By Kristen Panthagani
Ooooooooook. Deep breaths. Let’s begin.
I started this blog because I saw a lot of misinformation flying around, and well-meaning people are getting legitimately confused. And a lot of that misinformation is half truths or just quotes taken out of context (check out this post for examples of that), and I don’t blame readers for being misled.
But this paper is a whole other level. The paper entitled “5G Technology and induction of coronavirus in skin cells” was published in a PubMed-indexed journal (which is supposed to be a mark of credibility) trying to argue that SARS-CoV-2 can spontaneous generate in human skin cells due to exposure to 5G. The article has since been withdrawn due to its obvious flaws, but you can see an archived version here.
This is a whole other level of misinformation — it’s not some random person taking a legitimate study out of context. No — the actual authors are trying to sell you a completely implausible claim by dressing it up in sciency language and publishing it in (what is very likely) a predatory journal. Luckily scientists saw it and called it out, but I think it is still a valuable lesson in how people can dress up nonsense in fancy language to deceive readers, and that there are pay-for-play journals that will give it a legitimate-looking platform. Also there are still a lot of people that think 5G has something to do with COVID, and I hope walking them through the implausibility of these claims might help bring some perspective. So let’s take a look.
First let me note — this study is ignoring some really basic concepts of physics, chemistry, and biology, so in some ways it’s even harder to argue with this than less flawed studies because they are not working in the same physical universe as the rest of us. It’s kind of like trying to argue with someone who is saying there should be a border wall between the US and the moon… that… just doesn’t make sense.
What is the main argument of this article?
Before reading the summary below, take a gander at the actual article. It looks impressive, right? They have fancy diagrams and lots of math equations! They cite laws of physics! Alright, now taking away the science jargon, here is what they are actually arguing.
Plain language summary of what they are trying to say:
5G affects skin cells. COVID-19 affects skin cells, therefore COVID-19 and 5G have similar effects. DNA (which is inside skin cells) has a coil-like structure and is electrically charged. Inductors (coiled wire that can store energy when electricity passes through it) are also coil-shaped, therefore DNA is an inductor. As an inductor, DNA absorbs the 5G and then makes new electromagnetic waves that are DNA-shaped — not the shape of the DNA coils, mind you, but the shape of individual DNA molecules (bases). These DNA base-shaped waves punch DNA base-shaped holes in the liquid inside the cell. To fill these holes, a new DNA base is made, because it is the right shape. These individual DNA.. sorry, I mean RNA bases magically join together in exactly the right order to form the 30,000 RNA base-long coronavirus genome. For this to work, the wavelength of the electromagnetic radiation has to be smaller than the size of a cell. Also, btw, 5G is capable of killing every living thing except some forms of microorganisms. It causes 720 (factorial) diseases.
A similar level of scientific thinking as that displayed by this article.
Now the Science
Let’s walk through a few of the many, many things that are wrong with this argument. First, let’s start with some basic definitions. 5G is a form of electromagnetic radiation just like 4G, radio waves, and visible light. Its wave lengths generally range between 1 and 10 millimeters and are slightly shorter than 4G, but much longer than visible light. The shorter the wavelength, the more energy the wave carries. Thus sunlight carries way, way more energy than 5G.
It is true that some molecules absorb electromagnetic radiation like light (this is the reason color exists). However, whether or not a given molecule absorbs the electromagnetic radiation depends on the wavelength of the radiation. What wavelengths does DNA absorb? Ultraviolet light (~260 nanometer = 0.00026 millimeters). Is this in the range of 5G? No, it is 3,000X-30,000X shorter than 5G. This is why UV light is damaging to DNA (sunburns, skin cancer) and also why scientists are not at all concerned about 5G causing DNA damage.
The authors seem to understand that the wavelength matters — one of the main arguments of this paper is the reason 5G is so bad is because 5G wavelengths are smaller than the size of the cell. (And radio waves aren’t a problem because they are bigger than a cell.) But hold on… how big are human cells? 0.01-0.1 millimeters. How long are 5G wavelengths again? 1-10 millimeters. So, human cells are also way smaller than 5G wavelengths (10-1000X smaller). Already this paper is off to a self-conflicting start.
Alright, now their DNA inductor argument. There are lots of physics-y sounding arguments thrown together here, and I am guessing the authors are hoping that you’re not very familiar with electromagnetism and particle physics and will give up and say “ok maybe that could work?” But let’s distill the argument to something very simple: they are saying DNA emits DNA base-shaped radiation that punches holes in liquids.
Again, they use a partial truth: it is true that, in very specific circumstances, DNA molecules can emit electromagnetic radiation (this is called fluorescence). In fact, lots of molecules do this — this is not a unique property of DNA. However, these waves are not DNA base-shaped, they are…. wave-shaped. But perhaps more importantly, electromagnetic waves do not punch holes in liquids. Electromagnetic waves have no mass. They do not push matter out of the way. They just pass through it.
An example of fluorescence (emission of electromagnetic radiation) – glowing jellyfish.
