Scientists rally around misconduct consultant facing legal threat after challenging COVID-19 drug researcher - 2021-05-27
More than 1000 researchers have signed an open letter in support of Elisabeth Bik, a scientific integrity consultant who is being accused of harassment and blackmail by a lawyer representing Didier Raoult, a controversial microbiologist at the Hospital Institute of Marseille (IHU) Mediterranean Infection in France. Last year, Raoult popularized the antimalarial drug hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment. Bik, who specializes in identifying manipulated images in scientific papers, has raised concerns about dozens of Raoult's papers—including ethical, procedural, and methodological problems in a March 2020 paper reporting success in a small hydroxychloroquine trial.
The letter reflects a concern that "legitimate scientific criticism can be squelched by behaviors that go beyond scholarly debate," says University of Virginia social scientist Brian Nosek, one of its authors. Threats like these are a "substantial threat to science as a social system," adds Nosek, who has led a push for greater replicability in science.
Raoult's lawyer told Science he filed a complaint against Bik with the French public prosecutor last month, although Bik has not been notified or charged. She says she has also faced months of harassment on Twitter—from one of Raoult's colleagues, IHU structural biologist Eric Chabriere, and from anonymous accounts—as a result of her critiques of Raoult's work. Most of the tweets question whether Bik is being paid by pharmaceutical companies and whether she profited from securities fraud at microbiome testing startup uBiome, where she worked from 2016 to 2018. Other tweets have attacked Bik's appearance and threatened "justice" in "a real prison" in France. Most frightening, Bik says, has been the doxxing—publication of her home address by both Chabriere and anonymous accounts.