1.How Irina Ermakova was set up
2.Some notes on the 'reviewers'
3.Ermakova's GM soy trials in rats get a grilling at Nature Biotechnology
EXTRACT: "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."
GM Watch comment: Seems peer review now means the journal running errands for a bunch of GM lobbyists set on a one sided demolition job!
1.How Irina was set up
Dr Brian John
This is more serious than I had anticipated. I now have more background info, including all the key correspondence. The first move was made in a letter from Andrew Marshall to Irina on 25 June:
"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?"
In a letter dated 28 June he 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."
So the initiative came from the "group of four" -- at no time was Irina told who these people were, or what sort of "community" they represented. She was not told at any stage what format the article would take, and as we can see from the above she was led to believe that the "other side" would ask the questions, and she would be able to provide the answers.
Throughout the correspondence, Irina is cooperative and trusting, assuming that the Editor is simply wishing to publish an honest discussion of assorted scientific issues.
As recently as yesterday, Irina was under the impression that this was "her" article, and that her name should have been on the piece as author.
She was never shown the "community feedback" to her answers, and indeed the only proofs which Irina saw were the pieces containing her own answers to the editor's questions. In the proof which she has sent me, the comments from the "group of four" have carefully been cut out. Quite extraordinary.
So not only was she misled about the format and the purpose of the article, but she was kept in the dark as to the identities and objectives of the group of rottweilers, and denied sight of the final version of the paper before it was published.
As a piece of crude character assassination, this is on a par with what happened to Arpad, and there are some VERY serious questions that now need to be asked about the motives of a man who has seriously abused his privileged position as Editor, and about the modus operandi of what used to be a serious scientific publication. What we effectively have is a piece of very brutal and biased (and inaccurate) piece of peer reviewing by a self-selected group of GM proponents, in print and on the record, and published without the vilified scientist being given any opportunity to defend herself.
And all this on the day that Sir David King has gone on the record with a plea for more ethics in science:
2.Some notes on the 'reviewers'
All the 'reviewers' are well known GM propagandists.
Bruce Chassy has received research grants from major food companies and has conducted seminars for Monsanto, Genencor, Amgen, Connaught
Labs and Transgene.
3.Ermakova's GM soy trials in rats get a grilling at Nature Biotechnology
Wednesday, September 12, 2007
GM soybeans and health safety””a controversy reexamined
Andrew Marshall Nature Biotechnology 25, 981 - 987 (2007) doi:10.1038/nbt0907-981
An unprecedented study claiming that transgenic soybeans compromise the fertility of rats and the survival and growth of their offspring has garnered widespread media and political attention but remains unpublished in the peer-reviewed literature. Here, an account of the work from the principal investigator, Irina Ermakova, is appended with comments from researchers in the field.
From the Introduction to the article:
Neuroscientist Irina Ermakova of the Institute of Higher Nervous Activity and Neurophysiology of the Russian Academy of Sciences in Moscow made news headlines two years ago when she reported that rats fed diets containing glyphosate-tolerant genetically modified (GM) soybeans gave birth to pups with low survival rates or stunted growth [Ref 1].
Though these findings have yet to appear in a peer-reviewed journal and contradict publications in the literature, they have been widely disseminated and discussed over the media and internet and already cited by more than 500 organizations as evidence of the potential toxicity of GM products.
They've also prompted the American Academy of Environmental Medicine (Wichita, KS, USA) to call for additional independent studies of food safety for GM crops [Ref 2], been referred to in a state Australian parliamentary debate as a reason to ban GM crop cultivation [Ref 3] and motivated regulatory agencies in several countries to review their approvals of GM organisms or to comment on the work [Refs 4, 5] .
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.
Some snippets from the dialog between Dr Emakova and her critics published in Nature Biotechnology:
Q. What was the level of mortality of the pups you found in the control and test groups?
Dr Ermakova. In first three repeats of experiments, up to five times higher mortality was observed in newly born pups whose mothers had received the GM soy flour supplementation compared with pups from rats receiving GM soy protein isolate, traditional soy or laboratory chow (controls) (see Tables 1 and 2). Pups from rats that had been fed a GM soy diet died mostly during the 3 weeks following birth; pups from rats fed laboratory chow (positive control) died during the 2 weeks postpartum; and pups from those fed traditional soy died during the first week after birth.
