Retract this paper - part 2 (25/4/2006)

This is the second part of the real story behind the British Food Journal's Award for Excellence for Most Outstanding Paper in 2004, and why the award and the paper now need to be retracted.

For both parts and multiple links to source materials + a photo of one of the signs the researchers used to bias consumer responses, go to:



Attempts to defend the research

One of the paper's co-authors, Shane Morris has made a number of attempts to defend the research and his role in it. On examination, however, these turn out to be as misleading as the research itself.

*Morris says it's all "FAKE information and Lies!!!"

When we first drew attention to the evidence in Stuart Laidlaw's book, Morris replied on his blog with a piece entitled "More Spin, FAKE information and Lies!!!" in which he denied ever seeing any "misleading 'signs'".

So where does the photo on page 89 of Stuart Laidlaw's book come from?

The copyright belongs to the Toronto Star, the largest-circulation newspaper in Canada. It was one of several photographs taken at Wilson's farm store by one of the Star's top photographers, Bernard Weil. Weil is something of a hero in journalistic circles. Less than two years later, he was injured in Afghanistan when a grenade was thrown into his car. Last Fall, he was one of the first photographers into New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina.

It would clearly be more than surprising if either Weil or the Toronto Star were complicit in "FAKE information and Lies!!!"

*Morris says no "misleading signs during the data collection period"

Bernard Weil's photo of the "wormy" corn sign was one of several shot at Wilson's store during a media day held by Doug Powell and Jeff Wilson to publicise their study. The corn in the bins below the signs had just been harvested and was on sale as part of the study.

This is something that their press release for the event confirms.

"The first sweet corn and table potatoes of the season, including genetically engineered varieties, were available for consumers at Birkbank Farms today. The crops are part of an experiment comparing different pest management technologies coupled with consumer buying preference in a complete farm-to-fork approach." (HARVEST OF GENETICALLY ENGINEERED SWEET CORN AND POTATOES BEGINS AT BIRKBANK FARMS, 30.Aug.00)

That is what was said on August 30, 2000. The British Food Journal paper also confirms that August 30 was when the two types of corn were put on sale to customers at the store.

"Sales of both types of corn were recorded from August 30, when the corn was first harvested, to October 6..."

There's even a table in the paper where you can see how many dozen cobs of corn were sold on August 30.

So when Morris claims, "No data from any such "signs" were included in publication data", it is simply untrue. The "wormy" sign was photographed above the non-GM corn bin during the data collection period.

See the sign here:

*What Morris denies, Powell confirms

Curiously, although Morris claims the misleading signs were never there while the research was going on, the lead researcher, Doug Powell, has never made any attempt to disassociate himself from the signs. Powell's young daughter was photographed by Weil at the media day in front of the signs and in his book Laidlaw reports asking Powell explicitly about the "wormy" corn wording, and Powell's reply is included on page 118.

Powell told Laidlaw that the "wormy" question was simply rhetorical. He did not suggest that the wording or the sign were not part of the research. And it would be strange if he had. It was Powell, after all, who invited the media out to see his study on the day Bernard Weil took his photographs. In other words, this was the impression Powell wanted - at that time, at least - to present to the world.

On Powell's Food Safety Network website you can also read a letter of complaint that Powell wrote to the Toronto Star about an article about the research by Stuart Laidlaw - Altered food tested at the market, October 8, 2000. In his letter Powell says, "We simply asked consumers to decide for themselves, as the picture accompanying the story illustrated."

The picture accompanying the story was one of Bernard Weil's, showing Powell's young daughter in front of the corn bins with the signs above, ie Powell confirms that the signs photographed by Weil were a critical part of the choice presented to consumers.

*Morris says he has photographic evidence of no misleading signs

Morris has also sought to dismiss the photographic evidence by producing his own. His photographs, he says, confirm there were no such "misleading signs during the data collection period".

But in the photograph of the signs that Morris has put on his blog, the resolution is so low that the wording on the relevant sign above the non-GM sweet corn bin simply cannot be read. However, from what can be seen - in terms of the number and position of words and the style of lettering - the sign would seem remarkably similar to the "wormy" corn sign in Bernard Weil's photograph!

The only differences in Morris's photograph appears to be the addition of the big sign in the middle of the picture (apparently, added shortly after August 30), and when Weil took his photographs the hand-written signs, including the "wormy" corn sign, were lower, resting on the back of the sweet corn bins.

*Morris says Greenpeace Canada had no problem with his work

The other image Morris has put on his blog, and repeatedly drawn attention to, is styled, "Greenpeace Canada review of work." This text links to a photograph of Greenpeace Canada's former National Biotechnology Campaigner, Michael Khoo, looking at a sign in Wilson's store. Morris implies that if the Greenpeace campaigner wasn't happy with what he saw, he would hardly have kept quiet about it.


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