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Why the media should handle information responsibly
"Drosten study on infectious children grossly wrong" - so the huge heading on the front page of the "Bild" newspaper denounced. What is behind this and how long is this statement? Professor Dr. Christian Drosten comments on the harsh criticism.
Several articles in the "Bild" newspaper of the 22nd calendar week 2020 aim to publish a study by the team led by the Charité virologist Professor Dr. Discredit Christian Drosten. The Charité study suggests that children who are infected with the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus carry the same viral load as adults and could therefore be similarly infectious. The "Bild" newspaper considers these results to be incorrect and starts a public "attack" against Drosten.
Drosten strikes back
Now the renowned virologist is fighting back as part of his NDR podcast "Coronovirus Update". But what does "picture" accuse the study of? According to the tabloid, the study must be withdrawn because it contains errors. Well-known English statistician David Spiegelhalter wrote a paper on the Drosten study, in which he criticizes the fact that the data summary provided in the pre-release version of the study is rough.
"Some of the data is deliberately left a bit rough, because we know that the rabbit is not buried in the statistics, but in the data itself," countered Drosten. The “Bild” newspaper contacted the respected statistician and elicited a few statements about the study. This took "picture" out of context and made another huge headline from it: "We recommend admitting the mistake and withdrawing the study," is the title of the sheet.
Spiegelhalter distanced itself from the reporting
When Spiegelhalter noticed that the aim was to tear the study apart in public, he distanced himself from the presentation on Twitter. "His criticism was a purely academic criticism, as it is, he meant it well - he also wrote us really nice emails that he was sorry for how it went," Drosten explains.
"Image" takes the second "attack"
But "picture" did not give up. Employees of the newspaper contacted Drosten's cooperation partners from Italy, Belgium, Holland and England. Then the journalists confronted the researchers with newspaper reports from a Belgian newspaper, which stated that there had been a dispute over the study in question in an EU commission that also included Drosten.
The EU Commission, which is not
According to Drosten, this is completely misleading. Because that is not an EU Commission at all, but the so-called “Steering Committee”, which acts as a steering committee of a European research association. The committee serves as a platform for scientists who have applied for research funding from the EU and have received money for a project. The committee exchanges observations of the studies and the state of research.
An argument that is not
During a video conference there was a discussion about the assessment of infectivity in children. “There was no argument at all, but an academic discussion about how to use statistics here in this situation because we all have the same problem. We have to scrape together data with incredible time pressure, which actually does not have the structure and quality that you would even start doing statistical analyzes, ”explains Drosten.
Did the "picture" use false statements?
"Image" apparently interpreted some of these quotes very freely. "Any comments that are now in the newspaper are so: Christian, what you are doing is premature or something, or your statistics influence politics - this has never happened in this video conference," emphasizes Drosten . All of the members of this committee are top scientists from various European countries and all advise the politics of their countries. "We all know that what we do affects politics," said Drosten.
Make the mosquito an elephant
Drosten emphasizes that all researchers currently have the same uncertainties and all comment on politics that it is basically too early to make any final statements. "The way I always did it," Drosten clarifies. But that's not a nice story for a newspaper that wants to write something dramatic.
Does “Bild” disregard the press code?
The coordinator of the research consortium Herman Goossens even officially called back his statements to “Bild” and wrote “I hereby recall my statements, I hereby no longer support your research”.
"A newspaper cannot use something like this," reports Drosten, referring to the press code. The "picture" printed it anyway. "I'm sorry, it probably got out of hand," Goossens then wrote to Drosten.
When sub-locations become the main stage
"I think it is also clear that the statistics, as we have done in our study, are really rough, and a little bit according to the motto: it is not worth looking at these data anyway," admits Drosten. Nevertheless, this statistical side discussion was made the main point. "But it is by no means possible to say that the study is incorrect due to statistical criticism of our data," summarizes the coronavirus expert. This study stands alone without statistics.
Research is held up by incorrect reporting
In the meantime, the team has put a pre-edited version of the study online on the Charité website. "This week I was almost only annoyed with the Bild newspaper. It cost me an enormous amount of time and that is now significantly delaying science, ”says Drosten angrily.
"We will nevertheless make publicly a state of affairs that everyone can understand why I say that our data, if you look at it again in a structured manner and in more detail, also without statistical analysis show that the early symptomatic children who are in Household contact studies have been tested - that their viral loads are just as high as those of adults in the same situation, ”summarizes the virologist. (vb)
Also read: Corona pandemic: what role do children play?
Author and source information
This text corresponds to the requirements of the medical literature, medical guidelines and current studies and has been checked by medical doctors.
Graduate editor (FH) Volker Blasek
- NDR: Coronavirus Update (44) with Christian Drosten (published: 28.05.2020), ndr.de
- Terry C. Jones, Barbara Mühlemann, Christian Drosten, and others: An analysis of SARS-CoV-2 viral load by patient age; Charité Universitätsmedizin Berlin, 2020, virologie-ccm.charite.de