It Was a Major COVID Study. Now, Something Fishy?

The 'Guardian' calls into question the data supplied by Surgisphere
By Newser Editors,  Newser Staff
Posted Jun 3, 2020 11:28 AM CDT
It Was a Major COVID Study. Was the Data a Sham?
This Monday, April 6, 2020 file photo shows an arrangement of hydroxychloroquine pills in Las Vegas.   (AP Photo/John Locher,File)

The US-based company Surgisphere touts that it aggregates and analyzes health records from hospitals around the world—including, apparently, significant amounts of coronavirus-related data. This though it apparently has "a science fiction writer and an adult-content model" on its small roster of employees. So reports the Guardian, which dug into the company after learning its "flawed" data has influenced the World Health Organization, featured in a hydroxychloroquine-related study published in the Lancet, and impacted COVID-19 treatments in Latin America. The newspaper's investigation revealed points that led the Lancet to issue an "expression of concern" about the study and say an independent data audit was being conducted. Among what the Guardian uncovered: those aforementioned employees are listed as the science editor and a marketing exec, respectively.

And through Monday, Surgisphere's homepage featured a "get in touch" link that took visitors to a WordPress template for a cryptocurrency website, "raising questions about how hospitals could easily contact the company to join its database." And yet a major May 22 peer-reviewed Lancet study made use of Surgisphere data that supposedly involved 15,000 global COVID-19 patients who'd been treated with hydroxychloroquine; the study found they had a higher mortality rate and more heart issues, which prompted the WHO to stop its hydroxychloroquine trials. But the Guardian Australia uncovered "glaring errors" in the data tied to patients in that country, and a data scientist described the data as "almost certainly a scam." He said he doubts hospitals are even able to transmit properly non-identifiable data, and that agreements to do so take months of discussion—though "there's no evidence online of [Surgisphere] having any analytical software earlier than a year ago," he said. (Read the full story.)

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