Name that database!

In the forum, Anastasia announced that we’re working on a search-able database of the safety studies that have been conducted on GE crops. Our goal is to help people know about and understand the depth of research there has been on these crops, and be able to browse and search among them for details. And we especially want the fact that there has been a large amount of independent research on them to be widely known.
I’m happy to report that the initial testing phase of the features of this new database has been completed, and I am putting together the final version of our interface both on the front end and the back end. The whole system will work within the Biofortified blog posts and hasn’t necessitated dipping into our extensive war chest. But we will need a little bit of help from you.
Readers will be able to browse and search on the basis of:

  • Crop studied
  • Type of study (nutritional/feeding/basic genetics/etc)
  • Funding (independent/corporate)
  • Peer-reviewed or not
  • Findings (positive/negative/ambiguous)

On each page, we will have:

  • Complete, linked citation (including Pubmed author links)
  • Abstract
  • Specific funding sources
  • Impact factor summary
  • Our own summary of the findings and significance of the study
  • PDFs when possible (open access, future permissions, etc)

There were a couple other ideas we tossed around such as the study location and special areas that display the title of the journal and link to it (in addition to the links in the citation), but that is making it a bit complicated and we’re trying to keep it simple. If there is some information about these studies that you would really like to see included in this database, please let me know in the comments, as coding is ongoing! We hope to have it online and ready for entries at the end of the week.
Finally, we’re stuck on one important detail: what to call this database? We’ve been calling it the “safety study database” while working on it, however, many of the studies are not, strictly speaking, safety studies. Many of them are studies that compare GE crops to their conventional counterparts (and different genetic modification methods) on the basis of gene expression or other changes. These do have safety implications, but less directly. There are feeding studies, nutritional and biochemical analysis, and research on substantial equivalence. What would you call such a resource? Help us brainstorm!

Written by Karl Haro von Mogel

Karl Haro von Mogel serves as BFI’s Director of Science and Media and as Co-Executive Editor of the Biofortified Blog. He has a PhD in Plant Breeding and Plant Genetics from UW-Madison with a minor in Life Sciences Communication.

35 comments

  1. The Gene Revolution database….?
    Not wedded to that, really.
    But please consider: although I love tools called things like DAVID and Galaxy and VISTA, these things are nearly impossible to find when using teh Google. Make it something really different.

  2. A couple more title ideas as grist for the brainstorming mill:
    Safety Search
    Safe Science Database
    Frank ‘N’ Safe 🙂
    Safety Fact Base
    Ag Biotech Fact Base
    Peer reviewed safety
    Science base of biotech safety
    Science Accurate Factual and Easy (S.A.F.E.) or variations thereof

  3. I like the acronym, but probably just because a friend posted this on Facebook yesterday:
    just came across the laziest scientific acronym: AAA, or “A”TPases “A”ssociated with various cellular “A”ctivities.

  4. Of course we’ve seen it! Actually this list is being populated initially by David’s list, and we’re discussing with him how best to organize the list so people can find out more information.
    Safety Assessments Free and Easy? (another S.A.F.E. acronym)
    One difficulty with “safety” based names is that they are not all inherently safety assessments, but have safety implications.

  5. Yep 🙂 David Tribe is one of Biofortified’s editors – he’s contributing his compiled list towards the database.
    I hadn’t really thought about that before – the difficulty in publishing negative findings. Who knows how many papers out there go unpublished that say things like “we fed genetically modified potatoes to guinea pigs for 3 years and nothing happened”. If it’s not published, it didn’t happen – unless you do a press release.
    PSA also stands for Public Safety Announcement. I do like Published Safety Assessments – though we’re also including non-peer reviewed studies in the database, along with appropriate scientific analysis.
    Brian Dunning of Skeptoid suggested FrankenBase which sounded ridiculous at first but I think it’s growing on me.

  6. Because we’re using blog posts as the database, the posts will come up when people Google for the papers. I hope that this will be a useful resource not only to curious internet folk but to scientists and maybe even some regulators too.

  7. I think, for the sake of non-partisanistan (wherein the database should reside…), acronyms should stay away from things like SAFE and whatnot – there’s no reason, a priori, to assume GMOs etc are safe – a database with a name that suggests they are from the getgo may well turn off many people who’d benefit from seeing all safety studies collected in a single easy to use resource.
    Also on the above assertion that papers which find nothing won’t get published – I wonder to what extent this is true – big fat expensive studies saying GMOs are safe should still be of as much (at least) interest to the scientific community as tiny craptastical studies which pretend to say something but actually say nothing.

  8. Anastasia,
    The synonysm between Public Safety Announcement and Published Safety Assessments is reasonable and attractive.
    With appropriate oversight, it would be possible to take non-peer-reviewed papers and peer-review them. The danger in this process is that it invites glorification of travelogues and manuals involving boot-cleaning, such as were approved by the IPCC.
    At which point we’re talking a lot of time and money.

  9. Ewan,
    I take offense at your phrase, “craptastical studies”. I realize that the political Left has given itself a moral license that permits everything from potty-mouth to arson, to starvation, and beyond.
    Ewan, you’ve just crossed the line. I want an apology, or an explanation why “craptastical” deserves to be in the lexicon of a blog which is trying to engage with factual issues.
    All too often, junk and blather are included in factual discussions in a mistaken attempt to appear ‘balanced’. Should those who publish in the field of crop development be compelled to deliver a counterpoint borrowing from Lysenkoism?
    I don’t think so, but there’s lots of neo-Lysenkoists out there.

