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 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 It was subsequently withdrawn on a second review.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 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.
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’. 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?
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.
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