Reports have been circulating that Prof Gilles-Eric Séralini’s paper was not peer-reviewed at Environmental Sciences Europe (ESEU), the journal that republished it following its retraction by Food and Chemical Toxicology (FCT) last year.
For example, RetractionWatch headlined an article on the topic: “Republished Séralini GMO-rat study was not peer-reviewed, says editor”.
Yet a press release from CRIIGEN, the research institute where Séralini is president of the scientific council, states:
“The research team of Prof Séralini made the choice of an open access publication in a peer-reviewed journal, which arranged the third peer-reviewed assessment of the study.”
"Third", because there were two previous reviews of the paper. The first was for the original publication in FCT. The second review was by a secret panel of unnamed persons arranged by the FCT editor in chief, A. Wallace Hayes, who examined the paper and Prof Séralini’s raw data over a period of several months but were nevertheless unable to find anything “incorrect” in it, adding that no misrepresentation or fraud were found either.
Who is right? Was the republished paper peer-reviewed by ESEU, or not?
Prof Séralini confirmed to us that it was. As proof, he forwarded to us an email he was sent by an editor at Environmental Sciences Europe while the paper was still under review. We’re reproducing a clip from that email, with Prof Séralini’s permission. Explaining the current status of the paper, the editor states:
To any reasonable person, this can only mean one thing: the journal editor arranged a peer review of the paper and there were at least three reviewers.
What, then, should we make of the following statement attributed to Henner Hollert, the editor of ESEU, published in the journal Nature?
“ESEU conducted no scientific peer review, he adds, 'because this had already been conducted by Food and Chemical Toxicology, and had concluded there had been no fraud nor misrepresentation.' The role of the three reviewers hired by ESEU was to check that there had been no change in the scientific content of the paper, Hollert adds."
The statement seems clear. Hollert accepted FCT's position that the two reviews conducted by FCT, including the several-months-long examination of Séralini’s raw data, hadn’t uncovered anything incorrect in the scientific aspects of the paper. So Hollert arranged a third peer review to check that nothing had been changed in the scientific content. Editors are within their rights to define the terms of reference of the peer review, and this is apparently what Hollert did.
Of course, the real reason why critics are busy claiming that there was no peer review at ESEU is obvious. It is just another desperate attempt to discredit an inconvenient paper whose findings simply won’t go away.
(by Claire Robinson)
Update 8 July 2014 by Claire Robinson
In answering the question of whether Séralini et al’s republished paper was peer reviewed, it seems reasonable to consult widely accepted definitions of the term.
Wikipedia defines peer review as "the evaluation of work by one or more people of similar competence to the producers of the work (peers)".
The Oxford Dictionary defines it as "evaluation of scientific, academic, or professional work by others working in the same field".
According to these definitions, Séralini et al's republished paper was indeed peer reviewed. The definitions do not narrow down the term "peer review" to refer only to "scientific" peer review.