Most scientists assume they will never come across a single case of fraud in their careers, and so even the thought of checking calculations in reviewable papers, re-running analyses, or checking if experimental protocols were properly deployed is deemed unnecessary.
Worse, the accompanying raw data and analytical code often needed to forensically analyze a paper are not routinely published, and performing this kind of stringent review is often considered to be a hostile act, the kind of drudge work reserved only for the deeply motivated or the congenitally disrespectful.
Everyone is busy with their own work, so what kind of grinch would go to such extremes to invalidate someone else’s?
Which brings us neatly to ivermectin, an anti-parasitic drug trialed as a treatment for COVID-19 after lab-bench studies early in 2020 showed it was potentially beneficial.
It rose in popularity sharply after a published-then-withdrawn analysis by the Surgisphere group showed a huge reduction in death rates for people who take it, triggering a massive wave of use for the drug across the globe.
More recently, the evidence for ivermectin’s efficacy relied very substantially on a single piece of research, which was preprinted (that is, published without peer review) in November 2020.
This study, drawn from a large cohort of patients and reporting a strong treatment effect, was popular: read over 100,000 times, cited by dozens of academic papers, and included in at least two meta-analytic models that showed ivermectin to be, as the authors claimed, a “wonder drug” for COVID-19.
It is no exaggeration to say that this one paper caused thousands if not millions of people to get ivermectin to treat and/or prevent COVID-19.
A few days ago, the study was retracted amid accusations of fraud and plagiarism. [Continue reading…]