By Jefferey Jaxen

Since its May 22 publication in The Lancet medical journal, the multinational observational study of hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine as a possible treatment for COVID-19 patients has come under sustained criticism. Days after its publication, an open letter by 182 signatories was sent to The Lancet’s head editor Richard Horton and the now-retracted study’s authors asking for answers to several questions surrounding its statistical analysis and data integrity. At the center of much of the controversy is a dodgy company called Surgisphere.

The Lancet has now recently posted an update on its Twitter page stating the following:

The Guardian is also reporting:

The Lancet paper that halted global trials of hydroxychloroquine for Covid-19 because of fears of increased deaths has been retracted after a Guardian investigation found inconsistencies in the data. The lead author, Prof Mandeep Mehra, from the Brigham and Women’s hospital in Boston, Massachusetts decided to ask the Lancet for the retraction because he could no longer vouch for the data’s accuracy. The journal’s editor, Richard Horton, said he was appalled by developments. “This is a shocking example of research misconduct in the middle of a global health emergency,” he told the Guardian.

Being called one of the biggest retractions in modern history, the retraction has delivered a black eye to science during a time where the world needed real answers and life-saving therapies for an unfolding crisis. The enthusiasm and speed at which the World Health Organization (WHO) accepted the now defunct Lancet study’s baseless data at face value to halt the hydroxychloroquine arm of its Solidarity Trial, encompassing 400 global hospitals, was a breathtaking miscalculation. The WHO has since restarted the trial having wasted valuable time and threatened the future scientific discovery around a therapy with life-saving potential – an incalculable error.

The gravity and resonance of the retraction is now, once again, spotlighting the long-known shortcomings of the peer-review process. James Heathers writes:

At its best, peer review is a slow and careful evaluation of new research by appropriate experts. It involves multiple rounds of revision that removes errors, strengthens analyses, and noticeably improves manuscripts. At its worst, it is merely window dressing that gives the unwarranted appearance of authority, a cursory process which confers no real value, enforces orthodoxy, and overlooks both obvious analytical problems and outright fraud entirely.

In 2015 Richard Horton, the editor-in-chief of The Lancet, attended a London symposium on the reproducibility and reliability of biomedical research. Those in attendance were asked not to take photographs of the slides while those who worked for government agencies pleaded that their comments remain unquoted. Weeks later Horton published a paper in The Lancet titled ‘What is medicine’s 5 sigma?’ Horton writes:

The case against science is straightforward: much of the scientific literature, perhaps half, may simply be untrue….We aid and abet the worst behaviors. Our acquiescence to the impact factor fuels an unhealthy competition to win a place in a select few journals…The apparent endemicity of bad research behavior is alarming. In their quest for telling a compelling story, scientists too often sculpt data to fit their preferred theory of the world.