A Never-Ending Story

(June 27th, 2014) Whenever you think it’s finally over, the notorious Séralini study on GM-fed rats surfaces again. Just a few days ago, a new chapter started. Environmental Sciences Europe re-published the paper.

Published, heavily criticised, retracted, criticised again and now re-published. This is the “vita” of the infamous Séralini study, in which Gilles-Eric Séralini et al. feeding cancer-prone rats a diet of genetically-modified maize and a pesticide, concluded that GM food is harmful to health. Even with the recent re-publication, the controversy is sure to flare up again and deceptive statements continue to confuse the scientific community and the public.

Originally published in 2012 in Food & Chemical Toxicology, the rat study immediately attracted criticism for its experimental setup and analysis. Calls for the study’s retraction were made and editor in chief, A. Wallace Hayes, paid heed to his journal’s readers and retracted the study earlier this year. “The results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive,” he wrote in the accompanying retraction notice. Issue filed away and moving on? No! Shortly after, a petition was launched, amongst others by an anti-GMO campaigner, but also signed by real scientists (LT reported in its print edition 2-2014). As inconclusiveness is not a reason for a paper retraction, they demanded a public apology and the paper to be re-instated. The petitioners got their way for the latter, at least.

On June 24th, Environmental Sciences Europe re-published the paper, together with the following statement: “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. 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.”

The paper does not contain any new data, the authors only re-analysed existing datasets. The Conversation writes: “Instead of performing new experiments, in which more control animals were included, the animals were randomised and treated in an unbiased and blinded fashion, the results analysed with robust statistics, and the full dataset provided in the supplementary material; the authors have repackaged the same data as before, but have found a journal with lower standards for publication.”

What’s even stranger: The accompanying press release states that the re-published study was peer-reviewed and when contacted by Retraction Watch, Séralini confirmed this. But, as ESEU editor-in-chief Henner Hollert revealed to Nature, Environmental Sciences Europe, in fact, only asked their reviewers to check that there was “no change in the scientific content of the paper”.

Retraction Watcher, Ivan Oransky, told CBS News his point of view, “This is a good example of what happens when people with hardened beliefs manipulate a system for the result they want. (…) Science should be about following the evidence, appropriately changing your mind if the evidence warrants it. But in this case people seem to reject the evidence that doesn’t suit their needs.”

Coming soon to a news outlet near you – the next episode of the Séralini affair.

Kathleen Gransalke

Photo: www.publicdomainpictures.net/George Hodan

Last Changes: 08.22.2014