The pesticide producers are one of the most powerful industries on the planet, the influence they possess is enormous. You have probably heard that an Elsevier journal has retracted the Seralini study which showed evidence of harm to rats fed a GMO diet, despite admitting they found no fraud or errors in the study.
This journal had also just recently appointed an ex-Monsanto employee as an editor – one could only guess the value of this strategy for the pesticide industry. Expect Seralini to sue as this story develops, as it appears he has a very strong case.
Alas, the scientific ground on which the genetic engineering of plants is built may now be shakier than ever, thanks to GMO promoting scientists like Dr. Pamela Ronald. A recent article in Independent Science News1 questions whether she’ll be able to salvage her career, as two of her scientific papers (published in 2009 and 2011 respectively) were recently retracted.
With the loss of her credibility, and the domino effect these retractions are likely to cause within the scientific field, the entire chemical technology industry stands to suffer a great blow to its scientific integrity.
“Her media persona… is to take no prisoners,” Jonathan Latham, PhD writes.2 “After New York Times chief food writer Mark Bittman advocated GMO labeling, she called him ‘a scourge on science’ who ‘couches his nutty views in reasonable-sounding verbiage.’ His opinions were “almost fact- and science-free” continued Ronald.
In 2011 she claimed in an interview with the US Ambassador to New Zealand: ‘After 14 years of cultivation and a cumulative total of two billion acres planted, GE crops have not caused a single instance of harm to human health or the environment.’”
She may have to turn down her criticism a notch, considering the fact that not one but two of her own studies were found to contain sizeable scientific errors, rendering her findings null and void. Questions have also been raised about a third study published in 2011, according to the featured article.
Public Face of GMOs Loses Scientific Credibility
Ronald’s research group claimed to have identified a molecule used by rice plants to detect pathogenic rice blight, as well as a quorum sensing molecule (meaning a molecule that can coordinate gene expression according to the density of the local population).
These two studies, both of which are now retracted,3, 4 formed the basis of her research program at the University of California in Davis, which is investigating how rice plants detect certain pathogenic bacteria.
Ronald blamed the erroneous work by long gone lab members from Korea and Thailand, referring to the errors as a “mix-up.” She didn’t name her bungling colleagues, however. And while media coverage applauded Ronald for “doing the right thing” by retracting the studies, the featured article5 questions whether she really deserves such accolades:
“[S]cientific doubts had been raised about Ronald-authored publications at least as far back as August 2012… German researchers had been unable to repeat Ronald’s discoveries… and they suggested as a likely reason that her samples were contaminated.
Furthermore, the German paper also asserted that, for a theoretical reason, her group’s claims were inherently unlikely. In conclusion, the German group wrote: ‘While inadvertent contamination is a possible explanation, we cannot finally explain the obvious discrepancies to the results…’
Pamela Ronald, however, did not concede any of the points raised by the German researchers and did not retract the Danna et al 2011 paper. Instead, she published a rebuttal.
The subsequent retractions, beginning in January 2013, however, confirm that in fact very sizable scientific errors were being made in the Ronald laboratory. But more importantly for the ‘Kudos to Pam’ story, it was not Pamela Ronald who initiated public discussion of the credibility of her research.
… Ronald’s footnotes [in the explanation that accompanied the retraction of her second article6 admit two mislabelings, along with failures to establish and use replicable experimental conditions, and also minimally two failed complementation tests. Each mistake appears to have been compounded by a systemic failure to use basic experimental controls.
Thus, leading up to the retractions were an assortment of practical errors, specific departures from standard scientific best practice, and lapses of judgment in failing to adequately question her labs’ unusual (and therefore newsworthy) results.”
The Snowball Effect of Retracted Studies
According to data from Thomson Reuters,7 the numbers of scientific retractions have climbed more than 15-fold since 2001. What many don’t realize is that even a small number of retracted studies can wreak absolute havoc with the science-based paradigm. Other scientists who have based their research on the results from studies that, for whatever reason, end up being retracted, are now perpetuating flawed science as well. In one example, two retracted medical studies led to the retraction of another 17.
In this case, the first of Dr. Ronald’s retracted studies has been cited eight times.8 The second? 113 times.9 That sounds like an awfully large cleanup job in a field that’s already heavily criticized for its preponderance of “lousy science,” to use the words of award-winning geneticist Dr. David Suzuki.
The Problem with GMO Plant Science
It’s important to realize that genetically engineered plants and animals are created using horizontal gene transfer (also called horizontal inheritance). This is in stark contrast to vertical gene transfer, which is the mechanism in natural reproduction. Vertical gene transfer, or vertical inheritance, is the transmission of genes from the parent generation to offspring via sexual or asexual reproduction, i.e., breeding a male and female from one species.
Horizontal gene transfer, on the other hand, involves injecting a gene from one species into a completely different species, which yields unexpected and often unpredictable results. Proponents of genetically engineered crops assume they can apply the principles of vertical inheritance to horizontal inheritance, but according to Dr. David Suzuki, this assumption is flawed in just about every possible way and is “just lousy science.”
Genes don’t function in a vacuum — they act in the context of the entire genome. Whole sets of genes are turned on and off in order to arrive at a particular organism, and the entire orchestration is an activated genome. It’s a dangerous mistake to assume a gene’s traits are expressed properly, regardless of where they’re inserted. The safety of genetically modified food is based only on a hypothesis, and this hypothesis is already being proven wrong.
The kind of horizontal gene transfer that is currently used to create new crop seeds tends to produce highly inflammatory foreign proteins. As one would expect, were there a connection, inflammation-based chronic diseases have indeed increased right alongside with the proliferation of GMO foods in the US. Clearly, Dr. Ronald never bothered to look at such data, and her declaration that “GE crops have not caused a single instance of harm to human health or the environment”10 is as lacking in scientific support as her retracted research.