Friday, September 21, 2012

Rats, Tumors and Critical Assessment of Science

My email box exploded with new messages.  A flurry of notes contained a link to a new peer-reviewed paper, a work showing that rats fed “GMO” corn developed massive tumors and died early, compared to controls.  Immediately I smelled a Seralini paper.

A click on the link did not disappoint-- it's Seralini again.  I was electronically whisked to a PDF of the whole text and began to read.  Within minutes I was blown away by the lack of rigor, poor experimental design, attention to controls and loose statistics.  Most of all, I was blown away by the conclusions drawn by a study with tiny numbers of subjects in a rat line known to grow endochrine tumors.

The anti-GMO interests were quick to anoint this new work as a rigorous pillar of exceptional science, a hard-science detailing of the danger of transgenic food.  They want this to influence public policy.

I was really impressed by how the scientific media and the science blogosphere pounced.  The best names in the business, Terwavas, Leyser, Goldberg and many others were interviewed and provided detailed analysis of the work, pointing out its many flaws.  Those reviews can be foundthroughout the internet, and they are awesome. Like this one! I don’t need to reiterate them here.

What I will do, which is highly uncharacteristic and but consistent with the post hoc analysis done all the time, is provide a level of analysis that was not explored.  There are features of this paper that hint at a motive, an intent.  I do not believe this was a hypothesis tested.  I believe that this was an experiment designed to frighten.  I believe that this is blatant mis-use of science to forward an agenda.

Those are strong words and I never thought I’d cast such allegations at someone else’s peer-reviewed research.  That’s usually pretty low.  However, there are facets of this work that are clearly indicate the intent of the authors is to provide shock, not a good test of a hypothesis.  In fact, the word “hypothesis” does not appear once.  

This is why the report is in Food and Chemical Toxicology and not in Nature, where it would be if it was a properly conducted study.

Here are some red flags the others have not mentioned.  I’m reading between the lines here. I will describe what a good scientific report should not do and then give you some strong inferences from what the paper does not show, as well as how data are presented.

1. The first line of the paper claims an “international debate”, yet he cites himself and nobody else.  Easy to claim a debate when nobody else is participating in it.

2.  Figure 3.  This one really makes me see red.  Look at tumors.  Look at massively deformed rats.  Shocking, isn’t it?   The authors tell us in Table 2 that control rats also develop tumors.  Why not show them?  Why are the controls not shown in that figure?  It is because if they are identical to the experimental treatment rats then the fear factor is gone.   This is inexcusable and the authors, reviewers and editors should be ashamed.

Sometimes the way data are presented can expose the relative objectivity and hidden intent of a study. Left-rat that ate GMO corn.  Center- rat eating GMO corn and roundup. Right- rat fed roundup. Their associated tumors shown on the right. Wait!  What about the control rats, the ones that also got tumors?  How convenient to leave them out!   

3.  The labeling on the figure is “GMO” or “GMO+R” (R stands for Roundup).  GMO is not a product. It is not a genetic line of corn.  It is a technique.  There are many kinds of GMOs, plant lines bearing different transgenes.  Even if these results linked rat tumors to the food (which they don’t in my assessment) they would  link it to one kind of transgenic crop, not any transgenic crop.  This again shows the authors’ intent to overstep the data in a manner that will inflame the reader and further vilify a technology. To be fair, they do state it properly in the conclusion, but few are reading past the sensational photos.

4.  They show comparable effects of Roundup treatment and the transgene.  This should be a tip-off as well.  What is the likelihood of both inducing identical problems?

5.  Low numbers of subjects are a sign of poor design.  When tumor incidence is 30%, vs 50% or 70% that means three rats vs. five or seven.  The incidence of endocrine tumors in Sprague-Dawley rats is 70-80%.  Imagine you roll a die and numbers 1-4 mean develop tumors, 5 and 6 mean tumor free.  Now roll it ten times and log the result.  You’ll find that there will be times when you consistently roll 5 or 6, maybe 5 times out of ten.  Other times you’ll roll 5 or 6 only 2 times out of ten.  That’s natural random variation, and if you roll it 100 times, 1000 times, then the real probabilities will even out. 

