Wednesday, May 21, 2003

GRAIN interviews David Quist:
I am concerned about the impact on science. It is unfortunate that the debate became so politicised and the real issue was discredited because of some disagreements over the interpretation of the I-PCR data. While there was a lot of noise made about the paper, there has been what I call 'scientific silence' over it: no-one is doing the follow up work to refute or support our findings and no-one is asking what the implications of them are. People have reacted defensively: because they don't see what they expect to see, they call our results 'erroneous'. This kind of approach is a disservice to science. What we are seeing more and more is that the science of substantiating facts is overriding science as a process, which is all about questioning and re-examining our assumptions, in order to lead us to a better understanding of reality. The way that the debates are framed and the inability of corporate science to re-examine its paradigms are compromising good science. What message does this send to other scientists who make the 'wrong' findings or ask the 'wrong questions', ie those that go against the science of the corporate agenda?

The events that have occurred also raise a lot of questions about the true objectivity of the peer-review process in scientific reporting. Science recently published a fairy tale [see this] story about the success of Bt cotton in India, despite the fact that Bt cotton is failing miserably all over India. Nature's handling of our paper suggests that it was under pressure from the industry camp. As the heat built up, the journal did not handle things very well and made a lot of people angry, on both sides. Two of the three referees said that they did not challenge the main conclusions of our paper, but suggested writing a correction to part of it. Why didn't the editor make this clear, point out that there were some issues of contention over certain aspects of our findings, and put out calls for more work on the subject? Why the need for a disavowal? And why were most people left with the impression that the paper had been retracted, when it was not? A hallmark of good science is in asking exploratory questions -- just as we were doing. We weren?t out of step with that, but the response we received was out of step with the way that normal scientific discourse should happen to advance scientific knowledge. Situations like this call into question whether these journals can continue to be looked to as a reliable source of objective science.

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