Via Bob O’H and Cath Ennis comes this truly bizarre article from the Virology Journal: “Influenza or not influenza: Analysis of a case of high fever that happened 2000 years ago in Biblical time”.

Now, regular readers will know that I normally love this type of thing; digging back through history to look at Lincoln’s smallpox; Cholera in Victorian London; potential causes of the Plague of Athens, the origin of syphilis, or whether Yersinia pestis really caused the Black Plague. I’ve even written a bit about the history of influenza. So analysis of a 2000-year old potential flu case? Bring it on.

But. For Christ’s sake (really), *bring the evidence with you.* From the article’s abstract:

The Bible describes the case of a woman with high fever cured by our Lord Jesus Christ. Based on the information provided by the gospels of Mark, Matthew and Luke, the diagnosis and the possible etiology of the febrile illness is discussed. Infectious diseases continue to be a threat to humanity, and influenza has been with us since the dawn of human history. If the postulation is indeed correct, the woman with fever in the Bible is among one of the very early description of human influenza disease.

Infectious diseases continue to be a threat to humanity, and influenza has been with us since the dawn of human history. We analysed a case of high fever that happened 2000 years ago in Biblical time and discussed possible etiologies.

(more after the jump…)

OK, so they set up their premise. Fine, I’m on board with that, though it’s obviously always a bit of a problem when using English translations of the Bible. Still, I’m all about checking out the descriptions, which include a high fever, being bed-ridden, and, oh yeah, that Jesus cured her, upon which time she “rose up and ministered unto them.”

That’s the extent of the information.

From this, the authors conclude that the fever must have been influenza. Their rationale? Well, they exclude bacterial septicemia because “the fever retreated instantaneously. This implies that the disease was probably not a severe acute bacterial infection (such as septicemia) or subacute endocarditis that would not resolved [sic] instantaneously.”

Seriously. I’m not even sure what to do with this. From the wording of the abstract, it very much appears that the authors are Christians–so are they saying that Jesus could not have miraculously cured a bacterial infection, but he could have done so for flu? Or that the flu, on its own, resolved the instant Jesus stood over/touched the ill woman, without any divine intervention?

They go on to dismiss a significant number of other viral pathogens, as well as demonic influence (phew! Those are so hard to get rid of):

One final consideration that one might have is whether the illness was inflicted by a demon or devil. The Bible always tells if an illness is caused by a demon or devil (Matthew 9:18-25, 12:22, 9:32-33; Mark 1:23-26, 5:1-15, 9:17-29; Luke 4:33-35, 8:27-35, 9:38-43, 11:14) [1]. The victims often had what sounded like a convulsion when the demon was cast out. In our index case, demonic influence is not stated, and the woman had no apparent convulsion or residual symptomatology.

(Bonus: this was the first post I’ve ever gotten to tag with “demonology”.)

Seriously, how did this article get published? I’m not a virologist, but if the standards for this journal are this lax, I wouldn’t be wasting my time sending any of my papers there.

Comments

  1. #1 CS Shelton
    August 10, 2010

    Wow. Who publishes virology and what else do they publish?

  2. #2 mxh
    August 10, 2010

    This is an example of lame fake “research” that scientific journals are, unfortunately, becoming more and more fond of because it gets their name out. Unfortunately for them, it lowers their standing among their target audience. I’m with you, if I were a virologist, I wouldn’t send my papers there either.

  3. #3 derender
    August 10, 2010

    Well, if you remember correctly Jesus IS the Son of God wh created the entire universe, so I am sure he could heal the flu in millseconds if He so chose to do so.

    Remember Lazarus? He was dead for four days. People didn’t want jesus to open the tomb becuase of the smell, yet all He did was call for lazarus to come forth and He was ressurected immediately after being dead for four days. He was completely healed and back to his old self immediately.

    How’s that for science?

  4. #4 ObSciGuy (Paul)
    August 10, 2010

    Wow – and who was the editor and reviewers? Didn’t Hippocrates describe flu-like symptoms? And wasn’t the bible written ~1700 years ago, not 2000?

