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.