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Journalists reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic relied on research that had yet to be peer reviewed

Preprints are often free to use, making them more accessible for journalists to report on. However, as they have yet to undergo peer review, science journalists…

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Journalists covering scientific research during the COVID-19 pandemic increased their reliance on preprints. (Shutterstock)

A story on gender inequity in scientific research industries. A deep dive into the daily rhythms of the immune system. A look at vaccine effectiveness for COVID-19 variants. These are a few examples of news stories based on preprints — research studies that haven’t been formally vetted by the scientific community.

Journalists have historically been discouraged from reporting on preprints because of fears that the findings could be exaggerated, inaccurate or flat-out wrong. But our new research suggests that the COVID-19 pandemic may have changed things by pushing preprint-based journalism into the mainstream.


Read more: Preprints: how draft academic papers have become essential in the fight against COVID


While this new normal offers important benefits for journalists and their audiences, it also comes with risks and challenges that deserve our attention.

Peer review and the pandemic

Traditionally, studies must be read and critiqued by at least two independent experts before they can be published in a scientific journal — a process known as “peer review.”

This isn’t the case with preprints, which are posted online almost immediately, without formal review. This immediacy has made preprints a valuable resource for scientists tackling the COVID-19 pandemic.

The lack of formal review makes preprints a faster way to communicate science, albeit a potentially riskier approach. While peer review isn’t perfect, it can help scientists identify errors in data or more clearly communicate their findings.

Studies suggest that most preprints stand up well to the scrutiny of peer review. Still, in some cases, findings can change in important ways between the time a study is posted as a preprint and the time it is published in a peer-reviewed journal, which can be on average more than 100 days.

A ‘paradigm shift’ in science journalism

As researchers of journalism and science communication, we’ve been keeping a close eye on media coverage of preprints since the onset of the pandemic. In one study, we found that a wide range of media outlets reported on COVID-19 preprints, including major outlets like The New York Times and The Guardian.

Unfortunately, many of these outlets failed to mention that these studies were preprints, leaving audiences unaware that the science they were reading hadn’t been peer reviewed.


Read more: In the rush for coronavirus information, unreviewed scientific papers are being publicized


We dug deeper into how and why journalists use preprints. Through in-depth interviews, we asked health and science journalists about the strategies they used to find, verify and communicate about preprints and whether they planned to report on them after COVID-19.

Our peer-reviewed, published study found that preprints have become an important information source for many journalists, and one that some plan to keep using post-pandemic. Journalists reported actively seeking out these unreviewed studies by visiting online servers (websites where scientists post preprints) or by monitoring social media.

Although a few journalists were unsure if they would continue using preprints, others said these studies had created “a complete paradigm shift” in science journalism.

A careful equation

Journalists told us that they valued preprints because they were more timely than peer reviewed studies, which are often published months after scientists conduct the research. As one freelancer we interviewed put it: “When people are dying, you gotta get things going a little bit.”

Journalists also appreciated that preprints are free to access and use, while many peer-reviewed journal articles are not.

Journalists balanced these benefits against the potential risks for their audiences. Many expressed a high level of skepticism about unreviewed studies, voicing concerns about the potential to spread misinformation.

a row of people seated and holding notebooks and pens
Journalists access preprints for a variety of reasons, including tight deadlines. (Unsplash/The Climate Reality Project)

Some journalists provided examples of issues that had become “extremely muddied” by preprints, such as whether to keep schools open during the pandemic.

Many journalists said they felt it was important to label preprints as “preprints” in their stories or mention that the research had not been peer reviewed. At the same time, they admitted that their audience probably wouldn’t understand what the words “preprint” or “peer review” mean.

In addition, verifying preprints appeared to be a real challenge for journalists, even for those with advanced science education. Many told us that they leaned heavily on interviews with experts to vet findings, with some journalists organizing what they described as their “own peer review.”

Other journalists simply relied on their intuition or “gut” instinct, especially when deadlines loomed or when experts were unavailable.

Supporting journalists to communicate science

Recently, media organizations have started publishing resources and tip sheets for reporting on preprints. While these resources are an important first step, our findings suggest that more needs to be done, especially if preprint-based journalism is indeed here to stay.

Whether it’s through providing specialized training, updating journalism school curricula or revising existing professional guidelines, we need to support journalists in verifying and communicating about preprints effectively and ethically. The quality of our news depends on it.

Alice Fleerackers received funding from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada to conduct this research.

