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The Scientific Literature’s Own Pandemic

One side effect of the coronavirus has been an explosion of lower-quality publications in the scientific literature. This has come in several forms, some more excusable than others. In the former category are the papers that were rushed out earlier this year, observational studies that sometimes investigated possible therapies as well. These were often done under great pressure of time and resources, so it’s understandable that they had many possible confounding variables and were also statistically underpowered. These were from the “some data beats no data” era of coronavirus clinical reports, and these papers have been superseded by larger, more well-controlled ones (as their authors surely fully expected). Some of those early observations have held up, and some of them haven’t.

The less excusable stuff has some subtypes of its own. There are the people who have thrown a colorful coronavirus tarp across their existing work to increase its chances of publication and/or funding, for one. This is an old and not particularly honorable scientific tradition, but no one’s surprised by it (and I hope that no one’s impressed, either). Beyond that, unfortunately, are people publishing stuff that would probably never appear at all if it didn’t have the currently fashionable lipstick and rouge applied to it.

You can find many examples of this at literature watchdog sites such as Retraction Watch and For Better Science. For example, here’s a paper on the mental health effect of the pandemic that’s so useful that the authors published it three times in nearly identical form. And there’s been a flood of deeply unimpressive work on Vitamin D, which will make it even harder to figure out if there’s anything worthwhile in the idea to start with. And Retraction Watch has been keeping a list of Covid-19-related retractions and expressions of concern, which will surely grow ever longer. Of course, there are plenty of papers out there (in this field and others) that haven’t been retracted but sure look as if they should be.For example, this thing, which just recently appeared in Science of the Total Environment, an Elsevier journal that I’d never heard of. That’s no particular distinction – Elsevier has a lot of journals that no one has ever heard of, and quite a few that people wish that they never had heard of, either. The title of the paper really says it all: “Can Traditional Chinese Medicine provide insights into controlling the COVID-19 pandemic: Serpentinization-induced lithospheric long-wavelength magnetic anomalies in Proterozoic bedrocks in a weakened geomagnetic field mediate the aberrant transformation of biogenic molecules in COVID-19 via magnetic catalysis

That title is quite a ride. You have the unpromising TCM beginning, but then there’s a completely unexpected slide into geology, with a vertigo-inducing snapback at the end into biology via “magnetic catalysis”. Reading the paper itself does not resolve these feelings. It’s full of statements like “The discovery of the chiral-induced spin selectivity effect suggests that a resonant external magnetic field could alter the spin state of electrons in biogenic molecules and result in the magnetic catalysis of aberrant molecules and disease“, in which the verb “suggests” is doing an Olympic powerlift, and the weird and alarming “neither the SARS-CoV-2 infection nor the inflammatory reaction per se is the principal mediator of severe disease and mortality“. It’s the “serpentinization-induced resonant long-wavelength magnetic anomalies” that “induce the magnetic catalysis of iron oxides-silicate-like minerals (i.e., iron oxides, hyaline) from biogenic molecules and SARS-CoV-2 from endogenous viral elements in the genome“, you see. I realize that that last part might be hard to parse (I think they believe that viral particles are being produced endogenously?), but perhaps my house is built over the wrong kind of rock deposits or something. At any rate, one conclusion of the paper is that Nephrite-Jade amulets are appropriate personal protective measures against the pandemic, a recommendation is completely in line with best practices from the Neolithic Hemudu-Majiabang culture in China, and who should know better, I ask you.

I think this is a load of tripe, personally. Old, smelly, unsaleable tripe, the sort that George Orwell’s landlady was unsuccessfully trying to unload onto customers in The Road to Wigan Pier. I find the scientific rationales unconvincing and hand-waving, the attempt to dethrone the germ theory of disease quixotic at best, and the recommendation to wear jade amulets to protect from disease to be flat-out bizarre. Retraction Watch has some e-mail correspondence with the editors of the journal and the authors of the paper itself, and those don’t make me any happier, either.

Extraordinary claims, after all, need extraordinary evidence, and this paper just doesn’t bring anything close to what would be needed for its conclusions. For its premises. It features a lot of wild leaps between unrelated phenomena, while all the while claiming that all of these steps are perfectly reasonable and well-precedented. If you don’t know anything about biology, about geology, or about physics it probably sounds impressive. But its peer review and publication do no credit to anyone involved – not the editors, nor the journal, nor Elsevier, nor the authors, and definitely not the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, where it originated.

115 comments on “The Scientific Literature’s Own Pandemic”

  1. Dionysius Rex says:

    The article itself is surely an experiment testing the robustness of peer review? Or AI generated gibberish experiment?

    1. anonymous coward says:

      Or maybe the lack of/lower limits on the credibility needed for someone to accept money for its publication?

    2. Toni says:

      these were also my first thoughts when I read the title

    3. En Passant says:

      Or AI generated gibberish experiment?

      My bet is on that option.

      If you use your favorite search engine to find “automatic article generator”, or “automatic essay generator” you will get dozens of results.

      You give the automatic article writer a few keywords or phrases, then press “go”. You get a nonsense article more or less on the subject of the keywords or phrases you specified.

      For scientific papers, look up SCIgen in wikipedia.

