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Gobsmacked by germ theory denialism. Again.

People believe a lot of wacky things. Some of these things are merely amusingly wacky, while others are dangerously wacky. Among the most dangerously wacky of things that a large number of people believe in is the idea that germ theory is invalid. Perhaps a better way of putting it is that among the most dangerously wacky of nonsense is germ theory denialism; i.e., the denial that germs are the cause of disease. Few theories in medicine or science are supported as strongly by such a huge amount of evidence from multiple disciplines that converge on the idea that microorganisms cause disease, supporting it with an interwoven web of evidence that bring germ theory about as close to a fact as a scientific theory can be. True, for different diseases it’s not always clear what the causative organism is or even if there is a causative organism, but these examples all fit into the general framework of the germ theory of infectious disease.

Yet, as is the case with other incredibly well-supported scientific theories, such as evolution, a shocking number of people still assert that microbes don’t cause disease, among them Hollywood celebrities like Bill Maher. I thought it might be worth considering the question: How on earth could people seriously deny the germ theory of disease, given how much success the application of this theory has demonstrated in decreasing mortality? Think about it! Antibiotics, modern hygiene and public health measures, and vaccines have been responsible for preventing more deaths and arguably for saving more lives than virtually any other intervention, preventative or treatment, that science-based medicine has ever devised. What “inspired” me to revisit this topic was my coming across a couple of screeds against the germ theory of disease and Louis Pasteur that remind me just how much of “alt med” is permeated with germ theory denialism.

Before we get to the fun of the screeds, the first thing I should clarify is just what we mean by the “germ theory of disease.” In most texts and sources that I’ve read, the germ theory of disease is stated something like, “Many diseases are caused by microorganisms.” We could argue whether viruses count as microorganisms, but for purposes of the germ theory they do. (Most biologists do not consider viruses to be true living organisms, because they consist of nothing more than genetic material wrapped in a protein coat and lack the ability to reproduce without infecting the cell of an organism.) Now, let’s take a look at the latest germ theory denialist idiocy I’ve come across. The first one, not surprisingly, I found on NaturalNews.com. Surprisingly, it was not written by Mike Adams, but rather by someone named Paul Fassa, who proclaims You have been lied to about germs. It should have been called “You are about to be lied to about germs.”

First, though, since this article wasn’t by the usual science-hating loon Mike Adams, I was curious just who Paul Fassa is. I had never heard of him before. It didn’t take long to find Fassa’s Twitter account and then from there his blog Health Maven, which bills itself as an “escape from the medical mafia matrix.” Interesting. Why does it appear that any time I come across a germ theory denialist like Fassa, he’s someone who uses terms like “medical mafia matrix”? I don’t know, but such people also tend to write introductory paragraphs like this:

We have been taught to fear germs, pathogens, viruses, and bacteria that invade us from out there. This is the Pasteur model of disease contagion. This creates a dependency on Big Pharma to protect us from invading microbes, each having one form (monomorphic) and creating one specific disease.

Pasteur`s model of disease won over rival Claude Bernard`s more accurate argument of the inner terrain. Pasteur`s declaration, though serving the coffers of Big Pharma, creates more questions: How come some get a disease that`s going around and others don`t? How do all these new bugs come out of nowhere to haunt us? Why do vaccines and antibiotics ultimately fail and create super bugs?

These questions are answered by understanding the inner terrain and pleomorphism.

Note how Fassa first misrepresents the Pasteur model of disease. This is common among germ theory denialists, in my experience. They tend to assume that germ theory states that pathogenic microbes are 100% infectious and always cause disease. Consequently, when people are exposed to pathogenic microbes and don’t become ill, people like Fassa point to that as evidence that germ theory is invalid. After all, the germ didn’t cause disease, at least in this one case! That must mean that all of germ theory is wrong! Concrete thinking, thy name is Fassa (and other germ theory denialists.) It’s rather odd that even most teenagers can understand that catching an infectious disease is dependent not just on the microbe but each person’s resistance to that microbe. This is the same thing that mystifies HIV/AIDS denialists, who seem to view the observation that most exposures to HIV do not result in AIDS as some sort of devastating indictment of the hypothesis that HIV causes AIDS. Add to that a long asymptomatic period and highly variable rates of progression, and HIV/AIDS denialists, who are–let’s face it–really nothing more than a subtype of germ theory denialists who deny vehemently that one particular germ causes disease have all the doubt they need.

But I digress.

Also notice Fassa’s early and immediate invocation of the pharma shill gambit. If there’s another thing about germ theory denialism, it’s that those who cling to it tend to be extremely distrustful of big pharma. I realize that in many cases big pharma deserves a lot of mistrust; its record in many areas demands it. What distinguishes many of these germ theory denialists is that they take healthy skepticism and take it to a pathological extreme. They also seem to think that the reason that antibiotics ultimately fail is because germ theory is invalid, which reveals an incredible ignorance of how antibiotics work. Helloooo! Evolution? Ever heard of it? Bacteria are incredibly good at evolving under the selective pressure of antibiotics. That’s what creates superbugs, that and our tendency to overuse antibiotics. But what is the “inner terrain” and pleomorphism? This is where we find the “intellectual” basis of rejection of germ theory. As is the case with many alt-med beliefs, this basis harkens back to “ancient” knowledge (or at least 150 year old knowledge). It harkens back to Antoine Béchamp, who did indeed postulate nearly the exact opposite of what Pasteur did: that microorganisms were not the cause of disease but rather the consequence of disease, that injured or diseased tissues produced them and that it was the health of the organism that mattered, not the microorganisms.

Basically, Béchamp’s idea, known as the pleomorphic theory of disease, stated that bacteria change form (i.e., demonstrate pleomorphism) in response to disease, not as a cause of disease. In other words, they arise from tissues during disease states; they do not invade from the external world. Béchamp further proposed that bacteria arose from structures that he called microzymas, which to him referred to a class of enzymes. Béchamp postulated that microzymas are normally present in tissues and that their effects depended upon the cellular terrain. Ultimately, Pasteur’s theory won out over that of Béchamp, based on evidence, but Béchamp was influential at the time. Given the science and technology of the time, Béchamp’s hypothesis was not entirely unreasonable. It was, however, superseded by Pasteur’s germ theory of disease and Koch’s later work that resulted in Koch’s postulates. What needs to be remembered is that not only did Béchamp’s hypothesis fail to be confirmed by scientific evidence, but his idea lacked the explanatory and predictive power of Pasteur’s theory. Fassa is sort of correct about one thing, though. Béchamp’s idea was basically something like this:

The inner terrain includes our immune system, organ tissues, and blood cells. Those who stepped out of line from Pasteur`s dogma asserted that the inner terrain was more vital for remaining disease free than searching for new antibiotics and vaccines to kill bacteria and viruses.

