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Samizdata, derived from Samizdat /n. - a system of clandestine publication of banned literature in the USSR [Russ.,= self-publishing house]

I think I might be able to guess

In the Guardian James Heathers, a research scientist, asks,

“The Lancet has made one of the biggest retractions in modern history. How could this happen?”

The Lancet is one of the oldest and most respected medical journals in the world. Recently, they published an article on Covid patients receiving hydroxychloroquine with a dire conclusion: the drug increases heartbeat irregularities and decreases hospital survival rates. This result was treated as authoritative, and major drug trials were immediately halted – because why treat anyone with an unsafe drug?

Now, that Lancet study has been retracted, withdrawn from the literature entirely, at the request of three of its authors who “can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources”. Given the seriousness of the topic and the consequences of the paper, this is one of the most consequential retractions in modern history.

It is natural to ask how this is possible. How did a paper of such consequence get discarded like a used tissue by some of its authors only days after publication? If the authors don’t trust it now, how did it get published in the first place?

The answer is quite simple. It happened because peer review, the formal process of reviewing scientific work before it is accepted for publication, is not designed to detect anomalous data. It makes no difference if the anomalies are due to inaccuracies, miscalculations, or outright fraud. This is not what peer review is for. While it is the internationally recognised badge of “settled science”, its value is far more complicated.

Just a guess, but I think there is a more immediate explanation for the way that this study was accepted a little too readily: a widespread desire among doctors and scientists to believe that anything Donald Trump believes must be wrong.

As it happens he probably was wrong. Though the use of hydroxychloroquine to try to treat the coronavirus appears not to be the disaster it was reported as being, the latest tests say it is not a cure for Covid-19 either. It does pretty much nothing either way. But we would have found out that useful piece of information earlier if the trials had proceeded without interruption.

All the more credit to the Guardian for its role in uncovering inconsistencies in the paper by Dr Mandeep Mehra, Sapan Desai and others that was retracted. That was a demonstration that ideology does not always trump old fashioned journalism, even when it means forgoing a chance to denounce Trump.

But it does not inspire confidence that the editor of the Lancet is Dr Richard Horton. Some of you may remember him of old. In October 2006 I blogged about him sharing a stage with George Galloway and saying,

“As this axis of Anglo-American imperialism extends its influence through war and conflict, gathering power and wealth as it goes, so millions of people are left to die in poverty and disease.”

26 comments to I think I might be able to guess

  • Phil B

    The whole article is worth reading but the tw takeaway parts for me were:

    A search of publicly available material suggests several of Surgisphere’s employees have little or no data or scientific background. An employee listed as a science editor appears to be a science fiction author and fantasy artist whose professional profile suggests writing is her fulltime job. Another employee listed as a marketing executive is an adult model and events hostess, who also acts in videos for organisations.


    The company’s LinkedIn page has fewer than 100 followers and last week listed just six employees. This was changed to three employees as of Wednesday.

    So, six employees, one of which was a SF writer/Illustrator and a “adult model”. Top notch scientists there, eh?

    And I wonder which three employees were sacked? Surely not the SF writer/Illustrator or the “adult model”. That would be getting rid of their top men. Their very top men, eh?

  • Runcie Balspune

    a widespread desire among doctors and scientists to believe that anything Donald Trump believes must be wrong.

    Or America in general, or indeed any western government.

    This is the same Lancet that published the MMR Autism fraud, and the the overly excessive Iraq War death counts, neither of which were anything but politically motivated.

    Par for the course.

  • Revelation

    “a widespread desire among doctors and scientists to believe that anything Donald Trump believes must be wrong.”

    Thats a generous interpretation

    “A widespread desire for the virus effects to be maximised wherever possible so as to justify a mandatory vaccination program”

    would be the less generous one.

  • Fraser Orr

    @Natalie, the problem with the trial you cite to dismiss the use of hydroxychloriquine is that it doesn’t actually test the protocol that doctors all over the world have had success with. Specifically, success has been found when they use hydroxychloriquine with azythromycin and zinc, whereas the recovery study only used hydroxychloriquine on its own (as well as testing other protocols separately but in parallel.)

    For example Here, here and here.

    Note in particular this link from the last of these (which is more pop science and so a bit more accessible):

    Researchers at NYU’s Grossman School of Medicine found patients given the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine along with zinc sulphate and the antibiotic azithromycin were 44 percent less likely to die from the coronavirus.

    That is not an insignificant result.

  • Flubber

    “As it happens he probably was wrong.”

    Nope. The treatment is HCQ + an antibiotic + Zinc. The use is as a prophylactic

    The HCQ and antibiotics attack the periphery of the virus itself at the physical level, and facilitate the ingress of zinc which destroys the virus.

    This has been used as treatment for Corona virus’s for years.

    It was used as a plot device from an episode of the TV show the Dead Zone in 2003.


    But in an age where a reporter says on camera that the protests were peaceful while a building burns behind him, expecting any truth from the media is extremely naive.

  • Flubber

    Well done Fraser.. pipped me at the post there….

  • James Strong

    A link to a reporter describing protests as peaceful with a burning building in shot would be welcome.I suspect it would go viral.
    I would like to think the claim is true, but until seeing a link the current status of the claim is –

    Source: the internet.

  • bobby b


    (Goes to a Twitter . . . umm . . . . twit, I guess.)

