Friday, October 19, 2018

Let your ideas be second-hand, and if possible tenth-hand, for then they will be far removed from that disturbing element – direct observation. Do not learn anything about this subject of mine – the French Revolution. Learn instead what I think that Enicharmon thought Urizen thought Gutch thought Ho-Yung thought Chi-Bo-Sing thought Lafcadio Hearn thought Carlyle thought Mirabeau said about the French Revolution.

"Tell us more of how Alt-Med promotional bollocks becomes Received Truth in the microbiome literature, Uncle Smut!" begged absolutely no-one. So we voted on the request last night at the Old Entomologist and the motion was carried.

Not every salacious morsel of squick from Lewin's More on Merde was regurged by clickbait churnalism sites or incorporated into the moraine of Scientific Common Knowledge by laundering through a succession of citations-of-citations-that-noone-ever-checks. These closing sentences have been sadly ignored:

If the story could be made true by sufficient repetition, it would create a new niche for Riddled's 'Celebrity Fecal Transplant' business. It would also dovetail nicely with this recent report, for in combination they explain the continuing existence of royalism.

Naked-Mole-Rat Queens Control Their Subjects by Having Them Eat Poop

This is all a tangential way of introducing this week's Friday's episode of Bad Citations in the Camel-Poop-Coprophagia Microbiome Literature.

In previous episodes, of course, we encountered the pill-mill pimp Peter Rothschild, who lent his fertile though unsavory imagination to the cause of advertising an Alt-Med scammer's crapsules: thereby inventing an entire alternative history of microbiology in which Bacillus subtilis was not discovered until 1941, by German Army doctors working out why Arabs ate camel poop. Dr Jörg Bernhardt believed Rothschild's lies, and you know how that stovepipe ended.

Not satisfied with an alternative past, the pill-mill advertisement created further corroborative detail:
For many years afterwards, cultures of Bacillus subtilis were sold worldwide as a medicinal product (sold in the U.S. and Mexico, for example, under the brand name Bacti-Subtil) rapidly becoming the world's leading treatment for dysentery and other intestinal problems. Unfortunately for Americans, this popular bacterial supplement that cures intestinal infections began losing favor in the late 1950's and 1960's, upon the advent of synthetic antibiotics which were heavily touted by the giant pharmaceutical companies as "wonder drugs," even though they cost five times as much as Bacti-Subtil, and took three times longer to accomplish the same results.
Bacillus subtilis is still used widely today in Germany, France and Israel, where safe, effective all-natural therapeutic products are more highly esteemed by the health-savvy public than the more expensive synthetic drugs espoused by the orthodox medical establishment with all of their dangerous side effects.
At the Riddled Institute of Irrefutable Truths, old-fashioned and slavishly enthralled as we are to the cause of "reality", we marvel at the notion that crapsules from Bio/Tech and its precursors dominated the pharmacopoeia for over a decade (continuing to dominate the market in enlightened parts of the world), without leaving a trace. Where are the old textbooks, prescribing guides, advertisements?

But in October 2012 -- which was when wikieditor Ashashyou incepted the narrative into a Whackyweedia page -- it was a more innocent time, before the expectation that implausible or outrageous assertions need to be accompanied by some form of evidence:[cit. needed]
Cultures of B. subtilis were used throughout the 1950s as an alternative medicine due to the immunostimulatory effects of its cell matter, ... It was marketed throughout America and Europe from 1946 as an immunostimulatory aid in the treatment of gut and urinary tract diseases such as Rotavirus and Shigella,[11] but declined in popularity after the introduction of cheap consumer antibiotics, despite causing less chance of allergic reaction and significantly lower toxicity to normal gut flora.*
'Ashashyou' was drawing directly on the Bio/Tech origin story, which by then had become a specimen in the Wunderkammer of conspiracy ideation at Independently, Dr Bernhardt (2000) had made his own inquiry into these claims and was able to elaborate on them:
Even today B. becomes subtilis used in human medicine. In the Red Liste® available in Germany finished product by 1997 (Rote Liste ®, 1997) are encountered, for example, on the preparations Utilin®, Utilin N® and Bactisubtil®, the cells or spores of subtilis as present as lyophilizates or suspensions and Treatment of chronic dermatoses or diarrhea, fermentation and putrefaction dyspepsia, enteritis, enterocolitis or intestinal disorders of chemo- or radiolabelled cancer patients.

Had he looked up the details, he would have noticed that the Bactisubtil® product does not contain B. subtilis, but rather is a compound of Lactobacillus acidophilus and Bifidobacterium lactis (unless you buy the French product with the same name, which is based on B. cereus... as well as a bacterial species, this is an exclamation I often hear from the Frau Doktorin). As for Utilin®, it is nominally derived from B. subtilis spores, which are indeed lycophilized: but wait, according to the manufacturer Sanem-Kehlbeck, they are also sterilised. And then diluted by 106, for Sanem-Kehlbeck is an Alt-Med griftery of the homeopathic persuasion (the presumed rationale for treating diarrhea with B. subtilis is that it causes diarrhea in non-homeopathic quantities).

