Edited science

... Edited out of existence.

June 2013

The gold-standard of science is peer-reviewed publication in an academic journal.

This system ensures that only research which has been appropriately designed and correctly executed with valid materials, and which presents conclusions supported by the results, is accepted into the cannon.
 “If it hasn't been published, it doesn't exist” (Robinson and Latham).
However, before it reaches the peer reviewers there's another hurdle: the science has to please the journal editor, who literally has the power of life or death over papers submitted.

Such power provides opportunities for abuse, and it seems this situation is being exploited by industry.

One top scientific publisher notoriously invented an entire 'medical' journal as a front to promote the products of a favoured drug company.

In recent years, biotech industry interests have found ways to pull editorial strings not only to promote their own GM products, but to 'disappear' GM-unfriendly findings.

Monsanto's first 'safety' studies on Roundup Ready GM soya appeared as a neat package of related papers in a leading journal. They looked like regular science and the editor claimed they been subject to the standard peer-review process, but publication was part-paid by Monsanto, and they were classed as 'advertisements' [1]. The 'science' presented had obvious shortcomings, begging the question of who were the 'peer' reviewers used by the editor?

Russian scientist, Irina Ermakova, was deceived by a leading journal into providing an article about her long-term rat feeding study on GM soya. The editor furtively accepted four lengthy critiques from biotech scientists (none of whom had appropriate expertise to be considered 'peer reviewers' [2]) and published these alongside Ermakova's article. No opportunity for proof-reading of the final copy was given, nor the customary (and courteous) right of concurrent reply. Ermakova's study found that rats fed GM soya had impaired growth, decreased fertility and suffered early death. The paper was, effectively, barred from peer review and publication anywhere else by this apparent editor/industry conspiracy. At the end of the day, one of GM's most damning research “doesn't exist”.

French scientist, Gilles-Eric Séralini, was sharp enough to realise his long-term rat feeding study on GM maize and Roundup herbicide would never see the light of day if the biotech industry saw it coming. He managed to keep it under wraps until it had been peer reviewed and published in the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology [3]. Caught on the back foot, the pro-GM lobby rained criticism on the science and demanded retraction by the journal's editor. This has worked in the past [6], but in this case the editor refused to back down.

Biotech industry plan B was to promote critiques of Séralini's paper in respectable places where no one could block them: the editor-in-chief of the journal, Transgenic Research, wrote and published two such articles in his own journal.

Clearly Food and Chemical Toxicology's editors had to be taken in hand. Early in 2013, the journal's editorial board acquired a new “Associate Editor for biotechnology”, Richard Goodman.

This specially-created post seems to have been a direct response to the journal's part in the “Séralini affair” because Food and Chemical Toxicology already had a senior editor, José Domingo, who is a professor of toxicology and environmental health, and author of comprehensive reviews of GM food safety studies [4]. Also, the journal's senior management bypassed the normal scientific editorial culture of gradual promotion from within: fast-track appointment of someone with no previous connection to the journal directly onto the upper editorial board is unprecedented.

Goodman is a former Monsanto employee who was responsible for assessing allergenicity of GM crops and who published papers on the Company's behalf. He also has active (and ongoing) involvement with the International Life Science Institute (ILSI) which is funded by the biotech industries, and has had a controversial role in establishing GM-friendly risk assessment methods in the both the EU and the USA.

We'll never know how much 'GM bad news' Goodman blocks because it won' be published: it will never “exist”.

However, we may already have seen the first effects of his strategic positioning.

Not long after the publication of Séralini's study on problems surrounding Roundup and a Roundup Ready crop, an unrelated paper appeared in Food and Chemical Toxicology which pointed to serious implications of consuming a range of 'Bt' toxins generated by GM insect-resistant crops. This second damning paper was unaccountably “withdrawn at the request of the authors(s) and/or editor”.


This kind of withdrawal from publication is rare, but can happen despite the peer-review process if the authors or editor belatedly discover some technical deficiency in the research. In this case, the evidence points to an editorial change of heart, because the same paper (or something which looks very like it) appeared a few months later in an open access science journal [5].

The implications are stark: scientific journals which were once “a safeguard of quality and independence (are in danger of becoming) a tool through which one vision, that of corporate science, came to assert ultimate control” (Robinson and Latham).

Background information:
[1] ADVERSCIENCING - GMFS Archive, February 2009
[2] The four inappropriately qualified critics who were allowed by the editor of Nature Biotechnology to shred Ermakova's study were:
  • Bruce Chassy who was lead author of two influential ILSI publications which defined weak risk assessment methodologies for GM crops and which were later inserted into the EU guidelines.
  • Vivian Moses, the chairman of biotech industry funded lobby group CropGen
  • Val Giddings, former vice president for food and agriculture in the industry-funded Biotechnology Industry Organization
  • Alan McHughen who destroyed Canada's flax trade by contaminating the crop with GM 'triffid' genes, see THE DAY OF THE TRIFFID FLAX - GMFS Archive, November 2009
[3] GM MAIZE NOT SAFE TO EAT - October 2012
[6] A paper by Ignacio Chapela, a microbiologist at the University of California, Berkeley, was withdrawn after publication by the journal Nature in 2001. Chapela had reported data on the flow of transgenes into wild maize. Later research has found extensive gene pollution from GM maize.

  • Claire Robinson and Jonathan Latham,The ~Goodman Affair: Monsanto Targets the Heart of Science, Independent Science News, 20.05.13
  •, 9.11.12

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