As an analogy, flies don`t create garbage. But garbage attracts flies that breed maggots to create even more flies. Removing garbage is more effective than spraying toxic chemicals, which endanger human and animal life, around the house. Similarly, adding toxins to humans is not as effective as cleaning out the inner terrain.

As I said, there’s a grain of truth there, namely that the condition of the body and a person’s immune system does matter. Specifically, it is true that the condition of the “terrain” (the body) does matter when it comes to infectious disease. Debilitated people do not resist the invasion of microorganisms as well as strong, healthy people. Of course, another thing to remember is that the “terrain” can facilitate the harmful effect of microorganisms in unexpected ways. For example, certain strains of the flu (as in 1918 and H1N1) are more virulent in the young because the young mount a more vigorous immune response. However, latter day Béchamp worshipers fetishize this idea to the point of claiming that the “inner terrain” is all that matters and that bacteria and viruses are manifestations, not causes, of disease. It goes beyond that, though. According to Béchamp, it’s said:

Blood is alive. It is not a liquid, but a mobile tissue (Béchamp was the first to describe blood thus). The things in our blood are alive. And one thing modern medicine does not accept is that something like a bacterium can change into a yeast that can turn into a fungus that can turn into a mold. We’ve talked about this in previous newsletters; it is called pleomorphism. Pleo meaning many and morph meaning form or body.

This is, of course, complete nonsense. Bacteria cannot change into yeast or vice-versa, while yeasts are organisms in the kingdom Fungi. Dimorphic fungi can exist as a mold/hyphal/filamentous form or as yeast, but this fact does not invalidate the germ theory of disease. Indeed, some of these fungi are pathogens, such as Blastomyces dermatitidis, Histoplasma capsulatum, and Sporothrix schenckii. The misunderstanding of microbiology required to accept the rejection of germ theory in favor of Béchamp’s ideas is staggering. Yet they remain very influential. Not among scientists, of course. Science moved on a long time ago. Rather, they remain influential among cranks.

But why?

I think there are a couple of reasons. First, If it isn’t bacteria or other microbes that cause infectious disease, then vaccines are not necessary. Although their rhetoric against vaccines is often cloaked in appeals to “strengthening the immune system” or similar words, much of it, when you strip away the obfuscation and come right down to it, often denies germ theory. Second, germ theory tells us that there are some things we cannot control, and alt-med is all about the illusion of control. Germs, after all, are scary. You can be perfectly healthy, and an infectious disease can strike you down–possibly even kill you–through no fault of your own. By denying that the germs are the cause of disease, germ theory denialists can tell themselves that if they just eat the right diet, do the right exercise regimen, take the right supplements, germs can’t hurt them. Righteous living triumphs!

Too bad the real world isn’t like that and infectious diseases can kill.

By Orac

Orac is the nom de blog of a humble surgeon/scientist who has an ego just big enough to delude himself that someone, somewhere might actually give a rodent's posterior about his copious verbal meanderings, but just barely small enough to admit to himself that few probably will. That surgeon is otherwise known as David Gorski.

That this particular surgeon has chosen his nom de blog based on a rather cranky and arrogant computer shaped like a clear box of blinking lights that he originally encountered when he became a fan of a 35 year old British SF television show whose special effects were renowned for their BBC/Doctor Who-style low budget look, but whose stories nonetheless resulted in some of the best, most innovative science fiction ever televised, should tell you nearly all that you need to know about Orac. (That, and the length of the preceding sentence.)

DISCLAIMER:: The various written meanderings here are the opinions of Orac and Orac alone, written on his own time. They should never be construed as representing the opinions of any other person or entity, especially Orac's cancer center, department of surgery, medical school, or university. Also note that Orac is nonpartisan; he is more than willing to criticize the statements of anyone, regardless of of political leanings, if that anyone advocates pseudoscience or quackery. Finally, medical commentary is not to be construed in any way as medical advice.

To contact Orac: [email protected]

991 replies on “Gobsmacked by germ theory denialism. Again.”

It’s strange that a person who can deny the existence of God, based on the abundance of evidence which does not require a supreme being in order to explain our existence, can also IGNORE the ample evidence of germ theory.

Human beings can be strangely inconsistent.

Orac took several swings at the middle, like the “garbage” analogy. I not sure that denial is the issue in a lot of cases, as much as (equal) priority.

If someone has a blood sugar of 150-200 mg/dl, blood vitamin D of under 10 ng/ml 25OH-D3, their recurring bronchitis may need more than just ~800 mg of ligament popping fluoro whatever “daily supplement”. Yet the both parts may be surprising common, inadequately dx’d or tx’d, with far too much allowance of carbs and oxidized PUFA.

“Where do I sign up to become a pharma shill? How do I get me a piece of that action?…
Hungry residents by the deli tray in the Student Doctors Lounge?

You can be perfectly healthy and an infectious disease can strike you down, even kill you.

Denying that is at the heart of Big Woo. How do you market a high dollar health regimen, if even the healthy among us are at risk

If someone has a blood sugar of 150-200 mg/dl, blood vitamin D of under 10 ng/ml 25OH-D3, their recurring bronchitis may need more than just ~800 mg of ligament popping fluoro whatever “daily supplement”.

Are you high? Primary care physicians are all about controlling blood glucose in diabetics in order to avoid complications, among which are infections. Seriously. The debate about how tight diabetic control has to be to prevent complications is a debate that’s been going on since long before I went to medical school, but that’s a debate about the actual numbers a patient should shoot for not a debate that glucose control isn’t very important in preventing complications like infections. As for vitamin D, that’s still an area in evolution, but I know a lot of PMDs who routinely check their patient’s vitamin D levels.

The point is not that the terrain doesn’t matter. The point is that germ theory denialists claim that the “terrain is all” and that microbes don’t matter. The consequences of that belief are discussed in the post.

