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About That Scary Hydroxychloroquine Study

A pharmacy worker shows pills of hydroxychloroquine used to treat the coronavirus at the CHR Centre Hospitalier Regional de la Citadelle Hospital in Liege, Belgium, April 22, 2020. (Yves Herman/Reuters)

Remember that scary hydroxychloroquine study in The Lancet and New England Journal of Medicine that everyone in the media was writing about a few weeks ago? It turns out that the underlying data were likely fake:

A Guardian investigation can reveal the US-based company Surgisphere, whose handful of employees appear to include a science fiction writer and an adult-content model, has provided data for multiple studies on Covid-19 co-authored by its chief executive, but has so far failed to adequately explain its data or methodology.

A peer-reviewed Lancet study claimed that Surgisphere culled data from nearly 15,000 COVID-19 patients from 1,200 hospitals around the world. There is no evidence that it collected any data from anyone.

Partisans been rooting against hydroxychloroquine for months now. There’s really no other way to describe the manic reaction to a drug that has been widely, though anecdotally, said to have therapeutic value against the coronavirus. Politicians have blocked attempts to study the drug. The number of shoddy pieces of journalism surrounding hydroxychloroquine is just remarkable. Apparently, it is also dangerous.

A couple of weeks ago, Joe Biden compared taking hydroxychloroquine to drinking bleach, even though millions of Americans use the drug every day to survive. At the time, I linked to an NPR interview in which doctors at Columbia University and other research institutions complained that they couldn’t find people to conduct simple clinical trials on hydroxychloroquine’s effectiveness, even though the drug was, as one doctor put it, “very very safe.”

Two verys.

Now we know that thousands of hospitals around the world relied on Surgisphere data to make determinations about treatment and studies. The WHO, the organization I am assured we must continue funding, halted clinical trials — followed by a number of countries — because of the alleged dangers borne from the imaginary data put together by an adult model.

WHO has now reversed course and resumed studies. If we learn that hydroxychloroquine is helpful mitigating the harm coronavirus — and that’s still a big if; a new study today shows that it is not effective as a prophylactic — we can probably thank knee-jerk anti-Trumpism for delays. Scientists have trouble conducting studies, medical journals will take shortcuts in a rush to prove the president wrong (what else could explain it?), and the media will publish any scary story that reaffirms their preexisting prejudices. If you’re interested in further corroding public trust in experts, this is a perfect way to do it. It’s a scandal.


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