Research Integrity ‘Whistleblower’: Don’t Ignore Outsiders, Train Senior Investigators

Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA)
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Health Care Compliance Association (HCCA)

Report on Research Compliance 18, no. 7 (July 2021)

Elisabeth Bik will not be silenced.

While Bik, who has a doctorate in microbiology, has been active in calling out fraudulent research for several years, she gained more attention—and unpleasant backlash—when she raised questions about a March 2020 paper that proclaimed the benefits of hydroxychloroquine (in combination with azithromycin) for COVID-19.[1]

Written by a team of French scientists, the article beget others and began a stampede that led to hydroxychloroquine being embraced by then-President Trump and an emergency use authorization being granted by the Food and Drug Administration—only to be revoked three months later amid findings that not only did the drug not work, but it had serious cardiac and other side effects.[2] The authors’ response to Bik? As of a talk she gave in June, tweeting her address and reportedly asking a local prosecutor to investigate her for supposed harassment and extortion—allegations she strongly denies. Bik told RRC that she has not been contacted by French authorities related to these claims.

“It’s important to know that this is just trying to silence me,” Bik said. “If they attack me and my private life and dox my home address, it means that they don’t have answers to the scientific [questions] that I’m raising.”

Her life has been “ripped apart,” Bik said, adding that “without a lot of followers on Twitter”—she has 102,400—“and the support I’m receiving,[3] I would have given up a long time ago.” Not only did she not give up, but last month she took a deeper dive into work by this same group, posting what she called part one of a series of articles on “image concerns” and other problems in 22 of their other papers.[4]

But French researchers aren’t Bik’s only target, and she warned attendees at a recent conference that she will similarly hold U.S. investigators and institutions to account as well—and offered some thoughts on improving integrity.[5] One tip: Just because she’s an “outsider” doesn’t mean she is a whistleblower who can be ignored.

For more than a decade, Bik was an academic “insider,” though not necessarily a whistleblower. After earning a doctorate from Utrecht University in the Netherlands, Bik spent 15 years at the Stanford University School of Medicine where she researched microbiomes of humans and marine mammals.

[View source.]

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