      Note that this is not the first time nonsensical scientific papers have been spotted in major publications.

      See this example from 2014:

      > Publishers withdraw more than 120 gibberish papers
      > Conference proceedings removed from subscription databases after
      > scientist reveals that they were computer-generated.
      > Richard Van Noorden
      > 24 February 2014 Updated: 25 February 2014
      > The publishers Springer and IEEE are removing more than 120 papers
      > from their subscription services after a French researcher discovered
      > that the works were computer-generated nonsense.

      1. Pyro says:

        That it’s an AI-generated spitball (tossed at the wall to see if it sticks) of a paper was also the general conclusion when it got posted on the geology subreddit not too long ago.

        If a human being wrote it, they need some major mental health interventions, stat.

    4. theasdgamer says:

      If you start throwing a lot of money at science, expect a lot of bathwater and maybe a lot of baby, but the signal strength won’t be as strong as if you hadn’t.

      1. Wallace Grommet says:

        Babies are a burden generally so just keep the bath water

    5. Baltic says:

      After reading the exchange with the corresponding author on Retraction Watch, this seems unlikely.

  2. Someone says:

    Thank you, I really needed a good laugh.
    Now I’m going to go and cry in the corner about the current state of science.

  3. APAJ says:

    The paper itself was a reason for several double-takes, some thorough frowning and not a few lingering question marks. Heading over to the Retraction Watch and reading the excerpts and later the full e-mail conversation with the corresponding author just flat out blew me away.
    And Elsevier’s reaction? Yes, peer-reviewed science! Guess that says a lot about the authors and their peers.

    1. FoodScientist says:

      Maybe it’s like the meme about how much sawdust can be put into rice crispy treats before people notice. I was really hoping they meant some kind of snake makery and not the mineral serpentine.

      I’m somewhat disappointed they didn’t give the rats they irradiated with 500Rads small amulets, that got sick for some unrelated reason.

    2. Kaleberg says:

      Did they pay their reviewers? Did they get what they paid for?

      1. Some idiot says:

        Paid? Reviewers???

        That would be something of an alternate universe compared to the one that I am most familiar with. The vast majority of journals rely on a huge amount of volunteer work in order to deliver good profits…

  4. John Wayne says:

    Publishing in the sciences has its problems, and they have been pushed into the highlight by recent events. Those of us in the field know that most everything is crap, but does it have to be that way?

    I try and do my part my giving critical reviews of bad papers and grants, but then I don’t tend to asked back to do it again. Do editors have a motivation to select reviewers that are lenient? It is certainly easier to review a great paper or grant. I can’t count the number of times a recommendation of ‘don’t publish in any form’ has become ‘publish without edits.’ It is disheartening.

    1. Curmudgeon says:

      After what seemed like years of getting only horrible proposals from one PM, I asked her, “Why are you sending me nothing but crap proposals.”. Her reply:

      “Because I know you’ll kill them dead.”

      🙂 Someone has to do it….

      1. T says:

        🙂 I’ve done this. Especially when you have a nightmare author who bombards the office with angry rebuttals if the reports are anything less than consistently scathing, you pick reviewers who can be relied upon to say so very clearly if the work is bad.

    2. Anonymous says:

      As an editor of science journals at one of the large publishing houses, I would say that I do not have any motivation to select lenient reviewers. If anything, I seek out reviewers I know will be critical because I have strong suspicions something is bunk.

      The more likely explanation is that well-informed, skeptical reviewers saw the title and refused to even read the paper.

      The most likely explanation is that the manuscript wasn’t fully peer-reviewed. All the editors I know and work with would be horrified if something like this slipped through under their watch.

      1. Christophe L Verlinde says:

        Any editor of a respectable publisher should have relegated the “Serpentinization” paper directly to the dumpster – no need for peer reviewers.

      2. emba says:

        ‘As an editor of science journals at one of the large publishing houses, I would say that I do not have any motivation to select lenient reviewers.’

        How much do you pay your reviewers?

    3. ROBERT BROMMAGE says:

      Back about 1976 my esteemed thesis explained that editors usually decide quickly if they want to publish a submitted manuscript in “their” journal. They keep a handy list of reviewers who accept mosh papers and reviewers who reject most papers.

  5. Ross Presser says:

    I can’t find “Can Traditional Chinese Medicine provide insights …” on RetractionWatch?

    1. Greg says:

      It would appear to be here:

      (You can search for “Serpentinization” in the search box about half way down the page if that link fails.)

      1. Some idiot says:

        It just occurred to me how weird the sentence “ (You can search for “Serpentinization” in the search box about half way down the page if that link fails.)“ would be in most normal contexts.

        Which in itself says something about the context…!

    2. Derek Lowe says:

      Whoops, that got lost in a quick revision. I’ve changed that line and added the link. Thanks!

  6. luysii says:

    ” There are the people who have thrown a colorful coronavirus tarp across their existing work to increase its chances of publication and/or funding, for one. This is an old and not particularly honorable scientific tradition, but no one’s surprised by it (and I hope that no one’s impressed, either).”

    Well 60 years ago I was told to put the word cancer somewhere in the proposal to get a graduate stipend from NSF. It worked !