Dressed up in Latin Cosplay so it must be homeopathy

This is all by the way, however, because Lewin did not cite that aspect of Dr Bernhardt's disjecta membra. So that particular provenance of nescience ended.

Speaking of disjecta membra, now is the time to prepare my Sexy Naked-Mole-Rat Hallowe'en Costume. This serves as a distraction from the medicinal-motions saga (it is too depressing to contemplate that the main purpose of the Intergrids is copy-pasting some random grifter's self-serving fabrications, legitimising them, and alchemising them into History). It's either costumes, or revising, in the still days at the Adrogué hotel, an uncertain Quevedian translation (which I do not intend to publish) of Browne's Urn Burial.
* Ref [11] there is Mazza (1994). It does not help us much with bolstering the Bio/Tech backstory, for few libraries around the world have archives of Bollettino Chimico Farmaceutico. The journal has no on-line presence, and indeed stopped publishing in 2005. After many iterations of Wikirevision the citation was removed in 2017, the Wikieditors collectively deciding that the dressed-up version of a supplement-scammer's advertisement was too well-known to need any supportive evidence at all.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

Going through the Motions #2:
When EndNote goes horribly wrong

It is not entirely clear how Ralph Lewin -- sole author of "More on Merde" (2001) -- acquired four co-authors, seemingly of Qwghlmian nationality:

The source of this eccentric citation is De Groot et al. (2017), and its relevance to my interests lies in its contribution to the Case of the Coprophagic Arabs. Which is to say: De Groot's paper on fecal microbiota transplants relates on one hand to an advertising hoax (concocted by Rothschild in 1993 to promote the products of a medscam pill-mill), in which Rommel's Afrika Korpsmen self-medicated by eating camel poop, in imitation of the dysentery-cure practices of the local Arabs... And on the other hand, it bears upon the Whackyweedia entry on FMTs, as amended in early 2015 to incorporate Rothschild's fantasy.

Readers may recall some intermediate steps along the fantasy's pathway to general acceptance. Bernhardt (2000) cited Rothschild (1993), either ironically or out of credulity, in a short collection of out-takes from his PhD thesis. The story fitted Lewin's (2001) narrative so he cited Bernhardt.

Meanwhile, in a parallel route to legitimacy, Rothschild's fabrication came to the attention of a conspiracy-theorising Alex Jones / David Icke wannabee. Rense added it to his collection of paranoid ideation at the eponymous which is a totally reliable source by the standards of listicle clickbait sites like Cracked and MentalFloss, so they regurged their versions of the story presented as Irrefutable Fact. In turn, Perkins and DeSalle (2015) took that churnalism and paraphrased it in their book-shaped object from Yale University Press.

So that is the executive summary of a previous post, to which this is the sequel. Those of you who read and remembered it can wake up now.

De Groot et al. (2017) is the most recent of four reviews by Nieuwdorp (Dutch doyen of FMT) and his students, all setting the stage with versions of an introductory passage. Smits et al. (2013),
The first known description of human donor feces as a therapeutic agent came from China. In the fourth century, Ge Hong, in the Handbook of Emergency Medicine, prescribed ingestion of feces for a variety of conditions.6 Much later, Ralph Lewin reported that “…consumption of fresh, warm camel feces has been recommended by Bedouins as a remedy for bacterial dysentery; its efficacy was confirmed by German soldiers in Africa during World War II.”7 The first use of FMT in mainstream medicine was described in 1958 for the treatment of pseudomembranous colitis (presumably due to Clostridium difficile infection [CDI]) by Eiseman et al.8
Nieuwdorp (2014),
The first known description of human donor faeces as a therapeutic agent came from China in the fourth century, when Ge Hong, in the Handbook of Emergency Medicine, prescribed ingestion of faeces from babies (described as ‘yellow soup’) for a variety of conditions2. Much later, Ralph Lewin3 reported that ‘… consumption of fresh, warm camel feces has been recommended by Bedouins as a remedy for bacterial dysentery; its efficacy was confirmed by German soldiers in Africa during World War II’. The first use of FMT in mainstream medicine was described in 1958 by Eiseman and colleagues4 for the treatment of pseudomembranous enterocolitis, presumably due to CDI.
Van Nood et al. (2014).
The first description of the use of human feces as a remedy for disease derives from ancient Chinese history, when feces were prescribed for a variety of conditions according to the Handbook of Emergency Medicine, written by Ge Hong, approximately 1700 years ago [1]. Later, consumption of fresh, warm camel feces was recommended by Bedouins as a remedy for bacterial dysentery; its efficacy was confirmed by German soldiers in Africa during World War II [2]. In modern medical literature, infusion of feces from healthy donors was first reported in 1958, when the surgeon Eiseman described a heroic response in patients with antibiotic-associated diarrhea treated with enemas containing donor feces [3].
In these first three installments, rather than linking to More on Merde, citations [7], [3] and [2] are to Lewin's earlier book Merde, no doubt a fascinating tome but one that only mentions camel dung in a combustive role (i.e. as a cooking fuel), with no mention of its pharmacological properties. Curious minds are wondering whether they always... no... never forgot to check their references.*