6.  Low numbers + a line known to get tumors = some frequency of data that will prove the authors’ beliefs.

7.  A prediction-- the larger study will never be done and these results will not replicated by other labs.

8.  The Discussion.  Lots of guesses on how to link the food or Roundup to the symptoms. Quite a bit of speculation and hand waving, with no likely mechanisms discussed.

I could go on all day. For fun reading review the press conference. It was a bigger joke.  

The bottom line is that if we look at the report and what it says, and compare it to what the data really say, there is limited concordance.  To the trained eye the data say that these rats get endocrine tumors at high incidence and that what is being observed is the natural variation of the tumors in small numbers of rats, where the authors'  “significance” is found in statistically meaningless samples.

Alas, it is now part of the true-believers' war chest of crap information that now will be used to steer the unsophisticated and influence public policy. 


Michael said...

Given the strenuous rebuttals by mainstream scientists, perhaps this is the beginning of the end for Mr. Seralini, who seems destined to go the way of the "cold fusion" "scientists."

In the meantime, get ready for Prop. 37 to pass.

Kevin M. Folta said...


Yes, you are correct. Prop37 will pass, even though nobody has read it. They'll wish it was gone in a few years, mark my words.

PythagoreanCrank said...

Yes yes #3! I thought there was something wrong with my brain when the study and anti-GMO proponents were implicating GMO over this trait. I can maybe understand how a layperson would make this mistake but the researcher?! That sounds like outrageously bad science. Is Seralini the Wakefield of GMO?

Ena Valikov said...

The only way you can prove this study's flaw (apart from the typical apparatchik's smear campaign) is to produce a long term study proving this one wrong. Everything else is nothing but character assassination of the scientist.

May I see a long term feeding trial on rats, lasting for 2+ years, please.

Timberati said...

We here in California will either 1) not notice the "This product may contain traces of GMO produced foods" (or similar words) due to the ubiquity of the labels or 2) not have any transgenic food available.

We all will wish it (37) gone. Because, it is going to spread to the rest of the country.

I don't mind people thinking small is beautiful (aka big corporations are evil, and artisinal organic is heavenly), but do they have to have everybody fall into line?

Kevin Folta said...

Ena, a replicated study would be great, unfortunately Seralini's stuff never is replicated.

Do you (and I guess I already know the answer) feel that this is a scientifically rigorous report? Do you think that the controls are appropriate for Figure 3?

Of course you do.

This is not "character assassination of the scientist". This is critical post-hoc review of a published scientific paper. We do this in journal clubs all the time.

I can't wait to use this one with my students. In two seconds they'll shred this for the piece of trash it is.

The only people that need to replicate the study are the people that published it. 30% and 50% are no different when N=10. That means three or five. Statistical noise.

My hope is that the journal retracts this paper. However, it is now out there and will forever be seen as shiny evidence of GMO harm.

Michael said...

"May I see a long term feeding trial on rats, lasting for 2+ years, please."

Ena, you're funny!

Rats rarely live that long.

Ena Valikov said...


Correction: mice eating Round Up Ready Corn never live that long, dear.

A white albino rat of the same genus and species that Seralini uses, lived in my house until the ripe old age of 7 yrs old. Died of a bone tumor in his jaw.

Ena Valikov said...

Love the censorship, comrade.

You remind me of being back in the good old USSR.

anon squad said...

GMO-promoting scientists are the most despicable humanoid creatures to have ever walked the surface of this planet. To call them "human" is an insult to humanity. They are ANTI-human. They are demonic. They are forces of evil that walk among the rest of us, parading as authorities when in their hearts and souls they are actually corporate cowards and traitors to humankind. To pad their own pockets, they would put at risk the very future of sustainable life on our planet... and they do it consciously, insidiously. They feed on death, destruction, suffering and pain. They align with the biotech industry precisely because they know that no other industry is as steeped in pure evil as the biotech industry. GMO pushers will lie, cheat, steal, falsify and even mass-murder as many people as it takes to further their agenda of total global domination over the entire food supply... at ANY cost.

