“The New York Times Is Going to Basically Be a Monopoly”

(p. B1) The gulf between The Times and the rest of the industry is vast and keeps growing: The company now has more digital subscribers than The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post and the 250 local Gannett papers combined, according to the most recent data. And The Times employs 1,700 journalists — a huge number in an industry where total employment nationally has fallen to somewhere between 20,000 and 38,000.

The Times so dominates the news business that it has absorbed many of the people who once threatened it: The former top editors of Gawker, Recode, and Quartz are all at The Times, as are many of the reporters who first made Politico a must-read in Washington.

I spent my whole career competing against The Times, so coming to work here feels a bit like giving in. And I worry that the success of The Times is crowding out the competition.

“The New York Times is going to basically be a monopoly,” predicted Jim VandeHei, the founder of Axios, which started in 2016 with plans to sell digital subscriptions but has yet to do so. “The Times will get bigger and the niche will get nichier, and nothing else will survive.”

For the full commentary, see:

Ben Smith. “Why the Success of The Times May Be Bad News for Journalism.” The New York Times (Monday, March 2, 2020): B1 & B5.

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date March 1, 2020, and the title “Why the Success of The New York Times May Be Bad News for Journalism.”)

Anti-Hydroxychloroquine Lancet Study Retracted by Authors

(p. A7) Two major studies casting doubt on the ability of antimalaria drugs to treat Covid-19 patients based on data from a little-known Chicago company, Surgisphere Corp., were retracted Thursday [June 4, 2020].

The Lancet first pulled a study published late last month that found antimalarials provided no benefit as a treatment for Covid-19 infections while increasing the risk of heart problems and death. The New England Journal of Medicine then retracted a separate article, published in early May, that examined the impact of cardiovascular and blood-pressure drugs in Covid-19 patients.

. . .

Three of the Lancet paper’s authors said they decided to retract the paper after Surgisphere refused to share the full data set as part of a review triggered by concerns raised by outside researchers. The Lancet published a correction to the study on May 29.

“We always aspire to perform our research in accordance with the highest ethical and professional guidelines,” the authors, Drs. Mehra, Patel and Frank Ruschitzka said in a statement. “We can never forget the responsibility we have as researchers to scrupulously ensure that we rely on data sources that adhere to our high standards. Based on this development, we can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources.”

. . .

Following the study, the World Health Organization paused enrolling patients in clinical trials of hydroxychloroquine, although this week the organization said it resumed the trials.

In the days following publication of the study, however, other researchers began to raise questions about the Surgisphere data, first on social media and in emails, then in an open letter to The Lancet and the study’s authors. More than 100 researchers signed on to the letter.

For the full story, see:

Jared S. Hopkins and Russell Gold. “Antimalaria Drug Studies Are Retracted.” The Wall Street Journal (Friday, June 5, 2020): A7.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added. In the passages quoted above, where the online version differs from the print version, the quoted passages follow the online version.)

(Note: the online version of the story was updated June 5, 2020, and has the title “Hydroxychloroquine Studies Tied to Data Firm Surgisphere Retracted.”)

Ridley Quotes Petrovsky: “We Can’t Exclude the Possibility That This Came From a Laboratory Experiment”

(p. C3) What about the controversial claim that the virus may have originated in a laboratory? Both Ralph Baric’s team at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and Shi Zhengli’s team at the Wuhan Institute of Virology have been working on SARS-like coronaviruses and testing their ability to infect human cells. They have for some years reported successful experiments in which they created new strains of the virus by manipulating the spike proteins that are now the focus of discovering the origin of SARS-CoV-2, and their research has included inserting furin cleavage sites.

The two teams made these so-called chimeric viruses in order to understand what makes viruses more or less dangerous and in the hope of being ready to protect people against a future SARS epidemic. In 2015 they published a joint experiment in which they combined parts of one mouse-adapted SARS-like coronavirus with a spike gene from a SARS-like coronavirus derived from Chinese bats.

In reporting their results, they expressed caution about continuing such risky experiments: “On the basis of these findings, scientific review panels may deem similar studies building chimeric viruses based on circulating strains too risky to pursue, as increased pathogenicity in mammalian models cannot be excluded.” They added: “The potential to prepare for and mitigate future outbreaks must be weighed against the risk of creating more dangerous pathogens.”

Nikolai Petrovsky and colleagues at Flinders University in Australia have found that SARS-CoV-2 has a higher affinity for human receptors than for any other animal species they tested, including pangolins and horseshoe bats. He suggests that this could have happened if the virus was being cultured in human cells, adding that “We can’t exclude the possibility that this came from a laboratory experiment.”

For the full commentary, see:

Matt Ridley. “So Where Did the Virus Come From?” The Wall Street Journal (Saturday, May 30, 2020): C3.

(Note: I corrected a misspelling of Petrovsky’s name.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary was the date May 29, 2020 and has the same title as the print version.)

The manuscript co-authored by Petrovsky, and mentioned above, is reported in:

Sakshi Piplani, Puneet Kumar Singh, David A. Winkler, Nikolai Petrovsky. “In Silico Comparison of Spike Protein-Ace2 Binding Affinities across Species; Significance for the Possible Origin of the Sars-Cov-2 Virus.” May 13, 2020.

YouTube, Vimeo, and Twitter Censor Firm Working on Ultraviolet Covid-19 Cure

(p. A15) Early in the Covid-19 pandemic, Aytu BioScience made a commitment to find ways to help. One of those ways came through our newly formed relationship with a prominent Los Angeles hospital.

