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More dark arts from environmental journalists?

Paul Thacker. Image from, erm, the Harvard Center for EthicsJudith Curry is looking an article at PLOS by Paul Thacker and Charles Seife about freedom of information as it applies to universities. The authors are focusing on attempts to investigate industry funding of researchers in the area of genetically modified organisms, but also cover well-known FOI requests for information from climatologists. They tread a fine line between trying to argue that it was OK for Michael Mann's work to remain secret and arguing that in general it should be open to concerned citizens.

There is an interesting twist to the tale, when Thacker and Seife discuss a Keith Kloor article about a University of Florida GMO researcher named Kevin Folta, suggesting that Kloor had failed to mention that Folta was a paid consultant to Monsanto:

The article also does not report on an email titled “CONFIDENTIAL: Coalition Update” from the researcher to Monsanto in which the scientist advised Monsanto on ways to defeat a political campaign in California to require labeling of GMO products.

In fact the email concerned turned out not to be written by Folta at all, and the authors were forced to issue a correction, but by that time the damage had been done, as Folta explained in a comment:

My alleged monkeywrenching of the California GMO labeling initiative as a Monsanto secret PR agent has now spread Twitter and is now installed as a permanent part of the “can’t trust scientists, can’t trust Folta” narrative.

This story caught my attention because Thacker's name was a familiar one: he was involved in some of the early attempts to denigrate McIntyre and McKitrick - see CA stories here and here. Around the same time he seems to have played fast and loose with some quotes during an interview of Judy Curry in order to try to score some points against Roger Pielke Jr.

Keith Kloor, in the comments at PLOS seems similary unimpressed with the standards of Thacker and Siefe:

Alas, I feel strongly that Thacker and Seife similarly misrepresented my reporting by suggesting that I had left key information out of both my stories.

Let's hope the Folta incident really was an unfortunate error.

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Reader Comments (53)

Folta compares what has happened to him is similiar to ClimateGate.

So he is either unfamiliar with Climategate or is as guilty as sin.

Aug 19, 2015 at 10:42 AM | Unregistered CommenterPaul Evans

I was one of those who, by didn't of hard work and a lot of patience, got the "Climategate" emails exposed, using FOI.
I'm still waiting for my cheque from "Big Oil" and/or the Koch brothers.

Aug 19, 2015 at 10:52 AM | Unregistered CommenterDon Keiller

Yeah there seems to be an underlying arrogance to the Seife and Thacker article that seems uninterested in correction. Keith Kloor's reporting was totally upfront IMO, anyone reading can see he made clear that Folta had interacted with biotech companies, yet Seife and Thacker seem intent to try and smear him as trying to hide stuff merely because Kloor dosen't come down on the side of saying Folta had sinister motives.

From what I've seen of his work I think Folta does seem to be genuine in his belief of detachment from Monsanto etc, but I think he's naive to not understand in the current atmosphere of lowering the bar of trust in academia and business associations, typified by 'Merchants of Doubt', that he would not be prone to this depiction.

BTW Seife is also the guy who came out tweeting that Tim Hunt was lying about saying he added the "now seriously" after his alleged sexist joke, but then had to immediately walk back on part of his basis for that claim when he realised he was contradicting the primary accuser, and then later pretty much found himself contradicted by most people that Hunt had actually said that. He seems to have gone quiet ever since on that subject ;)

Seife seems to be rather full of himself, not the type to apologise ;).

Aug 19, 2015 at 10:57 AM | Registered CommenterThe Leopard In The Basement

Curiously enough Paul Thacker appears in the ClimateGate emails (1340.txt) discussing free market think tanks and Exxon with Mann.

Aug 19, 2015 at 11:07 AM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

"..a political campaign in California to require labeling of GMO products"

Which just goes to show how retarded Scottish ministers are in deciding it is best for Scotland to just ban GMO crops. I'm all for appropriate labelling and free choice, but GMO doesn't appear to have harmed American agriculture.

Scotland will not benefit long-term by making itself appear a quaint museum to the rest of the world, where technical advances aren't allowed to happen. You won't buy Asian goods by selling postcards of James Watt. He must be spinning in his grave.

Aug 19, 2015 at 11:34 AM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Great find TerryS.

Michael Mann's tweeting to Naomi Oreskes telling her Aaron Huertas' support of Michael Mann is not a backlash against transparency.