But, just to humor them, let’s imagine, for a second, that somehow DNA did emit DNA base-shaped electromagnetic waves and those waves did punch DNA base-shaped holes in liquids. What happens when you punch a hole in a liquid? Try punching a swimming pool and see what happens. Is the hole instantly filled with a fist-shaped molecule? No, it just fills back in with water. So, if there were DNA base-shaped holes inside your cells, this would not trigger the cell to make a new DNA base. DNA bases are made through a highly complex series of chemical reactions guided by enzymes, and they are tightly regulated by your cell. They do not spontaneously generate because there is a hole.
Ok, but let’s pretend for a second that there were DNA shaped holes in your cells and those holes were filled in with DNA bases. Now the article switches to RNA because they forgot SARS-CoV-2 is an RNA virus. Ok now the holes are magically filled up with RNA bases. Could this lead to the construction of a RNA viral genome?
No. The SARS-CoV-2 RNA genome is ~30,000 bases long. 30,000 individual RNA bases would have to, by pure coincidence, line up and connect to each other in exactly the right order to build the SARS-CoV-2 genome. First, individual RNAs cannot connect to each other by themselves. They need an enzyme to help them, which, like everything else in the cell, is tightly regulated. Second, the chances of them lining up in the right order to make the SARS-CoV-2 genome is infinitesimal. This is like throwing thousands of fridge word magnets out your window and expecting to walk down and see a complete work of Shakespeare. The statistical chance of this happening in one cell is (1/4)^30,000, which is 0. (I put this in my calculator and literally it came out with 0… there weren’t enough decimal places allowed by my calculator to capture how small of a chance this is.) Ok… maybe let’s allow for some substitutions given that there is some variability in the SARS-CoV-2 genome. Let’s say only 90% of the bases have to be in the right order. That is (1/4)^(30,000*0.9). Still 0.
Furthermore, this has to happen by chance separately in everyone who has COVID. 30,000 bases magically lining up in the same way in people all across the globe. (Unless you think that most people have COVID because the virus emerged once and then was spread to other people. Congratulations! You have just discovered that 5G does not cause COVID).
As a side note — there truly are individual RNA and DNA bases floating around inside your cell — these are what’s used to build copies of your genome and various RNAs. We didn’t need 5G-induced DNA-shaped holes in liquid to get to this step. This is already a thing. But, they do not spontaneously join together to make 30,000 base long viral genomes. They can only do that when they have a template to work from and enzymes to guide the process, which is what a virus does inside the cell to make more copies of itself. Without the original template, nothing will happen.
How to dress up nonsense as real science
This paper does not obey the basic rules of physics, chemistry, or biology, yet on first glance it looks like it could be legitimate. I’m guessing many non-scientists who came across it wouldn’t be sure what to think. So let’s look at the tools they used to dress up their nonsense to fool their audience.
Step 1: Use lots of technical jargon.
Technical jargon serves two purposes: 1. it gives the writer an air of legitimacy (they’re using technical words! they must be an expert!) and 2. it hides what they’re actually saying (because the average person cannot understand them). To someone outside the field, it is very hard to read a paragraph with lots of jargon and process what it’s saying. Usually the reader walks away with a vague sense that ‘these people must know what they’re talking about,’ but they have little understanding of the details. This is the perfect combination to sell misinformation.
Step 2: Use half truths.
This article does contain some true scientific statements, and mixing these in with the false ones further serves to give it an air of legitimacy. Someone with a little science knowledge might recognize the true statements (DNA molecules are charged, etc.), which makes it seem more believable.
Step 3: Include lots of scary math.
This paper includes over two pages of formulas, which serves the same purpose as the technical jargon: it makes the paper look sophisticated, and most readers won’t understand it.
Step 4: Pay to have it published in a predatory journal that will give it a look of authenticity.
The reason this particular paper caused such a stir is that it was published in a PubMed-indexed journal. PubMed is a search engine of medical and scientific publications that is supposed to only include legitimate journals. Unfortunately, in the world of science, predatory publishing is a thing — people make up journals that have legitimate sounding names (like the “Academy of Science and Engineering (ASE)” and allow pretty much anyone to publish in them if they’re willing to pay the fee, just so they can make money. PubMed is supposed to include only legitimate journals to prevent the crap in these predatory journals from showing up in search results. That’s why it caused quite a fuss when this ridiculous 5G COVID paper showed up on PubMed — something went wrong with PubMed’s indexing system. It is an important lesson to realize that there is an entire world of predatory publishing out there that publishes fake and/or seriously flawed science in a legitimate looking package simply to make money. Unfortunately, that means that just because something looks like a real science publication doesn’t mean it is. And I absolutely don’t blame you if you don’t know how to tell the difference. Usually, checking if it’s on PubMed is a good first step.
It is important to remember we live in a world where people (even scientists with real credentials) make up completely ludicrous science, and that sketchy journals exist that are willing to publish that ludicrous science to make some cash. Unfortunately, that means it’s important not to trust something just because it sounds technical or looks official. If the claim sounds outrageous, it probably is. Also, 5G doesn’t cause COVID.