Remember Surgisphere? That was the name of the company that allegedly gathered data from hundreds of hospitals around the world and subsequently published a research paper claiming people treated with hydroxychloroquine were more likely to die than those who were not. That paper made international news at the time, but dozens of doctors questioned the credibility of its data. The paper was eventually retracted and, as of today, it appears Surgisphere is no more:

Indeed, if you click on Surgisphere’s website you just get a message saying “This Site Is Suspended.”

When doctors initially wrote to Lancet, the journal that published the study, to question the validity of the research, Surgisphere claimed it could provide all of the data to back up its claims. But things took a turn when the Guardian revealed some of the company’s staff had rather unusual resumes.

A search of publicly available material suggests several of Surgisphere’s employees have little or no data or scientific background. An employee listed as a science editor appears to be a science fiction author and fantasy artist whose professional profile suggests writing is her fulltime job.Another employee listed as a marketing executive is an adult model and events hostess, who also acts in videos for organisations.

Lancet launched an independent peer review of the paper but when it came time for Surgisphere to put its cards on the table, it balked:

Our independent peer reviewers informed us that Surgisphere would not transfer the full dataset, client contracts, and the full ISO audit report to their servers for analysis as such transfer would violate client agreements and confidentiality requirements. As such, our reviewers were not able to conduct an independent and private peer review and therefore notified us of their withdrawal from the peer-review process…

Based on this development, we can no longer vouch for the veracity of the primary data sources. Due to this unfortunate development, the authors request that the paper be retracted.

Last week the Guardian published a follow-up report on Dr Sapan Desai, the founder of Surgisphere and the lead author of the retracted paper. He has had dozens of other papers published over the years, all of which are now receiving additional scrutiny:

  • Major institutions including Stanford University, which were described as research partners on the Surgisphere website, said they were not aware of any formal relationship with the company.
  • A study that formed the basis of Desai’s PhD may contain doctored images, according to expert claims, and the global medical publishing company Elsevier is conducting a review of his papers published in its journals.
  • Claims made by Desai about his qualifications gained since his medical degree have been called into doubt, including his claims to hold two PhDs, a master’s, and affiliations with major universities and colleges. Some of these affiliations have now been removed from his website and online profiles.

It looks like Dr. Desai’s entire history is full of fraudulent claims. His Wikipedia page was flagged 10 years ago because people noticed many of the claims about him were sourced to his own website.

It was only when this guy made international news that doctors who knew better noticed there was a problem. The result is not just the retraction of one paper but at least three so far and probably many more to come. Add to that the collapse of his company and significant damage to the reputations of everyone involved, including Lancet which should never have published this in the first place.