Lack of communalism during the pandemic fueled scandals and conspiracy theories, which were then treated as fact in the name of science by much of the popular press and on social media. The retraction of a highly visible hydroxychloroquine paper from the The Lancet was a startling example: A lack of sharing and openness allowed a top medical journal to publish an article in which 671 hospitals allegedly contributed data that did not exist, and no one noticed this outright fabrication before publication. The New England Journal of Medicine, another top medical journal, managed to publish a similar paper; many scientists continue to heavily cite it long after its retraction.
The hottest public scientific debate of the moment—whether the COVID-19 virus was the product of natural evolution or a laboratory accident—could have been settled easily with a minimal demonstration of communalism (“communism,” actually, in the original Merton vocabulary) from China: Opening the lab books of the Wuhan Institute of Virology would have alleviated concerns immediately. Without such openness about which experiments were done, lab leak theories remain tantalizingly credible.
Personally, I don’t want to consider the lab leak theory—a major blow to scientific investigation—as the dominant explanation yet. However, if full public data-sharing cannot happen even for a question relevant to the deaths of millions and the suffering of billions, what hope is there for scientific transparency and a sharing culture? Whatever the origins of the virus, the refusal to abide by formerly accepted norms has done its own enormous damage.John P. A. Ioannidis, “How the Pandemic Is Changing the Norms of Science” at Tablet (September 8, 2021)
Some of us find the lab-leak theory quite reasonable. See: Why did the New York Times discredit the lab leak theory? The Times led the way in zealously discrediting the quite reasonable COVID-19 lab leak theory. But what underlay its zeal?