A bizarre paper in an Elsevier journal suggests that Covid 19 is a geological/magnetic-like phenomenon and can be prevented by wearing jade amulets. Elsevier defends the paper.

October 30, 2020 • 12:30 pm

A really insane paper was just published in an Elsevier journal, Science of the Total Environment, a paper that connects the outbreak of covid with serpentinization phenomena known in geology, as well as the Earth’s geomagnetic fields. At the end, the authors (who hold respectable jobs) suggest that putting nephrite jade amulets on rats may protect them from getting coronavirus.  And maybe it would work for us, too!  It’s gonzo. Of course, we can’t blatantly dismiss it out of hand without at least reading the paper (which I did, and it was PAINFUL), but this nonsense comes about as close to being dismissible as a paper can from just reading the title and the abstract. Click on the screenshot to read the paper, get the pdf here, and see the reference at the bottom.

The “highlights”:

I’m not going to go through the results in detail, which are both experimental and correlational, but even the “experimental” results are correlational: the authors observed, in rats afflicted with a “COVID-19 like disease” (they don’t know its relationship to genuine virus), that dissected rats had deposits of “silicate/glasslike structures in the lungs and kidneys”, which they associate with serpintinization. There was no experimental manipulation; they just saw some of the rats in their colonies get sick (17 out of 92), and cut them open.

The rest of the paper is speculation based on correlations of the disease in humans with geological phenomena, leading them to their Big Hypothesis:

Here, we propose that the emergence of COVID-19 outbreaks resulted from the generation of LWMAs [long-wave magnetic anomalies] that exhibit resonance with ferromagnetic-like iron stores in humans, thus enabling the magnetic catalysis of iron oxides-silicate-like minerals and the associated SARS-CoV-2.

And so iron is important, and so is water and geology, so they support their hypothesis with statements like this:

Terrestrial water storage dynamics also account for the disproportionate deaths in populations with African ancestry in the United States during the vernal phase of the COVID-19 pandemic. Individuals with African ancestry disproportionally reside in basins within the coastal belt of the Greater Appalachian-Ouachita orogenic belt that spans the South to the Northeastern United States (the so-called Black belt). This so-called Black belt region has been experiencing increased terrestrial water storage over the past decades and experienced increased terrestrial water storage during the vernal phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Of course that doesn’t explain why, in a single area, blacks are more liable to get infected than are whites.

It goes on:

In the proposed hypothesis, ferromagnetic-like/superparamagnetic iron stores (i.e., ferrihydrite) in humans  is critical for resonant LWMA-mediated magnetic catalysis in COVID-19 pathologies. Iron stores are low in children and increases with age, with the highest levels in the elderly. Males have significantly higher iron stores compared to females. Consequently, COVID-19-induced morbidity and mortality risk are directly proportional to age, and male sex is also a significant risk factor for COVID-19-induced morbidity and mortality.

Yes, it smacks of quackery, but I’ll let someone like Orac go after the paper as a whole, for life is short.  Oh, there’s one more test they propose:

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.

. . . It is posited that Jade (including Nephrite) amulets protect the wearer against unseen nefarious forces that cause disease in thoracic organs. Indeed, the romantic language word, piedra de ijada (from which the English word Jade is derived) translates to the stone that prevents disease in organs in the side/flank of the body (thoracic organs). Additionally, the English word Nephrite is derived from the Greek word lapis nephriticus, which translates to the stone that cures kidney disease.

Future experiments and analysis in support of this hypothesis will determine 1) the genomic sequence of the polynucleotide molecules producing the SARS-CoV-2-like antigens in the laboratory rats using next-generation sequencing technology, 2) the ability of Nephrite-Jade amulets to prevent lethal COVID-19-like disease and associated SARS-CoV-2-like infection in laboratory rats in our colony during the equinoctial period. . .

Check out the paper’s bizarre “graphical abstract”, which is reproduced below.

Maybe Gwyneth Paltrow’s jade vagina eggs had something to them after all! Well, I will let the experimenters fit the rats with tiny jade amulets and see if they work. I’m betting not. However, in support of their hypothesis, I sometimes wear pounamu (nephrite shapes on necklaces) that I got in New Zealand (they’re a traditional Maori decoration), and I haven’t gotten Covid yet. Maybe we could do the experiment now with the many people in New Zealand, both white and Maori, who wear pounamu. Those who wear amulets should get covid far less often.