This is one of those poorly researched articles that almost everyone says is wrong.

Aug 19, 2015 at 12:17 PM | Registered Commentershub

There is a very simple alternative to FOIA... regulation. It's where professionals with knowledge of how a subject should or should not be conducted are paid to monitor standards and punish the wrong doers. So long as the regulator and regulated never get too close, it serves both sides well. The regulated are not subjected to endless vexatious and unreasonable requests or complaints but they do have to meet and maintain good standards. Methinks climate scientists would hate such a situation more than their current position.

Aug 19, 2015 at 12:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

" ... the only people who ever see a press handout are the press and we’re talking here about enviro journos. They can barely read past the first f***ing paragraph before they start cutting and pasting."

The Greenskull Chronicles – A matter of image.

It would be very difficult for me to be surprised at what any enviro-journo can get up to.


Aug 19, 2015 at 12:47 PM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

Whilst not condoning such bad ethics in journalism, there is a nasty smell about the tactics of GM proponents too. See..

Biologist Arpad Pusztai had more than 300 articles and 12 books to his credit and was the world’s top expert in his field. But when he accidentally discovered that genetically modified (GM) foods are dangerous, he became the biotech industry’s bad-boy poster child, setting an example for other scientists thinking about blowing the whistle.

In the early 1990s, Dr. Pusztai was awarded a $3 million grant by the UK government to design the system for safety-testing genetically modified organisms (GMOs). His team included more than 20 scientists working at three facilities, including the Rowett Institute in Aberdeen, Scotland, the top nutritional research lab in the UK, and his employer for the previous 35 years. The results of Pusztai’s work were supposed to become the required testing protocols for all of Europe. But when he fed supposedly harmless GM potatoes to rats, things didn’t go as planned.

Within just 10 days, the animals developed potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, smaller brains, livers and testicles, partially atrophied livers, and damaged immune systems. Moreover, the cause was almost certainly side effects from the process of genetic engineering itself. In other words, the GM foods on the market, which are created from the same process, might have similar affects on humans.

With permission from his director, Pusztai was interviewed on TV and expressed his concerns about GM foods. He became a hero at his institute – for two days. Then came the phone calls from the pro-GMO prime minister’s office to the institute’s director. The next morning, Pusztai was fired. He was silenced with threats of a lawsuit, his team was dismantled, and the protocols never implemented. His institute, the biotech industry, and the UK government, together launched a smear campaign to destroy Pusztai’s reputation.

Arpad Pusztai, saw his career ruined by big government and big agri-business because he told the truth about GM food

Eventually, an invitation to speak before Parliament lifted his gag order and his research was published in the prestigious Lancet. No similar in-depth studies have yet tested the GM foods eaten every day by Americans.On September 2, 2009, the prestigious journal Nature acknowledged that the regular attacks on biotech researchers are orchestrated by a “large block of scientists who denigrate research by other legitimate scientists in a knee-jerk, partisan, emotional way that is not helpful in advancing knowledge and is outside the ideals of scientific inquiry.”

These attacks have all but stopped independent research into the health and environmental side-effects of GMOs. According to University of California at Berkeley professor Ignacio Chapela, there is a de facto ban on scientists “asking certain questions and finding certain results.” He says, “It’s very hard for us to publish in this field. People are scared.”

Scientists involved in research on the effects of GMOs are being threatened and fired from their jobs.Dr. Charles Benbrook, former Executive Director of the Board on Agriculture of the U.S. National Academy of Sciences, said he has personally spoken with dozens of scientists who “had to contend with this backlash and these counter attacks that the industry unleashes on scientists that they view as a threat. The majority of them get out of the field. The majority of them will not put themselves, or their families, or their career at that kind of risk again.” he said."

Now I don't take one side or another but I can smell bullshit a mile off. There are ethically and scientifically correct ways of investigating and criticising adverse results but that was far from the case with Dr. Pusztai. So basically we don't get adverse science about GM crops because nobody else wants to end their career insodoing. The treatment of Pusztai has never been properly explained. He answered all criticism, had no obvious axe to grind, had not been expecting the adverse results and yet was smeared by scientists who were apparently being paid by the industry concerned and all supported, if not instigated by a government (& party) with a well-deserved reputation for lying.