In the 2017 version. De Groot et al. fixed this lacuna and cited both of Lewin's works... with the four additional Qwghlmian co-authors, just to be safe. They also referred their readers to the "Great Camel Dung Mystery" chapter of Welcome to the Microbiome, having come across Perkins and DeSalle (2015) and seen it as an independent source of validation, rather than as just another rehash of the Rothschild fantasy.

My point -- to the extent that a point is required -- is that the Nieuwdorp group are the missing link between Lewin and the Whackyweedia recension:**
The concept of treating fecal diseases with fecal matter originated in China millennia ago. Fourth century Chinese medical literature mentions it to treat food poisoning and severe diarrhea. 1200 years later Li Shizhen used yellow soup aka golden syrup which contained fresh dry or fermented stool to treat abdominal diseases.[29] 'Yellow soup' was made of fecal matter and water, which was drunk by the patient.[30]
The consumption of "fresh, warm camel feces has been recommended by Bedouins as a remedy for bacterial dysentery; its efficacy probably attributable to the antimicrobial subtilisin produced by Bacillus subtilis was anecdotally confirmed by German soldiers of the Afrika Korps during World War II".[31]
The first description of FMT was published in 1958 by Ben Eiseman and colleagues, a team of surgeons from Colorado...
Entrenched in that unassailable bastion, the fabrication continues to pullulate and proliferate and make inroads into Consensus Reality, like Perytons or some other Borgesian parable, so there is little prospect of ever rounding it up for incarceration within a Fictive Confinement facility. Sbahi & Di Palma (2016), Matijašić et al. (2016) and Gagliardi et al. (2018) are only three recent scrap-booking exercises in the FMT literature to have copy-pasted the Wikipedia passage into their Literature Reviews, and after finding them I lost heart and could not be arsed recording any more.

I am not counting Baktash et al. (2018), who evidently copy-pasted directly from Nieuwdorp, since (in imitation of his infelicity) they cite the wrong Lewin work.

It is always possible that De Groot et al. (2017) deliberately added Lewin's collaborators Uwlfoh SS, Dgglwlrqdo RU, Derxw L and Duwlfoh W, to see which rivals plagiarise their References section.

Schultze & Maldonado did not cite a source for the introduction to their June 2014 Editorial for AAP News, so I am just going to speculate wildly that it was Nieuwdorp.
First described in the fourth century in China, human fecal preparations were given to patients to treat cases of severe diarrhea. More recently, German soldiers in World War II noted that the Bedouins recommended the consumption of fresh camel feces as a remedy for dysentery, and in 1958, fecal enemas in humans were first described for the treatment of pseudomembranous colitis.
* In addition, Van Nood & with Ref. [2] managed to engarble the book's title and its author's name:
2 Merde LRA. Excursions in scientific, cultural, and socio-historical coprology. New York: Random House Inc.; 1999.
** For incorporating the passage, Wikieditor 'Wuerzele' was recognised as "one of Wikipedia's top medical contributors".

Friday, October 12, 2018

The treachery of images

This post was earlier cross-posted at Leonid Schneider's site, hence the nonfrivolity. The version there is improved by Leonid's editing and explanation of the back-story.

Three years ago, RetractionWatch reported on a leading candidate for the hotly-contested title of Year's Most Opaque Retraction.
Of the original nine authors, six denied any role in its publication (including the Corresponding Author, who had presumably submitted the manuscript to Chemical Communications and handled the revisions without noticing): "they did not participate in the experimental research that was reported in this article".
A seventh, Xifeng Liu, was involved only to the extent of improving the English, which he did not think should be dignified with co-authorship. Dr Lin is currently affiliated with the Mayo Clinic. The other non-authors' institutional affiliations were merged together in an undifferentiated welter, covered by a superfix 'a'.

That left Rijun Gui and Hui Jin, who had lost confidence in the paper: they complained that results in the Online Supplement had been copied from elsewhere, and that they were unable to reproduce the experimental results or follow the calculations in the main body. It remained unclear who (if anyone) was responsible for inserting the plagiarism, false data, or faulty equations. Nor was it clear who forged the signatures of the seven non-authors. At any rate, they bore no grudge for the theft of their names, and they continued to contribute to later Gui / Jin publications (unless those later appearances were also involuntary).

