Compromising research ethics

It has been almost six months now since the outbreak of Covid 19 disease. The number of corona infected cases and fatalities are soaring. Scientists and researchers have focused their interest on investigating the corona virus and its spread. The test trials to check the effectiveness of drugs has already begun. Adhering to professional ethics is one of the quality standards of any scientific enquiry. Compromising with the basic principles and protocols of scientific research, challenging the credibility of science is a serious concern.

World Health Organization (WHO), the frontline global institution has taken lead in disseminating vital information regarding nature and pathogenic transmission of the virus to aware and alert people. Backed by inputs and findings from globally acclaimed research institutes, the organization has been constantly communicating the vital updates for the wellbeing of general public. Treatment options remain confined to administering certain already available anti-viral and anti-malarial vaccines on trial basis. Governments across the world are keeping track of research developments related to corona virus to update people accordingly.

The race for vaccine against corona has already begun. The unprecedented and unchecked spread of corona pandemic across the planet has introduced and instilled a global competition for its treatment. Preliminary and half-baked test trials instantly touched the shores of mass media. Some of these semi-scientific statements reached to public domain in a jiffy.  World leaders, like Donald Trump found it irresistible in pronouncing Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) the panacea for this pandemic though the test trials were yet in the infancy stage. The political motive to endorse and encourage public to use HCQ by a president is a commonplace matter. Hurry and haste on part of scientists and researchers to concoct conclusions seems to be an inconvenient truth to be trusted.

Research publication in reputed scientific journals undergoes a rigorous process and is peer reviewed by experts of the concerned field. From the methods of data collection, data analysis, data interpretation, results and reporting in line with standard tools and techniques – the entire cycle of scientific enquiry consumes lot of time and energy. Such research findings become a universal truth that people adhere to with unflinching faith.

Corona pandemic has set a grand stage for scientific community to come to the rescue of humans, and safeguard human survival. Scientists, biologists, virologists, immunologist, global pharmaceutical giants all have set out for the most challenging expedition of this century. There exists a global competition to maintain monopoly over trade and transactions among the so called world powers. The haste is now jeopardizing the fundamentals of scientific research ethics.

At the global level, the most trusted and credible medical science journals like The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) and Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA) are considered ‘holy scriptures’ of scientific knowledge. These centuries old reliable research repositories provided path breaking scientific studies that rescued human lives from threats of dreadful diseases. Patience, persistence and untiring efforts on part of researchers and scientists is the hall mark of such breakthrough achievements.

Hard to believe are the recent lapse of research that penetrated in the world reputed medical journals like The Lancet, The New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM), and Journal of American Medical Association (JAMA). The publications containing conclusions let down the acclaimed standing of these journals in scientific community. The findings were quite contrary to the observations and experiences of scientists and medical practitioners associated with research and treatment trials of corona virus. There emerged a growing demand for making the vital data public for scrutiny by experts. The contributing authors failed to furnish the details of data they used to frame their findings. As a compulsion, the journals instantly removed these papers to restore their reputation.

Ironically, influenced and inspired by the research output in such quality journals, medical practitioners were quick to implement and administer these findings that had direct bearing upon the patients undergoing treatment. Test trials being conducted in various laboratories across the world go influenced. Some effective medicines with satisfactory results were all of a sudden abandoned. Owing to this accidental negligence, many patients suffered unnecessarily. Such false and fictitious whistle blowing resulted in a mess that endangered thousands of human lives battling corona virus disease.

This incident exemplifies the breach of ethics in scientific research. When such highly standard research journals that set benchmarks of quality can become susceptible to manipulation by vested interests of few individuals and institutions, the credibility of scientific knowledge can only invite suspicion. The common man who is distantly located from experimental laboratory is only left to lament upon such treacherous tactics orchestrated beyond his reach and belief.

Scientific research and developments in the field of medicine are life-saving endeavours. Value for human life, objectivity, impartiality, selflessness, sincerity of purpose, transparency, patience and persistence to strive for excellence constitute the bedrock upon which the edifice of scientific research rests. Any dereliction or distraction in such cardinal principles is bound to dent the holy statue of science worshipped by common people with reverence.

Military might and economic competition of world powers only propagates rivalry. This hostility to overpower the opponent has travelled beyond political, geographical and technological frontiers. The arena of research and development is emerging as a new battlefield among states to stamp their monopoly. Moreover, the tenacious tendency to hold the reigns of market economy in pharmaceutical sectors by corporate tycoons has signaled a new marathon. In such an environment, the standards and commitment of scientists and researchers is bound to be influenced.

Short cuts are short-lived. Haste in medical research can only make human life a hostage. Most of the scientific endowments are an outcome of long and persistent pursuits. Breakthroughs never happen overnight. Scientific research has to be steady. Scientists have to live up to the expectations of humanity that is presently reeling under the effects of corona pandemic. Misinformation only misleads. Facts keep the faith and hopes for a safe future intact.

Denominated under the power of politics and profit, scientific research can turn into a deadly apparatus. The sanctity of science is undermined by individual and institutional interference trying to secure points. Politics and profit can wait, science has to devote itself to finding a cure to this deadly disease.

Bilal Kaloo Assistant Professor Department of Education (South Campus) University of Kashmir