Kevin M. Folta said...

Ena, I got your comments in my email inbox and when I went to respond, I could not find them here.

I would never censor you or our discussion, you know that.

I have the exact verbiage of the posts. I'm not sure what is going on or if someone is messing with this. I assure you, your thoughts are welcome here.

Plus, I'm totally ready to address them!!! Let me know asap, thanks.

Kevin M. Folta said...

Anon Squad, Thank you for chiming in. You are a delight.

To the contrary, I feel that those that deny scientific evidence are the real problem. So are those that imply that scientists are evil, out to hurt mankind, and are in the back pocket of industry.

Somehow, those that produce results that share your opinion seem to escape your disdain, when they in fact are the unethical problem.

Not that big biotech is always right or good either. However, the science is the science and that needs to be protected.

Kevin M. Folta said...

Ena, I checked the "comment" part where I'd be able to see, edit, delete comments and your comments are not there. I don't understand. First time I was at that page.

I have your comments and would be happy to re-post them for you, or email them to you so you could repost them. Please let me know. They need to be there to forward the discussion. Kevin

Michael said...
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Michael said...

Anon squad:

"GMO-promoting scientists are the most despicable humanoid creatures to have ever walked the surface of this planet. To call them "human" is an insult to humanity. They are ANTI-human. They are demonic."

So should we just shoot them all, or what?

Michael said...

I've learned from Biofortified that M. Seralini has a new book coming out, and just in time!


Kevin M. Folta said...

Michael, Nothing like profiting off of junk science.

It is so funny how I'll get hate-email (and even some death threats) because people tell me I'm profiting by being a scientist for Monsanto. They say that I'm paid off and that the money I receive clearly shapes my statements on technology.

I can tell you from my Saturday desk that I'm not getting rich off of science or corporate sponsorship!

But how is? Seralini already has published books on the subject, like this one

Like Jeffrey Smith, they have to keep the fear alive to profit from their legions of blind followers.

My public service is free. Still I get so much grief. Follow the real money trail in this area!

DebbieC said...

Thanks for this very informative article with links. The fear that people like Seralini instill in people really pisses me off.

"Is Seralini the Wakefield of GMO?"
Pythagorean Crank, this is exactly what I've been thinking. Wakefield is still held up as some kind of hero by the anti-vax crowd, a scientist who has been silenced. Same thing seems to be happening with Seralini.

Kevin M. Folta said...

DebbieC, right on. I think this last stunt, along with the book due out in days, will finally dub Seralini as the Wakefield of the GMO world, only much worse.

Wakefield was a fraud and published bad data that shaped a decade of pseudoscience. It was one paper.

Seralini has an extensive list of work and his minions just adore him as a first-class expert. I don't doubt a lot of the data are fine, just that experiments are irrelevant and interpretations always overstep what the data really mean.

This last one is so bad because the agenda is clear. When you conveniently leave out controls that would dilute the shock value, that's a scam.

Luis said...

@Ena Basic probability calculations can show that the design of the study is flawed: the sample size is too small given the prior probability of getting tumors (even if there is no effect of either roundup or modification). In addition, the absence of dose-response is strange to say the least: if the effects were true one would expect increasing tumors and deaths with increasing dose.

In addition, we do critical analyses of articles all the time in journal clubs. In this case, the design and analysis of the study are so poor that they are very easy to criticize; thus, I would not call it character assassination. In contrast with Kevin, I'm not surprised by the publication of this paper: the journal's impact factor will go through the roof with references to this paper.

@ anon squad's comments are a good example of fundamentalism concerning GMO. Exercise: replace 'GMO' by 'sin' and have a laugh.

Ena Valikov said...

Either you ARE censoring Kevin, or Google has a black hole into which my posts to you go.

So, to be sure you get it here is
Rebuttal 2.0, Kevin:

Kevin M. Folta said...

