when doing agenda science, threaten to sue your critics

October 16, 2012

Even if those critics have not yet materialized. That was the sentiment of the cherry-picked and widely panned anti-GMO study lead by an activist researcher trying to get European agencies to crack down on genetically modified food. I already mentioned that the press was prohibited from soliciting opinions from others in the field if it wanted to review the paper before it was officially released, something that’s both very rare and very troubling, but a new detail shared by Nature makes this blatant attempt to manipulate objective coverage even worse…

Journalists often receive embargoed journal articles, and standard practice is to solicit independent assessments before the paper is published. The agreement for this paper, however, did not allow any disclosure and threatened [reporters with] a severe penalty for non-compliance: “A refund of the cost of the study of several million euros would be considered damages if the premature disclosure questioned the release of the study.”

In other words, interfere with the hype we’re trying to manufacture and question the contents of the study, and we’ll sue you for millions. You could almost hear Gilles-Eric Séralini cracking his knuckles in the background, finger hovering over his lawyer’s number on his phone. If he’s sure that he got the science correctly and that his results are solid enough to inform an international agency’s policy, why would he declare a draconian embargo and threaten to sue his critics into oblivion before the paper is even published? Why wouldn’t he be open to expert reviews before the media release and has to be goaded into handing over the full data of his work when experts find anomalies and problems with his presented conclusions? The only sensible answer to these questions is that Séralini has an agenda and he massaged his study to get the answer he wants and set the scene for his anti-GMO book, riding the wave of hype all the way to the bank.

This is not how you do science. This is not even how you promote a cause. At this point, I’m not sure if Séralini is just trying to make a profit or if he truly believes that GMOs are dangerous and is just trying to fuel the hysterics. Regardless, I understand that short trials on certain breeds of mice probably don’t go far enough to establish the safety of some controversial GM foods and I can understand why a lot of people want more research to be done, ideally by somebody who’s not Monsanto and has an interest in selling GM crops. We should be doing more research and more study. But the answer to the public’s legitimate concerns should not come in the form of an agenda-driven experiment and conspiracy-laden defense of the researchers’ bad behavior and efforts at strong-armed censorship. This just gives ammunition to the Luddies convinced that all genetic modification done in a lab is of the Devil and any food they don’t personally approve of has to be poison fed to us by corrupt businesses led by remorseless, greedy demons.

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