    Also – you can apparently leave comments if you scroll down to the bottom of the article…

  5. #5 Rosie Redfield
    August 10, 2010

    It’s ‘Virology Journal’, not Virology (Elsevier) or the Journal of Virology (Americal Society for Microbiology), which are both quite respectable journals.

    Virology Journal is part of the BioMed Central empire, who must be even sleazier than I thought.

  6. #6 J-Dog
    August 10, 2010

    Thanks for your excellent fisking! And BTW – Chalk up another Virology Miracle For Christ – I was not violantly ill, only nauseated, when I read about this.

  7. #7 Erp
    August 10, 2010

    I think the most that can be said is that fevers were known at the time it was written (a bit over 1900 years ago).

    The original is Mark 1:30 and Matthew 8:14 (Matthew borrowed a fair bit from Mark)

    πυρέσσουσα – puressousa – feverish – related to ‘fire’ (modern English words, pyre, pyromaniac…)

  8. #8 ginger
    August 10, 2010

    Wow, this online journal’s been around for seven years! Who knew?

    I am very impressed at the way the authors shamelessly used this publication to pump up their own citation rate – 7 of the 9 works cited are by the first author.

    This is an allegedly peer-reviewed journal edited by a well-published and well-credentialled professor at a major US school of biomedicine. WTF.

  9. #9 Tara C. Smith
    August 10, 2010

    I am very impressed at the way the authors shamelessly used this publication to pump up their own citation rate – 7 of the 9 works cited are by the first author.

    Ha! I’d missed that. I glanced and wondered why they were all SARS.

  10. #10 Greg Laden
    August 10, 2010

    OK, there are two things going on here First, in antiquity, Jesus made a disease so strong he could not cure it (the bacterial one). So now we know the answer to the taco question.

    Second, more recently, God made a peer reviewed journal paper so bad (through the writings of his earthly servants) that it could not be published, but he still got it published.

    Am I the only person who understands this????11??

  11. #11 JD
    August 11, 2010

    ginger @8 wrote,

    This is an allegedly peer-reviewed journal edited by a well-published and well-credentialled professor at a major US school of biomedicine. WTF

    WTF indeed. From the link, it states:

    Received: 16 June 2010
    Accepted: 21 July 2010
    Published: 21 July 2010

    35 days from received to published. That is pretty fast. I doubt this paper received a sound review and if it did, the editor did not do his/her job.

  12. #12 Cynic View
    August 11, 2010

    Will they accept my paper on Jesus curing computer viruses?

  13. #13 circleh
    August 11, 2010

    People need to stop looking at accounts of miracles in the Bible and trying to find rational, naturalistic explanations for them. That in itself reveals a lack of faith. That goes not only for the writers of that totally rediculous paper, but for all those “scientific” Creationists out there. I too would blacklist that journal for accepting that nonsense.

  14. #14 mxh
    August 11, 2010

    Good point JD. Apparently, according to the comments section of the journal, it was reviewed by 2 people (and accepted with modifications… in only 35 days). Either the reviewers were in on publishing this crap (or were “bible experts”) or the editor is being less than truthful. Either way, I can’t trust anything that comes out of this journal anymore.

  15. #15 Tara C. Smith
    August 11, 2010

    Currently this paper is the 5th most accessed for the journal in the last 30 days: link. I feel bad for the authors of actual science articles in the journal.

  16. #16 Grant
    August 11, 2010

    If I were an author of a respectable paper in this journal, I’d get busy writing to the editors, pronto…

  17. #17 Bob O'H
    August 11, 2010

    I did wonder how serious the authors and editors were – it’s possible that none of them were taking it that seriously (or perhaps the editors weren’t, even if the authors were). It is quite fun.