So frankly I support the ban in Scotland. What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander. Let's sort it out properly this time with dissenting views heard and experiments repeated and hence properly debunked rather than smear campaigns. I have zero sympathy for bullying Monsanto or farmers who somehow managed fine without GM up to now. BSE happened because scientists were sure that scrapie couldn't transfer to cows and BSE caused CJD in humans which scientists were utterly confident was impossible. With that background, climate change charlatans, the numbskulls who wrote our health doctines about fat versus carbs and many other important policy issues that should have been far more rigourously challenged by the mainstream, I have lost all faith in all scientists.

Aug 19, 2015 at 1:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

"Within just 10 days.."

Permit me a large degree of cynicism that all those effects manifested in such a short period of time - notwithstanding the conditionals, potentially and may.

In addition, don't forget that everything you eat, without exception, has been genetically modified.

Aug 19, 2015 at 2:15 PM | Registered Commenterdavidchappell

But when he fed supposedly harmless GM potatoes to rats,

Do rats normally eat potatoes? If not then I have to question that line of 'research'. Also, if they do, were they fed vast quantities of said potato product at a time, quantities way beyond what would be normal consumption? This is not the way to do research but it is the way to get the results the researcher wants.

I'm sorry, but there are two sides to every argument. Just picking one and trumpeting it to the heavens is not the way to win anything let alone the argument, although it is the way of the CAGW church.

Aug 19, 2015 at 2:23 PM | Unregistered Commenterivan

You mean healthy scepticism! Yes of course it's vital to be sceptical of all research and we should be condemning the rank bad behaviour of both sides equally. But imagine the topic was AGW and the scientist involved was Lindzen. In fact Lindzen has recounted exactly such defunding of colleagues with inconvenient views or results. Neither he nor Spencer can now be published in the mainstream journals thanks to the gatekeepers. Hence is it too hard to believe the same can happen with GM?

The trouble with consensus - as we have amply seen - is that it is self-affirming and further funding can be predicated on achieving the result the funders expected to see.

Aug 19, 2015 at 2:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

I don't even see any information about what genetic changes had been made to the the alleged offending potato. Banning GMO on that basis is akin to banning any device containing a wheel because of a car accident.

Aug 19, 2015 at 2:31 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

In an era of almost universal cynicism, it’s funny how science is still treated like a sacred cow. Climate science even manages to surpass science in general in its invulnerability to criticism. How many oopse moments does science have to have before it loses its spotless reputation?

The authors of this article demonstrate their biases even with their choice of the indefensible. They mention the Andrew Wakefield debacle but completely fail to grasp what was fundamentally wrong with it. Sure, there was a financial incentive for Wakefield to come to the wrong conclusions but the whole nature of his paper was flawed and shouldn’t have made it through peer review. Peer review should have picked up on the incredibly small sample size. It should have queried the way those people were selected. It should have seen that findings with such a huge consequence should have been subjected to very tough assessments before they were published. And yes, those papers claiming MMR was safe should have equally been held to high account. Having made the mistake of publishing, the paper should have been withdrawn because it was so at odds with demonstrable data. Instead of publishing dozens of counter papers, they should have just scrapped the flawed one. But that’s not how journals like to operate.

With that paper, FOI was not the source of its demise. It took an outsider to break the conspiracy of professional, mutual ass covering. Like Steyn, the reporter had to face a defamation suit in order to obtain the evidence he needed to prove Wakefield’s work was flawed. In the meantime the medical profession pretended that there was nothing untoward. Their attitude was that Wakefield’s paper was science and should be aired. Science spent more time protecting itself than the kids who went unvaccinated.

The concern for scientists should not be FOIA but that they have no legitimate system for assessing the good from the bad.

Aug 19, 2015 at 2:32 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

With regard to GM, this comment from a recent article by Matt Ridley makes an interesting point:
<< Besides, what did GMOs replace? Before transgenic crop improvement was invented, the main way to breed new varieties was “mutation breeding”: to scramble a plant’s DNA randomly, using gamma rays or chemical mutagens, in the hope that some of the monsters thus produced would have better yields or novel characteristics. Golden Promise barley, for example, a favorite of organic brewers, was produced this way. This method still faces no special regulation, whereas precise transfer of single well known genes, which could not possibly be less safe, does. >>

Aug 19, 2015 at 2:34 PM | Registered Commentermikeh

"there are two sides to every argument. Just picking one and trumpeting it to the heavens is not the way to win anything"

Precisely my point! GM has very many proponents and suspiciously few other viewpoints seem now to be even allowed to be presented. When they are, they are shouted down with disgraceful dogma. I have given you a cast-iron example of just why that may be. In fact all of scientific history has had this problem and it tends to hinder rather than help the science. The establishment disbelieved Pasteur, Faraday, Wegener and countless others. This didn't mean they were correct or incorrect - just that the establishment has a bludgeoning effect on maverick results.

