cj> New Thought Police Suppressing Dissent in Science


Richard Moore

The Institute of Science in Society

No 7/8 February 2001

The New Thought Police Suppressing Dissent in Science

Mae-Wan Ho and Jonathan Mathews report on the seamless way in which the 
corporations, the state and the scientific establishment are co-ordinating their
efforts to suppress scientific dissent and force feed the world with GM crops.

Science in crisis

Science is in crisis. The full extent of the crisis surfaced when trade union 
leaders warned that the integrity of British science is being threatened by "a 
dash for commercial cash" in a report published in the Times Higher Education 
Supplement (Sept 8, 2000), the main newsprint for University academics. 

The Institute for Professional and Managers in Specialists carried out a survey 
of scientists working in government or in recently privatized laboratories 
earlier this year. One-third of the respondents had been asked to change their 
research findings to suit the customer's preferred outcome, while 10% had 
pressure put on them to bend their results to help secure contracts. 

In Britain's handful of top research universities, dependence on private funding
is acute, often amounting to 80-90% of the total research budget. The four 
unions representing scientists and technical staff have launched a charter, 
which says that research must be guaranteed "by peer review, open publication 
and by autonomy over a significant proportion of its resources". 
Commercialisation smashes all three tenets. The only way to be sure that science
retains its integrity is to enshrine open and clear-cut whistleblowing, the 
unions claim.

Science has seldom lived up to its ideal as an open, disinterested enquiry into 
nature, as any scientist who has ever tried to publish genuinely new ideas or 
findings in the 'peer-reviewed' scientific journals will know too well. Nobel 
Laureate Hans Krebs' discovery of the metabolic cycle that would eventually bear
his name was rejected from the journal Nature. Albert Szent-Gyorgyi, another 
Nobel prize-winning biochemist, never got funded for work on the relevance of 
quantum physics to living organisms, which is crucial for understanding living 
organisms and why cell phones may be harmful, for example. 

In the course of liberating itself from the Church, the scientific establishment
has inherited many of the trappings offundamentalist religion. There can be but 
One True Science, and everything else tends to be treated as nonsense or heresy.
Within the past 50 years, the suppression of dissent has plumbed new depths, as 
the scientific establishment is increasingly getting into bed with big business.
At first, it was mostly physics and chemistry, now it is pre-eminently biology. 
And as corporations are growing bigger and more powerful, so the suppression of 
scientific dissent is becoming more sophisticated, insidious and extensive. As 
the scientific and the political mainstream have both come to identify with 
corporate aims, so their established power structures are brought to bear on 
squashing scientific dissent and engineering consensus. Witness the seamless way
in which the corporations, the state and the scientific establishment are 
co-ordinating their efforts to force feed the world with GM crops, known to be 
unsafe and unsustainable, and to offer no proven benefits whatsoever either to 
farmers or consumers [1].

Fall-outs from the Pusztai affair 

The GM debate had been going on in the UK and the rest of Europe for at least 
several years before the press went to town on Dr. Arpad Pusztai's revelation 
that the GM potatoes tested in his laboratory might not be safe [2]. As a 
result, Pusztai lost his job and was gagged. Pro-biotech scientists and Fellows 
of the UK Royal Society vented their collective ire and condemnation. Sir Robert
May, the then UK Government's Chief Scientific Officer, said Pusztai had 
violated every cannon of scientific rectitude. Pusztai's grave misconduct was to
'spill the beans' before the scientific findings went through the proper 
peer-review process, causing undue public alarm and damaging the biotech 
industry. His integrity as a scientist was called into question. 

In May, 1999, the House of Commons Environmental Audit Select Committee issued a
report proposing that members of the public should be appointed to the 
government bodies responsible for overseeing the safety of GM crops. A week 
later, however, the House of Commons Science and Technology Select Committee 
issued its own report arguing that scientific advice should be offered free of 
any direct input from environmentalists or consumer representatives. The Select 
Committee was particularly critical of press coverage, and recommended that it 
should be governed by a code of conduct for accuracy, and that breaches of the 
code should be referred to the Press Complaints Commission.

The Royal Society simultaneously set up its own hasty review of Pusztai's 
experimental results [3], without giving Pusztai the [missing text].

Industry's manipulation and suppression of scientific evidence 

Monsanto's machinations in gaining approval of rBGH is notorious [5]. An 80-page
report entitled, Use of Bovine Somatotropin (BST) in the United States: Its 
Potential Effects, was published by the Clinton White House in 1994, which 
concluded, "There is no evidence that BST poses a threat to humans or animals."

