Academics Review

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Academics Review is a website set up in January 2010[1] that promotes genetically modified (GM) crops and denigrates critics of GM.[2] It was founded by pro-GM scientists Prof Bruce Chassy of the University of Illinois and Dr David Tribe of the University of Melbourne.[3]

The press release from Academics Review of 24 March 2010 lays out the purpose of the website - to attack Jeffrey Smith, author of two highly critical and influential books on GM, Seeds of Deception and Genetic Roulette:

Two food science and biology academics are launching a new Web site, Academics Review, to examine claims against GM foods by Jeffrey Smith.
Founders Bruce Chassy, Ph.D, professor of food microbiology and nutritional sciences at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and Dr. David Tribe, Ph. D., senior lecturer in food science, food safety, biotechnology and microbiology at the University of Melbourne, Australia, authored a point-by-point scientific analysis of Smith's claims, which is posted on the site.
"Reliable information is extremely important to enable people to make healthy choices," said Tribe. "We hope Academics Review will be a resource for anyone who respects the open-minded search for truth that is the basis for scientific thinking."
Chassy and Tribe point out anyone searching the Internet for information to help them decide on the safety of GM foods would likely find a lot by Jeffrey Smith, who, like many people pushing advice online, isn't an expert on the issue.
"Much of the 'evidence' Smith cites for his theories about GM foods has never been peer-reviewed or examined by the international community of scientists for verification," said Chassy.[4]


Chassy and Tribe go hunting again, by Dr Brian John, GM Free Cymru

Well, if they can't close down GMWatch and Lobbywatch again, there was probably no option but for the forces of darkness to do their vilification on a spanking new web site - carefully designed and no doubt financially underwritten by all the usual culprits.

So this is the latest salvo in the "shoot the messenger" campaign - our old friends Bruce Chassy and David Tribe are now doing a hatchet job on Jeffrey Smith and all those whom he has cited in his books. Look at this page:

The whole exercise is utterly grotesque - and is based on the hoary old line that they (Chassy and Tribe) represent "proper" science and that anybody who disagrees with them or who provides "inconvenient" evidence is by definition either a charlatan or a nutter. Their line is that proper peer-reviewed science always shows that GM products are entirely safe, and that on the other side there is nothing but "misinformation." That of course is a grotesque distortion -- there are scores of peer-reviewed papers that Chassy and Tribe have to explain away as aberrations or as based on fraudulent research. In a bizarre sort of way, one has to admire their strange obsession, and one cannot dispute the vast amount of effort that they have put in to their latest exercise in vilification. Poison pours off every page on the web site. Chassy was of course one of the rottweilers who went after Irina Ermakova in that infamous "Nature Biotechnology" set-up.

And calling the site "Academics Review - testing popular claims against peer-reviewed science" is rather entertaining - especially since the picture at the head of the site is of a library full of books. "Trust us - we are proper scientists" is the grand message designed to send the world into a frenzy of admiration...[5]

New site pushes disinformation, by GMWatch

The only thing that's surprising about this desperate attempt on the part of the GM brigade to smear Jeffrey Smith's book 'Genetic Roulette' is that it took them so long. Jeffrey's book has been out there since 2007 and we have seen it light fires under activists and scientists alike. They usually say something like: "I had no idea that all this scientific research showing problems with GM foods was out there." Then they say: "Why weren't we told?"

Jeffrey performed a great public service in publishing his book. But - and we hope he takes this as the compliment it's meant to be - Jeffrey emphatically is not the point of this book. It's a collection of scientific studies - many of them peer reviewed and published - showing negative findings on GM crops and foods. There are also cautionary statements by conservative, careful, and experienced scientists, based on solid data.

All Jeffrey does is present this dry-ish material in a way that's understandable by the most scientifically challenged and jargon-phobic among us. As a talented science communicator, he stands aside and lets the findings speak for themselves, in the clearest of terms.

As Tribe and Chassy want to rubbish Jeffrey Smith's book, they also have to rubbish the work of the scientists who carried out these studies, along with the judgment of the editors and peer reviewers of the scientific journals where the papers were published.

Tribe and Chassy will also have to prove that all the scientists within the US government who expressed warnings about the dangers of GMOs, and who are quoted in Jeffrey's book, were out of their minds when they spoke or wrote those words. And if they were, then what does that say for the US regulatory system that the biotech industry likes to put forward as assuring safety? Doesn't exactly inspire confidence, does it?

So Jeffrey Smith's great sin, it seems, is to let the science speak for itself. This is the opposite of what Tribe and Chassy do. They grab a selection of worrying scientific findings that are foregrounded in the book. Then they engage in a childish game of wild speculation and distraction in a desperate attempt to make the data mean something other than what they obviously do mean.

One of Tribe and Chassy's favorite tactics is to claim that statistically significant effects of harm from GM foods are "not biologically significant". Years ago, Arpad Pusztai patiently explained why this claim, as used by GM food proponents, is, scientifically speaking, rubbish.