Of course Retraction Watch had to feature this paper, and so it did in the article below (click on the screenshot).

The site reproduces some baffled tweets by other scientists, and then inquired of the paper’s first author, Moses Turkle Bility:

We asked Moses Turkle Bility, a Pitt professor who is listed as corresponding author of the paper, whether he in fact wrote it. He confirmed that he did:

…I kindly suggest you read the article and examine the evidence provided. I also suggest you read the history of science and how zealots have consistently attempted to block and ridicule novel ideas that challenge the predominant paradigm from individuals that are deem [sic] not intelligent enough. I [sic] not surprised that this article has elicited angry responses. Clearly the idea that a black scientist can provide a paradigm shifting idea offends a lot of individuals. I’ll be very candid with you; my skin color has no bearing on my intelligence.

If you have legitimate concerns about the article and wish to discuss, I’ll address; however, I will not tolerate racism or intellectual intolerance targeted at me.

Every quack fancies themselves a Galileo, though most quacks are simply quacks. And there was no racism.

We asked Bility for evidence that “Nephrite-Jade amulets, a calcium-ferromagnesian silicate, may prevent COVID-19,” and whether promoting non-evidence-based interventions during a pandemic was a good idea. His non-answer:

Dear Dr. Oransky, please read and understand the article in its entirety, before you make a hasty decision. If I may speculate, you neither understand quantum physics nor spin chemistry; you are making a hasting [sic] decision based on your knowledge of the classical theories that dominate the biological sciences. Also, certainly you being a white male offers you the privilege to think that you have the right to determine who can propose ideas that challenges a dominant paradigm. Other cultures are not primitive, and people of color and indigenous people are not intellectually inferior. Before you jump to conclusions about this article, I suggest you understand quantum physics, and spin chemistry, and how it differs from classical theories, and then read my article. 

The author, who is black, is clearly defensive, and is blaming criticism on his race. But the insanity of this paper has nothing to do with race; it has to do with whether good science is being done, and it doesn’t look like it to me.

Finally, Retraction Watch went to Elsevier, whom I don’t like anyway because they’re price-gougers. And they defended the paper!

We’ve also asked Jay Gan, of the University of California, Riverside, and co-editor-in-chief of the journal, how it came to be published. Gan told us that Damià Barceló, the other editor in chief of the journal, handled the submission. Barceló told us:

The paper went through our standard reviewing process. It was  reviewed by two expert reviewers and only after  several revisions with the agreement of the reviewers it was accepted.

Well, lots of dumb papers get published, though relatively more of them in the humanities than in the sciences. This paper won’t do much harm to science or medicine, but it may damage the careers of its authors unless, by a million-to-one chance, they’re right. And certainly Elsevier doesn’t come out looking good on this one.


Bility, M. T., Y. Agarwal, S. Ho, I. Castronova, C. Beatty, S. Biradar, V. Narala, N. Periyapatna, Y. Chen, and J. Nachega. 2020. 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. Science of The Total Environment:142830.

67 thoughts on “A bizarre paper in an Elsevier journal suggests that Covid 19 is a geological/magnetic-like phenomenon and can be prevented by wearing jade amulets. Elsevier defends the paper.

    1. Reasonable people willing to be honest publicly are now the minority. You can’t call things “stupid” anymore. The only acceptable insults are “racist” or “sexist”, so I think more blatantly stupid stuff gets through despite it being seemingly apolitical.

      1. I had to vet 2 predatory journal pseudoscience papers in the same comment thread this week, very similar comments to boot.

        And the creationists have been silent for months but started to troll en masse again. :-/

        1. I read some of the links of Bility’s papers given in comments below, and Physics Essays was precisely among those predatory sources (according to mostly the old Beal’s list). Academia is no different.


      2. “Crackpot”, may we still use crackpot? Of course “bizarre” covers it pretty well, but is way too polite.
        I also note he’s a doctor of philosophy, not a scientist or medic.

  1. I have a friend who works at Pitt (she’s a standardized patient in the School of Medicine). I realize the paper didn’t come out of the School of Medicine, but I can’t wait to hear her reaction. What an embarrassment!

