The Rise and Fall of the Scientific Foundation

MAY 2015.    In the winter of 2014, a professor from the University of Michigan retired after 41 years on the job.  This professor, Dr. Victor Katch, is widely known in the fields of exercise physiology and pediatric cardiology.  He is the author of many science publications, and one of the top textbooks in exercise physiology over many years.  He is also author of a 1986 review paper entitled:  The Burdon of Disproof.  In this report Dr. Katch looks into the writings Dr. Karl Popper, JR Platt, and others who state that many people need to understand the tenets of science in general.  One tenet is that science doesn’t “prove” anything, as a number of papers can show one argument, but it takes just one report to “disprove” that hypothesis.  This is a central theme of today’s research – as with anything (like is coffee good for you, or bad?) – there are arguments for either side.  One needs to read all sides of the debate, and make an educated decision.

The Fall of Scientific Foundations
Dr. Joe Mercola ( has been on the forefront of looking into issues of science as they focus on our current health system.  His recent 2014 report (which I am paraphrasing here) is on the issues of science and the chemical industry.  Here are some exerpts from his report:

There are plenty of indications suggesting that the evidence-based paradigm across sciences is built on quicksand, having been largely bought and paid for by many major multinational corporations. Nowhere is this more evident than in the chemical industry, where pesticide companies posing as "biotechnology" firms specializing in genetics have peddled their wares based on seriously flawed science from the very beginning.

Increasing numbers of scientists are now speaking out in objection to the rampant scientific misconduct muddling the field. Public mistrust in scientists and the corporations that pay them is also on the rise—and rightfully so. Conflicts of interest have become the norm within virtually all fields of science, which creates a completely unworkable situation in the long run. Our society is largely built on the idea that science can help us make good, solid decisions. But now we're facing a world so rife with problems caused by the very sciences that were supposed to keep us healthy, safe, and productive, it's quite clear that we're heading toward more than one proverbial brick wall.

In a sense, the fundamental role of science itself has been hijacked for selfish gain. Looking back, you can now see that the preferred business model of an industry was created first, followed by "scientific evidence" that supports the established business model. This is similar to the corporate scientists who were paid by the tobacco industry in the 1950s and 60s to “prove” that cigarettes did not harm the human body.  Only after years of overwhelming research in toxicology, biochemistry, clinical trials, and large population epidemiology studies did it show (but not prove) that cigarettes contributed to lung cancer, emphysema, and other breathing and chronic disorders.  Remember that the central argument of the cigarette industry is that cigarettes don’t cause cancer (proof), because if they did – everyone who smoked would die of cancer.  A circular argument to say the least, but in the beginning, it did impact the media, and the legal system.

Silencing Scientific Dissent
The featured Corbett Report above and a recent article in The New Yorker1 <
  both discuss the less-than-honorable methods used by industry to silence dissenters—especially scientists whose research doesn't jibe with preconceived industry decisions.  
Corbett discusses the case of Gilles-Eric Séralini and colleagues; French researchers who, in 2012, published the first-ever lifetime feeding study assessing the health risks of genetically engineered (GE) Roundup Ready corn (NK603). The findings, published in Elsevier's peer-reviewed journal Food and Chemical Toxicology, were a bombshell.

Rats fed a type of genetically engineered corn that is prevalent in the US food supply for two years developed massive mammary tumors, kidney and liver damage, and other serious health problems, including early death. Some of the tumors weighed in at 25 percent of the rat's total body weight.  The study was, and still is, among the best evidence of the toxic effects of GE foods. It was also some of the strongest evidence to date that we really need to exercise the precautionary principle and avoid these foods.

The longest industry-led feeding study was 90 days long—a far cry from two years. Of utmost importance, Séralini's study showed that the major onslaught of diseases really set in during the 13th month of the experiment, although tumors and severe liver and kidney damage did emerge as early as four months in males, and seven months for females. Still, the industry-funded studies simply didn't evaluate the health effects of their wares long enough for problems to be detected. And based on that, they're marketed as safe.

What Séralini's Research Means in the Big Scheme of Things
The average lifespan of a rat is two to three years. Humans live around 80 years, so we will notice these effects in animals long before we see them in humans. What do you think the effects might be if you feed your child GE foods from day one (yes, many commercial infant formulas even contain GE ingredients) IF the health effects are anything like those found by Séralini?

If 24 months of a rat's life equates to about 80 years of your child's, the 13-month mark would be somewhere in your child's early to mid-40s... GMOs have only been on the market in mass quantities for about a decade. If the effects are as dramatic and as dire as Séralini's research suggests, then we still have about three decades to go before the jig is up and the effects become apparent, en masse, more or less all at once, in the general population.

