Global scientific misconduct expert faces legal action to challenge the integrity of the hydroxychloroquine study | Medical research


World-renowned Dutch expert in identifying scientific faults and errors, Dr Elisabeth Bik, has been threatened with legal action for questioning the integrity of a study promoting the drug hydroxychloroquine to treat Covid- 19.

The case, filed with the French public prosecutor by the controversial infectious disease doctor, Dr Didier Raoult, prompted hundreds of scientists around the world to publish an open letter calling for the protection of scientific whistleblowers.

In March 2020, Bik posted a blog post analyzing an article directed by Raoult. His article claimed that the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine was effective in treating Covid infections, especially when given in combination with an antibiotic.

Bik raised questions about the methodology of the article, including that the researchers had failed to control for confounding factors. In strong clinical trials, the control group (which receives a placebo) and the treatment group (which receives the drug) should be as similar as possible so that scientists can be sure that all effects are from the drug alone.

Bik stressed that patients should have the same age and sex ratio, be equally sick at the start of treatment and analyzed the same way, the only difference being whether or not they received treatment. She said the treatment and placebo groups in Raoult’s study differed significantly this could have affected the results.

Six patients enrolled in the treatment group at the start of the study were not counted at the end, missing from the data.

“What happened to the other six patients treated?” Said Bik.

“Why did they drop out of the study? Three of them were transferred to the intensive care unit, probably because they became sicker, and one died. It seems a little strange to leave these four patients who got worse or died from the study, just because they stopped taking the drug … which is quite difficult once the patient is dead.

Dr Didier Raoult threatened Dr Elisabeth Bik with legal action.
Dr Didier Raoult threatened Dr Elisabeth Bik with legal action. Photograph: Daniel Cole / AP

Despite the questions raised by Bik and other scientists, then-US President Donald Trump promoted Raoult’s article and the use of hydroxychloroquine for Covid, helping the French doctor gain attention.

In July, the French Society of Infectious Diseases filed a complaint against Raoult that it was unethical to promote hydroxychloroquine during a pandemic given that there was little evidence that it worked against Covid. The International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents raised similar concerns.

Proof from several solid and well-conducted studies has since discovered that hydroxychloroquine had little or no impact on illness, hospitalization or death from Covid.

Bik, who is hired as a consultant by scientific institutions around the world to analyze data and identify research faults, then identified image duplication and potential ethical issues in 62 articles published by Raoult and his institute.

Raoult and his supporters have relentlessly attacked Bik since, the caller a “nutcase” and a “failed researcher” on Twitter and in media interviews, and by posting contact details online. This despite Bik also exposing errors in articles that found hydroxychloroquine to provide no benefit to Covid patients.

Raoult’s colleague Professor Eric Chabriere revealed on Twitter that he and Raoult have filed a lawsuit against Bik and Boris Barbour, who helps run a non-profit website called PubPeer that allows scientists to analyze and provide feedback on each other’s work.

Legal complaint alleges harassment about Bik exposing data errors on PubPeer and extortion because she has a Patreon account where people can donate at his work. She responded to Raoult’s calls on Twitter to declare who funds her by sharing links to her Patreon.

Lonni Besançon, a French postdoctoral researcher at Monash University in Australia, said he had also received multiple death threats from Raoult supporters after expressing concerns about Raoult’s work.

“But the attacks I get as a white man are only a fraction of what women researchers and researchers of color get,” he said.

He and other international scientists have published an open letter calling for an end to the attacks on Bik and for the scientific community to support her and other whistleblowers. Saturday there was more than 500 signatories.

“Scientific criticism, especially on questions of research integrity, is fraught with challenges,” the letter said.

“This makes it especially important to stay focused on dealing with these criticisms with scientific evidence and not on attacks on people’s appearance, character or person.”

Bik has been internationally recognized for carrying out work “instrumental to ethical, robust and reproducible research, but this also introduces her to personal risk as a whistleblower.”

“For several months, Raoult and some members of his institute have reacted by insulting him on national television, by divulging his personal address on social networks and by threatening legal proceedings for harassment and defamation.

“The behavior of Professor Raoult and his team towards Dr Bik and others has been underlined by numerous international media… This strategy of harassment and threats creates a dissuasive effect for whistleblowers and for academic critics in general. ”

Guardian Australia has contacted Raoult for comment.

Besançon said institutions and policymakers must act to protect whistleblowers like Bik, saying threats against her have become “ridiculous.”

“We also want citizens and scientists who might try to prosecute whistleblowers to understand that this is not a legal issue but a scientific one,” he said. “Dr Bik is an amazing scientist and we want to make sure that no dangerous precedent is set with the current legal situation around her.”

A separate petition was also launched in support of Bik by the French citizen movement for science # Citizen4Science, and also had over 500 signatures.

“The international scientific community and many of our informed doctors, pharmacists, caregivers, scientists and fellow citizens are worried and disillusioned that our country allows disinformation, cyberstalking and lawsuits to flourish against the carriers of consensual scientific discourse. », The petition, declared Fabienne Pinson, president of # Citizen4Science, Dr Fabienne Pinson. “The perpetrators aren’t even worried or just called to order.”

Pinson told Guardian Australia the petition was “an active call for French authorities to step in” and end harassment of scientists and misinformation.

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