3.2.1 Formal publication
The first formal, peer-reviewed, publication of part of Pusztai's work came in the Lancet in October 1999. Pusztai and his co-author Stanley Ewen had developed the work to include measurements on the effect of GNA potatoes on the structure of the rat intestine. They were looking for any effect of the GM diet on the mucosal cell layer lining the gut. Any increase in thickness would indicate that the diet had prompted increased growth of these layers, seen as a deleterious effect. In their design and analysis, these experiments had much in common with those highlighted in the 'Alternative Report' of October 1998 and the authors' conclusion, that GNA-GM potatoes had effects on gut structure, were in line with previous claims.
Carefully read though the New Scientist article 'It's that man again' (16 October 1999) by clicking 'View document below, and an article from The Guardian headlined Journal to publish GM food hazards research (5 October 1999). Given the information in this section, do you think that this coverage of Pusztai's work is fair, accurate and balanced? Can you find any errors in either article? Give a short written justification of your answer, in no more than 200 words.
Click on the link below to read 'It's that man again' from New Scientist
Here are my thoughts about the articles; yours may differ in tone, but hopefully you may have picked up some of the errors in the Guardian article:
The New Scientist article strikes me as fair, accurate and balanced. Pusztai's experiments are described, initially without adverse comments, together with the controversial circumstances surrounding publication. The Guardian article strikes me as less impressive; I find the word 'vindicating' inappropriate, perhaps indicating a bias towards Pusztai. Pusztai has certainly claimed the appearance of his work in The Lancet demonstrated his work's validity. But the circumstances of publication, plus the publicly expressed views of the editor, and a minority of the reviewers, incline me to the view that the work is not of the highest standard.
There are minor errors in the Guardian article - it fails to make clear that the paper doesn't refer to 'stunted organ growth' or 'damage to their immune systems' - which were Pusztai's previous unpublished claims - though New Scientist does make this point. The Guardian article talks of experiments showing 'enlarged stomach linings' in those animals fed GM potatoes; New Scientist correctly refers to intestinal crypts.
It is important that you form your own views about the Pusztai affair, so before reading what follows, spend a few minutes writing down your thoughts about what the saga tells us about communication within the scientific community and between scientists and non-experts. The issue is explored in some detail below, but we don't expect you to produce anything like the detail in Section 2.3. Make short notes, no more than 200 words, and refer to them as you read what follows. You will not necessarily agree with every point that we make.