Ena, I've never edited comments, ever. On my YouTube videos people make horrible comments about how my foreign students speak. I leave them. It is important to show the hate and intolerance many people say does not exist.

This is about ideas.

I could be wrong, but need evidence to accept that.

I'm not sure where this is going at this point. You have notes on miRNAs and abstracts posted, but I don't know why.

And if you ever need an article I'll get it to you. No problem.

anon squad said...
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anon squad said...

'any scientist who tells you they know that GMOs are safe and not to worry about it, is either ignorant of the history of science or is deliberately lying. Nobody knows what the long-term effect will be.' David Suzuki, Geneticist

Its obvious who is for humanity's survival, future and health of future generations. Although its beyond the capacity and/or will (because ignorance is bliss) for the sheeple hordes to do their own research and make use of the thing called our brain (who the f*** wants to do that when we have reality TV, Tom Cruise, and Britney Spears).

Heres an excellent article on why so many hinge on being sheeple

Its not beyond your capacity as a self proclaimed 'expert'. You and others of your like have taken advantage of the fact that many sheeple dont and wont do the research and rely solely on 'experts' to make their decisions on such important topic like GMOs (THEY ARE DUE NO SYMPATHY BECAUSE THEY ARE HAPPY TO SPEND HOURS WATCHING FU**ING CATS SPIN IN CIRCLES BUT NOT A MINUTE ON ACTUAL REAL IMPORTANT ISSUES THAT AFFECT ALL OF HUMANITY).

When the only experts that get into the corporate propaganda are soulless bought out shills then its simple to feed the masses with corporate pseudo science. **cough** Tobacco, DDT, Agent Orange, Asbestos, GMOs etc. **cough**

And Evil Corporations reap ungodly profits poisoning us and destroying the environment all wrapped in the name of "for our own benefit"! Not all scientists, scholars, etc. are sellouts for a measly paycheck, on the contrary many many honest, well intentioned scientists exist but at a price!

And heres comes the most obvious RED FLAG & FIRST INDICATOR that we are dealing with corporate science is when scientists and academics get fired, silenced, or harassed to the point of quiting or being force out for showing results of peer-reviewed quality research that are in contrast to what is being propagated by the corporations.
A perfect example is with GMOs dozens of academics have been fired, silenced, or harassed for showing the negative effects of GMOs a.k.a the truth! And how they get fired is a telling sign of the corruption that has infected the academic system because when the research is published calls come in from Monsanto or others to the Dean or heads of the department and subsequently that researcher gets fired and worse! So there is an obvious sign that that research should be looked at and most likely is valid. No one gets fired for making mistakes on research because thats the point of research trial and error. People only get fired in this society for blowing the whistle and telling the truth! Corruption is actually rewarded smh. Its an obvious red flag to a logical mind when so many have been fired (even tenured professors) for producing results not in favor of Monsanto how can a honest 'expert' dismiss this?

Another problem is many 'experts' just follow what government agencies or shill organizations say because mostly they dont have time to research the literature or whatever. But the ones that actively campaign like yourself are obvious bought out soulless shills because even for the technically layman a simple search of the literature comes up with anything but GMOs are perfectly safe and theirs no evidence that GMOs are harmful....heres a couple studies, 2 of which are compilations or analyses of dozens of other studies ALL PEER-REVIEWED INDEPENDENT SCIENTIFIC STUDIES!

Why you no talk about these! lol


anon squad said...

“Monsanto should not have to vouchsafe the safety of biotech food. Our interest is in selling as much of it as possible. Assuring its safety is the FDA’s job.”
– Philip Angell, Monsanto’s director of corporate communications1 (the FDA is the US government’s Food and Drug Administration, responsible for food safety)
“Ultimately, it is the food producer who is responsible for assuring safety.”
– US Food and Drug Administration (FDA)2
“It is not foreseen that EFSA carry out such [safety] studies as the onus is on the [GM industry] applicant to demonstrate the safety of the GM product in question.”
– European Food Safety Authority (EFSA)" --ohh well how convenient no wonder the claim no evidence that GMOs are harmful lol because they havent done any rofl!