  18. #18 Sigmund
    August 11, 2010

    The authors reference another important historical medical report “the first pediatric case of mouth-to-mouth cardiopulmonary resuscitation is vividly described in the Old Testament when the prophet Elisha pressed upon an apparently dead child and breathed into him seven times, and the child was revived (Kings 4:34-35) [1]” – and completely mangle the original authors findings. Elisha did not breathe into the child several times – the KJV doesn’t even mention him breathing once – it says the child sneezed seven times and came back to life after Elisha had lain on top of him a couple of times. It’s amazing the reviewers didn’t notice this glaring error. Aren’t scientists meant to be up to date on the relevant scientific literature of their field of expertise?
    Anyway the good news is that I’ve found the perfect place to send my manuscript on the first reported case of infectious viral meningitis (not to give all the juicy details away but it involves a young couple that inexplicably go UPHILL to fetch a pail of water and then pass out and fall down due, no doubt, to the debilitating effects of this virus.)

  19. #19 Johannes9126
    August 11, 2010

    Now I know where to send my case report about Prometheus and his hepatitis…

  20. #20 V. infernalis
    August 11, 2010

    If you read the comments on the paper, one of them is from one of the editors, who confirms that the paper was peer-reviewed and recommended for publication by both of the reviewers. Where’s that third reviewer when you need him/her?

  21. #21 Andrés Diplotti
    August 11, 2010

    Well, you have to give them credit for something: they pretty much admit that miraculous healing is not distinguishable from natural remission.

  22. #22 Makita
    August 11, 2010

    I think they forgot to print it in the April issue on April Fool’s Day and are just making up for that. No way, a serious editor lets this stuff through. And frankly, I think the authors are in on it.

  23. #23 HappyHax0r
    August 11, 2010

    @#3 Yes, he was called out and came forth, and no one noticed the smell, for this was biblical days, and in biblical days the smell of the dead was not that far off from the smell of the living. Amen.

    Does anyone have the address for the parent company of this scientific journal? I have some air-quotes that need a good home.

    *facepalm*.

  24. #24 Rorschach
    August 11, 2010

    Next up in the Virology Journal : A study of the epidemiology of flu-like illness in the Harry Potter series.

    Like I said on Pharyngula :
    We all know god is a heartless bastard who doesn’t mind humans suffering, since as PZ pointed out in his talk in Melbourne earlier this year, he could have easily dropped a hint in the bible that washing your hands might be a good idea !

  25. #25 WTFWJD
    August 11, 2010

    If Jebus cured it with magic, then the disease itself had to be magic, probably the result of a spell cast by a witch. It’s the never-ending battle between good magic and bad magic.

    Next: The malady suffered by Sleeping Beauty, followed by the spell cast on Princess Fiona.

  26. #26 Thomas Joseph
    August 11, 2010

    I’m putting much too much effort into my own peer reviewed publications.

  27. #27 Dr. O
    August 11, 2010

    From this, the authors conclude that the fever must have been influenza. Their rationale? Well, they exclude bacterial septicemia because “the fever retreated instantaneously. This implies that the disease was probably not a severe acute bacterial infection (such as septicemia) or subacute endocarditis that would not resolved [sic] instantaneously.”

    Are you kidding me? I’m Christian, but this is just dumb…by both theological or scientific standards. How the hell did this end up in an actual science journal?

  28. #28 Judith
    August 11, 2010

    We are wondering how it made it past reviewers when apparently it was never seen by an editor worth his blue pencil. There’s a full sentence repeated in the abstract, and a spelling mistake in the first sentence of the Case description, which should have been idiot-proof since it’s a repetition of the first sentence of the Abstract.

    It’s an anti-miracle.

  29. #29 Andrés Diplotti
    August 11, 2010

    he could have easily dropped a hint in the bible that washing your hands might be a good idea !

    And then you have Mark 7, when Jesus says that washing your hands before eating is for hypocrites. (Ok, someone might argue that hygiene is not the point of that passage and they might be right, but the fact remains that Jesus seems to think that not washing your hands before eating is swell.)