    1. Ian Malone says:

      I wonder what people expect though? Funding from foundations and charities for other research has been pulled or dropped, suddenly there’s money for covid work. There isn’t a massive covid community sitting around waiting for that to happen, so where is it going to come from? And to a degree it’s the scientific community saying, “How can we be useful here?”

      In effect this has been the job for a long time, spin whatever you do as what the funders actually want. Hopefully the two align to a degree.

      That said, you’d expect some humility in such cases, and not, for example, heavily pushing a novel epidemeological model hastily re-purposed from a completely different discipline even after it starts to diverge from reality.

      1. Kaleberg says:

        It’s like World War II: “Our chewing gum is essential to maintain GI morale overseas and support vital productivity levels here at home. … ” It’s vital war materiel. Here’s our E flag. (If I remember correctly.)

        1. Ian Malone says:

          Hopefully it’s less like that and more like furniture makers retooling as aircraft manufacturers. (This really happened, )

  7. navarro says:

    many years ago, a friend of mine was completing his doctorate in political science with an enormous side of statistics (by the end of it he had memorized both spss and bmdp manuals, poor fellow). so to amuse him, i took a collection of works from the field and used the william burroughs “cut-up” and “fold-in” techniques to improvise a paper i titled “hogwash and the vote.”

    i dare say, my attempts at satire were probably more rigorous than anything based on the magnetic catalysis of biogenic molecules.

    once again, thank you for doing this so none of us have to. not quite as funny as “things i won’t work with” if only because we’re so much more likely to come into contact with covid-19 than we are hexaazahexanitroisowurtzitane (done from memory, hope i got it right).

    1. Pyro says:

      Close! You switched the azide and nitro groups in the naming scheme.


      (I also came for Derek’s take on compounds that, as Isaac Asimov put it in the forward to Ignition!: An Informal History of Liquid Rocket Propellants, “explode shatteringly … flame ravenously … corrode hellishly … poison sneakily … stink stenchily … [and] all these delightful properties combined into one delectable whole”, and stayed for the interesting takes on more *normal* chemistry and science.)

      1. navarro says:

        oh, well. at least i got all the nitrogen-bearing groups in the naming. as i said, it was from memory.

  8. Anon says:

    I mean no one reads that journal and the only reason it’s getting attention now is because you, people on Twitter and RW posted it…this is how things become viral unnecessarily. Thanks I guess.

    1. Patrick says:

      Oh yes, talking about bad science is *definitely* the problem. When bad things (the borderline criminal waste of funding dollars, notably, and the degradation of standards at real public institutions in first world countries) are happening, the right response is to pretend they don’t exist so they can continue in silence.

      1. EJ says:

        But that doesn’t invalidate the problem.

        This paper is seemingly hand crafted to generate outrage and ridicule. It absolutely has to be covered, and I suspect the participants pushed it on through with that in mind.

    2. CET says:

      …or it gets picked up by the credulous staff at any one of the news sources that have repeatedly disgraced themselves in the last 12 months….

      I’m all for making the garbage known for what it is.

  9. myma says:

    Thanks for the laugh. I never thought of the possibilities for geologic prophylaxis. I think I will turn off the little extractor fan and sit in my radon-soaked basement for a month and see if I don’t catch coronavirus. And if I don’t, hey, that proves that radon works! That must be worthy of publication somewhere!

    1. Patrick says:

      I think blog comments are basically preprint servers minus the formatting and preprint is basically the same as publication, so I think you’ve basically done it.

      No need to do the experiment either.

    2. Some idiot says:

      I think I need to read that paper for the laughs…!

      I must admit that my first thought when I read “geologic prophylaxis” was “you want me to stick that rock ***where***???”

      1. Baltic says:

        Well, a certain Gwyneth Paltrow has made quite a lucrative business out of exactly that approach, so…

        1. Some idiot says:


  10. Fishface says:

    might as well use jade amulets to protect from disease fuck all else works

    1. Metaphysician says:

      Wearing a mask does. So does staying socially distanced.

      1. Noni Mausa says:

        But have you tried a **jade** mask? Well, have you???

        Gotta test all the variables.

        Next up, “Standing on one leg singing the Ankh Morpork national anthem as a prophylaxis against SARS-CoV-2 — is the Lucky Arrow a necessary predicate to efficacy?”

        1. Mantis Toboggan says:

          Well before you do that study, I’ve been reading about jade masks on youtube and based on that you have to wear the jade mask prophylactically for 3 weeks prior to exposure and it has to be a high zinc content type of jade.

      2. theasdgamer says:

        Don’t forget the rabbit’s foot. It also protects against covid.

    2. FoodScientist says:

      They only work if you accelerate them to sufficient velocity

  11. Some idiot says:

    A bit of Douglas Adams seems appropriate here (in this case, the text being meaningless critique of a piece of poetry):

    “ ‘… counterpoint the surrealism of the underlying metaphor …’ The captain closed his book with a grim smile: ‘death’s too good for them…’ “

  12. JasonP says:

    Not just Jade, but Nephrite-Jade amulets! I have mine on order from eBay!

