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Antonietta Gatti and Stefano Montanari: A strange antivaccine conspiracy theory from Italy

A year ago, I wrote about some bad science from Italy from Stefano Montanari and Antonietta Gatti, in which an electron microscope was used and abused to claim that vaccines are contaminated with horrific “nanoparticles.” A year later, Gatti and Montanari’s homes, labs, and offices were raided and their computers seized in an investigation. Not surprisingly, the antivaccine movement has spun a conspiracy theory out of the raid. The real explanation is likely to be much less sinister.

About a year ago, I wrote about yet another bit of bad science promoted by the antivaccine movement. Basically, it was a study by two Italian scientists, Antonietta Gatti and Stefano Montanari, published in the International Journal of Vaccines and Vaccination entitled New Quality-Control Investigations on Vaccines: Micro- and Nanocontamination. As I described at the time, it’s a study that misused electron microscopy and purported to find all sorts of horrific particulate contaminants in vaccines, but in reality, thanks to lax controls and poor overall experimental design, showed nothing of the sort.

Because the study came out of Italy, and virtually all the news about the story, other than that promoted by American antivaxers, came from Italian language sources, I had some difficulty writing much more about this study. It was, however, pretty amusing when one of the investigators, Stefano Montanari, was not happy with me—oh, no, not at all. Indeed, he attacked me, and I, as is my wont, responded with a dose of not-so-Respectful Insolence that was only mildly constrained by my inability to speak and write Italian and necessity to rely on the awkward English produced by Google Translate to understand what he was saying. In my response, I also took note of—shall we say?—additional scientific shortcomings in the paper that had somehow escaped my notice. Basically, The paper by Gatti and Montanari was yet another example of the alternative medicine trope that tries to blame nanoparticles as The One True Cause Of Disease.

In any event, that was over a year ago (how time flies when you’re having fun!), and I thought nothing more of Gatti and Montanari until I noted in passing that antivaccine quack James Lyons-Weiler’s “Institute for Pure and Applied Knowledge” (IPAK) had recently invited them to submit a proposal to investigate where the microcontaminant nanoparticles found in vaccines go in the normal developing mouse. Other than that, I had mostly forgotten about the story.

During the time a one to two weeks ago, while I was buried in preparing to submit a grant and actually shut down the blog for a few days, I noticed a rumbling in the antivaccine blogosphere. I filed it away for later use, but somehow never got back to it again; that is, at least until I accidentally happened across a post on the antivaccine crank blog and otherwise wretched hive of scum and quackery, Age of Autism by John Stone, one of the most conspiracy mongering of the conspiracy mongers there, entitled Computers and Records Seized of Dr Gatti and Dr Montanari. It referenced a Facebook post by the anti-Gardasil antivax group SaneVax (whom I’ve discussed several times before):

Stone continues:

The website of vacciniinforma.it reproduces the facebook page of Dr Montanari with the comment “FINANCIAL GUARD VISIT THE LABORATORY OF DRS GATTI AND MONTANARI, MEDICINE IS OBSTRUCTED AS USUAL”.

No one, of course, challenges the pharmaceutical industry in order to make money but the cozy relationship of the industry to the Italian government is well documented, and this will be a contentious event in the forthcoming Italian national election.

A groundbreaking study “New Quality-Control Investigations on Vaccines: Micro and Nanocontamination” by Gatti and Montenari was published in the International Journal of Vaccines and Vaccination early last year:

I can’t help but note that the original study that I discussed a year ago was briefly removed from the journal website, leading to a flurry of antivaccine conspiracy theories, but it’s still there.

So what happened?

A little history is in order, and I admit to having some difficulty putting together exactly what happened, because, again, pretty much every source that isn’t an American antivaccine website or blog is an Italian language source. I noted a year ago that Gatti and Montanari have their very own electron microscope. Apparently in 2006, the University of Modena stopped them from using its electron microscope to study “toxic emissions.” So, via his blog, Beppo Grillo (yes, that very same Beppo Grillo who founded the Italian political party Five Star Movement that did so well in elections last week), launched a fundraising effort for the purchase of an environmental scanning microscope. Ultimately €378,000 was raised to purchase the microscope. I also noted that somehow this all went bad, with Montanari featuring a drawing of Grillo as literally a werewolf. However, more recent posts on Montanari’s blog seems to indicate some sort of reconciliation, as Montanari has been praising Grillo and the Five Star Movement, and the URL to the blog post showing Grillo as a werewolf now redirects to a post saying he supports “all the local lists of Beppe Grillo.”

