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Open letter is successful: The Lancet withdraws controversial Covid-19 publication

The leading medical journal The Lancet has withdrawn a controversial publication on the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine. The reason for this is the open letter to The Lancet that over a hundred scientists signed, including Richard Gill, Leiden Professor emeritus of Mathematical statistics.

Research refutes Trump   

The publication in The Lancet investigated the activity of hydroxychloroquine against Covid-19. Hydroxychloroquine is a drug against malaria, promoted by the American president Trump because of its supposed effect against the coronavirus. The authors of the controversial Lancet article claimed that hydroxychloroquine does not work and can even lead to the death of patients.  

Richard Gill

Inaccuracies in the data  

The controversial outcome of the research led to great fuss on social media among scientists from all over the world, which eventually resulted in an open letter to The Lancet. Leiden statistician Richard Gill also became involved, he tells. ‘A fellow statistician and friend of mine, Ronald Geskus, asked me to co-sign the letter. The well-known and renowned statistician Andrew Gelman was also involved.’ 

After reviewing the public data, Gill concluded that the initiators had substantive statistical grounds to distrust the Lancet research. ‘In addition, the authors of the original article came up with all sorts of excuses as to why they could not show their data. And they weren't even talking about confidentiality or anonymity. That's just completely wrong.’   

Eventually, the main author of the study, Professor Mandeep Mehra from Boston, asked The Lancet to withdraw the publication because of the uncertainties in the data, according to The Guardian

Clinical trials resumed  

The Lancet study was the reason for the World Health Organization (WHO) to stop their tests for the drug in the fight against the coronavirus. According to The Guardian, the WHO's clinical trials have now resumed. It is not yet clear whether hydroxychloroquine is effective in the treatment of Covid-19. 

Statistical assistance  

And what about Richard Gill? He’s also continuing his research on hydroxychloroquine, he says. ‘It's not that I think it's a miracle cure, but the first publications of some French researchers had some good indications that they were on a medically interesting track. Only it was also clear that they didn’t have a good statistician on their team.’ French scientists examined more than a thousand corona patients in Marseille who were given a drug cocktail including hydroxychloroquine for at least three days. Gill hopes to statistically support these studies. ‘This corona crisis, however cruel, is a golden time for statisticians and probabilists.’

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