Conclusive findings are rare in science. The notion that a pioneering study must produce conclusive results is incompatible with the way in which scientific progress occurs.

The reasons that Dr Hayes gave for the retraction violate the norms of scientific publishing, as defined by the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE), of which FCT is a member.[1] COPE defines the grounds for retraction as:

  • Clear evidence that the findings are unreliable due to misconduct or error
  • Redundant publication or plagiarism
  • Unethical research.[2]

Dr Hayes acknowledged that none of these criteria apply to the Séralini paper. In his letter of 19 November 2013 to Professor Séralini announcing the retraction, Dr Hayes stated that an examination of Professor Séralini’s raw data revealed “no evidence of fraud or intentional misrepresentation” and that the results presented were “not incorrect”.

Dr Hayes added that the retraction was solely based on the “inconclusive” nature of the tumour and mortality outcomes, based on the relatively low number of animals and the strain of rat used, the Sprague-Dawley, which is reportedly prone to spontaneous tumours.[3] Dr Hayes later wrote in a statement, "No definitive conclusions could be drawn from the inconclusive data."[4]

However, the notion that a pioneering study must produce "definitive conclusions" is incompatible with the way in which scientific progress occurs.

Conclusive findings are rare in science. Insofar as they do exist, they tend to be found in fields that have been studied for many years. For example, there is a definite conclusion that gravity exists on earth, but no journal would be interested in publishing such known facts. Scientific publications are about new knowledge and new data. This hardly ever arrives accompanied by "definitive conclusions".

Professor Jack Heinemann of the Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety in New Zealand responded to the retraction of the Séralini study with an article in which he applied Dr Hayes’s criterion of “inconclusiveness” to several revolutionary and pivotal studies in the history of science.

Heinemann found that among the studies that would have to be retracted on grounds of “inconclusiveness” were two pioneering papers by the Nobel Prize winners James Watson and Francis Crick, describing the structure of DNA and how it might replicate. Watson and Crick expressed important qualifications of their data, which were only confirmed by a further study five years later. Nonetheless, as of the time of publication these findings were acknowledged to be inconclusive.

Heinemann concluded that in science, getting less than definitive results is “not uncommon” and that such findings must be allowed to stand the test of time and further research.[5]


[1] COPE (2013). Members: Food and Chemical Toxicology.

[2] COPE (2009). Retraction guidelines.

[3] Hayes AW (2013). Letter to Professor GE Séralini. 19 Nov. Available at:

[4] Hayes AW (2013). Food and Chemical Toxicology editor-in-chief, A. Wallace Hayes, publishes response to Letters to the Editors. 10 Dec.

[5] Heinemann J (2013). Let's give the scientific literature a good clean up. INBI, The Centre for Integrated Research in Biosafety. 24 Dec.

next page "Double standards used in evaluating GMO safety studies"