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Australasian Human Research Ethics Consultancy Services Pty Ltd (AHRECS)

COVID-19 research: pandemic versus “paperdemic”, integrity, values and risks of the “speed science” (Papers: Ricardo Jorge Dinis-Oliveira | April 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on July 11, 2020


This open access paper from April 2020 makes familiar arguments about the problem of junk science and COVID-19, but they are points worth repeating and we loved the first sentence of the abstract.  We have included links to 16 related items.

Scientific integrity is a learned skill. When researchers and students learn integrity in laboratories or in the classroom, they are empowered to use similar principles in other aspects of their lives. This commentary reviews the concepts related to scientific integrity at a time when science faces important challenges related to the increase(d) number of articles produced regarding research on coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) has ignited another parallel viral pandemic, with science ranging from robust studies to dishonest studies being conducted, posted, and shared at an unprecedented rate. A balance is needed between the benefits of the rapid access to new scientific data and the threat of causing panic or erroneous clinical decisions based on mistakes or misconduct. The truth is that the “scientific research has changed the world” but now, and more than ever, “it needs to change itself”. A pandemic with a “paperdemic” will be even more complicated to manage if it progresses in an uncontrolled manner and is not properly scrutinized.

SARS-CoV-2, COVID-19, research and academic integrity, peer review, pandemic, paperdemic

Ricardo Jorge Dinis-Oliveira (2020) COVID-19 research: pandemic versus “paperdemic”, integrity, values and risks of the “speed science”, Forensic Sciences Research, DOI: 10.1080/20961790.2020.1767754
Publisher (Open Access):

(China, Australia) Against the use and publication of contemporary unethical research: the case of Chinese transplant research (Papers: Wendy C Higgins, et al | July 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on July 9, 2020


This July 2020 paper examines the argument for and against the publication of new, or retraction of old research outputs, where the work utilised organs from executed prisoners.  This isn’t just about an intensely captive relationship.

Recent calls for retraction of a large body of Chinese transplant research and of Dr Jiankui He’s gene editing research has led to renewed interest in the question of publication, retraction and use of unethical biomedical research. In Part 1 of this paper, we briefly review the now well-established consequentialist and deontological arguments for and against the use of unethical research. We argue that, while there are potentially compelling justifications for use under some circumstances, these justifications fail when unethical practices are ongoing—as in the case of research involving transplantations in which organs have been procured unethically from executed prisoners. Use of such research displays a lack of respect and concern for the victims and undermines efforts to deter unethical practices. Such use also creates moral taint and renders those who use the research complicit in continuing harm. In Part 2, we distinguish three dimensions of ‘non-use’ of unethical research: non-use of published unethical research, non-publication, and retraction and argue that all three types of non-use should be upheld in the case of Chinese transplant research. Publishers have responsibilities to not publish contemporary unethical biomedical research, and where this has occurred, to retract publications. Failure to retract the papers implicitly condones the research, while uptake of the research through citations rewards researchers and ongoing circulation of the data in the literature facilitates subsequent use by researchers, policymakers and clinicians.

Higgins, WC., Rogers, W.A., Ballantyne, A., Lipworth, W. (2020)  Against the use and publication of contemporary unethical research: the case of Chinese transplant research. Journal of Medical Ethics. doi: 10.1136/medethics-2019-106044

Column: How a retracted research paper contaminated global coronavirus research – Los Angles Times (Michael Hiltzik | June 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on July 7, 2020

Call it the retraction that shook the coronavirus world.

We’ve known this sordid truth for years: Cheats and charlatans lurk amongst us.  With the two high profile retractions, it has become public knowledge and it is the reputation of science that has been tarnished.

On June 4, the Lancet, the British medical journal that is one of the most prestigious scientific publications in the world, withdrew a paper that had been one of the most consequential in the novel field of coronavirus studies.

The peer-reviewed paper, which the Lancet had published on May 22, said that treating COVID-19 with the antimalarial drugs chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine raised the heart-related death risk for COVID-19 patients in the hospital without showing any benefit.

Yes, this is a wake-up call. But we’ve had the wake-up call for years.

The lead author of the paper, which employed a worldwide database of 96,000 patients from nearly 700 hospitals on six continents, was a highly regarded Harvard cardiac surgeon.

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Assuring research integrity during a pandemic – BMJopinion (Gowri Gopalakrishna, et al | June 2020)0

Posted by Admin in on July 6, 2020

Compared to the SARS outbreak in 2003, the covid-19 pandemic has led to substantially more scientific publications during the first four months. Preprints have become the medium of choice. The rapidly increasing number of publications combined with the urgency to quickly understand the new pathogen presents a significant challenge for maintaining the integrity of the underlying evidence base, and to ensure that research is conducted according to global standards of research integrity [1,2].

Rapid publication can aggravate questionable research practices

Competition and the pressure to publish quickly can lead researchers to (inadvertently) base studies on questionable methods. This has recently been a major issue in discussions of the models used to plan responses and predict the future course of the pandemic. A recent research paper in The BMJ found that: “proposed models are poorly reported, at high risk of bias, and their reported performance is probably optimistic.” [3] Similar concerns are currently being raised about serological tests coming onto the market rapidly as a way to determine the extent of immunity against covid-19. Manufacturers claim their tests have high sensitivity and specificity, but with little or no published data yet to back this, it is hard to assess the basis of these claims. This lack of transparency on the research behind these tests is worrying as more and more countries turn to testing to guide easing of lockdowns [4].

Rapid publication amplifies weaknesses in peer review

Competition and the pressure to publish quickly has produced a flood of un-peer-reviewed papers published as preprints. Publishing and sharing  preprints encourages scientific collaboration, transparency, and fast sharing of data.  But, in a crisis, it could lead to the spread and use of controversial information that needs further peer evaluation and validation. A recent case is the fierce scientific debate [5] on twitter and blog posts around a Stanford preprint [6] that claimed the case fatality rate of covid-19 was similar to seasonal influenza. Researchers were quick to raise questions about sampling, the validity of the antibody tests used and statistical calculations. Much has been written about social media’s ability to spread (mis)information rapidly. Recent reports analysed preprints’ viral potential on social media and news outlets [7]. Examples include a study showing a link between covid-19 and HIV, which was tweeted at least 17,000 times and reached 25 news outlets despite being criticised widely by scientists and rapidly retracted [1].

  1. Speed Science: The risks of swiftly spreading coronavirus research. Reuters. Published 19 Feb 2020
  2. (accessed 13 May 2020)
  3. Wynants L, Van Calster B, Bonten MJ et al. Prediction models for diagnosis and prognosis of covid-19 infection: systematic review and critical appraisal. BMJ, 2020; 369: m1328; https://doi- (accessed 13 May 2020)
  4. (accessed 13 May 2020)
  5. (accessed 13 May 2020)
  6. (accessed 13 May 2020)

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