Another bad anti-vax paper sidles into the literature

If you’ve paid any attention to anti-vaxxers, or are on the mailing list of some annoying conservative, you may have heard this one: there is a peer-reviewed study in an established science journal that shows that vaccines kill almost as many people as the pandemic. Oh no, you might say, maybe I shouldn’t get vaccinated if doing so has a significant risk of death!

Unfortunately, as I’ve said before, sometimes complete bollocks slithers through the peer-review process, and this is no exception. It’s such utter garbage that the board of the guilty journal is experiencing a wave of resignations in protest

Several reputed virologists and vaccinologists have resigned as editors of the journal Vaccines to protest its 24 June publication of a peer-reviewed article that misuses data to conclude that “for three deaths prevented by [COVID-19] vaccination, we have to accept two inflicted by vaccination.”

Since Friday, at least six scientists have resigned positions as associate or section editors with Vaccines, including Florian Krammer, a virologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, and Katie Ewer, an immunologist at the Jenner Institute at the University of Oxford who was on the team that developed the Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine. Their resignations were first reported by Retraction Watch.

It’s a case study in how to destroy a journal’s reputation with a single stupid paper.

The paper is a case of “garbage in, garbage out,” says Helen Petousis-Harris, a vaccinologist who directs the Vaccine Datalink and Research Group at the University of Auckland and who also resigned as a Vaccines editor after reading the paper. Diane Harper, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor, who was founding editor-in-chief of Vaccines, also resigned, as did Paul Licciardi, an immunologist at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute in Parkville, Australia, and Andrew Pekosz, a respiratory virologist at the Johns Hopkins University Bloomberg School of Public Health.

The resignations began Friday, the day after the paper was published. By early Monday, Fanny Fang, the journal’s managing editor, wrote to the editorial board members that Vaccines—a reputable open-access journal launched in 2013 by Basel, Switzerland–based publisher MDPI—had opened an investigation into the paper. “We are treating this case with the utmost seriousness and are committed to swiftly correcting the scientific record,” she wrote.

The first obvious problem is that none of the paper’s authors have any expertise in the field. Further, the reviewers who let it through are similarly bereft of experience. Despite the fact that the journal is titled Vaccine, apparently some of the editors are also lacking in relevant knowledge.

None of the paper’s authors is trained in vaccinology, virology, or epidemiology. They are: Harald Walach, a clinical psychologist and science historian by training who describes himself as a health researcher at Poznan University of Medical Sciences in Poland; Rainer Klement, a physicist who studies ketogenic diets in cancer treatment at the Leopoldina Hospital in Schweinfurt, Germany; and Wouter Aukema, an independent data scientist in Hoenderloo, Netherlands.

The three peer reviewers on the paper, two of them anonymous, did not offer any substantial criticism of the authors’ methodology in these brief reviews. One of them, Anne Ulrich, a chemist who directs the Institute of Biological Interfaces and is chair of biochemistry at the Karlsruhe Institute of Technology in Germany, wrote that the authors’ analysis “is performed responsibly … and without methodological flaws … and the results were interpreted with the necessary caveats.”

To make it worse, the authors relied on data from a Dutch study…and the authors of that study are saying that their work was misused and inappropriately interpreted.

On 25 June, the day after the paper’s publication, Lareb’s head of science and research, Eugène van Puijenbroek, sent an email to Vaccines’s editors, criticizing the paper and requesting a correction or retraction.

“A reported event that occurred after vaccination is … not necessarily being caused by the vaccination, although our data was presented as being causally related by the authors,” van Puijenbroek wrote. “Suggesting all reports with a fatal outcome to be causally related is far from truth.”

He also took the authors to task for stating in the paper that “the Dutch [registry] data, especially the fatal cases, were certified by medical specialists.”

“This point is simply incorrect,” van Puijenbroek wrote. “The authors seem to refer to [Lareb’s] policy plan. However, in this plan (in Dutch), it is nowhere mentioned that the reports are ‘certified’ by medical specialists.”

Woopsie. The paper has since been retracted, and the journal is doing an in-house investigation of how this screwup occurred, but it looks to me like a whole lot of the people competent to carry out such an investigation have up and quit altogether. And the damage has been done. The anti-vaxxers will continue to cite the paper — they still think Andrew Wakefield’s work was credible — and they’ll scream “Cover up!” at the retraction.

Marshrooms and araneiforms, oh my: the ongoing absurdity of Rhawn Joseph

Rhawn Joseph is back. Two years ago, I posted a comprehensive list of my engagements with that fraud, so if you want, you can review it there. There’s a lot. It’s all very silly. I even made a video about his claim to have found Marshrooms. Last year, I made a post about his latest publication, in which I wrote, “Let’s hope this is the end of Joseph and Wickramasinghe.” Hah! Right.

