Corruption is the ultimate betrayal of public trust | United Nations

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  • today2021-01-21 12:37
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Corruption is criminal, immoral and the ultimate betrayal of public trust. 

It is even more damaging in times of crisis – as the world is experiencing now with the COVID-19 pandemic.

The response to the virus is creating new opportunities to exploit weak oversight and inadequate transparency, diverting funds away from people in their hour of greatest need.  

Governments may act in haste without verifying suppliers or determine fair prices. 

Unscrupulous merchants peddle faulty products such as — defective ventilators, poorly manufactured tests or counterfeit medicines.   

And collusion among those who control supply chains has led to outrageous costs of much-needed goods, skewing the market and denying many people life-saving treatment

We must work together to stop such thievery and exploitation by clamping down on illicit financial flows and tax havens; tackling the vested interests that benefit from secrecy and corruption; and exercising utmost vigilance over how resources are spent nationally.

Together, we must create more robust systems for accountability, transparency and integrity without delay. 

We must hold leaders to account.

Business people must act responsibly.

A vibrant civic space and open access to information are essential.

And we must protect the rights and recognize the courage of whistle-blowers who expose wrongdoing.

Technological advances can help increase transparency and better monitor procurement of medical supplies.

Anti-corruption bodies need greater support and empowerment.

The United Nations itself continues to prioritize transparency and accountability, in and beyond the COVID-19 response. 

For many people in all regions, corruption has been a long-standing source of distrust and anger against their leaders and governments.

But corruption in the time of COVID-19 has the potential to seriously undermine good governance around the world, and to send us even farther off-track in our work to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals.

I urge all governments and all leaders to be transparent and accountable, and to use the tools provided by the United Nations Convention against Corruption.

As an age-old plague takes on new forms, let us combat it with new heights of resolve.

Secretary-General looking up next to the UN flag.

António Guterres

Many scientists citing two scandalous COVID-19 papers ignore their retractions

This article has been shared by stefan with wallabag.E. Petersen/Science

This story was supported by the Science Fund for Investigative Reporting. Please help Science pursue ambitious journalism projects.

In June 2020, in the biggest research scandal of the pandemic so far, two of the most important medical journals each retracted a high-profile study of COVID-19 patients. Thousands of news articles, tweets, and scholarly commentaries highlighted the scandal, yet many researchers apparently failed to notice. In an examination of the most recent 200 academic articles published in 2020 that cite those papers, Science found that more than half—including many in leading journals—used the disgraced papers to support scientific findings and failed to note the retractions.

COVID-19 “is such a hot topic that publishers are willing to publish without proper vetting,” even in the face of retractions that made global headlines, says Elizabeth Suelzer, a reference librarian at the Medical College of Wisconsin who has written about problematic citations to a retracted 1998 study in The Lancet falsely linking vaccination to autism.

Both of the retracted COVID-19 papers, one in The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and the other in The Lancet, were based on what appeared to be a huge database of patient records compiled from hospitals worldwide by Surgisphere, a small company operated by vascular surgeon Sapan Desai, who was a co-author on each article. The 22 May 2020 Lancet paper ostensibly showed that hydroxychloroquine, an antimalarial drug promoted by President Donald Trump and others, could harm rather than help COVID-19 patients. Its publication led to a temporary halt in a major clinical trial and inflamed an already-divisive debate over the drug, which has proved to be no help against COVID-19. The 1 May NEJM article corroborated other evidence that people already taking certain blood pressure medicines did not face a greater risk of death if they developed COVID-19.

Questions soon arose about the validity, and even existence, of the Surgisphere database, however, and the retractions followed on 4 June. But of the 200 papers examined by Science—all published after the retractions—105 inappropriately cited one of the disgraced studies. In several cases it was a primary source for a meta-analysis combining multiple studies to draw overarching conclusions. In most, the studies were cited as scientific support or context. Science also found a handful of articles that uncritically cited an influential April preprint based on the same Surgisphere data set, which described the antiparasitic drug ivermectin as beneficial in critical COVID-19 cases. (There is no standard way to retract preprints, however.)

