The group shots of thousands of Internet users took only a few days to put lead in the wing of a study which claimed that hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine were not only useless, but even potentially dangerous in the treatment of coronavirus .
This study, which claimed in particular that the patients who had received these two molecules had a higher risk of death than the others, had however been signed by a Harvard researcher and published by The Lancet, which is one of the most prestigious medical journals on the planet.
Never mind. Serious questions were raised online as soon as the study was published. And exactly one week later, some 140 researchers from around the world published an open letter that seriously questioned the integrity of the data used and, therefore, the conclusions that could be drawn from it.
The hashtag #LancetGate even started to circulate on Twitter to gather all those who had something to say about it.
The speed and virulence of the reaction illustrate well what the collective power of Internet users is capable of, for better or for worse.
” From the start, [des experts] thought it was a little strange and they wondered about the data, said Nadia Seraiocco, a doctoral student at UQAM. People in science are a lot on Twitter. […] They are used to reading studies, and when they see a study that talks about 670 hospitals around the world and almost similar demographic profiles […], It did not make sense. It really becomes a verification tool. “
Faced with such a barrage of criticism, the authors of the study and the firm that claims to have provided them with data, Surgisphere, were almost completely silent. The Lancet has so far published only a minor correction to the study.
Internet users were not going to stop there, however. Several experts have thus tried to demonstrate that the study figures made no sense, some even going so far as to suggest a “fabrication”. A guy also released a document on Twitter that proves that Surgisphere, which is now based in Chicago, went bankrupt in North Carolina in 2015.
But slippages also occurred, like these Net surfers who claimed that the director of sales and marketing of Surgisphere was actually an actress of films for adults.
“She’s a pretty little girl, but she really doesn’t look like a ‘porn star,'” said Ms. Seraiocco. Aside from being blonde with brown eyes, she has nothing in common with the photos […] posted online. “
This is what happens, she adds, when people who do not have the necessary media education present the things that make them happy as facts.
“They will start doing bogus, ill-conceived investigations,” said Ms. Seraiocco. They’re going to take the little picture of that young woman on LinkedIn and try to see it on Google. But if you do a photo match on Google, it will not only show you the exact picture of that person, it will show you pictures that look like that person. So they see a blonde girl doing porn, with another blonde girl, and they decide it has to be the same.
“This is misinformation, but it is also the result of people who do not understand these tools. People use these tools to do pseudo-surveys and it gives results completely out of touch with reality. “
Although no malpractice from Surgisphere or the authors has yet been proven, it is difficult to understand how such prestigious institutions as Harvard and The Lancet can find themselves entangled in such imbroglio.
That being said, the pandemic means that everything is always going faster and that some corners may be turned a little more round than they would otherwise be. Researchers who believe they have crucial information want to be the first to publish it, for the sake of prestige or for fear of being overtaken by their colleagues, and trade journals want to be the first to disclose everything to the world.
A study signed by a Harvard researcher and published by The Lancet Inevitably will also attract more attention than the same study signed by a second-rate university researcher and published in a journal that no one has ever heard of.
“You can probably see the tip of the iceberg,” said Ms. Seraiocco. Yes, there is collaborative work that can be done through social networks. […] I think that if we had the time right now to check (all the studies), there is a gangster who would get caught. […] There are probably plenty who will not pass the bar when they are peer reviewed. “