The paper subsequently attracted criticism in the form of a PubPeer thread, because the stated reasons for retraction were far from exhaustive. Close examination of Figure 1(a) ("TEM ... of the as-prepared NS-GQD") reveals the putative "graphene quantum dots" to be Photoshop clones.

The lipstick kisses of Supplementary Figure S7(a) purport to show a tissue culture of HeLa cells which have absorbed the GQDs, causing them to fluoresce on exposure to 800nm photons... so it causes concern that the same cells also appeared in Jin, Gui, Sun & Wang (2016) as Figure 5(d), where they were identified as "HeLa cells after incubation with Ag2Te@SiO2-NH2 (0.1 mg mL-1). Images were acquired upon excitation at 808 nm". Not just different nanoparticles, but an altered configuration.

Which is to say, one or both Figures is fake, and might just show some variety of sea anemone. And from there the vista expands to an entire oeuvre of papers, covered by interlinked threads at PubPeer.

Readers will be thinking "So what, another charivari of chicanery from the Nanotech literature". But there are enough novel elements in the case to reward our attention. The papers between them illustrate several of the alleged applications of Nanotechnology, favoured by researchers to loosen the purse-strings of governmental funders. They also feature an unusual phenomenon: duplicate publication of microphotographs or spectrographs (identified as different entities), with no authors in common between the papers in which they featured. To put it another way, either Sheldrake's Morphogenetic Field was working overtime, or a broad collaborative cartel of authors were drawing upon an image bank as communal property.

The authors featured in this oeuvre of PubPeer threads (covering 42 papers at the time of writing) fall into three groups:
A. Lianjiang Tan (sometimes Ran Huang; Shuiping Liu; Yu-Mei Shen; others).
B. Ajun Wan; Huili Li; Jie Sun (and a few others).
C. Rijun Gui; Hui Jin (sometimes Xifeng Liu; Min Yang; Zonghua Wang; others).

There are authorship lists combining only Group-A names, or only Group-C names, but names from Group A and Group C never overlap. Group B are the 'bridge', not appearing in the oeuvre on their own, but collaborating sometimes with Lianjiang Tan (and others from Group A), and sometimes with Rijun Gui and Hui Jin (and others from Group C) - never both at once. Perhaps the three-fold division represents departments within Shanghai Jiao Tong University.

I have been advised that having gained his PhD in 2012 (with Xueqin An as advisor), Rijun Gui did a post-doc under Ajun Wan (at the School of Chemistry and Chemical Engineering, Shanghai Jiao Tong University). Ajun Wan's "bridge" position is explained by his earlier supervision of Lianjiang Tan as a previous post-doc. It further simplifies the dramatis personae to know that Hui Jin and Rijun Gui are married, while Zonghua Wang (also from Group C) heads the laboratory.
[Thanks TigerBB8]
"TEM time is expensive?"

Gui and An (2013) wrote of "Layer-by-layer aqueous synthesis, characterization and fluorescence properties of type-II CdTe/CdS core/shell quantum dots with near-infrared emission". The coauthor here is Xueqin An, Gui's PhD supervisor. Despite appearances, the panels of their Figure 3 are not maps of a mountainous archipelago, from a five-volume series of fantasy novels.

In fact they applied transmission electron microscopy to swarms of the freshly-synthesised quantum-dot cores, and their progressive expansion in a sequence of layers: "Wide-field TEM images of CdTe core QDs (a), the corresponding CdTe/CdS core/shell QDs with 1 (b), 2 (c) and 4 (d) MLs of CdS shell, TEM (e) and HRTEM (f) images of CdTe/CdS/ZnS core/shell/shell QDs with 4 MLs of CdS shell and 2 MLs of ZnS shell."

To explain how details of these panels were blown up, rotated and relabelled as different materials, across a long series of papers, PubPeer contributor "Epichloe Festucae" could only surmise that "TEM time is expensive?". Largely-overlapping enlargements appeared as "PEI-stabilised Carbon QDs" in Figure 2(a) of Gui et al (2014a), and as dopamine-conjugated CdTe quantum dots in Figure S1(a) of Gui et al. (2014b).

And at right, after a four-year delay and a vertical flip, as "CDs prepared from hydrothermal carbonization treatment of fresh black fungus juice", as Figure 3(a) of Jin et al. (2018). 'Black fungus' is innately funny. By then the journal peer-reviewers were expecting the strings of meaningless buzzwords to be longer, so these carbon dots "facilely self-assemble" with magnetic nanoparticles and aptamers to form tetradotoxin-detecting nanocomposites.

In Figure 1(c) of Gui et al. (2014c), the panels became "Ag2S QDs".

