San Francisco, CA—Stanford University physician and data science maverick John P. A. Ioannidis appears to be ecstatic to find out his own research findings are false.
The scientist, whose 2005 PLOS article “Why Most Published Research Findings Are False” propelled him to international fame, was caught making unexpected and unusual statements during a meeting with his research collaborators conducted via Zoom, a recording of which was anonymously released to The Accad and Koka Report.
In March of this year, Ioannidis raised enormous controversy when he authored an opinion piece in StatNews in which he criticized the COVID-related lockdown policies for being “Draconian,” a reference to the 6th c. BCE autocratic ruler of his native Greece. According to Ioannidis, the problem is that lockdown policies are imposed without any data to support them, which is “an evidence fiasco.”
To illustrate the perilous situation, Ioannidis referred to Aesop’s fable of the elephant and the cat, summarizing it for StatNews readers as follows: “It’s like an elephant being attacked by a house cat. Frustrated and trying to avoid the cat, the elephant accidentally jumps off a cliff and dies.”
Many conservative commentators found the allegory quite apt and were quick to cite Ioannidis’ essay as further evidence of government overreach. However, Ioannidis’ position was forcefully challenged by another notable statistician and influencer, Nassim Nicholas Taleb, who pointed out in a somewhat derogatory tweet that Ioannidis’ story clearly failed to account for the possibility of a cat with a very fat tail.
Within weeks, Ioannidis produced 2 research papers precisely meant to show that the COVID cat’s tail is not particularly unusual, measuring perhaps 0.3-0.5 inches in thickness at most, in line with that of any typical seasonal cat. As soon as the articles were produced, however, they were met with a barrage of criticism by a number of evidence-based veterinarians who noted that the way Ioannidis had skinned the COVID cat before measuring its tail was not random and likely underestimated the true thickness of the appendage.
That’s when the Stanford professor called an urgent Zoom video-conference meeting of his team, a recording of which was sent to us anonymously via email.
The meeting turned out to be a most unusual event. In the first 30 minutes or so, the recording reveals much tension as the scientist lashes out at his collaborators for their improper handling of the protocols, and particularly for recruiting subjects on the LOL-CATS Facebook page. But then, after a moment of silence, Ioannidis unexpectedly begins to exclaim “Eureka! Eureka!” and his facial expression changes to one of unrestrained giddiness. To his bewildered teammates, he then explains the reason for the joyful outburst: “Don’t you see? Even my own research findings are false!! There is no exception to the rule! ALL of research is false! It’s ALL nonsense! It’s ALL for rubbish! Ha Ha Ha Ha Ha!!”
The audio recording ends abruptly at that point, with the meeting host evidently muting the professor and all of the attendees, but a few additional seconds of video footage show Ioannidis climbing on his desk and dancing ecstatically in the style of Zorba the Greek before the screen turns blank.
We attempted to contact the notorious Professor or members of his entourage for further clarification but were told that the whole team would not be available as it was engaged in a cathartic “data bonfire,” a massive deletion of all evidence accumulated over the last 2 decades.
As this article was going to press, we privately shared the recording with members of an evidence-based medicine advocacy group and asked them their thoughts on the matter. “This is just awful,” one of them said. “Ioannidis was such a staunch defender of evidence. Our faith is deeply shaken. We don’t know what to think anymore. We’re like sheep without a shepherd.”
Whether the EBM movement will survive this astonishing turn of events remains to be seen. Meanwhile, for a fresh analysis on the controversial figure, we invite our audience to tune in to our latest podcast episode with guests Saurabh Jha and Swapnil Hiremath, “What to Make of J.P.A. Ioannidis?“