Another silly scientific claim from Islam

The magic fly wings are back. I got this email yesterday:

Dear doctor Myers,
I’ve read your old article on the study about a saying of Muhammad that advised people to dip a fly if it landed on their drinks. Recently I’ve found an article ( which honestly seems to me even more unscientific, but there is one thing that I don’t understand that I hope you may clarify. The fact is that this study doesn’t seem to have been published in a predatory journal, I’ve searched the journal and the publisher but I haven’t find them on the predatory publishing list. Maybe it is because the journal is Japanese(I’ve read articles about how many Indonesian studies were published in predatory journal but nothing about this specific publisher). By the way I’ve done a bit of research on this study and I found something which convinces me even more of my first thoughts, but I don’t have enough knowledge to debunk the study itself.

In the paper they quote 4 studies to support their claims:
-Reference number 9 was published on a predatory journal (called IDOSI).
-Reference number 7 is the experiment at Qassim University which you have talked about.
-References number 10 come from a book about miracles of the Quran, that was originally in Arabic and was later translated in Indonesian. It supposedly quotes a study from this book but since I don’t know the languages I don’t know how to search. But the fact that it quotes just the book and not the supposed study is very suspicious.
-Reference number 11 is from something in Indonesian language about “miracles” of the hadiths, I couldn’t find anything like this and the only other source where this is cited is from a larger paper (also in Indonesian)of the same author of this study, which basically talks about the same things.
All the sources are islamic, the study itself was done in a islamic university in Indonesia specialized in islamic teachings, probably by undergrad students of the nutrition faculty.

As I’ve said the only thing that I don’t understand is why this study was published on a non predatory journal, and I can’t refute it by myself. I hope you may give your opinion on this paper.

Here’s my article that they reference. The point being made on the basis of an Islamic hadith, If a housefly falls in the drink of anyone of you, he should dip it (in the drink), for the one of its wings has a disease and the other has the cure of the disease, is that the left wings of flies are dirty and full of bacteria, but the right wings have strong antibiotic properties. Only the right wing, mind you! This is from a book compiled in the 9th century, so it’s a remarkable assertion that was made without any application of scientific observation or empirical data collection — just poof, the idea came out of the mouth of some sage.

This, unfortunately, is the abstract for the new paper in question:

It’s a very badly written paper, like the work of a lazy undergraduate; of course, we also have to consider that this was written by an Indonesian student in English, not their native language. Still, it’s a naive bit of work that was done with little effort in the course of a few days that were somehow stretched out over 6 months.

It’s a simple experiment. Snip the wings off flies, dip them in water…wait, the protocol is weird. They have a negative control, water contaminated with E. coli, and a positive control, sterile water, (I feel like they labeled those backwards) but then they only test the right wings of flies dipped in contaminated water. This is peculiar, because they never test the left wings, despite the fact that this is a five-minute experiment that is then cultured on a petri dish for two days, with the assay consisting of simply counting colonies on the dish, and they only did it twice, with the only variable being the number (1, 2, or 3) of right wings they used. That’s it! And they published it!

You want to see the results? OK, here they are in all their glory.

I spent way too much time puzzling over this for such a garbage paper. There are five sets of data, but only two lines on the chart; the blue line goes up over time, but the legend says blue is either one right wing or the negative control (which is the water contaminated with E. coli), the orange is the positive control (the sterile water), which is flatlined as you might expect. There is no observable data for the different numbers of wings. In the text they state that the number of wings didn’t matter — all two of the measurements for one, two, or three wings showed no colony growth. They don’t even do a comparison of left and right wings, which is the heart of their claim about the accuracy of Islam.

It’s remarkably trivial and bad, and it’s little more than a grade school science fair experiment. And it got published.

To address my correspondent’s questions:

  • I don’t know how you’re going to define “predatory journal”. This looks like a journal with extremely low standards for publication, is that predatory? It’s more of a waste-of-time journal.
  • That the journal is Japanese or the authors Indonesian is irrelevant. There is extremely good research coming out of both countries, and there is extremely bad research published in American journals by American authors.
  • Lists of predatory journals are never complete. This particular journal has been around since 1954, has a low impact factor, and who knows what changes have occurred in the editorial board? It’s just flying under the radar.
  • Every science article needs to be evaluated on the basis of its content. It doesn’t matter if it’s published in Nature or the Journal of Nutritional Science and Vitaminology
  • (although, really, that title would make me question it), you have to consider each paper’s ideas. A journal like Nature has a rather more demanding filter than J Sci Nutr Vitaminol, obviously; that latter seems to be more of a wide open sphincter than any kind of filter.