Space does not permit demonstrations of all ten papers repurposing the 2013 Wall of Dots. We must be content with Gui & Jin (2013), where the particles were "human serum albumin-stabilized fluorescent Au/Ag core/shell nanocrystals for highly sensitive and selective sensing of copper(II)", illustrated with five enlargements from the original;

And as Ag2S QDs again, as Figure 2(a) of Tan, Wan & Li (2014): one of two "Group-A" papers, accessing the original image despite an absence of authorship overlap with the other eight papers in this series. The second being Tan et al (2014), where the QDs became Ag2Se and were capped with multidentate polymer.

These were not the only figures weaving these papers into a single body of work. Other cross-connections caught the eyes of commenters.

These overlapping circles are either "blank liposomes", Supplementary Figure 3(a); or "mesoporous silica nanoparticles (MSN)", Figure 1(c); or "CMC–FA–RBS hybrid nanospheres", Figure 2(c). But who knows? They could be something else entirely.

As is always the case when reporting on Nanomalfeasance, I am cherry-picking the Pubpeer threads, picking out only a fraction of the coincidences, in accordance with obscure aesthetic criteria. Other people’s tastes might differ (for instance, the PubPeer twitter account), so readers are urged to explore the original sources.

We can widen the investigation by going back to Tan, Wan & Li (2014). The gist of that paper was that when HepG2 cancer cells are fed a diet of silver nitrate and sodium sulfide, they synthesise Ag2S 'quantum dots' within their cytoplasm (through the mediation of reduced glutathione). The photofluorescence of these QDs betrays their presence when they are extracted from the hepatoma cells and injected into mice. Here, at left, I have flipped Figure 4 horizontally [left]...

... to highlight its resemblance to the mouse [at right] from Figure 7 of Tan, Wan & Li (2013). Though that mouse was glowing in the dark (irradiated by 488 nm laser light) because it had been injected with CuFL and Ag2S-GSH-SNO nanoparticles. It is a highly-trained Stunt Mouse with experience in this act; readers should not try it at home.

The HepG2 cells themselves are depicted in Figure 1, in typical scenes from a tissue culture, increasingly luminous at "(d) 12, (e) 16, and (f) 20 h after uptake of silver nitrate and sodium sulfide" as they migrate across the culture plate.

They could be goldfish, painted by Paul Klee. They could also be the HeLa cells featured in Figure 4(d) of Jin et al. (2016), glowing because they had absorbed Ag2Te@SiO2-FA from their culture medium (though sometimes rotated through 90º). We met Jin et al. (2016) earlier, where the glowing HeLa cells formed a rockpool gallery of sea-anemones.

I love Klee goldfish so one more sample before moving on! You will recall that Tan, Wan & Li (2013) were "Conjugating S-nitrosothiols with glutathiose stabilized silver sulfide quantum dots for controlled nitric oxide release and near-infrared fluorescence imaging". These conjugated nanocomposites not only made mice glow; they had the same effect on another line of cancer cells. Thus, Figure 6, "(b) NIR image acquired immediately upon 808 nm irradiation, and (c) NIR image acquired after 808 nm irradiation for 2 h of L929 cells incubated with 0.1 mg/mL Ag2S-GSH-SNO nanoparticles for 3 h. ... " Here rotated through 90º... facilitate the comparison with Supplementary Figure S7 of Gui et al. (2014d), where the Ag2S quantum dots were "highly stable and biocompatible" (I have flipped them horizontally due to my Gerstmann's Syndrome). This is another of those "no authors in common" situations.

Figure 5 of Wang et al. (2015) also cries out for comparison. By 2015, the fluorescing quantum dots were "Ag2Te ... with compact surface coatings of multivalent polymers".

Despite his youth, Rijun Gui is a prolific worker, with Group C collecting 28 Pubpeer inquiry threads. Group A is less prominent (only 14 queries for Lianjiang Tan) but we should not neglect it. Tan's work has taken a slightly different direction, pursuing nanoparticles as possible drug-delivery vehicles - especially as nanopackaging for targetted chemotherapy - more than as cytotoxic cures for cancer in their own right. Another theme running through his output is the use of retouching as well as duplication.

Notably, in the "wall of green" below, the upper half is Fig. 4 from Yang et al. (2015): "Representative fluorescence image of NIH 3T3 cells after incubation with PEG5000–PLA5000 micelles of 1.0 mg mL1 for 48 h. (The cells were stained by AO and EB.)"
The lower half is Figure 7 from Tan et al. (2017): "Fluorescence images of CT-26 cells with live-dead staining after treatments with different formulations: (a) PBS; (b) DOX; (c) UCNPs(DOX)@CS; (d) UCNPs@CS-RBS plus 30 min; (e) UCNPs(DOX)@CS-RBS plus 5 min; (f) UCNPs(DOX)@CS-RBS plus 30 min. The living cells were labeled by calcein AM (green emission), and the dead cells were labeled by propidium iodide (red emission). The scale bar represents 100 lm." The colored rectangles indicate matching arrangements of NIH3T3 and CT-26 cells... the latter modified by adroit replacement of green dots with red ones. The other three CT-26 panels may have NIH3T3 counterparts as well, but too modified to be recognisable.

