The integrity of science
A conference about the conflict between public policy and independent science,
in honour of Dr. Árpád Pusztai (1930 – 2021)
Edinburgh (UK), 26 – 27 May 2023
ABSTRACTS OF LECTURES TO BE DELIVERED
Friday, 26 May 2023
Difficult days in the Pathology Department: Exciting collaboration with Á. Pusztai
Dr. Stanley Ewen, Histopathology Dept., University of Aberdeen, Scotland
Árpád Pusztai was the World authority on lectins. My collaboration commenced in 1986 with the immunocytochemical localisation of tomato lectin in gut. Árpád had no facilities for producing tissue sections, so he sought my help. My professor at that time agreed to support the proposed work.
Árpád was an enthusiastic and renowned biochemist with many international contacts. This led to numerous additional histological and localisation studies of ingested lectins in gut including Phaseolus vulgaris (common bean) and Galanthus nivalis (snowdrop). Árpád’s reputation encouraged collaboration on a European basis and, as a result, we studied the therapeutic potential of mistletoe lectin in lymphoid tumours in a mouse model. Árpád was alerted to the complete lack of safety testing in genetically modified organisms (GMOs) and our histological measurements revealed significant changes in rats fed a GMO.
Árpád was a wonderful person to work with and we developed a strong friendship including evening discussions followed by Árpád’s pancakes. His dismissal was a shattering experience that resulted in damage to his heart. Intermittent atrial fibrillation supervened and a blood clot moved to the left side of his brain, causing infarction. This erudite man became hemiplegic and “locked in” (able to hear but unable to reply) for the remainder of his life. A cruel result for this prolific and gifted communicator.
My association with Dr Árpád Pusztai – an honest scientist.
Emeritus Prof. Vyvyan Howard, Biomedical Sciences Institute, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland
I was one of 22 scientists who reviewed the Rowett Audit Report and wrote a letter in support of Árpád. All of us found that the report was biased and unreliable and recommended that Arpad should be reinstated in his job. Two of the other signees were Professors Ronald Finn and Jonathan Rhodes, colleagues at Liverpool University. I first met Árpád when he came to Liverpool to give a talk. I was immediately struck by his warmth and humanity; it was, for me, an unforgettable experience and we remained firm friends.
The selection process which had led to Árpád’s research group obtaining the grant to perform the research on the GM potatoes was in the face of stiff competition. There were over 20 other applicants. Because of Árpád’s prowess in the field of lectin biochemistry and his extensive bibliography and reputation, he was awarded the grant. I assume that that the grant proposal contained a detailed description of the experimental protocol. Thus, I was astounded by the level of criticism of his approach and of claimed flaws in the experiment following his communication of negative findings in the animal feeding studies. Who could possibly have approved the grant if it was of such terrible design? Well, the design was, of course, good. Because of the message, vested interests decided to go for the messenger rather than address the message. Árpád was a wonderful man. Árpád was an honest scientist. Árpád was made of sterner stuff than his opponents. Society and the scientific community must learn the lessons from the appalling way that he was treated.
Árpád Pusztai – Laureate of the German Whistleblower Prize
Dr. Angelika Hilbeck, Institute of Integrative Biology, Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich, Switzerland
In 2005, Dr. Árpád Pusztai was awarded the German Whistleblower Prize from the Federation of German Scientists (VDW) and the International Association of Lawyers against Nuclear Arms (IALANA) honouring his blowing-the-whistle regarding the safety of genetically modified (GM) organisms. Four criteria have to be met for this prize: 1) Revealing serious wrongdoing. This is understood as disclosing serious misconduct, grave grievances or developments in his/her working environment or sphere of activity, which are or may be associated with considerable dangers or risks to human life, health, the sustainable protection and development of ecosystems, the basic democratic order or the peaceful coexistence of people. 2) Sounding the alarm by “going outside”. If the whistleblower’s internal raising alarm is suppressed and/or ineffective, he or she will turn to outsiders or to the public, namely to supervisory authorities, ombudsmen, members of parliament, professional associations or trade unions, journalists or the public at large via mass media. 3) Primarily disinterested motives – serving the public interest. Raising the alarm is not done out of self-interest, but primarily for motives oriented towards the protection of important legal interests. Such legal interests are human life, health, peaceful coexistence, democracy, sustainable protection and development of ecosystems. The person concerned does not seek or achieve any economic advantages for him/herself or those close to him/her by whistleblowing. 4) Acceptance of serious disadvantages – risking retaliation. The whistleblower accepts that his/her whistleblowing is associated with considerable risks and/or disadvantages for his/her own professional career or personal existence or that of relatives.
