Co-authors of paper on COVID-19 and jade amulets blame ‘the online press’ and social media for misinterpretation in retraction letter

The co-authors of a paper that claimed jade amulets might prevent COVID-19 have tried to distance themselves from the work, in a letter to the co-editor of the journal that published it. 

In fact, the first author, Moses Bility of the University of Pittsburgh, says of his co-authors:

the conceptual understanding and far-reaching implications of such an unconventional approach and complex idea that employed concepts/frameworks from geology, geophysics, and Condensed Matter Physics may have not been fully clear to them all.

The paper was published in Science of the Total Environment on October 8. It prompted critiques on Twitter in late October, and we published a post on it on October 29. Bility’s plans to retract the paper were reported by The Scientist on November 4, and the paper was marked as temporarily retracted on November 5, but the letter requesting the retraction has not yet been made public.

In the November 2 letter, which co-author Jean Nachega sent to Kenneth Witwer, who forwarded it to us, the authors write: 

The earlier version might pose a serious health risk based on the increasing negative feedback since its e-publication ahead of print.

Elsewhere in the letter, the authors try to distance themselves from their conclusion that jade amulets might protect against COVID-19:

One of the major concerns of the scientific community expressed via the online press or social media platforms includes statements that appear to endorse the use of jade amulets in preventing COVID-19 infection. We did not intend for this to be our message, but we must contend with the fact that it did elicit such interpretation. 

For reference, the statement about jade amulets, which appeared in the “highlights” section of the post, does not seem ambiguous:

Nephrite-Jade amulets, a calcium-ferromagnesian silicate, may prevent COVID-19.

Bility plans to replace the paper with a new version, according to the letter, that does not include any of his co-authors: 

Additionally, the inclusion of the co-authors in this manuscript was an error in my (Moses Bility) judgment. Although the co-authors assisted in the various stages (except conceptualization) in developing this work as outline in the article, the conceptual understanding and far-reaching implications of such an unconventional approach and complex idea that employed concepts/frameworks from geology, geophysics, and Condensed Matter Physics may have not been fully clear to them all. Indeed the expertise of the co-authors is in the biological/biomedical sciences, thus they only contributed to that aspect of the work. Therefore, upon reevaluation of the co-authorships, I have determined that all my co-authors did/do not meet one or more of required STOTEN’ or ICMJE’s authorship criteria for this work, they requested to be removed from the author list of our revised manuscript.

In an earlier exchange, Bility accused Retraction Watch of racism for asking questions about the paper.

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3 thoughts on “Co-authors of paper on COVID-19 and jade amulets blame ‘the online press’ and social media for misinterpretation in retraction letter”

  1. the claims in the paper would appear to depart from reality in terms of attempting to find a link between the ground glass appearance of lungs on CT scan in Covid-19 with actual mineral deposits in tissues of rats! In addition there is a nebulous attempt to link geo-magnetic disturbance with TCM and the spontaneous eruption of viruses within human bodies all without evidence.

    While we should keep an open mind these assertions would appear to deny germ theory and also subvert the actions of these same geo-magnetic actions in space and time as they seemingly acted differently on adjacent rooms. In addition it seems we have to rewrite anatomy now as kidneys have become thoracic organs.

    It is also disturbing as the main author appears to have an agenda promoting ancient knowledge as superior in some way. But TCM is established as pseudoscience and has no bearing on conventional scientific medicine or germ theory. Accordingly it is difficult to interpret the whole paper as being anything as other than ill-conceived and misleading.

  2. OK this clearly defines the need of Pitt to deal with the delusions of this assistant professor! No longer is there a question regarding the intentions of this article – it is pure fiction and misrepresentation of the responsible author (though perhaps due to incompetence in the biological field)…
    If he can’t even ensure the understanding of the paper for his students (at least some reported as undergrads), how can he motivate its foundation to the scientific community. Any journal publishing his, supposedly single-author revision, will mark itself as a “no go”-journal of rubbish publications.

  3. One may agree or disagree with the hypothesis, experiments, and results of the paper, but I have a very serious issue with the way Dr. Bility is being defamed and treated.
    1) If one disagrees with his science, then one must do better science to disprove him. Merely shouting “non-sense” from a bully pulpit is not helpful for science.
    2) One of the people who has been most vociferous in denigrating any and everyone is Dr. Bik. I searched her on PubMed and found that she has never been a PI on any project, has never published any original research as a first author. Therefore, I doubt if she has ever gone through the process of formulating a hypothesis, garnering financial and other resources to test it, designing and performing the experiements, analyzing the data, writing up a manuscript, and then putting yourself out vulnerable to reviewers and critiques. I searched NIH reporter and found that she has never been federally funded. So, what exactly is her expertise? Shouting “this is non-senses” the loudest?
    3) I fully agree with Dr. Bility that there is a bias in the academic world against people of color. Like in buisness and other sectors, this is extremely hard for someone who has never faced this prejudice, to understand or even recognize. From my personal experience and that of several of my personal friends, I have seen many grants being triaged out of study sections, because the PI did not have the right “pedigree”. Same goes for the manuscripts.
    4) So instead of shouting “this is non-sense” at Dr. Bility, if you disagree with his science or his interpreation of the laws of physics, than do better science and put out a counterfactual. This senseless and biased denigration is deplorable.

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