Deliberately and Dangerously Deceptive Peer Reviewed COVID-19 Research

A couple of days ago, I first noticed a new COVID-19 research article with an intriguing title that suggested it would provide evidence that COVID-19 was easily airborne transmitted, hence (I wondered) that face masks and social distancing would be useful means to lower the transmissivity of the virus.

Here is the article, as published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS):
Identifying airborne transmission as the dominant route for the spread of COVID-19

Reading the paper, I was angered that it was mostly a repetition of earlier claims that the virus was mostly propagated by aerosols and droplets from potentially asymptomatic carriers, and hence masks and lockdowns were effective.

For the key point in this, that masks and lockdowns were effective, they presented (after discarding the much of the data from most states and regions) this chart from New York city:

They had simply drawn two lines across the tops of a couple of peaks each, on a chart that had the face-coverings imposed shortly after the peak, such that one of the lines, across two peaks on the downward slope of a typical rise and fall of an active flu-like virus in a population was sloped more steeply downward than the other line, that was across one peak before, one after, the highest peak.

This proved nothing, other than that the researchers could mine the data they had to find an example where they could draw such lines, with the flatter line before the face-covering date and the more sloped line after.

The article was reviewed, but since the lead contributing author, Nobel laureate Mario J. Molina, was a member of the National Academy of Science, he was able to choose who reviewed the article, due to the fact that the article was submitted to the PNAS via the “contributed track,” which enables National Academy of Sciences members like Molina to submit both a manuscript and suggested peer reviewers.

Fortunately, before I found time to critique this deliberately and deceptively (in my estimation) justification for face masks, social distancing and lockdowns, others with far more medical and chemistry credentials than I have jumped on this article, demanding that PNAS withdraw the article.


Almost immediately, the study received pushback from outside
statisticians and epidemiologists who argued that the study is
severely flawed by sloppy statistical analyses. A group of critics
has now sent a letter (next item below) to the editors of the PNAS
asking them to immediately retract the study.
the claims in this study were based on easily falsifiable claims
and methodological design flaws
Quoting from the above linked letter:

The scale, scope, and intensity of the issues in this paper
and the immediacy of the decisions being made based on
its claimed conclusions do not make it amenable to either
correction or ​extended debate within the academic literature​.

Accordingly, we ask that the editorial board of PNAS retract
this paper immediately,
My colleagues and I are formally seeking a retraction of the
recently published “Identifying airborne transmission as the
dominant route for the spread of COVID-19."

This paper suffers from numerous and fundamental errors that
undermine the foundation of its conclusions. 
 Scientists say that the paper by Nobel Prize winner Mario Molina
is based on false statements and flawed statistical analysis.
Prof Paul Hunter, Professor of Medicine, UEA, said:

“In my opinion the study “Identifying airborne transmission as
the dominant route for the spread of COVID-19” by Zhanga and
colleagues is deeply flawed and its conclusions highly suspect.
this highly flawed paper provides no evidence on mask
effectiveness at the population level
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This paper, published three days ago, Do We Have High-Level Evidence that Masks Work to Reduce COVID Spread? Grading the Evidence…, examines the available research on the usefulness of surgical and cloth face masks in reducing the spread of the coronavirus.

It is written by Christopher Centeno, MD, of the Centeno-Schultz Clinic, Broomfield, Colorado.

Dr Centeno always wears surgical masks at his clinic, and requires that all his staff and patients do also.

In this paper, Dr Centeno reviews over a dozen existing papers examining the usefulness of cloth and surgical face masks in limiting the spread of the coronavirus.

Here’s his conclusion:

What Can We Say About the Level of Evidence for COVID Mask Studies?

We definitely can’t say that we have any research that proves that masks help stop or reduce the spread of COVID-19. That’s just not supported by the data right now. We could say something like: “Based on lower-level evidence, we believe mask-wearing may help reduce the spread of COVID-19, but higher-level evidence has yet to be published”. So why won’t the public health experts and scientists just level with the public? Good question.

Why is my conclusion so much different than the “experts”? I’m the only one so far willing to grade out the quality of the research we have and show you how it stacks up. With the torrent of media and social media pressure creating a tsunami of convergent opinions that it’s self-evident that mask use helps, that’s a tough thing to report.

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