Expert response from Richard E. Goodman
Ph.D., FAAAAI, Research Professor, Food Allergy Research and Resource Program, Dept. of Food Science & Technology, University of Nebraska – Lincoln, USA
Friday, 23/08/2013 10:36
As far as I know, Monsanto did not pressure Elsevier to hire me (Richard Goodman, a Research Professor in the Dept. of Food Science & Technology at the University of Nebraska—Lincoln, employed there since August, 2004). I hope you will consider the following disclosure so that those who are interested in considering how the peer review system works might have a glimpse of reality as I see it.
I was employed at Monsanto in Regulatory Sciences from 1997 until July, 2004, and worked on the safety assessment of genetically engineered crops during that time and as researcher, and continue with similar work since then. My work includes evaluating GMOs and novel food ingredients developed by non-profit and for-profit entities.
I believe it is important to be transparent. You can read about my background on the University website (http://foodsci.unl.edu/web/foodsci/goodman). As a research professor I have to fund my program, pay my salary, the salary and costs of a bioinformatician, graduate students and research costs through grants and contracts. I manage the Allergenonline.org database, which is funded by the six major biotechnology companies. The purpose of the database is to provide a science-based peer reviewed platform to allow anyone to compare novel protein sequences (including proteins from genetically modified organisms) against proteins that are proven allergens or with substantial proof of allergy (e.g. IgE binding using sera from relevant allergic individuals), based on peer reviewed publications. We have an expert panel that is described on the website (allergenonline.org).
When the Seralini paper was published I was one of the primary critics of the editors of Elsevier for allowing this clearly deficient and sensationalistic paper to be published without apparent adequate peer review. I saw a number of deficiencies in the paper and wrote a critical letter to the editor (as did many scientists both within and outside of the biotech industry). The editorial staff of the journal, Food and Chemical Toxicology, knew that they did not have enough individual Managing and Associate Editors to cover the wide array of topics and the large number of manuscripts that they receive every year (more than 3,000 papers). The editor contacted me to inquire whether I was willing to become an Associate Editor to handle the review process for manuscripts related to biotechnology. I reluctantly agreed. I do receive a very small honorarium for the effort (probably less than $5 per hour spent on the assignments). The work is done outside of my normal University responsibilities. It often takes two hours to do an initial review and find two to three highly qualified scientists (from any country, from any employment area) who are willing and able to provide a scientific review. Often I have to search published literature for people who have published papers on related subjects. Reviewers do not get paid. It often takes many contacts to find someone qualified and willing to review a paper depending on the topic. In the end I have to judge the scientific rigor and appropriateness of the reviewer’s comments, then communicate with authors with a decision, often requiring considerable revision (if the author so chooses). It is not an easy task. And I take fairness very seriously. Undoubtedly some authors are not happy with the review. But critical reviews usually lead to much more sound publications.
I certainly don’t do this for the money. I can make far more as a consultant. You will find that most (all) editors and reviewers do their tasks because of an internal obligation to ensure scientific articles that are published are based on a sound hypothesis, good experimental design (and description) and that conclusions are based on data and data analysis that supports the authors claims. Will I make mistakes? Certainly, but I hope they are few and not very serious. Every author, reviewer and editor makes some mistakes. The review process is set up to try and reduce the number of mistakes, reduce fraud, reduce sensationalism that is not supported by science.
By the way, reviews of scientific papers are anonymous. That is designed to provide the most unbiased judgment of papers and to ensure that reviewers are not intimidated. The Associate Editor is not anonymous. The authors get correspondence from me. You have seen my disclosure and you can see many of my public statements posted in various places. I find it very interesting that many critics of technology are less open in disclosing their expertise, identity and possible “conflicts of interest.”
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