With the increasing popularity of coronavirus in the news and media, it is becoming increasingly harder to distinguish between what is true and what is false regarding the novel disease. First published in the New England Journal of Medicine, researchers suggest that an asymptomatic woman had transmitted the coronavirus in Germany to four people who would later fall ill. If these findings were true, a “reassessment of transmission dynamics of the current outbreak” would be warranted. In this review, Kai Kupferschmidt of ScienceMag does an excellent job in reporting how the original research was flawed and how claims made in the study may not be true.
While originally reported as the first case of asymptomatic transition, Kupferschmidt uses many sources to independently verify this claim as being false. The use of a large number of credible, independent sources is a major benefit that improves the quality of the review. Some sources used include the Robert Koch Institute (RKI, the German government’s public health agency), the Bavarian Health and Food Safety Authority, the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public health and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Another major aspect that positively contributes to the overall quality of the review is the maintenance of neutrality. With the high popularity of the latest coronavirus news, authors may have an increased pressure and susceptibility to write with a narrative. Kupferschmidt however does not do this, as he ensures to provide many perspectives and standpoints on the recent findings surrounding asymptomatic transmission. These perspectives include how the RKI phoned the woman to confirm if she was actually asymptomatic, how the WHO believes asymptomatic transmission may still be possible (but with minor effects on the overall epidemic), and explanations from the Harvard T.H Chan School of Public health as to why these claims were made public prior adequate verification and peer review.
This ScienceMag article describes the retraction of findings published in the New England Journal of Medicine (NEJM) regarding the potential asymptomatic transmission of novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV). The letter in the NEJM was partially based on cases of 2019-nCoV originating from a Chinese woman who was apparently asymptomatic, but upon further investigation was found to have symptoms that simply went unnoticed.
The author, Kai Kupferschmidt, provides us with opposing perspectives through quotes by various individuals within and outside the original paper, giving us an accurate depiction of the situation. He remains neutral throughout and avoids the use of any sensationalist language. Furthermore, he concisely explains the findings of the original study as well as what went wrong, and he presents us with the possible reasons for the mistake without assigning blame to any of the parties involved. These factors all add to the overall credibility of the article.
The novel coronavirus is very prominent in the news at the moment, and Kupferschmidt manages to make the topic at hand accessible to a broader audience by avoiding the use of any unexplained jargon. Moreover, the image included at the top is explained, thus adding something to the article.
This article provides us with a link to the original study, as well as information about the author. This decreases the potential for bias in the piece seeing as the reader can become aware of a potential conflict of interest on the author’s part or of a misinterpretation of the original study.
The views expressed by the reviewers for this article are not endorsed or shared by SciFeye. The interpretation of the review of the news story using the SciFeye Index was done independently by two SciFeye reviewers. We encourage you to conduct your own evaluation of the accuracy and quality of the news story using the Index.