The Five Star Movement, in case you don’t know, is quite a crank movement, full of antivaccine views and HIV/AIDS denialism, all in addition to its anti-immigrant right wing views. Paolo Vanoli, whom I’ve discussed before has claimed that vaccines can cause homosexuality and is a member of the Five Star Movement. It’s thus not at all surprising that Montanari and Gatti would be supportive of such a political party, given that they aren’t without a bit of crank tendencies themselves. For instance, they’ve co-authored a book called Vaccini: sì o no? (Vaccines: Yes or No?) In all my years in the biz, I know right away that any book that even asks this question in the title will be full of antivaccine misinformation, and I wasn’t wrong here.

On the other hand, in this interview, Montanari says he’s happy that the Five Star Movement did so well in the most recent elections, he’s not happy with Grillo:

No party has damaged me and, damaging me, Italy more than the grillini, and their hypocrisy was for years grotesquely obvious to those who did not feel like closing eyes, ears and brain. To their holy man we owe the subtraction of the microscope with a lot of enormous obstacles to the research of which, then, those claim results. To them we owe the closure of the non-profit organization that should have spread the results of our research. We owe them the mud avalanches I received.

But he’s hopeful:

Now that they’ve grown up, I’m sure they will repair the evil they’ve done. Those who parade following the flags of honesty, fairness, the good of the citizens and anything else that is laudable can not but be honest, correct and far from the good of the citizens. So, instead of continuing to tell folly, to escape by escaping every confrontation and to play with money, whether or not they actually returned that money, in one fell swoop they will buy the microscope that Grillo let take away and provide the means to keep it. Nothing would be enough.

So apparently, there was some sort of falling out that led the loss of his microscope.

Then, on February 22, there was this on the Facebook page of Gatti and Montanari’s :

Translation:

Another attack on the truth!

This morning from 8:30 pm the finance guard is searching Dr.’s apartment, Stefano Montanari and Dr. Antoinette Gatti. Then the nanodiagnostics lab will be searched, where all computers and documents in possession will be seized.
Therefore, at the moment, Montanari and Gatti are forced to suspend all activities related to their studies, including conferences, advice and analysis, and to refer on the date to be defined.

Please share this message to bring up this unexpected anyone who may be interested. Thanks.

Elsewhere:

It was about 8:30 when four financiers showed up at my house showing a document from the Reggio Emilia Public Prosecutor’s Office saying that in my charge there is a scam investigation still related to the electron microscope that we have not had available for a long time . My wife was not there, she was in Sardinia, where, at the Court of Lanusei, she had deposed about the seizure of the poligono di Quirra, each other for which we performed analysis and testing. The financiers have inspected every inch of the house, even looked in the cellar and in the refrigerator, then inside the car.

They took two computers away. In the meantime, other financiers had gone to the laboratory, where all the computers and all the documentation and data we had on all the analyzes and studies in progress and carried out, including computer copies, were seized. So, now, we have nothing left. How will my wife show the data to the Court of Lanusei where she should return? How will I carry on the teaching I have in Geneva with nothing more than my documentation? I even had to cancel conferences that I had planned because I do not even own one of our data anymore. Naturally we will send our legal representative to ask for the release of all the material. The accusations are absurd and we will challenge them, as already done on other occasions and locations, proving that we have not committed any crime.At this point it is questionable: how much our work bothers and to whom?

My first thought about this incident, oddly enough, was: Why didn’t they have copies of their data and documents in the cloud? I’m downright paranoid about my data. I have copies on my work computer. I have copies on the cancer center servers. I have copies on my personal computer, in the cloud, and on a portable hard drive. They’re in different locations. Offsite backups, they’re your friend.

Leaving that aside, what’s going on? Reports from news sites, rather than those associated with Montanari or antivaccine groups, are very vague. For instance, this news report notes:

The Emilian scientist is suspected of fraud: the investigation was born from the complaint of a non-profit organization claiming possession of a microscope purchased through a subscription and then entrusted to Dr. Gatti.