Soo…if these people are not bothered by germs or viral particles, it will be OK if I hire them to clean up after the next outbreak of Ebola? And no need for complicated biohazard labs or protective suits, just send in the denialists to do the job. I anticipate a strong evolutionary pressure to reduce the average stupidity among the survivors.

I sometimes wonder how the germ theory denialist aspect of woo coexists with the claim that certain germs cause all manner of disease not acknowledged by the “medical mafia”. Cast in point – the dreaded Candida. Or the agent(s) of Morgellons disease, or whatever the parasite-of-the-month club has dreamed up to explains its chronic symptomatology.

Either the “medical mafia” is busy medicating us for no reason, or it’s denying us powerful antibiotics to treat nonexistent infectious diseases. Nothing could be more sinister.

By the way, I first entered the nightmare world of Pharma Shilldom the day in med school when we were given little blue notebooks produced by the Squibb company to use for, well, taking notes.* A small thing, but I’m sure it led inexorably down a fatal path of endorsing vaccines and all kinds of “medical mafia” horrors.

Thankfully, Orac is our wartime consigliere.

*still in use.

I’d simply challenge a germ theory denialist to be placed in a sealed room while perfectly healthy for a month. During the first 15 months, we make sure they’re healthy and don’t have anything incubating. During the second 15 days, we unleash microbiological nightmares upon them… And let the best germ win.

No need to worry if germs don’t cause disease and their “inner terrain” is squeaky clean, right? Right? Riiiiiiiight.

During the second 15 days, we unleash microbiological nightmares upon them.

You mean a you put a bunch of vaccinated, ear infected, antibiotic taking, low activity, anti-depressant, anxiety pill popping, Mcdonald’s eaters in the room?

You mean a you put a bunch of vaccinated, ear infected, antibiotic taking, low activity, anti-depressant, anxiety pill popping, Mcdonald’s eaters in the room?

Really Augustine, you shouldn’t just take your Pastor’s word regarding clean and unclean things. He might be wrong.

Woo rests on the foundation of germ theory denialism** and the festishisation of natural substances, and thus vehemently opposes vaccines and pharmacological intervention, most especially ARV’s ( HAART) for HIV/AIDS. Freud wrote about “those wrecked by success”, here the very successes of SBM make prime targets for its detractors..

Years ago, I had to communicate ( via word and brochure) how “things that you can’t see can hurt you” : not the easiest concept to convey to certain populations. Like pulling teeth. I catch a glimpse of the same attitude when I read Adams and his cronies, and alas! even Montagnier, whose recent views have made him a quotable sources for HIV/AIDS denialists.

While woo-meisters ( largely un-educated and un-trained in the life sciences by any reasonable standard) have certainly contributed to acceptance of germ theory denialism, they are not alone : there are DO’s and MD’s on the web who accept or tolerate these ideas, and some like Dr. Oz who broadcast twaddle.

** Maher has kept his gob shut about alt med this season; I doubt he’s opened his mind.

augustine wrote:

You mean a you put a bunch of vaccinated, ear infected, antibiotic taking, low activity, anti-depressant, anxiety pill popping, Mcdonald’s eaters in the room?

Incoherent troll is incoherent.

Orac, you forgot to mention parasitic infections such as those caused by various parasites such as giardia lamblia, cyclospora, malaria and cryptosporidium …to name just a few.

@prn: Individuals who have diabetes are classified as being immune-suppressed, as are pregnant women, infants who have immature immune systems, those with immunocompromising diseases and genetic disorders and the elderly. During major food-borne illness outbreaks, they are the ones who succumb. If you read the epidemiology studies of West Nile Virus (caused by vector mosquito bites, take special note of the deaths in the elderly/elderly with immune compromising co-morbidities. Dietary control and weight loss are always the first line of treatment prescribed by physicians, for control of elevated blood glucose levels.

Vaccines to prevent the transmission of Hepatitis B and HPV are the best preemptive strike against liver failure, liver cancer and cervical cancer.

Augie, I love your Luddite views regarding modern medicine.

As for vitamin D, that’s still an area in evolution, but I know a lot of PMDs who routinely check their patient’s vitamin D levels.

Orac, prn is heavily into Vitamin D and biomarkers regarding all sorts of topics, including but not limited to vaccines, cancer, and infectious disease.

Trouble is, prn has cited papers that purport to come to the conclusion that high Vitamin D levels cause cancer, and others that conclude high Vitamin D levels cure cancer. Methinks the almighty D proves way too much.

I’m amused by people who firstly deny germ theory then complain that antibiotics and vaccines cause “super bugs”. So what? If germs don’t cause disease, why are super bugs a problem?

Can we take it as read that even though Orac didn’t mention them, there are other things besides germs that cause some diseases or things that could reasonably look like diseases? These things include, but are not limited to, poisons, vitamin deficiencies, autoimmune disorders, venom, and parasites. Oh, yes, and the entire realm of psychological disorders.

Pasteur`s declaration, though serving the coffers of Big Pharma, creates more questions

It’s almost enough to make one wonder: how did Big Pharma get all of its untold billions of dollars in the first place? Maybe… I dunno… by selling things that cure diseases based on Pasteur’s theory?

Some aspiring poet should do a version of Dante’s Inferno where the narrator is guided by Beauchamp through the various levels of hell (vaccinated children, unwitting pharma shills, vaccinating pediatricians…) all the way down to the centre of hell, where the demon Big Pharma is flapping its wings trying to escape a frozen pool of thimerosal, holding the bodies of Paul Offit, Louis Pasteur and James Randi in its gaping maw.

Seriously… someone go do that. I would, but I’m just super-busy right now.

We have been taught to fear germs… each having one form (monomorphic) and creating one specific disease.

And here I foolishly believed that all those different serotype numbers like Vibrio cholerae 01 through 139 actually meant something.

Pasteur`s declaration… creates more questions: How come some get a disease that`s going around and others don`t?

Pathogenicity of the agent. Host immunity (esp. acquired by vaccination.) Degree of exposure. Duration of exposure.

How do all these new bugs come out of nowhere to haunt us?

They don’t come out of nowhere. Pasteur torpedoed spontaneous generation. Bacteria divide mitotically to make clonal colonies. Viruses hijack host cell machinery to make DNA/RNA/proteins.

