Someone had shared this link with me on Telegram. I have kept a distance away from writing about the viral pandemic, so far, but this news raised several disturbing issues. I have rallied against the existing model of academic publishing and glorified statistics/ tweetorials that have increasingly gained “acceptance” as the new normal.
Not surprisingly, the media houses have trained their lens on “vetting” the issues- the same stories that were always “weaved” in numerous “science and technology” “publications”- though, in fact, representing the marketing outreach of the universities and a mad scramble for the grant “lotteries”. The research ecosystem is fundamentally broken and requires an overhaul (read- more public financing and a stricter oversight).
Everyone wants to hear about the vaccines, but it won’t appear overnight (no, Gates won’t deliver on his promise either). Despite much handwringing by Washington Post (and its cohorts), this opinion piece is remarkably fresh in its approach and candour.
Faith in medicine and science is based on trust. But today, in the rush to share scientific progress in combating covid-19, that trust is being undermined.
Private companies, governments and research institutes are holding news conferences to report potential breakthroughs that cannot be verified. The results are always favorable, but the full data on which the announcements are based are not immediately available for critical review. This is “publication by press release,” and it’s damaging trust in the fundamental methods of science and medicine at a time when we need it most.
The most recent example is Moderna’s claim Monday of favorable results in its vaccine trial, which it announced without revealing any of the underlying data. The announcement added billions of dollars to the value of the company, with its shares jumping almost 20 percent.
There’s another issue which merits close scrutiny:
The National Institutes of Health announced last month that the drug remdesivir offered a clear benefit to covid-19 patients with moderate disease, shortening the length of their hospital stay by several days. But did it really? Twenty days after the announcement, the supporting data has still not been published. Without the data, no doctor treating a patient can be sure they are doing the right thing.
Another paper, published the same day, found that remdesivir had no measurable effect on patient survival or the amount of virus detectable in nasopharynx and lung secretions. What then should a practicing physician do? Follow the unsupported advice of a news announcement or a medical report published in a leading scientific journal? This is not an idle question: The NIH announcement triggered a global stampede for limited supplies of the drug.
Did the NIH announcement lead to a mad scramble for the drug worldwide or in the US? Which is the definitive treatment? There are no conclusive answers, but it does call into question- the blind aping of the western data constructs (which itself are broken at several levels). The problem is that cancer biology has overwhelming shades of grey, and there are no conclusive answers beyond probabilities. Like the vaccine development which may or may not work (, and I am more worried about the anti-vaccination groups) who’d just derail the efforts. Enough are congregating on the social networks.
You want to fix science? Fix the system first. Science will heal itself.