Later that year, British scientists revealed that their attempts to publish 
evidence that rBGH may increase the cow's susceptibility to mastitis (infection 
of the udder) were blocked by Monsanto for three years. The scientists showed 
that Monsanto's submission to the FDA was based on selected data that covered up
what the experiments had actually revealed - more pus in rBGH-treated cows. Over
800 farmers using rBGH reported health problems with the cows. Side effects 
included death, serious mastitis, hoof and leg ailments and spontaneous 

Monsanto subsequently offered Health Canada scientists substantial research 
funding during the rBGH approval process and the Health Canada scientists also 
complained of being subjected to suppression and harassment during the rBGH 
approval process. 

Two respected investigative journalists were fired from their jobs over a TV 
documentary on Monsanto's rBGH, alleging significant scientific findings had 
been suppressed. For example, insulin-growth factor (IGF-1) was found to 
increase 10-fold in rBGH milk. Increased IGF-1 is linked to breast, colon and 
prostate cancers in humans. 

Monsanto had also withheld from the FDA data from studies on rats which showed 
that feeding rBGH elicited antibodies to the hormone and the males developed 
cysts on the thymus and abnormalities in the prostate gland. Despite all that, 
rBGH milk is still being sold unlabelled in the US today.

opportunity to assemble the complete set of data, published a report declaring 
Pusztai's findings flawed, and warned that no conclusions should be drawn. The 
report also reiterated the importance of peer-review before the results are 
released to the public. The Editor of The Lancet referred to the Royal Society's
review as "a gesture of breathtaking impertinence to the Rowett Institute 

Double standards in the science establishment 

However, the Royal Society has never reviewed nor condemned the truly damnable 
unpublished and published findings on GM crops and products offered by the 
industry, and accepted as evidence of safety by our regulatory authorities. Nor 
has it condemned the suppression of scientific evidence by the industry (see Box
1). Neither the Royal Society nor the House of Commons Science and Technology 
Select Committee has ever found any fault with the exaggerated claims made by 
industry with regard to the need or benefit of GM crops. There are clearly 
double standards being applied (see Box 2). Not only that, outright propaganda 
is legitimate, so long as it is pro-biotech, and publicly-funded scientific 
research institutions are openly engaging in this exercise (see Box 3).

Communicating science: sound science's double standards 

The treatment of Dr. Arpad Pusztai constitutes one of the most notorious 
examples of double standards. Pusztai attended the OECD conference in Edinburgh 
on the Scientific and Health Aspects of Genetically Modified Foods [6], where a 
series of speakers questioned his integrity, despite the fact that at least part
of the research in question had, by then, been published in The Lancet. 

In contrast, Professor Zhangliang Chen, Vice-President of Beijing University, 
met with almost universal approval after telling the conference that rats fed on
GM foods in China showed no adverse effects, entirely on the basis of 
unpublished research and without any detail on design or methodology. Pusztai 
recalled people were even coming up to tell him that Prof Chen had shown when 
you do the experiments right, you get the right results![7]

The Royal Society Guidance on how to suppress unpalatable truths

The Royal Society then drew up a "Guidance for editors", which is reproduced 
with strong approval in a subsequent House of Lords Select Committee on Science 
and Technology Report on Science and Society [15]. It looks suspiciously like 
the 'code of practice' that the House of Commons Science and Technology Select 
Committee had in mind to counteract the press 'hysteria' over the Pusztai 
affair. It begins by quoting the Press Complaints Commission Code that, 
"newspapers and periodicals must take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading
or distorted material", and warns, "Editors must be able to demonstrate that the
necessary steps have been taken".

"Journalists", the Guidelines states, "must make every effort to establish the 
credibility of scientists and their work". The Royal Society will publish a 
directory that provides a list of scientists. Before interviewing any scientist,
the journalist will be expected to have consulted the officially nominated 
expert in the field, who will be able to say whether the scientist in question 
holds correct views.

"Newspapers may suppose that they have produced 'balanced' reports by quoting 
opposing views". Not so, according to the Royal Society, if "the opposing view 
is held by only a quixotic minority." Journalists are told to identify, wherever
possible, a majority view, and that is the one they should present. The majority
view may turn out to be wrong, but such instances, we are told, are the 
exceptions rather than the rule. 

But the mainstream majority has all too often been mistaken! It has been 
mistaken over nuclear power, climate change, and the link between BSE and new 
variant CJD, to name but a few glaring examples. And it is thanks to journalists
reporting minority views that pressure is brought to bear on the mainstream 
majority to change their stance. By then, unfortunately, much damage has already
been done. It would have been far worse if the minority views had never got a 
hearing at all. 