    Can anyone tell me if I need to add zinc too? 😉

    Mirth anyone?

    1. matt says:

      I hear nickel would stimulate your immune system more.

  13. sgcox says:

    On a positive side, this paper debunk G5 conspiracy : Covid-19 as we now know is caused by “long-wavelength magnetic anomalies “. The G5 signal is at shorter wavelength than the benign G4 and so must be totally harmless !

  14. ScientistSailor says:

    That paper is obviously a joke, or another one of these situations:

  15. MoMo says:

    What’s going on in the scientific literature is criminal and the major publishers should clean up their act to keep the dirty science from ruining/diminishing the literature for future scientists. You know who you are and we do too.

    Grow a spine you maligned publishing houses or you will be canceled

  16. brador says:

    The paper Scientist Sailor mentioned seems to have been coupled with the author leaving academia. And starting a new career as a consultant in grant writing.

  17. theasdgamer says:

    This brings up memories. Once I was asked by a journal whether I wanted an article retracted which had duplicated my published research two years after I published it in a thesis. I had decided not to pursue my Ph.D. and didn’t ask for the retraction. The journal article was high quality and the science was important enough that it should have visibility.

    Who searches master’s theses in their research? This happened decades ago and there was no internet search engine.

  18. theasdgamer says:

    Derek relies on Hume’s nonsense:

    “Extraordinary claims, after all, need extraordinary evidence”

    Extraordinary claims only need evidence that can separate baby from bathwater. One epistemological method has worked just fine in science for centuries: experiments must be replicated. What is a shame is that so many in science have such a poor understanding of philosophy of science, so they ditched this old, useful, epistemological method.

  19. theasdgamer says:

    Kind of ironic that Derek relied on RECOVERY as evidence against HC. RECOVERY should never have been published.

    1. c says:

      Take your meds Tiger. You’re having a heated gamer moment (or several of them).

      1. theasdgamer says:

        My epistemology is sound. Others’ here, not so much. It’s amazing how much benefit a sound epistemology is when combined with a little intelligence.

        My training is in chemistry and physics and 6 courses of college biology. I’ve also published a philosophy of science paper and have read considerably about epistemology…Popper…Feyerabend…Kuhn…Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.

        Consider the party line that face masks work, flu incidence is low because of face masks, and covid cases are spiking. Covid cases are spiking in countries that had existing mask mandates and compliance: UK, Germany, and France. Spiking ten fold the levels in Mar/Apr.

        If masks work, why are cases spiking in countries that have mask mandates and lots of compliance?

        We are entering flu season in the northern hemisphere. Why are we certain that covid positive tests (which may are may not be tied to symptoms since that isn’t tracked) are evidence that covid is spreading? If 40% of the population is asymptomatic and a high proportion of the population has been infected, then more testing will result in more positive cases. And flu and mild covid symptoms are similar. And not everyone does viral panels and assigns much weight to flu relative to covid since the focus and weight is on covid. Covid cases require more resources to care for patients than flu cases and are perceived to be higher risk and maybe bring in more revenue to the hospital.

        If symptoms are driving the spike in “covid” cases, then maybe the new “covid” wave is actually flu, because in the northern hemisphere we are in flu season.

        1. Dark Day says:

          RE: “Covid cases are spiking in countries that had existing mask mandates and compliance: UK, Germany, and France. Spiking ten fold the levels in Mar/Apr. . .”

          My impression is that in a lot of these countries, just as in the U.S., people have been relaxing in terms of their vigilance in following the public health mandates, especially in bars and pubs. Also, a lot the spikes in the U.S., at any rate (and I’m assuming the same is probably also true in other countries), are apparently due to people hosting private gatherings in their own homes (along with the occasional illicit mass “superspreader” event such as this one What people do in the privacy of their own homes is almost impossible to control; all the public masking and “distancing” in the world won’t affect it.

          1. theasdgamer says:

            Yes, I had also considered that hypothesis. But why all of a sudden at the start of flu season? And why has the CDC stopped reporting flu cases?

            New York’s mortality curve was a textbook Gompertz curve. New York has achieved herd resistance (slower spread and lower mortality). A lot of time has passed and the rest of the country has likely also encountered the virus and also achieved herd resistance. Several zip codes in my county aren’t reporting new covid cases any more. About 26 cases per thousand population seems to be the plateau number.

            And flu season is here in the northern latitudes.

          2. Dark Day says:

            With all respect, I thought the “herd resistance” theory in New York had been pretty much debunked. Approximately 20% of their population have been exposed, right? That doesn’t seem close to what would be required for anything close to herd immunity. And we’re still seeing then number of new cases rising, along with hospitalizations (although death rates are not).

          3. theasdgamer says:

            I reply with respect. Do you know about the Gompertz curve and epidemic mortality? Have you looked at New York’s mortality curve and compared it with the Gompertz curve?

            The “20% antibody” figure is irrelevant.

            Anyway, I’ve moved from sterile herd immunity (which actually never happens) to the idea of “herd resistance”, where transmission is slow and mortality low.

          4. confused says:

            Given lags in infection -> death and death -> reporting of death, though, the mortality curve known so far may not yet reflect what’s happening in NYC etc.