While it could be argued that this all should be ‘normal’ practice in science, this prize was awarded to Árpád Pusztai in recognition that it is not and, therefore, wishes to honour exceptional personalities that aspire to these values at great personal sacrifice. Despite being fired, gagged and vilified in the mass media, Árpád Pusztai never regretted to have informed the public about the worrying findings when feeding GM potatoes expressing a lectin from snowdrops to rats. Although his research was never repeated nor followed-up, the snowdrop lectin-expressing GM potatoes also never saw the light of the commercial day and nobody was ever put at risk by knowingly or unknowingly consuming them. According to Pusztai, those who do not call fraudulent behaviour in science by its name and do not oppose the obstruction of critical research, violate the precepts of scientific ethics and act immorally. Ultimately, the conflicts were about free discourse in science and society. Dr. Pusztai lived uncompromisingly according to these principles, taught and shared his knowledge and experience in countless invited lectures and discussion contributions at countless conferences and courses.
Reflections on the Pusztai affair
Andrew Rowell, author
Andy Rowell was one of the journalists who worked with the Guardian on a series of stories on Árpád Pusztai. These included the front page article “Food scandal exposed” in February 1999, which revealed how 20 international scientists were backing Pusztai and were demanding his immediate rehabilitation. Further Guardian stories revealed how the editor of The Lancet was threatened by a senior official at the Royal Society if the journal published Pusztai’s work. Rowell wrote a detailed account of what happened in the book “Don’t Worry It’s Safe to Eat,” based on days of interviews with Árpád.
Rowell’s talk will offer unique insights and reflections on what happened to Pusztai. Nearly a quarter of a century later, his talk will also reflect how Pusztai’s work is as vital as ever, illustrated for instance by a reflection on the new pro-GMO ecomodernist agenda.
Dr. Árpád Pusztai, the private person
Dr. Susan Bardócz, Professor of Human Nutrition, University of Debrecen, Hungary
Árpád Pusztai was born in Budapest (Hungary) in 1930. He was a student of the high school Arpad Gimnazium and got his first degree in Chemistry at the Eotvos Lorand University of Budapest in 1953. He started his scientific carrier at the Biochemistry Institute of the Hungarian Academy of Sciences in Budapest, working for Prof. E. Szorenyi. After the crushing of the Hungarian revolution in December 1956 by the Soviet army, he fled Hungary and went to London with a Ford Foundation Scholarship where he received his PhD degree in biochemistry and physiology from the University of London. He did his postdoctoral studies at the Lister Institute of Preventive Medicine in London, after which at the invitation of the Nobel-laureate Dr R.L.M. Synge, he joined the Protein Chemistry Department at the Rowett Research Institute, Aberdeen, Scotland in 1963, where he stayed and worked till his “official” retirement as a senior research scientist in 1990. From 1990 to the end of 1998 he was engaged in research as a Senior Research Fellow of the Rowett at the request of the Institute’s Director and coordinated six major research projects, and several national and European research programmes until, as a result of his disclosures on the GM potato work, his contract was prematurely terminated and not renewed for 1999. Since then, he gave lectures on the results of the GM potato work and on the dangers of genetic engineering of crop plants used for human/animal food/feed all over Britain, Europe and the World. For the last 10 years he was a consultant to Ministries for Environment and Health of various countries and their Regulatory Competent Authorities, reviewing and critically evaluating submissions of biotechnology companies intending to release and commercialize GM crops. He also participated in GM risk assessment research work at GenØk (Norwegian Institute of Gene Ecology) in Tromsø, Norway. During his lifetime of research, he published over 300 primary scientific papers, 9 scientific books, participated and gave lectures at hundreds of scientific meetings and co-owned major international patents.
He has two daughters from his first marriage and a step son from his marriage to Dr. Bardócz, whom he worked together with at the Rowett, and who was a part of the research team of the GM potato work.
Árpád was a wise and caring man and even though he had tremendous accomplishments, he was humble and simultaneously able to stand his ground and speak the TRUTH all his life. He was a loving husband and father, and always very good company.