The Royal Society acknowledges that it is important for scientists to 
communicate via the media, but is concerned that some scientists may be seeking 
publicity to further their careers or to make exaggerated claims. This is 
blatantly absurd and insulting to scientists like Pusztai and others who lost 
their research grants and jobs for expounding unpopular views and unpalatable 
findings. To counter this, the Royal Society wants the media to contact 
"scientific advisers" (again, presumably supplied by the Royal Society) who 
could establish the authenticity of any story.
Box 3

Biospinology at the John Innes Centre

The John Innes Centre (JIC) is Europe's leading plant biotechnology institute, 
which promotes itself as an expert and impartial source of scientific 
information. The JIC's science communication activities encompass public 
meetings, press articles, advice to political leaders, exhibitions, a special GM
website, a school project, and school plays. It also hosts the Teacher Scientist
Network that links about 100 science teachers in schools with the JIC. 

'Biotechnology in Our Food Chain', the JIC's UK schools' project on GM, funded 
largely by Lord Sainsbury's Gatsby Trust, as well as being currently available 
on the web [8], will soon be made available to schools on CD-ROM. The JIC claims
that the project takes note of the "various viewpoints".

One section of the project that allows expression of those viewpoints is 'Meet 
the Experts'. It poses the question: "Do you believe that genetically modified 
food is, potentially, of great value in improving the health of the population? 
For example, if the 'super broccoli' (containing significant anti-cancer 
qualities, for example) was a big success and consumed on a large worldwide 
scale, what statistical changes do you think we may notice (long term) for 
problems such as cancer/heart disease etc?"[9].

John Lampitt of the National Farmers Union Biotechnology Working Group, waxed 
lyrical: "I believe there are exciting possibilities for improving the 
nutritional qualities of foods by genetic modification and these changes may 
eventually lead to improved diet and health in whole populations."

However, it is perfectly possible through conventional breeding to produce such 
a broccoli. Indeed, it has already been produced by a team at the JIC itself 

Prof David Baulcombe heads the JIC's prestigious Sainsbury Lab-oratory as well 
as its Plant Molecular Virology Group. He told a public meeting about some 
unpublished US government research, which shows that GM crops brought enormous 
environ-mental benefits, including increases in the diversity of insects, small 
mammals and birds of prey in areas where insect-resistant GM corn and cotton 
were grown. Despite repeated subsequent requests, Prof Baulcombe has been unable
to provide any evidence to substantiate the existence of such a report.

Prof Baulcombe also told the same meeting that in the famous Monarch butterfly 
research, the butterfly larvae were harmed more or less equally by non-GM and GM
corn pollen. This is complete fabrication and Baulcombe's comments have been 
strongly refuted since by Dr John Losey[11], the principal author of the 
research that in fact showed pollen from GM maize alone was lethal to the 
Monarch butterfly larvae[12]. 

A play commissioned by the JIC together with its Teacher Scientist Network is 
intended to tour UK secondary schools. Its information pack for teachers 
describes how the project was developed in such a way as to ensure that the 
script, the structured debate which accompanies the play, and the information 
pack itself, provide "unbiased and representative coverage of the range of 
viewpoints that exist". It also states that all the would-be script-writers were
required to participate in a "laboratory day" on GM involving a wide range of 
viewpoints. However, author Luke Anderson who was present at the laboratory day 
reports that he was the only person there who was not pro-GM. "I was totally 
outnumbered with everyone else from industry etc. I complained that it was 
unfair for there just to be me against GE in the room." [13] 

Dr Jeremy Bartlett, who trained in the John Innes, attended a production of the 
play, and described the event as a "carefully crafted exercise in manipulation".
The play is very entertaining, he said, and well written, but its message for 
young people strongly reflects the views of those who commissioned it. "The GM 
campaigner looks ridiculous, behaves deviously, has no proper arguments against 
GM and loses the girl. His fiancee listens to the rational scientist and 
furthers her career by promoting GM foods" [14].

On the matter of "uncertainty", "journalists should be wary of regarding 
uncertainty about a scientific issue as an indication that all views, no matter 
how unorthodox, have the same legitimacy." The Royal Society insists, once 
again, that it is peer review that confers legitimacy on scientific claims.

The Royal Society has broken new ground in attempting to exercise control over 
the press. It has been established practice for decades, if not centuries for 
new scientific results to be presented at conferences before they have been 
subjected to peer review and published. Peer review is not and never has been a 
precondition for research being brought to the attention of the public.

More to the point, where there is the possibility of danger to health or to the 
environment, it can be totally counter to public interest to wait for peer 
review. It took Pusztai nearly two years to get part of the work published. And 
in the final hours, a fellow of the Royal Society, Peter Lachmann tried to 
prevent the paper appearing in print [16]. Holding back on a scientific claim 
until everything is settled is one thing; not alerting the public soon enough to
a possible danger is another. 

