4 April 2002
NATURE'S RETRACTION BASED ON CONCERNS OF ONLY ONE REFEREE!
Nature's editorial in which its editor makes his unprecedented retraction - "that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper 'Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico' by David Quist and Ignacio Chapela" - contains the most astonishing admission.
The editor writes:
"The authors have now obtained some additional data, but there is disagreement between them and **a referee** as to whether these results significantly bolster their argument." [**emphasis added**]
The implication is clear. There was no disagreement between the authors and the majority of the referees (a minimum of 3 would normally be required). The original findings that Nature published also completed peer review successfully and were passed for publication.
So the editor of Nature's unprecedented retraction is based on the position of just 1 reviewer (out of what may have been a total of 9 or more for the two Quist and Chapela pieces).
Chapela notes in today's Washington Post article that several of those
involved in the two pieces published in Nature which are critical of Quist
and Chapela's findings, have axes to grind as a result of Chapela's high
profile opposition to the UC Berkeley-Novartis tie up.
That perceptions about Quist and Chapela's politics have been a driving force for their attackers is confirmed by one of the authors, Matthew Metz who previously told the Washington Post,
"...the primary concern for many of us is that science is being abused, that the scientific process is being taken advantage of for ideological reasons," [The Biotech Corn Debate Grows Hot in Mexico, Marc Kaufman, Washington Post, March 25, 2002]
Metz is an ex-Berkeley genetic engineer and a supporter of Prakash's AgBioWorld petition.
According to the Washington Post, Quist and Chapela's "finding was especially important because corn originated in the southern valley of Mexico and Central America and the region remains the international center for corn diversity". The most bizarre aspect of the whole controversy is that while Nature talks about the need to prove beyond reasonable doubt that transgenes have become integrated into the maize genome, a report in Nature itself previously noted that "almost everyone agrees that genes from GM maize will cross to local varieties". [Nature 415, 948 - 949 (2002)]. And even CS Prakash and his allies at the same time as running a hate campaign against Quist and Chapela have simultaneously been claiming that such introgression is both inevitable and expected!
Nature previously described the controversy over Quist and Chapela's findings as a "political row", noting the imminence of "decisions about the regulation of transgenic crops - in particular, the fate of the existing European Union moratorium on their commercial use." [Nature 415, 948 - 949 (2002)].
It is only in this political context that any sense can be made of Nature's retraction.
In our 29 November issue, we published the paper "Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico" by David Quist and Ignacio Chapela. Subsequently, we received several criticisms of the paper, to which we obtained responses from the authors and consulted referees over the exchanges. In the meantime, the authors agreed to obtain further data, on a timetable agreed with us, that might prove beyond reasonable doubt that transgenes have indeed become integrated into the maize genome.
The authors have now obtained some additional data, but there is disagreement between them and a referee as to whether these results significantly bolster their argument.
In light of these discussions and the diverse advice received, Nature has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper. As the authors nevertheless wish to stand by the available evidence for their conclusions, we feel it best simply to make these circumstances clear, to publish the criticisms, the authors‚ response and new data, and to allow our readers to judge the science for themselves.
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