Science Integrity Digest

Worst paper of 2020? 5G and Coronavirus induction

This paper made my jaw drop:

5G Technology and induction of coronavirus in skin cells – M Fioranelli et al. – J Biol Regul Homeost Agents 2020 Jul 16;34(4). doi: 10.23812/20-269-E-4 [archivedPDF]

The paper suggests that 5G waves (the latest cell phone technology) can spontaneously generate Coronaviruses in skin cells. Yet, there is nothing in this article that proves this extraordinary claim. It is absolute nonsense.

Combining two hot topics into one title, this article is surely asking for some attention. Attention it will get. Because it is one of the worst scientific papers I have seen this year.

The paper, now removed from the journal’s website [archived] and marked “Withdrawn” in PubMed was first brought to my attention on Twitter by @Reviewer__2.

The fantastic James Heathers had some colorful words to say about it as well.

The paper

In the paper [archived abstract, archived PDF], the authors claim that electromagnetic waves emitted by 5G technology can be absorbed by skin cells, promote the cell to make new nucleotides, and thus produce Coronaviruses.

Why cells would specifically produce Coronaviruses, and not other viruses, roses, cats, or dollar bills remains a mystery.

How did the authors prove this extraordinary claim? Well, they don’t. The paper does not include any experiments. It is listed as an Editorial, and it includes a lot of clunky diagrams and impressive formulas, but there is no proof. It is just a wacko hypothesis.

Which diagrams, you may ask?

The diagram to explain it all. There are waves. And cells. And nucleotides and holes. And thus, Coronavirus gets created.

Note that they write that the waves lead to COVID-19 production. They apparently confuse the disease with the virus.

And then there are a bunch of formulas. They are so impressive that the authors might have hoped the reviewers would be afraid to ask any questions.

And of course, there is the Final Figure. It does not prove anything, there is no measured data, but look! the “Probability” axis goes to 120%. Like the “Up to eleven” amplifier from the movie This Is Spinal Tap.

Here is Figure 6 in all its simple glory. This is peak pseudoscience.

In conclusion, the paper appears to just contain a very wild hypothesis, without any proof. It is not a scientific paper.

As I have written before: Extraordinary claims need to come with extraordinary proof. But there is no data here at all. How on earth could this have passed peer review? And how on earth could this journal been included in NCBI’s PubMed index?

The authors

Who are the authors on this article? The first two authors are the notorious duo M Fioranelli and A Sepehri.

I have written about Alireza Sepehri before. In short, Sepehri is an astrophysicist who briefly worked at the Research Institute for Astronomy and Astrophysics of Maragha (RIAAM) in Iran, but kept on using his affiliation long after he was not employed anymore. He wrote several preprints and articles in which he decapitated 400 birds to prove they can still live without a head, implanted beans into another bird to create new life, and claimed that DNA of a women will irradiate waves that are canceled by male DNA. Make sure to read his elaborate response to my critique on PubPeer (“we wonder that how this person lets herself to go to twitter and makes some main publishing institutes and publishers questionable“).

Massimo Fioranelli is a Human Physiology professor at the Università degli studi Guglielmo Marconi in Rome. He also has a website to make sure you know that he always graduated Cum Laude (“sempre con lode“).

Fioranelli and Sepehri have published some incoherent papers together before. Of note, they published a paper in which they propose to infect pregnant women with influenza virus as a novel way to reveal the gender of the fetus [PubPeer thread]. In another paper, they claim that water has a memory and that cancer in men or women can be stopped by treatment with cells from the opposite gender [PubPeer]. At least nine of the papers they published are indexed in PubMed.

In summary, this duo has found each other in terms of crazy ideas, and they have found some crazy journals to publish these crazy ideas.

Co-author KM Lomonosov appears to be one of those mysterious authors that can only be found on ResearchGate, and it is not clear if they really exist. Their affiliation is listed as the Moscow State Medical University, which appears to be founded by Mikhail Lomonosov, so this might be a fake name.

The last author on this paper is Torello Lotti, professor of Dermatology and Venereology at the G. Marconi university in Rome. He is also President of the President of the World Health Academy, Dermatology and a visiting Professor at lots of universities. He has authored Lottis of papers (sorry, could not help it) – 86 in 2020 alone. He is also the Editor in Chief of Wiley’s Dermatologic Therapy. It is not clear how an established researcher like Lotti ended up as an author on this pseudoscience paper.

Update July 29: Sylvie Coyaud pointed out to me that Lotti is an established scammer.

The journal

Surprisingly, the journal that published the 5G/Coronavirus paper is indexed in NCBI’s PubMed, giving it an official stamp of approval.

While most predatory journals are not included in the PubMed index, this journal, the Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents, is. Their full catalogue (about 3,000 papers) appears to be included in PubMed.

On their website, the journal promises that all papers are peer-reviewed, and that submissions are very easy. No registration! No password! No papers to be filled out! Just send the manuscripts to Editor In Chief Pio Conti and he will take care of it. There is no information on how much the publishing costs are, unfortunately. The instructions fail to note if including a $1000 euro note with the submission might help.

The journal’s website is formatted very strangely. You cannot select text to copy/paste e.g. the title of a paper. Most papers do not have a link to the full text or a PDF; the website only shows the title and abstract. It is unclear how to actually read these papers. Some examples: here and here.

The journal’s Editorial Board is not searchable either. It is just a poorly scanned, crooked image of a printed page. Editors are not listed with their affiliations, just with their first initial and country. Some of the Editors appear to be deceased:

Another Editor, JW Mier, was implicated in a research misconduct case.

Retracted – or not

After all the outrage this paper caused yesterday on social media and other sites (Twitter, Reddit, 5GRadar, ExtremeTech, Ocasapiens), the journal silently removed the paper. The DOI link now leads to the wrong paper with a different DOI, in what appears to be a violation of scientific publishing rules.

This paper might make you laugh, but it is a serious problem. Because it was indexed in PubMed, it counts as a peer-reviewed scientific paper, and can be used and misused by all kinds of people to support their conspiracy theories.

It is good that the paper was retracted, but it is not OK for a scientific journal to completely remove it from the journal’s page and pretend it never existed.

I hereby urge NCBI to ban this journal from being indexed in PubMed. A journal that is publishing unfounded theories disguised as scientific, peer-reviewed papers, with an editorial board full of deceased people, with no way of selecting text or reading full articles online, and that makes poorly received papers vanish in thin air does not deserve to be included in PubMed.