Scientific studies with flawed methodologies and imprecise conclusions are intensifying the crisis of misinformation about covid-19, which discourages vaccination and puts lives at risk. American expert Emerson Brooking, from the Digital Forensic Research Laboratory of the Atlantic Council, warns that the correction of information is not enough to reverse the impact on public opinion.
The intense public interest in the pandemic and the polarized debate in the United States about how to address it facilitate the dissemination of erroneous research papers on the internet. Vaccine opponents retrieve this data and turn it into arguments to denigrate immunizers. When the author of a study recants, it’s too late.
“Once the article is published, the damage is irrevocable,” said Emerson Brooking, principal investigator in residence at the Digital Forensic Research Laboratory, which specializes in identifying and exposing misinformation.
The misguided scientific publications “have fueled the fire for covid-19 skeptics and conspiracy theorists. They often go viral on the internet. Their conclusions are also based on provocative and misleading articles on fringe sites,” Brooking explained.
Misinformation about vaccines is especially dangerous at a time when their acceptance in the United States has declined. US health officials claim that nearly all recent covid-19 deaths occur among those who are not immunized.
France faces the same situation, according to a study published on Friday (30).
Scientific journals have part of the responsibility
A medical journal Vaccines published a peer-reviewed article in late June called “The safety of anti-covid-19 vaccines: we should rethink policy.” The text concluded that injections against the coronavirus were causing the death of two out of every three people who were saved. This supposed discovery quickly spread through social networks.
A tweet about this article by Robert Malone —a critical covid-19 vaccine scientist— got thousands of retweets. A video by conservative Liz Wheeler, who said the study “will blow your mind,” has been viewed more than 250,000 times on Facebook.
However, the magazine Vaccines later he recanted for the article he had published, saying that it contained “several errors that fundamentally affect the interpretation of the conclusions”. At least four Vaccines board members were fired as a result of the disclosure of this research, including Katie Ewer, associate professor and principal immunologist at Oxford University’s Jenner Institute.
“You should know that this document would have a big impact,” said Ewer, who did not participate in its publication. “The fact that no one in the magazine realized this (…) is very worrying, especially for a magazine dedicated to vaccines.”
Malone’s tweet about this article is no longer available, but Wheeler’s video still appeared on Facebook weeks later.
Some of the most important scientific journals, including the The Lancet it’s at New England Journal of Medicine, were retracted for articles related to the coronavirus crisis, but a still limited number of imprecise studies can cause great damage on the internet.
With information from AFP