I learned about this paper from the early twitter buzz, but it took so long to write that title and subtitle I got scooped by Retraction Watch. Their write up is a bit brief, barely skimming the surface on how far out there this paper is, but they did receive comments from the author and the editors, and you should probably read it if only to see how Dr. Bility feels about criticism …
Perhaps you even have the time and inclination to actually read 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 by Bility, M.T., et.al. But even if you do that, there are questions you might ask yourself that I answer in this post.
Can Traditional Chinese Medicine … etc. and so forth, which I’ll just refer to as The Paper, is the product of Dr. Moses Turkle Bility, who is an assistant professor at the Department of Infectious Diseases and Microbiology, University of Pittsburgh, and nine other authors, eight of whom are likely students in Dr. Bility’s lab. It was published last week in the Elsevier journal Science of the Total Environment and drew little attention for a week. As I write this the Dr. Bility’s tweet announcing the publication has zero likes and retweets. It does have guts though.
It’s finally published in STOTEN, the first work to combined Condensed Matter Physics and Pandemics. Every now and then, a paradigm shift is needed to move science forward. Read if you wish to understand and predict this pandemic. [link to article] please retweet
–@BilityMoses on twitter
If you read even the abstract of this paper you might not think it is real, I went back and forth myself between believing it was genuine or a Sokal-type hoax. But what finally clinched it for me was discovering that although his university profile looks all nice and normal, the Dr. Bility does have at least one previous out there paper. It was self-published on ResearchGate and has the almost as impressive title: Are rises in the Lithosphere-Magnetic field in the United States, interacting with vaping aerosols-iron in lungs, the tipping point for the outbreak of vaping-associated acute lung injury?(pdf) (And of course some time after that I saw Dr. Bility’s response to questions from Reaction Watch … Not the words of a man just trying to show that journals will publish nonsense.)
In this earlier paper Dr. Bility, with no co-authors, puts forth the hypothesis that:
oxidation of iron to iron oxides in the lungs of North Americans is mediated via very low frequency (radio)-electromagnetic waves emanating from the lithosphere in North America
What is his evidence of this? Well there are reports of brown particles in the lung tissue of patients with vaping-associated lung injury. Iron oxide is brown. The magnetic fields mentioned have increased in North-America but not in Europe, and the vaping disease spread in the US and not in Europe. And therefore …
I’m not kidding, that’s the entirety of his argument other than some conjecture on crystal formation and magnetic fields that is way outside of Dr. Bility’s field. This hypothesis apparently received no traction, but with the arrival of COVID he found he could refine it. The rise of “vaping-associated severe acute respiratory syndrome disease” in the US in 2019 he now hypothesizes to be early COVID cases, only back then it only hit the uniquely vulnerable population of vapers. And since COVID outbreaks in Europe don’t fit with the previous “correlation” with changing magnetic fields this part of the hypothesis is refined to be about a specific type of mineralization in tectonic plates with Proterozoic cratons, further refined to be related to terrestrial water storage in such plates, and to increased CO2 in the atmosphere. The CO2 is probably meant to explain why COVID only happened now.
I suspect that if I didn’t get a headache from looking at this paper for more than two minutes at a time it would be possible to show that this all boils down to adding parameters until the correlations line up. And when the evolving spread of the pandemic isn’t playing ball, you just add some more parameters, like seasonal differences. But there is just … so … much … bullshit.
Such as the rats! Did I not mention the rats? The rats are part of Dr. Bility’s real job, but some of them got COVID-like symptoms so he had them analyzed for evidence supporting his hobby horse. Possibly the evidence came first and the current hypothesis came next. There is definitely not any trace in this paper of checking if any normal science could possibly explain the findings. The rats are probably also why this paper lists two NIH-grants for funding. I wonder how they will feel about Dr. Bility spending any of the grant money on this detour.
Now the paper doesn’t say any of this is proven. In the long tradition of pseudoscience it is only presented as a hypothesis and the testing of it is left to posterity. What’s the hypothesis? To quote the paper:
In this study, we proposed a hypothesis for the SARS-CoV-2-associated COVID-19 pandemic based on an approximately 7000–6000 years old knowledge system (Hemudu and Majiabang-Traditional Chinese Medicine) that emerged on the Proterozoic-Yangtze craton during severe geological and geophysical conditions that are similar to the current conditions of the Holocene.
Okay, that’s not the hypothesis, it’s just some unusual inspiration for a scientific hypothesis. The hypothesis itself is almost identical to the paper’s title, confirming again that if you make your title a question, the answer is probably no, even if you as an author think it is yes.
This work provides a hypothesis (including the mechanism of disease) along with supporting evidence for the role of serpentinization-induced resonant LWMAs in mediating the spatiotemporal dynamics of SARS-CoV-2-associated COVID-19 outbreaks.
The paper concludes with a lengthy explanation for why this is a Real Scientific Hypothesis that looks an awful lot like what science teachers make high school students write, because high school students, unlike university professors, can’t be presumed to just use that standard without showing they understand it. It has no less than four citations for what constitutes a “robust scientific hypothesis”.
And in the end I’m left with one big question. What happens to grad students when their professor goes rogue and their time is wasted researching and writing something like this?
PS! I can’t believe I forgot this part, but the paper suggests jade amulets could protect against COVID and hints that maybe this geomagnetic disease influence is what killed the North-American and European megafauna and caused the Neolithic population collapse. And there’s so much more, but it’s time to stop writing this.