Johns Hopkins University ties itself in knots over alarmist economist

New Delhi, March 29 (IANS) In a controversy triggered by the economist Ramanan Lakshminarayan’s alarmist report on the extent of coronavirus pandemic in India, John Hopkins University tied itself in several knots over the weekend.

An economist turned entrepreneur, Lakshminarayan in several media interviews last week had predicted that India will have around 300 to 500 million cases of novel coronavirus. The prediction was based on a 33-page study his Washington-based group The Center For Disease Dynamics & Policy (CDDEP) did along with Johns Hopkins University (JHU).

The report with the logo of the JHU, was published by news wire services and reproduced by media outlets in India, triggering widespread panic. While many doubted the conclusions of the report, BJP’s foreign affairs in-charge, Vijay Chauthaiwale in a series of tweets, questioned the credentials of Lakshminarayan and pointed out that he was found guilty in a major case of intellectual property theft and has a serious conflict of interest in another case too.

Presumably unnerved by the queries and allegations, the JHU, using its official Twitter handle on March 27, distanced itself from Lakshminarayan’s report, saying, “The use of our logo was not authorised in this case and JHU is engaging with CDDEP on it.”

The JHU tweet went viral. As a result, some media platforms in India removed the JHU-CDDEP story, blaming wire services for publishing it.

However, the somersaults of the JHU did not end here. The university’s International Health Twitter handle reaffirmed its association with the CDDEP and the report. In fact, the JHU goes on to brag that the CDDEP-JHU report “uses strong scientific modelling based on available data and clear assumptions to help inform the Covid-19 response in India.”

Separately, CDDEP in an official email to IANS reiterated that its report titled ‘COVID19 for India Updates’ is co-authored by researchers at the Johns Hopkins University and Princeton University.

“We would like to clarify that the new report is co-authored by faculty at Johns Hopkins School of Public Health. The report uses a strong scientific modeling based on available data and clear assumptions,” the CDDEP said in its email, confirming its association with the JHU.

In defence of its about-turns, the CDDEP said, “An earlier version of the report did not have the correct logo of Princeton University and, therefore, needed to be corrected. The updated logo has now been placed on the report and the work was indeed done at Princeton. As with all research, the report does not reflect any official position of the institutions involved. This is as per the clarifications issued by both JHSPH and Princeton on the report.”

Princeton University also confirmed on that the work was indeed done at Princeton and is being submitted for peer review. The Ivy League also tweeted an oped on coronavirus pandemic in India written by Lakshminaryan in the New York Times.

–IANS

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