While questions have been raised regarding the response to Covid19 in many parts of the world, it has still been rare for a medical journal of international repute to take a strong stand on this issue. It is in this context that the publication of a recent editorial in the famous medical journal BMJ has attracted a lot of attention. This editorial (R1) published on November 13 titled ‘Covid-19—politicisation, ‘corruption’, and suppression’ is, as its title suggests, a strong indictment of the response to Covid in Britain and is also suggestive of what may be going seriously wrong in several other parts of the world.
What makes this editorial, written by the executive editor of BMJ Kamran Abbasi, even more compelling is the strong and supportive response it has evoked from many well-informed readers, several of them eminent and experienced medical experts, suggesting that these strong feelings are shared by many concerned members of the medical community.
This editorial declares loud and clear—When good science is suppressed by the medical-political complex, people die. It goes on to say—Politicians and governments are suppressing science. Science is being suppressed for political and financial gains. 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 . So too are scientists and health experts. The pandemic has revealed how the medical-political complex can be manipulated in an emergency—at a time when it is even more important to safeguard science. ( R1)
While lamenting the many problems in the selection of officially appointed experts for guiding policy in Britain, this editorial specifically refers to research published in the previous week in the same journal which found that the government procured an antibody test that in real world tests fell far short of performance claims made by manufacturers. Researchers from Public Health England and collaborating institutions, the editorial points out, sensibly pushed to publish their study findings before the government committed to buying a million of these tests but were blocked by the health department and the Prime Minister’s Office. (R1)
The UK’s pandemic response , this editorial regrets, 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 favor their own products and those of friends and associates.(R1)
The editorial asserts—Suppressing science, whether by delaying publication, cherry picking favorable research, or gagging scientists is a danger to public health, causing death by exposing people to unsafe or ineffective interventions and preventing them from benefiting from better ones. When entangled with commercial decisions it is also maladministration of taxpayers’ money. (R1)
At a wider level the editorial regrets deeply—Politicisation was deployed by some of the history’s worst autocrats and dictators, and it is now regrettably commonplace in democracies. The medical political complex tends towards suppression of science to aggrandize and enrich those in power.(R1)
Finally, the widely discussed editorial asserts—When good science is suppressed, people die. (R1)
This editorial was soon followed by responses from eminent medical experts who appreciated the courage and merits of the editorial and congratulated the editors for saying what needed to be said but had not been said for a long time in clear terms. Dr.Eshani M. King of Evidence Based Research in Immunology and Health pointed out in a detailed response titled ‘ Covid-19—Science, Conflict and the Elephant in the Room’ ( published on November 17 ) (R2)Public fear of Covid has been elevated to levels that are completely out of proportion to the real danger.
Dr. Eshani King writes—Although deaths are currently at normal levels, fear is being driven by inflation of Covid cases caused by inappropriate use of Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) test. This test is hypersensitive and highly susceptible to contamination, particularly when not processed with utmost rigour by properly trained staff. According to Prof. Brookes, a health data scientist from the University of Leicester, the UK’s official data shows no excess deaths due to respiratory infections this season. (R2)
Dr. Eshani King says—Instead excess total deaths have been driven by lack of treatment due to hospital closure/lockdowns and have occurred mostly at home. Hijacking of science by vested interests has resulted in immeasurable harm to society. Lockdowns meant to save lives but pushed by narratives that have little basis in science, have themselves caused loss of life, livelihood, dignity and humanity.(R2)
In another response dated November 15 ( R3) Dr. Theodore F. Schrecker, Prof. of Global Health Policy , Newcastle University, has written about this editorial—Congratulations for this admirable ( and admirably well-documented ) critique of the rot at the core of the UK government response to the corona virus pandemic. The result of the lack of accountability mrchanism is that people die not only from Covid-19 but also from other conditions as diagnosis and treatment have been disrupted by shambolic responses to the pandemic.
The final words of this Professor are—Mourn and resist. (R3)
In another response a retired senior doctor Andrew N. Bamji has lamented—Any counter-narrative from an informed individual or an academic department , has been seriously ignored. Dissenters have been quite efficiently no-platformed.
If this is the state of affairs in Britain, one can well imagine how serious the situation can be in more authoritarian countries with lesser number of experts and critics to question the official response.
- BMJ November 13 2020—Editorial titled ‘Politicisation, ‘çorruption’, and suppression of science.
- BMJ November 17 2020, Rapid Response—‘Covid-19—Science, conflict and elephant in the room—Dr. Eshani M. King.
- BMJ November 15 2020—Rapid Response by Theodore F. Schrecker.
Bharat Dogra is a freelance journalist who has been involved with several social movements,. His latest books include Planet in Peril and Protecting Earth for Children