Thursday 11 February 2016

Not testing for the virus you are trying to associate with a disease is really dumb...

I quickly skimmed over two new papers last Friday (AEST) and was appalled.[1,2] 

In their current format, these papers really just should not have been published at all. 

Any respectable peer review would have sent them back for additional results, to be completely re-written as a letter or more simply - and what I would have recommended to the Editor - that they be rejected outright. 

I was asked if this was just a lost-in-translation error, but complete absence of laboratory data is not that. And that's what these lack - any testing for the virus they name - Zika virus. 

How can you publish something even hinting that a disease is caused by a virus infection, when you present no data to show that person was ever infected by that virus? How can you seriously have that conversation at all?

And using "presumable"and "clinically diagnosed" doesn't get you out of jail either. 

You need some evidence that the virus is or was in the tissue(s) in question (viral genetic material or infectious virus isolated in culture), or was present at some point in the past (antibodies or cells tat respond to the virus when challenged by it in the laboratory) in the person. Neither of the papers here do that. Which astounds me.

Sadly today, there seems to be a journal willing to take any manuscript so that even had the authors been rejected, they most likely would have had their paper appeared elsewhere. 

Or perhaps they had been rejected - and this is that "elsewhere".

I think this sort of publishing sets a hugely dangerous precedent. If the "scientific and medical" literature cannot be relied upon to present its results accurately and with necessary context, how do we expect the community to be able to accurately judge risk and respond reasonably, or our public health experts to find the extra time to sort the signal from the background noise, or the media to get the story straight? 

The Zika virus epidemic of 2015/16 has made much more background noise than signal to date. I hope that changes soon because its hugely disappointing to see so many responding to noise as if it were fact, and fact as if it was hiding conspiracy.

  1. Ophthalmological findings in infants with microcephaly and presumable intra-uterus Zika virus infection.
    Arquivos Brasileiros de Oftalmologia
  2. Zika virus-related hypertensive iridocyclitis
    Arquivos Brasileiros de Oftalmologia

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