Here, in May of 2021, he has again published a Martian mushroom paper titled Fungi on Mars? Evidence of Growth and Behavior From Sequential Images in the journal Advances in Microbiology. It’s 63 pages long! Of course, most of it is photos cribbed from NASA that are blown up and processed to make his imaginary point. To quote some legitimate scientists:

Michael Brown, an astronomer at Monash University in Australia, said “there’s some pretty horrible over-interpretation of blurry photos,” while Gretchen Benedix, a geophysicist at Curtin University in Australia, noted “increasing image sizes to investigate the objects of interest does not change the resolution of the image and therefore does not give better analysis of the objects of interest.”

Rocco Mancinelli, the editor in chief of the International Journal of Astrobiology, called the science and logic “completely flawed,” and said he would recommend it be rejected for publication.

Yet various versions of this garbage hypothesis were and are being published. Here’s the abstract for Rhawn Joseph’s latest:

Fungi thrive in radiation intense environments. Sequential photos document that fungus-like Martian specimens emerge from the soil and increase in size, including those resembling puffballs (Basidiomycota). After obliteration of spherical specimens by the rover wheels, new sphericals-some with stalks-appeared atop the crests of old tracks. Sequences document that thousands of black arctic “araneiforms” grow up to 300 meters in the Spring and disappear by Winter; a pattern repeated each Spring and which may represent massive colonies of black fungi, mould, lichens, algae, methanogens and sulfur reducing species. Black fungi-bacteria-like specimens also appeared atop the rovers. In a series of photographs over three days (Sols) white amorphous specimens within a crevice changed shape and location then disappeared. White protoplasmic-mycelium-like-tendrils with fruiting-body-like appendages form networks upon and above the surface; or increase in mass as documented by sequential photographs. Hundreds of dimpled donut-shaped “mushroom-like” formations approximately 1mm in size are adjacent or attached to these mycelium-like complexes. Additional sequences document that white amorphous masses beneath rock-shelters increase in mass, number, or disappear and that similar white-fungus-like specimens appeared inside an open rover compartment. Comparative statistical analysis of a sample of 9 spherical specimens believed to be fungal “puffballs” photographed on Sol 1145 and 12 specimens that emerged from beneath the soil on Sol 1148 confirmed the nine grew significantly closer together as their diameters expanded and some showed evidence of movement. Cluster analysis and a paired sample ‘t’ test indicates a statistically significant size increase in the average size ratio over all comparisons between and within groups (P = 0.011). Statistical comparisons indicates that arctic “araneiforms” significantly increased in length in parallel following an initial growth spurt. Although similarities in morphology are not proof of life, growth, movement, and changes in shape and location constitute behavior and support the hypothesis there is life on Mars.

I admit, I perked up at the mention of araneiforms — that’s spider-like shapes. It’s not about spiders on Mars, darn it, it’s about these complex dendritic shapes that appear and disappear on the Martian landscape. Joseph wants to claim that that is evidence of fungal life, based on over-interpretation of photos from Mars rovers. It’s not. No one is denying that there are ongoing changes on Mars — seasonal variations, windstorms, erosion, shifting dunes, all that sort of geological stuff. The question is whether it is caused by biology, and so far, the answer is it is not. There are better explanations for the araneiforms, for instance: The formation of araneiforms by carbon dioxide venting and vigorous sublimation dynamics under martian atmospheric pressure.

The local redistribution of granular material by sublimation of the southern seasonal CO2 ice deposit is one of the most active surface shaping processes on Mars today. This unique geomorphic mechanism is hypothesised to be the cause of the dendritic, branching, spider-like araneiform terrain and associated fans and spots—features which are native to Mars and have no Earth analogues. However, there is a paucity of empirical data to test the validity of this hypothesis. Additionally, it is unclear whether some araneiform patterns began as radial and then grew outward, or whether troughs connected at mutual centres over time. Here we present the results of a suite of laboratory experiments undertaken to investigate if the interaction between a sublimating CO2 ice overburden containing central vents and a porous, mobile regolith will mobilise grains from beneath the ice in the form of a plume to generate araneiform patterns. We quantify the branching and area of the dendritic features that form. We provide the first observations of plume activity via CO2 sublimation and consequent erosion to form araneiform features. We show that CO2 sublimation can be a highly efficient agent of sediment transport under present day Martian atmospheric pressure and that morphometry is governed by the Shields parameter.