Also, an article that in its introduction mentions that the idea they’re testing is contrary to the facts in the field, but that Muslims must still believe and be sure of the truth of the hadith is setting up a bias which demands a significantly more robust set of observations than this half-assed lazy casual “experiment”. If they are making a radical claim that defies all the observations and theories current in the field, they damn well better put in the work!


  1. says

    There’s a joke about a fellow whose reaction to a fly landing in his drink is to grab the fly and yell “spit it out, you fucking bug!” Maybe that’s from the hadith. There’s a lot of plagiarized material there.

  2. cartomancer says

    Sounds to me like a classic case of someone incapable of engaging with allusive or metaphorical language who insists that a parable must be literally true. I can well imagine the original was trying to encapsulate the idea that problems often contain within them the basis of their solutions, and someone is going way off the deep end missing the point.

  3. jrkrideau says

    Well given some of the papers we’ve recently seen coming out of Nature or the Lancet, this doesn’t seem too bad. /sarc

    @ 2 cartomancer
    I believe some Muslims, like fundie Christians read their holy scripture literally.

  4. blf says

    @1, “There’s a lot of plagiarized material there.”
    I am inclined to believe that claim, but… example(s) please?

  5. dean56 says

    It seems that of the two choices for punchline to

    “Waiter, what’s that fly doing in my drink?”

    which are

    a) “The backstroke”

    b) “Curing disease”

    ‘a’ is still the correct one.

  6. myoga57 says

    The initial observation made by The Prophet, peace be upon him, was not based in double-blind testing, but rather on a lazy extrapolation of human behavior to flies. Specifically, human behavior in the Middle East where, culturally, people make a clear distinction between the “clean” right hand used for handshakes, writing, and thumbing lifts; and the “dirty” left hand, used for wiping one’s ass. Though, I believe the structures analogous to left and right hands, on a fly, would surely be the terminal tarsal segments of the respective forelegs. And that analogy completely breaks down when one considers that a huge portion of the fly’s diet is, in fact shit, and it typically uses all six legs to walk up and down and through its dinner, Truth be told, the wings, port and starboard,are probably the cleanest bits on the beast…

  7. Pierce R. Butler says

    If the right wing has such awesome resistance to disease, why then do we have ICUs filling up with Trump™ Chumps® and not with filthy antifas?

  8. jrkrideau says

    @ 4 blf
    I am not sure about plagiarism but I have read that some of hadithes are questionable. There seems to have been some suspiciously self-serviing ones. I believe there was one about the prophet and dates that a date-merchant had attested to.

    IIRC, there was a learned committee set up back in the ’70s or 80’s to do an audit but I have no idea what happened.

  9. garnetstar says

    “I don’t know how you’re going to define “predatory journal”.

    Anything published by Elsevier.

  10. stroppy says

    Reflecting the practice that the right hand is for eating, the left hand is for wiping your hind end.

    Offering your left hand to someone is an insult.

    As I recall, the geometry of art of Islam, although undeniably beautiful, nevertheless has a lot of cosmic meaning attached to it. Sounds like bleed through of ideation…

  11. dali70 says

    How many species of fly are there in the Arabian Peninsula? The hadith reference to a “fly” is pretty generic. Was it a house fly, some sort of biting fly or maybe a fruit fly? What if you get several different species of fly and maybe a flying ant or two? Do they fly’s cancel out the ants? Are rules for other flying insects different? Maybe you need the left wing of a flying ant or maybe half of each for a bee. What if it was a dragon fly? Do you use both right wings or just one? And who the hell has the patience to try and pick off just the right wing of a tiny fruit fly or FSM forbid a gnat? Especially when it’s been soaking in your drink for who knows how long. My advice… just make sure whatever your drinking is over 80 proof. If whatever was on the fly’s wings isn’t neutralized be the alcohol, you probably won’t care after a few anyhow.

  12. jacksprocket says

    @13: !
    Just a minor quibble- it’s not “Islam” that’s making that silly claim, just some nutter. All the Muslims I’ve known (including the doctor who treated a could-have-been serious problem lately) have been fine folks. The nutters out there closely track the nutters of Christianity.

