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Scoop Feedback: Monbiot and "Corporate Phantoms"

Dear Editor,

The radical left have for some strange reason become preoccupied with conspiracy theories, much to the detriment of their credibility. The recent article by George Monbiot is a classic example.

He alleges that there is some sort of vast conspiracy by GE companies to subvert public opinion as well as respected journals such as Nature.

His first claim alleges that the journal Nature was influenced by AgBioWorld to run a report critical of an article by researchers Ignacio Chapela and David Quist that could be interpreted as being unfavorable to GE.

This claim is a complete fabrication. The Nature web site (www.nature.com/nature/ - and search under Quist) has the articles of concern.

In an editorial comment the Nature editor says:

"In our 29 November issue, we published the paper "Transgenic DNA introgressed into traditional maize landraces in Oaxaca, Mexico" by David Quist and Ignacio Chapela. Subsequently, we received several criticisms of the paper, to which we obtained responses from the authors and consulted referees over the exchanges. In the meantime, the authors agreed to obtain further data, on a timetable agreed with us, that might prove beyond reasonable doubt that transgenes have indeed become integrated into the maize genome. The authors have now obtained some additional data, but there is disagreement between them and a referee as to whether these results significantly bolster their argument.

In light of these discussions and the diverse advice received, Nature has concluded that the evidence available is not sufficient to justify the publication of the original paper. As the authors nevertheless wish to stand by the available evidence for their conclusions, we feel it best simply to make these circumstances clear, to publish the criticisms, the authors' response and new data, and to allow our readers to judge the science for themselves."

Conspiracy? No, just normal scientific debate. And in fact Quist and Chapel in their reply to the criticism agree that they had made some errors:

"We acknowledge that our critics' assertion of the misidentification of sequences labelled with adh1 intron 1 and with bronze1 is valid."

So much for Monbiot's theories of undue influence on scientific journals. Complete paranoia.

Monbiot's second claim regards the possibility that there is a computer hacker working for a company called Bivings who has sent emails from phony addresses and that this is part of a plan to influence Nature journal but he goes on to say:

"Though someone in the Bivings office appears to possess hacking skills, there is no evidence that Bivings has ever made use of them."

No evidence. But that does not stop Monbiot from making the allegation.

The third element to Monbiot's conspiracy theory is a web site called ActivistCash.com. He alleges that this web site is a "fake public interest site". Well on visiting the site there is no claim to be other than what it is - a liberterian site. There is no deception going on, the site is very clear that it opposes various activist groups. One may disagree with the sentiments the site expresses but that is hardly constitutes a conspiracy. It is called lobbying.

In reality the overall thrust of Monbiot's article is an attack on freedom of expression. Instead of recognising that other people are perfectly entitled to have opinions that are different to his own he seeks to portray the opinions he opposes as stemming from a conspiracy to subvert.

The tendency of the radicle left to avoid debate by retreating into paranoia is to be pitied,

regards
Neil Morrison

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