Yes, much COVID-19 research will turn out to be wrong or unreliable

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EXCERPT: . . . Instead of accepting [COVID-19 testing] kits from other countries—including the ones approved by the World Health Organization—the White House went its own way. On March 17, Deborah Birx, the physician coordinating the administration’s scientific response to the Covid-19 outbreak in the United States, tried to explain the rejections. "It doesn't help to put out a test where 50 percent or 47 percent are false positives," Birx told reporters, suggesting that at least some overseas tests were deeply flawed. [...] That sounds reasonable. After all, a test that is no better than a coin flip would do far more harm than good ... Birx is a highly respected scientist...

As it happens, both of Birx’s false-positive rates, the “50 percent or 47 percent,” came from a single study. That’s bad enough, if somewhat understandable given how quickly the pandemic has been spreading. Still, scientists are generally loath to base any decisions, including what they eat for breakfast, on a single, unreplicated finding. This time, they appear to have done so on a policy matter of the highest importance.

[...] This case is a particularly dismaying and consequential example of what happens when no one bothers to engage in scientific fact-checking. But it will not be the last time that something we thought we knew about the coronavirus because it was in a published paper will turn out to be wrong.

The last few weeks have seen a blizzard of publications about Covid-19—and [...] it’s just the beginning. Many of the papers have come from China, where researchers have had more time to study the infection than the rest of the world, but important papers have emerged from Italy, as well.

All of these articles have at least one thing in common: They were written, and published, in great haste. And while desperate times may dissolve norms, speed remains the enemy of rigorous science. [...] Consider: The research behind a normal paper takes months or even years to complete ... Journals subject manuscripts to peer review ... however, the timeline has been radically condensed.

Chinese scholarship has been particularly problematic lately. Although the country is a research juggernaut, ethical controls are uneven, at best, and sometimes nonexistent. Chinese scholars have been paid cash bonuses to publish findings in prestigious journals, which almost certainly played a role in the country’s dubious distinction of having more papers retracted for fake peer review than any other. The government recently banned such bonuses as a way to help reduce the pressure to “publish or perish.” But the sudden surge of articles on Covid-19 coming out of the country could frustrate that effort.

In a sign of just how hard academia’s “publish or perish” habit is to break, incentives have put a brake on the publication of at least some findings. [...] some of those who had access to data from early cases at a hospital in Wuhan “were reluctant to share data with others before publication in a prestigious medical journal.”

Meanwhile, many researchers have taken an alternate route to getting their findings in front of their colleagues and the world. They have been resorting to the use of so-called preprint servers to post preliminary drafts of their papers—rough cuts of research in progress.

Make no mistake: Preprint servers are important developments in scholarly publishing. [...] However—like everything else in science—they are works in progress and should not be considered entirely reliable on their own as either scientific evidence or the basis of public policy. Then again, no single peer-reviewed paper should be, either.... (MORE - details)

RELATED: The intellectual & moral decline in academic research ... "Peer review is wheel of misfortune" plus "How sci gave its soul to the publishing industry"

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