Controversies over coronavirus research show science isn’t broken

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Several high-profile papers on COVID-19 research have come under fire from people in the scientific community in recent weeks. Two articles addressing the safety of certain drugs when taken by COVID-19 patients were retracted, and researchers are calling for the retraction of a third paper that evaluated behaviors that mitigate coronavirus transmission.

Some people are viewing the retractions as an indictment of the scientific process. Certainly, the overturning of these papers is bad news, and there is plenty of blame to go around.

But despite these short-term setbacks, the scrutiny and subsequent correction of the papers actually show that science is working. Reporting of the pandemic is allowing people to see, many for the first time, the messy business of scientific progress.

Scientific community quickly responds to flawed research

In May, two papers were published on the safety of certain drugs for COVID-19 patients. The first, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, claimed that a particular heart medication was in fact safe for COVID-19 patients, despite previous concerns. The second, published in The Lancet, claimed that the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine increased the risk of death when used to treat COVID-19.

The Lancet paper caused the World Health Organization to briefly halt studies investigating hydroxychloroquine for COVID-19 treatment.


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