Academics Review meets Genetic Roulette

posted in: Science | 18

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m an Australian. But us Ozzies get to meet a lot of Americans.

American author of Seeds of Deception and public speaker Jeffrey Smith’s of Fairfield Iowa, first came to the attention of Australians when he was rolled out by the anti-GM activists to try and prevent Australian farmers being given the freedom of choice on crop technology in late 2007.  Fortunately this effort by the anti-technology lobby groups was unsuccessful.

At most meetings organized by these activists that I have attended since that time — and there have been quite a few — stacks of his more recent book Genetic Roulette book were available for purchase, and I snapped up one early on.

A brief perusal of the articles revealed the book was highly biased. Nowhere in the book was there a mention of any of the major good outcomes from GM technology—such as decreased risk of cancer from mycotoxins in moldy corm (see this link for Chassy and Tribe’s efforts on this important topic at Academics Review). On the topics that I was most familiar such as antibiotic resistance in bacteria, Genetic Roulette was deeply misleading and factually wrong.

I decided late 2007 to investigate its claims thoroughly, little knowing how huge the task would be because as it turned out every one of the 65 claims in it — better called myths– was distorted, misleading, plain wrong, or based on misrepresentation or misreading of the sources it quoted.

An early step in providing an antidote for this misadventure appeared in an Australian rural newspaper, which I happily reproduced on my website in November 2007. But that fine article only tackles a sampling of the 65 Smith myths. Other aspects of Jeffrey M Smith’s effort were tackled in other GMO Pundit posts.

Fortunately I was able to team up with Prof Bruce Chassy with University of Illinois and together work through a careful dissection of the book’s claims. We sent our efforts to many experts in particular areas to make sure we got as much rigorous peer review as possible. In some topics, Jeffrey Smith’s claims are based on such flimsy evidence that it was difficult to find experts to take them seriously enough to provide expert review – they were just dismissed as a waste of reviewers time.

The results of our efforts are now published on a special website called Academics Review which we hope will become a forum for a series of other critical reviews where peer-reviewed scientific evidence is brought to shine a light on the wide range of topics that are important for public health or for environmental management, or on any area where modern science can help us make better decisions.

Why write about 65 flimsy myths?

Several people have asked me why I tackled such a time-consuming task.  Now that we have the site finished, we can see the effectiveness and wide reach of internet publication. We can enjoy the splendid esthetic attractiveness of (for which Bruce and I were mere by-standers while real graphic artists and programmers pitched in). And we are continuing to discover new bad outcomes fuelled by Jeffrey Smith’s misinformation — for example the recent disgraceful hold-up of insect protected eggplant (Bt-Brinjal) in India (see for example Seetharam 2010, Tribe 2009). Taking all this in, Bruce Chassy, myself, and our many valued collaborators and reviewers are very pleased (and relieved) to find it was time and effort well spent.

We are now taking pleasure in encouraging other scientists to join us as members on an internet platform designed to put scientific knowledge and expertise to the service of the broad community.

Go to Academics Review and check it out!


Sridevi Seetharam (2010).  Should the Bt Brinjal controversy concern healthcare professionals and bioethicists? Indian J Med Ethics.2010 Jan-Mar;7(1)

David Tribe (2009). Blog posting Jan 30 2009. GMO Pundit blog. Agbiotech Hoax Watch 2009 #4. Genetics “expert Prof ” Smith advises developing country about food policy.

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David Tribe is an applied geneticist, teaching graduate/undergrad courses in food science, food safety, biotechnology and microbiology at the University of Melbourne.