Biotech Feedback Pilot: Analysis of Alice Parks’ article, “7 things you need to know about GMO salmon” (TIME)

28 January 2016

Similar to Climate Feedback’s goal of giving “a voice for science in climate change media coverage,” we wish to do the same for popular media coverage of biotechnology. Biotech Feedback is an experiment based out of the University of California, Davis and is being developed in collaboration with the Climate Feedback team from UC Merced. We hope to create a venue for plant and animal geneticists to provide feedback to readers and news sources on the scientific credibility of biotechnology reporting.

Five scientists from UC Davis analyzed the article and created 27 individual annotations. They estimated its overall scientific credibility to be “neutral” to “low.” The reviewers came to the conclusion that the information presented in the article are of low scientific credibility mostly due to the absence of credible, peer-reviewed references (eg retracted papers) used by the author to back her claims and misrepresentation of widely accepted scientific consensus like the fact that GMOs are safe to eat.

See all the scientists’ comments in context here.

Reviewers’ overall feedback:

Nir Oksenberg (former UCD postdoc, Plant Pathology): This article does a good job of linking to government websites. However, it lacks links to any peer-reviewed articles and makes some bold claims like GMO food can lead to health problems. The article focuses on speculative negative environmental effects without discussing evidence-driven positive environmental effects.

Jenna Gallegos (UCD PhD candidate): In addition to a misleading overall presentation, this article has a serious sourcing problem. While some bits are taken reliably from the FDA, others draw heavily from web pages from the “Just Label It” campaign: a special interest group with a painfully obvious anti-GMO agenda. Worse yet, many claims in this article cite no sources at all, and I suspect at least one of them references a retracted paper that could not stand up to peer-review.

Don Gibson (UCD PhD candidate): This article goes over the positions fairly for both sides even if there are a few lines that over-states the risks involved. The issue here is the author does not make it particularly clear that the scientific consensus for 20 years of research, is that these GMO salmon are safe to eat and pose little risk.

Destiny Davis (UCD PhD candidate): There are several significantly misleading statements and much of the information used (but uncited) is from one retracted study and one review paper (the author of which cites his own papers the majority of the time). I don’t believe there is enough representation of the scientific field in the article, and therefore the claims about the science surrounding the issue should be taken with a grain of salt. A really big grain of salt.

Daniel Caddell (UCD PhD candidate, Plant Pathology): Overall, there is a decent amount of interesting information presented, however the article as a whole seems slightly skeptical towards genetic engineering as a technology and fails to highlight some of the potential environmental benefits that could come from adopting a salmon that can be grown faster.

Common Tags: Misleading, Over-stating

Notes: [1] See the rating guidelines we followed for article evaluations (from Climate Feedback). [2] Each final rating and overall feedback is independent.

One clap, two clap, three clap, forty?

By clapping more or less, you can signal to us which stories really stand out.