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COVID paper retraction reveals a system in collapse: A look at the conundrum between fast publishing and adequate standards

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    Nat Quinn

    COVID paper retraction reveals a system in collapse: A look at the conundrum between fast publishing and adequate standards

    Last week, the editors of publisher Springer Nature retracted a paper by Professor Mark Skidmore titled ‘The role of social circle COVID-19 illness and vaccination experiences in COVID-19 vaccination decisions: an online survey of the United States population’, which was published in the scientific journal BMC Infectious Diseases in January. The reasons behind the retraction, as outlined in this article by freelance journalist and Daily Friend columnist Ivo Vegter, are fair and undoubtedly frightening insofar as they depict the collapse of scientific integrity that COVID has crystallised. The tone of the article, however, is dripping with disdain. For context and some semblance of balance, a descriptive-analytical study on research articles regarding human influenza and COVID-19 in 2020 revealed a conundrum between fast publishing and adequate standards. Not only was the median time to acceptance for COVID articles lower than that for human influenza (8 vs 92 days), but the speed of acceptance for COVID manuscripts was also 11.5 times faster, resulting in a retraction of 82 COVID papers vs a mere 19 retractions of papers on human influenza. Regardless of which side we are on, it may serve us well to remember that we are all victims of a broken system. This article was first published on Daily Friend. – Nadya Swart

    Infamous ‘peer-reviewed’ anti-vax paper retracted
    By Ivo Vegter*
    In January, COVID-19 vaccine opponents got all worked up about a paper that appeared to show 278,000 vaccine-related deaths in the US. Of course, the study turned out to be tripe.
    ‘With these survey data, the total number of fatalities due to COVID-19 inoculation may be as high as 278,000 (95% CI 217,330–332,608) when fatalities that may have occurred regardless of inoculation are removed,’ wrote Mark Skidmore in a paper published in the journal BMC Infectious Diseases.
    The anti-vax movement pounced on this bit of ‘scientific’ ‘evidence’. Peter McCollough, a hero of the vaccine conspiracists, wrote of a ‘biopharmaceutical public health disaster’, causing ‘catastrophic COVID-19 vaccine casualties in 2021’, and citing ‘Dr’ Skidmore.

    Others noted that it was a ‘peer-reviewed study’ in a ‘prestigious journal’. They pointed out that it corresponded with the results of a survey conducted by Rassmussen, which found that 28% of Americans claim to know at least one person who died due to COVID vaccines. (And what Americans claim to know is totally true!)
    It also very roughly corresponds to an estimate by the oft-debunked Steve Kirsch, who multiplied reports in the Vaccine Adverse Events Reporting System (VAERS) – which themselves do not offer evidence that the reported deaths were caused by vaccination – by a random but very large ‘under-reporting factor’ to arrive at an estimate of 388,000 vaccine deaths during 2021.
    The ‘doctor’
    Let’s observe first that ‘Dr’ Mark Skidmore has a PhD in economics. He is not a medical doctor and couldn’t determine whether or not a given death was caused by vaccination if he tried.