GMOs are a long-range gamble, and the pesticide industry is gambling that they won't have to deal with the fallout once it occurs. Since the publication of Séralini's 2012 paper, mounting research suggests that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Monsanto's herbicide Roundup, may be to blame for many of the health problems associated with GE foods, although in the Séralini study, the adverse effects were equally dramatic in rats fed GE maize grown without Roundup.

Study Retracted for No Other Reason Than They Don't Want It to Be True?
In November 2013, the publisher (Elsevier) retracted the Séralini study   saying it "did not meet scientific standards." However, despite having been reviewed by twice the typical number of referees prior to publication, and having undergone what the publisher called "an intense year-long review" after publication, it wasn't retracted due to errors, fraud, or even the slightest misrepresentation of data. It was retracted because the publisher deemed the findings inconclusive.  

The thing is, inconclusiveness of findings is not a valid ground for retraction(3).   According to the guidelines for scientific retractions set out by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), the only grounds for a retraction are either clear evidence that the findings are unreliable due to misconduct (data fabrication) or honest error, plagiarism or redundant publication, and/or unethical research.

The reason for the retraction is so ludicrously flimsy, it's virtually impossible to conclude that Séralini's paper was retracted for any other reason than the fact that it seriously disrupted the status quo, which is that genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and genetically engineered (GE) foods are safe and nutritionally equivalent to its non-GMO counterparts.

This is one of the first scientific studies to show almost conclusively (but not prove) that GMO crops cause damage in animals beyond the norm.  The response from the scientific community should be to conduct other studies to either refute the findings, or corroborate them.  In this case, the editors of the journal are in a massive state of scientific mis-conduct.

Conflicts of Interest Are Not Even Hidden Anymore
That conflicts of interest have become the norm is evidenced by the fact that industry doesn't even put much thought into hiding such conflicts anymore. It's right in your face, and when pointed out, you get little more than a shoulder shrug in response.

In this particular case, we have the curious synchronicity of Richard E. Goodman being given a position on Elsevier's editorial staff shortly prior to the groundless retraction of Séralini's study. Goodman was a Monsanto  scientist for seven years and is an affiliate of the GMO industry-funded group, the International Life Sciences Institute. While Goodman has refuted any involvement in the publisher's decision to retract this most damaging of all GMO  studies, the coincidence seems more than a little convenient. And, regardless of Goodman's influence, the retraction is quite simply unethical, and undermines the entire scientific process of discovery.

A group of scientists has drafted an open letter requesting Elsevier reverse its retraction of the Séralini paper or face a boycott. The letter may be signed by scientists and non-scientists alike, so please take a moment to sign the letter, and forward it as widely as possible.

The Rise of Decision-Based Evidence Making
Ever since the introduction of genetically engineered seeds about 20 years ago, the market for these chemical-dependent crops have spawned a multi-billion dollar industry. Funding for the development of more GE crop varieties has come primarily from the privately-owned pesticide industry itself.  Over the last 15 years, conflicts of interest within science have exponentially increased, and at this point, it's blatantly obvious that financial conflicts of interest play a major role when it comes to what research is done – what gets published, and what doesn't.

Researchers like Séralini and Hayes are not welcome in a system like this, as the funders of research are really not interested in real science. Their ultimate aim is to use science to further their own agenda, which is to sell patented seeds and chemicals. Studies that cast doubt on the soundness of their business model are simply buried and ignored.

Funding plays such an important role in determining the outcome of a study, you'd be wise to investigate who wrote the check before accepting anything you read in the scientific literature. As revealed in a 2011 study published in the journal Food Policy:

"In a study involving 94 articles selected through objective criteria, it was found that the existence of either financial or professional conflict of interest was associated to study outcomes that cast genetically modified products in a favorable light. While financial conflict of interest alone did not correlate with research results, a strong association was found between author affiliation to industry (professional conflict of interest) and study outcome."

GMO research in particular is further complicated by the fact that very few independent researchers ever even get the chance to study them, courtesy of strict patent laws. The vast majority of the research done on GMOs is performed by scientists hired by the industry. The results, therefore, are predictable.

As we move closer to a nation in which almost all foods will be sprayed by some pesticide, or fungicide, we have to take into consideration that there are some heavy changes that need to be made - first and foremost with our own diet.  In future posts I will discuss some of the changing issues in the nutrition, whole foods, and supplement industries, and how it will impact our health - individually, and as a nation.