Why do vaccines and antibiotics ultimately fail and create super bugs?

Bacteria evolve antibiotic resistance by natural selection and pass around resistance factors in plasmids like sharware. Vaccines “fail” because the self-appointed referees make spectacularly bad calls to rig the game.

I invite any germ theory denialist to drink a thermos full of Vibrio cholerae 01 and snort a liquid culture of methicilin-resistant Staph. aureus up his nose with a straw.

I know it’s poor form to comment off topic but I am desperately keen to draw everyone’s attention to the Australian homeopath Fran Sheffield and her (self)promotion of homeopathic remedies for radiation exposure in light of the reactor developments in Japan. See news article here: http://www.theaustralian.com.au/homeopaths-radiation-remedy-rubbish-say-health-experts/story-fn84naht-1226022797017%5D.

Sheffield runs a homeopathy clinic in NSW called Homeopathy Plus, and a related Facebook page by the same name. She is a big supporter of Meryl Dorey’s Australian Vaccination Newtork and happily promotes homeoquackery for everthing whether it’s fixing broken bones or protecting against malaria.

Scott Cunningham,

I invite any germ theory denialist to drink a thermos full of Vibrio cholerae 01 and snort a liquid culture of methicilin-resistant Staph. aureus up his nose with a straw.

Try inoculation and you will find out that vaccine apologists themselves are the number one germ denialists.

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

Note how Fassa first misrepresents the Pasteur model of disease. This is common among germ theory denialists, in my experience. They tend to assume that germ theory states that pathogenic microbes are 100% infectious and always cause disease. Consequently, when people are exposed to pathogenic microbes and don’t become ill, people like Fassa point to that as evidence that germ theory is invalid. After all, the germ didn’t cause disease, at least in this one case! That must mean that all of germ theory is wrong!

Heh; by this logic, sex has nothing to do with pregnancy. After all, most of the time when two people have sex, no pregancy results, even if no precautions are taken. Thus, we must deny Big Prophylactic’s fraudulent sperm theory! 😛

As an analogy, flies don`t create garbage. But garbage attracts flies that breed maggots to create even more flies. Removing garbage is more effective than spraying toxic chemicals, which endanger human and animal life, around the house. Similarly, adding toxins to humans is not as effective as cleaning out the inner terrain.

One of the major problems with this analogy is that if he really thinks this way, he’d suck as an exterminator. Yes, cleaning up attractants will reduce housefly problems, but if you have a serious problem, your options will be much more limited, and there are a hell of a lot more pests than just houseflies. Absolute hygeine will do nothing to prevent a plague of boxelder bugs, and oh lookie here, we’re coming up on the spring boxelder season! The days will start getting warm enough for them to come out of hibernation, but the nights are cold and so they’ll see shelter — and yes, that will include in your house! Since all they want is shelter, a clean house will be fine by them. If you want them out, you will need to attack them directly. Unfortunately, chemical options are of limited effectiveness, since the 200 you kill today may be replaced by another 200 from your neighborhood tomorrow. How about wasps? Can you get rid of a yellowjacket infestation by removing garbage? Well, no. They’re using your house for shelter — same reason you like your house, actually. They aren’t attracted to garbage; they actually prefer places with good access to nectar-bearing flowers. Or sugar water; be careful about leaving open cans of soda out, or you could get a nasty surprise. An entirely healthy house is fine and dandy to them; in fact, they may prefer it. You can strip out your flower gardens, but since they’ll roam many miles for nectar, this is pretty futile. If you want to rid your house of them, you’ll have to locate and destroy the hive — and chemical weapons are definitely recommended unless you enjoy being stung repeatedly or are willing to wait until they either abandon the hive or winter comes along.

And then there are termites. One of the most destructive household pests in the US, termites don’t care if you keep a clean household. They’re not interested in garbage. They are interested in the house itself, and will gradually eat it from the inside out until structural members are on the verge of collapse. Hopefully, you will find them and kill the colony before something breaks. But killing the colony is not easy. As with ants and bees and wasps, where you find one, there are many more. Stomping one may be satisfying, but meaningless in the overall war. And war it will be. Your only hope is to kill the colony’s queen, and to do that, you can try poisoned bait, hoping it gets delivered to her before it gets eaten, but you may well need to fumigate.

The pest control analogy is actually perfect for germ theory — not that Fossa knows that. Not every ant is an infestation, but if you have an infestation, simply tidying the place up isn’t going to solve the problem. Yes, you can usually keep houseflies to a manageable level (it’ll never be zero) by keeping things tidy, but most pests aren’t so obliging. After all, while the terrain attracts them, in many cases it’s the very same terrain that you want.

Blood is alive. It is not a liquid, but a mobile tissue (Béchamp was the first to describe blood thus).

Wha-huh? Blood’s not a liquid? He must have a very strange definition of “liquid”. I’ve always felt that the surest sign of an intellectually bankrupt argument is that it relies on nonstandard definitions which aren’t immediately shared with the audience. It certainly is alive and is a tissue, but not a liquid? That’s just plain silly, and I don’t understand how it advances his argument against germ theory in the least — or even what it would have to do with the supposed ability of bacteria to turn into fungus.

(And why do Bechamp supporters stick so much to what *he* thought was pleomorphism? The world turns out to be a good deal more interesting than they realized, and genuine pleomorphic life forms do exist. Slime molds, for instance. Or the angler fish. Or many species of parasitic worm. I wonder — they deny the pathogenicity of bacteria, but do they recognize what parasites are doing?)

@Th1Th2 – you have so completely mis-characterized the discussions you’ve had with folks way more knowledgeable than I am on the topic of whether an immunization is necessarily an infection that it’s clearly willful. You choose not to discuss the topic honestly.

Scott Cunningham,

I invite any germ theory denialist to drink a thermos full of Vibrio cholerae 01 and snort a liquid culture of methicilin-resistant Staph. aureus up his nose with a straw.
Try inoculation and you will find out that vaccine apologists themselves are the number one germ denialists.

People who live in glass houses should not throw stones.

=============
This from the guy who thinks everything taken up by antigen-presenting cells is infectious, simply by vitue of the fact that it was taken up.

That argues strongly for the infectious nature of glucose and potassium as well.

