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Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Republished Seralini GMO-rat study was not peer-reviewed, says editor

with 38 comments

env sci europeIn our coverage Tuesday of the republication of the controversial retracted study of GMOs and rats by Gilles Seralini and colleagues, we wrote this about a strange passage in an editor’s note on the paper:

The republished study was peer-reviewed, according to the press materials, and Seralini confirmed that it was in an email to Retraction Watch. But we were curious what “any kind of appraisal of the paper’s content should not be connoted” meant. We asked Seralini and the editor of Environmental Sciences Europe, Henner Hollert, but neither responded.

Hollert has responded to the same question from Nature, which reports:

Environmental Sciences Europe (ESEU) decided to re-publish the paper to give the scientific community guaranteed long-term access to the data in the retracted paper, editor-in-chief Henner Hollert told Nature. “We were Springer Publishing’s first open access journal on the environment, and are a platform for discussion on science and regulation at a European and regional level.” 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.

This is actually what we thought that passage meant, and that makes it all the more mystifying why Seralini told us, in press materials and in a follow-up email, that the republished paper was peer-reviewed. At least one Retraction Watch commenter has repeated that claim.

It’s this sort of thing that made one of us (Ivan) say the following when a reporter from CBS News called earlier this week:

“This whole episode has taken us farther away from knowing the truth,” Ivan Oransky, a founder and editor of retractionwatch.com, told CBS News.

“The ratio of politics to science when it comes to discussions of GMOs [genetically modified organisms] is so high that I think it often ceases to be useful,” said Oransky, a journalist with a medical degree who is also vice president and global editorial director of MedPage Today.

He also said:

“This is a good example of what happens when people with hardened beliefs manipulate a system for the result they want,” Oransky told CBS News. “Science should be about following the evidence, appropriately changing your mind if the evidence warrants it. But in this case people seem to reject the evidence that doesn’t suit their needs.”

 

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Written by Ivan Oransky

June 26, 2014 at 12:15 pm

38 Responses

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  1. There is no issue here. The Seralini generated some data, no one suggests the data is either fraudulent or misrepresented. There is no reason that this data should not be made available.

    littlegreyrabbit

    June 26, 2014 at 12:20 pm

    • This is correct. Editors decide what gets published, not the reviewers. Peer review only provides advice to the editor. If there is reason to publish a work (such as it being controversial as in this case) the editor can dispense with peer review.

      In my career I’ve had one paper accepted by the editor without being sent out for review, and one paper accepted even though the reviews were hostile. I assume these were because the editors recognize the work of a genius, and sometimes other scientists get a bit jelly.

      Dan Zabetakis

      June 26, 2014 at 5:16 pm

      • “Editors decide what gets published”

        This somewhat depends on the field, and the journal. In the PRL/PRX system, the referees decide if the work is published; not the editor. There’s also an appeals process if the author thinks the referees were mistaken; you can go to the divisional head- usually a respected COI-free working scientist in the specific sub-field.

        It’s a pretty stark contrast to a number of peer review systems in the life sciences (and chemistry, for that matter)……

        Allison (@DrStelling)

        June 27, 2014 at 8:05 am

        • I beg to differ on the statement made by Allison about PRL.

          Akhlesh

          June 27, 2014 at 8:27 am

          • O yeah? I just talk with physicists (and edit a lot of their manuscripts and referee replies etc); this is what they tell me- that the editor is more for sorting than anything else. But these are reasonably prominent scientists. (Well, well-funded, at least.) Do you have an experience to the contrary?

            Allison (@DrStelling)

            June 27, 2014 at 8:57 am

            • Yes, and I have published in four PR journals.

              Akhlesh

              June 27, 2014 at 10:12 am

              • So, I just double checked with the physics people I work with, who regularly publish in Physical Review Letters/Physical Reviews X. They say there’s 2 refs, and you need both referee’s thumbs up to get accepted. They say the editor does not have much of a say, unlike in Nature Materials, where they also publish fairly frequently. Was this not your experience? Honestly curious, here.

