings as well as the experiences of farmers in the field (see [3] Ban GMOs Now, ISIS Report).

But GM proponents orchestrated a worldwide campaign to discredit the study, including the appointment of ex-Monsanto employee Richard Goodman to a newly created post of associate editor for biotechnology at FCT, which eventually led to the retraction. The editor has admitted openly that the paper does not qualify for retraction according to the internationally accepted ethical code laid down by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and accepted by FCT. The worst he can say is that the results are “inconclusive”.

In contrast, as pointed out by Séralini and colleagues [4], a study by Monsanto published in the same journal claiming to find no biological effect different from controls, but containing a gross error in the controls used – i.e., a heterogeneous collection of ‘historical controls’ that are non-isogenic and not in the same experiment - was never even considered for retraction. Seralini’s study fed the same GM maize to the same strain of rats and analysed the same number – 10 - as Monsanto’s. The journal and its publisher are blatantly applying a double standard.

Box 1

What some signatories say

Nnimmo Bassey (signed non-scientist), environmental activist and poet, Director, Health of Mother Earth Foundation, Times magazine’s Heroes of the Environment, 2009, Right Livelihood award 2010, Rafto Prize 2012, Nigeria: “One sure way to subvert progress and hinder the defence of people and planet is to block knowledge. The retraction of peer reviewed scientific papers is a corporate suppression of our freedom of expression - a fundamental human right. If this trend is allowed to continue we can be sure that only corporate interests will be served at the expense of people and planet. It is unconscionable and immoral.”

Adolpho Boy (signed non-scientist) Professor of Horticulture (retired) Argentina, and Grupo de Reflexion rural, Argentina: “I have used glyphosate since 1983, when we applied it only very sparingly. During the past 30 years, glyphosate use has shot up, and toxicity is everywhere; every day new cancer and malformations come to light, but are largely ignored by public officials and silenced in the hospitals, on tv and in newspapers.

“I do not need peer review of Seralini’s research to be convinced that their findings are correct, and I dare say the unpublished reality of Argentina's people is worse.

During all my professional career I had Elsevier publications as reference to my experimental work, but right now I am suspicious not only about this publisher, but of all scientific research funded by “joint ventures” with chemical companies.”

Mingyu Chen (signed scientist) Institute of Computing Technology, Chinese Academy of Sciences, China: “I do know scientific journals are not always equal to science. But this time they have broken some bottom line.”

Ann Clark (signed scientist) Prof of Plant Agriculture (retired), Guelph University, Canada:

“Has science fallen off the tracks?  What drives government and academia to tirelessly promote a single, proprietary technology – genetic modification – as the solution to the world’s food needs?  Whose interests are served by aggressively suppressing those who dare to ask the necessary and largely unaddressed questions of safety and efficacy of a technology that has been prematurely released into commerce? 

“Society needs to protect its own interests and defend science in the public good.  Stand up and show your support for the work of Gilles-Eric Séralini and others working in the public interest.”

Chris Exley (signed scientist) Prof of Bioinorganic Chemistry, Keele University, UK: “I am opposed to all forms of interference in the process of peer review leading to publication.”

Sally Fallon Morrell (signed non-scientist) President of Washington DC based Weston A. Price Foundation, USA: “Let’s keep the spirit of scientific inquiry alive by expressing our outrage at any attempt to smother studies that show the dangers of GMOs.”

Philippe Label (signed scientist), Research Director, INRA, Clermont Ferrand, France:

“This retraction is totally unethical. It undermines science as an activity of open-minded people free to ask any question, to publish, and contribute to knowledge.”

B. Blake Levitt (signed non-scientist) former New York Times writer, science journalist, award-winning author, Connecticut, USA: “The integrity of academic publishing must be beyond reproach at all times. There are clear professional, ethical lines that cannot be breeched. Withdrawing a paper is serious business, especially if there is even a scintilla of conflicted interests by editors with a subtly co-opted editorial policy, conscious or otherwise.Elsevier has a singular reputation among science publications, indeed many of the papers I cite in my own work originate there. As a science journalist I need to have impeccable trust in the sources I cite or I have not upheld my own professional responsibilities toreaders or the publications wheremy work appears. I have obligations to my own editors. One serious misstep along the credibility path can tarnish the entire communication chain. Editors with biased ties to industry have no place in this particular chain. Science writing/editing is a different professional niche unto itself for good reason. Editorial positions are not interchangeable skills with commercial publications and certainly not with industry writers/editors. The misstep here was Elsevier’s, not these authors. Once trust is gone, it never fully returns.”

Gerald Pollack (signed scientist), Editor in Chief Water Journal, Prof Bioengineering University of Washington Prigogine Medalist 2011, Seattle Washington USA: “If science is to advance, it must remain free, totally free, of any tampering by self-interested parties. Once that begins happening, we can kiss the future of science goodbye.”

Craig Sams (signed non-scientist), UK-based celebrity baker, grocer, chocolatier, columnist and author: “The scientific method hinges on repeatability, not on repression. Seralini’s research produced disturbing results; the only ethically appropriate response is to repeat his method to either confirm or refute his conclusions. Human health is at stake here, which must be considered more important than herbicide sales revenue. It is shocking that a reputable publisher is prepared to suppress information that, to all appearances, should be triggering more extensive research into the risks of consuming genetically modified food.