Fun fact: Michael Crichton was also a germ denialist. In one of the final chapters of his autobiography “Travels” he proclaims that the truth of an alleged microbial cause of illness had never been demonstrated to his satisfaction, and that it might very well be a case of greedy hospitals just trying to make money off peoples’ fears.

I love pointing that out to wingnuts whenever they parrot Crichton’s global warming denialism at me. “Travels” is full of 24-karat-kookery like that–also endorsing psychics and exorcists–a marvelous demonstration of “crank magnetism.” It’s a shame the popularity of his fiction and the letters M.D. after his name lent this ignorant celebrity activist entirely undeserved credence on major science issues.

@ Rohan G. You’re forgiven. There are also two articles posted on the Huffington Post about the threat of radiation fallout from Japan in the United States.

The first one written by an MD/psychiatrist recommends that people keep Potassium Iodide pills or liquid “on hand”. As a counterpoint another article written by a self-styled nutrition “expert” advocates miso soy preparations for the “natural” cure. The California Department of Health has issued an advisory against taking any Potassium Iodide preparations… something about screwing around with thyroid function…but that doesn’t prevent the scam artists on the internet from selling the supplement at jacked-up prices.

QFT:

I’ve always felt that the surest sign of an intellectually bankrupt argument is that it relies on nonstandard definitions which aren’t immediately shared with the audience.

We’re looking at you, Th1Th2.

Pasteur`s model of disease won over rival Claude Bernard`s more accurate argument of the inner terrain.

Gah? Claude Bernard was a physiologist whose work established that is now known as homeostasis – the fact was the inside of a living organism is shielded from outside influence, and internal conditions maintained as constant as possible. As far as I know, he was not against the idea that micro-organisms may breach this “inner terrain”.
And as far as arguments from authority go, he was certainly not a specialist in microbiology like Pasteur.
Pasteur’s “model” didn’t “won” over Bernard’s model, both have been accepted (and refined) and each address different biological topics.

I love the Wikipedia entry on Claude Bernard. Plenty of quotes from Claude Bernard warning against arguments from authority. Or against holding to one’s hypothesis despite facts telling otherwise.
Mr Fissa may do well to become more acquainted with the work of Claude Bernard.

Speaking of which, does Mr Fissa know that Claude Bernard was a zealous vivisectionist? OK, I’m poisoning the well here, but seriously, does he really understand what Claude Bernard did?

@ Calli Arcale

One of the major problems with this analogy is that if he really thinks this way, he’d suck as an exterminator.

Seconded.
Last year, we had a strike of the city’s employees in charge of garbage removal, in the middle of Summer, and as a result my building was infested with cockroaches and other vermins. Two months after the end of the strike, I was still having plenty of unwanted visitors in my kitchen, despite all my cleaning efforts. It took chemicals to stop the invasion.

Well said, Orac. Good point about control in the last paragraph. I’d like to see that unpacked a little more. Why are people so desperate for surety that they turn of their brains (I have some speculations about that from Theory-land, but no time today to note them).
I do wonder if you’re being a _little_ too hard on Maher. He is, after all, a gadfly comedian, not masquerading as an expert. Alas, the transcript from the 3/4/05 show seems to be offline. But I found a YouTube clip of Maher challenging Wlliam Frist on the swine flu vaccine. Frist brought up the success of vaccines in eradicating polio and smallpox, and Maher countered, ‘yes, but viruses are different.’
So I don’t see him attacking the ‘germ theory of disease’ sui generis at all here, only questioning the effectivity of one treatment against one category of disease. (About which he may be utterly wrong, but it’s a relatively limited wrong.)
By the same token, the points he makes about systemic health issues – our lifestyles making us sick — stike me as plausible, if overstated (as one would expect from a gadfly comedian…) Forgive me if he has stated otherwise elsewhere, but in the exchange with Dr. Healy I don’t hear Maher endorsing colon blowouts or any other new age cures. I hear him saying “we’re screwed.’ And if a key element of woo is the false reassurance, Maher’s offering none of that that I can see. Regardless of his stand on this issue or that, his overall _tone_ is one of skepticism: He offers no illusion of control. To those who make promises he replies “Too bad the real world isn’t like that.”
Orac wrote

From this sort of scientifically and biologically flawed thinking, it’s only a short step to advocating colon flushes or chelation therapy to eliminate vague and undefined “aggregate toxins” or “heavy metal poisoning.”

C’mon, Doc, Slippery Slope arguments are textbook logical fallacies.
‘Aggregate toxicity’ may not stand as science, but could it not be a trope for some things that do ail us? Not that I _agree_ with Maher. I line up for my flu shot every year. But when Maher says:

Even the food people think is good for them, is bad, and I’m not presenting myself as a paradigm. I do cruddy things to my body too and I enjoy them. But when I do them, I’m not in denial. I’m not eating fat free cheese and saying: “You know what, I’m healthy for eating this.” I’m saying: “Oh yeah, this is chemical goop and this is killing me.

that rings a bell as I look in my own fridge.
I leave you with some lyrics by obscure dada-rocker Tonio K. (Who later, sadly, became a Jesus freak. So it goes.)

well there’s a riot in the courthouse, there’s a fire in the street
there’s a sinner bein’ trampled by a thousand pious feet
there’s a baby every minute bein’ born without a chance
now don’t that make you want to jump right up and start to dance?
let’s do the funky
the funky western civilization
it’s really spunky
it’s just like summertime vacation
you just grab your partner by the hair
throw her down and leave her there
they put jesus on a cross, they put a hole in j.f.k.
they put hitler in the driver’s seat and looked the other way
now they’ve got poison in the water and the whole world in a trance
but just because we’re hypnotized, that don’t mean we can’t dance
we’ve got the funky
the funky western civilization
it’s really spunky
it’s just like summertime vacation
you just drag your partner through the dirt
leave him in a world of hurt

Ol nurselady

Augie, I love your Luddite views regarding modern medicine.

And I love your strawman argument and slippery slope ideas.

Vaccines to prevent the transmission of Hepatitis B and HPV are the best preemptive strike against liver failure, liver cancer and cervical cancer.

I also love your bottom of the barrel scum bucket view you have of people from your public health perch. Your “treat every one the same” view. Treat them as the lowest common denominator view. If all or most people got liver failure, liver cancer, or cervical cancer then you’d have a better argument for your philosophical approach. But fortunately most people don’t get those things.

