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The Curious Case of the Paper That Isn’t

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On Jan. 15, the physics journal Entropy received a paper for possible publication. The paper was entitled “Glyphosate’s Suppression of Cytochrome P450 Enzymes and Amino Acid Biosynthesis by the Gut Microbiome: Pathways to Modern Diseases,” and claimed that glyphosate, the active ingredient in Roundup and many other herbicides, was responsible for a host of diseases, including autism, Alzheimer’s, obesity, anorexia nervosa, liver disease, reproductive and developmental disorders, and cancer.

The paper was authored by Anthony Samsel, an independent researcher in New Hampshire, and Stephanie Seneff, who works in at MIT in the Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Laboratory. Apparently, at some point the journal’s editors asked for revisions; a revised draft was submitted on April 10 and published on April 18 (this information is included with the paper’s abstract).

Monsanto scientists became aware of the publication shortly after publication and started looking at it. On April 23, a Reuter’s reporter asked a Monsanto executive at the BIO convention in Chicago about it; he hadn’t seen it and wasn’t familiar with it. Then Rodale Press published an article, followed by another online site.

In the meantime, Monsanto scientists finished their analysis of the paper. It wasn’t actually a study, but more of a collection of unrelated data points from a number of different studies and reports. Many of the observations recorded in the paper were incorrect or poorly established. The study actually was more a collection of assertions not backed up by the observations cited. The scientists wondered who the peers were who supposedly reviewed the paper; Entropy is a physics journal, not one devoted to toxicology, medicine or biology.

Regardless of whom actually peer reviewed the paper, bad science is still bad science.

On April 25, Reuter’s published its story. Monsanto posted a statement, Another Bogus “Study,” on this blog. HuffPo Green published the Reuter’s story. Anti-GM people on Twitter began to tweet the HuffPo Green story. All of this would have gone the way these things usually go – another bad science report becomes truth online, facilitated by uncritical reporting – except something else happened.

The science community was outraged.

The first response was a discussion board, Biology Fortified (BioFortified), where the administrator posted the link to the paper and asked if anyone had seen it or had thoughts on it. Several people had, and did.

Scientists and science reporters began to question the study and the Reuter’s report. Keith Kloor at Discover Magazine posted an article, “When Media Uncritically Cover Pseudoscience.” Then, remarkably, another report appeared on HuffPo Green: Condemning Monsanto with Bad Science is Dumb. David Tribe, also known as GMO Pundit, published his report: All you ever wanted to know about Glyphosate, Biosemiotic Entropy, Disorder Disease, and Mortality but were afraid to ask. Tweets began to fly and discussion boards to buzz.

Then the Knight Center for the Study of Journalism at MIT (home of one of the paper’s authors) took note of the controversy, and published Discover blogger Keith Kloor stumbles into nest of questionable studies and reporting on GMOs and multiple ailments. That report was followed by Hank Campbell at Science 2.0: I Was Going to Write Some Words But Keith Kloor Beat Me to It. 

The scientific reaction continues today. Derek Lowe, an organic chemist, posted Is Glyphosate Poisoning Everyone? He notes, as have others, that the phrase “exogenous semiotic entropy” had never previously seen the light of day until the Entropy article was published.

None of this, of course, will stop people from citing, tweeting and posting about the Entropy article as if it were valid. But this may be one of the first times that people who understood what bad science it was began to call out everyone from GM Watch and Rodale Press to the Environmental Working Group for publicizing a report that may make them feel good in the short term but will only hurt their cause in the long term.

Note: Thanks to @franknfoode on Twitter for the addition of the BioFortified link.

7 Responses to "The Curious Case of the Paper That Isn’t"

  1. This paper has been properly peer-refereed by three senior scientists from Western countries. The editorial decisions to accept or reject submitted manuscripts for publications is made by academic editors who have no financial interest or other particular incentive to accept or reject papers. The editorial decisions are based on the outcome of the peer-review process and thus reflect the scientific merits of a particular paper. The sentence “The science community was outraged.” is wrong. So far, the journal Entropy has not received any particular feedback on that paper. Scientists questioning the publication are, as always, invited to prepare a Commentary and submit it to Entropy for editorial review and possible publication.

