Hydroxychloroquine Controversies: Clinical Trials, Epistemology, and the Democratization of Science


The claim that anti‐malaria drugs, chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, can cure COVID‐19 became a focus of fierce political battles that pitted promoters of these pharmaceuticals, Presidents Bolsonaro and Trump among them, against “medical elites.” At the center of these battles are different meanings of effectiveness in medicine, the complex role of randomized clinical trials (RCTs) in proving such effectiveness, the task of medical experts and the state in regulating pharmaceuticals, patients’ activism, and the collective production of medical knowledge. This article follows the trajectory of chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine as anti‐COVID‐19 drugs, focusing on the reception of views of their main scientific promoter, the French infectious disease specialist, Didier Raoult. The surprising career of these drugs, our text proposes, is fundamentally a political event, not in the narrow sense of engaging specific political fractions, but in the much broader sense of the politics of public participation in science.

Photo Credit to Llana Löwy
Homemade poster plastered on a pillar in Paris (Place de la République) short after the easing of the lockdown restrictions. The slogan reads: “The true protective behavior against the vaccine and pharmaceutical lobbies”. Photo Credit: Llana Löwy.