In my previous post, I used Golden Rice as an example of one potential positive use of technology for genetically modifying food crops. The latest news sounds bad for Golden Rice; however, if you look beyond the headlines, you’ll see that the retraction of a Golden Rice research paper was justified, but why it was recalled isn’t related to the science itself.
In the article, “Judge Decides on GM Rice Retraction” The Scientist noted, “They found that the rice was just as good as a β-carotene supplement and better than spinach.”
The article further noted, “According to a Tufts spokesperson who spoke with Retraction Watch, no one is questioning the validity of the data. The problem instead lies in how the study was conducted—in particular, a lack of evidence that all participants gave full consent. Tufts investigated the situation in 2012. “There was no evidence found of falsification or fabrication of the data that underlie the study’s primary findings,” according to the spokesperson. “Those reviews did, however, determine that the research had not been conducted in full compliance with Tufts research policies and federal research regulations.””
The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition‘s original decision to retract the paper, and the judge’s decision to uphold that retraction were justified. While it may seem like “no big deal” to feed rice – rice which has been proven safe for human consumption – to a group of people, it is a serious breach of ethical standards to fail to obtain 100% consent of every person affected by the research. This standard must be applied to every study, in order to protect potential research subjects from harm and abuse.
While eating rice may be “no big deal,” not addressing the researchers’ failure to obtain consent from each subject individually would have opened the door to studies in which it is a very big deal to ignore standards of consent… giving vaccines, providing experimental therapies, and more. The history of medical research is littered with abuses of study subjects, and this paper retraction shows that in many (though sadly, not all) cases, our current system does operate in a way to protect people involved in current-day research.
As with all research, and the controversies that surround many studies, be sure to read beyond the headlines to understand the full picture, and all of the details that make up that picture.