  30. #30 Sigmund
    August 11, 2010

    I wonder if this is simply a case of a ‘journal’ getting Sokal-ed by a few Hong Kong researchers with a sense of humor. There are major problems in this two page letter both in terms of biblical accuracy (the “Luke” who wrote the gospel of Luke is not believed to be the disciple Luke mentioned as a physician here, and they get the story of Elisha wrong), and in terms of theology (Jesus couldn’t instantly cure bacterial septicemia but could cure viral influenza? – I suspect someone who can cure a four day long case of rigor mortis would find bacterial infections childsplay !) The references look like a fairly obvious joke too – 7 out of nine being from the authors themselves and the remaining two being the King James Version Bible and a website for the Fahrenheit temperature scale!
    Perhaps we should await word from the authors before we criticize them – they could be doing us a favor in exposing the terrible peer review and editorial standards of this journal.

  31. #31 KeithB
    August 11, 2010

    Interestingly, the chapter headings for the NIV refer to Jesus “healing a boy with epilepsy” :
    http://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Matthew 17:14-18; Mark 9:17-27; Luke 9:37-42

  32. #32 Theron
    August 11, 2010

    Obsciguy- “And wasn’t the bible written ~1700 years ago, not 2000?”

    Most of the texts in the new testament were probably written between 40 and 150 CE or so. However, the canonical list of texts more-or-less agreed to by most branches of Christianity was not complied until well into the 4th century — by Athanasius, Bishop of Alexandria in 367.

    Teaching world civ fills up your brain with all kinds of trivia.

  33. #33 Rosie Redfield
    August 11, 2010

    I’ve submitted a comment to the paper, but it has to get the editor’s approval. The criteria are that it must contribute to the topic under discussion and does not breach patients’ confidentiality or libel anyone. We’ll see if it’s acceptable.

    Comment by: Dr Rosemary Redfield, University of British Columbia

    Title: This is not science.

    Comment:
    This paper in no way qualifies as science. It doesn’t even qualify even as a case report, because the authors have no personal experience of this case. They basically say that, if their assumption that the woman had influenza is correct, then their conclusion that she was cured is justified.

    The citations are also disgraceful. The authors cite only the bible, a web page about temperature measurements, and themselves (seven times!).

    If BioMed Central hopes to build a reputation as a home for serious science then they need to first withdraw this paper and then have some serious discussions with this journal’s editor.

    Competing interests:
    None.

  34. #34 Point taken.
    August 11, 2010

    @15, 16: Point taken.

    I have published in and reviewed manuscripts for BioMed Central journals before.

    I now regret having done so, and I will not repeat those mistakes.

  35. #35 Robert F. Garry, PhD
    August 11, 2010

    As Editor-in-Chief of Virology Journal I wish to apologize for the publication of the article entitled ”Influenza or not influenza: Analysis of a case of high fever that happened 2000 years ago in Biblical time”, which clearly does not provide the type of robust supporting data required for a case report and does not meet the high standards expected of a peer-reviewed scientific journal. Virology Journal has always operated an exceptionally high standard of thorough peer review; this article has clearly not met these thresholds for balance and supporting data and as such, the article will be retracted. I should like to apologize for any confusion or concern that this article may have caused among our readership, or more widely.

    Whilst only ever intended as an opinion piece and also a bit of relief from the ‘normal’ business of the journal, the speculations contained within this article clearly would be better expressed outside the confines of a peer-reviewed journal. Biomed Central does not support any views outlined in this article.

  36. #36 stinkige Lunte
    August 11, 2010

    Ich rieche Lunte.

    the first author email is to a hotmail account, the other authors have the expected .edu.hk emails, and the first author webpage gives an .edu.hk email:
    http://www.pae.cuhk.edu.hk/images/hon_kam_lun_ellis.htm

    But who submitted the Virology Journal report used a hotmail account. Spoof.

