Friday, October 15, 1999 Published at 07:47 GMT 08:47 UK
The Pusztai affair - science loses
The man at the centre of all the fuss
BBC News Online's Science Editor Dr David Whitehouse offers his view on a scientific controversy
So, Dr Arpad Pusztai's research, widely derided as being deeply flawed and from which no conclusions about the safety of genetically-modified (GM) food can be drawn, has finally been published in the highly-respected Lancet.
There is elsewhere in the journal an editorial that attempts to justify its inclusion, but the Pusztai paper itself is the lead item in the "Research Letters" section alongside other, "unimpeachable", research.
That such a piece of work can be published this way (and not in a special section or on the WWW) is bad enough. But what is worse is that its publication is effectively an admission that science has failed to get its arguments across to the public.
During all the fuss over the unimpressive Pusztai work, no obvious champion of science has emerged.
Clearly, the scientific establishment and the government have miscalculated the public's fear of GM technology and indeed of science itself.
The GM debate has been a shock to many senior scientists. Over the past decade or so they felt they were making some progress towards a better public understanding and appreciation of science.
Perhaps they were deceiving themselves because the stock of being a scientist in Britain has rarely been so low.
In these so-called modern times, scientists are treated with ambivalence in Britain. Doctors, of course, are still highly respected but most other scientists are not.
And there seems little immediate prospect of things improving. One prominent scientist involved in world-class research into ovarian grafts recently said, "...it is difficult being a scientist in Britain. One does not feel proud of being a scientist any longer."
Heroes or villains
How have we arrived at a position where the public thinks GM technology is being forced on them by scientists who care little for the common good and are interested only in narrow research and corporate profits?
How have we arrived at a position where the scientific community, crammed full of intelligent, gifted, compassionate and responsible people, is widely accused of putting the public at risk?
One reason, perhaps, is because of the bickering and confusion that surrounds a controversial and politically-explosive piece of research.