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The statistical design of a study is more important than the results themselves. Scientific experiments can be manipulated to achieve specific results, shape public policy, and push a political narrative, Karen Jang writes.

The coronavirus pandemic will be a significant factor in which candidate wins the November 2020 American election. As a result, both democrats —the supporters of Biden— and the faithful republicans of Trump have been undermining and attacking the other candidate’s handling of the pandemic. Science has become very politicized. The nation’s left-wing media is further compromising the objectiveness of science to support a political narrative of Trump’s incompetence to handle the pandemic. 

The media’s generalization that hydroxychloroquine kills COVID-19 patients without analyzing the experiment’s statistical design is harmful. This harmful generalization not only targets Trump but also discredits a drug that has the potential to treat COVID in the earlier stages and could save lives. We must stop the politicization of potential COVID-19 drugs during this shared crisis. 

Here is how you can manipulate data to get the result you want

In history, governments, businesses, and agencies have manipulated science for political gain. The design of an experiment can be manipulated to produce certain results.

Therefore, the design of a trial must be analyzed before generalizing the results and forming conclusions. As a fictional example, a state education agency studied the percentage of teenagers facing bullying in New York middle and high schools after more guidance counselors were placed at the schools. The school initially obtained data that 45% of teenagers between ages 13-19 were still bullied. But to receive more funding, they excluded data from children 16-19 years old so that the data shows that only 20% of teenagers are bullied. This data was manipulated to achieve a particular result. Without reading the whole report of the experiment, the media can easily promote that guidance counselors reduce the amount of bullying in teenagers at schools. 

Experiments could also be manipulated by selectively choosing the participants of a trial. In another fictional example, a research team is tasked with finding what percentage of teenagers felt unsafe with NYPD presence in the schools. An external force wants to prevent NYPD funding from being transferred to the Department of Education (DOE). So the research team is pressured to obtain results where most teenagers feel safe with NYPD presence. The study may collect participants of the ratio of 10 caucasian students for every black student, essentially eliminating the social determinant of race.

In real life, a couple of states and even the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have been found to combine diagnostic COVID tests with the antibody tests to report a more favorable result about the number of positive infections. 

While science is inherently objective and pure, these examples show how an experiment can be manipulated to achieve specific results. Therefore, it is imperative to analyze the experiment’s design by reading the report and not to make generalizations from the conclusion. The media can play a role in propagating results that shape a particular political narrative, without providing context for the data.

Science research often relies on funding through grants from government institutions, like the National Institute of Health (NIH). Higher authorities have asked scientists to exclude portions of the data or design a study to get specific favorable results through this economic leverage.

Hydroxychloroquine saves COVID-19 patients in earlier stages of the disease

In a new study published in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases, hydroxychloroquine was found to be effective against COVID-19 when administered in the earlier stages of the disease. This study was conducted by researchers at the Henry Ford Health System in Southeast Michigan.

Hospitalized COVID patients were given either hydroxychloroquine or both hydroxychloroquine and the antibiotic, azithromycin. The in-hospital mortality rate was 18.1% when both drugs were administered, but was reduced to 13.5 percent when only hydroxychloroquine was given. When only azithromycin was delivered, the in-hospital mortality rate increased to 22.4%. This result shows that hydroxychloroquine has a positive effect on fighting the Sars-CoV-2 virus. When neither drug was administered, the mortality rate was the highest at 26.4 percent. 

Dr. Marcus Zervos, the head of the hospital’s infectious diseases unit: What we think was important in ours is that patients were treated early. For hydroxychloroquine to have a benefit, it needs to begin before the patients begin to suffer some of the severe immune reactions that patients can have with COVID.

The million-dollar question: Then why were these results different from some other studies where COVID patients treated with hydroxychloroquine had a higher rate of death?

Dr. Marcus Zervos, the head of the hospital’s infectious diseases unit, said, “What we think was important in ours is that patients were treated early. For hydroxychloroquine to have a benefit, it needs to begin before the patients begin to suffer some of the severe immune reactions that patients can have with COVID.”

Studies that have shown that hydroxychloroquine does not work designed their experiment in a particular way: Doctors gave patients this anti-malaria drug in the later progressions of the disease, often when the patient was on a ventilator and had developed pneumonia. In this stage, the hydroxychloroquine was ineffective. However, the news media generalized the result of these studies to support the narrative that hydroxychloroquine did not work, and Trump is a fool. Instead, the design of the trial should’ve been analyzed when interpreting the results of the study. Otherwise, the results are out of complex and can be manipulated to push the same anti-Trump narrative.

Trump Campaign Responds To This Study

In response to this study, a statement from the Trump campaign said:

“Fortunately, the Trump Administration secured a massive supply of hydroxychloroquine for the national stockpile months ago. Yet this is the same drug that the media and the Biden campaign spent weeks trying to discredit and spread fear and doubt around because President Trump dared to mention it as a potential treatment for coronavirus.”

Trump campaign: As everyone knows, President Trump promoted hydroxychloroquine and faced extreme backlash.

It added: “The new study from the Henry Ford Health System should be a clear message to the media and the Democrats: stop the bizarre attempts to discredit hydroxychloroquine to satisfy your own anti-Trump agenda. It may be costing lives.”

As everyone knows, President Trump promoted hydroxychloroquine and faced extreme backlash.

A few months ago, when President Trump dared to promote hydroxychloroquine, one news outlet over the other called Trump a “quack”. Many Democrats portrayed him as a dangerous man who’s pushing a drug that causes a higher mortality rate in COVID patients. 

On March 23, it was reported that an Arizona man and his wife were hospitalized after ingesting chloroquine phosphate, a product used to clean fish tanks, by mixing it in water and drinking the solution.

Chloroquine phosphate is not the same as hydroxychloroquine, and cleaning products are not interchangeable with approved medications of similar names. It is common sense. Yet, many news media outlets covered this news extensively and further pushed the narrative that Trump is an unfit leader with no responsibility for his words. 

Journalists Have A Duty To Be Well-Informed When Reporting About COVID-19

The media has extraordinary influence on shaping public opinions, advising which medications may be effective, sharing COVID-safety measures, and sculpting a narrative of our nation’s leaders. This responsibility is especially crucial at the crossroads of a heated 2020 election cycle and a global pandemic. 

The common manipulation of experiments highlights why we need political leaders and journalists to be well-educated in the sciences. They must read the whole published scientific report on the design of the investigation before reporting conclusions and constructing policy.

It is easy to join the tidal wave of anti-Trump sentiments and push the same political narrative. But, politicizing hydroxychloroquine is hindering research and halting funding into this drug that can save COVID-19 patients in the early stages of the virus. Saving lives must be a bi-partisan effort.

Karen Jang is a Generation Z Voice at The Pavlovic Today. She is studying Chemistry at Barnard College of Columbia University and Classical Violin at the Manhattan School of Music. Karen is a graduate...

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