A similar phenomenon occurred with Figure 6 of Tan et al. (2015), at left below: "Fluorescence images of HeLa cells before and after irradiation by 980 nm laser with the power density of 0.5Wcm-2 over a period of 5 min in the absence (c and d) and presence (e and f) of the CuS mesostructures with the concentration of 0.3 g L-1)." That time, four panels could be recognised within the larger wall at right.

These images invite comparison. Left is Figure 1(a) from Tan et al. (2012): "TEM micrograph of CdTe QD–CMCS nanocomposite NO donors [horizontally flipped]. Right is Figure 1(c) from Tan et al. (2014b): "TEM image of Mn2+–ZnS@CS-RBS."

Then there was a pair of papers in which Tan demonstrated how to turn a electron-microscopy scene into a congeries of googly eyes (or frog-spawn, it may be), using the photoshop equivalent of a crayon. The papers were Tan et al. (2014c) and Tan et al. (2017b). The Before and Frog-Spawned images are the respective Figures 2: "(a) TEM micrograph and (b) high-resolution TEM micrograph of Ag2S QDs@CS-RBS nanospheres. (c) SAED pattern of Ag2S QDs@CS-RBS nanospheres"; and "(a) TEM image and (b) high-resolution TEM image of Ag2S(DOX)@CS nanospheres. (c) TG curve of Ag2S(DOX)@CS nanospheres."

I was going to finish there, but there remain these X-Ray Diffraction patterns, displaying a mastery of laboratory technique capable of replicating the finest details of noise... especially as the source materials are variously identified as Ag2S-CS-SNO nanospheres, Ag2S QDs prepared in different ways, or Ag2S aggregates before calcination. They come from disjoint groups of authors: Gui et al. (2014c), Tan et al. (2013), Tan et al. (2015), Tan et al. (2017), and Gui et al. (2014d).

Connoisseurs of the genre may also enjoy these wobbly, overhanging zeta functions that appear to have been left out in the sun too long, so they started to melt (Figure 1(f) of Xu et al. (2017)), at left; and this NMR spectrum, in which the baseline is composed of repeated sections, and a repeated / mirror-imaged section (Figure S2 of Tan et al. (2015)).

Early in 2018, it was asserted through social media that Rijun Gui regrets his actions and intends to resign his University position.

This has not yet been confirmed, and he is hardly alone in bringing shame upon the University. It would also leave the papers in circulation… the journals involved have shown no enthusiasm for retracting them. Until further developments, here are some recent examples of replicated and rotated images:

The nanodots are either Fe3O4 NPs (in Jin et al. (2018)); CuS NCs (in Xu et al. (2017)); or CD2 conjugates (in Gui et al. (2017)).

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The real victim

This guy.
The man who was filmed breaking an expensive sculpture on Wellington's waterfront yesterday has opened up about his actions, saying he was "bored" and "there wasn't a sign that says don't climb".
It was the fault of (1) boredom, caused by lack of entertainment facilities; (2) an encouraging crowd; (3) inadequate barriers; and (4) the Len Lye foundation, for making a sculpture that breaks when people 'test its limits', CAUSING HIM INJURY.
"I seemed to attract a bit of an audience [...] and I started to test the limits of the metal sculpture."
However, Mr Macdonald's acrobatics have landed him in trouble after the $300,000 sculpture snapped.
"It came down hard on my head, like a 20-foot baseball bat."

I do not know if anyone is running a poll to choose "New Zealand's Biggest Plonker".

Strain out a gnat and swallow a camel poop

Here at the Riddled Institute of Narrativium Mining and Experimental Epistemology, we harbour a professional interest in "Narrative Verisimilitudening". Which is to say, the process by which the sheer baldness of otherwise-unconvincing narratives leads to their accretion, by inducing corroborative details to emerge in their vicinity from fluctuations in the quantum vacuum.

Today's example of the phenomenon pulls together the Afrika Korps in 1941-43, and the scourge of dysentery, and camel-coprophagic self-medicating Arabs. The currently-canonical version of this story has been heavily churnalised across clickbait aggregation sites, repeated as gospel at MentalFloss (2010) and Cracked (2012) and Warhistoryonline (2016)... fueled by the Squick Factor, and rendered more plausible by the popular enthusiasm for probiotics, fecal transplants, and the microbiome as the cause of (and solution to) all of life's problems.

And none of it is true.

A collective engineering-student-sourced textbook on "the Social Interface of Technology" invokes the story as an example of how "disgust can undermine technical effectiveness". It has been enshrined in a 2001 academic paper by Ralph Lewin*...

