An unexpected use for WordPress stats.

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 and I noticed a surprising spike of activity. Something strange: as I told, 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 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 work. 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 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? Another thing it that I think is that these students, by going into Séralini’s lab, are jeopardizing the rest of their careers: they’d probably have hard time getting hired on a postdoc position (if I were in such a position, 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 anything but informing 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 taxpayer, who are entitled 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 (of course, if these students do actually want to make a career in politics, then they’re fine) and might impair their careers,
  • 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.


  1. In case you missed the link in the text.

  2. http://www.ijbs.com/v05p0706.htm. This study has, already, been thoroughly reduced to shreds by EFSA at the time (see annex 1 of this pdf.

  3. http://scienceblogs.com/insolence/2013/11/29/bad-science-about-gmos-it-reminds-me-of-the-antivaccine-movement-thanksgiving-edition/

  4. Here is the announcement, in French, of the crowd-sourcing of a PR representative.

  5. http://www.merchantsofdoubt.org/index.html

  6. 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!”

  7. This comment on the misuse of embargo by Séralini and the behaviour of “Le Nouvel Observateur” was made by Carl Zimmer in this blog note.

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When an anti-science mob has its way

The new EU commission head, Jean-Claude Juncker, apparently bowed to pressure from “environmentalist” NGOs and axed the chief scientific advisor office.

Continue reading

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Séralini did it again!

I was browsing through the internet to find matter for a post I’m currently writing on my French blog when I found that Séralini published another paper in which he claims that pesticides as sold to farmers or gardeners are “2 to 1,000 times more toxic than the active principles, which are the only ones tested” (FR). The journal in which it was published is “Biomed Research International”, from Hindawi Publishing Corporation. Out of curiosity, I went to Jeffrey Beall’s “List of Predatory Publishers 2014” to check whether Hindawi was among them. It appears not, but here’s what Beall has to say about them:

I generally analyze at the publisher level rather than the individual journal level. Hindawi is not on my list of questionable publishers. I do receive complaints about Hindawi, however. They use spam a lot, most of their over 500 journals lack editors in chief, and it seems to be a publisher that focuses just on the authors’ needs and not so much the readers’.

Dodgy? Maybe.

Another commenter writes about their professional work, but immediately adds that their review process is “light”. In all fairness, this comment is about a journal only not the publisher itself, and not Biomed Research International. It doesn’t say anything about Biomed Research International. BRI has a rather low impact factor, but that doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad journal. In fact, I don’t believe that a low impact factor means a great deal about the quality of a journal: if the journal covers an extremely specialized field, it will automatically have a low impact factor. That said, I don’t think this applies to a journal entitled “Biomed Research International”.

Anyway, Séralini’s paper can be found here. I haven’t had the time to read the article in full, but I already smell a huge rat: for an extraordinary claim, you need extraordinary evidence. Scanning the paper, I found none. Rather, I found at least two serious flaws: the study is carried out on human cell lines in vitro, i.e. in an environment completely different that the one found in the average human body. Cell lines are a good model to assess cellular toxicity or molecular mechanisms of a toxicity, I do not think for one second that cell toxicity automatically translates at the organism’s level. To properly assess the toxicity of a compound, you need to use whole organisms.

Another flaw is that in no case there is a negative control: what is tested is the effect of the formulation versus the active principle alone. Ok, that’s what the authors want to know, but what about the solvent used? They claim that 0.5% of DMSO has no toxic effect on the cells. That may be true, but why not add a negative control in the form of DMSO diluted in the media to 0.5%, without any “formulation” or active principle, as is common practice? Besides, in all cases, cells were starved (i.e. grown in a media without serum) for 24 hours. This article states that serum starvation “elicited complex and unpredictable time-dependent and cell-type dependent effects”. This certainly warrants a control, does it not?

Well, I guess this paper from Séralini will again be thoroughly shredded. Maybe it is time for the University of Caen to assess the research carried out in Séralini’s lab and to question his links with a militant group, CRIIGEN, which clearly has an influence on the type, and, more importantly, the quality of research carried out there.

Update:

I found out on twitter that Ralf Reski, a professor at the University of Freiburg, Germany, had resigned from an editor position at BRI after the publication of Séralini’s paper. I asked him whether he could detail it a bit and here is the twitter exchange. First, Reski’s statement and my question:

Due to my resignation as editor #Hindawi promised to reevaluate the latest #Seralini paper. http://t.co/QbAomFz9PM Good.

— Ralf Reski (@ReskiLab) 6 Février 2014

And here are the details he gave me:

There you have it: a scientist resigns from an editor position to avoid having his name associated with bad science. And why would someone resign from a prestigious position if there weren’t serious problems with a paper?

Besides, it is worth noting that Séralini’s last paper seems to be just a re-hash of this one. The only difference, here, is the publicity credulous media give him. I already linked to a French newspaper above. Here are some links from French public TV and radio broadcasters, a Belgian public TV broadcaster. It would be useful if, instead of looking for sensationalism, journalists would actually try to inform the public —in short: do their job. Seems that it’s not gonna happen any time soon in Europe…

Posted in Bogus, Quacks, Science, Swindle, Uncategorized | 10 Comments

The mission of scientists, and how some betray it…

Not a real scientist. But one Séralini should take heed from.

Helen Lewis, editor at the New Stateman, asked some regular bloggers at the New Stateman to write about when, and why, they changed their minds. This is a very interesting read, and this reminded me of the “coming out” of Mark Lynas about GMOs ten months ago. It is quite interesting to read, or hear about how Mark Lynas completely shifted opinion regarding GMOs. The bottomline, and what I think is really important, is that: exposed to scientific evidence supporting anthropogenic climate change, Lynas came to the conclusion that he could not hold anti-scientific opinions on other issues, such as GMOs.

