The infamous Gilles-Eric Séralini GMO article – which made baseless claims about GMO corn causing cancer, and which was subsequently retracted – is back in the news. The anti-science crowd is trumpeting a decision by a French court that decided that Séralini was libeled by Professor Marc Fellous, former chairman of the French Biomolecular Engineering Commission, for “forgery” and “the use of forgery.”
So let’s look at this carefully.
Séralini GMO article vindicated by courts?
No, Séralini’s research wasn’t vindicated by anyone, including the French Courts. The court did not, in any way, decide on the particulars of the research. It’s still bad. It’s still nonsense. It’s still badly designed. And it still does not show a link between GMOs and cancer. It still doesn’t overcome the problem that there’s simply no biological plausibility that genes from GMO foods could transfer itself to humans.
What the French court did do exonerate Séralini of committing fraud. Most of us who wrote about the Séralini Affair (yes, it’s a thing) did not accuse him of actual fraud.
Bad experimental design? Absolutely. Bad statistical analysis? Definitely. Bad conclusions? Undeniably.
I spoke with our guest legal blogger here, Professor Dorit Rubinstein Reiss, who said “an accusation of fraud is defamation if untrue. In the U.S. for a public body malice would have to be shown, but not in Europe. So if there was an accusation of fraud and defendant couldn’t prove truth, it would be libel. And to remind you, you could have a very bad study without fraud, or without proof of fraud.”
In other words, sure there may have been libel against Séralini. But the court did not rule that the study was well-done, accurate, or believable. All it said was that the defendant, Professor Fellous, couldn’t prove that there was intentional fraud.
Wakefield and Séralini – similarities
I keep feeling that I’ve read this before. Oh, I did. Professor Rubinstein Reiss wrote about a court case where one of Andrew Wakefield’s (who really did commit fraud) co-workers, Professor John Walker-Smith, was able to overturn a ruling that had struck him from the rolls of physicians in the UK. Pro-Wakefield sycophants all over the world were proclaiming how this meant Wakefield was “right.”
Except, if you read the article, the ruling did nothing of the sort. The difference between the cases of Wakefield and Walker-Smith was huge. And they didn’t even look at the retracted study about vaccines and autism, because it’s still a bad study. It was simply that Walker-Smith’s involvement was not as bad as Wakefield’s.
More than this, courts don’t decide science. It’s not the way courts work. They decide on the law, which may have nothing to do with science.
If you think this court decision gives the anti-GMO forces the ability to once again tell the world that Séralini did “prove” that GMOs cause cancer, disabuse yourself of that thought. All it did was tell us that Séralini didn’t commit a fraud, based on the narrow legal requirements of libel in French law.
His science is still really awful. That hasn’t changed.
Editor’s note: Many thanks to Dorit Rubinstein Reiss for helping me understand what the decision meant from a legal standpoint.
- Séralini GE, Clair E, Mesnage R, Gress S, Defarge N, Malatesta M, Hennequin D, de Vendômois JS. Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize. Food Chem Toxicol. 2012 Nov;50(11):4221-31. doi: 10.1016/j.fct.2012.08.005. Epub 2012 Sep 19. PubMed PMID: 22999595.