Séralini GMO maize and Roundup study republished with no scientific peer review

By Grant Jacobs 26/06/2014 13


One of my questions in my previous article on Séralini’s widely criticised study being republished appears to have been answered.

In my previous article, I wrote “I am a little curious about how the review process accepted the paper”, wondering how they dealt with the criticisms levelled at the paper after it’s original publication.

Scientific journal Nature published a commentary on the republishing of Séralini’s paper. They’ve updated[1] it to add a comment from Henner Hollert, the editor-in-chief of Environmental Sciences Europe, the journal that has republished Séralini’s work. Nature writes (the emphasis added is mine) –

Environmental Sciences Europe (ESEU) decided to re-publish the paper to give the scientific community guaranteed long-term access to the data in the retracted paper, editor-in-chief Henner Hollert toldNature. “We were Springer Publishing’s first open access journal on the environment, and are a platform for discussion on science and regulation at a European and regional level.” ESEU conducted no scientific peer review, he adds, “because this had already been conducted by Food and Chemical Toxicology, and had concluded there had been no fraud nor misrepresentation.” The role of the three reviewers hired by ESEU was to check that there had been no change in the scientific content of the paper, Hollert adds.

So, it seems that the paper was republished with no consideration of the criticism offered since the original publication, some of it formally published as letters to the editor of Food and Chemical Toxicology who published the original iteration of Séralini’s work or elsewhere.

When I wrote my previous piece on this I considered writing that I might expect an editorial comment, outlining how the work was being published. Now this would appear to be essential. The paper has been reviewed in an unusual way: it seems to me that readers should be informed of that.

A number of people have written that Séralini and colleagues’ work has “has now successfully passed no less than three rounds of rigorous peer review.” (Claire Robinson, editor of GMOSeralini.org) or have offered “I applaud Environmental Sciences Europe for submitting the work to yet another round of rigorous blind peer review” (Jack Heinemann, University of Canterbury) or similar.

In practice the work appears to have passed one round of peer review, that which lead to the original publication. It was subsequently withdrawn on a second review. (You can argue the merits of that; I’m just conveying what happened.) Finally, according to editor Hollert, the current iteration did not undergo scientific peer review.

While it is unfortunate for those who offered these remarks that they prove to have been offered too soon[2] it is understandable to have expected the journal to have carried out it’s own scientific peer review. It is a peer-reviewed journal after all and there is no indication (that I can see) in the journal that scientific peer review did not take place.[3]

To me this underlines that the editor will want to publish a short statement (or editorial) explaining that scientific peer review did not occur, as it would for most of their research papers, explain what did occur, and include this, or a link to it, featured clearly in the paper.

I also don’t quite buy the rationale of “to give the scientific community guaranteed long-term access to the data in the retracted paper”. It certainly is one option, but surely the authors could also have put up the paper and it’s data on one of several sites that offer long-term access; as just a couple of examples off the top of my head – bioRxiv or the quantitative biology section of arXiv (both open-access). Others have pointed out that the original research paper is in fact still available, just marked ‘retracted’.[4] Doesn’t this then not ‘make the data available’, but make it available not marked as retracted?

There are a number of other follow-on commentaries available, like this one at The Conversation by David Vaux, Assistant Director of The Walter and Eliza Hall Institute, Séralini study is given new life, but where’s the new data?

Footnotes

1. See Updated section at the end of the Nature piece. (I originally read the Nature commentary before this update.)

2. For what it’s worth similar thinking is why I elected to not suggest there might be an editorial explanation of the publication process for the paper alongside the paper at the time I wrote my previous article on this – it seemed to soon to say it.

3. Out of perhaps morbid curiosity, I wonder if these people would now protest that Environmental Sciences Europe did not scientifically peer review the work as they thought it had?

4. As I don’t have direct access to this paper I haven’t personally confirmed this at the time of writing, but I see no reason this will be incorrect.


Other articles at Code for life:

Widely criticised Séralini GMO feed study republished, with companion piece

Gene editing and GMOs in NZ, part one

Monkey business, or is my uncle also my Dad?

Aww, crap.

Temperature-induced hearing loss

Rubella, not a benign disease if experienced during early pregnancy


13 Responses to “Séralini GMO maize and Roundup study republished with no scientific peer review”

  • Just to muddy the waters, Retraction Watch reports that,

    “The republished study was peer-reviewed, according to the press materials, and Seralini confirmed that it was in an email to Retraction Watch. But we were curious what “any kind of appraisal of the paper’s content should not be connoted” meant. We asked Seralini and the editor of Environmental Sciences Europe, Henner Hollert, but neither responded.”

