We live in a world where science is quickly weaponized or demonized (depending on what you believe). Studies saying one thing are pitted against studies that say the opposite. Yet rarely does the underlying science get called into question and even if it does, it gets buried in rhetoric.
The CBC recently published a story about how a Canadian COVID-19 study that turned out to be wrong, went viral. That study (and the error) was the topic of a heated discussion between myself and another parent at our local grocery store. This incident brought the question of good science vs fast science to the forefront for me.
Preliminary Study Published With a Horrible Error
The Ottawa Heart Institute, released a preprint study last week. The study was focused on the rate of myocarditis and pericarditis, two forms of heart inflammation, after COVID-19 vaccinations in Ottawa between June 1, 2021 and July 31, 2021. The study concluded that the rate of incidence was 10 cases for every 10,000 inoculations.
To put it simply, this finding would mean there is a 1 in 1,000 chance of heart inflammation when a person gets vaccinated. This is an alarmingly high rate of incidence!
Needless to say, this study went viral. Anyone who was nervous about vaccines and anyone who was anti-vax used the study to bolster their decision not to get vaccinated.
However, the researchers quickly realized that they had made an error. The study said that 32,379 vaccinations were administered in June and July in Ottawa when in fact there were over 800,000 vaccinations given in that time period.
That meant that the rate was more like 1 in 25,000 vs 1 in 1,000.
Talk about an egregious error!
I read the CBC article that explained the error on Saturday morning (September 25th). It was a great piece and it even went on to explain that the cases of myocarditis and pericarditis that did occur were mild and easily treated.
On Sunday I happened to be in line at the grocery store and I overheard the lady in front of me talking to her friend about how she would not be getting her children vaccinated when the lower-dose Pfizer was approved, because she was worried about the heart inflammation that the vaccine causes. She mentioned the Ottawa Heart Institute study which was only released a short time ago.
After a few minutes of listening to them, I felt compelled to let them know about the error. So I spoke up and told them about the CBC article and the retraction of the preprinted study by the researchers. The lady looked me straight in the eye and said “I don’t believe you.”
Undeterred, I took out my phone and showed her the article from the CBC. She didn’t even read it and said, “That’s just Pfizer propaganda. Of course they would say that the study was wrong.” At that point I tried to explain that Pfizer had nothing to do with the study or the retraction – that it was the Ottawa Heart Institute not the drug company that was doing the study.
She grumbled something and turned away. That was the end of the conversation.
I feel badly for this lady’s children. I hope she will eventually see that the vaccines are safe and get them vaccinated…but I doubt it. She seemed very certain that vaccines were too risky for her kids. I don’t blame her for that belief. A study from a reputable source had come out with the 1 in 1,000 finding.
After going through this encounter in my head, I couldn’t help but wonder if the rush to publish study findings is wise. According to the CBC, this study was quickly “weaponized by anti-vaxxers”. Even though the study was later retracted, you can still find the original posting through a quick Google search.
I completely understand that researchers make mistakes. It happens. But with a growing anti-science movement, should we be more cautious in releasing results without more fact checking and verification?
I’m not sure what the right answer is. On one hand, publishing study results quickly could warn people of potential dangers (ie: that Ivermectin doesn’t actually treat COVID-19). But the downside is that studies with errors could fuel misinformation.
What’s the right balance?
Join us on the next #hcldr tweetchat on Tuesday September 28th at 8:30pm ET (for your local time click here) when we will discuss the following topics:
- T1 Have we tipped too far towards “fast science” vs “good science”? Are we rushing to publish results? Are we rewarding researchers too much for publishing?
- T2 Should we alter our approach to publishing research because of the growing anti-science movement that looks at conflicting results as proof science is untrustworthy?
- T3 “Weaponizing Science” is a term used by both sides of an argument to back up their beliefs and claims. Do you feel this is a new thing? Have you ever been accused of this?
- T4 What ideas do you have for combatting the anti-science movement?
Miller, Adam. “A Canadian COVID-19 study that turned out to be wrong has spread like wildfire among anti-vaxxers”, CBC, 25 September 2021, https://www.cbc.ca/news/health/covid-19-vaccine-study-error-anti-vaxxers-1.6188806, accessed 27 September 2021
Kafil, Tahir et al. “mRNA COVID-19 Vaccination and Development of CMR-confirmed Myopericarditis”, medRxiv, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.09.13.21262182v1.full, accessed 27 September 2021
Kafil, Tahir et al. “mRNA COVID-19 Vaccination and Development of CMR-confirmed Myopericarditis – retraction”, medRxiv, https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2021.09.13.21262182v2, accessed 27 September 2021
Kirkey, Sharon. “Study claiming 1 in 1,000 risk of heart inflammation after COVID vaccine got calculation wrong”, National Post, 23 September 2021, https://nationalpost.com/news/canada/university-of-ottawa-heart-institute-myocarditis-study, accessed 27 September 2021
Leite, Luciana and Diele-Viegas, Luisa Maria. “Juggling slow and fast science”, Nature, 11 March 2021, https://www.nature.com/articles/s41562-021-01080-1, accessed 27 September 2021
Sarewitz, Daniel. “Slow Science, Fast Science”, Issues, Spring 2020, https://issues.org/slow-science-fast-science/, accessed 27 September 2021
Manrola, John. Foy, Andrew. Prasad, Vinay. “Setting the record straight: There is no ‘Covid heart’”, Stat News, 14 May 2021, https://www.statnews.com/2021/05/14/setting-the-record-straight-there-is-no-covid-heart/, accessed 27 September 2021