A baseless paper that linked skin cells, 5G and coronavirus has been retracted

4 August 2020
What was claimed

5G millimeter waves could be absorbed by dermatologic cells acting like antennas, transferred to other cells and play the main role in producing Coronaviruses in biological cells.

Our verdict

There is no evidence that this is the case, and lots of evidence that it isn’t. The journal that published the paper that claims this has now removed it from their website.

We have been asked by our readers to look into a scientific paper, titled “5G Technology and the induction of coronavirus in cells”. The paper makes a number of claims about 5G and the human body. Since we started writing about it, the journal that published it removed it from their website, but you can read an archived version here.

There is no evidence that 5G is linked to coronavirus and this paper does not prove this. Despite this, people who have previously shared similar conspiracy theories have been sharing the paper, claiming that it proves 5G is linked to coronavirus.

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Why is the paper wrong?

The paper claims:

“In this research, we show that 5G millimeter waves could be absorbed by dermatologic cells acting like antennas, transferred to other cells and play the main role in producing Coronaviruses in biological cells.”

The paper contains no proof that this happens, but proposes a mechanism of how this might happen. It offers no evidence that this is the case though, and there is plenty of evidence that disproves it, which the paper does not cover.

Coronaviruses, like the one that causes Covid-19, are not created by radio waves. Viruses like coronaviruses invade cells, and then use the cell’s machinery to replicate. Although Covid-19 is caused by a new coronavirus, we know its spread has nothing to do with 5G. Countries that don’t yet have 5G, like Iran and India, experienced significant outbreaks.

Elisabeth Bik, a scientist and microbiome and science integrity consultant, assessed the paper in a blog post on her website. She writes:

“How did the authors prove this extraordinary claim? Well, they don’t. The paper does not include any experiments. It is listed as an Editorial, and it includes a lot of clunky cartoons and impressive formulas, but there is no proof.”

What is 5G?

5G refers to the next generation of mobile internet technology, where information is transmitted over radio waves, like 4G and 3G before it. These radio waves are part of the electromagnetic spectrum, which also includes things like x-rays and gamma rays. While these higher frequencies waves are ionising, meaning they have the potential to damage DNA inside cells, radio waves are not. Radio waves of a certain frequency can heat you up, but radio waves that would be used for 5G are nowhere near powerful enough to do so in any significant way.

How did this paper get published?

The journal that published the paper is called the Journal of Biological Regulators and Homeostatic Agents.

We asked the journal whether the paper had been peer reviewed—that is, checked by other scientists who are experts in that field to make sure the contents were reliable. The publisher responded that all their papers were peer reviewed and that “in the specific case” they were looking into the paper.

After we first spoke to them, the paper was taken off the website. The publisher then told us the paper had been withdrawn from the journal and website, and that a withdrawal had been requested and should be reflected on PubMed (where it had also appeared).

Several people sharing the paper have linked to the PubMed version of it. PubMed is essentially a database of published papers’ abstracts (the summary), and appearing on the PubMed website is not necessarily an endorsement of the paper’s contents by the US National Centre for Biotechnology Information (NCBI), which maintains the PubMed site. 

After retracting the paper, the publisher told the blog Retraction Watch: “We are heavily inundated with papers this year” and that “some papers can slip through the net”.

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