Saturday, 27 May 2023
Science as a public good: open science and scientific integrity
Prof. Geoffrey Boulton, University of Edinburgh, Scotland
Science is a special form of knowledge, essential to the needs and interests of human society. Much publicly funded science has come to be regarded as a global public good, free at the point of use, a fundamental infrastructural investment by governments and the basis for most private goods. The “scientific” mode of working is characterised by two essential disciplines:
- that knowledge claims and the evidence on which they may be based are made openly available and tested against reality and logic through the scrutiny of peers;
- and that the results of scientific inquiry are communicated promptly into the public sphere and circulated efficiently.
Many now believe that a new era of science is dawning, a new era of “Open Science”: changing the way that science is done and enhancing its capacity for discovery, whilst deepening its relationship with society. It is based on three fundamental pillars: open access publication, open data and openness to society. The latter recognises that scientific knowledge can rarely be applied and adopted successfully without involving the perspectives and priorities of those it influences. Such so-called “transdisciplinary” engagement is as important in achieving effective action for the great contemporary global issues such as climate change as it is in the provision of local ones such as the provision of a rural community water supply.
Open science promises to be a means to:
- Maximise the rigour, integrity and efficiency of science as a global public good.
- Create globally affordable and accessible dissemination of scientific results.
- Exploit cross-disciplinary data to explore complexity.
- Engage with society for social relevance, whilst countering disinformation.
- Create a global open science commons.
On Technology, Ignorance and Responsibility
Christine von Weizsäcker, Advisory Board of the Federation of German Scientists and Scientific Committee of the German Society on Human Ecology
Reflections on the integrity of science should also include the close links of science to technology. Technology, however, as a suitable means to an end, needs more than the technological tool maker. It also needs social and political reflections on the societal ends. Not an easy, conflict-free process. And it finally needs a suitable infrastructure to assess whether a tool really fits these ends.
The integrity of science does not only consist in the process of providing new answers. At its best, it also humbly admits to areas of ignorance and develops new and wider questions. This part of the scientific process, however, is not favoured in peer reviewed journals, nor leads to awards, nor is privileged by patent protection. In order to maintain or regain the integrity of science, however, somtimes the focus needs to turn to the scientific talent of formulating questions.
- What happens if the speed of innovation outruns the possibility of assessing wider and long-term impacts?
- What happens to alternative approaches once a scientific trend has gained recognition and funding as key technology?
- What happens if narrow interest and expertise advise all three political powers, legislation, government and jurisdiction?
- What happens if – in assessing benefits and risks – the asymmetries of knowledge and power lead to neglecting specifically afflicted groups?
- What happens if „complexity“ is turned into a synonym for „too difficult for the public to understand“? Will the Principles of the Rio Process on Environment and Development, especially the Precautionary Principle, the Democracy Principle and the Polluter-Pays-Principle be undermined by such an expertocratic approach?
The decline of theorization: a threat to the integrity of science
Dr. Marie Chollat-Namy, République des Savoirs, École Normale Supérieure Paris and Vice President of the Association des Amis de la Génération Thunberg
Scientific knowledge allows the design of technologies that unfortunately make possible the ever-increasing damage inflicted on the biosphere. To find rational remedies to these problems, it is necessary to generate new knowledge that changes our understanding of the issues related to the technology and to life. In science, this means creating new theories, necessary for its evolution. Various actors have recently raised the alarm about the decline in the ability of scientific articles to propose new theories leading to paradigm shifts. Research funding is mostly allocated to “conservative” research projects, based on the predominant assumptions and “dogmas”, whilst there is reluctance to fund research that questions these assumptions and widens the theoretical and practical research agenda. Although science promotes empirical results that destabilize theories, this does not induce their renewal, so that it results in a disorganization of theoretical knowledge, especially in biology.
How have science policies caused this phenomenon of decline that blocks the evolution of science?
We assume that this decline is caused by:
1) the decrease in the economic interest of the work of critical synthesis of existing knowledge,
2) the increasing difficulty in carrying out this work caused by a loss of historicity of research projects and scientific articles,
3) the elimination of conflicting plurality in the distribution of research projects and in communications between scientists.
This decline threatens researchers’ intellectual integrity.
A damaging hidden divide in our scientific endeavour – The solution requires a shift towards a “con vivo” science
Dr. Ulrich Loening, Centre for Human Ecology, University of Edinburgh, Scotland
There is an intrinsic challenge within the scientific endeavour, that stems from its base in power and leads to a split within the scientific community, threatening its honesty and integrity. My example is the science of farming which from 1843 to the present exposes the problem.