Elsewhere, there’s lots of conspiracy mongering among antivaxers about how this seizure was supposedly about Gatti and Montanari’s research into nanoparticles in vaccines and big pharma trying to “suppress” it, in reality the reason for the raid seems a lot more prosaic:

The scientist is investigated for fraud, with the investigation that revolves around the complaint of a non-profit organization on a microscope purchased with a popular subscription started by the blog of Beppe Grillo, entrusted to Gatti for his research and then donated by the non-profit organization Faenza. The non-profit organization accuses the professor of having used the tool for profit and not for scientific research, but there is a court ruling that authorizes Gatti and Montanari to be able to use the instrument and to be compensated for travel expenses. “Money that they never gave us,” explains the doctor, claiming she is not antivaccine and claims the anomaly of the times.

It sounds to me as though the microscope purchased by Grillo’s funds was donated to the nonprofit with some agreement that allows Gatti and Montanari to use it, but the terms of that use appear to be at the basis of the dispute. Again, it’s really hard to say in the absense of a more accessible account from sources that are not so obviously biased. John Stone is (of course) wildly speculating:

But it is also an unhappy coincidence that the former Italian health minister, Beatrice Lorenzin, put herself forward in the recent Italian election as a candidate for Alternativa Popolare party in Gatti and Montanari’s home city of Modena, and has now been elected there. Lorenzin will be familiar to Age of Autism readers as the instigator under the Renzi government of Italy’s vaccine mandates following a deal with GSK.

Because, of course, it can’t possibly be just an issue of whether Gatti and Montanari broke the law or somehow committed fraud in their use of the microscope that was purchased using funds raised by Beppe Grillo. It has to be big pharma, through its government lackeys, “persecuting” a couple of Brave Maverick Scientists who have found that Vaccines Are Contaminated. (Never mind how bad their science purporting to show this is.) Their conspiracy mongering is vastly helped by the fact that this appears to be little more than a fairly local Italian story that hasn’t gotten much play outside of a relatively small area of Italy, with the resultant lack of English language sources. This allows conspiracy mongering cranks like John Stone to paint the narrative in any way he wishes, with little likelihood that he’ll be contradicted. I expect that antivaxers will flog this story for as long as they can, but that when the investigation is included, whatever charges are brought will not be due to the Italian government trying to shut Montanari and Gatti up. They will likely be very much more mundane. Whatever happens, though, you can be sure that antivaxers will milk it for all its worth, as Montanari is already trying to do with a fundraising campaign to purchase a new microscope and mentioning in every blog post that he writes that he’s using someone else’s computer because his is in the custody of the authorities.

In the meantime, if I have any readers in Italy, fill me in. What have I missed? What is going on, as far as you can ascertain?

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]

47 replies on “Antonietta Gatti and Stefano Montanari: A strange antivaccine conspiracy theory from Italy”

From fake PhDs to misterious girls/spies following Montanari around… There is no way I can update you in any reasonable amount of time. The LOLs are just… Overwhelming.

Funfact number 1

Let’s start from the PhD. This is the italian CV of Antonietta Gatti, updated in 2013:

https://consultambientepsg.files.wordpress.com/2017/02/c-v-2013-antonietta-morena-gatti.pdf

while this is the European CV of Antonietta Gatti:

http://ec.europa.eu/health/ph_risk/committees/scmp/documents/cv_gatti_en.pdf

you can probably notice that something is off from the start, she calls herself “Doctor in Experimental Phisics at the University of Bologna”, while speaking about her Master Degree. Before you start with your conjectures, let me just say this is a funny (and totally wrong) translation of the italian word “dottore”, that can be used to address anyone that has a degree. Of course this is just a little clue of her lack of knowledge about English language. But I can’t blame her, my English is also quite bad. Yes, you can blame. Please do. Serve yourselves.

But the best part is the PhD: PhD schools in Italy opened in 1980, while she claims that she received her PhD in 1976. Again, if you compare the Italian and English PhD, you can understand that she converted her:

“diploma di specialita’ in Tecnologie Biomediche (Bioingegneria) (durata del corso 3 anni dopo la laurea) all’ Università di Bologna.”

in:

“Ph.D. in Biomedical Technologies (Bioengeneering) at the Faculty of Medicine of the University of Bologna – Italy”

but as you can easily check online, the “Diploma di Specialità” (“Diploma di Specializzazione” is the correct name, actually) is a post graduation title for specialists, not a PhD (you can check the official webpage: http://www.istruzione.it/urp/corsi_tit_acc_italiani_universita.shtml) . As you can easily check calling the University of Bologna (I did), it is impossible and wrong to convert a “Diploma di Specialità” into a PhD, they are on a different level and this conversion has never been authorized by anyone.