    He occupies the Morris Chair in State and Local Government Finance and Policy in the Department of Agricultural, Food, and Resource Economics at Michigan University. He has no expertise in infectious diseases, vaccinology, virology, epidemiology or any other relevant medico-scientific field. How he got published in an Infectious Diseases journal is a mystery.
    More importantly, he reached his conclusion by means of a simple survey and an extraordinary – and extraordinarily stupid – assumption: ‘Assuming the experiences captured in the survey represent the true ratio [of vaccine-related deaths to COVID-related deaths]….’
    People intuitively connect unrelated events all the time. They believe they can have a ‘run of luck’ at a casino or detect other patterns in random occurrences. They believe that because one thing happened after another, that that thing caused the other. They believe they have the knowledge to reach medical conclusions because they ‘did their own research’. They believe in homoeopathy, reflexology, reiki, and detox diets. They are subject to a whole long list of cognitive biases, none of which make them accurate reporters of medical facts. Intuition is not at all sophisticated and not at all reliable.
    People who believe vaccines frequently cause serious injury or death are likely to attribute any health complaint or death after the administration of a vaccine as having been caused by the vaccine. They will do so even if the same person had other health conditions, or even COVID, which are far more likely to have caused the negative effect.
    People also tend to give answers that further their own ideological agenda, so even if they don’t know anyone who was injured by a vaccine, they’ll claim they do.
    Since there is no way to determine the veracity of what people claim in a survey, there is no way to reach scientifically valid conclusions from those claims.
    Even if one could draw such conclusions, Skidmore’s own methodology is riddled with errors.
    He wrongly assumes, like Kirsch, that all deaths reported to VAERS are confirmed vaccine-related deaths, when in fact, all they document is that a death occurred after a vaccination of some cause, which may or may not be (and probably isn’t) the vaccination.
    His citation for ‘COVID-19 vaccine-related adverse events from VAERS’ is not, as one might expect, VAERS, which can be found at https://vaers.hhs.gov/. Nor is it to his own analysis of VAERS or an analysis found in a credible peer-reviewed journal.
    No, Skidmore’s citation is to https://vaersanalysis.info/, an overtly biased, anonymous WordPress blog run by ‘just a concerned citizen’ who used to design websites for pharmaceutical companies and now fancies himself a bit of a data fundi.
    If you read Skidmore’s abstract, you’ll notice that his line about the ‘total number of fatalities’ immediately follows this line: ‘Similarly, 22% (612 of 2,840) of respondents indicated that they knew at least one person who had experienced a severe health problem following COVID-19 vaccination.’
    If you’re wondering where the number of people who indicated they knew someone who died is, well, that number does not exist. His survey does not actually ask that question.
    It only asked about ‘significant health problems’ and derived deaths from the answers to an optional, open-ended question.
    If you examine the additional information files that contain the data Skidmore coded for vaccination-related death, they include death from cancer, heart attacks and strokes, numerous deaths from COVID-19 itself, ‘Their pre-existing condition was triggered by the vaccine’, and ‘His heart was hearting’, along with numerous semi-literate answers.
    Deplorable quality
    Skidmore misquotes Centers for Disease Control data about baseline mortality rates of various causes. He then uses only the baseline mortality for hypertensive diseases in order to compare it with post-vaccination mortality of all causes.
    His formula for reaching estimated deaths and adverse events, therefore, is based on at least three incorrect assumptions: one, that VAERS reports can be used to count actual vaccine-related events; two, that his survey produced useful results; and, three, that his data from other sources is correct.
    This is the deplorable quality of ‘science’ that anti-vaxxers use to support their claims. Similar critiques can be levelled against Rasmussen and Kirsch.
    We shouldn’t even have had to wait two and a half months for the inevitable retraction.
    That retraction notice is enlightening, though: ‘The editors have retracted this article as concerns were raised regarding the validity of the conclusions drawn after publication.
    Post-publication peer review concluded that the methodology was inappropriate as it does not prove causal inference of mortality, and the limitations of the study were not adequately described. Furthermore, there was no attempt to validate reported fatalities, and there are critical issues in the representativeness of the study population and the accuracy of data collection. Lastly, contrary to the statement in the article, the documentation provided by the author confirms that the study was exempt from ethics approval and therefore was not approved by the IRB of the Michigan State University Human Research Protection Program.’
    What’s with this ‘post-publication peer review’? You’re supposed to do peer review before you publish a truly bad paper because bad science clings to public discourse, like shit stains to briefs.
    ‘The author disagrees with this retraction.’
    This is true to form for anti-vaxxers who continue to spread disinformation despite their claims having been roundly debunked time and again.
    I wonder which is more humiliating: the retraction or the fact that Dr Skidmark stubbornly disagrees.

    source:COVID paper retraction reveals a system in collapse (biznews.com)

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