Streetwise Professor

June 3, 2020

Does “Science” Mean Results That Are Too Good to Check?

Filed under: CoronaCrisis,Politics — cpirrong @ 5:45 pm

You’d think that in the face of a feared pandemic that was thought to put the lives of millions at risk, the prospect of a cheap, proven, and widely available treatment would be a godsend. In a sane world, you’d be right. In our twisted, increasingly dystopian one, you are dead wrong.

Hydroxychloroquine is a decades-old anti-malarial drug that has exhibited antiviral properties. It is off-patent, and cheap. It has been used billions of times.

Some anecdotal evidence suggested that hydroxychloroquine could reduce mortality in Covid-19 patients, especially if used in a timely fashion and in conjunction with zinc and/or antibiotics. Some also suggested it might have prophylactic uses.

Great, right? WRONG! The drug has been the subject of unrelenting attack for months now.

Why? The cause is overdetermined.

Probably the biggest reason is that Trump said positive things about it. And if Trump supports something, it must not just be opposed: IT MUST BE DESTROYED.

But that doesn’t explain all the opposition. Being off-patent and cheap, its’ not in the interest of the pharmaceutical industry to promote or even defend it. In fact, it is against the interest of those developing new anti-Covid drugs. Moreover, it is definitely an anathema to the vaccine evangelists (or the vaccine cult, if you prefer), most notably the malign and creepy Bill Gates. The elites have no vested interest in this everyman’s drug, and some have an extremeoy strong interest against it.

Hence the war on hydroxychloroquine.

The anti-hydroxychloroquine forces thought they had scored a decisive victory with a publication in the (don’t ask me why, given some of its past escapades) esteemed medical journal The Lancet which purported to show that not only was the drug inefficacious in treading Covid-19, it was positively dangerous, leading to substantially increased risk of fatal heart conditions.

So hydroxychloroquine quickly became the New Thalidomide. Almost immediately upon the article’s publication, other clinical trials of the drug were stopped. France banned its use in the country.

But the article quickly received scrutiny, and its findings proved unsupported at best, and perhaps utterly fraudulent. The results were certainly not reproducible. The data were assembled by a small firm nobody had ever heard of, which allegedly trawled electronic health records to compile a huge sample. But the results give indications that the data were made up out of the whole cloth:

Other researchers were befuddled by the data themselves. Though 66% of the patients were reportedly treated in North America, the reported doses tended to be higher than the guidelines set by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, White notes. The authors claim to have included 4402 patients in Africa, 561 of whom died, but it seems unlikely that African hospitals would have detailed electronic health records for so many patients, White says.

The study also reported more deaths in Australian hospitals than the country’s official COVID-19 death statistics, The Guardian reported. On 29 May, The Lancet issued a correction updating a supplemental table and saying that a hospital assigned to the study’s “Australasia” group should have been assigned to Asia. “There have been no changes to the findings of the paper,” the correction notice said.

Similar problems have been identified in other articles on Covid-19 using data produced by the same firm.

There were also serious methodological problems. (See the linked Science article for details.)

The Lancet, for its part, said it had “concerns.” Really? What was your first clue?

The haste with which this article was published, and the greater haste with which our supposed betters acted upon it, is grotesque. It gives all the appearance of rushing out results that advance a certain agenda or agendas, and since they do, being too good to check.

We are constantly lectured and hectored about Science! Don’t question The Science! If you dispute The Science!, you are knuckle-dragging flat earther fundamentalist!

In fact, the first virtue of true science is skepticism: question everything. And it is precisely events like this Lancet study which suggest that the thing we should be most skeptical about is professional science, particularly as related to subjects where strong political or economic interests are involved.

That is indeed a tragedy.

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  1. Agree, one also doesn’t read much about follow ups on that Indonesian study (500 patients) that found a correlation between Vitamin D deficiency and Covid severity – not implausible and fits the data well.

    However, one would assume that China, Russia and Iran, less beholden to Pharma interests(?), would push said drug – are they? if not, why?

    At least the Russians have decided to skip the cumbersome vaccine protocoll and are going live with a clinical study of a promising vaccine candidate with roll out possible in September if successfull – would be embarrassing for big Pharma, if that turns out well

    Comment by viennacapitalist — June 4, 2020 @ 12:37 am

  2. It’s at least second huge failure of Lancet after survey of Iraq War casualties.

    Comment by mmt — June 4, 2020 @ 12:51 am

  3. As somebody living in France, I can confidently tell you that the French are emphatically NOT going to do something or not do something based on anything Trump says or does.

    Also, the drug wasn’t banned here, it was banned from being prescribed against Covid-19. This isn’t as draconian as it sounds to US ears: For the overwhealming majority of people here, the cost of that medication would be borne by the public health system. And if the drug doesn’t work, then it’s a waste of money, ergo they no longer prescribe it. That same health system pushes agressively for the use of generic drugs, so if it turns out that a cheap generic can treat Covid-19, then you can bet your bottom dollar that they will use it (and investigations are being re-opened now…).

    The Lancet though… I thought that the point of expensive journal fees was to weed out this kind of hit-piece science… poor show.

    Comment by HibernoFrog — June 4, 2020 @ 4:02 am

  4. “would be embarrassing for big Pharma, if that turns out well”

    More likely to be the next “fuflomicin”, though. But, of course, it is guaranteed to turn out well. What’s the worst that could happen? Some serfs dying from a fake drug? Happens every day, so much less strain on the pension fund. It’s not like the people who matter would use Russian drugs anyway.