An Annotated Bibliography
Of Scientific Publications
On The Risks Associated With Genetic Modification

It should be clear from the above collection of scientific publications (which is not exhaustive by any means), that concern about the risks of genetic modification is not merely a debate
between scientists on the one hand and well meaning but mis-informed lay people on the other. It is a genuine scientific and philosophical debate. Given that studies such as those listed
above exist in the published literature, and are therefore available to regulators and decision makers (and their advisory staff) world wide, there is no reason why they cannot be taken into account when regulatory decisions are made on the use and control of GM technologies and
their applications."

The myth of larger crop yields from GM crops gets debunked as rubbish just like most if not all the claims of 'benefits' in GM crops!

“The climate crisis was used to boost biofuels, helping to create the food crisis; and now the food crisis is being used to revive the fortunes of the GM industry.” — Daniel Howden, Africa correspondent, The Independent (UK)

“The cynic in me thinks that they’re just using the current food crisis and the fuel crisis as a springboard to push GM crops back on to the public agenda. I understand why they’re doing it, but the danger is that if they’re making these claims about GM crops solving the problem of drought or feeding the world, that’s bullshit.” – Prof Denis Murphy, head of biotechnology, University of Glamorgan, Wales

The myth that GM crops decrease the use of pesticides debunked!

"Charles Benbrook, Ph.D., 2009. Impacts of Genetically Engineered Crops on Pesticide Use: The First Thirteen Years. The Organic Center, November."

Theres plenty more but I got my point across! As everyone can see Kevin is lying through his teeth!

anon squad said...

Ohh ya and for the comments about Jeffery Smith selling fear and profiting off it....ROFL ya I bet he did the documentary because he was going to profit big time but he did the stupidest thing he put the damn thing on the web for free. smh what an idiot. **sarcasm** lol I love how the shills turn what they do around and point the finger at others! smh I think theres a term for that in psychology but cant think of it right now.

anon squad said...
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anon squad said...

OHH YA IT TOTALLY SLIPPED MY MIND. Even with all the evidence I posted doesn't even come close to the HORRIFIC AUSTERITIES THAT MONSANTO'S PATENTS ON GM CROPS HAVE DONE TO FARMERS IN INDIA OVER 250,000 HAVE COMMITTED SUICIDE TO DATE because the GM crops fail and can't produce enough to buy seeds for the following year which the farmers who have enormous pride from generations of farmers cant provide for their families so they take their own lives! AND THIS IS COMPARED TO A FEW DOZEN SUICIDES from Farmers who didn't plant monsanto seeds. MONSANTO HAS CAUSED MORE DEATHS THEN ALL AMERICANS KILLED IN WWII! WTF AND ANYONE IS GOING TO TRUST ANYTHING THAT COMES OUT OF THIS EVIL MASS MURDERING INFECTION TO HUMANITY! Anyone that defends Monsanto can go F*** THEMSELVES! I hope all the sellout soulless scums sleep well at night. So @luis why dont you have a laugh at that.


On Feb. 19, the nation's high court heard arguments in a case between Monsanto and Vernon Bowman, a 75-year-old Indiana farmer the agri-giant is suing over claims he has for years used seeds sown from a first crop of Monsanto Roundup Ready soybean seeds to grow subsequent crops.

anon squad said...

@Michael "Given the strenuous rebuttals by mainstream scientists, perhaps this is the beginning of the end for Mr. Seralini"

lol Ya from all the phantom 'scientists' that dont exist. lol from anonymous 'officials' reported to corporate media propagandists

opps looks like in reality 100s of scientists are defending the study!

In addition, 191 scientists from 33 countries have written in support of Seralini and his colleagues, and 95 scientists have thus far signed the Open Letter entitled "Seralini and Science" and found here:

eh, maybe it would be good to get the facts right dont you think Michael?

Kevin M. Folta said...

anon squad, I've been hesitant to even address your clueless rant. You state, "Its not beyond your capacity as a self proclaimed 'expert'."

