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Medical treatment in California Workers’ Compensation is based upon treatment guidelines built upon high quality scientific research. At the core is the assumption that published medical studies in leading peer reviewed journals are high quality science. But that might not always be the case.

Nearly a decade ago, headlines highlighted a disturbing trend in science: The number of articles retracted by journals had increased 10-fold during the previous 10 years. Fraud accounted for some 60% of those retractions.

Since then, two longtime health journalists founded the blog Retraction Watch, to get more insight into just how many scientific papers were being withdrawn, and why. They began to assemble a list of retractions.

That list, formally released to the public in 2018 as a searchable database, is now the largest and most comprehensive of its kind. In its tenth year, 2019, nearly 1500 retractions were added to its database in just one year.

The COVID-19 pandemic aftermath added the alarming retraction of what appeared to be a derogatory study of the effectiveness of Hydroxychloroquine as a treatment modality by two leading medical journals, the Lancet, and the New England Journal of Medicine.

The paper, “Hydroxychloroquine or chloroquine with or without a macrolide for treatment of COVID-19: a multinational registry analysis,” which relied on data from a private company called Surgisphere and had concluded that hydroxychloroquine was linked to a higher risk of death among some COVID-19 patients, has been dogged by questions since its publication in late May.

The publication of the study had prompted the World Health Organization (WHO) to halt a study of hydroxychloroquine, but the WHO resumed that trial once the expression of concern appeared.

Details in the Surgisphere data revealed many obvious inconsistencies to scientific observers – which should have been obvious to the “peers” who supposedly reviewed the article before publication by the Lancet and NEJM.

For example, Matthew Spinelli, MD, of University of California San Francisco, told MedPage Today the “claim to have captured data from over 60,000 hospitalizations at over 550 hospitals in North America by April 13th concerns me, given that there were approximately 60,000 COVID-19 hospitalizations total from approximately 6,000 hospitals across all of the United States through April 13th.”

Walid Gellad, MD, of the University of Pittsburgh, noted on Twitter that 73 deaths were recorded in Australia according to the Lancet authors, which is “more than the number of deaths in Australia on April 20.”

A blog hosted by statisticians at Columbia University in New York City raised several other issues, including the results being confounded by disease severity, lack of hierarchical modeling, and how the data appeared to be aggregated across continents.

Two days after issuing expressions of concern about controversial papers on Covid-19, The Lancet and the New England Journal of Medicine have retracted the articles because a number of the authors were not granted access to the underlying data.