MPs urge scientists to resist media

May 21, 1999

University departments and directors of research establishments should take steps to ensure all their scientific staff are able to respond effectively and competently to media pressure, MPs said this week.

A report by the House of Commons science and technology committee, prompted by recent controversy over genetically modified food, says that scientists lack this skill.

The committee looked at the government's scientific advisory system. It focused on GM foods after suggestions that Arpad Pusztai, a scientist at the Rowett Research Institute in Aberdeen, was retired and his research suppressed because he told World in Action about his findings. He said that GM potatoes fed to rats caused weight reduction and damaged their immune systems.

An independent review of Dr Pusztai's research, also published this week by the Royal Society, concludes the reported work was "flawed in many aspects of design, execution and analysis", and that "no conclusions should be drawn from it". The reviewers found "no convincing evidence of adverse effects from GM potatoes", although they added: "This of course, does not mean that harmful effects can be ruled out".

The Royal Society review of Dr Pusztai's data - by six unnamed independent scientists - adds: "The episode underlines how important it is that research scientists expose results to others able to offer informed criticism before releasing them to the public."

Dr Pusztai's work had not been subject to peer review before he spoke to the media.

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