Seralini – Scientist or Reanimator?

So for those not in the know, Giles-Eric Seralini is a man who is vying very hard for the title of “Andrew Wakefield of the anti-GMO movement”. His seminal work, a 2012 paper titled “Long-term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize”, was published in a mid-tier journal and sparked a firestorm of outrage when Seralini previewed it to the popular press under an embargo which ensured that it would receive no criticism. The paper was shit. Total, utter, unmitigated shit. It was a paper that tried to show a substance as being toxic but contained no dose-response – an absolutely fundamental issue in toxicology. It also had tiny sample sizes, used a breed of rat known for having incredibly high cancer rates, contained no statistical analysis, did not present raw data but rather provided us with virtually illegible graphs… I could spend all day talking about how shit this study was. Thankfully, I don’t have to. Oh, and I kinda already did. Criticism of the study is almost impossible to miss online, because it is so fucking bad. In fact, as previously stated:

The study was really, really, really, really bad. It belongs under the general banner of “Scopie’s Law” – that is, if you cite it as a valid source to support your conclusions (unless your conclusions are “look at how dishonest anti-GMO advocates are”), you are no longer worth taking seriously. Throw it on the pile with NaturalNews and Age of Autism.

Anyone who holds up this paper as good research has either failed on a fundamental level to understand the field they’re talking about, or hasn’t read the fucking paper. Fun fact – the only statistically significant result to be found in the data set is that drinking straight RoundUp makes male rats live longer.But okay, no need to belabor the point further. The study was shit, almost everyone realized it was shit, and the journal retracted it. So why am I bringing it up now? Well, turns out, it’s back.

Yep! Seralini actually managed to find a journal stupid enough to publish this crap! I mean, what were the reviewers at this journal thinking? “HURR DURR THIS WINDOW IS DELICIOUS”?

Actually, it’s not that hard to figure out. The journal it’s published in, Environmental Studies Europe, is pretty much brand new – not old enough to have an official impact factor. Other sources have calculated an approximate impact factor of 0.55, which leaves it in the bottom 10% of all environmental journal in terms of impact factor. Also, the journal is published by Springer open journals, a pay-to-publish open-access journal. Now, I’m not going to say that all open-access journals are shit. They aren’t. Just… Yanno. Most of ’em. Because the business model only relies on having scientists who want their material published, rather than readers who actually give a damn about the contents, open-access journals have absolutely no need to have anything resembling standards in what material they accept. Indeed, at times the results are downright comical, like when open-access journals accept literally unintelligible papers for publication again and again and again.

But even that’s too charitable to Seralini, because this turned up in a press release regarding the paper.

Empirical natural and social sciences produce knowledge which should describe and explain past and present phenomena and estimate their future development. To this end quantitative methods are used. 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, [the editor] aims to enable rational discussions dealing with the article from G.-E. Séralini et al. (Food Chem. Toxicol. 2012, 50:4221–4231) 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 editor and journal’s name will be released at the press conference, June 24th]

 

See what they did there? The paper was never reviewed for content! No wonder it got through – the editors weren’t asleep at the wheel, they willfully chose to publish something they ought to have known was bullshit! For the sake of “enabling rational discussion”. Um, buddy, hate to break it to ya, but “rational discussion” was had. The paper isn’t worth the trees it’s printed on. We can discuss that just fine without it being published in a peer-reviewed journal – a place it has no business being. But that’s not the worst excuse-making we get. No, it gets worse. Here are some of Seralini’s cronies friends defending him:

 

Dr Michael Antoniou, a molecular geneticist based in London, commented, “Few studies would survive such intensive scrutiny by fellow scientists. The republication of the study after three expert reviews is a testament to its rigour, as well as to the integrity of the researchers. “If anyone still doubts the quality of this study, they should simply read the republished paper. The science speaks for itself. If even then they refuse to accept the results, they should launch their own research study on these two toxic products that have now been in the human food and animal feed chain for many years.”

Dr Jack A Heinemann, Professor of Molecular Biology and Genetics, University of Canterbury New Zealand called the republication “an important demonstration of the resilience of the scientific community”. Dr Heinemann continued, “The first publication of these results revealed some of the viciousness that can be unleashed on researchers presenting uncomfortable findings. I applaud Environmental Sciences Europe for submitting the work to yet another round of rigorous blind peer review and then bravely standing by the process and the recommendations of its reviewers, especially after witnessing the events surrounding the first publication.

“This study has arguably prevailed through the most comprehensive and independent review process to which any scientific study on GMOs has ever been subjected. The work provides important new knowledge that must be taken into account by the community that evaluates and reports upon the risks of genetically modified organisms, indeed upon all sources of pesticide in our food and feed chains. In time these findings must be verified by repetition or challenged by superior experimentation. In my view, nothing constructive for risk assessment or promotion of GM biotechnology has been achieved by attempting to expunge these data from the public record.”

No, Dr. Antoniou, the fact that this study was republished is not a testament to its rigour or integrity. It’s a testament to the fact that open-access journals will publish any shit they get paid to publish. And Dr. Heinemann, the study did not “prevail”. It “prevailed” in the same way the Wakefield study would have “prevailed” if Wakefield had submitted his fraudulent and retracted research to a bottom-tier open-access journal and it had been accepted. It’s a fucking zombie – it should be dead, by any reasonable examination, and yet it shambles on, infecting people with stupid. I wonder how many journals he applied it to before they settled on a journal which is both open-access and bottom-of-the-barrel. I bet it would be rather eye-opening to learn. And yes, the science does reveal itself, Dr. Antoniou, and actually reading the paper reveals it. I wonder – did you read it? Did you try to do a cursory statistical analysis on it? Do you have even a fucking high-school level understanding of toxicology? No dose-response, no statistical analysis, clear abuse of animal ethics, unacceptable sample sizes… This paper is truly a piece of work. And now it’s back. Congratulations Dr. Giles-Eric Reanimator, you’ve done it again. Now could you please just go away? You’ve done enough damage as it is.

To round out the article, this wonderful picture from the folks at the Genetic Literacy Project.

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