How The Lancet backed Beijing and lost all credibility

In cozying up to China's leadership the medical journal's coverage of Wuhan coronavirus has been seriously impaired

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(Wikimedia Commons photo)

KAOHSIUNG (Taiwan News) – The Lancet is one of the oldest and most reputable medical journals in the world, but as the world tackles what is arguably the biggest global health crisis of its 197-year history, The Lancet has been found severely wanting.

Earlier this week, the publication's editor for the past 25 years, Richard Horton, took to the airwaves on CNN and shared some of his wisdom and experience. His comments were astonishing.

Horton claimed, with a straight face, the world should be “thanking Chinese scientists for the warnings that they gave the world” and laid into Western democracies for failing to take heed of these. He then laid the blame for “tens of thousands of deaths” on their policies.

The Chinese Communist Party (CCP) couldn’t have scripted a response that fitted its narrative better. It is genuinely astonishing that the editor of a credible medical journal would willingly parrot such lies in public.

It is widely suspected the CCP knew about the Wuhan coronavirus since October 2019 or perhaps even earlier. It is also known that they went to huge efforts to cover up the outbreak, silencing medical professionals, destroying evidence, and abandoning innocent Chinese people to their fate, in order to protect the party's reputation.

It was only when Taiwan drew the world’s attention to the coronavirus at New Year, that the global response finally began to grind slowly into action.

It is also possible the coronavirus escaped (or was even released) from a lab in Wuhan. In a country and a region with literally tens of thousands of wet markets, the fact that this virus appeared at one just 10 minutes from the CCP’s Wuhan Institute of Virology, examining exactly this type of virus, is just too much of a coincidence.

This lab has still not allowed independent experts in to examine it and the CCP has strongly objected to any sort of international inquiry into the causes of the pandemic. It’s not difficult to imagine why this might be.

If you are wondering why Horton is spouting CCP propaganda in this way, there are two answers that immediately present themselves.

Deeply flawed

The first is that he has rushed out a book on the Wuhan Coronavirus pandemic and is, therefore, no doubt keen to drum up publicity to boost sales. Nothing draws attention to a new book quite like a bit of media controversy.

Then there is the background of The Lancet itself. The esteemed publication has three editorial headquarters, in London, New York and ... Beijing.

This is not the first time Horton’s judgment has been called into question. During the Wuhan coronavirus crisis alone, The Lancet has found itself embroiled in no fewer than three deeply embarrassing controversies.

In May, it published a study criticizing the drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment. This report directly led to the World Health Organization (WHO) halting further studies into the drug.

But it transpired the data used for this study was severely lacking and after 180 researchers and doctors published an open letter condemning it and three of the four authors agreed with them, The Lancet was forced to retract it.

Then, in June, The Lancet published a WHO-funded study that claimed reducing social distancing from 2 meters to 1 meter would increase the risk of infection from Wuhan coronavirus from 1.3 percent to 2.6 percent.

This time the methodology of the study was found to be deeply flawed since it only considered distance and overlooked factors such as how long a person was exposed for. This report was once again widely criticized by researchers and scientists, although to date The Lancet has not retracted it.

Loss of credibility

A quick look at The Lancet’s Wikipedia page will reveal a long list of other controversies, all of which have occurred on Horton’s watch.

For example, he published the now discredited study that linked the MMR vaccine to autism and resulting in hundreds of thousands of kids not receiving a potentially life-saving jab. It took The Lancet 12 years to retract the study.

Horton has a long history of politicizing his role, something that is deeply inappropriate for the editor of a major scientific publication. He has described the U.K. government’s response to Wuhan coronavirus as “the greatest scientific policy failure for a generation” and openly urged U.S. voters to elect someone other than Donald Trump to lead them through the crisis.

Regardless of whether you agree with these statements or not, they are simply not fitting for a person in Horton’s position to make. He is supposed to be representing the scientific community and should only be commenting on scientific facts, not making subjective political assessments like this.

He has also published opinion pieces on issues such as Kashmiri sovereignty, the Arab-Israeli crisis, and in support of the extremist environmental group Extinction Rebellion. Why any of these pieces have a place in a peer-reviewed medical journal is something only Horton can answer.

All of these issues and the decisions made by Horton have caused The Lancet to look disreputable. But in siding with the CCP, a totalitarian dictatorship that brought the world to its knees because of the Wuhan coronavirus and then moved heaven and earth to shift the blame, surely he has crossed the line.

Like the WHO, it is The Lancet and in particular its editor Richard Horton’s closeness to Beijing throughout the pandemic that has cost it all credibility.