Aug 19, 2015 at 2:38 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

they didn't ban it on that basis. It was quite clear the ban was on economic grounds - to protect the quality label of 'Scottish' food and drink that the SNP has almost single-handedly been responsible for in the past few years. They may be wrong but not obviously so if only 63% of the public are sceptical of GM. The public, by the way, were correct to be sceptical of BSE when the scientists were equally steadfast.

Aug 19, 2015 at 2:42 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

The Pusztai story is by no means clear-cut. My impression, after following it closely when it unfolded, is that Pusztai in this case did sloppy research. Declaring him a hero based on personal sympathy and ideological motives did him a dis-service.

But I guess I am biased - being a plant physiologist and geneticist who has worked with risk factors in food and the environment for more than 25 years.

Aug 19, 2015 at 2:45 PM | Unregistered CommenterTrygve Eklund, PhD, MSc, MBA

You mention that Wakefield was protected by the rest of science but that is categorically untrue. He was found guilt of malpractice for experimenting on children even though he had the parents full consent and backing. It was a kangaroo court - far from your preferred version of events! Yes the sample size was too small and yes the self-promotion was evident but there was more than one author and the other authors were acknowledged experts. Furthermore Wakefield never made the claims ascribed to him. The scandal of Wakefield rests with a) the media and b) the government & principally Blair. The Japanese government also had a concern about - vaccines at the same time - a legitimate one- and it was dealt with properly. Alas the Blairites lied about the Japanese experience too in order to make their case. But like it or not, we need mavericks and whistle-blowers to be published because sometimes they are correct. And for gawds sake don't anyone call me an anti-vaccine enthusiasm. I'm not! Just do some objective reading and thinking about consensus science and what damage it can do if utterly unchecked and uncontested before sticking your oar in.

Aug 19, 2015 at 2:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

"He was found guilt of malpractice"

Yeah after 10 years. Slowest kangeroo ever.

Aug 19, 2015 at 2:59 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

michael hart
The gene inserted in the potato in question was from a snowdrop!
Why one would imagine that crossing a snowdrop with a spud would be in any way beneficial to the potato as a means of human nutrition goodness only knows.
I'm not 100% with JamesG — as Ridley has pointed out everything we eat is genetically modified in one way or another — but I have always had this picture in the back of my mind of plant geneticists after a lads' night out trying to excel each other as to the most outlandish thing they can think of next to stick into whatever they are currently working on.
That said, I have a number of friends who work (or worked) for the Rowett and for Pentland and for Roslin as well, all of them apparently quite sane and sensible people. The Scottish government's blanket ban on GM is the quickest way to get one of Scotland's most famous, valuable and productive scientific endeavours (along with several world-class scientists) to up-stocks and decamp. I'm sure that Newcastle University and Northumberland County Council are already putting a prospectus together!

PS - Trygve Eklund
The RS report into the affair bears that out. The language may be measured but the import was clear, namely that the way the research was conducted was so bad that it was impossible to tell what the true facts were.
In fact the RS published two reports neither of which, as I recall, criticised Pusztai's research as such. GM was a highly contentious subject at the time and Pusztai did himself no favours by his attitude to those investigating (as they were duty bound to do). They may have been over-cautious in their approach but a witch-hunt it wasn't.

Aug 19, 2015 at 3:01 PM | Registered CommenterMike Jackson

JamesG, the public has a right to be frightened, if they so wish. I can't change that. But it could simply be an indication that misinformation and fear-mongering by environmentalists is often successful.

The banning of GMO "on economic grounds" appears to be a tacit acknowledgement that fear and misinformation was certainly a factor in the decision.

Aug 19, 2015 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

I'm not sure why people insist on missing the point so blatantly. You act exactly like those you have been criticising. Pusztai did not agree that it was sloppy research. that it was declared as such has become lore, not established fact. But even if true - hat this obviously competent researcher had a sudden brain fart, it was still no way to treat him and - as the article mentions - the effect on adverse research has been chilling but very effective. Congratulate yourself if you want, to be part of such a blatant witch-hunt and smear campaign but should you really be so proud? Next time it might be you!

