The Only Study to Link GMO Foods to Cancer Retracted

December 2nd, 2013
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You may remember back in March, this site called out a study in the Journal Food and Chemical Toxicology as being fraudulent.  No, I cannot claim credit for outing the study, however, as by the time it showed up here, a number of prestigious scientists had pointed out the extreme flaws in the study and conclusion.

None the less, the study, complete with dramatic photos of tumor-ridden rats has become a mainstay of the anti-biotech movement.   It is one of the most often cited pieces of evidence of the evils of genetic engineering.  Now, however, after much criticism, the journal has decided to retract the study.

Via the International Business Times:

GMO Corn Study To Be Retracted By Journal Following Storm Of Scientific Criticis

A controversial paper purporting to show a link between genetically modified corn and tumors in rats is poised to be retracted by the journal that published it following a storm of critics from scientists over the past year.

University of Caen biologist Gilles-Eric Seralini and colleagues published their findings on GMO corn and rats in September 2012 in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology. They reported that rats fed genetically modified corn or water spiked with glyphosate, the herbicide used in conjunction with GM corn, were more prone to tumors and multiple organ failures. But there were odd signs surrounding the paper from the start: Seralini allowed some journalists early access to the paper, but only on the condition that they sign a confidentiality agreement that reporters not seek comments from other scientists on the paper before publication, an extremely unusual move. Once the research was released, scientists criticized almost every element of the paper: the experiment’s design, the use of a strain of rats prone to tumors, the lack of standard controls, and conclusions that did not seem fully supported by the data.

“This paper as it is now, presents poor quality science and dubious ethics,” scientists from the Brazilian Biosafety Association wrote in a letter to the journal.

On Thursday, French newspaper Le Figaro reported that Food and Chemical Toxicology editor-in-chief A. Wallace Hayes had sent Seralini a letter saying the paper will be retracted if he and his colleagues do not agree to withdraw it.

Having an article retracted, with or without the agreement of the authors is a rare event and about the most extreme form of censure that can be imposed on a scientific publication. It is especially noteworthy that this comes as a direct result of the legitimate criticism that came from the scientific community. Although the journal it was published in was far from prestigious, it became apparent that this was the only way to maintain any credibility they may have had.

Unfortunately, this is unlikely to end the use of the study as evidence of the evils of biotechnology. Just as Andrew Wakefield’s fraudulent study still convinces anti-vaccine groups, it is impossible to shake the faith of true believers. Already some are saying this is just more evidence of a Monsanto-backed conspiracy.

So while this is a positive step and will certainly assure no legitimate scientists put any weight on the conclusions of this study, it will not unring that bell or put this claim to bed.

Via Russia Today:

Ratted out: Scientific journal bows to Monsanto over anti-GMO study

Rigid criteria exist for a serious scientific journal to accept a peer-reviewed paper and to publish it. As well there exist strict criteria by which such an article can be withdrawn after publication.

The Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology has apparently decided to violate those procedures, announcing it is retracting a long-term study on the toxic effects of Monsanto Genetically Modified Organisms (GMOs)—GMO Maize it published a year ago.

That assertion, by the way, is flat out wrong. Peer review is not a perfect process and the extent of rigor varies from journal to journal. The biggest and most well known, such as Nature and Science have the benefit of a large pool of reviewers and many studies to publish or turn down. For smaller journals, the quality of the peer review process varies enormously. In fact, the lack of quality control for peer review is a growing problem as more and more journals pop up.

Scientific journalism is largely self-policing, and in this case, the system failed in one respect but worked in another. While the article was published, it was also refuted by the open scientific community. Objections were so strong as to cause the retraction.

Since the process of peer review is imperfect, retractions can and do happen. They are regrettable and even embarrassing, but they are a necessity on occasions when bad science gets published in peer reviewed journals.

It is also absurd to think that Monsanto is so powerful they can strong-arm anyone into retracting an article or silence critics. If that were the case, there would be no anti-Monsanto groups or anti-Monsanto editorials. That is certainly not the case.

