Last year I blogged about the retraction of Professor Seralini’s toxicology study on rats claiming negative health effects of eating round-up tolerant GM maize. Well, last week it was re-published, in a lower-ranking journal.
The republication has been met with a fraction of the publicity from first time around (perhaps unsurprising given that it was basically the same paper with slight re-analysis and a more political slant).
A post-publication review of the original paper stated that “the data were inconclusive, and therefore the conclusions described in the article were unreliable.” The new paper was met with the same reaction by the scientific community, again unsurprising as it is exactly the same data.
Retraction Watch has uncovered interesting aspects of the story, including doubts over the validity of the peer review for the new journal. It seems that it the review process was simply to check that the scientific content of the paper had not changed since the original paper, rather than to evaluate its scientific merits.
For me it’s been a bit of a scary story, not because I fear for my health but because it has highlighted the consequences of failings in the peer review system. This is nothing new – the problems with peer review are being widely discussed. Like our current system of democracy, it’s a system with drawbacks but an extremely valuable one to have. Unlike democracy, people are working to improve peer review.
It concerns me that a flawed paper could get through peer review, but what concerns me far more is that a paper which doesn’t hold high standards of animal welfare can be published.
Photos of rats with huge tumors from this study have been splashed around the internet. I can only think of two reasons why animals would have been allowed to live long enough for tumors to get so large. One is that they were kept alive to create more dramatic scare pictures, and the other is that the people doing the work have sufficiently little regard for welfare as to make them unsuitable for experiments using animals.
I’m disappointed that animal welfare hasn’t been more prominent in the debate, but pleased to have others who agree. Professor Bruce Chassy, Professor Emeritus of Food Safety/Nutritional Sciences, University of Illinois, said: “Seralini now states that the research was not a cancer study. If that is true, then there was no reason not to euthanize animals when tumors were first detectable. There was nothing to gain or learn. This is unethical treatment of animals.”