There have been many claims made about the potential health dangers of genetically modified crops by a number of groups. Of course, most of these claims lack even the slightest evidence and seem to be based on the fallacy that anything artificial is dangerous. While a few genetically engineered crops under development did show potential to cause allergies, these were quickly pulled from consideration for use in actual products.
Still, opponents continue to grasp for straws to prove that modifying DNA intentionally (as opposed as to by accident, which happens all the time) is somehow a danger to health. A recent study claimed to have found strong evidence of harm, yet critical evaluation has found it not only to be flawed, but actually fraudulent.
Scientists Smell A Rat In Fraudulent Genetic Engineering Study
Last week French microbiologist Gilles-Eric Séralini and several colleagues released the results of a long-term study in which rats were fed genetically engineered (AKA genetically modified, or “GM”) corn that contains enhanced resistance to insects and/or the herbicide glyphosate. They took the unprecedented step of pre-releasing the paper to selected media outlets under an embargo on the condition that they sign a non-disclosure agreement. (That prevented the journalists from seeking scientific experts’ opinions on the article.) At a carefully orchestrated media event they then announced that their long-term studies found that the rats in experimental groups developed tumors at an alarming rate. Within hours news of their “discovery” echoed around the world. As we say today, the story “went viral.”
This really should have raised a red flag from the beginning. Typically, scientists will publish their work in a journal for review by other scientists before going to the media. If there are leaks about an especially large or important discovery, they may need to engage the media sooner, but this is usually done in a guarded manner. Otherwise, it’s normally improper to talk with the media about scientific data before it has been released in full, and doing so with a non-disclosure agreement is not normal.
Based on this atypical behavior and apparent desire for early media attention, the scent of a rat should have been strong even before the paper was released. They also preempted publication of their study with the release of these extremely disturbing photos of the rats used in the experiment.
The experiment we wrote about purported to show toxicity in vitro to a line of cultured embryonic kidney cells exposed to two proteins commonly incorporated into many varieties of corn, soybean and cotton to enhance their insect-resistance. As we discussed, because the experiment was so poorly conceived, any result would have been meaningless.
We were mistaken about Séralini. The experiments reported last week show that he has crossed the line from merely performing and reporting flawed experiments to committing gross scientific misconduct and attempting fraud.
Séralini claimed that his experiments found harmful effects, including a high incidence of tumors, in laboratory rats fed genetically modified corn and/or water spiked with the commonly used herbicide, glyphosate. The treatments lasted for two years.
There is so much wrong with the experimental design that the conclusion is inescapable that the investigators intended to get a spurious, preordained result.
Once released, the scientific community criticized the experiment on a number of grounds. For one, the rats used in the experiment were of a variety bread to be prone to tumors. Thus, the number of tumors in both the experimental and control groups were high, and, as it turns out, the difference was not statistically significant. But bear in mind, the results, which claimed to show an increased risk of cancer were released to the media before other scientists had any chance to point these flaws out.
Yet, that is only the tip of the iceberg. You can lead a veritable laundry list of fundamental experimental protocol shortfalls in the Forbes article. These include such things as a completely improperly sized control and experimental group, unconventional and questionable statistical analysis methods, absence of pathological samples and lack of explanation of apparent dose discrepancy.
Above all else, the researchers refused to release the raw data from the experiment. Basic data, such as the type of tumors observed, the mortality rates has not been provided. Records of exactly what the rats in the study were fed and wen is also either unavailable or not provided. Without such basic data, it’s impossible to really examine the study’s findings at all. Indeed, without such data, the publication does not even meet the basic standards for being considered a published “study.”
The fact that they would consider it more important to release the graphic and attention-grabbing photos shown above, but not the pathology data or the basic records of the experiment speaks volumes about what the intended audience and effect really was.
Indeed, the publishing of the study appears so shoddy, that the journal it was published in, Food and Chemical Toxicology has been criticized for allowing it past its peer review panels. It does not meet the basic criteria set out by the journal for editorial and study quality. Exactly how it managed to get published remains unclear. There have been some journals set up entirely for the purpose of publishing studies of too poor a quality to be published elsewhere. However, Food and Chemical Toxicology appears to be an otherwise legitimate journal. While they may not have the highest standards, they also are not known for absurdly low ones either. Still, for any peer reviewed journal, publications of this type can have a big impact on their reputation, and rightfully so.
The Forbes article closes:
An obvious question is why Séralini would publish such obviously shoddy studies. The answer may be that negative headline stories laden with color pictures of rats with grotesque tumors are not easily forgotten even if the studies are fraudulent. Also, it may be hard for the non-expert to ignore the reported differences between control and experimental groups, and many non-experts will probably believe that where there is smoke, there is fire even if there are flaws in the experiment. But scientists understand that if the design, execution, or analysis of a study is fundamentally flawed, any conclusions are disqualified.
I do not think there’s any doubt as to why this study was published or why it was released to the media to begin with. The vast majority of scientific researchers take their job seriously and wish to follow the best protocols necessary to provide valid data to expand human understanding and help provide better information for public policy. Unfortunately, however, there are some who are less concerned about science and more concerned with getting media attention through sensational claims. After all, this type of scaremongering grabs headlines and that can lead to things like lecture tours, book deals, interviews and, most importantly, money.
I encourage readers to check out the full article from Forbes.
This entry was posted on Friday, March 29th, 2013 at 1:10 pm and is filed under Agriculture, Bad Science, Conspiracy Theories, Enviornment, Politics. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.
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