On April 20 [2020] we put out a press release titled “Aytu BioScience Signs Exclusive Global License with Cedars-Sinai for Potential Coronavirus Treatment.” The treatment is called Healight, and it was developed by research physicians at the hospital’s Medically Associated Science and Technology Program. The technology, which has been in development since 2016, uses ultraviolet light as an antimicrobial and is a promising potential treatment for Covid-19.

Aytu and Cedars-Sinai have engaged with the Food and Drug Administration to pursue a rapid path to human use through an Emergency Use Authorization. But hardly anyone noticed—until Thursday, when President Trump mused, “. . . supposing you brought the light inside the body . . .”

My team and I knew the president’s comments could trigger a backlash against the idea of UV light as a treatment, which might hinder our ability to get the word out. We decided to create a YouTube account, upload a video animation we had created, and tweet it out. It received some 50,000 views in 24 hours.

Then YouTube took it down. So did Vimeo. Twitter suspended our account. The narrative changed from whether UV light can be used to treat Covid-19 to “Aytu is being censored.”

For the full commentary, see:

Josh Disbrow. “Ultraviolet Light Takes Political Heat.” The Wall Street Journal (Tuesday, April 28, 2020): A15.

(Note: bracketed year added, ellipses in original.)

(Note: the online version of the commentary has the date April 27, 2020, and the title “An Experimental Ultraviolet Light Treatment for Covid-19 Takes Political Heat.”)

Hydroxychloroquine Clinical Trials Suspended on Basis of Lancet Article Containing “Major Inconsistencies”

(p. A11) A group of scientists who raised questions last week about a study in The Lancet about the use of antimalarial drugs in coronavirus patients have now objected to another paper about blood pressure medicines in the New England Journal of Medicine, which was published by some of the same authors and relied on the same data registry.

Moments after their open letter was posted online Tuesday morning [June 2, 2020], the editors of the N.E.J.M. posted an “expression of concern” about the paper, and said they had asked the paper’s authors to provide evidence that the data are reliable.

The Lancet followed later in the day with a statement about its own concerns regarding the malarial drugs paper, saying that the editors have commissioned an independent audit of the data.

. . .

In their letter to the N.E.J.M., critics of the work wrote: “Serious, and as yet unanswered, concerns have been raised about the integrity and provenance of these data.”

The letter points out “major inconsistencies” between the number of coronavirus cases recorded in some countries during the study period and the number of patient outcomes reported by the researchers over the same period.

. . .

Many of the scientists who first raised concerns about the database are involved in clinical trials of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, and they were forced to pause the studies for safety reviews after The Lancet study was published.

James Watson, a senior scientist with MORU Tropical Health Network, said his unit had to immediately suspend work on a large randomized clinical trial to see if chloroquine or hydroxychloroquine can protect health care workers exposed on the job to the coronavirus from infection.

“I saw very quickly this paper didn’t hold up to much scrutiny at all,” he said. “We started wondering, ‘Who’s been collecting this data, and where did it come from?’ We were quite surprised to see a global study with only four authors listed and no acknowledgment of anyone else.”

. . .

David Glidden, a professor of biostatistics at University of California, San Francisco, who reads all new publications about Covid-19 antiviral therapies as a member of a National Institutes of Health clinical guidelines panel, said he was immediately struck by the vagueness of the descriptions in both papers.

For the full story, see:

Roni Caryn Rabin. “Scientists Question Medical Data From Single Company Used in Two Studies.” The New York Times (Wednesday, June 3, 2020): A11.

(Note: ellipses, and bracketed date, added.)

(Note: the online version of the article was updated June 2, 2020, and had the title “Scientists Question Medical Data Used in Second Coronavirus Study.”)

Honoring the Heroes of Hong Kong and Tiananmen Square

I posted the entry below to Facebook on Thursday, June 4, 2020, the 31st anniversary of the day when the Chinese Communists massacred those protesting for democracy and freedom in Tiananmen Square.

At 8 PM I lit a candle to honor the heroes of Hong Kong who dared to gather today to honor the heroes of Tiananmen Square. #6431truth #HongKongFreedom

Posted by Arthur Diamond on Thursday, June 4, 2020

Chinese Scientists “Withdrew” Research Paper That Noted Proximity of Shi Bat Lab to Wuhan Market

(p. A11) For the past 15 years, Chinese scientist Shi Zhengli has warned the world—in English, Chinese and French—that bats harbor coronaviruses that pose serious risks to human health.

The flying mammals are a likely culprit in the pandemic now sweeping the globe, and Dr. Shi and her laboratories in Wuhan, where the outbreak was first identified, have attracted suspicion.

. . .

Dr. Shi’s experience—and her large set of reference material—helped her determine that the new coronavirus loose in Wuhan had most likely come from a bat. In fact, a sample her team collected in Yunnan province in 2013 was about 96% identical to the genetic sequence of the virus that causes Covid-19.

All of that has raised questions about whether the virus could have somehow escaped from one of Dr. Shi’s labs and infected Wuhan’s population.

In a February [2020] research paper, Chinese scientists pointed out that the Wuhan market, where the coronavirus began spreading late last year, was close to her labs as well as those of another local scientist who has worked on bats at the Wuhan Municipal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The authors withdrew their paper as “speculation” after it got widespread international notice.

For the full story, see:

James T. Areddy. “‘Bat Woman’ Draws Scrutiny.” The Wall Street Journal (Wednesday, April 22, 2020): A11.

(Note: ellipsis, and bracketed year, added.)

(Note: the online version of the story has the date April 21, 2020, and has the title “China Bat Expert Says Her Wuhan Lab Wasn’t Source of New Coronavirus.”)