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Studies: top medical journals biased towards Zero Covid

Medical journals failed to uphold viewpoint diversity during Covid. Credit: Getty

June 20, 2024 - 4:00pm

Two studies published this week provide insight into a problem that continues to frustrate many scientists, especially those critical of government Covid-19 policies: the ideological biases of top medical journals.

The studies were coordinated by Prof. John Ioannidis of Stanford University, who has long studied publication biases in medical research, including the infamous 2005 paper “Why Most Published Research Findings are False”.

The first compared publications in the BMJ from scientists who advocated for Zero Covid, such as members of Independent Sage, to other scientific groups including members of the official Government Sage group and signatories of the Great Barrington Declaration (GBD). It found that UK Zero Covid advocates published 272 related papers, compared to just 21 for Sage members and only six for signatories of the GBD. This large divergence was mainly due to the overwhelming number of opinion and analysis papers, which are typically held to different standards of editorial oversight.

The second paper (which I co-authored) analysed the membership of over 350 scientists involved in a major “consensus” paper in Nature. The paper, published in 2022, was covered by more than 150 news outlets and continues to be widely downloaded and cited. Yet 35% of the core study team (14/40) and almost 20% of the total panel members (63/367) were major figures in the Zero Covid movement, including about one-third of the total members of Independent Sage and the World Health Network. The Nature paper “advances a global vision for informed decisionmaking” on how to end the pandemic through the use of a vaccine-plus approach: that is, vaccines and the full range of other policies and interventions we witnessed over the Covid years.

These two papers help support what many scientists experienced during the pandemic: the gatekeeping of top journals, favouring official government positions and rejecting papers that were critical of them. Take, as another example, the influence of Richard Horton, Editor-in-Chief of the world’s most celebrated medical journal The Lancet, who was a supporter of — or at least sympathetic to — Zero Covid. In October 2020, the journal published an opinion piece with “Scientific Consensus” in its title. The “John Snow Memorandum” criticised the GBD, promoted maximalist interventions, and in particular cited the examples of Vietnam and New Zealand, which both pursued Zero Covid.

Scientists who supported the GBD knew and still know: it is easier to get a camel through the eye of a needle than get a piece into The Lancet. But what do these implicit biases do to public policy and the nature of science? Among other things, during the pandemic they created a false reality and a false truth that we could eliminate the virus. This hubris was responsible for some of the worst public policy decisions of our lifetime, causing wide-ranging real-world harm.

Yet these top journals continue to promote a skewed understanding of the pandemic response. Just look at the three recent series in the BMJ that promoted “accountability” and “lessons” of the pandemic response in the UK, USA, and Canada. Of 25 articles, not one focuses on the harms of government interventions and the overwhelming perception is that politicians should have done more to protect people from the virus.

Herein lays the problem: our top medical journals, like our mainstream media, have become increasingly ideological on everything from Covid to gender medicine to climate change. Perhaps this is not surprising: medical journals tend to promote more government-directed public health. But they have also become increasingly influenced by the culture wars, also seen in their promotion of diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). What has come to suffer, however, is foundational to the free exchange of ideas: a diversity of viewpoint.


Kevin Bardosh is a research professor and Director of Research for Collateral Global, a UK-based charity dedicated to understanding the collateral impacts of Covid policies worldwide.

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Right-Wing Hippie
Right-Wing Hippie
1 month ago

Don’t worry: there won’t be any reckoning on this. Another “crisis” will emerge and in the burst of enthusiasm for government to “do something”, all will be forgotten if not forgiven.

JĂŒrg Gassmann
JĂŒrg Gassmann
1 month ago

Thank you for banging on about facts. We have to believe that facts will eventually win out.

Seb Dakin
Seb Dakin
1 month ago

One does, but these days that feels like a secular version of waiting for the Day of Judgment.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 month ago
Reply to  Seb Dakin

We need to keep the conversation. I like to slip in awkward facts every now and then when I chat with normie friends: “Interesting how Sweden, that didn’t lock down, had fewer deaths from covid than other countries?” or “It’s strange how no one is talking about the excess deaths in 2022 and ’23. I mean, during covid it was on the news every minute of the day, now no one cares what’s killing all these people.” or else “it seems covid did, after all, come from the Wuhan Lab, with US govt funding to develop it. Isn’t the lack of outrage curious?”