 “George Orwell wrote:“In a time of deceit telling the truth is a revolutionary act.” If science today has become an accomplice to deceit, then conscientious scientists need to seek even more determinedly for the truth.”

Oliver Tickell (signed non-scientist), Editor of The Ecologist, UK: “Science journals have a key role to play at the heart of the scientific process by acting as the gatekeepers for the publication of scientific research. If they abuse this power for any reason, but especially for commercial reasons, this constitutes a crime against science by undermining the integrity of the scientific process itself.”

Science under threat

The retraction of the Séralini study is not an isolated incident; another published paper reporting potential harm from other GMOs was withdrawn from the same journal shortly before, though it was accepted by a different journal almost immediately [2]. Nor is Elsevier the only publisher to censor science on behalf of industry. There were other recent attempts at retracting papers from journals, including that written by one of us, “The New Genetics and Natural versus Artificial Genetic Modification” [5] - making the case that artificial genetic modification is inherently hazardous because it inevitably interferes with the natural process carried out by the organisms themselves, which is essential for survival. The paper was accepted for publication after a protracted review by 6 referees, only to be withdrawn, most likely by the publisher, before it could appear in the journal. We believe the journal editor stood up to the publisher and reinstated the paper.

Retracting published peer-reviewed papers for no other reason than that their findings might be inconvenient for industry erases from public record scientific evidence that could be crucial for safeguarding public health and well-being. It is an unprecedented censorship of research, information and knowledge that threatens science itself, let alone science and democracy or science for the public good.  

Elsevier already has a suspect record, having put out 6 fake medical journals sponsored by unnamed pharmaceutical companies, and also facing a boycott for its sharp business practices (see [2]).  In November 2013, the publisher began sending thousands of requests to Academia.edu to take down papers published in its journals [6]. Academia.edu, a five-year-old site with nearly 6 million academics signed up, was created to enable researchers to share their scientific papers freely. 

Liberating science

The Séralini retraction exposes the extent to which science has become monopolized and distorted to serve corporate interests. It is particularly invidious, as so many policies and decisions that affect our everyday life and our prospect for survival depend on impartial, reliable, and disinterested scientific knowledge that we can trust. It highlights the importance of liberating science, of opening it up for free exchange of ideas, debate and discussion.

The open access movement for scientific publishing, which started in the 1990s, was primarily driven by the high costs of journals and journal subscriptions at a time when online publishing and the internet have enabled scientists to make their work available to one another and to the public without going through the conventional printed journals [7]. instigators certainly did not foresee how crucial open access has become.

Academia.edu is committed to [6] “enabling the transition to a world where there is open access to academic literature.” It has recently received $11.1 million funding to expand.

Randy Schekman, co-winner of 2013 Nobel Prize for Physiology or Medicine, said his lab would no longer send research papers to “luxury” journals like Nature, Cell and Science [8] because they are distorting the scientific process and represent a “tyranny” that must be broken.

Help liberate science. Start by signing onto our Open Letter here: http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Open_letter_to_FCT_and_Elsevier.php

References

  1. Becker HA, Clark EA, Cummins J, Davidson RM, de Guzman LE, DelGiudice E, Dotson RS, Exley C, Haffegee J, Ho MW, Huber DM, John B, Mason R, Mendoza T, Novotny E, Oller JW, Palmer J.  Pollack G, Pusztai A, Samsell A, Saunders PT, Shiva V, Sirinathsinghji, E. Swanson N, Seneff S, Tomlijenovic L, Zamora O. Open letter on retraction and pledge to boycott Elsevier. Science in Society 61 (to appear).
  2. Ho MW and Saunders PT. Retracting Séralini study violates science and ethics. Science in Society 61 (to appear).
  3. Ho MW and Sirinathsinghji E. Ban GMOs Now, ISIS Special Report, 2013, http://www.i-sis.org.uk/Ban_GMOs_Now_-_Special_ISIS_Report.php
  4. “Professor Séralini replies to FCT journal over study retraction”, GMOSeralini: 29 November 2013, http://gmoseralini.org/professor-seralini-replies-to-fct-journal-over-study-retraction/
  5. Ho MW. The new genetics and natural versus artificial genetic modification. Entropy 2013, 15, 4749-81.
  6. “Academia.edu slammed with takedown notices from journal publisher Elsevier”, VB Business, 6 December 2013, http://venturebeat.com/2013/12/06/academia-edu-slammed-with-takedown-notices-from-journal-publisher-elsevier/
  7. Open access, Wikipedia, 9 December 2013, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Open_access
  8. “Nobel winner declares boycott of top science journals”, Ian Sample, theguardian, 9 December 2013, http://www.theguardian.com/science/2013/dec/09/nobel-winner-boycott-science-journals?CMP=twt_gu
There are 1 comments on this article so far. Add your comment
Eileen Conneely Comment left 13th December 2013 08:08:43
This is another outrageous and disturbing example of the corruption of biotech companies, suppressing research that could hinder their profits, but benefit the people. Elsevier (in the pocket of Monsanto) must not be allowed to get away with this.

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