French scientist Didier Raoult given Rusty Razor Award for pseudoscience


Michael Marshall
Michael Marshall is the project director of the Good Thinking Society and president of the Merseyside Skeptics Society. He is the co-host of the Skeptics with a K podcast, interviews proponents of pseudoscience on the Be Reasonable podcast, has given skeptical talks all around the world, and has lectured at several universities on the role of PR in the media. He became editor of The Skeptic in August 2020.

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The French microbiologist Didier Raoult has today been named the 2020 recipient of the “Rusty Razor” award, the prize given by The Skeptic to the year’s worst promoters of pseudoscience.

The scientist made headlines around the world earlier this year for his study promoting the use of the malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as a treatment for COVID-19. The study, which claimed that hydroxychloroquine reduced the viral load in patients with COVID-19 and that this effect was enhanced with azithromycin co-treatment, was presented to the media via press conference in March 2020, before being published in the journal International Journal of Antimicrobial Agents.

Subsequent analysis of Raoult’s data found that his sample size was incredibly small, with only 6 patients given the hydroxychloroquine/azithromycin combination. The study was also found to be improperly controlled, and data was excluded for a number of patients whose condition worsened as they were either transferred to intensive care, or died. Subsequent studies have shown no clinical benefit for the use of hydroxychloroquine in patients with COVID-19. 

After Raoult’s study inspired a surge of interest in the use of hydroxychloroquine, US President Donald Trump endorsed the drug, tweeting to promote it dozens of times. Tellingly, when Trump himself inevitably contracted COVID-19, he did not take hydroxychloroquine – however the same cannot be said for Brazilian President and fellow hydroxychloroquine-fan Jair Bolsanaro, who was said to have been given the drug while he was recovering from the virus.

The Skeptic Editor Michael Marshall said: “We received a lot of nominations this year for world leaders like Donald Trump and Jair Bolsanaro, for promoting pseudoscientific COVID-19 cures – and in each case, their most prominent ineffective ‘cure’ was hydroxychloroquine, as a direct consequence of Raoult’s study.

“It is hard to find an example of quackery that has spread so far, influencing the public health response to a deadly pandemic and creating widespread confusion across the entire globe.”

“For his promotion of hydroxychloroquine, and the flawed science that formed the basis of that promotion, Raoult is a worthy winner of the 2020 Rusty Razor award for pseudoscience”.

The 2020 Ockham award for Skeptical Activism went to Dr Natalia Pasternak for her tireless work in Brazil during the COVID-19 crisis, while the Editor’s Choice award went to Skeptics in the Pub Online for their support of the UK’s skeptical community throughout an extraordinary year.

Watch the awards ceremony again

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