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Sweden? Cherrypicking. Back then it was ‘Interesting how Denmark, that did lock down, had many fewer deaths than Sweden’. That was not a definitive argument either.
Excess deaths? More cherrypicking. It is really hard to determine just why those people died. Again, it used to be that Sweden had excess deaths, at the start, and the various anti-lockdowners were all over the place explaining that it was just that the last few flu epidemics had been mild, so that Sweden had unusually many weak and unculled people around. This is difficult, not unknowable, so there will be some kind of consensus eventually, but you need to do a lot better than just picking a couple of cases that suit your preconceived ideas.
As for the lab origin of the virus we still do not know – but that has moved from being seen as totally impossible to about 50:50 with a natural origin. And that was because the people arguing for the lab origin had good and convincing arguments to win people over.

This is science, so ultimately the argument is won by evidence. You should try providing some, instead of just pushing your tribal notions as ‘facts’.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Interesting cherry picked fact. 165 million people were pushed into $2 a day poverty starting in 2020. People arguing in favour of lab leak were literally called xenophobes for the first two years of the pandemic. Scientific institutions have been hopelessly politicized. The truth always wins, but it can be we needed honest debate from day one and that didn’t happen.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

If the data are there and the arguments are there the truth will win out. Eventually you will win over even those who do not want to be convinced. That is science – you just have to provide those arguments (as indeed someone did, for the lab leak). Complaining that that you need a bigger share of the debating time to keep your enemies from winning is not science, but politics.

Martin M
Martin M
29 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

People keep talking about the “lab leak theory” as if it is one thing. However, “Natural bat virus being studied in a lab escapes by infecting lab worker” is quite a long way away from “Genetically engineered bat virus created in a lab during Gain of Function research escapes by infecting lab worker”.

Martin M
Martin M
29 days ago
Reply to  Graham Stull

Some of your “facts” are well beyond “awkward”, and into the realm of “conspiracy theory”.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago

KB is confusing political and scientific gatekeeping. Journals are supposed to filter contributions, and favour those seen as most likely to be correct. And at the start of the pandemic the scientific opinion was overwhelmingly in favour of zero-covid, or close. The Barringtoners were listened to less, not because they were politically inconvenient, but because most people in the business thought they were likely to be wrong and their proposals seemed unworkable. That may or may not have been a mistake – some initially denigrated ideas do move on to become the new orthodoxy (though most discredited ideas remain discredited forever). But KB and company really should make their peace with the fact that most people found good reason to disagree with them. If you want more people to agree you should find some more convincing arguments – and stop your aggrieved moaning about how your obviously correct ideas were brought low by political bias.

Arthur G
Arthur G
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The “Zero-COVID” people were wrong on every count. Lockdowns killed more people than they saved, plus devastating the economy, Gov’t finances, and learning for half a generation of children who will never recover. Face masks proved completely useless. The vaccines had woeful performance, and proved dangerous to young people..
Why should this surprise us though? None of these measures were called for in the pre-COVID pandemic planning. None of them were supported by actual science.
Sweden was the only country that followed the existing pandemic plans, and they had the best outcome. Surprise, surprise; they followed actual scientific processes, and got it right.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

“The Barringtoners were listened to less, not because they were politically inconvenient, but because most people in the business thought they were likely to be wrong and their proposals seemed unworkable.”

You forgot to mention the oppressive censorship of the GBD. It’s hard to create a conversation when big tech, govt, media and medical journals actively discredit and suppress the ideas.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

It’s perfectly human to make mistakes. What was unforgivable was there was no room for dissenting opinions or thought. What made it political was that those who voiced their concerns about masking and lockdown measures were threatened with fines and loss of livelihood by those in power. What you are doing is defending medical malpractice and attacking those who spoke up for not being convincing enough despite the fact that the whole media establishment was hellbent on discrediting them.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

There was a new disease coming, the dead were piling up in morgues, and there were serious worries that the health system would be overwhelmed. You make a policy to avoid the worst, and that policy depends on everybody cooperating to reduce disease transmission. Was it the wrong policy? Who knows? I would not say that the balance is particularly clear even yet. But damn right there was no room for dissenting voices sabotaging health policy by telling everybody to stop cooperating in fighting the disease. Or for spending the usual ten years of intense academic debate before you decide on a consensus opinion.