    Another paper by the lead author (reference 3) gives the expected .edu.hk email.

    dots connect …

  37. #37 Dale Husband
    August 11, 2010

    Dr Garry,

    When you “retract” a paper, do you delete it completely, or do you add a note to it saying that the paper is no longer valid? Either outcome would satisfy me, along with terminating whoever approved that paper in the first place. Remember, you are not running a popular newspaper or TV newscast in which you always try to outdo your competition with stories that may appeal to the prejudices of your readers. You need reports that are ACCURATE and can lead to more research, even if they take longer to complete the peer review process.

  38. #38 Judith
    August 11, 2010

    Dr. Garry

    I would hope that a “retracted” paper would at least be noted as such at the top of all viewing options (abstract, full text or pdf). Maybe I just haven’t given you enough time to make those additions, but as yet the retraction is only noted on the comments page.

  39. #39 Robert F. Garry, PhD
    August 11, 2010

    The paper will be removed from the website.

    All that will appear is Retracted: followed by the title.

    This will require a day or so – it’s after CoB in London.

  40. #40 Judith
    August 11, 2010

    Dr. Garry, thank you for your kindness in answering our concerns.

  41. #41 truthspeaker
    August 11, 2010

    Wow, class and professionalism. Nice work, Dr. Garry.

  42. #42 Tara C. Smith
    August 11, 2010

    Thank you for the comments and your attention to this, Dr. Garry. I will put this up as a new post as well.

  43. #43 Andrew
    August 11, 2010

    It’s nice to see you posting again semi-regularly, Tara, it’s only been stuff from students for so long now! Please keep it up.

  44. #44 stripey_cat
    August 11, 2010

    Yes. Keep prank papers to the Christmas special or April Fools. And make the joke a bit more obvious, or the idiots will cite it for real.

  45. #45 jennifer
    August 11, 2010

    Since when are centuries old story books accurate descriptions of the natural history of our world? Why would we take first a faith in the authors of the bible, as if they were themselves divine, as to write a book that held the entire truth of the world and as evidence of a creator who is not supposed to have evidence for belief in the first place?

    We can’t even find evidence that Jews ever enslaved in Egypt. And if faith wasn’t more noble to those who desperately cling to what they know deep down might be false, they leave a wake of destruction in their path, forcing others to believe so they feel confirmed in their own belief, and end up rejecting conventional science at the risk of their own children’s health as well as that of people around them.

    There is nothing honorable or admirable by a dying child at the hands of unbridled power by religious conviction. That is a clear lack of humanity.

  46. #46 Rogue Medic
    August 11, 2010

    I enjoy reading articles speculating about the causes of historical illness/deaths. Clearly, there will not be the amount of information available that would be expected in an actual case report, but that does not appear to have stopped JAMA or NEJM from publishing reviews of historical cases.

    This does raise questions about the thoroughness of the search for other potential illnesses. It appears that the lead author has never published anything on viral syndrome, or the common cold. Not enough consideration was given to other causes of fever.

    When Jesus took her by the hand and lifted her up, the fever immediately left. The lady began to serve the household and probably prepared a meal.

    Since I am a single parent, I have also claimed that I was all better, when my daughter needed something I considered more important than my rest, even when I was sick. This is just something people do, both for our children and for our guests.

    Did they describe the method used to determine the absence of the fever?

    Did the patient take care of everyone, then go lie down?

    Was the man of the house able to cook? It was probably safer for all involved for the person with cooking experience to prepare the meal.

    These cases are great for speculation, but the speculation does need to be more thorough. Limiting the possible illnesses to what the lead author has previously written about is not thorough.

    Dr. Garry,

    Thank you for recognizing and addressing the limitations of this paper.

  47. #47 Flutopian
    August 12, 2010

    “Who cured you?”

    “Jesus did, sir. I was hopping along, minding my own business, all of a sudden, up he comes, cures me. One minute I’m a leper with a trade, next minute my livelihood’s gone. Not so much as a by-your-leave. ‘You’re cured, mate.’ Bloody do-gooder.”

  48. #48 Daniel Martin
    August 12, 2010

    (Bonus: this was the first post I’ve ever gotten to tag with “demonology”.)