            I am sure it will be nothing like March-April; greater awareness of risk & better understanding of care should lower IFR quite a bit. And 20-25% immunity or whatever should slow spread somewhat, so long as reinfection remains rare.

            But it may not be as insignificant as current death numbers suggest.

          5. theasdgamer says:


            Why are you ignoring the 40% asymptomatic cases which get added to the 20% antibody population?

          6. Marko says:

            Antibody surveillance is conducted on a random slice of the population , or as close to a representative sample as possible , which captures all those who’ve been infected , including asymptomatics. You think you can simply add asymptomatics to the percent positive by antibody assay ?

            You really don’t have a clue about anything , do you , theasdgamer ?

          7. Dark Day says:

            Well, to be fair, I do think it’s highly likely that the percent of people who’ve been exposed (in NYC and elsewhere) is pretty significantly undercounted, especially given the problems with testing, reporting, etc., and also the fact that asymptomatic (and, most likely, some moderately symptomatic) people have not been surveilled. But I don’t think the total is anything approaching the 20% + 40% that theadsgamer is suggesting.

            That being said, though, I do hang on to the “hope” (if that’s the right word) that when a vaccine is finally rolled out, it may prove to be more effective than originally thought (or at least require less uptake to be effective), simply because a significantly higher percent of the population have been exposed, and hence have at least some immunity, than had been expected.

          8. Marko says:

            “…..and also the fact that asymptomatic (and, most likely, some moderately symptomatic) people have not been surveilled”

            Not true , for a properly-done survey. Here’s one of the earlier NYC surveys :


            “….The state randomly tested 3,000 people at grocery stores and shopping locations across 19 counties in 40 localities to see if they had the antibodies to fight the coronavirus, indicating they have had the virus and recovered from it ”

            Get it ? Whether you were asymptomatic , moderately symptomatic , or severely ill , if you went shopping after recovery you were equally likely to be selected for the survey.

            Most surveys don’t achieve perfect representation for various reasons , but the final prevalence estimate can be adjusted in most cases to correct for this. In any case , unless you’re only surveying those who present themselves for Covid-related healthcare services , the severity of symptoms has no effect on whether a person will be subsequently surveyed.

          9. theasdgamer says:

            marko & Dark Day,

            Show me the data that my napkin estimate isn’t in the ballpark.

            Oh, wait, you have no data–just some silly rhetoric, lol.t

          10. Hopeful Layman says:

            This discussion brings up yet another “Layman’s” question. We know that approximately 40% of COVID carriers are asymptomatic; I have also read that up to 70% of all carriers actually shed very little of the virus (they might be called “non-contagious carriers”). So this brings up a question in my mind concerning vaccine efficacy. Asymptomatic carriers are at no personal danger to themselves; non-contagious carriers pose little danger to others. And a carrier who is both asymptomatic and non-contagious, of course, is dangerous to no one. So for a vaccine (or other treatment) to be effective, it only has to work for carriers who are both symptomatic AND contagious, right? That means that the “N” for a vaccine that’s 75% effective, let’s say, is NOT the entire at-risk population, but some combination of the 60% who are symptomatic and the roughly 30 – 40% who are contagious (I hope I’m expressing this clearly). I’m guessing that the relatively small numbers of people in the Phase III trials might not catch this nuance perfectly, so maybe the results after vaccine rollout could actually be better than predicted. Am I totally off-base in this?

          11. Marko says:

            Knowing that some infected people aren’t likely to spread the virus doesn’t do you any good if you can’t identify those people at diagnosis. Similarly , regarding super-spreaders. If you can’t identify them in real time , before they’ve done their spreading , what good does it do you to know they exist ? And we know there have been several documented cases of young , healthy asymptomatic super–spreaders in places like bars , restaurants , etc., so asymptomatic disease is no guarantee. Symptomology may give you a hint of potential infectiousness , but it’s just that , a hint.

            Get a fast , cheap, widely- and frequently-used assay that can determine the “infectors” early , allowing their isolation , and you might have something. At the moment , however , we all have to consider ourselves potential super-spreaders if we get infected , because any one of us may well be.

            Predicting vaccine effectiveness based on the potential “spreaders” vs “non-spreaders” dichotomy is a fools errand , given our current inability to distinguish those groups beforehand. There are plenty of fools willing to run that errand , unfortunately.

          12. Hopeful Layman says:

            No, I’m not recommending that we “pick and choose” who gets vaccinated by their likelihood of being contagious and/or symptomatic. I guess I was asking whether a mass vaccination effort might have more encouraging results than we would originally have thought, because relatively fewer people (randomly selected) than originally thought had the potential to be “spreaders” AND to be symptomatic in the first place, so the “N” in terms of who really “needs” the vaccine to be safe (for themselves and others) might also be smaller than originally thought, leading to higher efficacy rates. Or am I being data-impaired here?

          13. theasdgamer says:

            Tests for antibody immunity say nothing about T-cell immunity, which likely drives asymptomatic cases. In all diseases I have researched, antibodies are produced AFTER symptoms occurred. So asymptomatic cases can’t rely on antibodies.

            So, the total community resistance is the sum of antibody immunity + T-cell immunity.