    Comment by Ivan — June 4, 2020 @ 2:33 pm

  5. I said back in Feb this shit would be over by May or June and here we are.

    Comment by Jeffrey Carter — June 4, 2020 @ 6:25 pm

  6. Lancet just retracted the paper!!

    Comment by Stanh0 — June 4, 2020 @ 7:50 pm

  7. @ Ivan
    it is not that difficult to make a vaccine, especially if you are willing to accept some trade-offs. Eastern European countries generally have adopted mass vaccines earlier than most western countries, so enough experience there…

    given that most People think it’s just a flu, you probably do not Need serfs to get enough volonteers if you pay them something
    Although it would be funny to see you tell the average Russian male on the street that he is a serf…:-)

    Comment by viennacapitalist — June 5, 2020 @ 1:38 am

  8. The Lancet have withdrawn the paper so you can all calm down. I still do blame Trump for this debacle, as surely even he must have the awareness to know that the world at large will do the diametric opposite of whatever he suggests?

    It was amusing to see the UK Govt try to sneak out the news that they were commencing trials of hydroxychloroquine at one of their press briefs last week. The journos were onto it like a flash: “Wait, what? Isn’t that the drug Trump said he was taking and we all laughed?”

    Comment by David Mercer — June 5, 2020 @ 5:26 am

  9. “Although it would be funny to see you tell the average Russian male on the street that he is a serf”

    Comment by Ivan — June 5, 2020 @ 5:32 am

  10. “On the street” does not cut it. It would need to be someone official-looking on TV, telling him he is a much better serf than those in America. Then he would immediately get drunk celebrating it.

    Comment by Ivan — June 5, 2020 @ 5:35 am

  11. @vienna

    “Eastern European countries generally have adopted mass vaccines earlier than most western countries, so enough experience there…”

    Coincidentally, Eastern European countries generally have also adopted autocratic rule, corruption, and lower life expectancy than most Western countries.

    More important than the speed of adoption are the impact, trade-offs, and side effects of those vaccines.

    Comment by A3 — June 6, 2020 @ 6:26 pm

  12. @ A3
    Mine was a statement on feasibility/competence, not desirability the discussion of which necessarily should involve trade-offs you mention.

    Just let me emphasize that most Easter European countries (Poland, Slowakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Etc) are perfectly fine democracies with rapidly improving life expectancies and economic development- Just go and see yourself…

    Comment by Viennacapitalist — June 7, 2020 @ 7:09 am

  13. @vienna

    “Just let me emphasize that most Easter European countries (Poland, SloWakia, Czech Republic, Hungary, Slovenia, Etc) are perfectly fine democracies with rapidly improving life expeCtancies and economic development”

    How come Russia (the country actually developing the vaccine) is not on the list?

    Comment by A3 — June 7, 2020 @ 9:21 am

  14. @ A3
    Cause you made a statement about Eastern European countries in general, and I named those that are unambiguously Democratic, as to demonstrate that you are wrong.
    Never said that Russia is a democratic country…
    My statement about vaccines (and generally fine medical systems) is generally valid for Eastern Europe, Democratic or not…

    Comment by — June 7, 2020 @ 10:08 am

  15. @vienna

    “Cause you made a statement about Eastern European countries in general, and I named those that are unambiguously Democratic, as to demonstrate that you are wrong.”

    Poland, SloWakia, Czech Republic, Hungary (really), Slovenia, Etc are not the entirety or even majority of the Eastern Europe. Improving or not these handful of countries are still behind (most Western countries). In summary, your argument is terrible. Пропагандист?

    Glad that we agree on Russia being a country of autocratic rule, record corruption and low life expectancy (among other things). There is now no need for me to travel to Russian provinces, let alone Moscow, and talk to an average male serf on street.

    Comment by A3 — June 7, 2020 @ 10:55 am

  16. @ A3
    Hungary- yes, definitely!
    Again, my point was not about democratic or not, my point was about the capacity to produce a vaccine- and yes, there are democratic countries in Eastern Europe (naturally on a coninuum, as most things in real life- I even forgot to mention the Baltic countries and Croatia)- It doesn’t have to be the majority for my argument to be correct (and yours wrong)
    As for life expectancy, a google search yields the following results:
    US: 78,87
    Hungary: 76,90
    Czech Rep.: 79,48 (!)
    Slovenia: 81,39 (!!)
    Russia:72, 3
    I do not know what argument you want to make with this, but the data says the US is somewhere between Slovenia and Russia, on par with Poland and Croatia (78,5) but I doubt you are interested in facts, kid…

    Comment by Viennacapitalist — June 7, 2020 @ 12:01 pm

  17. @vienna

    Thank you for continuing to embarrass yourself.

    Google search served up (2017) as the very first result. After averaging out all countries the West has a clear 5+ year advantage. World Bank’s (2016) data paints a similar picture.

    Below are the areas you need to improve on before your argument can be taken seriously by an average adult.

    1. Reading comprehension
    2. Arithmetic
    3. Typos
    4. “Moving the goalposts”
    5. Ad hominem

    Comment by A3 — June 7, 2020 @ 4:09 pm

  18. Annnnnd the UK trial has been halted (after what, just under 3 weeks?). Turns out the drug is useless and Trump was talking sh*t after all.

    Comment by David Mercer — June 8, 2020 @ 5:53 am

  19. @ A3
    if you use data from 1943, the gap will be even bigger 🙂

    Comment by Viennacapitalist — June 8, 2020 @ 6:11 am

  20. Dadid Mercer, you appear to be a bit too hasty in your condemnation of HCQ

    Comment by Nessimmersion — June 12, 2020 @ 5:36 am

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