Lauren A Maggio does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Expanding the arsenal of drugs against COVID-19

Researchers from Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU) have developed novel compounds with potential as drug treatments for COVID-19 by modifying…

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Researchers from Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU) have developed novel compounds with potential as drug treatments for COVID-19 by modifying a previous “hit” compound that was active against the SARS-CoV virus

Credit: Department of Medicinal Chemistry, TMDU

Researchers from Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU) have developed novel compounds with potential as drug treatments for COVID-19 by modifying a previous “hit” compound that was active against the SARS-CoV virus

Tokyo, Japan – The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, has been devastating the entire world. While the vaccination program is advancing, drug treatments for COVID-19 are still highly important for those who become infected. Now, a team at Tokyo Medical and Dental University (TMDU), National Center for Global Health and Medicine (NCGM), Tohoku University, NCI/NIH, and Kumamoto University has designed and synthesized compounds that have the potential to be novel drugs targeting SARS-CoV-2.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus contains an enzyme called the “main protease”, or Mpro, that cleaves other proteins encoded in the SARS-CoV-2 genome as part of viral activity and replication. Mpro is an important and appealing target for drugs treating COVID-19 because it is both essential for viral replication and very different from any human molecules, so drugs targeting Mpro are likely to have few side effects and be very effective.

When testing a panel of compounds known to have inhibitory activity against SARS-CoV, the virus responsible for the 2002 SARS outbreak, the team identified a compound named 5h/YH-53 that showed some activity inhibiting SARS-CoV-2 Mpro, but was inefficient and unstable. Therefore, they used 5h as a starting point to develop other compounds with increased efficiency and stability. “Our strategy involved introducing fluorine atoms into the part of the molecule responsible for inhibiting Mpro to increase its binding affinity, as well as replacing a bond within 5h that is easily broken down by the liver with a different structure to increase biostability,” explains lead author Kohei Tsuji.

“Of the compounds we developed, compound 3 showed high potency and was able to block SARS-CoV-2 infection in vitro without any viral breakthrough,” explains senior author Hirokazu Tamamura. “Compound 4, a derivative of compound 3 in which an easily broken-down amide bond had been replaced with a stable thioamide bond, also showed remarkable anti-SARS-CoV-2 activity.” Although compound 4 had lower Mpro inhibitory activity than compound 3, the increased stability meant that the overall activity of compound 4 was comparable to that of compound 3.

When they tested these novel compounds on a variety of strains of SARS-CoV-2, compound 3 was as effective on mutant strains of the virus as on the ancestral Wuhan strain. Additionally, neither compound 3 or 4 showed any toxicity to cultured cells. These data suggest that these compounds show high potential as drug treatments for COVID-19.

A repertory of drug choice is important for treating disease, and so the development of efficient drugs to target the novel SARS-CoV-2 virus is highly important. This work identifies two compounds as potential drugs, and further development of these compounds continues. It also proves the principle that easily broken-down amide bonds can be replaced with thioamide bonds in drug development to increase the stability of the resulting compounds. Taken together, this is an important advance in both the wider drug development field as well as for drugs to treat COVID-19.

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The article, “Potent and Biostable Inhibitors of the Main Protease of SARS-CoV-2”, was published in iScience at DOI: 10.1016/j.isci.2022.105365
 


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Team undertakes study of two-dimensional transition metal chalcogenides

Two-dimensional materials, like transition metal dichalcogenide, have applications in public health because of their large surface area and high surface…

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Two-dimensional materials, like transition metal dichalcogenide, have applications in public health because of their large surface area and high surface sensitivities, along with their unique electrical, optical, and electrochemical properties. A research team has undertaken a review study of methods used to modulate the properties of two-dimensional transition metal dichalcogenide (TMD). These methods have important biomedical applications, including biosensing.

Credit: Nano Research Energy, Tsinghua University Press

Two-dimensional materials, like transition metal dichalcogenide, have applications in public health because of their large surface area and high surface sensitivities, along with their unique electrical, optical, and electrochemical properties. A research team has undertaken a review study of methods used to modulate the properties of two-dimensional transition metal dichalcogenide (TMD). These methods have important biomedical applications, including biosensing.

 

The team’s work is published in the journal Nano Research Energy on November 23, 2022.

 

The team’s goal is to present a comprehensive summarization of this promising field and show challenges and opportunities available in this research area. “In this review, we focus on the state-of-the-art methods to modulate properties of two-dimensional TMD and their applications in biosensing. In particular, we thoroughly discuss the structure, intrinsic properties, property modulation methods, and biosensing applications of TMD,” said Yu Lei, an assistant professor at the Institute of Materials Research, Shenzhen International Graduate School, Tsinghua University.

 

Since graphene was discovered in 2004, two-dimensional materials, such as TMD, have attracted significant attention. Because of its unique properties, two-dimensional TMD can serve as the atomically thin platforms for energy storage and conversion, photoelectric conversion, catalysis, and biosensing. TMD also displays a wide band structure and has unusual optical properties. Yet another benefit of two-dimensional TMD is that it can be produced in large quantities at a low cost.

