Calling all citizen scientists: Help evaluate GMO peer-reviewed literature!

July 12, 2016

Illustration by AJ Cann

What is this study?

Is there a scientific consensus about genetically modified organisms and health? In 2012 the board of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) issued the following statement:

Consuming foods containing ingredients derived from GM crops is no riskier than consuming the same foods containing ingredients from crop plants modified by conventional plant improvement techniques.

Many commentators and scientists have referred to the language in this statement, or to similar position statements released by other academic institutions such as the US National Academy of Sciences, the World Health Organization, the UK Royal Society or others, in support of a position that a worldwide scientific consensus exists that existing genetically modified ingredients in food are safe for consumption.

Others have denied that any consensus on the safety of GMOs exists. In 2013 a group called the European Network of Scientists for Social and Environmental Responsibility (ENSSER) issued a statement which specifically criticized the 2012 AAAS statement and asserted: We strongly reject claims… that there is a “scientific consensus” on GMO safety and that the debate on this topic is “over”.

What actually constitutes a scientific consensus is clearly contested on this issue by different stakeholders. So is the purported consensus supported by reviews of the scientific literature? Review papers addressing the topic of GMO safety have been published in recent years; none of them however report a comprehensive assessment of the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

This project aims to perform this task, in an analogous way and using similar but updated study methodology to the task performed by Cook et al in 2013 in their study of the climate change literature. This study has become well-known for its conclusion that 97% of the peer-reviewed literature explicitly or implicitly supports the consensus on the existence of human-caused climate change.

In order to address this question for the similarly contested proposed consensus on GMO safety, we are examining more than 12,000 abstracts (1996-2015) available from Web of Science, one of the largest aggregators of published information in the sciences. We seek to quantify using these abstracts how far the scientific literature supports or does not support the AAAS statement on GMO safety.

We need your help!

We want scientists and citizen scientists to read abstracts and decide if the abstract makes a determination on whether biotechnology has an implicit, explicit, or neutral statement on human health. These terms, and the corresponding numerical scores, will be explained in the rating itself. You choose the number of randomly assigned abstracts you want to rate (either 100 or 200), and you will have five days after you sign up to complete ratings.

The dataset was complied by reviewing and testing keywords used in other meta-analyses about biotechnology. Our anonymous data and methods will be released upon conclusion of this project. We are only looking at peer-reviewed published literature, in English, from 1996-2015. We are not looking at conference proceedings, government assessment materials, or industry materials.

This study offers an inclusive approach to peer-reviewed science because we are asking both scientists and non-scientists to read and rate the same abstracts. Everyone gets the same chance to read and consider the same information. Each abstract will be rated twice, by two independent raters (and no rater will receive the same set of abstracts to rate), and once again by the author of the abstract (pending their participation).

Ready to participate?
If you have read this information and you are:

At least 18 years of age
Experience reading scientific and highly technical abstracts, written in English, on plant genetics
Rate abstracts impartially, even if you have strong opinions for or against genetically modified organisms
You understand there is no compensation associated with this project.

Please send an email to jat264[at] with no text in the body and Consensus Study in the subject line.

To say thank you for participating
You will be included in the acknowledgements section of any subsequent peer-reviewed publications. (Your ratings, however, will remain completely anonymous, and all ratings will be randomized before analysis, and are secured by Cornell University’s IT infrastructure.)
You will be participating in an innovative approach to scientific research review!

Who can I contact if I need more information?
You can help by rating the abstracts. If you have any questions about this project and the task of reading scientific abstracts and rating them, please contact Jaron Porciello, Associate Director for Research Data and Engagement, jat264[at]

This study is approved by Cornell University s Institutional review board, Protocol ID#: 1604006296.

Ready to get started? Email Jaron Porciello, associate director of research data engagement, at