...and in a 2015 book with the imprimatur of Yale University (and accompanying blogpost) by the Curator of microbial systematics and genomics in the Sackler Institute for Comparative Genomics at the American Museum of Natural History.
But, camel dung in its true form would hold a life-saving secret. Soldiers were suffering greatly from dysentery and the Nazi medical corps was brought in to attempt to alleviate the outbreaks. Early on, the local nomads were thought to hold a key to the solution, because they rarely suffered from dysentery. In fact, when an outbreak of dysentery occurred, or even when slight diarrhea was experienced, the nomads would diligently follow their camels around. When a camel defecated, the nomad would quickly scoop up the dung and ingest some while it was still steaming. After close scrutiny of the dung, the corps discovered that the dung was loaded with the bacterium Bacillus subtilis. This species is in the same genus as a terribly pathogenic species, Bacillus anthracis, which causes anthrax, an often lethal respiratory disease. Bacillus subtilis, however, has since become one of those bacterial species considered “good” for humans.
What is it about B. subtilis that would make Arab nomads ingest camel dung? This species is a voracious eater of other microbes, including the ones that were causing dysentery. By ingesting the camel dung, the nomads were essentially altering their gut ecology to get rid of the pathogen causing the dysentery. But the B. subtilis was present only in warm dung; it would die out when the dung cooled. Not wanting the troops to ingest camel dung, the German high command and medical corps, instead, cultured large amounts of B. subtilis in vats and fed the broth from the cultures to the troops, stopping the outbreaks of dysentery. The Nazi medical corps even developed a way to dry out the B. subtilis and put it into powdered form for their troops. Since the Nazi experience with camel dung, B. subtilis has been used in much the same way as an antidysenteric agent.
Diligently following a camel around
Lewin (2001) helpfully cites "Bacillus subtilis: Beschreibung und Charakterisierung" (Bernhardt, 2000). This turns out to be an an internal unpublished document at Uni. Greifswald by Jörg Bernhardt, who was just finishing / had just finished his Ph.D there [Dr Bernhardt's research is no longer focused on B. subtilis]. Lewin's summary breached the barriers at the Fictive Confinement Laboratory and lodged the concept firmly within Accepted Reality, so at time of writing a search for the evocative term "fresh, warm camel feces" evokes 233 Ghits ranging through discussion boards, scholarly papers, and grifty little book-shaped objects recycling the authoritative Whackyweedia pages. Possibly assisted by Lewin's high reputation.*

Bringing the powers of Goofle Translate to bear:
The first documented medical application of B. subtilis took place in 1941 by the medical department of the Afrika Korps of the German Wehrmacht during the campaign in Libya. Because a [dysentery] epidemic numerous soldiers were killed, there was an urgent need for medication. Antibiotics were not available yet. Research on the spot showed that the [dysentery] was successfully treated by the local population by the oral administration of fresh, still warm camels[dung]. The success of the treatment was finally attributed to B. subtilis, which was eventually found in large numbers (ROTHSCHILD, cited by DL WOLFE, 1993).
"Documented" is here a term of art, with an alternative gloss as "completely undocumented", for "Rothschild... 1993" turns out to be the newsletter for a "Bio/Tech" Alt-Med pill-mill, pimping their 'EarthFlora' diet-supplement scam. The anonymous ad-writer calls upon "Dr. Peter Rothschild, one of the world's foremost experts on human immune response and its relation to beneficial microorganisms", to vouch for the efficacy of the company's crapsules:
Dr. Rothschild backed up his point by telling us the story of the discovery of the Bacillus subtilis, a bacterial microorganism that is commonly found in the environment rather than in humans, yet is well known by modern science to be very friendly to the human system. It can promote dramatic healing benefits in humans, even though it isn't one of the native microbes that normally inhabit the human body. According to Dr. Rothschild, the story of Bacillus subtilis goes like this:

The bacillus subtilis was discovered by the Nazi German medical corps in 1941, toward the end of their African campaign. At the time, the German military victory was at its height. But the German high command became genuinely alarmed when hundreds upon hundreds of soldiers in North Africa suddenly began dying every week. Oddly, the Nazi soldiers weren't dying because of British General Montgomery's retaliatory bombs and shrapnel, but instead, they were dying of uncontrollable dysentery....
The idea that 1941 was "toward the end of the African campaign", with "German military victory at its height" and "British General Montgomery" already present, gives the reader fair warning that Rothschild was an ignorant buffoon and that the whole passage is completely fraudulent. Let alone B. subtilis being a 1941 discovery, when any fule kno that in consensus reality it was identified in 1835.

