‘Unscientific, lazy, sloppy, illogical, dangerous, and misleading!’ Dr Browne slams Express’ Sinopharm experiment

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“[…] Instead of an indictment of Sinopharm, the approach of the Express in this matter offers an indictment of the standard of the Newspaper’s editorial process.

“Even if a hapless journalist scribbles such a sloppy attempt at an article, how on earth could a newspaper of such vaunted history and repute proceed to publish same?”

The following is a response from Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Dr Amery Browne to articles carried by the Trinidad Express on Sunday 19 December 2021 and Monday 20 December 2021, which criticised the protection offered by the Sinopharm vaccine—based on four tests conducted at the St Augustine Medical Laboratory:

Photo: Minister of Foreign and Caricom Affairs Dr Amery Browne.
(Copyright Office of the President)

About that Sinopharm Experiment run by the Express Newspaper: Can a pair of unscientific, lazy, sloppy, illogical, dangerous, and misleading observations, recklessly construed as a test of a WHO-approved Covid-19 vaccine’s effectiveness, achieve a front page headline in the Express Newspaper?

The shocking answer to that question is yes, and sadly the folks at that newspaper have now actually doubled down on their original trite piece of work, in a manner that would make any primary school science teacher cringe in shame.

Every WHO EUL-approved vaccine, including the Sinopharm vaccine that is used in Trinidad and Tobago and in numerous other countries across the world, has undergone extensive clinical trials for safety and effectiveness that each, across phases 1, 2 and 3, accounts for tens of thousands of clinical measures—using a scientific model that is detailed, rigorous, repeatable, includes randomised control participants in a manner that reduces experimental variance due to potential confounding factors such as comorbidities, and is designed to test the specific hypotheses in a manner that can lead to conclusions which offer a measurable level of confidence and applicability to evidence-based decision making.

This is the standard that is taught in every school that offers a class in science, and since the approval and use of the EUL- approved vaccines in the amount of 8.5 billion doses, the available data set has expanded much further.

Photo: World Health Organization (WHO) director-general Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.

In the face of all that, the Express Newspaper has offered to the world the most unscientific and infantile sample size of FOUR PERSONS, three female and one male, and the newspaper boldly proceeded to draw conclusions against Sinopharm in a manner that can increase vaccine hesitancy/opposition and further increase morbidity and mortality in the population. 

And they developed and published  a front page headline based on same. 

This must be an unprecedented low point in ‘journalistic’ and editorial rigour in Trinidad and Tobago. It defies both the very essence of the scientific approach and the essentials of an ethical treatment of a matter that is literally one of life and death.

The standard deployed by the Express in both its original article and in the doubling-down on the following day is akin to someone on a street corner saying that his grandpa smoked nine packs a day and lived to 90 years old, and therefore in conclusion smoking does not lead to death. 

And akin to a businesswoman running a test for anaemia on two employees and based on the result she concludes that all her employees, herself, and all other members of the human population most probably have sickle cell disease.

So where did the Express go wrong on this? Sadly, everywhere and from every angle.

Photo: Trinidad Express senior reporter Anna Ramdass.

In embarking on the type of quest they sought to embark upon, they really should have consulted with someone at CARPHA or PAHO—or at least with anyone who passed an A’ Level science subject—to assist them with the design of their little experiment and analysis. 

Instead they paid a single private lab $750 to run four blood samples and then subsequently tried to frame an overall ‘test’ that led to conclusions and actual publication.

The scientific approach demands that you start with a hypothesis and design an experimental model that tests the validity of that hypothesis. The Express clearly gave no thought to doing so. The Express also clearly gave no thought to sample size. The Express clearly gave no thought to establishing any baseline levels.

The Express clearly gave no thought to repeating the assays over time to demonstrate any consistency in observations. The Express clearly gave no thought to providing clarity on whether IgG or IgM levels would be checked, or both. The Express clearly gave no thought to offering the units of measure to their esteemed readers. 

The Express clearly gave no thought to controlling for gender, comorbidities such as auto-immune diseases, recent or prior exposure to Covid-19, past history of infection, and the pharmaceutical history of their subjects.  

Photo: Prime Minister Dr Keith Rowley (left) receives his Covid-19 Sinopharm vaccine shot on 13 July 2021.
(via Office of the Prime Minister)

The Express clearly gave no thought to performing scatter plot or correlation analysis of its findings. The Express clearly gave no thought to the application of linear mixed models in its ‘test’, or of applying logistic and linear regression analysis. The Express clearly gave no thought to reference range, standard deviation, confidence intervals and confidence limits.