Aug 19, 2015 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

@Mike Jackson - "The gene inserted in the potato in question was from a snowdrop!"

Splicing in a gene from a daffodil of all things into rice to produce golden rice takes some topping. Perhaps the sheep worriers were on to something after all.

The big green killing machine: What is VAD?


Aug 19, 2015 at 3:08 PM | Unregistered CommenterPointman

Next time it might be you!

Aug 19, 2015 at 3:04 PM | Unregistered CommenterJames

JamesG, I have worked in an area where the whole industry is simply considered persona non-grata in this country. Many years ago I went to parties where social workers and sociology students made it clear that by mentioning the word chemistry it conjured up images of a person who spent his working day torturing smoking beagles and blinding rabbits for fun.

They'll have to up their game to surprise me next time.

Aug 19, 2015 at 3:14 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Re: JamesG

First, he observed damage to the intestines and immune systems of the rats. I can find no reference to potentially pre-cancerous cell growth, smaller brains, livers and testicles or partially atrophied livers.

Second, the rats suffered from protein deficiency due to the potato diet and whilst they did have a control group fed non-GM spuds, they did not have a control group fed a normal rat diet.

Third, they did not have any particular hypothesis in mind so they tested multiple properties of all the organs. When you do that chance alone dictates that you will find spurious correlations.

Fourth, the control potatoes (Desiree Red) had a different protein composition to the GM potatoes and as a result the rats being fed GM potatoes were also given bovine lactalbumin.

You can find more here

Aug 19, 2015 at 3:19 PM | Unregistered CommenterTerryS

I refer you to my previous response.
Please note one response of Forti to his own witch-hunt:
"I know that no young scientist will ever enter into public discourse around any controversial topic in my state. If you dare work in GMO policy, surveys or research… if you work on climate or sea level rise… if you work in fertilizers or pesticides… if you work in any area with an activist push-back– you’re going to be dragged through the mud for your life’s work."

Now, as we know, a heck of a lot of science is abject crap. 80% of papers turn out to be wrong. Everything that uses the term statistical significance can be rejected without even reading the rest. Much of Psychology output is known to be crap. Climate science brooks no dissent whatsoever. Any Cosmologist who asks 'but how can everything appear from nothing' will be blackballed just like Fred Hoyle. An economist who declares that minimum wage does not depress jobs suffers the same fate. Those who said a financial crash was imminent were called 'Doctor Doom'. I could go on...and on....and on...

now some of these academic disputes don't matter but when you engender entire academic indifference you end up with people sent to prison for a made-up illness like 'Munchausen by proxy', or common-place frontal lobotomy & electric shock treatment, or thalidomide babies, etc.

So what makes GM so effing special that it can't afford a single adverse study that may or may not have been badly done? Is it perhaps anything to do with filthy lucre?

Aug 19, 2015 at 3:33 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

"So what makes GM so effing special that it can't afford a single adverse study that may or may not have been badly done? Is it perhaps anything to do with filthy lucre?

It is because that one study will get recycled again and again and again despite being decisively refuted in much the same way as the Wakefield autism/vaccination study has been to the detriment of a great deal of potentially positive developments. I am no believer in concensus, but there is a weight of evidence that our current regulatory approach to novel foods (of which GMOs are just one aspect) has stood us in very good stead. Propaganda based on flawed research does not help that.

Aug 19, 2015 at 3:56 PM | Unregistered CommenterRob

Very informative, Pointman, well done! T'is a pity a little more publicity isn't given over to the BGKM & it's adherents! Things might change, but when you have the likes of the mighty BBC et al keeping such data suppressed, I dare say most people are ignorant of the situation! Alan.

Aug 19, 2015 at 4:07 PM | Unregistered CommenterAlan the Brit


I have followed the Wakefield case. The sample size for his paper was 12. You can attribute anything to anything else with a sample that small. 12 kids who were directed to Wakefield by a group of solicitors seeking to sue. Of those kids, several had displayed symptoms before they were vaccinated but none of those details made it to the submitted paper. There’s a big difference between randomly sampling records and unearthing 12 cases, and 12 cases coming to you. Even if you unearth 12 cases randomly you need to compare that figure with the general population, spread over time and location.

