Avoid making exceptions for research quality during COVID-19 pandemic

April 23, 2020

Global crises are no excuse for lowering scientific standards, argue Alex London and Jonathan Kimmelman in a Policy Forum. The authors suggest that the urgencies of crises situations like COVID-19 require researchers, medical professionals, health authorities and other stakeholders to triage low-quality research efforts, and they present five criteria stakeholders can use to do so. As the global COVID-19 pandemic evolves, scientists worldwide are conducting studies to address the crisis at unprecedented rates. However, according to London and Kimmelman, these efforts are threatened by the widespread perception that public health emergencies demand exceptions to the usually high standards of research, in order for science to become feasible during such challenging times. The result has been a veritable flood of low-quality studies - many published on preprint servers and lacking peer-review - some of which have caught the public's attention, as well as the resources of policymakers. But the problems that rigorous scientific methods are designed to identify do not simply go away in the face of urgency, the authors write. Ultimately, the proliferation of poorly designed studies amplifies the risk of diverting scarce resources towards false leads and ineffective practices, while increasing uncertainty about how best to treat patients or develop public health interventions. London and Kimmelman present five criteria of quality: importance, rigor, analytical integrity, transparency and feasibility. Research and public health stakeholders have a responsibility to evaluate and triage studies that fail to meet these conditions, they say, and to combine efforts, labor and resources to quickly and efficiently complete high-quality investigations that have the greatest potential to advance public health.
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American Association for the Advancement of Science
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