The Seralini Debacle

I love the Seralini debacle. It is instructional. A veritable horde is crying for the paper to be retracted. The reasons? It’s become ‘a paper’, it has been published, it will be ‘used’ by activists, it will mislead people. Oh, the horror!

These are the same people (such luminaries as Keith Kloor and Mark Lynas) who look the other way when papers with the same set of flaws drive policies and actions they favour. Their house favourite Greenpeace runs around destroying GM experimental crop. The IPCC does the exact same thing as Seralini except on a much vaster scale: release press proclamations to a captive audience. The fear-mongering junk science jamborees run for months on auto-pilot. There are numerous papers in animal toxicology, environmental and cancer research that have all the flaws listed against the Seralini paper. Sample size issues? There are clowns drawing conclusions from a sample size of zero! Data availability? There are people who refuse to release data 15 years after the paper was originally published. The authors are reported to have shown the journal editor their raw data.

Here’s the worst part: looking at authors’ data, the editor of the journal found “no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation of the data” and commended them for “commitment to the scientific process”. The journal peer-review looked the sample sizes and “weighed that the work still had merit despite this limitation”. Yet, the paper has to be retracted.

Why? Because, according to the editor, “no definitive conclusions can be reached” from the small sample sizes and because, ridiculously enough, the “results presented (while not incorrect) are inconclusive, and therefore do not reach the threshold of publication for Food and Chemical Toxicology.” This, for a paper that already cleared the threshold and was published by the journal.

Only about a week back Science published an excellent article on the problems with animal studies. Surely, the torrent of informed criticism of the shoddy methodology in Alzheimer’s, multiple sclerosis, stroke, Huntington’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease research must have reached you in full force, over the years.

A paper once published cannot be de-published. Beyond the universally acceptable violations of research norms of fabrication, falsification, plagiarism and ethical violations, there remain little reason to retract a published paper. The critics of Seralini and the editor, collectively, seem unable to explain why numerous forms of redress available to them, namely, replies, letters to the editor, notices of concern, or corrections would not suffice. Such retractions without rationale are politics, not science.

The sooner science and scientists stop this Illuminati bullshit and get back to work, the better.