                Allison (@DrStelling)

                June 27, 2014 at 7:38 pm

                • No, Akhlesh is correct, its true that in most cases the editor will go with the referees recommendations, but they are also free to publish despite the recommendations if they want. There are several possible legitimate reasons (e.g. they feel there is a conflict of interest from a referee/a review of particularly low quality) as well as a number of… less legitimate reasons (I’ll leave it to your imagination!) this can happen.

                  oneoffcomment

                  June 29, 2014 at 10:00 am

  2. I just don’t get it. A retracted paper gets re-published without peer-review? Excuse me? Are there any hidden cameras? Springer has some sort of history when it comes to not retracting entirely fabricated papers (see for example http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/18437412), but to re-publish a retracted paper without review is really something brandnew. Congratulations!

    Prof. Dr. Alexander Lerchl

    June 26, 2014 at 3:36 pm

    • Remember though that the retraction watch community at that time thought that the editor did not have valid reasons to retract.

      tekija

      June 27, 2014 at 12:52 am

  3. I was actually hoping that Team Seralini would sue the first journal, so that we could see in the court papers what transpired in the first peer review. If anyone would want to leak the documents to some journalists, that would be swell.

    • I call on the retraction of the republished Seralini paper that was not subjected to peer review. Peer review is precisely meant to provide a new and independent analysis of the data, content, and background of the paper. For the Springer journal to claim that peer review was conducted (using the “peers” of the previous Elsevier FCT journal) is purely scandalous. The scientific community should be outraged, and cal out the EIC, the journal and the publisher, Springer. This is another negative step towards the corruption of science publishing and the increase i mistrust of the traditional (clearly failing) peer review system. The Environmental Sciences Europe web-page related to peer review has some really strange clauses*. Henner Hollert also states “ESEU is an international high-quality journal” (journal top page). If high quality implies recycling with appropriate blind peer review, then I am concenred about what is considered to be “high” in the world of science publishing.

      * http://www.enveurope.com/about “Portability of peer review
      In order to support efficient and thorough peer review, we aim to reduce the number of times a manuscript is re-reviewed after rejection from Environmental Sciences Europe, thereby speeding up the publication process and reducing the burden on peer reviewers. Therefore, please note that, if a manuscript is not accepted for publication in Environmental Sciences Europe and the authors choose to submit a revised version to another SpringerOpen journal, we will pass the reviews on to the other journal’s editors at the authors’ request. We will reveal the reviewers’ names to the handling editor for editorial purposes unless reviewers let us know when they return their report that they do not wish us to share their report with another SpringerOpen journal.”

      Is Hollert suggesting that Seralini simply had to pay £730/$1220/€880 to have his unpeer reviewed article published? Almost every paper that I have submitted in the past 1 year or so has been AUTOMATICALLY redirected to SpringerOpen. I claim that SpringerOpen is a central part of Springer’s rotting publishing core and serves only to buffer its coffers to counter the aggressive push by new OA “predatory” publishers. With this type fo lack of quality control, and pay-to-publish system that Springer Science + Business Media (emphasis on the word Business), why do we have any reason to believe that there has been any serious peer review in any of ESE’s published papers?

      JATdS

      June 27, 2014 at 12:51 am

      • AIP and T&F also have the equivalents of SpringerOpen.

        Akhlesh

        June 27, 2014 at 8:28 am

  4. “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.”

    Does “hired” here mean “paid by”? If so, is there a potential issue with conflicts of interest?

    Reharvesting the editorial work done by another journal to obtain “ready-to-publish” material doesn’t seem to be a practice that would inspire confidence in the editorial policies at ESEU.

    The lack of clarity over whether and how the article was or was not “peer reviewed” is very worrisome.

    Journals should publish their policies on their websites so that readers don’t need to wonder. Meanwhile, a big thanks to Ivan and other serious journalists for asking the questions that need to be asked and tackling investigations that need to be tackled.

    Journal publishing can be played as a game by authors, editors, reviewers and publishers, but the rest of us all have to eat stuff and all need health care to live. Particularly for big research questions that affect everyone, researchers and journal publishers need to take peer review very seriously and implement it a transparent, accountable manner so that we can trust what is getting published.

    Karen Shashok

    June 27, 2014 at 3:18 am

  5. If an article is retracted according to the COPE guidelines, the data are still available. That’s why it’s important that journals don’t simply make articles disappear (ie pull them from their website) or mark them with opaque markers (any watermarks should be transparent). Readers can make up their own minds and evidence of any problems or misconduct remain available. I haven’t checked the Seralini article, but if it had been retracted properly, the argument about ‘making the data available’ doesn’t make sense.

