Flawed, unsubstantiated research findings on Covid-19 overwhelming Internet: Study

Prashasti Awasthi Mumbai | Updated on October 05, 2020 Published on October 05, 2020

People’s life at risk as researchers rush to publish their studies without substantiating them, says a medical ethicist

Katrina Bramstedt, a leading medical ethicist, believes that the coronavirus pandemic has led to many scientifically flawed pieces of research overwhelming the Internet as researchers rush to publish their studies without substantiating them.

Bramstedt, a professor at the Bond University Faculty of Health Sciences and Medicine, Queensland, further cautioned that inaccurate and flawed research can put people’s life at risk.

Bramstedt wrote in her study published in the Journal of Medical Ethics that there have been over 4,000 academic papers that were published without undergoing a full review process.

She wrote: "Patient harm that is significant, permanent and irreversible could result from using faulty research results from pre-prints as well as published papers.”

She said there were around 19 published articles and 14 pre-prints concerning with coronavirus. However, they had to be retracted online or tagged with an “expression of concern”.

These articles were mostly from Asia, with China alone responsible for 11 retractions or withdrawals.

She further mentioned that one of the high-profile journals published in the Lancet had also been retracted. The study was on the effectiveness of treating Covid-19 patients with the anti-arthritis drug hydroxychloroquine.

The research, released in May, made the World Health Organization pause its trials of hydroxychloroquine. This was because the study claimed that the drug had no positive effects on hospitalized individuals. It may in fact increase the likelihood of death.

The study was withdrawn after a group of experts raised "both methodological and data integrity concerns" about it.

Later in September, The Lancet officially announced that it had strengthened its peer-review system to ensure at least one reviewer was an expert on the area of research in question.

Study on Russian vaccine

Another study published in The Lancet on a potential Russian vaccine raised concerns among Western scientists over a lack of safety data.

Later, as many as 30 Europe-based experts signed an open letter raising doubts on the Russian findings.

The Lancet has asked the authors in Russia for clarifications.

Bramstedt believes that researchers are under immense pressure to get their studies out in the public as the world races towards effective Covid-19 treatments and vaccines.

"Research normally occurs at the speed of a marathon, but during a pandemic, the pace is more like a sprint," she added.

"No research team is exempt from the pressures and speed at which Covid-19 research is occurring. And this can increase the risk of honest error as well as deliberate misconduct," she wrote.

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Published on October 05, 2020
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