Like a riptide in a week of crashing waves came the news that one of the world’s most prestigious medical journals, The Lancet, retracted a study on hydroxychloroquine that found the drug to be both ineffective and deadly as a treatment for COVID-19. This sent a shock wave through the world of medicine that has serious implications for world health and the potential to profoundly damage the public’s trust in science.
In May, The Lancet released the study that seemed to confirm the almost universally held contention in mainstream media that hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) was ineffective and possibly deadly as a treatment for COVID-19, reportedly causing dangerous heart arrhythmias in many patients. This was cause for smug celebration at the many news outlets that had derided President Trump’s early optimism about the anti-malaria drug, and his statement to the press that he was taking it prophylactically with the guidance and advice of his physician.
…scientists from all over the world began to question the integrity of the data…
But then scientists from all over the world began to question the integrity of the data and the study’s statistical analysis. An open letter signed by 182 physicians troubled by the study prompted The Lancet to initially issue an “expression of concern.” This was quickly followed by a complete retraction of the study proper, subsequent to the news that its authors could not verify the information from a database at the center of their report.
The authors based their study on information aggregated by a corporation named Surgisphere that claimed to have culled data from 96,000 patients with COVID-19 from 671 hospitals across six continents. When the controversy first arose, a few of the study’s authors sought to review the data – but Surgisphere would not release its dataset.
Journalists and amateur internet sleuths alike smelled something rotten in Denmark and began investigating. Surgisphere, it turns out, is owned by one of the three lead authors on the study – Dr. Sapan Desai. He relied on data from his own company to verify the study’s conclusions, but when the study was called into question, his company refused to release its datasets. This is roughly analogous to a five-year-old in front of the cookie jar with crumbs all over his shirt refusing to show his mother what’s in his hand.
Independent scrutiny of Surgisphere reveals that it has three employees listed – a company that ostensibly collected data from 671 hospitals all over the world, based on 96,000 patients with COVID-19. The Lancet may regret not having vetted the corporation properly. Web searches conducted by the curious and unpaid determined that one of Surgisphere’s employees is a science fiction author and fantasy artist with no medical background whatsoever. Another is a model and “events hostess” also with no medical history whatsoever. You can’t make this stuff up. Well, you actually can – if you’re a science fiction writer.
Its distinguished reputation thoroughly sullied, The Lancet released a statement saying it: “takes issues of scientific integrity extremely seriously, and there are many outstanding questions about Surgisphere and the data that were allegedly included in this study.” It further recommended that “institutional reviews of Surgisphere’s research collaborations are urgently needed.” The authors, for their part, apologized for “any embarrassment and inconvenience this might have caused.” One wonders if the authors realize how inconvenient dying is – particularly from a virus that might have been treated effectively, but for their “study”?
And it’s all well and good of The Lancet to hang its head in contrition, but what it doesn’t take ownership of is the fact that its own peer review process failed utterly in determining that a massive study, which caused the WHO (World Health Organization) to suspend its own hydroxychloroquine study, is rife with the trappings of scientific fraud.
The world’s other foremost scientific publication, The New England Journal of Medicine, was also then forced to retract a paper that relied on Surgisphere for its data because: fruit of the poison tree.
These stunning developments followed hard on the heels of another revelation. A Department of Veteran’s Affairs study on hydroxychloroquine that purported higher mortality rates for patients given the drug failed to disclose that patients administered HCQ already suffered from lymphopenia, or dramatically low white blood cell count. This means their immune systems were already in tatters before being given hydroxychloroquine. This occasions conjecture about the study’s design, and manipulated outcomes. Scott Sutton, the study’s author, is also lousy with conflicts of interest. He was gifted “research grants” from Gilead, the company that makes Remdesivir – a drug in direct market competition with hydroxychloroquine.
Questions about Surgisphere’s possibly political motivations and these two journals’ willingness to accept fraudulent data about a drug that could’ve saved lives world wide must be asked. Hydroxychloroquine is inexpensive and has been shown to be effective against COVID-19 in over 200 studies. It was also shown to have been a “potent inhibitor” of another coronavirus back in 2005 – SARS – which is ten times more deadly than COVID-19. Impugning HCQ’s efficacy and raising alarms about its “dangers” after a 70-year record of safety undercuts President Trump and bolsters competing Big Pharma favorites like Remdesivir in the medical marketplace. Were these outcomes part of a political calculation?
It’s possible that relying on a patently corrupted corporation like Surgisphere for data was simply a grievous mistake by the world’s two leading medical journals, but it inspires no confidence in these venerable institutions and has dealt a body blow to the public’s formerly unquestioning faith in science. Fifty years after Time magazine asked the question “Is God Dead?” the same question can now be asked of the “religion” that has usurped the Almighty in the hearts and minds of many in the West – science.
Read more from Pennel Bird.