You’ve got a thin atmosphere where the repeated freezing and sublimation of carbon dioxide is a major factor, and you want to claim that mushrooms are thriving to the point that they spring up overnight in the tracks of Mars rovers? OK, pull the other one, guy.

By the way, Joseph still touts his affiliation as being with, his vanity website where he publishes articles about the Quantum Physics of Time Travel and the consciousness of the universe. That’s the fake journal I trashed, which he then put up for sale for $100,000. If you check it out now, he’s selling it for $50,000. I’m waiting for the price to get down around $1.98, and then I’ll snap it up.

Or…hey, Rhawn, I’ll take the responsibility off your hands right now, no charge, and keep the site up as a historical curiosity, with maybe just a little front-page editorial commentary. You know it’s an embarrassment, just dragging you down, pass it on to someone who’ll keep it alive a little longer.

Wanking over the Drake Equation, again

Oh, this is so silly. It’s a paper titled A Statistical Estimation of the Occurrence of Extraterrestrial Intelligence in the Milky Way Galaxy. All it is is an exercise in modeling the hypothetical distribution of hypothetical intelligent life in the galaxy, taking into account the age distribution of stars.

In the field of Astrobiology, the precise location, prevalence and age of potential
extraterrestrial intelligence (ETI) have not been explicitly explored. Here, we address these
inquiries using an empirical galactic simulation model to analyze the spatial-temporal variations
and the prevalence of potential ETI within the Galaxy. This model estimates the occurrence of ETI,
providing guidance on where to look for intelligent life in the Search for ETI (SETI) with a set of
criteria, including well-established astrophysical properties of the Milky Way. Further, typically
overlooked factors such as the process of abiogenesis, different evolutionary timescales and
potential self-annihilation are incorporated to explore the growth propensity of ETI. We examine
three major parameters: 1) the likelihood rate of abiogenesis (λA); 2) evolutionary timescales (Tevo);
and 3) probability of self-annihilation of complex life (Pann). We found Pann to be the most
influential parameter determining the quantity and age of galactic intelligent life. Our model
simulation also identified a peak location for ETI at an annular region approximately 4 kpc from
the Galactic center around 8 billion years (Gyrs), with complex life decreasing temporally and
spatially from the peak point, asserting a high likelihood of intelligent life in the galactic inner
disk. The simulated age distributions also suggest that most of the intelligent life in our galaxy are
young, thus making observation or detection difficult.

<sigh>. Why? I sympathize with the idea of having fun with math, but the Drake equation is simple-minded algebra, not particularly interesting, and isn’t going to produce testable results.The authors seem to have confused their model with reality. This makes no sense:

We also concluded that at the current time of the study, most intelligent life in the Galaxy is
younger than 0.5 Gyr, with values of probability parameter for self-annihilation between 0 – 0.01;
with a relatively higher value of the annihilation parameter (≥ 0.1), most intelligent life is younger
than 0.01 Gyr. As we cannot assume a low probability of annihilation, it is possible that intelligent
life elsewhere in the Galaxy is still too young to be observed by us. Therefore, our findings can
imply that intelligent life may be common in the Galaxy but is still young, supporting the optimistic
aspect for the practice of SETI. Our results also suggest that our location on Earth is not within the
region where most intelligent life is settled, and SETI practices need to be closer to the inner
Galaxy, preferably at the annulus 4 kpc from the Galactic Center.

But…but…they’re talking about the parameters of their simulation! Their “probability parameter for self-annihilation” is something they set. All of the numbers they plug in are guesstimates, with varying degrees of reasonable justification. Of course they make an optimistic conclusion about SETI! But why should anyone accept their conclusions about an appropriate region for searching for intelligent life? Fudge their parameters a little more and you could shift the zone of likelihood where ever you want. They’ve added nothing to our understanding of the universe, unless you think that multiplying a bunch of numbers by a different bunch of numbers giving you a new result is earthshaking.

I really have to ask…why don’t reviewers simply stamp papers that are all about manipulating the Drake equation with a big red REJECT label? It would save them time and reduce the clutter in the scientific literature. Is there any value in YAWOD (Yet Another Wank Over Drake)? Who finds these informative?

Someone let the panspermists out of their cages again

I’m rather astonished that Salon chose to publish this article, Why some scientists believe life may have started on Mars. The operative words in that title are some – we’re talking about a tiny fringe minority – and believe, because they sure don’t have any evidence for their ideas. I guess Salon is desperate for news, so they’re letting writers invent some.

They don’t provide any evidence for their claim, only a weak chain of rationalizations.