The preceding are not random lingo or merely highfalutin terms but are essential considerations of any observations or analysis that could direct you to even HINT to your readers that the World Health Organization, the Government, and the public health authorities are offering you this vaccine but you should not take it because it is ineffective. That is provided that you care about the life and death of your readers.

In such matters it is no defense for a newspaper to claim that ‘it is not a scientific journal’, because the subject is by definition scientific in nature, because the conclusions the Express alluded to can only be arrived at by deploying a scientific approach, and because the body of evidence that they clumsily and deplorably tried to challenge was arrived at via scientific modelling, observation, and analysis.

Instead of an indictment of Sinopharm, the approach of the Express in this matter offers an indictment of the standard of the Newspaper’s editorial process. Even if a hapless journalist scribbles such a sloppy attempt at an article, how on earth could a newspaper of such vaunted history and repute proceed to publish same? 

Photo: Express editor-in-chief Omatie Lyder.

Given the deep respect that I hold for some in that media house, I remained hopeful that after the first article and the resulting condemnation by the very laboratory upon which their story hinged, the Express would have quickly seen the light and withdrawn the damaging content that they had provided to their readership. 

Sadly and shockingly a different decision was made, and they doubled down.

The Express had sent its paltry four samples to a private lab called the St Augustine Medical Laboratory, and that lab swiftly distinguished itself by emphatically and comprehensively debunking the concept, the approach, the conduct, the processing, the analysis, the conclusions, and (chillingly) even the intentions of the Express Newspaper in this matter.

In an immediate public release that laboratory said, ‘It should be noted that antibody values are NOT in any way representative of antibody status in a patient and attempts to create this relationship are based on no real scientific data and research and are designed to create unnecessary panic.’

‘The St Augustine Medical Laboratory was never engaged by any media house or media personnel to participate in any analysis for the purpose of assessing the reliability of any vaccine, and statements alluding to same are wholly untrue and reckless.’ 

Photo: A nurse holds up vials of the Covid-19 Sinopharm Beijing vaccine.

And they went on to rebuke the Express with the following, ‘Scientific analysis and opinions should be left for professionals and those qualified to do so and must be based on facts.’  

The Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) was also drawn out of their usually stoic stance to issue a release that helps put that Express article in perspective, which is a polite way of saying that PAHO rubbished the Express’ ‘Sinopharm test’.

Indeed in the age of Covid-19 it might be useful for one of our esteemed media houses, even whilst pontificating on the implications of a medical doctor being recruited as a director at Angostura Limited, to consider the essential benefits of having someone with minimum basic functional qualification and capacity in science on their own board of directors or otherwise deployed in a manner that can provide desperately-needed support to their editorial team.

Otherwise someone might very well commit the cardinal error of comparing the Express with the Newsday and the Guardian based on just two vaccine articles out of thousands, arrive at a conclusion that the Express likely has reporters and editors that would not pass Integrated Science at a Form 3 level, and then proceed to wildly promote such a conclusion in a prominent national story. 

Image: The Trinidad Express logo.

But we now have a good idea exactly what the Express would do with such a story, don’t we—even if it meant death and life.

In a world sorely lacking in critical thinking, respect for science, and evidence-based analysis, it should be incumbent upon the Express Newspaper to set a far higher standard.

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  1. Earl Best

    “This is why no one takes them seriously.”

    Ah, KLL! Don’t make that mistake, bro.

    The real danger lies in the fact that there are many who do take them seriously.
    Trinidadians, Lloyd used to say, walk about with their heads empty. That leaves plenty room for tremendous damage by easily accessible media, social AND conventional.

    Particularly those with malevolent agendas.

  2. So-called Trini “journalism”. Absolute rubbish.
    This is why no one takes them seriously. China did us a solid favour when no one else had us to study.

  3. Earl Best

    “it should be incumbent upon the Express Newspaper to set a far higher standard.”

    Dr Browne, may I make so bold as to suggest that it IS incumbent upon the Express to set a far higher standard.

    The nature of our crisis, the depth of our crisis as a country, not merely as media, is highlighted by the fact that that makes not one jot of difference to those currently in charge or, to use a perhaps more apposite expression, those who are calling the shots..

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