    1. Well, I’m retired from PItt (Mol Genetics & Biochem, and then Biological Sciences) and here’s my reaction:

      Jesus Haploid Christ!! I have published at least one paper with a colleague from GSPH. A long time ago, but still…

      1. Stonehenge must have worked, or we’d have heard all about the Bronze Age pandemic. (The Egyptian pyramid design was useless, hence all the plagues recorded in the Bible. Come to think of it, if only Elsevier had published that no one would have been able to afford to read it and the world would be a much better place…)

    1. I read about this at Retraction Watch, then read the paper. I commented there that his papers and his reaction to questions from RW are similar to the kind of behavior sometimes seen in people suffering a mental health crisis. I agree his publications are silly, but I suspect we should feel sorrow and regret for his situation, which might be quite dire.

      My comment at RW passed moderation, but then was deleted from the site. I guess one is not supposed to speculate about the mental health of the subjects of posts there.

      Anyway, I have sympathy for this guy, because his previous career and work seems to have been conventional and successful, and his new papers seem to point to something bad happening to him.

      1. Yeah, this poor SOB has a tenuous link to reality. I do feel for him because he clearly doesn’t realize just how nuts he is.

        1. We are going to hear a lot more of that in coming years and, at least at schools, we won’t be allowed to dispute it.

        2. I wonder how many, if any, of the enquiring critical people, before reading that response from the lead author, had any idea, or even any thought, about the skin colour of that author?

          Or did I miss something, reading here?

          It never occurred to me to do so, but do some academics, when contacting another from elsewhere whom they haven’t before, first look for a photograph of that person?
          I suppose that if you begin ‘Dear Madam’ or ‘Dear Sir’ and want to be sure when the name doesn’t make it obvious, you might wish to, but that’s pretty old fashioned. I’d usually address by something like ‘Hi Dr. Blumpsh, etc, etc.’

          This author perhaps has a standardized response to a negative query, whether he’s
          (or is it a she?) writing these earth-shaking tomes in geology/medicine or in physics.

    2. I just checked his profile in ResearchGate:


      Here’s the intro:

      “A foundational limitation across the physical, biological/medical and socio-political sciences is the inability to reconcile Quantum Theory with the frameworks in those scientific disciplines. My research program has developed a novel theoretical framework, which reconciles Quantum theory with the phenomenon of gravitation, and is termed, Quantum-Equilibrium Theory (QET). Importantly, QET demonstrates a continuous translational symmetry between human-active matter and the lithosphere magnetic field, thus providing a Quantum theory for describing the nature and dynamics of human-active matter. My research program applies QET to understand physical dynamics and the mechanisms of emerging diseases and socio-political strife.”

      Oh, dear.

      1. “…reconciles Quantum theory with the phenomenon of gravitation”

        Wow, so he (or she?) should soon be getting a Nobel for discovering a viable theory of quantum gravity.

  2. Does the journal have a “Now For Something Completely Different” section? It is easy to be snarky, I know. But the great thing is there maybe someone out there that can either replicate the findings. Or not.

  3. Wow, the crazy is strong in this one.
    Where to start?

    that dissected rats had deposits of “silicate/glasslike structures in the lungs and kidneys”, which they associate with serpintinization

    Hmmm, it might have a worthwhile idea to get someone from the geology/ mineralogy departments (are the authors in a university, or something similar) to put these deposits under a microscope and find out what they are. Or, would that expose the evidence to the destructive view of non-believers.
    Sorry, but I was just “attending” a webinar from some archaeologists on how “non-traditional archaeology” (viz : cranks and cultists) “is harming archaeology”, and boy, do you have some serious whack-jobs “out in the community” in America. Is lithium and anti-psychotic medication so expensive?
    I actually saw that paper going past on Twitter – probably Retraction Watch, or via one of the geo-tweeps – and dismissed it out of hand. Having seen more of the alleged geological parts of this assertion, it’s even more arrant nonsense.
    Props to Coel for pulling on the sewage-diving suit and delving into the wonderful world of self-publishing.

    1. And the author’s name is Moses. Clearly the woo is strong in this one.

      (All sorts of probably-culturally-offensive witch-doctor jokes spring to mind, which I’ll keep to myself. But ‘unseen nefarious forces’? Seriously?)

      The guy’s a complete loony. Besides, as every fule noes, Covid is caused by 5G cellphone towers.