Ivan Oransky, co-founder of the website Retraction Watch, says such blunders occur because “people are either willfully or negligently not checking references.” Many authors copy and paste lists of apparently relevant citations from similar papers without actually reading them, he says. “It’s frightening. It’s terrible, but common.”

Many of the tainted citations appeared in papers published by little-known journals, but at least a dozen found their way into major publications. For example, three articles in PLOS ONE, the prominent open-access journal, cited the retracted papers in discussions of pandemic conditions in Europe. A 28 December paper in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS)—one of the most influential journals—discussed the risks and benefits of drugs to treat COVID-19 and noted the Lancet retraction in its citations, yet the text merely noted the paper’s hydroxychloroquine findings as “controversial.”


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Editors at those two publications said they would correct the references and take steps to prevent such problems in the future. Renee Hoch, a PLOS ONE editor and publication ethics manager, wrote in an email that the publication relies on authors and its outside, volunteer editors to check citations, and she was caught by surprise when contacted by Science. “We are currently following up on this issue with high priority in light of the implications for public health and ongoing COVID-19 research,” she wrote.

Hoch added that reliance on retracted work, “either directly or in the form of supporting references,” can be harmful. “[W]here the retracted work has clinical implications, this can result in direct risks to patients.”

In a written response to questions about the citation of the Lancet paper, May Berenbaum, editor-in-chief of PNAS, said, “The authors really should have either removed the citation, added more text about why they included it, or cited the retraction notice itself.” Given that no editor or reviewer caught the problem, she said, “I plan to discuss with the staff incorporating such screening into manuscript processing.” A co-author of the paper, biostatistician Clelia Di Serio of Vita-Salute San Raffaele University, later said the reference to the Lancet paper would be expunged.

Some journal editors noted extenuating factors. In Stroke, a leading medical journal, a December article about ischemic stroke in COVID-19 patients referenced the NEJM paper without mentioning the retraction. Stroke Editor-in-Chief Ralph Sacco wrote in an email that the retraction occurred after the article was initially received. However, a revision of the article was resubmitted months after the event, according to the paper itself. Sacco said he would issue no correction because the retraction “is not material to the findings.”

A 16 December paper on SARS-CoV-2 genetics in Nature Communications, another high-profile journal, also cited the NEJM article without reference to the retraction. Elisa De Ranieri, the journal’s editor-in-chief, told Science her journal does not routinely check for “retractions or other postpublication updates.” A lead author of the paper, biomathematician Maik Pietzner at the University of Cambridge, said that although the paper was submitted after the retractions occurred, it was written beforehand, and “the current pandemic requires immediate response.” However, the paper was published 4 months after its submission.

Suelzer says inappropriate citations of retracted articles are hard to excuse. Retraction Watch publishes a free retraction database that has been integrated into a number of automated services to check citations, including, Zotero, and RedacTek. The failure to use such tools “is a disservice to the readers and researchers,” Suelzer says. “They are pretty low bars.”

Yet Oransky estimates that in biomedicine, up to 90% of citations to retracted papers don’t mention their fall from grace. “Half the time [as seen with the Surgisphere papers] is an improvement. That’s what’s shocking about it.”

Maître Di Vizio, avocat : Didier Raoult en justice contre l’ANSM

Le Professeur Raoult mandate l’avocat Fabrice Di Vizio pour déposer un recours au Conseil d’Etat et une plainte au pénal après le refus de l’Agence du médicament d’autoriser plus largement l’hydroxychloroquine

Didier Raoult et l’IHU vont contester le refus de l’Agence nationale de sécurité du médicament (ANSM) d’autoriser l’usage de l’hydroxychloroquine contre la Covid-19. Mandaté par l’IHU, l’avocat Di Vizio a envoyé une requête en annulation ce jeudi au Conseil d’Etat conformément à la possibilité donnée par une telle décision. En sus une plainte contre l’agence et son directeur Dominique Martin pour mise en danger de la vie d’autrui sera déposée vendredi. Me Di Vizio nous explique.