He said you first have to define what you mean by biological significance. There is no agreement among scientists about what it means in general, let alone when applied to particular cases of experimental animals. What is biologically significant in one species may not be in another. Even within a species, what is biologically significant may vary, depending on the animal's gender, age, health status, and other variables.

You would have to do an awful lot of tests and hold a big debate to determine what is a biologically significant change and what is not. Those who dismiss negative findings on GM foods as not biologically significant have never done such tests or held such debates. So, their dismissals are no more than wishful thinking.

The other way that Tribe and Chassy dismiss findings is equally dishonest and is typified by their treatment of Arpad Pusztai's research. Arpad's work has so repeatedly been lied about and vilified by GM promoters, that it is all too easy for GM supporters to just trot out those lies again. That's why its discussion has become a kind of touchstone for illuminating whether particular commentators are really interested in engaging with Pusztai's actual research, or are simply intent on a hatchet job.

There's no doubt about what Tribe and Chassy are interested in. They claim, for instance, that The Lancet only published Pusztai's paper over the objections of its own reviewers. This claim is supported by a link to a news piece claiming that "the panel of experts who were asked to peer-review the work are understood to have told the journal that the research is 'unsound' and should not be published."

But the only source for this claim is the well known GM supporter Prof. John Pickett, and the editor of The Lancet subsequently clarified that Pickett was in fact the only referee, out of six, to oppose publication. You may think that Tribe and Chassy are unaware of this, but you'd be wrong.

David Tribe has published on his own blog the criticism of Pusztai's work by Nina Fedoroff, contained in her book Mendel's Kitchen, where she concedes that The Lancet's "editor, Richard Horton, stood by the publication [of Pusztai's paper]. Five of 6 reviewers had favored publication and he believed that it was appropriate for the information to be available in the public domain (Enserink, Science 286:656)."[6]

And to dispel any lingering doubt, among the references for Tribe and Chassy's hatchet job on Pusztai, is Mendel's Kitchen! But smearing Pusztai over the issue of peer review is vital for Tribe and Chassy. After all, they claim to be the true guardians of the "unfiltered light of peer-reviewed science."

What Tribe and Chassy, and those who hide behind them, are really about is made all too clear in a section of the Academics Review website titled "Individuals". The only individual listed is Jeffrey Smith... doubtless more will follow! The profile they provide is a naked attempt to ridicule Jeffrey on the basis of his spiritual beliefs. The fact that some remarkable scientists - Isaac Newton instantly springs to mind - have held all kinds of strange and controversial views apparently escapes them. In our own time, the director of the Human Genome Project, the geneticist Francis Collins, is, for instance, a Christian evangelical who firmly believes in miracles and, reportedly, is given to "speaking in tongues".

But what Collins or Newton or anyone else has to say about science should be judged on its own merits - not via disinformation and ad hominem attack dressed up as "the open-minded search for truth".[7]


Bruce Chassy is affiliated with the International Life Sciences Institute (see dedicated pages for both).

The Academics Review website has prominent links to the following industry-linked organisations:[8]

Dow AgroSciences connection

Bruce Chassy is the co-author (with Wayne Parrott and R.A. Herman) of a paper whose first listed author is R. A. Herman, an employee of GM giant Dow AgroSciences. The paper is entitled, "Compositional assessment of transgenic crops: an idea whose time has passed". The Abstract argues that GM crops do not need any special safety studies before being approved for marketing:

Compositional studies comparing transgenic crops with non-transgenic crops are almost universally required by governmental regulatory bodies to support the safety assessment of new transgenic crops. Here we discuss the assumptions that led to this requirement and lay out the theoretical and empirical evidence suggesting that such studies are no more necessary for evaluating the safety of transgenic crops than they are for traditionally bred crops.[9]






  1. Purpose, Academics Review website, accessed 13 Apr 2010
  2. Academics Review website, acc 20 Mar 2011. Critics of GM denigrated on the site include Arpad Pusztai, author of a peer reviewed study that found GM potatoes damaged rats, and Jeffrey Smith, author of the book Seeds of Deception (a collection of peer reviewed studies on GM).
  3. Academics Launch New Web Site Holding Jeffrey Smith's Claims on GM Foods Up to Peer-Reviewed Science, 1888 Press Release website, accessed 13 Apr 2010
  4. Academics Launch New Web Site Holding Jeffrey Smith's Claims on GM Foods Up to Peer-Reviewed Science, 1888 Press Release website, accessed 13 Apr 2010
  5. Dr Brian John, Chassy and Tribe go hunting again, 27 Mar 2010, archived on GMWatch website, accessed 13 April 2010
  6. Dr. Nina V. Fedoroff, Analysis of Pusztai Study on GM Potatoes and their effect on Rats, GMO Pundit blog, Feb 26 2006, acc 13 Apr 2010
  7. GMWatch, New Site Pushes Disinformation, 27 Mar 2010, archived on GMWatch website, accessed 13 April 2010
  8. Home page, Academics Review website, acc 13 Apr 2010
  9. Herman RA, Chassy BM, Parrott W., Compositional assessment of transgenic crops: an idea whose time has passed, Trends Biotechnol. 2009 Oct;27(10):555-7. Epub 2009 Aug 21