  4. O.m.g. I don’t know if it’s harmless or not. That all depends on how much this ‘takes off’. But now with attention, it might well become popularized and so become a dangerous addition to the culture wars.

  5. I wonder what the Public Health Dept of the U of Pittsburgh have to say about this. I also wonder how many other woo-merchants they might be harbouring. And how the sources of their funding might react to this nonsense.

    Mind you, one of my sons-in-law is a New Zealander, always wears pounamu, and hasn’t had Covid-19. QED!

  6. The research is probably harmless. What scares me is that these people are being paid to teach people science at the university level.

    1. I’m not so sure it is harmless, given what we know about the orange menance and the many crackpot ideas he has championed, and his followers have swallowed. If bad science induces behavioral changes regarding COVID treatments or personal protection, that causes direct harm.

    2. It may be harmless if it remains relatively obscure for the general population. Otherwise, jade-amulet-wearing viral vectors might become something of an issue. We’ve got enough silly excuses for not following the guidelines and practicing preventive measures as it is.

      1. Every time I go into Taos or Santa Fe, I am surrounded by people who believe that crystals or other rocks can do impossible things.
        The same people tend to also have lots of other related beliefs, often having to do with aboriginal people having special knowledge of secret truths and wisdom, versions of which are for sale locally.

        1. Soooo hurts my brain – the crystals bs. And growing up in Australia I heard a lot of the aboriginal woo-woo also.
          COME BACK RANDI – all is forgiven.

          It is an international thing.
          My article about this in a Traditional Chinese “Medicine” context:
          (scroll down for article)


          In themoderate voice, syndicated later variously.


          D.A., NYC

          1. Good article. When I am over there, it is always disturbing to see TCM shops and stalls.

            Perhaps there is just a human need to believe that someone has all the answers. It is easy to sort of fetishize spiritual practices of indigenous or primitive folks. Doing that is easiest when one has a relatively shallow understanding of the indigenous group itself.

            Down in Taos/Santa Fe, people tend to participate in sort of a spiritual buffet. They tend to be completely uncritical, but don’t follow any actual single tradition. They wear some crystals, burn some sage, take lots of supplements, and sometimes participate in ceremonies led by people who claim to have shamanistic training. I guess it all seems vaguely spiritual to them, but it is not really a cohesive belief system.

            But the exaggerated deference towards indigenous religion strikes me as sort of absurd.

        2. An alarming trend in the so-called decolonization of science is giving credence to such strange beliefs by accepting that indigenous people have different ways of knowing.

    1. I find that more disturbing than the article or his magic crystals. If he answered with some grace, I would think well, it is ‘out there’ as a whacky idea, but if the answer to everything is “quantum” then you are at the fringes of what I can understand. Also, if you want people to accept your ideas & theories, you need to explain them, not just shout “Quantum!”…

      1. The quantum is bad enough, but the author is basically saying if you criticize his work it’s because he’s black and you’re racist. I wouldn’t have known or assumed the author was black, nor would I expect the questioner to care about that. No matter who you are, good science needs to be rigorous. One can imagine a journal refusing to accept this submission and being berated for failing to take a person of color seriously. The study doesn’t need to be good, the author just has to push the right buttons.

  7. So where does the demonstrable effectiveness of masks in contravening Covid (and pretty much every other kind of airborne/droplet-based infection) come from? How about social distancing as a variable? I.e., how does the actual epidemiological evidence about Covid infection arise, if it’s all about semiprecious stones and their, uh, ‘quantum’ properties?

    Just askin’…

  8. The first line of the abstract begins “Thoracic organs, namely, the lungs and kidneys…”.

    I’ve always understood that the kidneys in humans are abdominal organs (apart from some rare exceptions). How does this opening get past the reviewing process? Shakes your confidence in the remainder.

  9. I’ve an interest of the history around the Black Death… and one of the interesting things is the range of different things people were willing to try to avoid falling victim to the plague.

    You can argue that the response to the Covid pandemic is similar. A few drugs have been shown to help, more drugs are proposed but as yet unverified, and there are a few batshit crazy ideas. Lots of people are desperate for a cure or protection, anything, no matter what.

  10. Ha! I’d composed an email to send to Jerry to let him know about this very paper, but I really feel sorry about the amount of time he’s already spent reading theology. Does he really need more dreck in his life?

