The Lancet, one of the world’s most renowned medical journals, is making changes to its editorial process in the wake of a high-profile dust-up over the use of hydroxychloroquine to treat covid-19.
In May, the journal published a study claiming that patients treated with the antimalarial drug had a higher risk of heart problems and death, but critics soon found flaws with the data, which had been provided by a commercial entity. Three of the paper’s co-authors issued a retraction the following month, saying they could “no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources,” which they admitted to not having seen. Some scientists worried that the blunder could be an indication that researchers and journal publishers alike were abandoning their high standards as they raced to publish the latest findings on covid-19.
In an article published online last week, the Lancet did not explain how the article was able to get through peer review. But it said that in the future, “editors will ensure that at least one peer reviewer is knowledgeable about the details of the data set being reported and can understand and comment on its strengths and limitations in relation to the research question being addressed.”
The journal’s new policies also require all authors to confirm that they have been able to see the data referenced in their article. When the research is the result of a partnership between academic and commercial entities, an author from the academic team must have verified the data.
Other precautions include having a data science expert brought in as a peer reviewer for any studies that use large data sets, and asking reviewers if they have any concerns about the ethics or integrity of the study.
The use of hydroxychloroquine, which has been heavily promoted by President Trump, continues to be controversial. The retracted study aside, scientists have repeatedly concluded that it is not an effective treatment for the coronavirus.