  • Some Mars rocks have been found on Earth. True enough. Meteor collisions with Mars can splash rocks into space, and they occasionally fall to Earth.
  • Maybe early Martian life was adapted to survive meteor impacts, and was so hardy it could have survived the accidental launch and long journey? I had to laugh. Nothing evolves to survive meteor impacts.
  • Maybe early life was fine with harsh environments? Early life would have been adapted to aqueous environments; “harsh” is floating away from food sources and warmth and a predictable pH, not drying out completely and surviving a vacuum.
  • Life on Earth evolved “quickly”, too quickly. Yeah, we think replicators evolved shortly after the planet cooled enough to have liquid water. We’re talking within…200 million years. That’s not enough time? How do you know?
  • Mars cooled before Earth, therefore life could have evolved there first. Wait, you think 200 million years is inadequate for life to evolve on Earth, but there was time enough for it to evolve on Mars?

The real reason this fact-free idea is getting promoted is because a couple of crackpots from Harvard, Gary Ruvkun and Avi Loeb (remember him? The Oumuamua guy?) said it, and “Harvard” is a magical incantation to the rubes. They don’t have a speck of evidence, though. It all sounds like something someone would have babbled about over lunch, and then the speculation went critical, and because they’re Harvard guys, they think it’s worth announcing to the news agencies. That’s it. That’s all this is.

They’re not even particularly clever Harvard guys.

“To me the idea that it all started on Earth, and every single solar system has their own little evolution of life happening, and they’re all independent — it just seems kind of dumb,” Ruvkun said. “It’s so much more explanatory to say ‘no, it’s spreading, it’s spreading all across the universe, and we caught it too, it didn’t start here,” he added. “And in this moment during the pandemic — what a great moment to pitch the idea. Maybe people will finally believe it.”

“Seems kind of dumb” is not an argument. It seems kind of dumb to me to suggest that the first life on earth, which would have been fragile and relatively simple, happened to be so robust and stable that it could have survived a massive shock that threw it into space, where it drifted for hundreds of thousands, even millions of years, in a vacuum, bathing in radiation, to survive a super-heated re-entry to an alien atmosphere, crashing to Earth to resume where it left off on a Martian ocean. And that this was a more significant contribution to early life than countless chemical reactions churning out organic molecules at the bottom of Earth’s oceans.

These people are fine with reciting silly arguments about the great improbability of chemicals coming together to form a self-perpetuating metabolism, but hey, chance survivors on rare random rocks flung into an immensely empty space happening to coincidentally hit a dot of a world a hundred million kilometers away, or even hundreds of light years away, no problem.

And they think a pandemic will help them? Aside from the tastelessness of that notion, we can’t even convince millions of people to wear a mask, yet they think this will convince them that we’re all descendants of Martians? At best it means these guys think people are gullible enough to fall for their crackpot ideas now.

The Noah’s Ark/DNA guy is back

Earlier, I posted those emails from a creationist telling me that he had a “theory” that united human genomics and Noah’s ark. I told him I was uninterested in the conversation. Of course, he wouldn’t shut up and sent me another email today.

Yesterday I sent you my theory on human genetics and Noah’s Ark. Today, I am sending you the theory again in hopes that you’ll read it. It only takes 10 minutes of your time and it’s finding may be life changing. If you will just suspend your disbelief and are willing to entertain the idea that everything we know is wrong, you may find this theory interesting. I am a college graduate in the field of Biology and a former atheist/evolutionist. I am well studied in the theory of evolution as well as new atheism, so I understand this idea might seem absurd at first. However, with an open mind this theory will be life changing.

I’ll give you his “evidence” now. First of all, there is no theory to read: he sent me a pdf titled Theory that is nothing more than a list of biblical patriarchs and the haplogroups he assigns to them. That’s it! A list is not a theory.

To make it even worse, he sent an assortment of images organized by each of the biblical patriarchs — photos of modern people of different races. This is also not a theory. (I’m not attaching that here — it’s pointless.)

Then he sent a map of “Noah’s World”, showing the imaginary migration routes of Noah’s descendent. It’s a map. Not a theory.

And finally, there’s a Y DNA haplogroup map. Not a theory.

My life has not changed, and I don’t find the “theory” very interesting. It is absurd. And stupid.

Jordan Peterson is a woo-merchant

Lately, on my YouTube channel, I’ve been plagued with Peterson fanatics suddenly popping up on old videos and leaving weird, unfocused comments like “Strawman!” and “Fallacies!”, without bothering to tell me what I’ve strawmanned or what my fallacy was. But then, if you’re a Peterson cultist, you’ve probably already got serious logical deficits. So anyway, for this week’s Bad Science Sunday (it’s early, but calendars are merely a social construct anyway), I decided to infuriate them even more. It was fun.

