May 26, 2024

Scientific fraud at top medical journals affect world COVID-19 policy


In late May, the World Health Organization (WHO) halted the use of hydroxychloroquine in clinical trials for possible COVID-19 treatments. This came after The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) published a paper showing that people who took hydroxychloroquine were at higher risk of complications due to COVID-19 which could then lead to increased death.

But only a few days since the WHO’s cancellation of hydroxychloroquine clinical trials, The Lancet and the NEJM have both retracted their papers and issued an Expression of Concern questioning the validity of the data used for these researches. Both journals are performing independent audits to ascertain credibility of the data used. 

The data from these two studies came from a US-based company called Surgisphere which claims to have the one of the largest and fastest hospital databases in the world. Lead author for both the Lancet and NEJM studies is Sapan Desai, Surgisphere’s chief executive. 

Editor’s Note: Hydroxychloroquine is an accepted treatment for malaria and auto-immune diseases. It has been licensed and in use in the US since the 1950s and was listed by the WHO as an essential medicine. 

When the WHO stopped the use of hydroxychloroquine as a possible COVID-19 medicine, a French doctor, Prof. Didier Raoult stood by his data. Based on his experience at the hospital he worked at, hudroxychloroquine showed to be effective as a COVID-19 treatment.[1] Despite Dr. Raoult’s experience however, The Lancet and NEJM studies won over the WHO. Now we know that the data used by these researches are called into question. It is a good thing that the inaccuracies came into light before it caused major damages among patients. 

But as the data concern has been revealed, media has zeroed in on the dishonesty conducted by Surgisphere and Desai. What is not being said here is that the data is not the only problem – it also calls into question the peer review process. 

How did manipulated data escape the review of seasoned researchers? Why didn’t co-authors of the study double check the results of the research despite the lack of disclosure on data gathering techniques used? 

Note that errors in the data were found by a journalist, not public health professionals or WHO officials who are supposed to guide the world’s COVID-19 response. It shows us that even the people we rely on to truly look at the data do not do so, and they simply accept researches without carefully examining them.

This is unfortunate as incorrect assessments of proposed coronavirus responses (lockdowns, and now, the use of hydroxychloroquine) have caused dire consequences for our societies. These so-called experts are not searching for truth, our health is not at the top of their agenda. What then are they after? 

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