Nature Biotechnology 25, 1354 - 1355 (2007)

GM soybeans—revisiting a controversial format

Brian John1

  1. GM-Free Cymru, Trefelin, Cilgwyn, Newport, Pembrokeshire, SA42 0QN, UK.

To the editor:

I am writing to express my outrage at the Feature published in your September issue and your unprofessional treatment of Irina Ermakova. Simply offering Ermakova the right of reply in a letter of correspondence is entirely unsatisfactory recompense for the deliberate and cynical damage that you have done to her good name.

This miserable business has distinct echoes of the sinister happenings of 2002, when your sister publication Nature published a peer-reviewed paper by Quist and Chapela1 on GM-maize contamination, and then 'retracted' it, following sustained and intense pressure from the GM industry and from parts of the research community working on transgenic plants. That was an unprecedented and thoroughly distasteful episode that did immense damage to the journal's good name2. Afterwards, Philip Campbell, the editor, sought to justify his action on the grounds of a “technical oversight” by the journal that led to the “mistaken” publication of a “flawed” paper3. Now, this paper is heavily cited in the scholarly literature and its influence—and not just the matter of transgenes and Mexican maize landraces—have been considerable4.

In the case of your September Feature, it is possible to identify (if one wishes to be charitable) a whole series of “technical oversights” which led you to publish an article authored by you and which would not have been out of place in the cheapest tabloid newspaper. I now ask you the following questions:

First, was it through a technical oversight that you allowed four of the best-known apologists for the GM industry to have free space in the pages of Nature Biotechnology for a premeditated attack on Ermakova, whose findings they happened to find distasteful?

Second, was it through a technical oversight that you connived with them to induce Ermakova to outline her findings in response to your questions, and then to publish their nonattributed responses? (I remind you that their comments were published as joint comments for which no particular person took responsibility and which were presumably not subject to a review process of any sort.)

Third, was it through a technical oversight that Ermakova was never told the names of the four men who were out to damage her reputation and was never shown their comments before publication?

Fourth, was it through a technical oversight that, according to the correspondence between you and Ermakova that she has shared with me, you clearly gave her the impression that this was to be 'her' article and then sent her a dummy proof (the only one she saw) which had her name on it as author?


This last point is possibly the most serious instance of editorial malpractice I have ever seen. I gather that you explain this away as a “mistake” in your office. I cannot accept that, and none of the scientists with whom I have had contact has ever encountered such a blatant example of malpractice before.

If the above instances of technical oversight were indeed down to administrative errors within your office that does not say much for the efficiency and competence of you and your staff. If they were down to a deliberate and predetermined strategy to destroy the academic reputation of Ermakova—and that is indeed my interpretation—your continuing position as editor would become untenable.



  1. Quist, D. & Chapela, I.H. Nature 414, 541–543 (2001). | Article | PubMed | ISI | ChemPort |
  2. Quist, D. & Chapela, I.H. Nature 416, 602 (2002). | Article | ISI | ChemPort |
  4. Cleveland D.A., Soleri, D., Aragón Cuevas, F., Crossa, J. & Gepts, P. Environ. Biosafety Res. 4, 197–208 (2005). | Article | PubMed | ChemPort |