28 November 2013 Wallace Hayes, editor-in-chief of the journal Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) announced the retraction of the article on the long-term toxicity study of genetically modified maize NK603 and the herbicide to which it has been rendered tolerant (Roundup) of Seralini et al. Following an exceptional post-publication review process, the editor Wallace Hayes said that “no fraud” was detected, justifying his decision on the mere fact that the data were “inconclusive”. To date, the characterisation of a study as “inconclusive” has never been used to justify the withdrawal of research work after publication. Only the subsequent replication of a study and a scientific discussion on the data obtained can enable progress towards greater certainty.
In December 2013, pressed to explain his actions, Dr Hayes published an article in his magazine in the form of a confession: “The review of the data made it clear that there was no misconduct. However, to be very clear, it is the entire paper, with the claim that there is a definitive link between GMO and cancer that is being retracted.” The analysis of Dr Hayes to motivate his decision to retract the article, though claimed to be “thorough and lengthy”, failed to avoid two fatal errors : confusion and overgeneralization.
The study of Seralini et al. was never intended to follow the experimental protocol used for carcinogenicity. Moreover, the term “cancer” is never mentioned in the article. As the title of the study says, it is an analysis of the potential “long-term toxicity”. This is one of the first global studies conducted in this area over a period of two years and was intended to analyze a broader set of biological parameters (blood, organs, urinary…), the statistical analysis and results of which has not been disputed by the editor of FCT.
Anxious to pursue a scientific debate with the community of peers, in late January 2014, the study authors appealed to the Committee On Publication Ethics (COPE), which since 1997 has published recommendations on the conditions for retraction of an article. The Elsevier group and the journal FCT have signed up to COPE’s charter on good ethical practices. In a letter published here, staff members of COPE could only state their role as “advisors” and not as arbitrators in this kind of conflict. According to this watchdog organization, “the editorial decision [to retract] belongs to the editor and publisher,” and “the justification as to how the decision was reached within the framework of the COPE guidelines also lies with them.” We believe that the withdrawal does not meet the ethical requirements set by COPE.
Faced with the continued position of the editor Hayes, the research team of Seralini et al. has no other option than to make public all the documents and views submitted to COPE so that everyone can access this debate on the independence of scientific publishers, the freedom to publish and defend the ethical foundations of science.
Hundreds of researchers are supporting Seralini’s team in what has become a struggle for the defence of scientific ethics and the independence of research. At the end of February, it was the turn of a former member of the editorial board of the CTF, Marcel Roberfroid, to express his indignation at Dr Hayes over the retraction: “Your decision can be interpreted as the desire to eliminate scientific information that does not help support industrial interests, which seems unacceptable to me.” For his part, Professor Seralini says, “This situation is all the more serious because it is, in this particular case, a matter of public health, and we want a real debate with the editor and the Academies on the scientific basis of their arguments, which do not appear to be serious or substantiated.”
Released documents :
- Letters to COPE from Séralini & al, english version, january 31th 2014