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The COVID-19 pandemic has sparked a deluge of potentially inferior research in the rush to publish, with a series of papers withdrawn or under a cloud and a surge in submissions to pre-print servers that run fewer quality checks leading ethicist in the Journal of Medical Ethics warned.
This has implications for patients, clinicians, and possibly government policy, says Adjunct Professor Katrina Bramstedt of Bond University in Queensland, Australia and Secretary General of the Luxembourg Agency for Research Integrity.
The rapid spread of COVID-19 and its transition to a global pandemic caused researchers to look seriously at treatments and vaccines.
Scientific and medical journals have now been inundated with submissions, while thousands of articles that have not undergone thorough quality control have been published on preprint servers.
As of May 7, 2020, 1,221 studies of COVID-19 have been registered on the international clinical trial registration page, ClinicalTrials.gov.
As of July 31, 2020, 19 published articles and 14 preprints on COVID-19 have been withdrawn, withdrawn, or serious doubts have been expressed about the integrity of their data, formally labeled as expressions of concern.
Most of these papers came from Asia (n = 19; 57.5%), more than half from China (n = 11; 58%).
However, the author points out, “No research team is exempt from the pressure and speed with which COVID-19 research is conducted. This can increase the risk of making honest mistakes as well as willful misconduct.”
The reason for the removal of the 33 papers is not known in 3 cases, but data falsification, methodological issues and concerns about the interpretation of data and conclusions, and issues with the authorship and privacy of the participants were among the reasons in the other papers.
Two preprints (SSRN Preprint Server) and two research papers in the Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine have been withdrawn because of unverifiable data common to all four.
A preprint from the USA on the seroprevalence of COVID-19 antibodies was examined for an unknown conflict of interest.
There are obvious implications for the journal and the researchers involved, even if they are not to blame for any research misconduct, the author emphasizes. The evidence suggests that in such cases, quotes from previous employees can score and fall 8-9%.
But there are also effects on the patient. “Significant, permanent, and irreversible patient harm can arise from the use of incorrect research from preprinted and published publications,” she says.
Due to the rush to publish, there is less time for quality reviews by researchers and their superiors and for a thorough review of study applications by research ethics committees, says Professor Bramstedt.
In addition, these committees are not expected to routinely involve the key experts required for COVID-19 research, such as immunologists, microbiologists, and lung disease specialists.
Magazines also rely on a fleet of peer reviewers, all of whom work voluntarily and place competing demands on their time.
To counter these issues, the author suggests improving the efficiency of the submission process and imposing training on research ethics and integrity on all researchers.
You should also have timely access to ethical advice on research dilemmas covering topics such as author disputes, image manipulation, citations and referrals, informed consent, recruiting ethical participants, etc.
Any violation of guidelines and standards should have significant ramifications to ward off recurring violations, she suggests, adding the importance of making the results of all investigations public regardless of the outcome.
In a personal comment that is not included in the text, Professor Bramstedt emphasizes: “Research has the potential to become public domain and be used by many stakeholders, including governments and policymakers. Therefore, the data must be robust.”
The Editor of the Journal of Medical Ethics, Professor John McMillan, added, “Researchers face strong headwinds when it comes to learning more about COVID-19. The urgency of evidence, the rewards of finding one Successful therapy or a vaccine and the spread of disinformation mean scientific evidence Integrity is vital.
“Professor Bramstedt’s report is an early warning for journals and preprint servers to be proactive and rigorous in evaluating research.”
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The Carnage of Inferior Research During the COVID-19 Pandemic: A Call to Quality, Journal of Medical Ethics (2020). DOI: 10.1136 / medethics-2020-106494 Provided by the British Medical Journal
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