SARS-CoV-2 in Barcelona sewers

A parody (modified image; yes, I occasionally photoshop as well!) I made based on the cover of Stephen King’s novel “It”, about a monster lurking in New England sewers. Not meant as copyright infringement. You can buy the book here.

A quick post based on a Twitter thread I did this afternoon.

Several people asked me to say something about a rather fantastical finding, that SARS-CoV-2 might already have been lurking in Barcelona sewers in March 2019, a year before the first COVID-19 case was reported in Spain.

It was reported by a group from University of Barcelona and posted as a non-peer reviewed preprint on MedRxiv on June 13.

With fantastic claims should come fantastic data. That is not the case here.

Let’s dive into the Barcelona sewers to find out the details.

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The Surgisphere Founder and the Melba Toast figure

Surgisphere is a company that specializes in the analysis of clinical data. It provided the large datasets on COVID-19 patients that formed the basis of two papers recently published in The Lancet and The New England Journal of Medicine, both of which were retracted on June 4th. Suspicions had been raised about the validity of the data, provided by Surgisphere founder Sapan S. Desai, who was an author on both papers.

But that might not be the only concern about Desai’s work. Here I will discuss a paper from his PhD project at the University of Illinois at Chicago that appears to have some serious image problems.

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The Octopaper

A follower on Twitter asked me to look at two identical papers. I agreed that they looked very similar, did some searches, and found six more. All eight papers presented the same survival curves, table values, and similar line graphs. But they were published in different journals by different authors, at different institutes, on different patients, and different cancers.

In this blog post, I present to you the Mysterious Case of the Octopaper.

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