There all diseased little pigs to you. So treat em all like pigs.

Frist brought up the success of vaccines in eradicating polio and smallpox, and Maher countered, ‘yes, but viruses are different.’

Polio and and smallpox are viral diseases. This just shows how clueless Maher is.

Sadmar:

Are you actually defending Maher by saying that, when told that vaccines had eradicated polio (in most of the world) and smallpox, he said “but viruses are different”?

Sure they are. The way cats are different from cats.

Smallpox and polio are (or were) viral diseases. Arguing that vaccines don’t work against viruses is evidence of ignorance. Ignorance at a level such that he shouldn’t be talking about the topic beyond advising people to consult their doctors or the Mayo Clinic website.

@Dr Steve:

This from the guy who thinks everything taken up by antigen-presenting cells is infectious, simply by vitue of the fact that it was taken up.

No, no, it’s anything taken up by antigen presenting cells and then presented on the surface. You have to keep these things straight if you want to understand Th1Th2.

sadmar,

C’mon, Doc, Slippery Slope arguments are textbook logical fallacies.

Except that’s no slippery slope; that’s taking things to their “logical” conclusion. For example, saying germ theory denialism leads to AIDS denialism is not a slippery slope argument, since one follows directly from the other.

Augustine, you’re missing the point on public health – it’s all about the lowest common denominator. One Augustine to not was his hands, one Th1Th2 to crap into the pool, one Jen to cough into everyone’s face, and the germs march on. But we know the idea of “common good” is as alien to you as germ theory.

@augustine

I also love your bottom of the barrel scum bucket view you have of people from your public health perch… There all diseased little pigs to you. So treat em all like pigs.

Dude. 26.8% of American women have HPV. That’s one person in four. HPV serotypes 16 and 18 together account for 70% of cervical cancer. (US National Cancer Institute data http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/causes/hpv) Cervical cancer is one of the biggest killers of young women, up there somewhere behind car accidents.

People with HPV are not the “lowest common denominator” and a “healthy lifestyle” will not help. Break-ups are indeed an innocent fact of adult life. And the virus is widely prevalent enough that that alone is enough to keep it around in high numbers in our inevitably serially-monogamous population.

So yes, vaccinate everyone for it. Nobody goes looking for that STI, and it’s so prevalent that absolutely anyone could get it.*

From Orac’s post:

Righteous living triumphs!

Attitude in evidence. And so false.

*Yes, I’m aware most people opposed to the HPV vaccine live under the illusion that they or their kids will immediately marry for life and never ever change partners or have a partner with any history, but the data says that’s as unlikely a fantasy as that we’ll all win the lottery some day and live in a flying castle made of candy corn.

Augustine, you’re missing the point on public health – it’s all about the lowest common denominator

No. I understand completely the philosophy of public health individuals. I understand that public health (currently) is committed to the masses and not necessarily any individuals health. For some individuals their recommendations are uneccessary and for some they are downright dangerous and deadly. It’s just a numbers and public relations game.

I guess you must believe in some sort of merit system that says if I help more than I hurt then I must be a good person.

Guess what? I’m not the lowest common denominator! Public Health’s media strategy is to convince everyone that they are.

Remember, as long as it doesn’t actually kill Augie the Idiot himself, it’s completely irrelevant and nobody should care at all.

Augustine I’m pretty sure that there are many criteria for which you are the lowest common denominator.

Augie, this bugs me for a reason.

Guess what? I’m not the lowest common denominator!

Neither was my 2nd year University flatmate’s fiancee, and she died of cervical cancer. She cught HPV from my flatmate, who caught it from an ex girlfriend. Neither of them were the bottom of the barrel in any sense.

And still she died.

Good luck out there with the infectious diseases roulette game, Augie. We never know what statistic we will be until our number’s up.

Scott Cunningham

Neither was my 2nd year University flatmate’s fiancee, and she died of cervical cancer. She cught HPV from my flatmate, who caught it from an ex girlfriend. Neither of them were the bottom of the barrel in any sense.

Why didn’t the ex-girlfriend also die from cervical cancer. Has your flatmate also died from anal cancer and penile cancer? Did your flatmate’s mate smoke or take contraceptives? Was she malnourished? Did she have multiple sex partnersa? What was her fasting glucose? Did her mother take DES?

The scienceblog standard has been set. NO ANECDOTES!

No Augie, public health is not all about the numbers; a very large portion of professional activities have to do with investigating individual cases of infectious diseases, providing education and prophylaxis to contacts, consulting with treating physicians and educating the public. Sometimes we have patients with sexually transmitted diseases and they are NOT the lowest common denominator. That was the best part of my job because I was dealing with real people on a one-to-basis.

The worst part of my job was dealing with ignorant miscreant Luddites.

I don’t know, but such people also tend to write introductory paragraphs like this…

Another dead giveaway is Mr. Fassa’s use of the grave accent (`) in place of the apostrophe. Apparently he’s also rallying against the linguistic mafia matrix?

Well, my bad on the viruses. I was under the impression that the epidemiology of influenza is different enough from smallpox or polio to allow some room for discussion.
I was not ‘defending’ Maher in any absolute sense. I said “I do wonder if you’re being a _little_ too hard on Maher.” Note the qualifying verb ‘wonder’ and the emphasis on ‘little.’
Again, the responses fail to address my central points: as a comedian Maher exaggerates everything and his audience understands that; he offer no false hopes; on the contrary his Casandra-ish attitude is anathema to the woo mindset. I did listen to the Frist/Maher podcast and Maher did not assert anything like ‘vaccines don’t work against viruses.’ His assertion, rather is “I do not trust the assurances by the authorities that the health benefits of this particular vaccine outweigh it’s potential risks.’ Again, he may be wrong, but you are reducing his position to a cartoon (or a Straw Man as we say in rhetoric).
And the poster with the gibberish handle ought to review the ‘slippery slope’. First, just because you assert something is a ‘logical’ conclusion, doesn’t mean it is. Show your work, as my math teacher used to say. As it happens, your example IS a valid deduction:

Bob denies ‘germ theory’ in toto.
AIDs is spread by a virus passed via human contact.
The proven facts of AIDS transmission fall into the category of ‘germ theory.’
Bob will deny how AIDS is spread.

