Scores of scientists have condemned a journal editor's retraction of a study that reported a number of serious side effects in lab rats that consumed Monsanto's genetically modified maize and Roundup herbicide.
In all, according to a press release by a group called End Science Censorship, the number of scientists decrying the retraction has climbed to 150.
The group said the editor of the Elsevier journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT), Dr. A. Wallace Hayes, claimed that the retraction of a study conducted by a team headed by Prof. Gilles-Eric Seralini was due to some "inconclusive" findings. But that rationale has been roundly criticized by scientists who point out that many studies contain findings that are not at all conclusive.
What is also noteworthy, they point out, is that the retraction comes just a few months after the arrival of a former Monsanto scientist on the editorial board of the scientific journal.
"It is a criminal attitude," said Dr. Mohamed Habib, a professor of entomology at the University of Campinas, Brazil, who has signed a petition opposing the retraction.
"Truth and ethical values have to be considered as more important than money. The article must be reinstated," he said, adding that the retraction appeared to indicate that powerful economic interests influenced the journal's decision.
Watchdog group powerless to do anything
A former member of the editorial board of FCT, Marcel Roberfroid, also critiqued the retraction. In a letter to the editor of the journal, he wrote, "Your decision, which can be interpreted as a will to eliminate scientific information that does not help supporting industrial interests is, in my view, unacceptable."
End Science Censorship said that, in a separate initiative, more than 1,200 scientists have promised to boycott Elsevier because of the retraction.
Nevertheless, an ethics watchdog over the scientific community appears powerless to intervene, said observers.
Critics of the retraction have noted that it violates guidelines established by the Committee on Publication Ethics, or COPE, an organization of which FCT is a member. The journal's editor Hayes, on the other hand, has maintained that COPE's guidelines support his retraction decision.
Per the press release:
COPE has responded to a complaint from Prof GE Seralini about the retraction with an admission that it is powerless to investigate or make a judgment on the dispute, saying that the decision on how COPE guidelines are interpreted "lies with the editor and publisher".
Claire Robinson, coordinator of End Science Censorship, called COPE's response "disappointing."
"This shows the limitations of voluntary guidelines in cases of unethical or unscientific behaviour on the part of editors of scientific journals," she said. "Nothing can be enforced, so editors have 'carte blanche' to play fast and loose with scientists' research and reputations."
"In the interests of not misleading scientists who submit papers to the journal, FCT should resign from COPE, since the editor's actions are incompatible with the COPE guidelines," she added.
New push coming for GM eggplant - after retraction
Another watchdog group, Retraction Watch, accused Hayes of doing a "verbal dance" around COPE guidelines in an attempt to justify his decision.
"Claiming COPE guidelines somehow support this decision doesn't seem valid," said the organization.
The retraction has been used as a springboard for a GMO industry lobbying group, ISAAA, to push for the release of a GM pesticide-containing eggplant in the Philippines, after a court there banned field trials of the eggplant over safety concerns last year. ISAAA officials say the retraction means that the Philippine court's decision should be overturned.
"It seems that the editor of FCT, Dr Hayes, effectively did the job for the GM and agrochemical industry that the expert witnesses failed to do," said Robinson. "The witnesses couldn't demolish the study through scientific argument, so it had to be removed from the record. That is what Seralini's critics told Hayes to do; and he obliged."