NOTE: The following article is made up of a series of lies and half-truths - 'sloppy' is too kind a word for it!
And, of course, what Miller has nothing to say about are the pro-GM papers that have been published despite a complete lack of scientific merit - think 'wormy corn'.
Here are some of the more obvious liberties with the truth taken by Miller.
Almost every word that Miller writes about the Pusztai affair is wrong. Here are some of the most glaring examples
Miller: The editors of the [Lancet]... said that in spite of the article's admittedly poor methodology and over the strenuous objections of the papers referees, they published it to make constructive progress in the debate among scientists, the media, and the general public about a highly politically charged issue.
GM Watch: These are straightforward lies. A majority of the papers' referees - and the paper had double the normal number of referees because of the controversy - SUPPORTED its publication, rather than objecting to it. And far from admitting the paper had 'poor methodology', the editor stated unequivocally that the paper 'was published on grounds of **scientific merit**, as well as public interest'. (emphasis added)
Miller: After an extensive review into the paper's methods, the British Royal Society concluded: 'On the basis of this paper, it is wrong to conclude that there are human health concerns with the process of GM itself, or even with the particular genes inserted into these GM potatoes.'
GM Watch: The Royal Society's highly partisan review took place ***PRIOR*** to the paper's publication and was based on a partial account of the research. Their behaviour attracted considerable criticism.
ABOUT THE BENEFITS OF GM CROPS
Miller says the authors of a paper in 2000 in the American journal Science 'neglected the proven benefits of GM organisms, including enhanced yields, nutritional enhancements, less use of chemical pesticides and more no-till farming, which causes less soil erosion and run-off of chemicals and lower release of carbon dioxide into the environment.'
But none of these benefits are proven!
YIELDS: 'Currently available GE [genetically-engineered] crops do not increase the yield potential' and 'may even decrease' it according to a US Dept of Agriculture (USDA) report (Fernandez-Cornejo, J. and M. Caswell. 2006, The First Decade of Genetically Engineered Crops in the United States. USDA-ERS http://www.ers.usda.gov/publications/EIB11/ )
NUTRITIONAL ENHANCEMENTS: None commercially available even now so they could hardly have been listed in a paper published in 2000!
LESS PESTICIDES: This is a highly colntentious claim with much evidence pointing in exactly the opposite direction.
MORE NO-TILL: The US Dept of Agriculture's own analysis is unequivocal about this:
'Using herbicide-tolerant seed did not significantly affect no-till adoption.' No-till acreage in America had already been steadily rising before the introduction of GM crops. That prior trend has since simply continued. In fact to some degree it has subsequently stagnated according to the USDA analysis.
ABOUT THE QUIST AND CHAPELA MEXICAN MAIZE PAPER
Miller writes: Months before the article was even submitted for publication, colleagues of the authors had pointed out serious flaws in the methodology and results.
GM Watch: Really? We have never seen this claim made anywhere before. Perhaps Miller would care to provide chapter and verse.
Miller: When the article appeared, it attracted a wave of criticism from major research groups that the journal duly published.
GM Watch: When the article appeared, there was an onslaught of character assassination which was later shown to have been initiated and fuelled by Monsanto and its PR operatives. The only criticism that the journal published was by several UC Berkeley-connected researchers, all of whom had been on the other side of the row over the Novartis-Syngenta tie-up with UC Berkeley to Quist and Chapela, who were amngst the most prominent critics of the deal.
Miller: Eventually the paper was condemned by the editor in chief.
GM Watch: So it was, leading to much criticism of the editor for having succumbed to the hate campaign against the authors. The editor never managed to explain not only the paper's successful completion of Nature's stringent peer review process in the first place, but also why only one of three reviewers of the subsequent exchanges between the paper's critics and its authors called for its retraction.
Miller: No other research group was able to confirm the findings.
GM Watch: The findings Miller's referring to concern the GM contamination of native strains of Mexican maize. This part of the paper was condemned by critics of the paper as a 'no brainer' at the time. It was a different part of the paper that was at the centre of scientific controversy over technical issues.
Miller talks about science being undermined by 'the propaganda of the anti-technology activists' but his own propagandising is a far more reliable guide to where the real problem lies.
Lack of peer pressure
When sloppy research and unsubstantiated claims go unchallenged by fellow scientists, the gold standard of accuracy is tarnished
Henry Miller The Guardian (Comment is free), March 6 2008 http://commentisfree.guardian.co.uk/henry_miller/2008/03/lack_of_peer_pressure.html
People who use science to inform their decisions and policies, on anything from cancer prevention to climate change and food safety, know about the hierarchy of reliability. There are 'facts' in press releases, newspaper articles and blog entries, which are on average less trustworthy than, say, information in reports from Britain's Royal Society or the US National Institutes of Health. And if a report appears in a peer-reviewed journal, where articles are examined by independent experts before being published, it elicits instant and widespread respect all round.