 

In public health, reliable and affordable in vitro and in vivo detection of biomolecules is essential for disease prevention and diagnosis. Especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, people have suffered not only from the physical disease, but also from the psychological problems related to extensive exposure to stress. Extensive stress can result in abnormal levels in biomarkers such as serotonin, dopamine, cortisol, and epinephrine. So, it is essential that scientists find non-invasive ways to monitor these biomarkers in body fluids, such as sweat, tears, and saliva. In order for health care professionals to quickly and accurately assess a person’s stress and diagnose psychological disease, biosensors are of significant importance in the diagnostics, environmental monitoring, and forensic industries.

 

The team reviewed the use of two-dimensional TMD as the functional material for biosensing, the approaches to modulate the properties of TMD, and different types of TMD-based biosensors including electric, optical, and electrochemical sensors. “Public health study is always a major task in preventing, diagnosing, and fighting off the diseases. Developing ultrasensitive and selective biosensors is critical for diseases prevention and diagnosing,” said Bilu Liu, an associate professor and a principal investigator at Shenzhen Geim Graphene Center, Shenzhen International Graduate School, Tsinghua University.

 

Two-dimensional TMD is a very sensitive platform for biosensing. These two-dimensional TMD based electrical/optical/electrochemical sensors have been readily used for biosensors ranging from small ions and molecules, such as Ca2+, H+, H2O2, NO2, NH3, to biomolecules such as dopamine and cortisol, that are related to central nervous disease, and all the way to molecule complexities, such as bacteria, virus, and protein.

 

The research team determined that despite the remarkable potentials, many challenges related to TMD-based biosensors still need to be solved before they can make a real impact. They suggest several possible research directions. The team recommends that the feedback loop assisted by machine learning be used to reduce the testing time needed to build the database needed for finding the proper biomolecules and TMD pairs. Their second recommendation is the use of a feedback loop assisted by machine learning to achieve the on-demand property modulation and biomolecules/TMD database. Knowing that TMD-based composites exhibit excellent performance when constructed into devices, their third recommendation is that surface modifications, such as defects and vacancies, be adopted to improve the activity of the TMD-based composites. Their last recommendation is that low-cost manufacturing methods at low temperature be developed to prepare TMD. The current chemical vapor deposition method used to prepare TMD can lead to cracks and wrinkles. A low-cost, low-temperature method would improve the quality of the films. “As the key technical issues are solved, the devices based on two-dimensional TMD will be the overarching candidates for the new healthcare technologies,” said Lei.

 

The Tsinghua University team includes Yichao Bai and Linxuan Sun, and Yu Lei from the Institute of Materials Research, Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School and the Guangdong Provincial Key Laboratory of Thermal Management Engineering and Materials, Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School; along with Qiangmin Yu and Bilu Liu from the Institute of Materials Research, Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School, and the Shenzhen Geim Graphene Center, Tsinghua-Berkeley Shenzhen Institute & Institute of Materials Research, Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School.

 

This research is funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China, the National Science Fund for Distinguished Young Scholars, Guangdong Innovative and Entrepreneurial Research Team Program, the Shenzhen Basic Research Project, the Scientific Research Start-up Funds at Tsinghua Shenzhen International Graduate School, and Shenzhen Basic Research Project.

 

##

 

About Nano Research Energy 

 

Nano Research Energy is launched by Tsinghua University Press, aiming at being an international, open-access and interdisciplinary journal. We will publish research on cutting-edge advanced nanomaterials and nanotechnology for energy. It is dedicated to exploring various aspects of energy-related research that utilizes nanomaterials and nanotechnology, including but not limited to energy generation, conversion, storage, conservation, clean energy, etc. Nano Research Energy will publish four types of manuscripts, that is, Communications, Research Articles, Reviews, and Perspectives in an open-access form.

 

About SciOpen 

 

SciOpen is a professional open access resource for discovery of scientific and technical content published by the Tsinghua University Press and its publishing partners, providing the scholarly publishing community with innovative technology and market-leading capabilities. SciOpen provides end-to-end services across manuscript submission, peer review, content hosting, analytics, and identity management and expert advice to ensure each journal’s development by offering a range of options across all functions as Journal Layout, Production Services, Editorial Services, Marketing and Promotions, Online Functionality, etc. By digitalizing the publishing process, SciOpen widens the reach, deepens the impact, and accelerates the exchange of ideas.

 


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Climate-Change Lockdowns? Yup, They Are Actually Going There…

Climate-Change Lockdowns? Yup, They Are Actually Going There…

Authored by Michael Snyder via The End of The American Dream blog,

I suppose…

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Climate-Change Lockdowns? Yup, They Are Actually Going There...

