Bik And Raoult Hydroxychloroquine Feud Reveals Tensions

For spring 2020, Raoult was best known as an outstanding microbiologist who founded and directed the research hospital Institut Hospitalo-Universitaire Méditerranée Infection, or IHU. He has discovered or discovered dozens of new bacteria – a group of them is named Raoultella — as well as giant viruses. By many accounts, his wide reach in the scientific community is matched by his temperament: In 2012, Science magazine described him as “imaginative, rebellious, and often contemptible.” “He can make your life difficult,” said one scientist.

A handful of Raoult’s thousands of writings have also come under scrutiny. In 2006, the American Society for Microbiology banned him and four co-authors from their journals for a year for “misrepresentation of data” after a reviewer saw numbers that were identical, but weren’t supposed to be, in two versions of a submitted manuscript. (Raoult contested the ban, saying it was not his fault.) And some researchers noted that Raoult had one-third of all papers to appear in a single journal, which was staffed by some of his colleagues.

Last year, Raoult’s team issued a correction to a 2018 study, and another from 2013 was retracted entirely (the paper said Raoult could not be reached when it was making its decision). Both apparently contained duplicate or otherwise suspicious images, first spotted by Bik, who has flagged more than 60 of his other studies on PubPeer for potential problems.

And by July of last year, his most famous study had been reviewed by even more outside experts on behalf of the journal’s publishers. The scientists did not hold back. “Gross methodological flaws,” “uninformative” and “completely irresponsible,” said one. Another group said it “raised a lot of attention and promoted demand for the drug without proper evidence.”

Despite acknowledging these flaws, leaders of the International Society of Antimicrobial Chemotherapy, which publishes the journal along with Elsevier, chose not to retract the study. “We believe that, in addition to the importance of sharing observational data at the height of a pandemic, a robust public scientific discussion of the paper’s findings in an open and transparent manner should be made available,” they said. Around the same time, a group of 500 French infectious disease experts filed a complaint with local health officials, accusing Raoult of spreading misinformation about hydroxychloroquine.

Raoult defended his “work of fame” and argued that the call for a recall had “no justification except the opinion of people who were bitterly hostile” to hydroxychloroquine. At a hearing in the French Senate in September, he once again downplayed criticism of his research. Bik had “found five errors in a total of 3,500 articles,” he said, but acknowledged that there may be a small number of other errors as well. He denied ever committing fraud.

During the Senate hearing, Raoult called Bik a term meaning “headhunter”, a “girl” who had been “chasing” him since he was “famous”. And around Thanksgiving, biologist Eric Chabrière, Raoult’s frequent collaborator and co-author of the hydroxychloroquine study, tweeted that Bik was “harassing” and “trying to bully” Raoult.

He cited her previous work at uBiome, a microbe-testing startup that was raided by the FBI in 2019. (Bik, who was science editor until the end of 2018, has said she was never questioned and was not involved in founding the alleged scheme to defraud insurers and investors.) Chabrière also accused her of being paid off by the pharmaceutical industry.

“I’m not sponsored by any company, but you can sponsor me on @Patreon,” Bik tweeted back, linking to his account. As she explained to Chabrière, she is also a consultant to universities and publishers who want suspicious papers investigated.

“I’m happy to research any documents from your organization too, as long as you pay me :-),” she added.

In the months that followed, Chabrière called her “a real dung beetle”, “a mercenary who obeys only money” and someone who “paid to attack and discredit certain targets”. His supporters sometimes piled up with vague threats. Raoult, meanwhile, called her a “crazy woman” and a “failed researcher” of “mediocre intelligence.”

Then, on April 30 of this year, Chabrière tweeted a screenshot of a legal complaint allegedly filed with the French Attorney General. It accused her and PubPeer co-organizer Barbour of “moral harassment,” “attempted blackmail” and “attempted blackmail.” Her address was listed. The tweet was later deleted.

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