Some COVID-19 research is substandard, expert warns

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Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, scientific and medical journals have received thousands of papers, but many are substandard and were rushed to publication, an ethicist warned recently in the Journal of Medical Ethics.

The expert, Katrina Bramstedt, an adjunct professor at Bond University in Australia and Luxembourg Agency for Research Integrity secretary general, said the rush to publish means papers might not have undergone quality checks or thorough reviews by research ethics committees.

ClinicalTrials.gov, an international clinical trial registry site, had 1,221 COVID-19 studies registered on its site on May 7.

Nearly three months later, 19 published articles and 14 preprints were retracted, withdrawn, or had serious doubts raised about data integrity. The reasons for this were participant privacy issues, authorship issues, methodological issues, concerns about data interpretation and conclusions, and data falsification.

“No research team is exempt from the pressures and speed at which COVID-19 research is occurring,” Bramstedt said. “And this can increase the risk of honest error as well as deliberate misconduct.”

Journals use peer reviewers who work voluntarily.

Bramstedt suggests researchers undergo research ethics and integrity training, infractions of policies have meaningful consequences, and the submission process becomes more strict.

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