Authored by Michael Snyder via The End of The American Dream blog,

I suppose that we should have known that this was inevitable.  After establishing a precedent during the pandemic, now the elite apparently intend to impose lockdowns for other reasons as well.  What I have detailed in this article is extremely alarming, and I hope that you will share it with everyone that you can.  Climate change lockdowns are here, and if people don’t respond very strongly to this it is likely that we will soon see similar measures implemented all over the western world.  The elite have always promised to do “whatever it takes” to fight climate change, and now we are finding out that they weren’t kidding.

Over in the UK, residents of Oxfordshire will now need a special permit to go from one “zone” of the city to another.  But even if you have the permit, you will still only be allowed to go from one zone to another “a maximum of 100 days per year”

Oxfordshire County Council yesterday approved plans to lock residents into one of six zones to ‘save the planet’ from global warming. The latest stage in the ’15 minute city’ agenda is to place electronic gates on key roads in and out of the city, confining residents to their own neighbourhoods.

Under the new scheme if residents want to leave their zone they will need permission from the Council who gets to decide who is worthy of freedom and who isn’t. Under the new scheme residents will be allowed to leave their zone a maximum of 100 days per year, but in order to even gain this every resident will have to register their car details with the council who will then track their movements via smart cameras round the city.

Are residents of Oxfordshire actually going to put up with this?

[ZH: Paul Joseph Watson notes that the local authorities in Oxford tried to ‘fact check’ the article claiming they’re imposing de facto ‘climate lockdowns’, but ended basically admitting that’s exactly what they’re doing...]

I never thought that we would actually see this sort of a thing get implemented in the western world, but here we are.

Of course there are a few people that are loudly objecting to this new plan, but one Oxfordshire official is pledging that “the controversial plan would go ahead whether people liked it or not”.

Ouch.

Meanwhile, France has decided to completely ban certain short-haul flights in an attempt to reduce carbon emissions…

France can now make you train rather than plane.

The European Commission (EC) has given French officials the green light to ban select domestic flights if the route in question can be completed via train in under two and a half hours.

The plan was first proposed in 2021 as a means to reduce carbon emissions. It originally called for a ban on eight short-haul flights, but the EC has only agreed to nix three that have quick, easy rail alternatives with several direct connections each way every day.

This is nuts.

But if the French public accepts these new restrictions, similar bans will inevitably be coming to other EU nations.

In the Netherlands, the government is actually going to be buying and shutting down approximately 3,000 farms in order to “reduce its nitrogen pollution”

The Dutch government is planning to purchase and then close down up to 3,000 farms in an effort to comply with a European Union environmental mandate to slash emissions, according to reports.

Farmers in the Netherlands will be offered “well over” the worth of their farm in an effort to take up the offer voluntarily, The Telegraph reported. The country is attempting to reduce its nitrogen pollution and will make the purchases if not enough farmers accept buyouts.

“There is no better offer coming,” Christianne van der Wal, nitrogen minister, told the Dutch parliament on Friday.

This is literally suicidal.

We are in the beginning stages of an unprecedented global food crisis, and the Dutch government has decided that now is the time to shut down thousands of farms?

I don’t even have the words to describe how foolish this is.

Speaking of suicide, Canada has found a way to get people to stop emitting any carbon at all once their usefulness is over.  Assisted suicide has become quite popular among the Canadians, and the number of people choosing that option keeps setting new records year after year

Last year, more than 10,000 people in Canada – astonishingly that’s over three percent of all deaths there – ended their lives via euthanasia, an increase of a third on the previous year. And it’s likely to keep rising: next year, Canada is set to allow people to die exclusively for mental health reasons.

If you are feeling depressed, Canada has a solution for that.

And if you are physically disabled, Canada has a solution for that too

Only last week, a jaw-dropping story emerged of how, five years into an infuriating battle to obtain a stairlift for her home, Canadian army veteran and Paralympian Christine Gauthier was offered an extraordinary alternative.

A Canadian official told her in 2019 that if her life was so difficult and she so ‘desperate’, the government would help her to kill herself. ‘I have a letter saying that if you’re so desperate, madam, we can offer you MAiD, medical assistance in dying,’ the paraplegic ex-army corporal testified to Canadian MPs.

“Medical assistance in dying” sounds so clinical.

But ultimately it is the greatest lockdown of all.

Because once you stop breathing, you won’t be able to commit any more “climate sins”.

All over the western world, authoritarianism is growing at a pace that is absolutely breathtaking.

If they can severely restrict travel and shut down farms today, what sort of tyranny will we see in the future?

Sadly, most people in the general population still do not understand what is happening.

Hopefully they will wake up before it is too late.

*  *  *

It is finally here! Michael’s new book entitled “End Times” is now available in paperback and for the Kindle on Amazon.

Tyler Durden Fri, 12/09/2022 - 06:30

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