Tom Wakeford, who has a regular column in the journal Science and Public 
Affairs, wanted to round up the year's events in 1999 as "an annus horribilis" 
for "the Royal Society, and a host of previously respected UK Scientific 
institutions". "After decades of almost sleepy acquiescence with science, 
journalists are seeking out the instances of cronyism, censorship and 
spin-doctoring from which they had previously seen scientists as being somehow 
aloof." Tom was given the veto by the editor of the journal, Alun Roberts, who 
withdrew his column, on grounds that Fellows of the Royal Society "wouldn't like
it". The journal is officially independent, as it is published by the British 
Association for the Advancement of Science, and some of its funding comes from 
the Royal Society.

The House of Lord decree that no question should be asked about safety

For good measure, the House of Lords Select Committee adds several comments, the
first aimed at discouraging sensational headlines such as those that might 
damage the image of GM crops; the second, incredible as it may seem, attempts to
purge the word, "safe" from the vocabulary of the media. "The very question "Is 
it safe?" is itself irresponsible, since it conveys the misleading impression 
that absolute safety is achievable."

This frontal attack on the English language is actually a veiled attempt to 
undermine the precautionary principle in its most important form, which can 
truly safeguard human health and the environment. It entails a reversal of the 
present onus of proof. In other words, instead of requiring civil society to 
prove something harmful before it can be withdrawn or banned, perpetrators 
should have to prove something safe beyond reasonable doubt before it can be 
approved, especially where the product is of no proven benefit to society. 

Scientists too, must be reined in

That is by no means the end of the story. Recently, a detailed Code of Practice 
on Science and Health Communication was launched jointly by the Social Issues 
Research Centre (SIRC) and the Royal Institution, to address concerns about the 
ways in which some issues are covered in the media, unjustified 'scare stories' 
as well as those "which offer false hopes to the seriously ill". It also claims 
to be in response to the call for such a code by the Select Committee on Science
and Technology. 

The code is aimed not only at journalists but also at scientists. A draft of the
code recommended journalists to consult only with 'expert contacts', a secret 
directory of which will be provided only to "registered journalists with bona 
fide credentials". It discouraged scientists from disclosing unpublished results
even at professional scientific meetings, thus breaking with a time-honoured 
tradition of open communication among scientists. 

The Royal Institution has long been involved in presenting science to the 
public, but its Director, Susan Greenfield, is also an advisor to the SIRC. The 
latter, it turns out, is a metamorphosed social research company which boasts of
its ability to provide corporate clients with effective public relations via its
'positive research'. The SIRC is both directly and indirectly funded by the food

The RI/SIRC Code of Practice is apparently endorsed by a list of mainstream 
scientists and science journalists: Sir John Krebs, Head of the Food Standards 
Agency and Lewis Wolpert, Fellow of the Royal Society and member of its 
Committee for Public Understanding of Science (COPUS), both well known for their
pro-GM stance; Susan Greenfield, Director of the Royal Institution; Lord 
Wakeham, Chair of the Press Complaints Commission and Lord Dick Taverne, author,
journalist and politician, another rabid protagonist for the biotech industry.

Although the general impression the Code attempts to convey is that of wishing 
to prevent both 'scare stories' and 'hype', it is no different in substance to 
the original Royal Society Guidelines to editors. It is intended to promote the 
mainstream, establishment view and at the same time to suppress minority, 
dissenting voices. 

The Code demands that known affiliations or interests of the investigators 
should be clearly stated; and that this applies not only to "researchers who are
attached to, or funded by, companies and trade organisations but also to those 
who have known sympathies with particular consumer pressure groups or charitable
organisations". The two cases are, however, clearly not equivalent. For 
researchers funded by companies, there is everything to be gained in terms of 
both scientific repute and monetary reward in promulgating the corporate agenda.
For scientists who go against the grain, there is everything to be lost, 
including job and career.

The Code goes on to state, "It should be recognised, however, that a particular 
affiliation does not rule out the potential for objectivityŠ. All scientists are
paid by somebody". This is a flagrant attempt to blur the distinction between 
publicly funded scientists whose allegiance is first and foremost to civil 
society, and those in the pay of unaccountable corporations dominated by the 
profit motive. 

The Code is keen to prevent any overstatement of risk but has not a word to say 
about the danger of false reassurances - something that goes to the very heart 
of the BSE disaster.