1 novembre 2020

Lancet, NEJM retract controversial COVID-19 studies based on Surgisphere data

Two days after issuing expressions of concern about controversial papers on Covid-19, The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine have retracted the articles because a number of the authors were not granted access to the underlying data.

The Lancet paper, “Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis,” which relied on data from a private company called Surgisphere and had concluded that hydroxychloroquine was linked to a higher risk of death among some COVID-19 patients, has been dogged by questions since its publication in late May. Some of those complaints led to a correction about aspects of the data, but at the time the authors stood by their conclusions — namely, that hydrochloroquine and chloroquine do not to appear to be effective against the viral infection. 

That correction was followed earlier this week by the expression of concern, and now three of the four authors of the article have decided to pull it entirely. The abstaining author, Sapan Desai, is the founder of Surgisphere, whose mission statement declares that the goal of the company is to: 

relentlessly pursue advancements in machine learning, artificial intelligence, and big data with the intention of developing industry-leading tools that empower healthcare providers to make better, faster, and more accurate decisions. 

Desai, as Medscape reports, wrote two papers about research misconduct in 2011 and 2013.

The Lancet on Thursday issued a statement about the decision, noting that the retraction wasn’t unanimous: 

Today, three of the authors of the paper, “Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis”, have retracted their study. They were unable to complete an independent audit of the data underpinning their analysis. As a result, they have concluded that they “can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources.” The Lancet takes issues of scientific integrity extremely seriously, and there are many outstanding questions about Surgisphere and the data that were allegedly included in this study. Following guidelines from the Committee on Publication Ethics (COPE) and International Committee of Medical Journal Editors (ICMJE), institutional reviews of Surgisphere’s research collaborations are urgently needed.

The retraction notice goes into a bit more detail:

After publication of our Lancet Article, several concerns were raised with respect to the veracity of the data and analyses conducted by Surgisphere Corporation and its founder and our co-author, Sapan Desai, in our publication. We launched an independent thirdparty peer review of Surgisphere with the consent of Sapan Desai to evaluate the origination of the database elements, to confirm the completeness of the database, and to replicate the analyses presented in the paper.

Our independent peer reviewers informed us that Surgisphere would not transfer the full dataset, client contracts, and the full ISO audit report to their servers for analysis as such transfer would violate client agreements and confidentiality requirements. As such, our reviewers were not able to conduct an independent and private peer review and therefore notified us of their withdrawal from the peer-review process.

We always aspire to perform our research in accordance with the highest ethical and professional guidelines. We can never forget the responsibi,lity we have as researchers to scrupulously ensure that we rely on data sources that adhere to our high standards. Based on this development, we can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources. Due to this unfortunate development, the authors request that the paper be retracted.

We all entered this collaboration to contribute in good faith and at a time of great need during the COVID-19 pandemic. We deeply apologise to you, the editors, and the journal readership for any embarrassment or inconvenience that this may have caused.

*Mandeep R Mehra, Frank Ruschitzka, Amit N Patel 

The publication of the study had prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to halt a study of hydroxychloroquine, but the WHO resumed that trial once the expression of concern appeared.

The New England Journal of Medicine retraction followed a little more than an hour later, with Desai agreeing to the move:

Because all the authors were not granted access to the raw data and the raw data could not be made available to a third-party auditor, we are unable to validate the primary data sources underlying our article, “Cardiovascular Disease, Drug Therapy, and Mortality in Covid-19.”1 We therefore request that the article be retracted. We apologize to the editors and to readers of the Journal for the difficulties that this has caused.

Updated at 2015 UTC, June 4, 2020, with news of the NEJM retraction.

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