A Study That Should Not Have Been Published

This PNAS study was published on the laurels of a 1995 Nobel laureate (in Chemistry).

In the Time of COVID, many studies get published without peer review. And some get published with very weak peer review, hand selected by an author. This is one of those. A number of scientists refuted it immediately.

There are many holes, I’ve shared these already. This NYT review states them well.

That doesn’t mean mask wearing isn’t useful. Let’s just use better studies to make our point.

Not surprisingly, Twitter has become the site for peer review. When there’s a new study and I don’t feel I have the expertise to evaluate it (or the time), I wait for twitter scientists. When enough respected scientists call foul, I believe them. (I also have enough expertise to know if the “experts” are making sense.)

Here’s one review, but there are many more. If it seems odd to turn to Twitter for science, it’s not. My fellow panelist, Robbie Barbero, discussed it on this NY Hall of Science panel back in April. Scientists have taken to Twitter to do public peer review of papers. It takes some time to get to know the scientists, and whom to trust. There are some lousy ones out there too, but that becomes obvious pretty quickly.

The MedRixiv.org site has been an extremely useful space for scientists to get information out quickly regarding COVID. Sometimes those studies are not great, and #SciTwitter, #MedTwitter, #EpiTwitter are quick to respond. Unfortunately, even in peer-reviewed publications, a bad study gets through. As described in the NY Times article, someone of a certain stature can “contribute” an article. That allows them to hand pick reviewers, which are basically rubber-stamping a study. The publications carries weight, which makes it even more problematic.

We tend to look to studies that validate our beliefs, without critically analyzing the study. As scientists, we’re not experts in every area of science. We need to turn to the actual experts in a particular field to validate studies. Not just our beliefs.

Dr. Rohr-Allegrini is an epidemiologist and tropical disease scientist currently working to prevent diseases through immunizations.

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