    I think I speak for many commenters here when I say that I hope you soon fix this grievous lack of demonology-related posts.

  49. #49 Colin
    August 12, 2010

    the only thing it was missing was a personal communication reference!

  50. #51 cep telefonları
    August 13, 2010

    Where’s that third reviewer when you need him/her?

  51. #52 praedor
    August 13, 2010

    Hey lerender, Lazarus was only MOSTLY dead for four days. It is quite simple to “cure” someone who is MOSTLY dead. Another thing entirely if they are COMPLETELY dead.

  52. #53 praedor
    August 13, 2010

    I was scared there for a moment. I have two articles published in the “Journal of Virology”. At first I thought, “there goes the value of my own work down the toilet” by being published in a joke of a journal, but then quickly saw (with great relief) that it was merely “Virology” that did this. So my modest additions to the field of virology is still safe…right? RIGHT?!

  53. #54 Marianne
    August 17, 2010

    The Scholarly Kitchen just posted their view on this with the gripping title “Good God! Can’t a Journal Author Have Any Fun Anymore?”. Puts it all back into perspective a bit more…
    (http://scholarlykitchen.sspnet.org/)

  54. #55 Tom Hennessy
    August 20, 2010

    I believe the atheists MUST be **investigated** because of their METHODS to **target and attack** medical journals.

    “One of the blogs that brought the paper to notice was This Scientific Life, by Bob O’Hara.”
    “Blag Hag: A large list of awesome female atheists
    -5:24am 3 Jan 2010 … Bob O’Hara said… Grrlscientist is also an atheist and blogger. I think she’s awesome. But then I did marry her, so I might be biased.”

    ” Kam L.E. Hon from the Department of Paediatrics at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, was astonished” the article had produced such a negative response since it was only intended for thought provocation.”
    “He said he would never to write this kind of article again.”

    THAT smacks of cyberbullying.
    In Scientific circles that is unlawful.
    Imho.

  55. #56 jour nal
    August 24, 2010

    correct you are not a virologist,
    all for AIDS nothing for free
    but if the standards for this journal are this lax,
    well….journals are in need of funds
    and funds for science are scarce

    I wouldn’t be wasting my time sending any of my papers there
    why not?
    Seriously, how did this article get published?
    funds management are a divine art
    if you pay , you get published….that’s all

  56. #57 Tom Hennessy
    August 24, 2010

    Next time you activists ‘feel’ you MUST comment on an article in a medical journal , declare your **conflict of interest**.
    If you FEEL you can comment on an MEDICAL article and NOT declare a conflict of interest one might wonder whether your professional conduct is lower than exemplary.
    Imho.
    You are an avid activist atheist commenting on a religious article.
    I believe your conduct should be investigated by your University.
    ———–

    Comment by: Dr Rosemary Redfield, University of British Columbia
    Title: This is not science.

    Comment:
    This paper in no way qualifies as science. It doesn’t even qualify even as a case report, because the authors have no personal experience of this case. They basically say that, if their assumption that the woman had influenza is correct, then their conclusion that she was cured is justified.

    The citations are also disgraceful. The authors cite only the bible, a web page about temperature measurements, and themselves (seven times!).

    If BioMed Central hopes to build a reputation as a home for serious science then they need to first withdraw this paper and then have some serious discussions with this journal’s editor.

    Competing interests:
    None.

  57. #58 John
    September 12, 2010

    If interested in analyses of historical epidemics, you might like plaguescapes.com (an epidemiological analysis of the ten plagues of Egypt), a recreation of print article originally published in 1997 and then as a website that won critical acclaim in 1998. Please feel free to comment on the blog site.

  58. #59 Douglas Kennedy DC
    April 13, 2011

    I enjoyed plaguesapes.com
    thanks so much

  59. #60 Josh
    August 26, 2011

    In the UK this is what we call a ‘Tatty Journalism’ article. Thanks for pointing it out Tara :)

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