CMU President John Marshall cites unreliable preprint as a basis for the school’s weak Covid-19 response

New CMU President John Marshall has never published a single article in a peer-reviewed journal, and appears oblivious to the importance of the peer-review process in citing medical research as the basis for campus health policy. (Photo: Twitter, @MesaVeep)

New Colorado Mesa University (CMU) President John Marshall on August 30 cited a non-peer-reviewed study that bears a boldfaced warning label saying it might contain errors and be incorrect, as a basis for the school’s disturbingly weak mitigation plan against Covid-19 that is terrorizing staff.

At 4:29 p.m. on Monday, August 30, 2021, CMU’s “Campus Safety” department sent an email out to school staff with the subject line:

“Subject: Learn more about protective immunity”

The email said in part,

“…a large observational study out of Israel demonstrated the power of the human immune system which supports what we’ve been saying all along: That naturally acquired immunity after a SARS-CoV-2 infection is highly protective against reinfection and severe disease and hospitalization.”

It further said,

“When developing prevention strategies to slow the spread of COVID-19, we will continue to utilize data and emerging science to make evidence-based decisions in order to keep our campus safe.”

The email was referencing the unproven notion that natural herd immunity achieved through mass infection with the coronavirus is an effective means of pandemic control.

The email cited an Israeli study but failed to name it, or even supply a link, leaving staff guessing about what the study actually said. The email further confused readers by heavily emphasizing the value of natural immunity derived from contracting Covid-19 (assuming people live through it), and not mentioning any of the things known to prevent infection and mitigate the virus’s danger, like vaccines, masking and physical distancing, even though the school is supposed to be doing everything it can to keep staff and students safe from contracting the virus.

Dr. Tom Acker of CMU’s faculty noted this confused message and responded to the email by saying,

I am not sure how you are interpreting Israel’s covid resurgence in relation to CMU’s policy.
Their message is the reason for the Covid infection rate increase is due to lack of vaccinations among many young people and opening things up ( not using masks).

Acker included a link to an August 20 National Public Radio report that explained that although Israel has among the highest vaccination rates of any country in the world, it is currently seeing a massive resurgence of Covid cases due to the spread of the more infectious Delta variant, the lack of vaccinations among young people and the fact that Israel abolished all Covid precautions prematurely last June, including indoor masking and physical distancing — a situation that parallels the Covid policies CMU is using this semester.

CMU President John Marshall responded to Dr. Acker’s email by saying,

Good morning, Dr. Acker. Here is a link to the relevant (new) article about natural immunity:

The article’s findings match what we see here, which is a high degree of protection from COVID for those with natural immunity.

Thanks for your email.

Best,

John Marshall
President
Colorado Mesa University
970-248-1498 (o)
But the study Marshall cited is a pre-print that bears a strong, bolded statement at the top warning readers that it has not been peer-reviewed, has not been endorsed by the scientific community and “should NOT be used to guide clinical practice.” The site further warns people that if they cite this work, they need to emphasize to their audiences that the article has not been evaluated or endorsed in any way by the scientific or medical community, that it “may be erroneous”:

 

The preprint server explains what a preprint is, and why material that has not been peer-reviewed is undependable, and may contain errors and erroneous information.

CMU President John Marshall failed to let CMU staff know that the research he cited was not peer-reviewed and could be erroneous. He also failed to provide crucial context from the “Discussion” section of the article that describes the study’s limitations, including that the authors did not take into account the effects of any vaccine other than the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and that they did not take into account the health behaviors of study participants, like masking and distancing. The authors also emphasized in several places that “individuals who were previously infected with SARS-CoV-2 and given a single dose of the BNT162b2 [Pfizer] vaccine gained additional protection against the Delta variant,” above and beyond the protection acquired through natural immunity. [Bold emphasis added.]

President Marshall has no experience in publishing peer-reviewed research

This kind of disregard for the value of the academic process is stunning from a university president.

How could such an oversight happen at an institution like CMU? A university president citing a non-peer-reviewed study that bears a bold warning label warning it might be erroneous, intentionally leaving out vital context and information about the limitations of the research while bragging to CMU staff that the study has been key in informing the school’s Covid protocols? All while not even initially providing staff with a link to the preprint itself, so they could read it and find out about these problems and omissions themselves?

The problem might be rooted in the fact that John Marshall’s rèsumè (pdf) shows he has never published any work in a peer-reviewed journal — not even one article — leaving him unfamiliar with the rigorousness, thoroughness and detail the process requires, and the high research bar required to achieve it. Rather, it appears that leaving out the information about the warning label and the more nuanced information about the study’s limitations is what was important to President Marshall.

Publishing academic research in peer-reviewed journals is generally viewed as a requirement for a career in academia, and a long, distinguished and successful career in academia is normally required to be a University president.

But Marshall’s background is in politics, not academics, and therein lies the problem.

He was a political spinmeister before getting hired at CMU, and it is now showing.

A University President who snubs the peer-review process, provides information devoid of context, and knowingly relies on information that is labelled potentially erroneous as his basis for campus health protocols, and in a pandemic no less, poses a danger not just to students and CMU staff, but to the entire community.

  6 comments for “CMU President John Marshall cites unreliable preprint as a basis for the school’s weak Covid-19 response

  1. Has Kamala been notified of this? We need our nation’s next president to fix this debacle at once.

  2. This truly explains the poor reputation of CMU academically and obviously scientifically. Is no one from any of the Health Occupations Departments standing up to this policy in the name of scientific integrity or credibility?? How can you be an advocate for science..can you even spell cognitive dissonance? This is starting to sound like Trump University!
    Run students run!

  3. Can we mention the big problem with this. It compares persons who have had covid with persons who have been vaccinated. This means, that you have to get covid at least once to be one of the “naturally” immune. Do we really want all of the unvaccinated students and staff to risk getting covid without the mitigation of a vaccine? No! This is asking for extreme risk taking just to become “naturally” immune.

  4. This explains CMU’s irresponsible Covid policy which unnecessarily endangers students and staff. I believe this flawed policy exposes the decision-makers to legal liability.

  5. The first thing jumping out at me since reading this post is why their is no oversight by the university system itself. Isn’t CMU along with Western in Gunnison and CU and others all part of the same system ? Seems like peer reviewed might take into account the entire University system.

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