Letter: Genes and food

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The Independent Culture
Sir: Professor Pusztai's suspension from his job because of the publicity he gave to his questionable and inconclusive research is alarming ("Researcher in genetic food scare is suspended from job", 13 August).

I always thought that the publicity was alarmist; I don't share the ideological hostility of some people to genetically modified food. Still it is the nature of research, particularly in its early stages, to be wide open to question: the point of research is to provoke argument for as long as argument is needed, not to settle questions immediately. Whether Professor Pusztai's research really deserves to be called "misleading" - whether the danger it mentions really exists - we will not know until there has been more research and discussion.

The idea of protecting the public from misleading publication by demanding peer review or institutional approval is dangerous. It opens the way for sheer censorship and makes informed debate on urgent matters near impossible. Free speech is even more important for the health of research and of public debate than is sound methodology. Free speech sets right what goes wrong in other respects; it quickly corrects the errors of its own making. Nothing sets right the loss of free speech. People who publish falsehoods should be contradicted, but not punished. It is particularly alarming if punishment is visited on people whose public statements affect the interests of the rich and powerful.

MARTIN HUGHES

Department of Philosophy

University of Durham

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