Dangers of bad research


Dangers of bad research

A group of doctors in Argentina called "Physicians in Crop-Sprayed Towns" recently published a short report in which the doctors challenged the theory that the Zika virus is the cause of microcephaly. The doctors allege that the increase in microcephaly cases is caused by pyripoxyfen, a larvicide that is used to treat water supplies in areas where mosquito control is needed.

The theory has been debunked by the scientific community, and further research has since been published supporting the theory that Zika is the cause of microcephaly. That hasn’t stopped the paper spreading like wildfire across the internet, becoming the mainstay of conspiracy theorists.

The challenge of performing a quality epidemiological study is first to identify an association and then establishing evidence that supports the association is the cause. It looks like the second part was lacking in the Argentinian physicians’ study. 

The danger is that poor quality science ends up endangering, not assisting people trying to live in areas where Zika is present. One region of Brazil has removed pyripoxyfen from the water supply – putting people at an increased risk of mosquito borne infections, not just Zika, but also malaria, dengue, chikungunya and yellow fever. There is a responsibility of both those communicating such stories, but also for wider scientific community to make sure everyone is brought along in communications which have the potential to cause great harm.