JUNK RESEARCH

Mickey Skidmore, AMHSW, ACSW, MACSW

Recently I attended a professional two-day training event. It was apparent early on that the target population for this event was nebulous and unclear. In one of the break-out sessions I was paired with a woman who very quickly was side-tracked onto a tangent about ivermectin. She lamented her frustration and distress that obscure research (which of course she read about on Facebook) was not being taken seriously. She continued with further vague references to additional research supporting the use of hydroxychloroquine, before becoming tearful because the medical establishment does not recognise or support these views. For the most part, perhaps with a few exceptions, the majority of such claims have not held up to empirical scrutiny and thus, has been widely discredited, disavowed, and debunked.

Ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine fanaticism seems linked to anti-vax sentiment, in the sense that both are wacky pseudoscience beliefs to which certain people are attracted. Many of the same people who were drawn to these views are wary of the COVID-19 vaccines because they are skeptical of the public health consensus in general. It is ironic that Trump does not take credit for the contribution he oversaw in the successful and speedy development of current COVID vaccines that are widely accepted in the global medical medical community as perhaps the best resource against this pandemic. Regrettably, the politicalisation and relentless and pervasive spread of misinformation remain effective narratives that further perpetuates divisiveness.

A common feature of propagating partial truths masquerading as research is to attribute a statement to an individual with seemingly relevant professional credentials. Trump increasingly touted an obscure physician with a background in radiology to advance a “credible” claim for the use of hydroxychloroquine, as well as other recommendations to his COVID task force while in office — despite having no expertise at all regarding public health or vaccine development. While he may have earned an MD, this alone does not qualify him as a credible expert on public health matters. Likewise, plucking selected ideas, theories or statements or citing studies that offer limited findings that do not adhere to the scientific empirical process only serve to muddy the waters further.

In the interest of being fair and balanced, a general overview of ivermectin research has suggested in some areas of the world where parasites target and compromise the immune system, at least in theory it may offer some (minimal) relief. The most generous interpretation of this research might be that ivermectin is not the COVID-19 cure that some made it out to be, but it’s also not useless in the fight against COVID-19 either. It does have some benefits — they’re just minimal and far less effective than other therapeutics, such as monoclonal antibody treatments. However, full context is not complete by ignoring that ivermectin is not authorised or approved by the FDA, CDC or any any credible research organisation for the prevention or treatment of COVID-19 in humans.

It was clear to me that the majority of those who attended the two-day training with me may not fully appreciate how to discern the findings of a credible research paper. By no means would I consider myself an expert in research either. However, I believe I have adequate educational background that enables me to generally understand what an evidence-based, scientific research journal is attempting to communicate and explain. However, there is far too many references from dubious sources that is tantamount to noise and unhelpful distraction.