The appetite for emerging medical news and discoveries has never been greater than in the last two years, as consumers went online to research COVID-19-related breakthroughs, treatments and remedies. The problem is that those responsible for that information — principally scientists, but also the journalists who cover their work — have been cutting corners by not distinguishing preliminary, unvetted research from fully reviewed discoveries published in reputable scientific journals.
This well written and engaging item discusses an important issue we are currently facing. We are facing the perfect storm of the perverse impacts of our obsession with quantitative metrics, questionable publishers and a general public desperate for quick data and answers. The current urgent demands about the Omnicon strain is a great example of this.
Over the summer, poison control centers saw a more-than-threefold jump in reports of poisonings of people ingesting ivermectin, a medication meant to treat ringworm in farm animals, in the mistaken belief that it would prevent or treat COVID-19. While this drug is FDA approved to treat certain intestinal and skin conditions in humans, it has not been approved to treat COVID.
And last year, thousands of healthy people took a second-line treatment for rheumatoid arthritis called hydroxychloroquine, erroneously thinking it would keep them safe from COVID. The result, again, was more death, not less.
In both examples, scientists first shared their “discoveries” with the public and without expert review on internet platforms that were never intended to be viewed by the public or covered by journalists as news. These repositories, called preprint servers, are a sort of library of very preliminary, unvetted scientific work. Their stated goal is rapid dissemination of unreviewed work for the purpose of getting feedback from other scientists before submission, peer-review and possible publication in mainstream medical journals.