But not from me. I actually read many of those journals and it's not uncommon for scientific articles to be egregiously and obviously flawed, often because basic rules of research have been violated.
Some of the worst offenders raise false alarms over the safety of genetically modified (GM) plants, which is subsequently splashed across the popular press. Poor scientific papers published by what should be trustworthy journals are spreading the propaganda of the anti-technology activists.
In 2001, a paper in the British journal Nature proved a case in point. It purported to show that genes from a pest-resistant, GM variety of corn had migrated into native corn plants in Mexico. Months before the article was even submitted for publication, colleagues of the authors had pointed out serious flaws in the methodology and results. When the article appeared, it attracted a wave of criticism from major research groups that the journal duly published. Eventually the paper was condemned by the editor in chief: 'Nature has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper.' No other research group was able to confirm the findings.
In 2000, the American journal Science published an article in which the authors claimed to have evaluated the ecological risks and benefits of genetically engineered plants, by reviewing the scientific literature. En route to concluding that they could draw no conclusions, the authors neglected the proven benefits of GM organisms, including enhanced yields, nutritional enhancements, less use of chemical pesticides and more no-till farming, which causes less soil erosion and run-off of chemicals and lower release of carbon dioxide into the environment. At the same time, no detrimental effects of GM plants had, or have, been described.
Another egregious and exceedingly harmful example of apparent anti-biotechnology bias appeared in the British medical journal, The Lancet. This now infamous paper by Arpad Pusztai, then at Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, claimed to show that modifying potatoes with a gene for a substance toxic to insects, caused damage to rats' immune systems and stimulated abnormal cell division in their digestive tracts. But many research groups have shown that the experiment's methodology was fundamentally flawed and that no conclusions about the safety of biotech foods could be drawn from them. After an extensive review into the paper's methods, the British Royal Society concluded: 'On the basis of this paper, it is wrong to conclude that there are human health concerns with the process of GM itself, or even with the particular genes inserted into these GM potatoes.'
The editors of the journal remonstrated. They said that in spite of the article's admittedly poor methodology and over the strenuous objections of the papers referees, they published it to make constructive progress in the debate among scientists, the media, and the general public about a highly politically charged issue. Unleashing such a sham has proved to be anything but constructive, because its publication is frequently cited as presumptive validation of its spurious conclusions. The irresponsible rationalisation of the editors makes a mockery of the peer-review process.
The most recent example of the failure of editorial and peer review occurred in an article published in September 2007 in the US journal, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS). The authors claimed to show that pollen from GM corn was injurious to certain insects in a laboratory mock-up of an aquatic ecosystem, but their conclusions are dubious, the methodology atrociously sloppy and inadequately described. More important, the researchers reported elsewhere that they had failed to find these same effects in studies in the field, details they neglected to reveal in the PNAS article. This is a critical omission because laboratory studies are designed to mimic what happens in the real world. In other words, even if the laboratory studies had been performed correctly and carefully, positive results arguably would have been irrelevant because they do not sufficiently mimic what happens in the field.
These kinds of failures of peer review corrupt the traditional process by which new scientific knowledge is obtained and reported; they are examples of what Irving Langmuir, the 1932 winner of the Nobel prize for chemistry, called 'pathological science' - the 'science of things that are not so'. Pathological science inflicts irreparable harm on the reporting and archiving of scientific developments for policy makers, the media, the public and the scientific community. Within weeks of the publication of the flawed PNAS article, for example, European Union environmental regulators cited it as justification for a ban on the sale of GM corn seeds. And such spurious findings only encourage conspiracy theorists, who think that wider evidence of harm from GM plants is being suppressed.
Because science is, or is supposed to be, self-correcting - a thesis is put forth, tested, and ultimately revised on the basis of new data - any misinformation conveyed to the scientific community distorts the entire process. Journals should request reviews of research articles from bona fide experts who do not have a known bias toward the subject. These reviewers should be encouraged to ask probing, detailed questions, and the authors of the submitted article should be required to answer them satisfactorily before a paper is accepted.
Had such measures been taken in the case of the research articles described above, it is unlikely that any of them would have been published in a prominent journal. But what if editors lack the integrity and competence to undertake these measures? Will the scientific community punish them with scorn and opprobrium? If they want to retain society's respect, they must.