On 11 September 2012, the Science Media Centre (SMC) published response comments (by Prof. Rick Roush, Assoc. Prof. Peter Dearden, Prof. Peter Langridge and Dr. Ian Edwards) in reply to expert scientific opinions about the safety of GM wheat varieties that have been developed by the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) of Australia. The expert opinions were written by three risk assessment researchers, molecular biologist Prof. Jack Heinemann of Canterbury University (New Zealand), biochemist and epidemiologist Assoc. Prof. Judy Carman of Flinders University (Australia), and molecular geneticist Dr. Michael Antoniou of Kings College London (UK). The expert opinions were written in the form of reports and were prepared at the request of the Safe Food Institute of Australia, and communicated by the associated Safe Food Foundation.
After reviewing the response comments, ENSSER is disappointed by the Science Media Centre’s decision to post personal attacks by the commentators on the authors of the original reports, rather than engage in a scientific debate that might have been useful to journalists, its stated audience.
ENSSER encourages the three commentators posting to the Australian SMC website to take future opportunities to address the science rather than use these platforms to engage in ad hominem argumentation. The CSIRO, the Australian regulator (the OGTR), and each of these commentators could, and stillcan, put forth their own risk assessments to the public at any time. This is what we would have expected if the SMC were intending to provide clarity to the media.
ENSSER believes that the public, and science, are done a disservice when debate is reduced to ad hominem attack. Further, we believe that both science and the public can be harmed if research is impeded by the ‘chilling effect’ of such attacks. The public is entitled to a full and informed debate; scientific disagreement should result in further research, not dismissal through personal attack. Drs. Antoniou, Carman and Heinemann have engaged in proper scientific debate. Their expert opinions are based on evidence; their methodology, assumptions, reasoning and data have been provided for all to evaluate. SMC and other such outlets as well as fellow scientists should ensure that responses to their work do the same.