SLAAS refutes arsenic claims
The Sri Lanka Association for the Advancement of Science (SLAAS) has
refuted arsenic claims by a group of researchers stating that test
results contradict the claims.
Following is the full statement:
"For several weeks a public controversy has raged regarding claims
made by a group of researchers at the Universities of Rajarata and
Kelaniya that high levels of arsenic in imported pesticides, having
contaminated both water and soil of farming areas, has found its way
into the food supply, and was responsible for the high incidence of
chronic kidney disease in the North Central Province.
The SLAAS cannot comment on the truth of these claims, which have
been investigated by other institutions better equipped to do so. Their
results contradict the claims made by this group. However, we wish to
make the following observations on the scientific process for gaining
and disseminating knowledge to guide both the press and the public.
Scientists obtaining new research results are expected to submit
these results to other scientists for verification in a process called
'peer review'. This includes publishing or presenting their results to
fellow scientists, before releasing them to the public. If the results
are likely to have an impact on public policy or public well-being, it
is particularly important that other scientists have an opportunity to
verify or reproduce these results.
If important policy decisions are to be taken based on those results,
it is especially critical that they be reproduced, using standard,
accepted methods, by an accredited analytical laboratory which meets
international standards (most university laboratories are not accredited
in this way). Scientific findings affecting the public policy,
especially policy with an international dimension such as import/export,
must be scientifically valid, legally defensible, and obtained using
internationally accepted protocols. If a new, untested method was used
to obtain any of the results, this method must be carefully validated
beforehand, by comparison with accepted methods and using standard
In this case, there has been no peer review of the results. It has
been claimed that a new method was used to obtain certain results, but
no evidence of validation of this methods has been presented. Instead,
there appears to have been an attempt to get quick publicity. Under the
circumstances, the authorities, including the Ministry of Agriculture
and the Registrar of Pesticides, have acted very responsibly in
submitting samples to a duly accredited laboratory, the Industrial
Technology Institute, for verification.
Even if arsenic is found in water and soil in the North Central
Province, that per se does not constitute sufficient evidence to
attribute causation of Chronic Kidney Disease (CKD) to arsenic. We urge
that the detailed methods used, including the sampling of water sources,
collection of samples, the analytical method used, its validation and
detailed results, as well as the body of evidence on which the
researchers have attributed arsenic to the causation of CKD, be
published or presented for peer review as early as possible.
As an organization dedicated to the promotion of science and
scientific inquiry in the country we are deeply concerned that sweeping
statements have been made public on a subject that has far reaching
impact on lives and livelihoods of people, violating the accepted norms
in presentation of new scientific knowledge.
There is another serious issue which casts grave doubts on the
credibility of the claims made by the Kelaniya group. The press has
publicly identified as the leader of this group an individual, who
despite holding a responsible position, professes a disdain for
'Western' science. He has publicly claimed supernatural revelations ('samyak
drushtika devivaru') as the source of his group's information and even
methods. While recognizing that many scientists are deeply religious,
the SLAAS wishes to state categorically that superstition and the
supernatural have no place in science, and that scientific results
inspired by such sources are highly suspect because of a probable bias
on the part of the investigator.
We also note that other researchers in the group have yet to distance
themselves from the eccentric statements of their leader, and they need
to do this if they wish to be taken seriously as scientists.
Finally, the SLAAS considers it extremely unfortunate that the Dean
of a Science Faculty should make it his publicly stated aim to run down
science and bring it into disrepute."