          14. confused says:

            If COVID follows the pattern of the last five respiratory pandemics (1889-90; 1918-19; 1957-58; 1968-69; 2009-10) shouldn’t it be expected to be ending/going post-pandemic at about the time widespread vaccine distribution is expected (spring/summer 2021)?

            That would be about 15-18 months from the beginning, and arguably three to four “waves” (China winter 2020; northeastern US and Europe spring 2020; southern US, Latin America, India summer 2020; Europe and much of US fall 2020 […and maybe into winter 2021?])

            So a vaccine may look extremely effective even if its actual efficacy is rather poor… Or am I missing something?

          15. theasdgamer says:

            I left out a piece of the puzzle.

            “We detected potentially cross-reactive T cell responses directed against the spike and/or membrane proteins in 28% of healthy individuals who donated blood before the pandemic, consistent with previous reports”


          16. theasdgamer says:

            Wait, I said 40%, not 28% like the article did which I referenced. So the asymptomatic number I use should be 28%, not 40%, right? The same article that I referenced indicated that the 28% figure is likely too conservative because the blood samples had been frozen.

            40% is the correct figure for asymptomatic cases.

            Marko, don’t confuse presymptomatic with asymptomatic.

        2. Mariner says:

          Regarding the UK, at least, are you aware that kids have been back to schools and nurseries since the start of September as older students have returned to universities? That’s all children. No remote learning for us, unless they or a family member is diagnosed as positive for the virus. My 5 year old started school two months ago, each class is isolated from the others in bubbles and there have already been several confirmed cases in his school of a few hundred kids.

          My wife his a secondary school (high school) teacher. At her school, masks must be worn in the corridors, but aren’t worn in the classroom. No real opportunity for any spacing due to the size of the classes. Lots of cases there as well, of course, and whole year groups have been sent home at times. I saw a number somewhere which mentioned something like 2 percent of school age children have so far been absent at times due to infections over the past 2 months. My wife’s school is keeping the oldest year group off school for another 2 weeks after the recent half term holiday due to the number of infections.

          It is no surprise that the ethnic minorities are so badly hit by the virus over here. Something like two thirds of the families of Asian origin (from the Indian subcontinent) live in multi-generational households, as do a third of black families. It’s all well and good wearing masks when you’re out and in shops, but if you live with grandpa and grandma, how are you going to stop them catching the virus from you if you pick up an asymptomatic infection at school and have no idea you’re infectious? Down to poverty, inequality and different social structures.

          Your view that these deaths caused by Covid (infections confirmed by PCR test) aren’t caused by Covid is, frankly, bizarre. The rocketing level of hospital admissions and deaths which has led to a new lockdown for us beginning tomorrow will be a good indication of the effects of the second wave. Worse to come, of course, due to the lag in infections and hospitalizations. The attached link shows what the NHS says the situation is currently like – three times as many admissions due to Covid as compared to typical flu and respiratory admissions even at this early stage of the winter (which has been mild so far as well).

          1. theasdgamer says:

            So you’re saying that the sudden increase in cases is caused by back to school. That’s interesting. Maybe that’s true of the flu as well.

            The US has been back to school for eight weeks and started spiking on 10-10, which is 5-6 weeks later. The delay in reporting of new cases is about 1-3 days in my county, so I don’t think that our spikes are connected with school necessarily.

            In any case, mask mandates are irrelevant as far as new cases are concerned.

            Prolonged indoor exposure is the key to spreading covid between households and nursing homes, which can include public transit, indoor sporting events, crowded bars, private parties, etc.

            If kids live in the same house as grandma and grandpa, grandparents might catch covid a week after the kids. Kids in school would take a week to infect other kids, I’d imagine. Give it two or three weeks to spread through the school.

            Ok, I’m persuaded that maybe this covid wave is real if it’s spread via schools.

          2. theasdgamer says:

            Sorry about the terrible effect of the pandemic in the UK. The UK’s mortality fits the Gompertz curve.

            It would have been so much better if public officials had paid more attention to the early treatment pillar of pandemic policy.

            I think that my household contracted covid, but we recovered very quickly. We supplement with vitamins C & D and zinc to maintain our immune health. My wife only started the zinc after getting sick and she had it the worst, but after taking four doses of elderberry concentrate (which has quercetin), she was feeling Ok the next day and is now cough-free. My only symptom was a minor cough which only lasted a couple of days.

            Maybe it wasn’t covid, but it’s good that my supplement plan seems to be working.

          3. theasdgamer says:

            I checked out Texas’ new cases. Texas has mandated open schools. No spiking whatsoever.

          4. theasdgamer says:

            UK Covid,

            Positives without symptoms may either be presymptomatic or asymptomatic and recovered.

            As 40% of the population is asymptomatic, maybe 35% would be presymptomatic had this occurred at the start of Britain’s epidemic. As it has occurred since Britain has completed the Gompertz mortality curve, likely most of the 75% is due to asymptomatic infections which have recovered.

            Of course, this is educated speculation.

          5. confused says:

            I’m in Texas. Neither of these are broadly correct; different school districts are doing a mix of things, and some parts of TX are spiking (El Paso especially) while others are not (Houston/South Texas seem pretty flat) – so overall numbers are increasing, though not so quickly as in summer.