    Having read Nature’s update, which I based my article above on, they write –

    “This is actually what we thought that passage meant, and that makes it all the more mystifying why Seralini told us, in press materials and in a follow-up email, that the republished paper was peer-reviewed.”

  • I haven’t read the paper, and I’m just starting to read the pro/cons (articles) about this paper…. But it seems to me it doesn’t pass the “smell test”.. I have reservations it was actually peer-reviewed, in the manner most work is published, and they hired a team… are you kidding me?! I hate that this article is published in this way, because alot of people will believe it simply because of some anti-gmo sentiment (fear) or half-as-sed summary they see on social networking. To me, a layman, it doesn’t negate the other 2000+/- scientific papers on the safety of gmo…

  • I see now that there is a note from an editor included in the published manuscript. There no indication if this as been added at a later date but I didn’t see this on my earlier skim of the republication and if it were there I’m surprised I’d have missed it.

    It’s oddly placed, not at the top of the manuscript as you might expect, but in a section curiously titled Research that follows the Abstract. The wording is vague and doesn‘t explain properly what is going on or is behind this action:

    “Empirical natural and social sciences produce knowledge (in German: Wissenschaften schaffen Wissen) which should describe and explain past and present phenomena and estimate their future development. To this end quantitative methods are used. Progress in science needs controversial debates aiming at the best methods as basis for objective, reliable and valid results approximating what could be the truth. Such methodological competition is the energy needed for scientific progress. In this sense, ESEU aims to enable rational discussions dealing with the article from G.-E. Séralini et al. (Food Chem. Toxicol. 2012, 50:4221–4231) by re-publishing it. By doing so, any kind of appraisal of the paper’s content should not be connoted. The only aim is to enable scientific transparency and, based on this, a discussion which does not hide but aims to focus methodological controversies. -Winfried Schröder, Editor of the Thematic Series “Implications for GMO-cultivation and monitoring” in Environmental Sciences Europe.”

    I see now this is the “By doing so, any kind of appraisal of the paper’s content should not be connoted.” that RetractionWatch was referring to in the quoted passage in my previous comment. (My impression from reading their piece was that they were referring to either the press release or correspondence to them from the editor.)

    I don’t buy the “ESEU aims to enable rational discussions dealing with the article” or “The only aim is to enable scientific transparency and, based on this, a discussion which does not hide but aims to focus methodological controversies” arguments. What do readers think?

    I would have thought this more logically belongs at the top of the other publication details (i.e. immediately below the title & authors) and would be more appropriately titled something that would draw attention to that it was not peer-reviewed and wants to worded more plainly in explanatory fashion, e.g.


    Published without peer-review

    The manuscript below has not been peer-reviewed.

    ESE is a peer-reviewed journal: research articles undergo scientific peer-review before acceptance for publication.

    At the editors’ discretion we have elected not to peer-review this paper.

    … [and on explaining why]

  • From the Seralini study: “Because of recent reviews on GM foods indicating no specific risk of cancer [2,16], but indicating signs of hepatorenal dysfunction within 3 months [1,7], we had no reason to adopt a carcinogenesis protocol using 50 rats per group.” (16 is the Snell review.) The 50 rats per group for the carcinogenesis protocol is a much larger number than required for the toxicology protocol. But I understand that requirement for a greater number is to make sure there is no cancer even at low frequency. So the fact that tumors showed up in the smaller number of rats required for a toxicology test was newsworthy, as well as something that protocol requires to be reported even though it was not part of the experiment. A lot of criticism has been aimed at this paper based on the straw man principle, saying there were too few rats for a cancer test when it was not a cancer test.

  • FCT retracted the study for “inconclusiveness.” I have to say again that the stated inconclusiveness was about the tumors which the study was not about.

    The study was about toxicology and used the same number and strain of rats as Monsanto, but went on for more than Monsanto’s 3 months, thereby expanding on differences that Monsanto had glossed over in their results.

    This is about a recent win by Seralini on a defamation case over the matter.

    https://youtu.be/QxU9sgX7_-E

  • Grant wrote: “So, it seems that the paper was republished with no consideration of the criticism offered since the original publication, ”
    Grant is basing that on mistaken conception of the timing of the
    “ESEU conducted no scientific peer review, he adds, “because this had already been conducted by Food and Chemical Toxicology, and had concluded there had been no fraud nor misrepresentation.”