I would not say self-proclaimed. I would say proclaimed based on the validation of a substantial body of work after 26 years in the discipline.

I'll pick a few highlights from your wacky rant and shed some light on them for passers by.

Kevin M. Folta said...

anon squad! I went to address your "peer reviewed" literature points and you posted tidbits not from research, but quotes from GMO Myths and Truths, an activist rag filled with lies and distortions! Where to start!

Sorry, but you've been duped buddy.

Kevin M. Folta said...

Anon Squad,

Do you realize that you are posting opinions from websites, not hard science? That's tough for you guys to sort out and that's okay. It is difficult to tell real science from nonsense, especially when websites look legit and are intended to generate fear.

I'll address any point from any of them, but don't Gish Gallop me on this. I don't have time to waste on addressing such craziness, but do want to help if there's a specific point you'd like addressed.

Anonymous said...

Testing. 123...

Anonymous said...

Most Interesting article. Thanks Kevin Folta.

This all reminds me so much of the Global Warming/Climate Change scare scam, where the "Science" has been perverted by the likes of Mann & Hansen, who have an agenda, in order to frighten people.

I've done a bit of research on this, & the agenda is UN Agenda 21.

If you google agenda 21, you get the anodyne Wikipedia page featuring "Green sustainability"
This is false.

If you google agenda 21 for dummies, you get some facts.

I'll summarise the agenda:

Decrease world population to a "sustainable" (in fact "Controllable") 500 million.

As the present population is ~ 7 billion, this means getting rid of 13 out of every 14 people now alive. 250,000 Indian farmers suiciding accidental, anyone?

The abolishment of private property. (Apart from the 1%s who are pushing this agenda, of course)

The abolishment of nations. ( hence unlimited immigration, & the continued existence of the bankrupt & unaudited European Union.)

The abolition of the family itself. (With illegitimacy rates soaring, the 1%s are well on the way to succeeding in this, kids don't bother getting married now).

The whole Agenda 21 project is laid out in a 900 page document.
George Bush Snr. signed it in 1992, & hailed it a "New World Order", at the RIO EARTH SUMMIT.
Bill Clinton signed it 1993, & signed the executive order to put it in motion.It's all dressed up as "Green Sustainability".

You want to know what's not sustainable?
The middle class is not.
Dams are not.
Golf courses are not.
13 of every 14 people are not.

In this world, where we have a food distribution problem,not an overpopulation problem, Agenda 21 represents the evil of control freak cowardice.


I am sickened by the thought that people are dying of famine, while dumb Americans are shoving the produce of millions of acres into their gas tanks as ethanol, a so-called "Environmentalist" policy.

Google Alex Jones, @infowars, if you're American, or Brian Gerrish @ if you're a Brit.
These guys know the score.

First The problem, a fairly lengthy essay.
Then The Movie, 2 hrs 13 mins, I think, with some suggestions for peaceful solutions.

Google 9/11 hoax, another "Scare Hoax" to get the US public behind "The War on Terror" which is actually a war on people, which is creating terror & terrorists.

For more honest news than our suborned Main Stream Media, try :

For a clear, comprehensive & non hysterical debate on Global Warming/Climate Change try:

Try youtube & type in :
Brian Gerrish The Secret Political Agenda 2 hrs 17 mins.

Agenda 21 is laid out in concise form on the Georgia Guidestones:
4 vertical marble slabs with a capstone, 110 tons weight.
Erected in the 80s, & paid for by an anonymous person calling himself "Christian" the agenda is chiselled in 8 languages, each side of the 4 vertical stones.

We cannot claim we've not been warned.

Andrew said...


Why don't you do the long-term version of this study since you are an interested party? You would get plenty of funding from the special interest groups and some from organic companies since, if you get positive results and the study is scientifically valid, they will easily have a new reason to pitch their product. You have a DVM, so do it. If you get positive results and the experimental methods were valid, you would get a paper in Nature. If you had negative results, at the very least you could publish it in the Journal of Negative Results and either way you will have learned something as does anyone who carries out a scientific study. We will be interested to see your results.