  13. DanDare says

    @PZ I wonder if it might not be beneficial for your audience if you indicayed how a rigorous study would be done. Its obvious to those of us with some science background but perhaps not to the wider public.
    For example, the control should not be some sterile wayer but an initially identical e.coli infected puddle. Preferably just the same infected water split into seperate environments. Why? So if the fly wings have an effect it will show up as a difference compared to its isolated twin.
    I.e. this is an opportunity to demonstrate how experiments and help build some mental immunity.

  14. birgerjohansson says

    Cartomancer @ 2
    I am sorry, but everything implies Mr. M was dead serious, and not using allegories. One hadith by wossname, at # 4002, has Mr M saying “the sun sets in a warm spring/muddy spring”.
    This claim is also repeated in the koran
    BTW the intellectual Golden age of islam was when the “mutazilites” dominated the interpretation, and they were not much bothered by the hadith.
    Unfortunately, the Mutazilites lost their influence from ca 1000 AD and now it is “turtles all the way down” in islamic theology.
    To make things worse, Mr.M explicitely wrote the koran should be read literally which makes islam really hard to reform.
    I may have mentioned this before, but when I tried to put together a few pages of bad shit found in the koran and hadith to serve as a basis for debating the need to reform islam, I realised I could not put that stuff on internet .
    It could be used by bona fide xenophobes to link muslims to rapes, looting and mayhem (Mr. M and his immediate followers were as crude as any viking raiding party when they were in a jihad mood).

  15. birgerjohansson says

    PZ, be glad you are not an astronomer and need to debunk the claim Allah cut the moon in half as a sign (the arab astronomers must have ignored the koran, because they did excellent work).
    Or, be glad you are not a geologist, and have to debunk the claim that Earth is one of seven Earths, stacked above each other* like old-fashioned LP records.
    *but with enough spacing that it would take a lifetime to travel vertically between them.
    I should also mention the repeated claims shooting stars are weapons the angels throw at demons who come too close to heaven (the lowermost of the seven heavens).
    I could go on but I get depressed.

  16. birgerjohansson says

    Jacksprocket @ 15

    Agreed. The muslims I know are as reasonable as any other fellows.
    Alas, the imams and ‘true believers’ are comitted to what scripture says.
    The few imams who try to push for a modern interpretation have everything stacked against them.

  17. birgerjohansson says

    Erlend Meyer @ 14
    By taking on these medieval claims and debunking them, we are supporting the ex-muslims and muslims who genuinely want to reform islam.
    As they risk social rejection of muslims in the west, and physical danger (in muslim countries) they deserve our support. We are not taking the risks they are facing.

  18. says

    I am inclined to believe that claim, but… example(s) please?

    Tom Holland briefly described attempts at textual analysis of the koran and hadith as unsuccessful because there are huge chunks lifted from other mythologies, to the point where it was hard to quantify. I don’t have an exact citation. Holland also implied that scholars have known this since the 1900s but have not publicized it because muslims are dangerous when you poke their myths. (As are all faithful)

    wik appears to reinforce Holland’s view, namely that the hadiths and koran have been so badly edited – a bunch of stuff bodged together – that textural criticism fails.

    You get to decide if Holland is right or not, and why he’d be deceptive if he were wrong.

  19. John Morales says


    The muslims I know are as reasonable as any other fellows.

    Um. Do you mean actual Muslims, or just cultural ones?

    We are not taking the risks they are facing.


    Erlend, so? It’s still an opinion.

    (What’s the harm?)

  20. birgerjohansson says

    Erlend Meyer @ 24
    In a perfect world we should not have to deal with people who think the vaccines contain microchips and similar drivel…

    As for rubbish in these specific scriptures, by debunking it in detail and putting it on social media we give ammunition to ex-muslims and others who are chipping away at this monolith of groupthink.
    Most muslims do not consider the details (the same goes for Christians) and once the tools to debunk scripture is on internet and Youtube , there will be a steady stream (initially quite small) of believers who start to question what they have been told their whole lives.
    But, yes, this is a bit like discussing a topic straight out of South Park. Is there really a Mexican Staring Frog from Sri Lanka? How do we deal with Mecha Barbara Streisand?