Now you can have some fun by yourself, searching for her patent, “Ecovetro, material to detect phosphorus and calcium ion in
urban waste polluted waters”.

My first thought about this incident, oddly enough, was: Why didn’t they have copies of their data and documents in the cloud?

I work in IT. Years ago, one of my then superiors told me “back up your data in at least two places, and preferably five”. I think five is too many, but you are absolutely correct about backing everything up. You can never tell when a computer will be stolen, or fail.

When I was in grad school one of my fellow students kept a copy in a high security safe on a military base–of course he was a Lt. Colonel.

My IT person told me that my EHR (electronics health record) data had to have secure off site backup, which I did.

Is there a similar requirement if one receives government funding for research (such as NIH, NIMH, etc)? (not that this would be the same in Italy.

Could this claim of “data loss” be the equivalent of “the dog ate my homework”, as an excuse not to have the data they claim?

It’s plain to see that the use of the electron microscope has provided a new perspective to “clean vaccines”, but, in the absence of a disease inducing mechanism-of-action from these infinitesimal particulate it’s impossible to see the forest from the trees.

In simplicity, “seeing is believing” is an unreliable perspective in vaccine safety research.

If Grillo was part of the non-profit or connected to it, the complaints about him might be as a result of the lead up to the raid?

And I wonder what Mr. Stone will say if the Five Star Movement ends up as the government and the proceedings continue (looks like coalition negotiations are still in the air). It will be a dilemma.

Indeed. Five Star won the most seats in Parliament, IIRC around 34%. However the governing coalition forms, it will have huge influence.

I lived in Italy for years and once I looked into popularity of M5S and it’s fringe agendas, I wasn’t surprised. The amount of quacky theories that many Italians hold on to fosters a perfect climate for the antivax movement. Heard of the colpo d’aria? It’s only the root of all illness! It’s pretty much exposer to cold air without wearing a scarf and leads to the terrible ‘cervicale’ (cold vertebrae?). And a personal favourite, which baffled this Canadian when I would see Italians in down puffers on a hot spring day: an old wives tale that you will get sick if you don’t wear a jacket in every month that contains the letter ‘r’. No matter the temperature, if there is an ‘r’, watch out!

If John Stone is so frightened by nanoparticles, he is in DEEP DOODOO as I would be willing to bet that just about everything in this real world, not his world of black and white, can be found to have nanoparticles, e.g. medicines, vitamin pills, food, water, from air and soil into us through skin abrasions, etc. One last point, water safety measured by particles of fecal coliform, minute amounts of, excuse my French, shit. The Nirvana Fallacy is alive and well, at least, among antivaccinationists.

You forgot to mention that such nano particles, which are foreign bodies by law cannot be in a injectable fluids.

Citation needed. Cite the law that prohibits nanoparticles from being in injectable fluids.
And “foreign bodies”? Everything we eat and every medicine that is intravenously, intramuscularly, or intradermally injected is a foreign body.

In another related AoA thread I asked John Stone if he was really claiming Lorenzin was behind the whole thing but he didn’t post the comment. Because whenever fascists take down brave mavericks they always first announce they’re running for political office in the maverick’s home town.

As italian, I can give you two precisation:

a) Montanari himself, the day after his office was raided, changed tone. He clearly stated that the investigation “has nothing to do with the study on vaccines or nanoparticles”. See the EDIT of this article: https://www.nextquotidiano.it/la-guardia-finanza-nel-laboratorio-antonietta-gatti-stefano-montanari/

b) Paolo Vanoli is not a member of Movement 5 stars. He was barely a “supporter”, involved in some online activity but nothing more. Nevertheless in the party there are plenty of antivaxxer.

“Following what I said in the moments immediately following the search, when I was in an understandable state of agitation and great emotional stress, and apologizing if such statements of mine appeared disrespectful or generative of misunderstandings, precise that the facts for which my wife and I are currently subjected to investigations by the Public Prosecutor at the Court of Reggio Emilia do not relate, as far as we know, nor the scientific merit of research on nanopathologies that for many years we lead with dedication and commitment, much less the popular fundraising that we recently launched for the purchase of an electron microscope.
We have full confidence in the work of the judiciary and we are sure that we will demonstrate our extraneousness to the facts assumed against us.”

https://1.bp.blogspot.com/-7lguKRq2jXo/WppWspL2JyI/AAAAAAAAXYM/BlsoMoO5Ie4aK-5GRHBvdVR3Ltw56DcLACLcBGAs/s1600/stefano-montanari.jpg

