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Rivals Usain Bolt and Justin Gatlin trash-talked each other before the 2016 Olympics, with Bolt calling Gatlin “old man”, and Gatlin calling Bolt “middle aged”. The banter was entertaining but vanished into insignificance when Bolt won. After the race, both athletes shook hands and accepted the result.

Something like trash-talking is happening in the race for a treatment for COVID-19, but – unlike with Bolt and Gatlin’s race, which decided the matter – there is no fair test of the two top contending treatments being conducted. The two competing treatments getting the most press are chloroquine, or its cousin hydroxychloroquine (usually given with an antibiotic), and remdesivir. Like almost all medical treatments, they both have benefits and harms.

Hydroxychloroquine is promoted by world-renowned French virologist Didier Raoult, who looks like a rock star. Remdesivir is being endorsed by Donald Trump’s scientific adviser, Anthony Fauci.

Fauci claimed that Raoult’s treatment may have “no effect”, and Raoult returned the favour by accusing Fauci’s trial of “surprisingly” changing outcomes mid-stream (death rate was initially the primary outcome measure but this was replaced with the time it took patients to recover). Missing from this exchange is a call for a fair head-to-head test of the two treatments.

Read the full article on The Conversation website, written by Jeremy Howick, Director of the Oxford Empathy Programme (Faculty of Philosophy)

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