          6. theasdgamer says:


            Border counties are outliers for obvious reasons.

            Any Texas increases may be due to either covid or flu–there’s not a lot of certainty because of high PCR cycle thresholds not being reported, which leaves open the possibility of long false positive tails. What with 40% of the population never showing symptoms of a covid infection (asymptomatic, not presymptomatic), the possibility of false positive diagnoses is very real.

            For public policy purposes, viral cultures should be done occasionally to sample the tests and the CDC should specify that Ct shouldn’t exceed 33.

          7. confused says:

            I don’t think flu plays a role here. This flu season probably won’t amount to much of anything.

            Aren’t most of the PCR “false positives” *old virus remnants* being interpreted as *current infection* – so places which weren’t yet hard-hit shouldn’t have tons of false positives?

          8. theasdgamer says:


            I think that covid is ubiquitous. If so, covid distribution should be fairly even.

            From what I have been able to gather, most labs use ct’s 40+. So viral remnants will be detected all the time. If 40% are asymptomatic and covid is ubiquitous, we should see lots of people who test positive.

          9. theasdgamer says:

            “The CDC notes that rapid influenza testing has a sensitivity ranging from approximately 50% to 70% — meaning that in up to half of influenza cases, the flu swab results will still be negative.”


            I think that you overestimate the reliability of testing.

          10. Riah says:

            Maybe you should take a look at this:

          11. Riah says:

            Some of us also have pre existing cross reacting pre-existing antibodies. From zoonotic sources. See this recent paper DOI: 10.1126/science.abe1107 which also explains why many children/teens are protected. There was also a very early paper which I quoted on a much older post which found 80% of people had some level of pre-existing antibodies (That info was to be found in the depths of the paper and not mentioned in the discussion or abstract – must dig out again). Thats on top of the at least 6 studies finding cross reactive T-cells ranging from 20-80% in different populations around the world.

            By the way household transmission for Covid is very low – 17-20% (several papers) so the idea that lots of Asian people living together is a reason is doubtful. 94% of doctors who died early on were Asian and I know they (unlike Asians in lower socioeconomic classes)do not tend to live in multi generational household – I personally know dozens. The far more plausible reason is severe Vitamin D deficiency. A July paper using Biobank data found almost 90% of UK Asians are deficient.

        3. UKcovid says:


          Flu symptoms are 100% certainly NOT driving the rise in Covid cases in the UK.

          The UK Office for National Statistics has been running a random Covid survey for many months now. This tests sizeable random samples of the population for Covid-19 RNA (>200000 people in the last 2 weeks). Participants are asked whether they have symptoms but not selected on that basis.

          The percentage of the population with the virus rose steadily through September after lockdown restrictions were relaxed. I think around 75% of positives reported no symptoms on the day they were tested.

          1. theasdgamer says:


            What percent of people who test positive eventually show symptoms? And what percent test positive for influenza?

          2. Riah says:

            That’s all very well but how do the ONS actually verify that the cases of Covid they find are genuine Covid? Do they use any method that is superior to the unreliable PCR? And what number of amplification cycles would they go up to? As respiratory viruses of all types rise from September, it becomes incresingly more likely that cross reacting nucleotide sequences from non-Covid viruses are found. Dr Fauci confirmed on video (which I can dig out if anyone requests) that going over 34 CT will only find viral fragments and no infectious virus. A PCR positive which needed to go above 35 amplifications should therefore be discounted. I believe evidence was given to the UK parliament that cycles up to 45 have been used!

        4. UKovid says:

          Nobody argues that masks are 100% effective so you are arguing against a strawman. In the UK the second spike acceleration has been slower than the first, probably due to a combination of social distancing, masks and other factors.

        5. JDK says:

          Revenue to the hospital is mostly a USA thing, the rest of us in the civilized world happily lack this as a motivation.

    2. David E. Young, MD says:

      But you will tell me, I suppose, that Wakefields 1998 article should not have been retracted.

  20. Michael McEvoy says:

    Put me in mind of that esteemed journal –
    The Journal of Irreproducible Results

    Does Elsevier publish that ? I forget …

  21. Bender says:

    Your friendly reminder that ElSevier is leading the charge against SciHub to protect their super valuable research repository. Can you imagine what would happen if people could just access quality science like this FOR FREE?!?!

  22. Anonymous 2 says:

    Vitamin D has some strong religious following. In some places huge doses are advised on very shaky evidence as covid prophylaxis and even treatment. Looks like it’s becoming hydroxychloroquine number 2….

    1. confused says:

      I really don’t know what to think about the vitamin D stuff.

      However, it seems much less likely to cause problems than HCQ. Not really sure how much of a downside there would be to recommending it, if there’s even suggestive evidence.

      1. Anonymous 2 says:

        Me neither. Just hoping it doesn’t do harm (as suggested by recent preprint).

        1. John Wayne says:

          Taking some vitamins shouldn’t be harmful, but taking too much vitamin D can. It is a fat soluble compound, so your body can’t just pee it out any excess like vitamin C.