Sadly, not everyone has the same consistency, even when we talk about scientists. Far from relying on the scientific consensus on a subject —especially when  they are no experts on the subject in question— some cherry-pick the evidence. Thus, you’ll find some denying that climate change occurs, or that it is man made, claiming that this scientific field is corrupted; but they’ll often claim that their support of GM technology stems from scientific evidence, that it is, as Ford Prefect would put it, Mostly Harmless. One of these scientists is Claude Allègre. Others will mirror these positions in saying that climate change is happening but that GMOs are dangerous. The AAAS happens to have issued several statements regarding these two issues. Here is one of them on the former, and on the latter.

What these two attitudes tell us about the scientists who hold them? Well, basically, while their day job might be to “do” science (although Allègre is retired), they do not seem to understand its inner workings. Or, and this is worse, they knowingly manipulate the narrative on the production of knowledge that is science to further some ideological interests of their own.

These scientists are quite rare, fortunately, but are very vocal. Pretending, like Séralini, that you are falling victim to a conspiracy to silence you, or, to compare yourself to Galileo, doesn’t further the public understanding of how scientific research is made. Quite the contrary: how many times had I to explain to some friends of mine that, no, Séralini is not some kind of martyr or some new Galileo (I usually don’t have to explain the same things about Soon, Baliunas and other climate change deniers are) but simply someone who has some commercial interest in fearmongering on GMOs, he sells books about it (some of which do seem to be quite  cranky to be honest). Furthermore, on a  strictly scientific point of vue, his experiments do not stand scrutiny… More subtle than the Galileo argument, however, their publications in peer-reviewed journals maintain the illusion that, in a particular field, the scientific community is deeply divided about an issue… A good way of marketing doubt, as Erik Conway and Naomi Oreskes put it in their book, “Merchants of Doubt”. According to Oreskes and Conway, PR companies were actively involved in the denial of climate change in the U.S. When Séralini published his now retracted paper, the marketing of the had been perfectly orchestrated: a deal with one magazine, a book and a “documentary“ published within one week…. Not only the attitudes reflect each other, the strategies are the same. Some claim that a PR firm was hired by the CRIIGEN to publicize the study, but I have yet to find evidence for that.

How a layman or woman can choose between conflicting positions in science? Well, as I and others wrote before, looking where the consensus is may give a clue. Of course, the majority might be wrong. There has been examples of a whole scientific community being wrong, here’s one. Quite often, however, these examples date back to a time when scientific inquiry —as we understand it today— didn’t exist. Going with the majority (and I’m not talking about a 51-49 % difference, here, but about a 95 – 5 %) is generally a safe bet. Why? It’s not like scientists are sheepishly following the mob. If 95 % of scientists of a particular field agree on something, that is because there is good evidence supporting the consensus.

It’s hard though for people to understand that, thouh: journalists often tend, in the name of “balance” to present both positions as equally valid. This false balance has consequences on the public outreach of scientists, be it on climate change or GMOs. Sometimes, it is even worse: they play right into the schemes of Séralini and the likes to try to get a “scoop” (fr).

I personally think that scientists, especially, like Séralini, when they work in a teaching institution, have a duty to the public besides producing knowledge: to inform about science and its subtleties. By refusing to do just that, Séralini and others scientists who either deny the reality of climate change or who are fearmongering about GMOs betray their mission as scientists.

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A much needed read

If you’re interested in science and policymaking, you probably know about Mark Lynas. If not, just a short recap: during the 1990s, Mark Lynas participated in the rise of the anti-GMO movement, and not just by giving talks, but also by destroying crops fields.

However, while writing an award-winning book on climate change, and meeting with scientists involved in climate science, he got exposed to the way science is done. He then came to realise that his outlook on GMOs and their supposed danger might be wrong. For his involvement in the anti-GMO movement, he made a public apology in Oxford in January 2013. His talk earned him much hate among the environmentalists.

Far from bowing to the bullies, Mark Lynas is calling them out as conspiracy theorists. Read it! It’s worth it.

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The danger of unwarranted reverence: the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine and Charles Windsor

You know that there is a problem in a country when personality cult is so obvious that everybody considers it normal for the object of this cult to wander in areas it shouldn’t. I’m not talking about the usual suspects here: Russia or North-Korea. No, my concern here is the UK, where a prince publishes an article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine, despite the fact that he has no credentials in medicine —or life sciences. Yet, this isn’t the first time that this snake-oil salesman peddle his anti-science, evidence-free drivel. What’s new is that he is doing that in a journal that should be wary of such things.

But the shame isn’t resting with Charles Windsor here: the one who should be ashamed of himself is Dr Abbasi, the editor of the JRSM who finds Charles views about medicine “engaging”, which, to me reads as “I abdicated any critical thinking in front of royalty”. And Dr Abbasi ignores an important thing here: by allowing Charles to publish his bullshit in the JRSM, he gives credence to any charlatan out there. It is even worse when you call views of a loon (whose only achievement in life has been to be born in the right family) “engaging”.

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Slippery slope of “decency” dictatorship in the UK

The incriminated picture, which led Kent police to arrest a man on Sunday.

On Remembrance Day, a man was arrested for posting a picture of a poppy he burnt. I won’t go into details, as the Guardian has a very good piece on that. But that guy, quite simply, didn’t hurt anybody. He just burnt a poppy. His poppy. Now, that burning such a symbol might be offensive to some, I can conceive to that. I don’t really understand it, but I can conceive to that. But here’s the thing: if you don’t want to be offended, don’t discuss with anyone: there’s a good chance that, at some point, you’ll be.

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