I haven’t written on this blog for a little while. Life is just getting in the way of my writing it seems, and I can’t do it as much as I’d like to. Nevertheless, I regularly check the WordPress dashboard of this blog. That’s when I noticed a surprising spike of activity. Something strange: as I wrote, I’ve been quiet lately, and the traffic should reflect that.
Given the fact that I mainly wrote on Séralini’s misuse of science as a propaganda tool (a bit — yes — like Lyssenko), I went on to check whether said Séralini published another paper. He did. Another in vitro study with in vivo conclusions, at least in the abstract1. This time, the article is paywalled, so I am unable to read it and tell whether it is yet again a bonkers paper. I’d like to be able to, though, because I am not prepared to give Séralini the benefit of the doubt: since 20092, but mainly the Food and Chemical Toxicology debacle, Séralini has lost any credibility as a scientist3.
Interestingly, Séralini himself is giving up on science: he apparently reckons that there is no way his poorly designed studies will ever convince the scientific community of:
- The validity of his hypotheses
- The reality of his observations
So he decided to resort to another strategy, probably a more successful one, aimed at the public: PR4. I don’t really see the point of this, as CRIIGEN’s ideas, no matter how ill-conceived, are the most prevalent ones in France. There is no rational debate about GMOs there, or, if indeed you are rational, you’re portrayed by Séralini and his ilk as a shill and viewed as such by the vast majority of the public. This PR person they want to hire won’t be there to further — directly, at least — the anti-GMO propaganda (so they say), she’ll be responsible for answering “smears” against Séralini and the CRIIGEN. It is quite interesting that the scientific process, whereby bad studies get criticized and eventually disregarded, even retracted if they’re really bad, is viewed by the CRIIGEN as slurs. Do they really consider that their word should be law? If so, there is serious work to be done in Caen to teach them how science works. The problem is that I’m sure Séralini knows how the process of scientific discovery works. He just bends it to further his agenda.
This abuse of science does have other victims besides Science itself: Séralini’s PhD students. Here, we have some early career scientist whose understanding of science is completely skewed by the person responsible to teach them how to become good scientists. I might be wrong. I hope I am, actually, because in such a lab as Séralini’s, how can someone get an insight into the scientific process? How can someone accept that critics might actually hold for some work, and can be used to improve it? These students, by going to Séralini’s lab, are jeopardizing the rest of their careers: they’d probably have hard time getting hired for a postdoc position (if I were in a position to hire a scientist, I certainly would have preventions against hiring anyone from Séralini’s lab, and not because I disagree with him, but because it is manifest that they haven’t been thaught well), and therefore have no choice but to work for CRIIGEN… Until they begin to question the organisation, that is… That’s the problem with Séralini: his activism led him to let down a lot of people.
I don’t really mind that Séralini has opinions, like anyone else, he is entitled to them. However, he knows that in science, the opinions are informed by facts. Accepted scientific results or theories are not out there because they won a popularity contest. They are out there because they withstood scrutiny. Séralini should know this. But, instead of making an ironclad argument by using well-designed experiments, he uses bad methodology. So, either he’s a bad scientist eager for some recognition, in which case he chose to get his recognition not among scientists, but by posing as a rebel against some sort of “establishment” or he knows that his hypotheses don’t hold water and he intentionally designs unconclusive experiments — which allow him to claim to see an effect where really there’s none. This attitude further complexifies an already very complicated subject and does nothing to inform the public. Like Fred Singer or Claude Allègre on climate science, Séralini is a “Merchant of Doubt”5. By acting this way, Séralini betrays a lot of people:
- the French taxpayers, who are entitled to expect that scientists working on their behalf do not willingly misdesign experiments to favour their own biases,
- His students, by teaching them a method of work and ways of dealing with scientific controversy that are anything but right and might impair their careers (of course, if these students do actually want to make a career in politics, then they’re fine),
- The scientific community, by contributing papers that he knows are flawed. Scientists then spend a lot of time debunking his misconceptions or methodological flaws, while their time would be better spent elsewhere, or doing something else.
The not so bad news, here, are that I didn’t even notice his new article until I saw a spike in my WordPress stats. While I’m sure that the anti-GMO crowd are all over it on social media, the French mass-media, normally quite benevolent towards anti-GMO activists, did not write sensationalist stories about it, in contrast to what they did in 20126. It is possible that the whole Séralini affair of 2012 led them to approach the man with caution, tired of being “manipulated like puppets“7.
http://tempsreel.nouvelobs.com/ogm-le-scandale/20120918.OBS2686/exclusif-oui-les-ogm-sont-des-poisons.html. The title of the article reads: “Yes, GMOs are poisons!”↩