          I asked a nutritionist friend of mine whose husband is an ER doctor about the vitamin D thing and covid. She said that the correlation between low vitamin D levels and ER admission seemed strong at the beginning, but intervention with vitamin D didn’t look like it was helping much. You could argue that good vitamin D levels when you get sick are required to shake off the infection, or it may be that the low vitamin D levels are an artifact of profound covid resulting in hospitalization (and your levels when you get sick aren’t important).

          I figure a multivitamin is still a reasonable choice, but I don’t think it makes me immune to getting sick. I do know a couple people who are taking 10 times of RDA for vitamin D, and I don’t think that that is wise.

          1. theasdgamer says:

            I looked at Web MD. 2000 units of vitamin D per day should be fine. We get vitamin D from sun exposure, after all, and our body has processes to handle vitamin D, including storing it.

          2. Bill says:

            My understanding is Vitamin D deficiency cannot be instantly corrected, even with massive supplementation. It takes one to several weeks depending on how deficient the patient and also how obese, as fat tissue can absorb the vitamin and in effect sets a back-log. I’ve seen this RCS presented as supporting efficacy of Vitamin C re: Covid:


          3. JDK says:

            Too much Vit D can screw up your calcium and lead to kidney calcification, you can get Vit D toxicity but that is fairly rare. RCT Studies that have been done with Vit D for a variety of conditions have failed to show benefit. There are claims that us northerners are deficient but this appears to be a claim devoid of a lot of evidence. I regularly go to the tropics in the winter for a Vit D boost and so far it is working for me. I highly recommend it.

    2. theasdgamer says:

      Pretty soon some vitamin D studies will come out proving that vitamin D won’t resurrect corpses, so it doesn’t work.

  23. Anon says:

    Shouldn’t this paper be enshrined up there with that “gyre” paper from some time back? Anyone have a link to that one? Perhaps a worthwhile evening should be spent reading both back-to-back over several servings of your favorite beverage.

    1. confused says:

      It’s linked a few comments above, by ScientistSailor.

  24. albegadeep says:

    “perhaps my house is built over the wrong kind of rock deposits”

    Namely, that present in Delphi, Mount Parnassus, Greece.

  25. I can only say that while I’m not even a scientist, I guffawed and chortled at your paper. That’s the best way to start the day. I found it because I was complaining about the title of an article that made no sense to me and my friend , a PhD CADD Director, said. Oh you need to read this blog by Derek Lowe. I said, Oh, you mean Rob Lowe, referring to poor Alisha’s gaffe a couple of years ago at the BAGIM meeting. LOL

  26. Dark Day says:

    I honestly still wonder whether this was simply a prank that got out of hand. (For that matter, I’ve wondered that about a LOT of the indecipherable gobbledygook-ridden “postmodernist theory” papers that have been published in various journals over the years.)

  27. charlesj says:

    From the paper:

    Acknowledgments/Grant and funding source: This work was funded through grants from the United States National Institutes of Health (R21AI135412, R21OD024789)

    It should be easy to fact check whether this is a prank or whether it is your tax dollars at work

  28. charlesj says:

    If it is a prank it is quite elaborate and sustained. There is a twitter account in the name of the first author ( ) which also reports another paper in Dec 2019 titled:

    “Stonehenge as a public health intervention device for preventing lithospheric magnetic field
    –induced emerging diseases and megadeath during periods of severely weaken geomagnetic field: A reinterpretation of the actions of Neolithic Europeans in constructing megaliths and its implicationon the severely weakening geomagnetic field in continental United States.”

    available for your reading pleasure at:

  29. Dr. Manhattan says:

    “The discovery of the chiral-induced spin selectivity effect suggests that a resonant external magnetic field could alter the spin state of electrons in biogenic molecules and result in the magnetic catalysis of aberrant molecules and disease“

    This is a direct plagiarism, Tom exclaimed, from his book “ Tom Swift, Jr. and his nuclear magnetohydrodynamic, quantum state, viral Repellatron”.
    With apologies to Victor Appleton II (who was a pseudonym, anyhow).

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      Shouldn’t that be “Tom exclaimed, polarizingly” or something of the sort? But a call back to the classics! Sounds like something the engineers at Venus Equilateral would have gotten their teeth into as well, or maybe Aarn Munro. Dang, these things are older than I am, but I’m dating myself by being able to reference them at all.

      1. Dr. Manhattan says:

        You’re right, I shortchanged the phrase. Oh well, I’m off with Bud, Sandy, Phyllis and Tom in the Jetmarine. Have almost all the original books in storage on shelves in the basement

        And yes, like a lot of scientists, I read the series as a youngster and helped inspire me to go onto science. Everything I know about nuclear powered spaceships I learned from Tom Corbett, Astro, and Roger Manning.

      2. confused says:

        I don’t know… I’m 30 and I’ve read the Aarn Munro books by Campbell, they’re on Kindle now.

  30. Four fingers pointed back at yourself says:

    >compares withdrawn low-tier journal article to retracted paper first-tier Lancet HCQ article Derek fawned all over until it was withdrawn

    conclusion: Derek’s a hypocrite

    >googles first author of retracted paper

    conclusion: Derek’s also a racist

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