There is a useful discussion to be had about what we have learned and what should be done in the future. Maybe the decisions were all wrong and the Barringtoners will get to run the show next time. But all this aggrieved complaining from people who felt they should have been listened to more – and who, horror of horrors, were forced to wear a face cloth and stop going to the pub even though they did not want to! – is really getting us nowhere. If you want to get anything productive out of the discussion, please leave your wounded egos at the door and stop pushing for an admission that ‘of course you were right all along!‘.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

A little bit of historical revisionism here. Sure, there was a vacuum of information in the beginning. Everyone supported two weeks to stop the spread. But this disease was well understood by the summer of 2020. We were told of a potential 3.4% death rate for months and months, long after we knew this was fiction. By the time vaccine mandates were rolled out and second and third lockdowns were imposed, there were many strong arguments against it. I don’t see any value in witch hunts at this point, but no govt’s are seriously investigating their covid response. Nothing will change if there isn’t serious critiques and this isn’t happening at all.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

But this disease was well understood by the summer of 2020.

Hmm. Was it? That leaves the question why all the people whose job and calling it is to understand diseases and manage national responses all failed to get the point. One possibility is that they were all corrupt or idiots or both. Really? Another possibility is that it was not particularly clear even then, and that the only people who thought it was well understood were those who had taken a stand based on ideology and previous bias, and simply selected the facts that proved them right. And – if you will excuse me – the tone of the debate both then and now would suggest that there are a lot of those people about.

It may well be that there was enough information back then that the choice should have been clear – even without the benefit of hindsight. But in order to win that point you would have to make a compelling argument of what the right conclusion was and how one could have seen it back then. An argument that accepts that it was not a simple problem and does not start from the assumption that ‘of course it is obvious that I am right’.

I would be willing to listen to such an argument – from someone who is not clearly out to have his old hunches vindicated retroactively. As it happens, one of my mates claims to have worked out the correct death rate and age death profile from South African data back in 2020 – and made a lot of money from investments on the basis that this disease was nowhere near as bad as people thought. So, maybe. But I am not getting convinced by people whose best argument is that they did not get equal time with the medical establishment .

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Well, there were lots of govts that changed their course of action early on. Lots of American states, and I assume many other counties other than Sweden, just small countries that don’t generate a lot of attention.

There doesn’t have to be a conspiracy or other nonsense to explain their actions. Group think is the much more logical explanation. There was no consequence for political leaders following the consensus, even if it was wrong. To break from the consensus was an incredible political risk and took tremendous courage.

History is riddled with similar circumstances. We see it today as well. No serious person believes that a man can be a woman. No serious person believes that an electrical grid can be based on wind and solar. Yet we see policies crafted on these beliefs across the world.

Many, many experts will now argue that lockdowns caused more harm than good. You might disagree. I think we can both agree that the consensus case for lockdowns no longer exists. Yet none of the countries that pushed these policies are seriously investigating these issue. Why is that? Because there is no benefit politically. Of course, all this will be forgotten in a few more years and then we will see serious research in this regard.

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

, all this will be forgotten in a few more years and then we will see serious research in this regard

Let us hope so. And the sooner anti-lockdowners stop doing their ‘Of course-I-was-right, and I-want-vindication, and let-us-punish-the-idiots-and-put-Fauci-in-jail’ schtick, the sooner we will get there. The first condition for doing serious research is that you do not decide on the result before you look at the data.

Mark H
Mark H
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

‘The first condition for doing serious research is that you do not decide on the result before you look at the data.‘
There’s your problem Rasmus, there was a lot of research but the vast majority of it was exceptionally poor being mostly observational or modelling studies. The strict lockdown rules imposed on the scientific community prevented any randomised control trials. If you have no control group you can’t determine the effect size accurately within your study.
Ethics committees would not permit these types of trials on the precautionary principal that the outcome would be worse for the control group which takes us back to your statement on serious research. Serious research was blocked because of prejudged outcomes to start with rather than interrogating the evidence correctly.

Martin M
Martin M
29 days ago
Reply to  Mark H

Does anyone remember any of the COVID modelling being anywhere near (or even in the same galaxy as) correct?

Rasmus Fogh
Rasmus Fogh
28 days ago
Reply to  Mark H

Maybe that was actually the second condition for doing research. The first condition would be that you have time enough to do the research before you have to act on the answer. That deals with a lot of the complaints: that opposing voices were not given adequate space, that governments acted on shaky foundation, etc. You had to act on what knowledge you had, not wait till you knew more and everybody had been convinced – and the pandemic had already run its course.