    Liz Wager

    June 27, 2014 at 7:24 am

  6. It seems to me that the editor of Environmental Sciences Europe should make clear in the paper that Séralini and colleagues’ republished paper was not put through a new round of scientific peer review: http://sciblogs.co.nz/code-for-life/2014/06/26/seralini-study-republished-with-no-scientific-peer-review/

    Grant Jacobs

    June 27, 2014 at 8:00 am

  7. Because it’s so controversial, I don’t think it’s a bad idea to make the article available, but perhaps there should be a note from the editor at the beginning explaining the history of the manuscript.

    That said, I’d bet that what really happened here is the editor saw an opportunity to increase the journal’s impact factor or overall visibility with a controversial publication. He just saw a way to disguise it as a science-driven decision.

    Mitch

    June 27, 2014 at 8:06 am

    • Oops: I now see that there is a note from the editor. However, I think it should include more detail concerning the reasons for the initial retraction.

      And I still think it’s a veiled ploy to increase the journal’s visibility.

      Mitch

      June 27, 2014 at 8:23 am

  8. New article on GMWatch including clip from email from ESEU editor to Séralini stating that peer review was in progress at the time of writing and referring to the 3rd peer reviewer: http://gmwatch.org/index.php/news/archive/2014/15511

    Claire Robinson

    June 28, 2014 at 4:00 pm

    • Note: This article may have been written by Claire Robinson, who co-runs GM Watch.
      The email clip posted on GM Watch does not argue that it was peer-reviewed like other papers, but merely refers to reviewers who were making sure the scientific content was not changed. The journal in fact stated with publication that they did not judge the scientific content when they printed:
      “By doing so, any kind of appraisal of the paper’s content should not be connoted.”
      That’s a very clear statement, which Claire, “gmoseralini.org” and GM Watch avoid addressing. All of this to defend one study and prop it up with a bad case of single-study-syndrome.

      Karl Haro von Mogel

      June 29, 2014 at 3:20 am

      • Your position appears to be:
        – explicitly, no failures identified for the retraction,
        – ESEU & its peer reviewers checked it was not different than as originally published.

        Seems to me we’re back where we started: a published finding is available, scientists can work on it. Preferably, not MON’s twisted science.

        ttweed

        June 30, 2014 at 10:18 am

  9. Evidence and the scientific method always trump ideology.

    Jeremy

    June 28, 2014 at 11:44 pm

  10. Oransky’s comments to CBS cannot be faulted given the evidence available, and GM safety assessment is more about politics and economics than science. But he should clarify to which side of the argument his comments are directed. Is he suggesting both sides are equally unscientific? Is he criticising independent scientists who care about the future wellbeing of people and the environment, or ‘The world according to Monsanto’?

    John

    June 29, 2014 at 5:46 am

    • Agree. Working to eliminate biases of any type from publication includes weighting for real-world impact of biases. Let’s not forget how after ex-MON Goodman joined as a key editor, F&CT retracted a 2nd, unrelated GMO tox finding…again, rapidly and with no COPE justification.

      Many scientists believe its values are defended by getting opponents to play by its rules of “show me your data”. Unlike some opposing sides, industry’s chief interest is not knowledge, it is selling technologies, preferably with little assessment.

      ttweed

      June 30, 2014 at 10:25 am

      • That second study was withdrawn (not retracted) in November 2012. Goodman didn’t become Associate Editor until February 2013.

        Also, care to provide evidence it was withdrawn without “COPE justification”?

        Marco

        June 30, 2014 at 11:20 am

        • The paper (Mezzomo et al.) was republished by a disreputable (Omics) publisher’s j, the J Hematol & Thromboembol Dis. (Mezzomo et al. ’13), still claiming Bt spores are inflammatory in gut of rodents, contrary to MON’s claims (the form of the spores was
          The Nov. ’12 FCT “withdrawal” notice states: “This article was withdrawn at the request of the author(s) and/or editor.”
          1. IF by editor’s decision, it’s retraction? Regardless, why would authors try to re-publish if they agreed?
          2. Aren’t journals obliged to/should to give the COPE reason for a retraction? Or ANY reason?

          ttweed

          June 30, 2014 at 3:59 pm

          • We don’t know why it was withdrawn, and that’s it. COPE does recommend adding a clear reason for a retraction, but not for a withdrawal. Even if we say the two should be treated similar, we still have the fact that COPE issues guidelines, not rules, so journals are not obliged to give a reason (and there’s no such thing as a “COPE reason”).
            It is important to point out here that Monsanto does not claim the spores are non-toxic. That claim is actually made by others who investigated that (see e.g. http://npic.orst.edu/factsheets/BTtech.pdf). The Mezzomo study is in that respect an outlier, but this may well be because of poor handling of their samples, as also indicated on the biofortified homepage. For Elsevier this may be sufficient to withdraw a paper: health claims are made that cannot be properly defended based on large uncertainty in the proper handling of the samples. However, that is speculation from my side, neither of us know why it was withdrawn.