Wakefield had taken out patents on single dose vaccines. Kind of convenient given the interpretation there was going to be of his findings. He did not disclose any of his interests when submitting the paper, let alone the funding from the solicitors. A sign he knew he was on the wrong side of dodgy. That was one of the issues he was struck off for.

The claims made in the offending paper were embellished in the media encounters he and his colleagues had after the paper came out. At the very least, he did nothing to correct any of the media conclusions. He did not voluntarily admit his financial connection to his subjects or the inconvenient details that only came to light after Brian Deer was sued for defamation.

As for the other reason he was stuck off - the kids he took samples from were at a child’s birthday party. Not only was it not a suitable situation to extract the samples, even with permission and the offer of a fiver, I believe you have to request permission from the authorities to carry out that sort of sampling. Those kids were not the subjects of his MMR paper but they were evidence he played fast and loose with ethics.

Yes, there are problems with vaccines, especially those that contain adjuvants but sloppy science only makes it harder to unearth the truth. Even the best, safest vaccine will kill somebody. The question is not are they 100% safe but are they safer than the diseases.

To a certain extent Wakefield was a scapegoat for the abysmal state of peer review. If he’d been required to include his data with his paper, the Lancet may have been a lot less eager to publish it. Wakefield couldn’t be struck off for producing a crap paper. Scientists reserve the right to be wrong without responsibility for their work.

Aug 19, 2015 at 4:11 PM | Unregistered CommenterTinyCO2

But there you go with your 'decisively refuted'. It's like talking to a Mann supporter who just reads the skeptic science website about it the hockey-stick. Wakefield's research was not refuted - it was removed partly due to it's small sample size but mainly because the media attention affected the MMR jab program. However the government could have avoided any trouble by offering separate jabs (or even just the measles jab) until further investigation. That would be the proper way to deal with it - just like the Japanese did btw. That Wakefield was disbarred for basically doing what was normal practice was a travesty regardless of statistical uncertainty. It could still be that those particular children were just especially susceptible just as the CJD victims of BSE were - but nobody cares about that it seems except the parents. Similarly the potato research was not refuted so much as just disbelieved; the extent of disbelief was enough to discredit the work even though none of the work was proven to be wrong; just perhaps irrelevant.

But once you start down this path of discrediting something or someone just because you prefer not to believe it, it is a slippery slope. With BSE we truly dodged the bullet. Frankly it could have cause an enormous problem if nature had not made most of us resilient to the phenomenon that scientists had said en masse was impossible. That much is borne out by the fact that scientists then en masse declared a possible epidemic. It was indeed very possible! So how many times do we have to be lucky?

Aug 19, 2015 at 4:21 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Meanwhile, back to the thread...

Has anyone investigated the funding of Thacker and Seife, who appear to be professional smearologists, licenced to wound and maim at will, without regard to factual evidence?

Aug 19, 2015 at 4:33 PM | Unregistered Commentergolf charlie

I hate to keep harping on this but you have followed the case without apparently reading Wakefield's point of view. You read Deer's account and that's all you need. In the light of the obviously bad state of current journalism as displayed in this very post, that just isn't good enough. You are not bothering to listen to the other side. Wakefield accused Deer of making stuff up - hence the libel case - and he had compelling evidence of that. Yes a sample size of 12 was too small - something that Wakefield himself said in the paper and at all press gatherings.

But again that is all missing the point! There are countless science pieces with far worse science than Wakefield appearing every day. What about the recent claim about global warming causing a massive health risk - achieved by just ignoring entirely that cold weather kills more people in the first place! That paper won't ever be withdrawn despite being less valid than Wakefield's, simply because it says what the establishment like to hear. Yet it may do far more damage!

Aug 19, 2015 at 4:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG


You've reminded me that Blair declined to say whether his then young son, Leo, had had his MMR. My guess is that he had the vaccines separately, as used to be the norm before the newer, faster, easier (ooh, and cheaper!) MMR appeared. The vicar of Albion managed to weasel his way out, as usual, but I doubt that Cherie would have let an MMR needle anywhere near young Leo at the time.

Aug 19, 2015 at 4:51 PM | Registered Commenterjamesp

JamesG: "Similarly the potato research was not refuted so much as just disbelieved; the extent of disbelief was enough to discredit the work even though none of the work was proven to be wrong; just perhaps irrelevant."