Liebig’s discovery and the founding of Rothamsted Experimental Station started the fertilisation of crops with soluble NPK (mineral fertiliser containing nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium). This powerful success was achieved in necessarily total ignorance of what we would now consider essential inputs: microbiology, plant physiology, biochemistry, etc. The increases in yields confirmed its validity, and the agro-chemical industry has built up progressively since then. But the success from initial observation led to ignorant intervention. The missing related subjects, like nitrogen fixation and mycorrhiza in the 1880’s, and genetics after 1900 were filled in by observation. Yet the main thrust of agricultural research continued along the path of mineral inputs and pesticides, stimulated by WW1 and WW2 respectively. This led to increasing power of agricultural intervention in nature, supported by corporate interests backed by science. Alongside emerged what is now called organic farming, which was based on the newly discovered observational features of biology. The two developments never merged and remain split, as in the annual Oxford Farming Conference and the Oxford Real Farming Conference. The split was exacerbated rather than diminished by developments in molecular biology, where one can argue that its application (as in GMOs) is again, as in 1843, being promoted in great ignorance of some biological realities, but this time with the knowledge that we know that we don’t know.
Thus in conventional ‘chemical’ agriculture, the successful interventionist science has become the accepted norm, and the more comprehensive observational science has remained on the fringe. We are left with split communities of scientists, each of whom argue for the integrity, but different integrities, of science. I argue for an honest humble science that follows the realities of life, con vivo, or convivial.
Science Suspended at the Turn of Century: Collision of a Political Imperative against Evidence and Critical Enquiry
Dr. Ignacio Chapela, Professor, Dept. of Environmental Science, University of California Berkeley, USA
Árpád Pusztai’s work on the physiological effects of GMO diets is one of a number of cases with shared similarities at the end of the 20th Century: each and all marked a key historical moment when a convergence of economic and political imperatives overruled fundamental tenets of scientific practice. With an overwhelming mandate to succeed in producing a novel field of technological application despite evidence and clear-sighted critical thinking, whole research programmes were suspended in a state of exemption that marked them for decades to come. A quarter-century later, important conclusions can be drawn from that moment. The Pusztai event, contrasted with a few other emblematic ones, provides insight into the choices of that time which pre-conditioned our current predicament, a misplaced faith in technology-as-science, and the roads not taken in which science might yet help us to strive for a future that we, collectively, might desire.
Geography of Asymmetries and Chemical Colonialism – A Brazilian Woman Geographer in Exile
Prof. Larissa Bombardi, Department of Geography, University of São Paulo, Brazil (on leave) and Visiting Researcher at CESSMA (Centre d’études en sciences sociales sur les mondes africains, américains et asiatiques), Programme PAUSE, Université de Paris, France
Larissa Bombardi has been a Professor (exclusive dedication) at the University of Sao Paulo for 15 years. All her research trajectory has been built on the subject of the Brazilian agrarian matter. In November 2017, as a result of a research study developed at Strathclyde University (Scotland), she published an atlas called “A Geography of Agrotoxins Use in Brazil and its Relations to the European Union” (English version here). With maps, the book shows the severe impacts of the use of pesticides in Brazil, from intoxication of babies and children to the death of one person every two and a half days. It also shows how much the use of pesticides is related to the expansion of industrial agriculture and its advance over the Amazon biome.
Since then, she has given countless interviews on this matter in Brazilian and international media. In 2019, after launching the Atlas in English in Europe (a fact that had enormous repercussion in Brazil), she received intimidation attempts and retaliation against her work. Among them could be mentioned the “Agrosaber Platform”, financed by Brazilian Agribusiness sectors, via an article translated as “Pesticides Atlas contains incorrect data”. Finally, in June 2019, she was advised by a social movement leader to avoid always using the exact same route from home to university and vice versa, as well as to change her schedule, her routine and so forth. The Dean of the University of São Paulo advised her to leave the country and offered her the Campus security to escort her when she was working in the university. In December 2019, she gave a lecture at the European Parliament about the Mercosur – EU Agreement. Due to the impact of the discussion regarding the use of pesticides in Brazil, the deforestation increase and carbon emission due to the advance of agricultural frontiers, her situation became even more delicate. The threats she received were intimidating emails (indicating that her life would be at risk if she continued to publicly disclose the results of her research), attempts to disqualify her publications and, finally, a burglary at her home in which (besides the psychological terrorism), the burglars took the computer where she supposedly had her database (August 2020).
