Retraction Watch

Tracking retractions as a window into the scientific process

Paper on chemtrails, a favorite subject of conspiracy theorists, retracted

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A paper claiming to expose the “tightly held secret” that long clouds trailing from jets are toxic coal fly ash — and not, as the U.S. government says, primarily composed of harmless ice crystals — has been retracted.

The paper is called “Evidence of Coal-Fly-Ash Toxic Chemical Geoengineering in the Troposphere: Consequences for Public Health,” and was published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health in August. Author J. Marvin Herndon — a geophysicist, and self-described “independent researcher” — also distributed a press release about the findings.

The abstract explains:

The author presents evidence that toxic coal combustion fly ash is the most likely aerosolized particulate sprayed by tanker-jets for geoengineering, weather-modification and climate-modification purposes and describes some of the multifold consequences on public health.

The detailed retraction note, authored by the academic editor of the paper, Paul B. Tchounwou, a biologist at Jackson State University, points out some errors with the science, and notes that the “language of the paper is often not sufficiently scientifically objective:”

It was brought to my attention that there are problems related to the recently published article “Evidence of Coal-Fly-Ash Toxic Chemical Geoengineering in the Troposphere: Consequences for Public Health” [1].

Together with the Chief Scientific Officer, Dr. Franck Vazquez, and the Editorial office, we re-evaluated the paper, re-assessed the comments made by the three reviewers and note the following crucial concerns:

• The value for average leachate concentration of Aluminum mentioned in Table 1 and used by the author to normalize the data presented in Figures 2, 3, 4 and 5 is incorrect. The author uses 70,000 µg/kg, while the correct value resulting from the un-leached European coal fly ash samples measurements published by Moreno et al. [2]) is 140,000,000 µg/kg. This error invalidates the conclusions of the article.

• The chemical compositions obtained for rainwater and HEPA air filter dust are only compared to chemical compositions obtained for coal-fly-ash leaching experiments [2]. The author did not attempt to compare his results to chemical compositions of other potential sources. Thus, at this stage, the work is preliminary since it is not clear what the source of these chemicals is.

• The language of the paper is often not sufficiently scientifically objective for a research article. Consequently, we have decided to retract the article.

This paper is thus declared retracted and shall be marked accordingly for the scientific record. MDPI takes the responsibility to enforce strict ethical policies and standards very seriously. We aim to ensure the publication of only truly original and scientific works. MDPI would like to apologize to the readers of IJERPH that this article was published with the errors mentioned above. We sincerely appreciate the efforts of those who bring aspects of scientific error to our attention in an effort to maintain scientific integrity.

In June, a veritable cast of characters — including several active airline pilots, a biochemist, an artist, and a woman who currently works at home — began to pick apart Herndon’s previous work on the topic of jet-spraying-toxins on the discussion board In a summary post on the now-retracted paper and another Herndon paper in Current Science, administrator Mick West says:

There are multiple problems with these papers: figures are incorrect, values given are off by several orders of magnitude, masses are calculated incorrectly, data sets appear to have been chosen arbitrarily.

Jeffery Beall, a librarian at the University of Colorado Denver, wrote about the paper last week on his blog Scholarly Open Access, prior to the retraction:

Herndon’s “evidence” of the aerial spraying includes a few pictures of clouds and contrails he shot in the skies above San Diego, where he lives.

Here are the pictures in question, in Figure 1 in the paper:

Screen Shot 2015-09-03 at 11.21.08 AM


Figure 1. Composite of four images of the blue sky over San Diego taken on cloudless days showing various instances of the on-going daily tanker-jet spraying of ultrafine-particulates into the troposphere.

Here’s what the Environmental Protection Agency says about those lines:

The combination of water vapor in aircraft engine exhaust and the low ambient temperatures that often exists at these high altitudes allows the formation of contrails. Contrails are composed primarily of water (in the form of ice crystals) and do not pose health risks to humans.

Herndon provided us with this statement:

All I can say is that the matter is not closed.

We asked if he could say more, and he added:

Be patient and perspicacious and you might find a story far bigger than you ever experienced. In the meantime, keep in mind the dust has not settled on the retraction matter, so may I suggest not rushing to press.

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