    So I didn’t send it.

  11. So I know some basic quantum physics (up to but not including quantum field theory, enough for basic chemistry and solid state physics). And I have not seen much activity on spin chemistry – the area is “dilute” [ https://www3.nd.edu/~pkamat/wikirad/pdf/spinchem.pdf ].

    Likely because the effects are below the thermal effects (~ 10^-4 kJ/mole in an NMR field vs 2.5 kJ/mole) and they have to be amplified through spin sensitive pathways [ibid].

    The U.E. Steiner and T. Ulrich. Magnetic Field Effects in Chemical Kinetics and Related Phenomena, Chem. Rev. 1989, 89, p, 51-147 reference is claiming to see 0.15 % yield differences in NMR fields, or 7 T. The Earth magnetic field is ~ 50 uT.

    Now I need a biochemist to tell me if low yield differences has biological significance. But I’m guessing not from what I can read so far.

    1. Thanks for a small try at validating his theory. Your try, to me, is the most compelling way to penetrate my personal bias, which in this case is overwhelmingly hardened by my knee-jerk skepticism.

      I did try to read through and understand his paper. But I tired too quickly of his sentence-by-sentence, unhelpful over-use of pan-disciplinary technical terminology. (Is his paper an example of extraordinary linguistic density, or just proof that, through interpretation, I can breathe meaning into any syntactically correct sentence?)

      Only when we make a best attempt to prove him right, and fail, can we build the most substantive confidence that he’s wrong.

  12. This so-called Black belt region has been experiencing increased terrestrial water storage over the past decades and experienced increased terrestrial water storage during the vernal phase of the COVID-19 pandemic.

    Here is a USGS map of water storage. You’ll have to turn on the ‘ground water sites’ data by hand.
    Here is a CensusScope.org map of African American population density (note it’s per capita, so it’s a relative measure not absolute numbers).

    I don’t really see a correlation.

    “silicate/glasslike structures in the lungs and kidneys”, which they associate with serpintinization.

    Well, this article made me look up serpintinization, which sounds like a really cool process. But if it’s occurring in big-enough-to-be-visible rocks in animals, it would probably kill the host. Quoting from Wikipedia: “The reaction is highly exothermic and rock temperatures can be raised by about 260 °C (500 °F).”

    Now, I’m no biologist, but I’d think that if some rock in your gut is putting out that much heat to become serpentine, the resulting serpentine rock attracting Covid-like symptoms is probably the least of your worries.

  13. Certainly a cringeworthy paper but, after all, as Steven Pinker has documented, the very existence of human nature was denied in the behavioral sciences for upwards of half a century. That was even more cringeworthy, not to mention a great deal more dangerous, assuming we place any value on the survival of our species.

  14. Call me cynical, but with a title like Science of the Total Environment, I suspect this journal will be a magnet for all sorts of unevidenced and improbable bullshit.

  15. “Well, lots of dumb papers get published, though relatively more of them in the humanities than in the sciences.”

    Is there a source for that claim or is it just your general impression? It’s not the first time I’ve seen someone say that but I’m not sure it’s true or justified. And this is coming from someone who works in a natural science field, honestly I just see so much bullshit in my own field, I don’t tend to be quick to judge other sciences, or “the humanities”.

    1. I think it’s hard to contest the claim that there are a lot more papers in the humanities with no empirical content than there are in science. Even a bad science paper usually has pretty accurate data.

      1. Depends. History (political, economic, social,cultural…),languages, archaeology have a long tradition of evidence (“sources”) based high-quality scholarhsip. The “humanitiies” were the ones who historicallly-critically dissected the Bible, who discovered a common root for Indo-European languages, who deciphered forgotten ancient scripts etc.

        1. In the US at least, archaeology would not be included in the Humanities. It would be a social science. This allows me, a former (recovered) archaeologist, to live with myself. 😉

  16. I can only think (hope?) it is a prank (a la Sokal), so that all woke kids will come out in support and then they will be owned… I am not sure if the editor is in on it (I would guess not).
    I think (hope) no academic really would write like the main author in his responses (although in the US of (tod)A, I am not sure anymore)

  17. all the Big Words in the title sound OK together, but what is “magnetic catalysis”? I would love to know if that is an actual thing – “magnetic catalysis”… it sounds awesome!

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