Examining Environmental Sciences Europe, journal that republished Séralini study

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Following the publication of a retracted study claiming that genetically modified corn and the herbicide glyphosate causes tumors in rats, the GLP looks into the journal that is the study’s new home.

The study, “Long term toxicity of a Roundup herbicide and a Roundup-tolerant genetically modified maize” by a group of French scientists led by Gilles-Éric Séralini, was republished in the open-access journal Environmental Sciences Europe.

Established in 1989 as Umweltwissenschaften und Schadstoff-Forschung (German for Environmental Science and Pollution Research), it is published by Springer, a global scientific publishing group with books, e-books and peer-reviewed journals. In 2011, the journal became one of Springer’s open-access journals, joining the SpringerOpen portfolio, and was renamed as Environmental Sciences Europe (ESEU).

ESEU focuses on “all aspects of environmental sciences, including the main topic regulation,” according to the journal’s description on its website. Here’s an excerpt of its mission statement:

ESEU will discuss the entanglement between environmental sciences and regulation because, in recent years, there have been misunderstandings and even disagreement between stakeholders in these two areas. ESEU will help to improve the comprehension of issues between environmental sciences and regulation.

ESEU states that it is peer-reviewed and adheres to the Committee on Publication Ethics guidelines. The editorial policies are made available on its website:

Any manuscript, or substantial parts of it, submitted to the journal must not be under consideration by any other journal. In general, the manuscript should not have already been published in any journal or other citable form, although it may have been deposited on a preprint server. Authors are required to ensure that no material submitted as part of a manuscript infringes existing copyrights, or the rights of a third party.

It states that all articles are “made freely and permanently accessible online immediately upon publication, without subscription charges or registration barriers.” It also notes that unlike traditional subscription journals, “the issue of having an ’embargo’ on controversial or publicity sensitive material in the temporal gap between acceptance and publication is not an issue for SpringerOpen.”

ESEU is also clear about the costs that article authors have to bear when they publish.

Open access publishing is not without costs. Environmental Sciences Europe therefore levies an article-processing charge of £730/$1220/€880 for each article accepted for publication.

The significance of academic journals is often estimated using the impact factor, a measure of how often articles in the journals are cited, or used. A journal with a high impact factor is generally considered to be more important than a journal with a low impact factor. For example, the New England Journal of Medicine, one of the most prestigious medical journals in the world, had an impact factor of 51.658 in 2012. ESEU has no impact factor yet, as Ivan Oransky explains on Retraction Watch:

The journal, part of SpringerOpen, is too young to have an official Impact Factor (IF). Using the same calculation, however, the journal would have an IF of .55. That would place it about 190th out of the 210 journals in the “environmental sciences” category at Thomson Scientific. (For comparison, Food and Chemical Toxicology has an IF of just above 3, and a ranking of 27th.)

Oransky notes that this is not the first an example has been republished after it had been retracted. Authors often try to republish their retracted work in another journal with a lower impact factor. Kevin Folta, associate professor in the Horticultural Sciences Department at University of Florida, Gainesville, comments in his blog:

Seralini appears to have quite an ego to sustain, and the retraction from an okay journal must have hit pretty hard.  It was almost certain that he’d attempt to republish the work— but it isn’t going to a decent journal.

ESEU is perceived by scientists as having an ideological slant against genetic modification. Folta describes ESEU as a “journal with a less-than-rigorous grasp on reality, a clear anti-biotech slant, and the journal that has published such duds as Benbrook’s famous paper on increasing pesticide use that used interpolated and extrapolated data (because actual numbers didn’t exist).” He elaborates:

It boils down to this—if these data were significant, if the experiments were good, and the interpretations sound, this would not be buried in the depths of a crappy journal.  If there was hard evidence that our food supply truly caused tumors, it would be on the New England Journal of Medicine, Science, Nature, or maybe Cell if he wanted to go slumming.  But it’s not there. It is in a tiny, obscure journal that has quite a visible agenda, and that’s the only thing visible about it.

As Marcel Kuntz, director of research at Centre National de la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS, France) and professor at University of Grenoble-Alpes, notes, ESEU has now published 23 articles on the topic of GMOs, including Seralini’s study. Kuntz weighs in on the articles:

Of those,15 are from authors opposed to GMOs (some papers have an aggressive tone) or members of anti-GMO organizations, or with financial links to anti-GMO lobbies; 2 papers have no obvious anti-GMO bias; and 2 are replies to biased articles published in the journal; 3 articles are co-authored by a member of the editorial board, with no obvious anti-GMO bias, but indicating that the editorial board is aware of issues surrounding GMOs and should have identified the biased nature of most articles published in the journal on GMOs.

Winfried Schroder, an editor at ESEU, commented on the journal’s decision to republish Seralini’s study:

We want to enable a rational discussion about the study of Seralini et al by republishing it.

This methodological competition is the energy necessary for any scientific progress. The sole purpose is to enable some scientific transparency and on this basis, a discussion that does not try to hide, but focuses on these needed methodological controversies.

Click here for a list prepared by Kuntz of existing publications in ESEU on the topic of GMOs and their organizational ties.

Related article:  Battle over cancer warning label, glyphosate ban could complicate Roundup lawsuit settlement

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