The Covid treatment research fraud scandal, explained –

The Covid treatment research fraud scandal, explained –

The scientific integrity site Retraction Watch has been a bulwark of sound science since its founding in 2010. Its self-proclaimed mission is to act as a “window into the scientific process” by shining a light on academic research that has been retracted.

Retractions come from across all scientific fields, but over the past two years, many of the most consequential ones have revolved around a single topic: Covid-19. And according to Retraction Watch, as many as 200 Covid-19 papers have been retracted since the start of the pandemic for a range of reasons: elementary calculation errors, researchers refusing to provide evidence that the studies were really conducted, or conclusions that aren’t supported by the data.

The problem is especially acute when it comes to studies looking into treatments for Covid-19. Early papers claiming to find stunning results for drug regimens like ivermectin or hydroxychloroquine earned tremendous attention and influence, only to later be retracted, often because substantial evidence suggested that the studies never actually happened or at least never happened as described.

One ivermectin study included in an influential meta-analysis that found great results for the drug turned out to be based on a data file where the same 11 patients were copied and pasted repeatedly to produce a more robust sample size of a few hundred. When BuzzFeed News followed up on another ivermectin study with huge results, a hospital where the research had reportedly been conducted said it had no record of such a study happening there.

As I wrote for Vox in September, the evidence for ivermectin is mixed and limited. Most careful analyses suggest it might have an effect but also that we don’t know enough to say for sure — certainly not enough to hail it as a miracle cure, as many have. Part of the reason the treatment rose to prominence is that early, high-profile studies of ivermectin showed positive results, sometimes huge ones. When other researchers peered under the hood, however, they realized those findings didn’t hold up or had no basis to begin with. But by then it was too late — for some, ivermectin had become an article of faith.

To be clear, it’s not all an epistemic hellscape. There’s sound research being performed on early treatments, including ivermectin. But the damage done by fraudulent research is immense and has contributed to misleading public policymaking and individual decision-making. Narratives about effective cures take hold only for retractions to cloud the picture, abetting bad-faith actors and inflaming our all-consuming culture war.

If we are to finally overcome this pandemic and defeat the next one, it’s essential for us to fix a system where it’s all too easy for bad research to warp scientific discourse and public knowledge.

A look at papers that show signs of serious error or misconduct

One of the first high-profile instances of alleged Covid-19 research fraud occurred last spring: A study in The Lancet claimed to have looked at more than 96,000 coronavirus patients across the …….