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Lies, Damned Lies, and Statistics

Hydroxychloroquine Study Flaws Exposed via Social Media Rather Than Peer Review

Two hydroxychloroquine studies were retracted from top medical journals after hearing that patients who had been given hydroxychloroquine were around twice as likely to die.


The Lancet just retracted an observational study of over 96,000 COVID-19 patients worldwide whose data had supposedly been collected by a company called Surgisphere (whose CEO was a co-author). The article reported that patients who had been given hydroxychloroquine were around twice as likely to die. Based on this alarming news, the World Health Organization stopped using hydroxychloroquine in a large randomized trial. 

But this study may be a complete fraud. So too may be a New England Journal of Medicine study published by Surgisphere (which was also retracted on Thursday). I can only scratch the surface as to all the inexplicable facts that have arisen about the study and about Surgisphere (see here and here), but these quotes from the Guardian are a taste: 

  • Surgisphere, whose handful of employees appear to include a science fiction writer and an adult-content model, has provided data for multiple studies on COVID-19 co-authored by its chief executive, but has so far failed to adequately explain its data.”
  • Until Monday, the get in touch’ link on Surgisphere’s homepage redirected to a WordPress template for a cryptocurrency website, raising questions about how hospitals could easily contact the company to join its database.”
  • It is not clear from the methodology in the studies that used Surgisphere data, or from the Surgisphere website itself, how the company was able to put in place data-sharing agreements from so many hospitals worldwide, including those with limited technology, and to reconcile different languages and coding systems, all while staying within the regulatory, data-protection and ethical rules of each country.”

It is amazing that such an implausible source of data could make its way into two of the world’s top medical journals. Food for thought: The many obvious flaws in Surgisphere’s studies were exposed by social media, not by peer review.