Critics B.M.C., L.V.G., A.M. and V.M. Pup mortality is usually reported at day = 0 or day = 1 and day = 21. The timing and causes of death are not reported. The data in Tables 1 and 2 show that 8.1% of pups died in the control group. The typical mean pup survival observed for Wistar rats is greater than 99% plus minus 2 at day = 1 and 99.5% plus minus 1 at day = 21 (ref. 14). The abnormally high incidence of pup mortality in the controls indicates poor animal stewardship possibly arising from poor animal husbandry and/or dietary deficiency. No valid scientific conclusions can be based on a study with such a poor performance in the control group. Table 1 also reports 10% mortality on conventional soy; no conclusions should be drawn from a study in which the conventional soy control mortality is tenfold higher than that normally observed for Wistar rats...
Q. What was the weight of the control and test group animals?
Dr Ermakova. We did not find any significant differences in the weights of adult rats fed the different diets in two weeks after beginning of feeding. Even so, for 2 weeks following birth, the weights of pups from mothers fed GM soy supplement were lower than those of pups from rats in the positive control (laboratory chow) group or from the conventional soy flour supplemented group. We also found that 33% of pups from rats fed GM soy had smaller sizes and lower weights than pups from rats fed laboratory chow, traditional soybeans or soybean protein isolate (Table 3). A crude anatomical analysis revealed that the organs of pups from rats fed GM soy were much smaller and weighed less (except the brain mass) than those from pups born to rats fed other diets (Table 4). Thus, age-matched pups in the test and control groups show differences in the development of internal organs.
Critics B.M.C., L.V.G., A.M. and V.M. Animal weights are normally recorded for individual animals in a litter and then averaged as mean for females and mean for males to account for gender differences. Table 3 does not segregate animals by gender, despite the likelihood of males being approx2 3% larger than females at this age. More importantly, under carefully controlled conditions, 14-day pup weight (approx38g plusminus 3g) will vary by no more than plusminus10% (ref. 14). The data in Table 3 are presented in an unconventional manner that makes it difficult to determine the exact mean and standard deviation among groups. Table 3 states that 53% of control pups are below 30 g, which is abnormally small for two-week-old Wistar rat pups. More than 90% of rat pups fed conventional soy are more than 20% below normal weight; GM soy (79% below typical weight) and GM soy protein isolate fed pups (78% below typical weight) fared somewhat better. The wide variance of data in Table 3 and the high percentage of low-weight animals are clear indicators of malnutrition and/or poor environmental conditions. No conclusion can be made about abnormal development unless the controls conform to internationally observed norms.
Q. Why have you so far forgone publishing your work in a peer-reviewed journal?
Dr Ermakova I first presented the data at the 11th Russian Gastroenterological Week (in a section on Nutrition and GMOs organized by the Moscow-based National Association for Genetic Safety) at the Russian Academy of State Service in Moscow, October 10 12, 2005... In December 2005, I spoke at a conference, "Epigenetics, Transgenic Plants and Risk Assessment", in Frankfurt am Main, Germany. The paper detailing my preliminary results was published in the Proceedings of this conference...I have submitted a paper to a Russian peer-reviewed journal and am currently preparing other papers for consideration by peer-reviewed scientific journals in English.
Critics B.M.C., L.V.G., A.M. and V.M. Ermakova does not answer the question. She has widely publicized her work at various congresses, meetings, press conferences and on the internet””this is not necessarily uncommon for major new findings. She strays, however, by announcing striking definitive conclusions from her experiments while at the same time claiming to entertain doubts in her own mind about her results. Her results depart so dramatically from previously reported findings as to be remarkable, and remarkable results demand remarkable support that Ermakova fails to provide.
We would add that even publication in a peer-reviewed journal does not per se validate scientific claims. It is up to the scientific community to weigh all reports against the best currently available evidence, including prior literature. Science needs to be repeated and to stand the test of time. When scientists circumvent peer review, they not only undermine science, they also undercut the credibility of science in the eyes of the general public. If she had questions about her own results, as she says she did, she should not have devoted so much time to publicizing what are demonstrably flawed studies.