    As the Corbett Report (video in my previous comment) stated, that assessment was made after the retraction, and is why they admitted they were only retracting on “inconclusivity.”

    So unlike what Grant claims, the new reviewers were relating to consideration of criticism of the paper the paper after the original publication.

  • Brian,

    re “but went on for more than Monsanto’s 3 months, thereby expanding on differences that Monsanto had glossed over in their results.”

    – see my previous reply to you: “this work used too small sample sizes and lacked proper experimental design and statistics to make meaningful conclusions”, and two link I offered that expands on this.

    If a study has too small sample size and poor experimental design, it can’t draw meaningful conclusions whatever it had intended to do.

    The statistics were examined after the paper was published, and found wanting. That’s part of the reason the paper was retracted. Some of the formal criticism (scientific letters written to the journal) covered this; the journal editors independently sourced statisticians to examine this for themselves – you should find an explanation of this somewhere on their website.

    (The extended time of study also breached ethical standards.)

    With all respect, a YouTube video isn’t scientific evidence. (I haven’t viewed it.)

  • “Grant is basing that on mistaken conception of the timing of the”

    The timing of what?

    In any event my statement isn’t based on ‘timing’, but on their statement saying that they conducted no new peer review.

    “So unlike what Grant claims, the new reviewers were relating to consideration of criticism of the paper the paper after the original publication.”

    That’s not correct, they openly said they conducted no new peer review, (re)using only the peer review of the original paper. After the paper was published there were a large number of scientific letters to the original journal pointing out the paper did not support it’s conclusions. They openly have said they were not including those criticisms in their decision to re-publish the paper.

    Inconclusivity means the paper could not draw a conclusion – i.e. the paper was about as ‘good’ as speculation. When they say they withdrew that paper (paraphrasing) only because of inconclusivity, what they are saying is that they were not retracting the paper because of deliberate fraud or the like, other reasons papers are retracted.

  • Grant, a big story was made up that the Seralini study proved that cancers were caused. Then another big story was made up to say that there were not enough subjects to prove that.

    The Seralini study, like the Monsanto one, was a toxicology study with the same numbers and type of subjects.

    The statistics were good for toxicology.

    When the paper was being published the second time the new “reviewers” noted that the first journal RETRACTION COMMENT by the journal FCT said: “had concluded there had been no fraud nor misrepresentation.” In other words the timing was after the original publication. The new reviewers were relying on that new appraisal by FCT. They clearly stated that.

    And I would like to add that though SD rats tend to get more tumours complicates things a bit IF you are believing the fallacious claim this is a cancer study, please note the following: In a cancer assessment the reason for more subjects is to prove that the environment is not causing cancer. You need to be more careful than with toxicology which the Monsanto and Seralini studies were about. You need to understand type 1 and type 2 errors.

    You claim a Youtube video is not science. It may or may not be related. In this case Corbett was largely reading aloud from various documents whose words showed on the screen.

    And a big point of his presentation is that Seralini and team were successful in their libel case, but the news media are not reporting it. Reporting of a libel case involving scientists may not be science but it is relevant to people’s beliefs about what is happening. There was also the report of a forged signature which was proven. (Sentence decision is awaiting.)

  • Grant: “(The extended time of study also breached ethical standards.)”

    I don’t think they were breached in that case.

    If they had been breached, as seemingly with the experiments on cats frequently appears to be when deafening or blinding them, then do you say the results should not be used? Is that one of your main points?

    We have a big human experiment going on with GMO food: how can we know whether the current increasing obesity epidemic may be related to extra oestrogenic nature of that GMO food?

    The “science” lobby appears to be hoping Seralini’s reply to criticism is not noticed by many people:

    “Most of the criticisms on the topic of ethical conduct relate to
    animal welfare, some thinking that we overpassed the threshold
    in size of tumors above which animals should be euthanized, with
    the purpose of taking shocking photographs. However, it should be
    recalled that in a GLP environment, animal welfare is of major con-
    cern and that we fully respected the threshold in tumor size before
    euthanasia. Pictures of every animal and organ were taken. We
    presented those related to the most observed pathologies, includ-
    ing those of a microscopic nature, for illustrative purposes in
    Fig. 3, with rats representative of each group.”
    from the “in press” version of the article which the publisher, after communication from COPE, required FCT to allow:
    http://www.generations-futures.fr/2011generations/wp-content/uploads/2013/01/FCT_6964_revised-proof-2.pdf

    I take the Seralini team’s win of their case of libel against them to also be a censure of many others such as what we were having on the Facebook group “New Zealand Skeptics” a year or so ago.

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