The problem is that valid deductions are not Slippery Slopes, and your example is not analogous to what Orac asserted. You’ve basically just claimed that “All men are Socrates.”

Bob believes flu vaccines don’t work.
Germ theory deniers believe flu vaccines don’t work.
Bob is a germ theory denier.

Bill uses the phrase ‘aggregate toxicity’ on a comedy program.
Quacks use the phrase aggregate toxicity in their propaganda.
Quacks propose colon flushes as cures for aggregate toxicity.
Bill will propose colon flushes as a cure for aggregate toxicity.

Er, no, and… no.
People who can’t parse a basic syllogism might want to be careful about calling other people ignorant.

Sadmar:

People are responding to the part of Maher’s presentation that you quoted. If this is misleading, whose fault is that?

In terms of syllogisms, you are asserting that Socrates was not mortal, or maybe that he wasn’t a man. The actual syllogism here is

Germ theory deniers deny that germs cause disease.
AIDS is a disease.
Therefore, germ theory deniers deny that germs cause AIDS.

Great post, I learnt a lot from it – in particular it filled in some holes in the anti-vaccine arguments that I keep encountering (or more specifically, revealed the holes). I always learn a lot from the comments too. Even the trolls amuse me, but only because of the replies they get – both serious and piss-taking – from the more-informed (and sane) commenters.

Great post, I learnt a lot from it – in particular it filled in some holes in the anti-vaccine arguments that I keep encountering (or more specifically, revealed the holes). I always learn a lot from the comments too. Even the trolls amuse me, but only because of the replies they get – both serious and piss-taking – from the more-informed (and sane) commenters.

Great post, I learnt a lot from it – in particular it filled in some holes in the anti-vaccine arguments that I keep encountering (or more specifically, revealed the holes). I always learn a lot from the comments too. Even the trolls amuse me, but only because of the replies they get – both serious and piss-taking – from the more-informed (and sane) commenters.

Great post, I learnt a lot from it – in particular it filled in some holes in the anti-vaccine arguments that I keep encountering (or more specifically, revealed the holes). I always learn a lot from the comments too. Even the trolls amuse me, but only because of the replies they get – both serious and piss-taking – from the more-informed (and sane) commenters.

Great post, I learnt a lot from it – in particular it filled in some holes in the anti-vaccine arguments that I keep encountering (or more specifically, revealed the holes). I always learn a lot from the comments too. Even the trolls amuse me, but only because of the replies they get – both serious and piss-taking – from the more-informed (and sane) commenters.

If all or most people got liver failure, liver cancer, or cervical cancer then you’d have a better argument for your philosophical approach. But fortunately most people don’t get those things.

As ever, augustine has no least idea of the fundamentals of probability, causation, or risk.

You mean a you put a bunch of vaccinated, ear infected, antibiotic taking, low activity, anti-depressant, anxiety pill popping, Mcdonald’s eaters in the room?

To quote the great actor and first-rate drag queen (when in character, of course), Tim Curry, in the movie adaptation of the board game “Clue”: No.

I mean just throwing you in there. Your ability to troll like it’s your meal ticket should make anyone sick.

Augie,

Why didn’t the ex-girlfriend also die from cervical cancer.

70% of cervical cancers are caused by HPV but not everyone with the virus gets the cancer. Only people with a genetic predisposition to develop the cancer if infected with the virus.

Has your flatmate also died from anal cancer and penile cancer?

See above, and note that while those cancers are possible following infection, they aren’t as common.

Did your flatmate’s mate smoke or take contraceptives? Was she malnourished? Did she have multiple sex partnersa? What was her fasting glucose? Did her mother take DES?

You’re fishing for lifestyle causes so you can assure yourself you can ask not for whom the bell tolls, because it won’t be you. No, yes (hormone contraceptive pill), no, no, normal, no.

And very classy of you to blame the victim.

The scienceblog standard has been set. No anecdotes![capslock removed]

So follow the web address back to the source of the 26.8% incidence statistic I quoted earlier, from the US National Cancer Institute at http://www.cancer.gov/cancertopics/causes/hpv and look up HPV incidence, or anything else you want. Or search the internet for any other government health agency you wish.

I used an anecdote only to illustrate that diseases do not discriminate, not to establish cause and effect in place of an RCT. Righteous living does not triumph.

Has anyone explained why these wonderful pleomorphic cellular by-products are no longer manifesting as smallpox virions?

obscure dada-rocker Tonio K.
I rate for “Life in the Food Chain”.

Rene

I mean just throwing you in there.

My reference was to the microbial nightmares.

For today, I am defining ‘infection’ as a green-handled salad fork. I trust Th1Th2 will use the word appropriately.

Scott Cunningham

Dude. 26.8% of American women have HPV.

And 95% of HPV infections clear on their own.

Only people with a genetic predisposition to develop the cancer if infected with the virus.

The medical “g” word. In essence it means you don’t know but “I’ll say something that sounds like I know”. And to expose your ignorance I invite you to tell us what this single gene is and when was it identified? How many with cervical cancer have this gene? How many without cervical cancer have this gene?

Answer: “Uh, er, I don’t know. It’s genetic don’t you get that. It’s genetic. You’re just too stupid to understand. All you people who are opposed to this wonderfully unproven cancer vaccine are just too stupid!”

HPV became the virus dejour because Merck came out with the vaccine dejour.

Augie the Moron thinks that “genetic” means only single-gene effects.

It’s better than the movies…

Mephistopheles O’Brien:

@Th1Th2 – you have so completely mis-characterized the discussions you’ve had with folks way more knowledgeable than I am on the topic of whether an immunization is necessarily an infection that it’s clearly willful. You choose not to discuss the topic honestly.

Remember, Th1Th2 lives in its own reality. One where toddlers never fall and stay on sidewalks, and words mean whatever it wants them to mean. Do try to ignore it.

Speaking of microbes, Vincent Racaniello is up to producing three separate podcasts. There is one dedicated to virology, another to parasites and the newest is “This Week in Microbiology.” It is a great way to absorb information on all sorts of germs. Even though much of it is over my head, they people he gets together have good conversations and I do learn stuff (usually when I doing mundane stuff like commuting, dishes, gardening, etc). All three are available at his blog: http://www.virology.ws/

Time to leave the library (where scienceblogs has been restored). I have been able to see the blog with anonymouse, but I’m not confortable commenting (plus the ads are a bit annoying). I will be re-emailing my home IP address from home. Bye for a while.