For "one of the world's foremost experts on human immune response", Dr Rothschild kept a very low profile, perhaps from an exaggerated sense of modesty; the name is unknown outside the circles of med-fraud pill pimps. However, he was not a total invention of the scammers, and nutrition guru Jordan Rubin remembers him fondly as a lovable eccentric genius:

There are hints that he practiced his quackery in Mexico, just outside the reach of FDA enforcement. Rubin also relied heavily on Rothschild's "research" in advertisements for his "Garden-of-Life" products, so the name turns up frequently among the documents accumulated by the FTC in their fraud case against Rubin.

Anyway, the Bio/Tech confection was consumed holus-bolus by the Ouroboran human centipede of health-scammer webstores and Truther conspiracy sites (but I repeat myself!). It bounced around there for years: the way that it showed the perfidy of mainstream medicine (always suppressing the One Secret of Wellness!) was enough to authenticate it. Ultimately it ascended to the giddy empyrean of, a wretched hive of scum and villainy well-known pantechnicon of Alt-Reality paranoia. From that reliable source, it came to the attention of the clickbait churnalists.

Different aggregator sites have experimented with variant details... the helpful informants are variously Arabs, Bedouins, "natives", or just "locals". In some versions the stricken German tankies are forced to consume the "fresh, warm" camel dung themselves while in others they are spared that unwholesome diet by the rapid cultivation of cultured B. subtilis, either on the spot or in German factories. The detail of "large vats" in this process seems plausible, but it remained unspecified until contributed by the 2015 DeSalle-Perkins recension.

No-one ever speculates on what the Allied army used to deal with their intestinal distress.

The 2010 MentalFloss author was the first to draw a parallel between the curative role of camel fewmets and the camouflaged weapon of Poop Bombs.
Camel "apples" became a good luck charm for the German military. The Allies discovered their habit of intentionally running tanks over piles of the droppings for good luck. So the Allies developed and planted land mines that looked like camel dung! When the Germans caught on to the trick, they began to avoid fresh piles of camel manure. In turn, the Allies caught on and began to make mines that looked like camel dung that had already been run over by a tank and therefore seemed safe enough to a Nazi driver. Genius.
No evidence exists that these turd-mines ever existed (or even that Rommel's tankies were indeed accustomed to swerving and driving over camel-dumps as an apotropaic, thus providing the rationale for their design). They are only attested by the second-hand self-aggrandising recollections of one Jasper Maskelyne, a notorious fabulist and camelshit bullshit-artist, in a popularised History-Channel series not known for excessive reverence for facts. Nonetheless, that detail has entered the canon, though subsequent retellings leave out the implication that the purported curative effect is what inspired the good-luck custom of turd-targetted tank-swerving.
Bad taxidermy: not a Poop-Bomb

Dr Perkins has kindly provided a citation to "Animal Substances in Materia Medica: A Study in the Persistence of the Primitive" - a 1946 survey of the use of dung in the pharmacopoeia of several medical traditions. And it is certainly true that if North African Arabs were in the habit of self-medicating with camel dung, this could have gone undocumented. But I am inclined to think that if the German Army had adopted the custom, then military historians would have said something.
* "Ralph Arnold Lewin [...] known as 'the father of green algae genetics' [...] published more than 250 scientific papers, among which his 2001 review paper entitled More on Merde was an entertaining review on the worth of feces in biomedicine.
"Ralph Lewin was an Esperantist, and was Ordinary professor (orda profesoro) at Akademio Internacia de la Sciencoj San Marino, the only university in the world where all courses are studied in esperanto.[1]

"He translated Winnie-the-Pooh into Esperanto with Ivy Kellerman Reed and was the author of Merde: excursions in scientific, cultural and socio-historical coprology."
UPDATE: Up until 15 October 2013, the Whackyweedia page on B. subtilis used to include the claim that
It was used by the German medical corps in 1941 to treat dysentery during the North African campaign after seeing local Arabic population using it for this purpose.[8]
with a link to the now-deprecated Rense version. The sentence was expunged on 26 Dec. 2013 as unverifiable "with reliable sources". 'Thangor Orlando' deserves some kind of medal. However, there are still a great number of fourth- or fifth- or sixth-hand repetitions of the story across the Intertubes, citing the uncorrected wikipage.

UPDATE2: DeSalle and Perkins presumably encountered the poop-bomb part of the narrative in MentalFloss or Cracked, but they made an effort to find a better source than [Rothschild -> Rense] for the dysentery-cure component. Hence we read that "Camel dung is referenced from Damman et al. (2012)." But the language of Damman's review sounds familiar:

...and indeed we are back at the familiar trail of provenance, [Rothschild -> Bernhardt -> Lewin].

Friday, October 5, 2018

Ghosts on the Road

"Sausage Cartel" is the name of my Throbbing Gristle tribute band

What the news item doesn't explain is how the cartel drove up prices by engineering artificial scarcities. They would promise a shipment of sausages, then delay delivery with a series of excuses.

Always promising that "The wurst is yet to come".