This entry was posted on Monday, December 2nd, 2013 at 8:19 pm and is filed under Agriculture, Announcements, Bad Science. 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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6 Responses to “The Only Study to Link GMO Foods to Cancer Retracted”

  1. 1
    BMS Says:

    Yeah … this one was just a matter of time.

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  2. 2
    DV82XL Says:

    Of course this will not be an end to it; that would be too much to ask. The groups collect and disseminate information on issues like these often feel that their views are neglected or stigmatized in society at large. The common thread between them is distrust and cynicism and perception of bad character in others. More broadly, it’s a tendency to focus on intention and agency, rather than causal complexity. In the extreme form it can become paranoia. What they’re doing is expressing concern over a fear, based on uncertainties and gaps in their understanding, worse they’ve built an identity around this lack of understanding. What they are looking for constantly is affirmation and they need it so badly that they must see a retraction like this as evidence of foul play because not to challenges their very existence.

    I am beginning to realize it is not the topic that drives these people, it is the need to feel in control and that their opinions are seen as relevant that is their primary motivation. Yes they leverage some broadly defined fear to at least appear to be fighting for something concrete, but the fact is they also blithely ignore hundreds of other risks in their lives, many of which are far more likely to do them harm than the one they are focused on. True, most people are bad at risk analysis and this is a factor, but this does not explain in and of itself the degree of opposition to things like vaccinations, GMO, EMF, and so on.

    It is not just that a bad job of explaining these things is being done by those that should, and it is not just a lack of grounding in science in the general public, and it is not just a lack of critical thinking that is at the bottom of this phenomena. It is a backlash by the disempowered and it is being played out in those areas where they can exercise choice simply because they can. And that is what we have to deal with if we are going to get any traction on these topics.

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  3. 3
    Common Tater Says:

    Nope, this won’t be the end of this being cited.

    And also, it won’t be the last study like this, because this study proved it can get a lot of attention. I’m sure the researchers got all kinds of publicity and paid speaking engagements out of it. In that sense, it worked flawlessly. It won’t be long before someone else cooks one up and publishes it in a journal with poor standards.

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  4. 4
    ebohlman Says:

    Also don’t forget the effect of cognitive dissonance: if you’ve got a substantial amount of your identity invested in a particular position, you’re going to be very resistant to any evidence that it was a bad investment. This is why good scientists don’t become emotionally attached to their discoveries the way artists do to their creations: the scientist has to accept that his discovery could turn out to be wrong, whereas the artist’s work is still real, and still his/hers, even if it’s a critical flop.

    A classic example of this can be seen in the continued insistence by the Citizen’s Commission for Human Rights, aka the Church of $cientology, that the Sandy Hook shooting was caused by psychiatric drugs, despite the results of the investigation that showed the shooter had never taken any. They simply ask cui bono and conclude that since the pharmaceutical industry would lose massive amounts of money if it turned out their products had caused the shooting, they simply suppressed the evidence (BTW, if the recently-released report strikes you as unsatisfactory or cursory, you need to remember that the primary purpose of the investigation and report was to determine whether or not there were any other people associated with the shooting who needed to be prosecuted (it concluded that there weren’t), not to explain the whole thing).

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  5. 5
    Matte Says:

    I can’t for the world understand how this article managed to get through the peer review process, at all. The journal it was published in must have selected cancer ridden rats as peers for this submission and not proper scientists…


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  6. 6
    DV82XL Says:

            ebohlman said:

    A classic example of this can be seen in the continued insistence by the Citizen’s Commission for Human Rights, aka the Church of $cientology, that the Sandy Hook shooting was caused by psychiatric drugs, despite the results of the investigation that showed the shooter had never taken any. They simply ask cui bono and conclude that since the pharmaceutical industry would lose massive amounts of money if it turned out their products had caused the shooting, they simply suppressed the evidence

    There is also a common weakness known as the fundamental attribution error – ascribing others’ behaviour to personality traits and objectives, forgetting the importance of situational factors and chance. Suspicion, imagination, and fantasy are closely related.

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