|Journal facilitates attack on scientist (18/9/2007)|
Nature Biotechnology facilitates premeditated GM Rottweiler attack
When Russian scientist Irina Ermakova revealed the results of her studies of rats which had been fed on a diet of GM soy in 2005, there was immediate and widespread press coverage, since her findings indicated that the fertility of animals fed on the GM material was compromised, and that the survival rates of offspring were dramatically reduced (1). Her results were seized upon by anti-GM campaigners and consumer groups, since they seemed to confirm other published research showing damage to the vital organs of animals fed on GM plants of various kinds (2). The GM industry and the regulatory bodies in Europe and elsewhere were not best pleased, and over the past two years they have sought to marginalise and vilify Dr Ermakova, to demonstrate that her research methods were fundamentally flawed, and to spread the message that her findings were anomalous and untrustworthy. One of their on-going criticisms has been that the research cannot be trusted because it is not peer-reviewed and published in a "respectable" scientific journal. However, Dr Ermakova has admitted over and again that her facilities in Moscow and her research design are not perfect, and that there may be aspects of her work that can be improved. She has had no cooperation whatsoever from Monsanto or from the Russian Academy of Science, and indeed they have sought to block her research by starving her of funds and refusing to supply her with GM soy for the feeding experiments. Against all the odds, she has repeated her experiments five times, with very similar results on each occasion. And she has repeatedly called for others to replicate or improve her experiments -- a call which has gone unheeded thus far. It does not take a genius to work out that the GM industry is very scared that any new research will simply confirm Ermakova's findings. For the same reason, Pusztai's controversial research involving GM potatoes (3) has never been repeated. So the instinct of the GM industry, when shown research results which are uncomfortable, is to do what it has always done -- shoot the messenger.
The key events are as follows. We have in our possession the crucial documents to support every single point.
1. In the summer of 2007 a group of four scientists (Bruce M Chassy, L. Val Giddings, Alan McHughen and Vivian Moses) contacted the Editor of Nature Biotechnology and asked him if he would facilitate an opportunity for them to attack the research methods and findings of Dr Irina Ermakova (4). He agreed to this request (5).
2. The Editor of the journal wrote to IE on 25th June 2007. Extracts: "I am writing to you because the journal has been approached by a group of authors wishing to critique the results of your work that have been discussed in public forums." "......... the journal would, however, prefer to provide you with an opportunity to present your own findings and conclusions in your own words, rather than a critique from one side. I was therefore wondering whether you be willing to answer (via e-mail or telephone) a set of questions about your work, with a view to their questions and answers being published as part of an article?"
3. In a letter dated 28 June the editor stated: "I envisage an article that would present the results and conclusions you previously discussed at the NAGS symposium on genetic modification in Russia, together with community feedback." (6)
4. In the exchange of correspondence between June and September 2007 IE repeatedly asked if she could submit a paper in the normal way, presenting her results for consideration, peer review, and eventual acceptance / rejection (6). But the Editor (letter dated 29 June) indicated his reluctance to accept a submission on the grounds that the research results "have already been published publicly and discussed widely in the media". He indicated that the results were "no longer eligible for peer review at Nature Biotechnology under our policies." On the same day IE responded that, having repeated her experiments five times, she had new data to report. The Editor then agreed to accept a short "presubmission enquiry", but continued to encourage her to participate in a question and answer session.
5. On 19 July the Editor sent his list of questions to IE, and she sent her responses to him on 2nd August. Her text was edited and finalized on 14th August after the provision of certain additional information requested by the Editor. With the text she provided 12 references.
6. On 7th August Ermakova's offer to submit a paper entitled "Comparison of effects of different kinds of maternal diet with soy modified by gene CP4 EPSPS on rat offspring" was turned down by Dr Kathy Aschheim, Senior editor of Nature Biotechnology, on the pretext that it would be more appropriate for another journal.
7. On 20 August the Senior Production Editor of Nature Biotechnology sent IE a "dummy proof" in PDF format (7), with the title "GM Soybeans and health safety -- a controversy reexamined" and with Irina V Ermakova listed beneath the title as author. Eight of the original 12 references had been deleted. In the introductory paragraph (presumably written by the Editor) were the words "Nature Biotechnology approached Ermakova to ask for a detailed account of her work in her own words. Her answers are presented below together with comments solicited from a group of researchers working in the field." The comments from the group of researchers were NOT included in the dummy proof, which was referred to as a "publication proof." (8)
8. On 12th September, without any further reference to IE, the article was published on the Nature Biotechnology web site. It was now a totally different article, with Andrew Marshall listed as author, with 20 new references (all chosen to bolster the case made by the "group of four"), with photos and biographical notes on Val Giddings, Bruce Chassy, Alan McHugh and Vivian Moses, and with lengthy critiques by the group inserted after every one of the answers provided by IE.
9. The critiques printed in the article are not attributed to individuals, but appear to be the "agreed positions" of the four of them working together. There must have been considerable communication between them before the wording of each critique was finalized for publication.
10. On the day of publication, IE asked for a copy of the published article, and it was sent to her in PDF format (9). This was the first time she had seen it in its final form, and the first time she had seen the comments from the "group of four." She was surprised to see that her name had been replaced by that of Andrew Marshall as author