She is one of the defenders cited in the 2021 “Human rights defenders & business” report and her staying in the country is therefore completely unfeasible. Fortunately, at the end of 2020, together with Lucas Melgaço, professor in the Criminology Department at VUB (Free University of Brussels), she submitted a project on Green Criminology to the “Global Minds” call, and its approval made it possible for her to leave the country with her two children. Since then, she has been living in Brussels. This year she also joined the “Rede Irerê de Proteção à Ciência”, an organisation of researchers, teachers, scientists, students and human rights defenders who advocate for democracy and the protection of socially and environmentally committed scientific research. She currently represents this Brazilian network abroad. Recently, in January 2023, she received the positive response that she will be hosted at CESSMA (Centre for social sciences studies on the African, American and Asian worlds) through the PAUSE Programme, a French government programme that receives researchers, academics and artists in exile. At CESSMA she is developing, under the coordination of Professor Isabelle Hillenkamp, a research project entitled “Pesticides and the Impact on Women and Children in Brazil – Agroecology as a path to female autonomy in the face of the physical and emotional impacts of pesticides”.
Towards a Taxonomy of Ways in Which Current Science Lacks Integrity
Dr. Irina Passos Natário de Castro, University of Coimbra, Portugal and Dr. Brian Wynne, Professor of Science Studies, Lancaster University, England
The integrity of science has been somewhat taken for granted by modern policy, scientific, and media bodies. Since this has been a key but largely tacit factor in the fragile public authority of science across the globe, this undebated and largely unproblematised issue needs examination, taking it to be an important and continuing condition for both science and for what has nowadays become science-led public policy. This is true even as its automatic public authority has been eroded through the sheer number, proliferation, and persistence of scientific controversies since post-WWII. This was when science’s key role in government decision-making – and also in presuming to achieve public acceptance of such decisions – was initiated, and mushroomed from almost nothing, over the next half-century or more.
Given the remaining collective social reflex, despite the “post-truth” diversions, of looking to science to provide effective authority and at least a semblance of coherence and governability for the basis of a large, if disparate majority of governmental and supra-governmental policy commitments, the twin questions of the integrity of science, and its public authority, deserve closer attention than they have hitherto enjoyed. In this presentation we will develop insights from case-studies, some of which are conference presentations, to outline a provisional taxonomy of the factors which both help conceptually to define, and which practically affect, the integrity of science. Here both internal aspects of scientific process, e.g. peer-review, and also external factors, e.g. funding policies and actors, even ownership and control structures, may be in play. Such a taxonomy would be helpful: for ‘internal’ scientific examination of the integrity of different domains of science, as a resource for collective scientific reflection on improvement; but also crucially too, for public accountability of, and engagement with, scientific and policy bodies as a means of maintaining governability as such, for what are intensifyingly science-led but commodification-driven global societies.
Inappropriate use of regulatory risk assessment to demonstrate ‘safety’ – unstated, unrealistic assumptions
Emeritus Prof. Vyvyan Howard, Biomedical Sciences Institute, University of Ulster, Northern Ireland
Regulatory risk assessment is an appealing concept – consider what the risks and benefits of ‘doing something’ may be prior to commencing. However, anything that can be used for good can be turned for ill. There is now an industry devoted to churning out complex risk assessments. The main aim appears to be obfuscation, they are voluminous, have hundreds of acronyms and are largely unreadable by the layman. This is intentional and a method of disenfranchising the public from the decision-making process. However, embedded in such risk assessments are, either by omission or commission, unstated assumptions. When taken into account they usually nullify the validity of the risk assessment.
Regulatory risk assessment goes through four stages:
1) Hazard Identification: This entails thinking about what might go wrong with a particular activity or process. There are many examples of where hazards are missed (or ignored).
2) Hazard Characterisation: This stage is where real science is performed to assess those hazards that have been identified, an expensive and time consuming stage.
3) Exposure Assessment: if there is no exposure to a hazard then it poses no risk. So, a lot of effort goes into showing that exposure will be minimal, and therefore safe. In this stage there is widespread use of data models, which make use of assumptions.
4) Risk Assessment: This is totally dependent on the validity of steps 1-3. It only addresses hazards identified and characterised.
I will give examples of errors made in all the different stages from examples of real risk assessments. This approach is widely used to sow doubt in the minds of regulators and to issue soothing words to the public. It is an example of the misuse of scientific method.
Deceptive science – Manipulated methods and trimmed information in biosafety of GM crops. Reflections on two cases from Latin America
Dr. Georgina Catacora – Vargas, Bolivian Catholic University San Pablo, La Paz, Bolivia
Abstract to be published later