  • APL

    “An employee listed as a science editor appears to be a science fiction author and fantasy artist whose professional profile suggests writing is her fulltime job.”

    Actually laughed out loud.

    Phil B: “So, six employees, one of which was a SF writer/Illustrator and a “adult model”. “

    ‘Adult model’, maybe her area of medical expertise was gynaecology.

  • Mr Ecks

    If there is to be a future at all there must be a vast all-areas purge of leftist scum–fired w’out compo and pensions confiscated.

  • TJ

    Oh dear it is getting worse, looks like fraud rather than incompetence,

  • Roué le Jour

    There are two ways of organizing a society. Either the important, high profile jobs go to the best qualified, or to the best connected.

    We (or at least I) have assumed the public health organizations are run by intelligent, sober gentlemen with the best interests of society at heart. They have instead been revealed as card carrying ideologues. Very sad.

  • Jonn


    FAO James Strong.

    I wasn’t able to locate the burning building clip but this one conveys a similar impression about the hypocrisy of media reporting. I grudgingly admire the female anchor for just ploughing on as if nothing had happened.

    (Apologies if this clip has previously been shared on here as I can’t recall where I was first made aware of it).

  • APL

    Jonn: “this one conveys a similar impression about the hypocrisy of media reporting. “

    It’s a long time since the media could be accused of ‘hypocrisy’, it has moved into the realm of lies and Propaganda.

    The BBC is the vanguard of the lies and deceit, this guy dismantles the BBC propaganda.

  • Schrodinger's Dog

    Sometimes I think that if Donald Trump stated that the Earth was round, some people would dispute it.

  • Stonyground

    I remember Trump criticising Iran for their persecution of gays brought forth a bizarre magazine article trying to stick up for gay rights while explaining why he was wrong. The nonsensical pretzel of an argument made your head spin.

  • Bryce

    Attn James Strong,

    Here’s the Youtube link for the MSNBC reporter and the burning building: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1mxJMIIMuE

  • Phil B

    APL – June 6, 2020 at 7:09 am

    The … errr … lady in question might be over the legal age of consent and therefore technically be an adult and she may model floor length, thick woollen greatcoats so, again, technically she is model. Hence the appelation of “adult model”.

    However, I am a deeply cynical and jaundiced curmudgeon and have leaped to the undoubtedly incorrect conclusion that she is someone that stars in “gentlemen’s entertainment”. However I do think that the a gynaecological – how can I put it? – slant, as you correctly point out, may well feature in the process somewhere. >};oD

    But it makes you wonder at how gullible the lot of them are to take such research from such a dubious set of snake oil salesmen as if it were graven into two slabs of granite and handed down out of a cloud on top of a mountain to a high priest of some sort. Or, there again, nowadays, perhaps not!

  • Biff

    I laugh to myself (a little sadly, I confess) every time I hear The Lancet lauded as one of the “most respected medical journals” or as otherwise being rigorous or prestigious. Over my career, I have seen some very good studies published in The Lancet, but the journal seems known more for the quantity of studies it published than for the quality of studies it published. Even when I was a grad student in the 90s, I occasionally would cite The Lancet in my work, and my advisor would ask, “Do you have anything better?”

    It’s also proper that Richard Horton, the editor of the journal, is mentioned. Readers with long memories will recall his prominent advocacy for a paper published in The Lancet that made the preposterous early estimate of 650,000 Iraq War casualties that became a go-to statistic for leftist activists, despite being several times larger than most credible estimates at the time. He also argues that the “medical establishment should be much more politicised, not less, in attacking issues like health inequalities and poor access to care.” Oh, lest I forget, Andrew Wakefield’s infamous, thoroughly discredited paper linking vaccines with autism was published under Horton’s watch. There probably has been no paper in the last generation that has caused more damage to medicine than that one.

  • James Strong

    My thanks to those who put up the links: the ‘peaceful’ burning building and the analysis of the BBC report of the UV light and bleach discussion at President Trump’s press conference.

    I have bookmarked the links and sent them on to a number of friends.

  • Rob

    I’m not only astonished that the Lancet appointed a Marxist to edit it, but that he is still there after 20 years (?) and after the Wakefield scandal. Is the editorship like the Monarchy, once you get it its yours until you die?

  • Eric

    Rob, I’m frankly astonished you are astonished. Is there any corner of publishing not catering specifically to conservative or libertarian politics that isn’t run by Marxists?

  • Nico

    Lancet has been uber-political since before the Iraq war. “They got [fill-in-the-blank] wrong! How could that be?! Our beloved Lancet got something so critical wrong!!” Well, yeah, all you have to do is inquire whether the thing they got wrong was a political mcguffin — was it? yeah? then there’s your bloody answer.

    Perhaps this will explain it. (Warning: long, but very good read.)

  • Paul Marks

    “The Lancet” is a good example that the totalitarian left has NOT “just” taken control of the humanities and social sciences – they have massive power in the natural sciences as well, including medicine.

    The totalitarian doctrine of “Social Justice” dominates “The Lancet” – matters are judged on the basis of POLITICS – not medicine.

    And this attitude starts in the education system – the schools and universities.

  • Nico

    When doctors and nurses who out and celebrate antifa/BLM (is it real doctors and nurses, or actors? doesn’t matter), you can see what’s going on: enforced conformity. First within each institution, then from each corrupted institution to society at large.