Complete and utter rubbish. His work was independently reviewed and it was found that his conclusions were not supported by the results of the study. He was suspended by the Rowett Institute and effectively sacked by not having his contract renewed. As a professional toxicologist, I regularly used Pusztai's potato study in tutorials as an example of poor experimental design and false interpretation of results.

Aug 19, 2015 at 5:35 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

Missing from this discussion is the enormous economic weight of the Genetically Modified (added political traits) "Organic Food" industry, worth about $100 billion/yr in the US.

Money can buy you love.

Aug 19, 2015 at 6:28 PM | Unregistered CommenterBetapug

Within just 10 days, the animals developed potentially pre-cancerous...


I am skeptical about any effect showing up that quickly (unless the researcher was determined to find it, or at least identify it). If the effect is that rapid, we have a large human population which has been undergoing trials for several years - I await the identification of an increase in cancers, diminished brains, testicles, etc, due to GMO foods, or even to GMO potatoes, specifically. Perhaps funding / publishing dried up because the research was poorly conducted, hmmm?

Aug 19, 2015 at 9:04 PM | Unregistered Commenterdcardno

Seife didn't exactly come out of the Sir Tim Hunt affair smelling of roses, either. His behaviour was entirely unprincipled. It's a long way down, but he is damned out of his own mouth.

Aug 19, 2015 at 10:09 PM | Unregistered CommenterDavid Shipley

"but GMO doesn't appear to have harmed American agriculture. "

And the zero studies showing "absence of harm" are where ?
Perhaps you could start with the studies showing the increase in net profits for GM farmers compared to the non GM..
Or even the studies showing the increase in beta carotene in Golden rice after storage and or boiling comparing to normal rice..that should be easy..
Cue obdurate hand waving..or the standard "death by silence"...:)

Aug 19, 2015 at 10:36 PM | Unregistered CommenterDrapetomania

"As a professional toxicologist, I regularly used Pusztai's potato study in tutorials as an example of poor experimental design and false interpretation of results."

It was so poor..that Pusztai` work was praised by the Scottish office who then awarded him a 1.6 Million pound research grant,,interesting..
And you also "forgot" to mention his work..after the slander and gag orders and false statements by the Rowlette Institute stopped..was published in the Lancet in 1999 after they doubled the reviewers because..??...

Aug 19, 2015 at 10:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterDrapetomania


You are being even more economical with the truth than Pusztai. Firstly, the Lancet only published his "work"
(and I use the word with caution) as a letter, not a full publication, and only four of the six reviewers thought it worthy of publication.

Secondly, what slander, gagging and false staements? Pusztai never contested his suspension by the Rowett Institute.

Thirdly, the Scottish Office may have awarded him a research grant, but it never resulted in any publication, nor can I find any reference to any SO 'praise' for his original rubbish.

Perhaps you would like to clarify these points Drapetomania?

Aug 19, 2015 at 11:51 PM | Registered CommenterSalopian

GMO believers tend to believe climate quackery and buy into vaccine fibs as well.

Aug 20, 2015 at 1:22 AM | Unregistered Commenterhunter

Throw some mud and see what sticks has long been an dishonourable approach used by the press , it is partly why the public holds them in so much contempt. The 'green press' merely take this to another level.

Aug 20, 2015 at 9:25 AM | Unregistered Commenterknr

JamesG on Aug 19, 2015 at 4:36 PM

"Yes a sample size of 12 was too small - something that Wakefield himself said in the paper and at all press gatherings.
But again that is all missing the point!"

I read Wakefield's side of the story at the time and my take was that he saw a distinct possibility that harm was being done, through ignorance, but that he had insufficient evidence to prove it, so he gathered all he had and published it, with caveats, in order to pursue funding for further research. And then the Establishment went out to get him!

If it was classed as a H&S issue, such as being mortally wounded from playing conkers in the playground, it would have been banished, but it was part of government policy, for reasons already given, and that it could have turned into a 'class war', with the ability to purchase the single vaccines.

There is no reason to dismiss the possibility that there is a problem, a problem that could be fixed, but it won't be resolved if the Establishment 'that cares for our health' can help it!