Martin M
Martin M
29 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Ok, provided Exhibit 1 of the evidence is “Economy on shaky ground worldwide due to money squandered on COVID responses”.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
23 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

I personally do not need to seek revenge on the meh political leaders who followed the herd. I do think there needs to be some accountability with the CDC and the WHO. They set the tone and meh political leaders followed.

Martin M
Martin M
29 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

My very firm view is that almost all political decisions are supported by the twin pillars of incompetence and cowardice. COVID policy was no different.

Martin M
Martin M
29 days ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

The problem was that the response was being run solely by medical people. While that might seem sensible given that we are talking about managing a disease, the medical people paid no heed whatsoever to the effect that their response had on the economy. A robust cost-benefit analysis was needed.

Martin M
Martin M
29 days ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

The only point on which I differ from you is that I have always enjoyed a good witch hunt.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
1 month ago
Reply to  Rasmus Fogh

Nice Freudian slip there. Most people in ‘the business’……
That’s exactly what it was all about.

David L
David L
1 month ago

Every single institution is utterly corrupt, and needs clearing out.

Never going to happen though.

Jim Veenbaas
Jim Veenbaas
1 month ago

I’m shocked I tell ya. Shocked.

Ian Barton
Ian Barton
1 month ago
Reply to  Jim Veenbaas

Good to see quantified study undertaken on this topic – but as you say, bears and woods spring to mind.

Robbie K
Robbie K
1 month ago

It found that UK Zero Covid advocates published 272 related papers, compared to just 21 for Sage members and only six for signatories of the GBD.

That will be because Sage and GBD were swivel-eyed loons, so seems fairly reasonable.

Rocky Martiano
Rocky Martiano
1 month ago
Reply to  Robbie K

So Sweden, that followed GBD policies and had the least excess deaths, was run by swivel-eyed loons?

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 month ago
Reply to  Rocky Martiano

Sweden, South Dakota, Florida, all of Africa…basically anyone not a complete fool or beholden to Big Pharma could be described as ‘swivel-eyed loons’.

Mark H
Mark H
29 days ago
Reply to  Robbie K

To paraphrase Seneca, quality beats quantity. Without the covid publication panic very few of these papers would normally have reached the threshold for publication. Also, publication bias is a real thing: https://catalogofbias.org/biases/publicationbias/

Walter Marvell
Walter Marvell
1 month ago

Such a scandal. Bravo to the researcher. A tragedy that all such crimes of cowardly groupthink and mendacity in our coercive State, Health Service, State media and shoddy ‘Academia’ are set in days to buried and wiped away by the freak tsunami of progressive rule.

Mark H
Mark H
1 month ago

In 2020 I wrote an opinion piece published in the British Dental Journal titled ‘ The world is its own best model: modelling and future pandemic planning in dentistry’. As a clinician working in the community right through the pandemic it was easier to see the collapse of evidence based policy and practice. The models were just models and as we should know all models are to some degree oversimplified and sometimes just plain wrong once compared to the real world. If policy makers had taken the time to look at what was happening outside of their top secret zoom conferences and ‘socially distanced intellectual bubbles’ it was plane to see societal damage being inflicted for a false greater good.

Graham Stull
Graham Stull
1 month ago
Reply to  Mark H

Well then it’s a damn good thing this Net Zero agenda isn’t based on one big, fat model. Oh, wait…

Daniel Lee
Daniel Lee
1 month ago

The damage to the credibility of once-respected scientific publications and institutions is likely to be permanent, as they showed themselves massively to be much more motivated by ideology than actual science.
https://www.wsj.com/articles/covid-worsened-america-rage-virus-for-which-theres-no-vaccine-lockdown-vaccine-mandates-ron-desantis-stanford-masking-2670cd39?st=trzy1743sgyq8f9&reflink=desktopwebshare_permalink

Simon Templar
Simon Templar
1 month ago
Reply to  Daniel Lee

Never mind the damage to once-respected institutions! Far worse is the damage to democracy and justice when, as Isaiah put it, “truth fails and he who departs from evil makes himself a prey,” as happened to millions who lost their freedom and livelihoods and even lives because of political propaganda. Tyranny is established when truth is silenced.