As usual, I end with a plea to subscribe to my channel, or to sign up for my Patreon, but also with a request that everyone pray to Skaði, Goddess of Winter, because it’s almost the end of November and we have no snow on the ground, and it’s freaking me out.

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The Grand Prize for Pseudoscientific Gobbledygook goes to…the University of Pittsburgh!

This is an amazingly demented paper, titled 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. It’s such a tangle of random inferences and wild-ass leaps, all built on a foundation of disbelief in the germ theory of medicine. And it goes on and on! Just the abstract is nuts enough!

Thoracic organs, namely, the lungs and kidneys in severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2)-associated coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), exhibit silicate/glass-like (hyaline) and iron oxides-like deposits, which are like serpentinization-induced minerals. 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. We propose here that carbon dioxide-rich water-peridotite (a ferromagnesian silicate) interactions generate abnormal lithospheric long-wavelength magnetic anomalies (LWMAs) via serpentinization, during conditions with increased terrestrial water storage and atmospheric carbon dioxide, and a weakened geomagnetic field. Furthermore, we provide evidence supporting a hypothesis, which posits, COVID-19 is a pathologic manifestation of resonant LWMAs-induced magnetic catalysis of iron oxides-silicate-like minerals from biogenic molecules and the coronavirus from endogenous viral elements, with the virus particles capable of replication and transmission to other hosts. We propose that those LWMAs are associated with the production of iron oxides-silicate rock minerals in tectonic plates with Proterozoic cratons. Thus, severe COVID-19 outbreaks are/will predominately occur in Eurasia and the Americas and are governed by the spatiotemporal dynamics of terrestrial water storage and the semiannual oscillation of the weakening geomagnetic magnetic field. We propose that the ferromagnetic-like iron stores in humans are the unifying determinant for COVID-19-induced morbidity and mortality. Furthermore, we propose that Nephrite-Jade amulets (a calcium-ferromagnesian silicate) developed by Neolithic Chinese Medicine to prevent thoracic organ disease, may prevent COVID-19.

I read the whole paper by Moses Turkle Bility. It was a wild ride. Let me try to summarize the whole thing in non-gibberish.

  • They had two rooms full of immunocompromised experimental rats.
  • These rats had been surgically implanted with fetal human hematopoietic tissue for reasons unknown, but for an experiment that had been approved by the university.
  • A respiratory disease swept through the colony, affecting one room more than the other. Nothing is made of this observation.
  • COVID-19 is a respiratory disease. Therefore they called this a COVID-19-like disease. Gotta cash in on the hot topics, you know!
  • They dissected the dead rats and found hemorrhagic patches and silicate/glass-like structures in their lungs. These are not clearly evident in the photos, but OK…
  • Silicate/glass-like structures? Surely, this means the phenomenon is similar to the phenomenon of serpentization in geology! (I’m wobbly on what serpentization is, but here’s a short definition.)
  • Therefore, we must immediately delve deep into geological processes and oscillations in planetary electromagnetic fields. Ta da!

  • We assume Long-Wavelength Magnetic Anomalies Induces COVID-19 Via Magnetic Catalysis, not that silly germ theory or zoonotic infection by a zoonotically-derived virus. I guess we know what causes COVID-19 now, and it isn’t a virus.
  • Nephrite-Jade Amulets Interacts With LWMAs (long-wavelength magnetic anomalies) and prevents disease in thoracic organs. I guess we know what cures COVID-19 now.
  • There was no test of the effect of LWMAs on the rats. They also didn’t make itty-bitty jade amulets for them.

That’s all remarkable bullshit presented in a kind of rabid stream-of-consciousness form, with the major conclusions neither tested nor even logically implied by the circumstances that triggered the “study”. It was not so much a “study” as some guy’s rat lab being devastated by a disease, so he retreats to his office to make a lengthy rationalization based on Traditional Chinese Medicine and half-assed geology. No experiments were done, yet he leaps to all these bizarre conclusions. Just look at the diagram above, most of which is irrelevant noise stitched together with unjustified premises!

There is nothing in Bility’s CV to suggest anything but a background in competently executed biomedical research. He’s an untenured assistant professor, though. This is the kind of paper that, if presented to the tenure committee, would instantly call his stability and his ability to do good science into question. Poor guy.

Also, that Elsevier would publish such an idiotic, science-deny paper would question their competence as a publisher if we didn’t already know that Elsevier was an evil, corrupt company.

Uh-oh. This wasn’t a one-off weirdness. Bility has also published Stonehenge as a public health intervention device for preventing lithospheric magnetic field-induced emerging diseases and megadeath during periods of severely weakened geomagnetic field. Way to scuttle a career, guy!