Written by Physician’s Weekly blogger, Skeptical Scalpel
Now for something completely different. Here is the first edition of the Skeptical Scalpel Awards.
Coronavirus Research Awards (3-Way Tie for Runner Up)
Another side effect of COVID-19 seems to be sketchy research.
University of Toronto molecular engineer Sachdev Sidhu has developed a cure for COVID-19 says an article in the Toronto Star. The researcher said, “Yes, I believe ‘cure’ is the proper word.” According to Health News Review, the article was noteworthy because it contained no proof that a cure was at hand and no link to a published study. That is because the magic potion has not even been tested on animals.
Our next second-place awardee is Dr. Vladimir “Zev” Zelenko, family practitioner and major proponent of the use of hydroxychloroquine, zinc, and azithromycin to treat COVID -19. Among his claims is that he treated anywhere from 300 to 1450 COVID-19 patients. Of 405 high risk patients treated early in the course of their illnesses, there were “2 deaths, four on respirators. The rest recovered fully.” Those are mighty impressive numbers, but no one else has seen the data. It should come as no surprise that the fact checking website Snopes was unable to substantiate his claims.
After community leaders in the town where he practiced criticized him for spreading misinformation, Zelenko decided to leave his practice—destination unknown.
The third second-place award winner is French microbiologist Didier Raoult, another proponent of hydroxychloroquine, which he claims cured patients with COVID-19 100% of the time. He was featured in a May 12 New York Times profile which was less than incisive. On May 27, the French government banned the use of hydroxychloroquine for treating COVID-19 outside of clinical trials. Beware of those hawking 100% cure rates. For a complete evisceration of the Frenchman, visit the Respectful Insolence blog.
The first place award will be shared among the authors of both of these two now-retracted studies. “Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis” appeared in The Lancet and the other, “Cardiovascular Disease, Drug Therapy, and Mortality in COVID-19,” was published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The two journals are considered by many to be the most prestigious in the world.
The retractions came about because the authors said they were “unable to validate the primary data sources underlying our article.” The data was amassed by a previously little-known small company called Surgisphere.
The two papers caused quite a stir when they were first published. The Lancet study found that hydroxychloroquine was associated with an increased risk of arrhythmias and death. Based on that information, a multicenter randomized controlled trial on that topic was suspended.
The NEJM paper found that a history of cardiovascular disease is a risk factor for in-hospital death, but the use of angiotensin-converting enzyme inhibitors or angiotensin II receptor blockers was not associated with an increased risk of hospital death.
Most Misguided Twitter Mob
A few days ago, actor Alyssa Milano tweeted the following:
A large number of angry people criticized her for wearing a mask with holes in it. It turns out that these masks are commercially made and contain a pocket which holds a filter. Ms. Milano pointed this out in a much less viewed tweet.
The Best Non-COVID Story of the Month is Wired magazine’s “On the Moon, Astronaut Pee Will Be a Hot Commodity.”
Maybe they mean warm commodity. In case you didn’t know, “Urea, the second most common compound in human urine after water, can be mixed with moon dirt and used for construction.” It forms a substance similar to concrete and could play a role in protecting astronauts from radiation since the moon has no atmosphere.
Urine can be recycled into water for human consumption and urea could be used to help make fertilizer. “Researchers at the German Aerospace Center have been successfully growing vegetables in human urine for years.”
Please pass the asparagus.