The Dark Side of Science

by Last updated Jun 28, 2020 | Published on May 19, 2020Biomedical Communications, Newsletter0 comments

Today, I’m coming back to the topic of science communication, because there was a documentary released on YouTube—and since then removed—that you may have heard of: Plandemic. No, I’m not going to give you a link, because links are the currency of the Internet and I’ll give none of that to misinformation.

But I’ll also give you some reasons why rushing science isn’t a good idea, a resource to debunk the anti-vaxxers agenda, and a trustworthy source on how to read academic papers.

“Bad science is a lot like a virus. It starts small, but if it’s shared enough times, it can cause global disruption.”

—Jackie Flynn Mogensen, for Mother Jones

DON’T RUSH SCIENCE

In Portuguese, we have a proverb—that I’m probably going to annihilate by translating—that says something like “fast and good, there’s no whom”. Proverbs are supposed to rhyme and hence the weird phrasing, but you get the gist. You can either have good results by doing things properly, or a fast and bad result.

I started this letter with a quote from a great article that I found in Mother Jones, an American investigative news organization, that delved deep into the danger of fast-tracking everything that has COVID-19 slapped in it, the dangers of basing treatment decisions on results of a single trial, and how non-experts adding their voices to the noise makes the waters even murkier. I encourage you to spare some minutes to explore the article, it’s extremely well-written.

In the end of the article, Mogensen recognises an unfortunate truth: during a pandemic, it’s hard to wait for science to run its usual course of research, peer-review, and replication, while people are dying. But in rushing science, we’re letting bad (or at least, incomplete) science slip through the cracks.

ROTTEN APPLES

I wasn’t going to address a video that was circulating on YouTube and was taken down. I heard about it on one of the podcast shows I regularly listen to. The video was made by two doctors that argued that the COVID-19 was being overblown by the (American) hospital system to get more profits, using bad statistics to make their case.

But then another video made its way to YouTube, was also taken down, and I decided to spare some time investigating Plandemic so I could give you resources to fight any ripples of that bad science that you may come across with.

Full disclosure: I haven’t seen Plandemic either. It’s still available on their website despite having been taken down from YouTube, but they have a non-secure connection. I wasn’t particularly afraid of getting my credit card info stolen (mainly because I don’t own any), but as someone who built a website from scratch and still fumbles with the intricacies of setting up a proper https, I’m not giving any traffic to those who either don’t care enough or are up to no good.

Since I haven’t seen it and thankfully managed to keep my blood pressure low, I’ll leave it to Derek Beres, who wrote an extensive article debunking the video and exposing the anti-vaxxer connections. After reading it, I get the impression that there was some serious cherry-picking and science overstretching happening in that video.

Another article, by Stephanie Pappas in Live Science, does an excellent job of picking apart half-truths from the delusions of a discredited scientist.

Why are these claims taking hold in some fringes of society? Like I wrote in a previous newsletter, misinformation gets more traction when it’s rooted in truth, albeit a very distorted one.

But this week I heard Alan Dove in a TWiV episode saying something that made perfect sense: it’s kind of comforting to think that there’s someone behind all this, because it would mean there’s someone in charge. It’s much scarier to accept that this (pandemic) is a product of Nature.

#HOWIREADTHISPAPER

I want to part with happy things, so I’ll share a trustworthy source that has been helping me to understand some of the papers and clinical trials on COVID-19 that have been published recently.

Rahul Ganatra is a physician and co-host of The Curbsiders, a medical education podcast, and in his Twitter account provides critical appraisal of some papers on the form of long threads. You can read the one about the compassionate use of remdesivir and the following clinical trial. I like the way how he’s able to summarise the paper and point out potential biases, so I also learn how to do it myself while I read his threads.

Have you seen any of these misinformation videos? What’s your opinion?

Let me know your thoughts on the comment section below!

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About Diana Ribeiro

About Diana Ribeiro

Diana Ribeiro is a pharmacist and freelance medical writer based in Cascais, Portugal. Before starting her career in medical writing, Diana worked 10+ years in hospital and community pharmacies, where she helped patients and healthcare professionals with drug management and information. Nowadays, she helps pharma, biotech, and meddev companies communicate with their audiences in a clear, accurate, and compelling way. Diana is an active member of the European Medical Writers Association, where she volunteers for the webinar team. You can find more about her on LinkedIn.

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