Retracting Inconclusive Research: Lessons from the Séralini GM Maize Feeding Study

J Agric Environ Ethics. 2015 Aug;28(4):621-633. doi: 10.1007/s10806-015-9546-y.


In September 2012, Gilles-Eric Séralini and seven coauthors published an article in Food and Chemical Toxicology claiming that rats fed Roundup©-resistant genetically modified maize alone, genetically modified maize with Roundup©, or Roundup© for 2 years had a higher percentage of tumors and kidney and liver damage than normal controls. Shortly after this study was published, numerous scientists and several scientific organizations criticized the research as methodologically and ethically flawed. In January 2014, the journal retracted the article without the authors' consent on the grounds that the research was inconclusive. In June 2014, Environmental Sciences Europe published a slightly modified version of the retracted paper. The publication, retraction and subsequent republication of the Séralini study raise important scientific and ethical issues for journal editors. Decisions to retract an article should be made on the basis of well-established policies. Articles should be retracted only for serious errors that undermine the reliability of the data or results, or for serious ethical lapses, such as research misconduct or mistreatment of animal or human subjects. Inconclusiveness, by itself, is not a sufficient reason for retracting an article, though a flawed study design might be. Retracted articles that are submitted for republication should undergo scientific review to ensure that they meet appropriate standards. Republished articles should be linked to the original, retracted publication. Journals that are reviewing studies with significant scientific and social implications should take special care to ensure that peer review is rigorous and fair.

Keywords: Ethics; Genetically modified foods; Peer review; Retraction; Scientific methodology.