  10. Eric, if I had any reason not to consider the tiny studies by Seralini(published), Putzai(not published admittedly) and such anything other than craptastical then I’d be more than willing to offer a full apology.
    You’ll be waiting a while however.

  11. How about Seeds of Exception as your guide to the gene modified? Hm, parody type name, probably a bad idea.

  12. I’ve seen some studies and reports (mostly the non-peer reviewed kind) that I’d consider craptastical – they are so full of crap it’s fantastic, stunning, amazing that anyone who has been through multiple years of graduate education would be willing to put their name on them. I don’t know if I’d use the word on a regular basis, but I think it sums up how I feel about this type of study and report.
    Still, even bad studies do count as part of the literature and will be duly included here, along with some science-based critique that probably won’t include any words like craptastical, even if it is warranted
    I totally agree that any name that presupposes safety is inappropriate. As scientists, even ones that are occasionally silly, we have an obligation to not put our own bias in our work to the best of our ability. As we compile this database, who knows, we may find evidence that there are some real safety concerns. Hm. I wonder if Karl and I could turn this into a meta-analysis paper. That would be awesome.

  13. Open access
    Open minds
    Open for discussion
    I could produce a logo too if you wanted, but that would add to my fee 😉
    Great idea by the way. I tried to do the same myself at one point using GMOPundits 270+ papers but didn’t have enough time or an audience and had no means to keep it updated. I got as far as cataloguing a lot of the funding sources but that was it.
    Best of luck.
    Jonathan

  14. I think members of political parties on either extreme give themselves moral license to harm and destroy in the name of the greater good. I hope that we can keep from making this blog politically polarizing in its discussion.
    We will be including some non-peer-reviewed items in this database, and they will be clearly marked as such. This is also an opportunity to organize and comment on some of the claims floating around, while not elevating them to special status.

  15. GMOpen sounds pretty good… as much as I try not to use the “GMO” term due to its imprecision, it is a familiar name that many people recognize. Considering that we will upload PDF files when able, the “Open” part is fitting. True, “S.A.F.E.” isn’t neutral-sounding. Plus it lent itself toward abbreviations of awkward and redundant phrases.
    It seems that several people have made a stab at this kind of thing, but it sounds like we’re going to make it happen. A meta-analysis paper would certainly be possible, considering that we are using custom fields to organize the information in each section, we can use the blog itself to generate statistics about the studies.

  16. AAA: A database Associated with various genetically engineered organism safety
    Assessments.

  17. I’d recommend a name that sounds authoritative when cited. It’s reasonable to assume you want to be cited.

  18. I have a question-suggestion. Do you think maybe you could include a look-up by country? One of the things people like to toss out there is that Monsanto (’cause its always Monsanto, never Syngenta/BASF/DuPont/Dow/Bayer) is bribing off every single person who studies genetic engineering, and no matter how many studies you provide, conspiracies are an absolute defense against being proven wrong no matter what the weight of the evidence, but perhaps if you guys could show the scope of things it might make some of those people realize ‘Hey, this isn’t very plausible.’ There’s got to be dozens of countries with at least one reputable study on this. France, Germany, Switzerland, Sweden, Italy, Denmark, Thailand, Turkey, India, Israel, Australia, Japan, Taiwan, South Korea, Brazil, Argentina, Egypt…all of them and more must have researchers or institutions, educational or governmental or whatever, with something to contribute. Also, maybe it would be important to get some studies from countries like China, Russia, and Iran, which (not to get political here) tend to not always be the most aligned with the US, because one would think they, of all countries, would be very unlikely to be bought off by a US company. I would think China & Iran at least have to have some; they developed their own strains of Bt rice didn’t they? Maybe it’s just me being a xenophile, but I think a nice international edge might help in showing that if genetic engineering does not belong to a single country, it sure as heck isn’t all controlled by a single company. It, like all science, is the property of all humanity, doesn’t matter if you’re in Iceland or Qatar or Cameroon or Vietnam or Peru or wherever, this is worldwide. So, I just think it would be really cool if you could add something like that in there. Also, maybe a search by year feature too would be neat.

  19. Great idea, Greg! Having a search by country could be useful potentially for people working in those countries, too. Hopefully Karl will be able to add this to the code 🙂

  20. Done! Country option added. The studies will be browse-able by date, unfortunately the special search plugin we are using for this does not have a date option.
    In order to do so, we need to decide on a final name to initiate the custom post type that will define this database. My vote is still for GMOSAT, although GMOPSA isn’t too bad. I like the former because it is easier to say. We can use the remainder of today to suggest more names and decide, after that it’s study crunching time!
    We are so close to launching this it’s not even funny.

  21. I just came up with another name, even better than GMOSAT:
    GENESAT = GENetic Engineering Safety ATlas
    We can include all the other terms such as GM and GMO in the description so it shows up in the usual searches.

  22. More names to chew on:
    GENERA(A) = GENetic Engineering Risk Assessment (Atlas)
    GENESA = GENetic Engineering Safety Assessment/Atlas
    GENESK = GENetic Engineering Safety Knowledgebase

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