            Marco

            July 1, 2014 at 1:33 am

            • Thanks for the further info, Marco. I cannot parse such a fine distinction between withdrawn & retracted but perhaps we can agree — just as w/ the Ser FTC retraction–there are no allegations of falsity in the papers? Ergo both retractions are unfounded? Mezzomo et al.’s paper might not present the risk it cautiously says may exist (or it might after all…); but, if the former, better to have it enter the scientific dialogue and have any risk clarified, than to erase a finding.

              Perhaps ex-MON’s Pr. Goodman was involved in this second FCT retraction after all, Marco. Mezzomo et al. appeared online in Nov ’12, Goodman showed up at FCT in March ’13, so it was retracted some months after Goodman showed up. Thanks to Claire for straightening me out on the dates (and pointing out the below)–anyone know exactly when Mezzomo was in print, and when it was retracted?

              An author of Mezzomo et al. made this comment last Dec. on GMOSeralini blog; http://www.gmoseralini.org/end-double-standards-in-evaluating-gmo-safety-studies-say-scientists/

              Cesar Koppe Grisolia December 30, 2013 at 5:56 am – Reply
              “Dear Dr. Séralini. I have seem that your paper in FCT was also retracted. My paper on hematotoxicity of Bt Cry-endotoxins present in GM maize was also retracted from the FCT. Mr Richard Goodman is a reviewer of the FCT, and responsible for the retraction. He strongest than the Editor-in-Chief. However he is linked to Biotech industry. You can get this information in the internet. There is a speach in the You-tube of Mr Goodman and at end of his powerpoint presentation you will find the sponsors of his research – BAYER, NOVARTIS and MONSATO. This is a clear conflict of interests. That is why FCT is not a serious Journal.”

              ttweed

              July 1, 2014 at 7:27 pm

              • First, retractions also occur when mistakes are made, or false claims are made, and COPE has guidance about that. I don’t think the Mezzomo paper is nearly as careful as you claim it is. It directly links side-effects to certain strains of bt spores, but their work does not check for any of the already well-known issues of bt spores when not properly controlled: production of exotoxins. I don’t want claims in the literature that are at odds with other findings, most likely because the claims are based on poor experimental design.

                Second, I don’t know where your time-frame comes from. The paper was apparently published online (as I had to find out through other means) in November 2012. Somewhere after that it was withdrawn. I don’t see evidence it was “some months after Goodman showed up”.

                Grisolia’s comment merely makes me even more concerned about the Mezzomo paper and its reported research. Their paper was not about Bt Cry-endotoxins, but about the whole bacteria. If Grisolia does not understand the difference, he should not have been involved in the paper at all. If he does know the difference, he’s probably blinded by his own dislike of GMOs. Second, the claim Goodman is responsible for the retraction raised all of my red flags.

                Marco

                July 2, 2014 at 2:04 am

                • I looked into the timeline a bit further, and the J Hematol Thromb Dis paper was apparently received in February 2013, and accepted in March 2013. Assuming this is the same paper as the one that was withdrawn, that the dates given by the journal are correct, and that the authors did not submit the same paper to another journal while the other one had already been accepted at FCT, we now have clear proof that Goodman was not yet at FCT when the Mezzomo et al paper was withdrawn.

                  Marco

                  July 2, 2014 at 9:02 am

                • Right: online Nov 2012; Pr. Goodman joined FCT in March 2013. Apparently Mezzomo et al. was withdrawn Dec. 2013, but I can’t confirm that yet. Given the lags between online & print publication and Grisola’s blog comment, I believe that Pr. Goodman was involved in the Mezzomo withdrawal. This is circumstantial evidence which forces discussing parties to declare their interests to be credible. I am a reader of toxicology & epidemiology (some 70.000 papers, abstracts & PRs read, in that order, so far); critic of chem risk assessment, and work for & with toxics NGOs.

