Workers' Weekly On-Line
Volume 50 Number 42, November 21, 2020 ARCHIVE HOME JBCENTRE SUBSCRIBE

Coronavirus Pandemic

The British Medical Journal Speaks Out on Corruption and Suppression of Science

On November 13, the British Medical Journal (BMJ) published an editorial entitled [1] "Covid-19: politicisation, 'corruption,' and suppression of science". The BMJ points out that when politicians and governments suppress science people die. The editorial also summarised their analysis saying, "Science is being suppressed for political and financial gain. Covid-19 has unleashed state corruption on a grand scale, and it is harmful to public health. Politicians and industry are responsible for this opportunistic embezzlement." The editorial also states that so too are "scientists and health experts", that can be "manipulated in an emergency - a time when it is even more important to safeguard science".

The editorial recalls that the membership, research, and deliberations of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (SAGE) were secret until a press leak revealed "inappropriate involvement of government advisers in SAGE, while exposing under-representation from public health, clinical care, women, and ethnic minorities". It also recalls that publication of a Public Health England report on Covid-19 and inequalities "was delayed by England's Department of Health; a section on ethnic minorities was initially withheld and then, following a public outcry, was published as part of a follow-up report. Authors from Public Health England were instructed not to talk to the media."

It also highlights the blocking of vital research papers. On October 15, the editor of the Lancet complained that an author of a research paper, a British government scientist, was blocked by the government from speaking to media because of a "difficult political landscape".

Speaking of the current situation, the editorial censures the suppression of science in the leaked documents on the Prime Minister's secret "Operation Moonshot" [2], which is the government's newly proposed Covid-19 mass testing scheme. The plan involves an expansion of testing from the current hundreds of thousands of tests each day to 10 million a day by early 2021. This depends on the what the BMJ article argues as the "questionable logic of mass screening". In other words, there is no serious discussion on mass screening itself, which would signal a major change in strategy from the current focus on test and trace [3]; it appears that it would just be imposed and contracts handed out. Mass screening, it says, is "currently being trialled in Liverpool with a suboptimal PCR [4] (Present Covid-19) test". The situation is that for the last two weeks, mass screening in Liverpool has been using a pilot "lateral flow test" [5], contracted to Innova, which has given vastly different results. A more recent article [6] in the BMJ points out: "Independent evaluations for the World Health Organisation have shown that other lateral flow antigen tests are likely to outperform Innova, but even those do not have high enough sensitivity to rule out Covid-19. The Innova test is certainly not fit for use for this purpose."

The editorial expressed condemnation to this rapid awarding of contracts by the government with no transparency. The BMJ published new research [7] last week which also "finds that the government procured an antibody test that in real world tests falls well short of the performance claims made by its manufacturers. Researchers from Public Health England and collaborating institutions sensibly pushed to publish their study findings before the government committed to buying a million of these tests, but they were blocked by the Department of Health and the Prime Minister's Office. Why was it important to procure this product without due scrutiny? Prior publication of research on a preprint server or a government website is compatible with the BMJ's publication policy. As if to prove a point, Public Health England then unsuccessfully attempted to block the BMJ's press release about the research paper."

The BMJ editorial draws the conclusion: "The UK's pandemic response relies too heavily on scientists and other government appointees with worrying competing interests, including shareholdings in companies that manufacture Covid-19 diagnostic tests, treatments, and vaccines. Government appointees are able to ignore or cherry pick science - another form of misuse - and indulge in anti-competitive practices that favour their own products and those of friends and associates." All with the aim of justifying the decisions of ministers and policies of the government's inner circle, where vested interests are defended rather than a scientific summation being sought of the facts and trends, what they are revealing and what needs to be done. The editorial concludes: "Politicisation of science was enthusiastically deployed by some of history's worst autocrats and dictators, and it is now regrettably commonplace in democracies... And, as the powerful become more successful, richer, and further intoxicated with power, the inconvenient truths of science are suppressed. When good science is suppressed, people die."

The BMJ editorial on the politicisation, corruption and suppression of science reflects that more and more professionals and people as a whole are speaking out against the crisis in science and the attempts at its corruption and suppression in the service of the vested interests of the rich to justify measures that those interests dictate. This whole direction for society in response to the coronavirus pandemic is becoming even more dangerous to the lives and wellbeing of all. This opposition reflects the striving of the people for a human-centred system that adopts an enlightened stance towards natural and social science.


Notes

1. Covid-19: politicisation, "corruption," and suppression of science - The BMJ November 13 2020
https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4425?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_term=hootsuite&utm_content=sme&utm_campaign=usage&fbclid=IwAR1umlxVNIjCrnieeXRd_S1Qt3GyR5jOw6NtEMXQ-7YNBXAszCJ1Ih_DLMQ

2. Operation Moonshot: What do the leaked documents say? - The BMJ September 11 2020
https://www.bmj.com/content/370/bmj.m3558

3. Briefing on Operation Moonshot screening for SARS-CoV-2. Allyson Pollock 15 November 2020
https://allysonpollock.com/?page_id=3394
4. PCR - The Polymerase Chain Reaction standard Covid-19 test which is being used everywhere is described by The BMJ as suboptimal because it has uses elsewhere but never before in mass testing. Considerable false positive results make it unsuitable for mass testing. The privatised testing has made this worse, due to untrained staff, poor handling of samples, etc., and more than £12 billion has been handed over this year to private companies in test and trace contracts.
Dispatches Channel 4 November 16
https://www.channel4.com/press/news/dispatches-uncovers-serious-failings-one-uks-largest-covid-testing-labs

5. Lateral Flow Tests are rapid turnaround tests that can process Covid-19 samples on site without the need for laboratory equipment, with most generating results in under half an hour. These new tests contracted to Innova are being piloted across England, including a two-week whole-city pilot in Liverpool, which was launched two weeks ago.

6. Covid-19: Innova lateral flow test is not fit for "test and release" strategy, say experts - The BMJ November 17 2020
https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4469

7. Mulchandani R, Jones HE, Taylor-Phillips S, et al., EDSAB-HOME and COMPARE Investigators. Accuracy of UK Rapid Test Consortium (UK-RTC) "AbC-19 Rapid Test" for detection of previous SARS-CoV-2 infection in key workers: test accuracy study.- The BMJ November 11 2020
Conclusions: In summary, we found evidence that the sensitivity of the AbC-19 test is lower among populations with unknown previous infection status than among PCR confirmed cases of SARS-CoV-2. This highlights the scope for overestimation of SARS-CoV-2 antibody test sensitivity in other studies, in which sensitivity has been estimated from only PCR confirmed cases. Assuming a prevalence of 10% for previous SARS-CoV-2 infection, and that the performance observed in this laboratory study can be reproduced in field use, our findings suggest that around one in five key workers testing positive with the AbC-19 assay would be false positives.
https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4262?ijkey=25f8adfdf1a72273b72fef94e3c8b8147c99bb66&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha
Gill D, Ponsford MJ. Testing for antibodies to SARS-CoV-2. BMJ2020;371:m4288. doi:10.1136/bmj.m4288 - The BMJ November 11 2020
Conclusions: The study by Mulchandani and colleagues identifies notable limitations of the UK government's antibody test of choice and provides good evidence that its specificity in a "real life" setting is highly unlikely to be 100%. Apart from limited surveillance to estimate the proportion of a population that has been infected, widespread use of this assay in any other role could risk considerable harm.
https://www.bmj.com/content/371/bmj.m4288?ijkey=70bfa08110beaf49975f9cfd0ccc2ee56124e0ed&keytype2=tf_ipsecsha


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