But it rumbles on, with a letter from a CDC whistle blower:
CDC whistleblower confesses to MMR vaccine research fraud in historic public statement
"The statement opens with a blatant admission of scientific fraud at the CDC:

My name is William Thompson. I am a Senior Scientist with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, where I have worked since 1998. I regret that my coauthors and I omitted statistically significant information in our 2004 article published in the journal Pediatrics. The omitted data suggested that African American males who received the MMR vaccine before age 36 months were at increased risk for autism. Decisions were made regarding which findings to report after the data were collected, and I believe that the final study protocol was not followed.
In the letter, Dr. Thompson confirms the fact that he had multiple phone conversations with Brian Hooker and that the CDC has not been honest about the risks associated with MMR vaccines.

The letter then goes on to repeat the typical vaccine propaganda of our time: all vaccines are miracle medicine, the CDC is highly professional, there has been no retaliation against him and so on. Intelligent readers will of course take all these statements with a grain of salt, understanding just how much political and legal pressure has no doubt been exerted onto Dr. Thompson up to this point."

This news is a year old, but I didn't see it in the MSM at the time, or have since.

Aug 20, 2015 at 12:05 PM | Registered CommenterRobert Christopher

Anybunny who honestly follows the GMO issue knows that political orientation does NOT determine positions here, with opposition and support being equally distributed across the spectrum. Interestingly the strongest correlation with GMO position is sex. Women are much less trusting than men.

What is true is that somebunnies (Hi Keith) try to use GMOs as a balancing issue between greens and browns attitude to science.

Anyhow, thanks to all for proving the point

Aug 20, 2015 at 3:43 PM | Unregistered CommenterEli Rabett

Brer Rabett, I think the only think proved on this thread is that you are plonker.

As you should know, go into academic labs where scientists are actually doing genetic modifications on all sorts of organisms, and you will frequently find the majority of such scientists are women.

Aug 20, 2015 at 5:12 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

Sexism from an old, washed up white professor - who would have guessed eh? The only difference is Rabett does not have a Nobel prize.

Aug 20, 2015 at 7:02 PM | Registered Commentershub

Well Eli was not being sexist - just reporting a finding. Some people here are have proven themselves tremendously blinkered - something that would make me instantly distrust any 'science' they produce or criticize. Such folk are not true skeptics.

Whether the work was flawed or not (and I'd contend it just needed further follow-on work to establish that), the attention both cases grabbed had nothing to do with the work quality and everything to do with the heavy-handed incompetence of the Blair government. The disgusting way both men were treated merely for reporting adverse results should have been a red flag to anyone who cares about science. But clearly the backhander-fed establishment propaganda did it's job. Putin himself could have done no better.

To repeat, there was no refutation of either work and ad-homs don't change that fact. Calling a study poorly designed is merely a flippant throwaway line that was rejected by the Lancet. The design was found to be better than eight other contenders and far better controlled than industry-funded equivalents. Were the experiments repeated? No! So were they refuted? No! Even the most bull-headed of scientists should know what refutation actually means.

Last word to Parzai
".. I have to admit that, unfortunately, not much has changed since 1998. In one of the few sentences I said in my broadcast ten years ago, I asked for a credible GM testing protocol to be established that would be acceptable to the majority of scientists and to people in general. 10 years on we still haven't got one. All of us asked for independent, transparent and inclusive research into the safety of GM plants, and particularly those used in foods. There is not much sign of this either. There are still 'many opinions but very few data;' less than three dozen peer-reviewed scientific papers have been published describing the results of work relating to GM safety that could actually be regarded as being of an academic standard; and the majority of even these is from industry-supported labs..."

Well that may have changed since then but until there is an apology to Parzai from all concerned, I'd doubt it.

Aug 21, 2015 at 1:50 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

Sorry I meant Pusztai.

Aug 21, 2015 at 1:55 PM | Unregistered CommenterJamesG

JamesG, the wabbit was doing what the BBC does when they report the Pope, or Muslims, are recommending we accept their party-line BS about global warming: Trying to convince a subsection of the population that the rest of their 'cohort' thinks this way, so they should too.

He was trying to put across the image of women in general being suspicious/worried about the science behind GMO when he knows full well (or should do) that many highly qualified female scientists are actually the people doing this science in laboratories. It is an area of science where women are very well represented, comparable to medicine.

At best, it is pure "marketing", if not simple dishonesty.

Aug 21, 2015 at 2:48 PM | Unregistered Commentermichael hart

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