In January 2001, announcement was made of a new science media centre, supported 
by UK Science Minister Lord Sainsbury, to be housed in the Royal Institution 
headed by Susan Greenfield. It's aim is to help "sceptical and impatient 
journalists" get their stories right on controversial issues such as "animal 
research, cloning and genetically modified food" [18]. 

The corporate takeover of science is the greatest threat to survival 

Britain might be mistaken for a Third World country, says a newspaper headline 
at the beginning of year 2001: chaos on the rail network, protests over fuel 
price increases in the midst of the worst storms and floods in decades, and a 
vCJD epidemic that may claim up to tens of thousands of lives. Mad cow disease, 
or BSE, is now spreading to the rest of Europe, raising new fears that vCJD may 
follow in its wake. 

The BSE report, published at the end of October 2000, blames persistent 
government denials over the link between vCJD and BSE beef based on the 'best 
scientific advice' given by the Southwood Committee in 1989, which concluded "it
was most unlikely that BSE will have any implications for human health". The 
'best scientific advice' is saying the same about GM crops. The scientific 
establishment has failed, again and again, to acknowledge that science is by its
nature incomplete and uncertain and to insist on the precautionary approach. The
precautionary approach might also have averted global warming, had it been 
adopted ten, twenty years earlier. 

If climate change and the CJD fiasco can teach us anything, it is that science 
is too important to be left to the politicians or to a scientific establishment 
in bed with big business. Our academic institutions have given up all pretence 
of being citadels of higher learning and disinterested enquiry into the nature 
of things; least of all, of being guardians of the public good. The corporate 
take over of science is the greatest threat to our survival and the survival of 
our planet. It must be resisted and fought at every level. 

We must reject the imposition of any Code of Practice designed to suppress open 
scientific debate and discussion. Instead, concerted effort must be made by 
independent journalists and scientists to promote genuine, critical public 
understanding of science, so that the widest cross-section of civil society may 
be empowered to participate in making decisions on science and technology. Only 
then, can we hope to restore democratic control of science to scientists 
themselves and to civil society at large.

1.      See World Scientists Open Letter to All Governments on GMOs for a review of 
the evidence. Institute of Science and Society website 
2.      "Pusztai publishes amidst fresh storms of controversy" ISIS News#3 December, 
3.      Review of data on possible toxicity of GM potatoes, The Royal Society, June 
4.      "Health risks of genetically modified foods", Editorial, The Lancet 
5.      See Fox, M. (1999). Beyond Evolution, Chapter 5, The Lyons Press, New York.
6.      See "OECD agenda: "there is no evidence that GM foods are harmful"", Arpad 
Pusztai, ISIS News#4, March 
7.      http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/watchingdrpusztai.htm
8.      http://www.jic.bbsrc.ac.uk/exhibitions/bio-future/index.htm
9.      http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/broccoli.htm
10.     "False reports and the smears and men" Jonathan Mathews, GM-FREE, vol 1, no.
4, pp. 8-14 Also viewable at: http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/false.htm 
11.     Complete transcript of the public meeting at: 
12.     "Trangenic pollen harms monarch larvae" Losey, J.E. et al, Nature 399, 214, 
13.     http://members.tripod.com/~ngin/biospin.htm
14.     "Sweet as you are" Jeremy Bartlett, Splice 5, 16. Also viewable at:
15.     See "Trust me, I'm an expert" and "How to engineer society to accept science
as usual", Mae-Wan Ho, ISIS News#4, March, 2000
16.     See "Concern for science", Tom Wakeford, The Times Higher March 24, 2000.
17.     "Bad company, reporting the business of science", Jonathan Mathew, Norfolk 
Genetic Information Network(ngin), http://members.tripod.com/~ngin
18.     "New independent media centre aims to give scientists a voice" The Financial
Times, Jan 30, 2001 

The Institute of Science in Society
Londonia House, 24 Old Gloucester Street London, WC1N 3A1 UK 
Tel: 44 -020-7242 9831


Richard K Moore
Wexford, Ireland
Citizens for a Democratic Renaissance 
email: •••@••.••• 
URL: http://cyberjournal.org

    A community will evolve only when
    the people control their means of communication.
    - Frantz Fanon

    "One cannot separate economics, political science, and
    history. Politics is the control of the economy. History,
    when accurately and fully recorded, is that story. In most
    textbooks and classrooms, not only are these three fields of
    study separated, but they are further compartmentalized into
    separate subfields, obscuring the close interconnections
    between them" -- J.W. Smith, The World's Wasted Wealth 2,
    (Institute for Economic Democracy, 1994), p. 22.

Permission for non-commercial republishing hereby granted - BUT 
include and observe all restrictions, copyrights, credits,
and notices - including this one.