Journalism credibility has taken a deep dive in the era of the Trump administration as liberal journalists lower their standards when covering a president they can’t tolerate. The New York Times has even admitted they have changed the rules when it comes to news concerning President Trump.
Now it seems this attitude even applies to medical research. The British medical journal The Lancet recently published a study suggesting the antimalaria drug hydroxychloroquine (HCL), which Trump has promoted and used, is dangerous. But now TheLancet is backpedaling as it becomes clear the research data for this study has been discredited.
Hydroxychloroquine has been in common use worldwide for over sixty years and has been safely used to treat malaria, rheumatoid arthritis, and lupus. When early studies in China showed no COVID-19 cases in patients who concurrently were taking HCL for lupus, doctors hypothesized it provided prophylactic protection. When other studies in France showed promising results, the FDA approved it for emergency use for COVID-19.
The Wall Street Journal editorial board say Democrats and the media assailed Trump for promoting “voodoo medicine” since randomized clinical trials have not confirmed HCL’s benefits. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer attacked the Department of Veterans Affairs for launching clinical trials after a small study found 27.8% of veterans receiving the drug died compared to 11.2% who didn’t. But patients given HCL displayed much worse clinical vital signs including lower blood oxygen levels. VA Secretary Robert Wilkie has explained that “we used this in the last hours of a veteran’s life in the hopes it could prolong this life.”
Adding fuel to this political fire was the initial report of TheLancet, published May 22, that showed a 30% increase in mortality based on 96,032 COVID-19 patient records that the data company Surgisphere claimed to have collected from 671 hospitals on six continents. As a result, the World Health Organization halted its global HCL clinical trial and many countries banned the drug as a COVID-19 treatment.
But The Lancet study quickly came under fire when scientists around the world reviewed the data. They spotted glaring errors such as obesity and smoking rates in the study were the same across six continents. In a letter to TheLancet’s editors last week, 120 scientists criticized the study’s sloppiness and aggregation of patients who were different in many respects including HCL dosages and the severity of illness. The study also had not undergone an ethics review and The Lancet had broken its pledge to share all data and code on COVID-19 studies. Surgisphere is now under investigation concerning the sources of their data.
The Lancet recently published an “Expression of Concern” about the study and said it would undergo “an independent data audit.” If there is any doubt their work may be politically biased, one only has to read an editorial published by the Lancet editors last month urging Americans to vote out President Trump.
This is not the first time The Lancet has been at the center of controversial studies. In 1998, a British doctor, Andrew Wakefield, published an article in The Lancet. Wakefield did intestinal biopsies on 12 children with intestinal symptoms and developmental disorders, 10 of whom were autistic, and found intestinal inflammation. The parents of 8 of the autistic children believed their symptoms began after receiving the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. The published paper clearly said, “We did not find an association between measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine and the syndrome described. Virologic studies are underway that may help to resolve this issue.”
However, despite this disclaimer in the paper, Wakefield held a press conference to say the MMR vaccine probably caused autism and he recommended stopping MMR vaccinations. Instead, he recommended giving the vaccinations separately at intervals of a year or more.
Wakefield’s analysis was thoroughly discredited later and he was found to have done questionable research on other subjects as well. The Lancet retracted his original paper. Richard Horton, editor of The Lancet, described the original paper as “fatally flawed” and apologized for publishing it. Ten of the original 12 co-authors published a retraction stating:
“We wish to make it clear that in this paper no causal link was established between the vaccine and autism, as the data were insufficient. However, the possibility of a link was raised, and consequent events have had major implications for public health. In view of this, we consider now is the appropriate time that we should together formally retract the interpretation placed upon these findings in the paper, according to precedent.”
The damage from this poorly vetted research continues today as many still believe autism is associated with vaccinations. The Lancet bears responsibility for this publishing malpractice. Now they have done it again, apparently due to their political bias. There is no place in medicine and medical research for political bias. Scientific research should be above the political world if we are ever to have faith in the accuracy of its conclusions. The Lancet has failed us again.