Politics and medicine do not mix. After two major studies on COVID-19 were retracted for faulty data, it once again proves that politics has no place in medicine. Medicine has to be driven by science; it is all about saving lives. Politics should never be allowed to enter the arena. The British Journal Lancet has been a notoriously bad actor, often injecting politics in its selection of articles for publication.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, unfortunately, a few rogue researchers decided that politics was indeed allowed onto the hallowed ground of medical science.
The editor-in-chief of The Lancet, Dr. Richard Horton, called the paper about the dangers of the use of Hydroxychloroquine in COVID-19 patients, published in his journal, a “fabrication” and a “monumental fraud.” What he did not say and what the media failed to point out was that the paper was concocted using an unsubstantiated database called “Surgisphere,” which supposedly obtained information from 1,200 hospitals on six continents, to directly go up against President Trump’s assertions of Hydroxychloroquine’s potential benefit in patients with COVID-19. President Trump often quoted a French study that supported his view. The retracted study in The Lancet was fabricated precisely because of a dislike for President Trump. The other retracted study – in the New England Journal of Medicine – did not have the same motivation behind it. It was a fraudulent study done to show that patients on ACE inhibitors taken for hypertension did not have a worse outcome from COVID-19 than those not on ACE inhibitors. I do not know the specific motivation for this paper, but I would speculate that it was to help the pharmaceutical industry. In either case, lack of adequate peer review led to the publication of fraudulent material.
The New England Journal of Medicine, I believe, was an “innocent bystander” in this process. On the other hand, The Lancet has a long history of being a “progressive” and Leftward publication.
In 2013, The Lancet published 35 different contributions that, upon closer inspection, revealed anti-Israel bias. The editor, Dr. Richard Horton, not only has a particular disdain for the State of Israel but for President Trump, as well. The fraudulent Lancet article, which Dr. Horton retracted, went head to head up against the President’s belief in Hydroxychloroquine as a useful agent against COVID-19. Dr. Horton’s animus was such that he allowed politics to blind him from rigorous science. He should finally resign.
A group of 500 doctors, including a number of Nobel Prize winners, accused Dr. Horton in 2015 of “grossly irresponsible and damaging editorial misuse of The Lancet for political purposes.” The charge was leveled for publishing an anti-Israel article during “Operation Protective Edge” in 2014. The group asked for a retraction of the piece (unlike the current article, the anti-Israel one was never retracted), claiming it “consists of numerous vicious and deliberately inflammatory falsehoods, omissions, and abusive dishonesty, which has no place in any responsible publication.”
This was not the first time The Lancet published articles that were anti-Israel. In 2010, The Lancet employed active supporters of BDS as supposedly expert commentators on the Israeli-Arab conflict.
The goal of medicine today should be to save as many lives as we can against a dreadful and deadly pandemic. Publication of fabricated studies with a particular political twist is totally wrong and reprehensible. This should never be allowed to happen again.
Joseph M. Frager is a physician and lifelong activist.