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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

In the midst of this pandemic, science is suffering from low standards for some research, a new study argues.

The big picture: Science — which is slow, methodical and redundant — isn't necessarily made for the immediacy and acute public interest brought on by a health crisis.

  • Scientists rely on peer review and back and forth exchange that leads to a more polished final study. But a health crisis like the current pandemic, or the Ebola outbreak, creates a sense of urgency that can be antithetical to the scientific process.

What's happening: A new study out today in the journal Science warns many of the clinical trials and studies first published about treatments and other issues involving the current pandemic were designed poorly or had other issues that affected their outcomes.

  • Studies that have yet to go through peer-review — like a recent, flawed study of the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat coronavirus — have found their way into news stories thanks to pre-print services, leading to problematic reporting and real-time peer review through Twitter.
  • More than 18 clinical trials testing hydroxychloroquine to treat the novel coronavirus have enrolled more than 75,000 patients in North America.
  • "This massive commitment concentrates resources on nearly identical clinical hypotheses, creates competition for recruitment, and neglects opportunities to test other clinical hypotheses," the study says.
  • Early, flawed work has potentially increased the risk that later results may have gotten false positives and more media attention than they deserved, the new study says.

Yes, but: While the pandemic is exacerbating these problems with misinformation and lax research standards, it isn't the cause of them.

  • "Some of the problems that we're seeing right now are actually not that exceptional compared to the problems that we have under normal conditions as well, just that maybe they're a little bit more amplified and have a little more visibility," Jonathan Kimmelman, director of the Biomedical Ethics Unit at McGill University and one of the authors of the new paper, told Axios.
  • These kinds of issues cropped up during previous health crises, and while the authors of the new study argue that some of those problems around information sharing and standards of research have improved, there's still a long way to go.

What's next: Many of these issues around varying standards of research and communication could be remedied through better communication among researchers and the agencies funding their work.

  • Instead of having a number of fragmented studies competing for resources and looking for effective treatments, the researchers say it would make more sense to bring them under one umbrella, allowing them to coordinate.
  • "You could reduce variation, and you might get answers more quickly," Alex John London, the director of the Center for Ethics and Policy at Carnegie Mellon and one of the authors of the new study, told Axios.
  • The authors are also calling on clinicians to resist performing their own small studies, instead opting to join up with larger trials.
  • They also say agencies need to help build those larger studies and avoid making statements to the public about unvalidated treatments that may or may not work, instead opting to elevate larger studies in their various stages to the public.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

Caitlin Owens, author of Vitals
Updated Jul 31, 2020 - Health

Coronavirus testing still can't keep up with demand

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

Testing is once again becoming a critical weakness in the America's response to the coronavirus pandemic, and experts say we may need to revive tighter standards about who can get a test.

Why it matters: Although testing has gotten a lot better over the course of the pandemic, the pandemic has gotten worse, and that means the U.S. needs to prioritize its resources — which might mean that frequent testing solely to help open businesses or schools just isn't feasible.

19 mins ago - World

Jerusalem crisis: Hamas fires rockets, Israel begins military campaign

Palestinian protesters and an Israeli police officer near the Damascus Gate. Photo: Amir Levy/Getty Images

Days of tensions in Jerusalem escalated into an exchange of fire on Monday, as Hamas fired dozens of rockets toward Israel and the Israeli military responded with strikes of its own and said it was preparing for a military operation that could last several days.

Why it matters: This is the first time Hamas has fired rockets at Jerusalem since 2014, and the most serious escalation between the Israelis and Palestinians in many months. It comes during the most sensitive days on the calendar — the last days of Ramadan and the Jerusalem Day commemoration on Monday — and amid political crises in both countries.

Colonial Pipeline aims to be "substantially" back online by end of week

Photo: Luke Sharrett/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The FBI confirmed in a statement Monday that a professional cybercriminal group called DarkSide was responsible for a ransomware attack on the Colonial Pipeline network, which provides roughly 45% of the fuel used on the East Coast.

The latest: Colonial said in a statement at 12:25pm ET on Monday that segments of the pipeline are being brought back online in a "stepwise fashion," with the goal of "substantially restoring operational service by the end of the week."