    • Dr. Seneff was interviewed on May 2 about this report in Entropy, and among other rather startling statements she says that the paper contains a lot of hypothesis, that they haven’t been able to prove anything, that the important studies which would support their claims have not been done, and that more research was needed to know whether they had a case or not. She also credits Dr. Don Huber as her inspiration for the study, and he’s also made a number of claims without any scientific study to support what he says. The entire interview is here: http://globalnews.ca/video/531735/extended-interview-with-dr-stephanie-seneff

      • The paper is full of leaps of logic, strange speculation, and some down right factual errors.

        She mentions that glyphosate is not a known carcinogen, but immediately brings up a study involving professional pesticide applicators who were exposed to Roundup on the job. From it she deduces that exposure to glyphosate significantly increases one’s risk of developing multiple myeloma. She then goes on to say that obesity is a known risk factor for MM, and since glyphosate “could be” an “obesogen” Roundup could be the cause of the pesticide applicators’ cancer.

        If that doesn’t sound silly enough to you, in the very beginning of the paper they credit Roundup as the “main chemical used in lawn care.” No offense to your product, but the only grass I ever spray with Roundup is the stuff growing through the cracks in my driveway.

    • Entropy is a “pay to publish” journal that encourages scientists to publish “as much as possible.” From their article submission page:

      “Authors should suggest at least five potential referees with the appropriate expertise, although the Editor will not necessarily approach them. Please provide as detailed contact information as possible (address, homepage, phone, e-mail address). The proposed referees should be experts in the field who can provide an objective report – they should not be current collaborators of the authors nor have published with any of the authors of the manuscript within the last 5 years. Proposed referees should be from different institutions than the authors. You may identify appropriate Editorial Board members of the journal as potential referees. Another possibility is to select referees from among the authors that you frequently cite in your paper.”

  2. Pingback: The other side of the Roundup story | Hui for Environmental Politics in Hawaii

  3. Genetic engineering is perhaps the most fascinating and necessary science in the world today. There are many beautiful outcomes such as cancer genomics identifying human genes which are involved in cancer outcomes. Advanced theoretic unified field string physics includes groups of 8×8 superstring matrices that act as creators, maintainers, and destroyers of matter. Black holes, hurricanes, and pandemics are examples of destruction by the laws of physics and bio-physics.
    The unanticipated destruction of the monarch butterfly was not predicted by Monsanto. This indicates a weakness in the power of Monsanto scientists to predict reliably. Even perfect disorder can be quantified mathematically. The pharmaceutical industry doesn’t claim that pharmaceuticals are absolutely safe. Since there has been already at least one unpredicted catastrophe (the destruction of the monarch), then one could create a new algorithm based on physics probability theory of more probable catastrophes from the current corporate genetic engineering paradigm. Entropy is a law of physics which express in bio-physics and medical models such as in the phenomenon of a pandemic and co-variables for morbidity’s.

    Thus, based on this unexpected problem of the destruction of the monarch, it is irrational and unintelligent to conclude that genetic engineering is 100 percent safe. It is rational to conclude, based on evidence, that the current GE paradigm is unreliable and risky. Perhaps the next GE catastrophe will occur at the main weak point in the current paradigm: the discovery of resilient glyphosate molecules in non-pregnant woman, and the resilient Bt-toxins in the blood in the fetal cords of pregnant women (1.). The initial fetus is smaller than a core borer.
    The good point is that the deeper, more comprehensive laws of theoretic unified field string physics can provide solutions, such as how to create precise species specific and non-resilient herbicides and insecticides. In the mean time it is safer for all biotech employees and their children, to eat the Non-GMO Project label [with the monarch butterfly], which uses absolute quantitative analysis [counting exactly the number of toxic molecules] to confirm minimum, safe levels of biotech toxins in our food.
    1. Reprod Toxicol. 2011 May;31(4):528-33. doi: 10.1016/j.reprotox.2011.02.
    004. Epub 2011 Feb 18.

    • The decrease in the population of the Monarch butterfly population is due to a number of issues, including the reduction in the number of milkweed plants. RoundUp kills milkweed but so does a farmer’s cultivar or even his hand hoe. Other herbicides also kill milkweed. To say that the reduction of the milkweed population (and in turn the Monarch butterfly population) is an unexpected consequence of RoundUp application reflects a total ignorance of farming and agricultural practices.


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