                  I also believe that these two baseless removals were shameful and subjective. None of the removal defenders appear to want to dwell on this critical aspect. As with the Ser. paper, “inconclusiveness” is a disastrous criterion for removal.

                  ttweed

                  July 2, 2014 at 9:20 am

                  • ttweed a timeline:

                    November 2012 – Mezzomo paper published online by FCT (at least, the doi was given in November)

                    February (4) 2013 – Mezzomo paper is submitted to J Hematol Thromb Dis

                    March 2013 – Goodman joins FCT as Associate Editor

                    March (12) 2013 – Mezzomo paper accepted by J Hematol Thromb Dis

                    December 2013 – Mezzomo paper supposedly withdrawn from FCT

                    If this timeline is correct, I think we have a possible and really strong reason why it was withdrawn: the authors unethically also submitted their paper to another journal and got it published there. You may want to ask Grisolia about the timeline. And if it is the same as above, ask him why they submitted (essentially) the same paper to another journal, surely he knows that is highly unethical and a form of scientific misconduct?

                    Marco

                    July 2, 2014 at 12:44 pm

                    • I now can fill in gaps, including importantly that Claire Robinson of GMWatch & I had miscommunicated, so my Dec ’13 date for FCT withdrawal of Mezzomo is months too advanced (negating your proper concern). Here is the message she authorizes me to post here:

                      Claire is in possession of email correspondence from Richard E. Goodman dated 3 January 2013 stating that he has been assigned as the Associate Editor for managing the reviews of papers relating to biotechnology at FCT.

                      Claire states, “The proof is clear. Goodman was already installed at FCT on 3 Jan 2013, some time prior to the withdrawal from FCT of Mezzomo et al’s paper on Bt toxin toxicity. But his name was only added to the masthead of the journal FCT on its website in March 2013, as far as we know.”

                      Anyone who wishes to have further proof of the precise date of Goodman’s arrival at FCT should contact the journal or Elsevier.

                      Thus Pr. Goodman was already involved at FCT when Mezzomo et al. was on track/was printed and rapidly thereafter withdrawn (dates still unknown) apologize for again for implying that Mez. et al. were double-submitting–Grisola’s blog comment is clear in claiming they did not). There’s more proof, but I am not free to discuss it. Perhaps FCT might be willing to comment on his role, as they did for his role in the Ser. withdrawal.

                      ttweed

                      July 2, 2014 at 2:04 pm

                    • We still have no evidence that Goodman was already at the journal when Mezzomo et al was withdrawn, as we still don’t know when the latter was withdrawn. Since the authors claim there was no double submission, and I have no problem accepting that, we must assume the paper was withdrawn before they submitted to J Hematol Thromb Dis, which was February 4th 2013. This withdrawal must have been communicated to them (otherwise they would not have resubmitted), so we’d get a better grip on the timeline if the authors would state when they received notice of the withdrawal – and perhaps also the reason given.

                      Of course, even if Goodman was already at the journal, this still says nothing about Goodman’s involvement, although I am sure a lot of people would like to believe there is such a connection.

                      Marco

                      July 2, 2014 at 2:43 pm

        • I “withdraw” that Goodman was involved in the retraction of FCT’s Mezzomo et al. findings — thanks for correcting me (I hadn’t checked my claim). Broader points stand that no reasons were given for this other ‘GMO = toxic’ finding retraction by FCT editors.

          I cut off my own sentence above, saying that the Mezzomo findings were questioned for using whole bacteria (as the organic Bt insecticide is formulated; seeL http://www.biofortified.org/2013/05/leukemia/

          But that is not reason for retracting legitimately arrived at findings, eh?

          ttweed

          June 30, 2014 at 6:10 pm

          • So many emails between Claire & I that I forgot she did look up the publication history of Mezzomo et al. at FCT:
            Received February 04, 2013; Accepted March 12, 2013; Published March 16, 2013

            So Pr. Goodman had opportunity to change the course of a paper he had responsibility for. ‘Follow the money’, look for proofs…it’s wrong to keep silent about such important potential bias to objectivity, so long as no false allegations are made. But far better for FCT & Pr. Goodman to explain his oversight of Mezzomo et al. for over two months .

            ttweed

            July 2, 2014 at 4:06 pm

            • That’s *not* the publication history at FCT, but at J Hematol Thromb Dis.

              Marco

              July 3, 2014 at 1:34 am


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