Sometimes we have patients with sexually transmitted diseases and they are NOT the lowest common denominator.

Sometimes? How nice of you. Do you mean their daddy has a good job? or they don’t have multiple sex partners? Or they aren’t IV drug users? etc.,

I doubt people who pursue health are pursuing your public health nursing services. Nor would you be qualified.

The worst part of my job (health care worker) was dealing with ignorant miscreant Luddite.

When you see the worst in man then it’s hard to not develop a confirming gevernmental philosophy that is condescending and paternal.

I heard from a Quack apologist who told me disease was caused by a persons PH level. If a person takes in food or other substances that are too high in acidity, then that gives bacteria and disease perfect environment to spontaneously generate.

I might also note that this same person had a lack of basic science knowledge as far as evolution was concerned. He explained evolution to me as if he was reading directly from Jean Baptiste Lamark.

He thought I was crazy when as I explained gene mutation and variation. He also thinks the FDA, Big Pharma, Mcdonalds, and the corn industry are in collusion with each other to keep us sick.

He would fit right into the augustine and Th1th2 crowd. Lack of basic scientific knowledge is the key to the delusion.

I also love your bottom of the barrel scum bucket view you have of people from your public health perch. […]

There all diseased little pigs to you. So treat em all like pigs.

Can this comment really be from the same person who earlier wrote this?

You mean a you put a bunch of vaccinated, ear infected, antibiotic taking, low activity, anti-depressant, anxiety pill popping, Mcdonald’s eaters in the room?

Surely someone is nym-stealing. Shame, shame.

Augie the Moron thinks that “genetic” means only single-gene effects.

Ok, beamup, Name the multiple genes that are involved. How often is this pattern found in cervical cancer? How many people with cervical cancer do not have this pattern? How many without cervical cancer have it?

Beamup: “Uhh, I don’t know! It’s genetic damnit”

sadmar,

The problem is that valid deductions are not Slippery Slopes, and your example is not analogous to what Orac asserted. You’ve basically just claimed that “All men are Socrates.”

What the hell? I know that valid deductions aren’t a slippery slope argument; that was my whole point. Also, it’s bad form to quote from an ancient post without at least giving a link. So here’s how I see Orac’s thinking:

Bill believes that “aggregate toxicity” is the sole cause of sickness
Bill doesn’t want to get sick (this is asssumed, yes)
Chelation therapy, colon flushes, et al. are the purported “cures” for aggregate toxicity
Bill will use/support chelation therapy, colon flushes, or another treatment that purports to cure aggregate toxicity.

There is no legit medical treatment for unspecified “aggregate toxicity.” There is only woo.

And finally,

People who can’t parse a basic syllogism might want to be careful about calling other people ignorant.

I can parse syllogisms well enough (though it has been a while), and I never called you ignorant.

@ Beamup: Way better than the movies!

Poor Augie, he still thinks that Hepatitis B is transmitted only by having unprotected sex or sharing dirty needles and that people should be penalized and treatment withheld because or his narrow-minded criteria.

Ok, beamup, Name the multiple genes that are involved.

I do not see a specific gene pattern in the research I found, however having a family member with cervical cancer increases the risk of a woman developing it by a power of two or three.

How often is this pattern found in cervical cancer? How many people with cervical cancer do not have this pattern?

For the second, probably most of them, as the familial inheritance pattern doesn’t appear to dominate cases of cervical cancer. For the first? Unless most patients get screened for some sort of genetic pattern, there’s no way to tell.

And 95% of HPV infections clear on their own.

And the five percent that don’t can just go rot, right auggie?

When you see the worst in man then it’s hard to not develop a confirming gevernmental philosophy that is condescending and paternal.

Yeah auggie, your posts have that effect on me too.

a bunch of vaccinated, ear infected, antibiotic taking, low activity, anti-depressant, anxiety pill popping, Mcdonald’s eaters

When you see the worst in man then it’s hard to not develop a confirming gevernmental philosophy that is condescending and paternal.

Repeated, out of a love of irony.

Glad to see we can add genetics to the list of things augustine is too stupid to understand.

Ol nurselady

Poor Augie, he still thinks that Hepatitis B is transmitted only by having unprotected sex or sharing dirty needles

Poor ol nurse lady thinks every woman giving birth is a sexually transmitting Hep B vector and if not then her offspring will surely become a prostitute of IV drug user?

Therfore her rationale is to vaccinate everyone. Cause you just never know!

JohnV

Glad to see we can add genetics to the list of things augustine is too stupid to understand.

Oh, I see JohnV would like to back up this statement!

Only people with a genetic predisposition to develop the cancer if infected with the virus.

I didn’t think so!

scott: “I heard from a Quack apologist who told me disease was caused by a persons PH level. If a person takes in food or other substances that are too high in acidity, then that gives bacteria and disease perfect environment to spontaneously generate.”

Acid-base nuttiness is one of the founding principles of Woo. A whole bunch of diseases (not just infectious) are supposedly explained by improper bodily acidity, which you too can correct at home via diet and/or supplements. Orac had a good article awhile back debunking these ideas and explaining the body’s rigorously regulated acid-base homeostasis. Search the topic online and you’ll find scads of idiotic claims on the subject, not surprisingly including NaturalNews.

“It now turns out that we have a better shot at long-term health if our body’s pH is neutral or slightly alkaline.”

Actually, if your body’s pH is neutral instead of the normal 7.35-7.45 range for any length of time, you have a reasonable shot at death.

But at least the bad germs won’t get you then, assuming you believe germs are anything to worry about.

#16 Can we take it as read that even though Orac didn’t mention them, there are other things besides germs that cause some diseases or things that could reasonably look like diseases?

Since this post isn’t about those other things, I’m guessing that’s why Orac doesn’t mention them…

JohnV @65

Glad to see we can add genetics to the list of things augustine is too stupid to understand.

I think a much shorter list would be the things augustine is capable of understanding.

#16 Can we take it as read that even though Orac didn’t mention them, there are other things besides germs that cause some diseases or things that could reasonably look like diseases?

Since this post isn’t about those other things, I’m guessing that’s why Orac doesn’t mention them…

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