I suspect part of the conspiracy mongering comes down to not understanding, or possibly not caring, that Italian law is significantly different from US law. IANAL in either country, but I am aware that in some countries (I do not know whether Italy is among them) it is common for contract disputes to escalate into criminal matters. The involvement of the regional prosecutor’s office and the financial police implies one of two things: (1) that Italy is indeed among the countries where the line between contract disputes and criminal matters is thin or blurry, or (2) that this really is more than a simple contract dispute. (These options are not mutually exclusive.) As I have said, I do not know enough about Italian law to distinguish between the two options.

The initial media reports mentioned a complaint from a cancer patient as the trigger for the fraud investigation.
https://scontent-mxp1-1.xx.fbcdn.net/v/t1.0-9/28167936_10156170400424324_203366894688295508_n.jpg?oh=a3836ef66bbf8b87803a56f816b36d15&oe=5B0A9212

One underlying bone of contention is that the microscope in question (the replacement one) was bought to allow Gatti & Montanari to continue with their research, and instead they use it for their private “Nanodiagnotics” company. Among other services, they examine samples of cancer tissue and find the carcinogenic nanoparticles that caused the tumor. The patient here was purportedly one of their customers.

Hi, Orac,
your article is practically correct. Montanari he’s a strange guy, aggressive and polemic, actually he’s looking for money and fame. But I invite you to read the page in which he says what it takes to invite him to talk in a conference. Is in Italian but try to translate, it’s very funny!.
I will only translate a sentence:

“Please do not let me eat pizza (a nuisance that is not eradicable in Italy) because it makes me thirsty and talking for hours becomes tiring.” http://www.stefanomontanari.net/conferenze-e-consulenze/

Bye!

Hello, I live in Modena. I am willing to help you to get any Italian translated and any local insight details you may need explained. I didn’t know about those two, but Italian is my mother tongue and I was born here, so I can get you covered should you need help.

Cecelia- Re. the words “financial guard,” and “financials,” and “financiers:” do these words mean something to do with the tax authorities or tax department? In the US, the word “revenuers” (sometimes deliberately mis-spelled as “revenooers”) is used as derogatory or disparaging slang for agents of the Internal Revenue Service. That is our national department that is responsible for collecting federal income tax, corporation tax, etc. They have authority to charge major tax violations as crimes, and use police powers to seize evidence, and bring accused persons to trial in court.

What I’m thinking is: These quacks ran afoul (ha ha) (US English pun: ducks are a type of fowl, a category of birds that also includes chickens and geese) of Italian tax law, and they are being charged with tax-related crimes. One possible type of crime would be the use of a non-profit organization’s assets (such as the microscope) for conventional profit-earning business. Once this allegation was made, the tax authorities determined that it might be part of a crimnal conspiracy, and acted to seize evidence, and initiate legal procedings to bring the accused persons to court.

From the government’s perspective, they may be simple tax cheats. And now they are making noises about being targeted because of their views: a common tactic among criminals and cheats who refuse to take responsibility for their actions.

Montanari & Dr Gatti were involved in the “Luft” affair of 2009, as consultants / advisors. A group of monorail salesmen (unnamed “engineers from Padua”) convinced the Mayor of Rome that they could clean up the city’s air, by fitting giant vacuum-cleaners to the tops of the city buses, to pump air through nano-particle electro-filters as the buses drove around.
http://pensierosuperficiale.ilcannocchiale.it/2009/10/01/luft_a_roma_si_respira_aria_nu.html

Montanari reckoned it was a wonderful plan, and condemned the scientists who doubted its practicality: http://www.stefanomontanari.net/del-sublime/

After a brief fanfare of publicity about the magical €20,000 mobile filters, the city politicians agreed that it would be best never to speak of the episode again, and pretend it never happened.
http://www.libreidee.org/2009/10/a-roma-il-primo-autobus-che-mangia-le-nano-polveri/

The worst thing about eating pizza at a conference is not that it makes you thirsty.

During my brief and glorious academic medical career, they used to hold a weekly noon conference at which faculty and grad students would present updates on their research projects (with lots of fascinating slides). In order to encourage more people to show up, they would order in a supply of pizza.

So we’d stuff ourselves, then they’d turn the lights down, and events followed their natural course.

I tried not to snore too loudly.

Re. “events followed their natural course.” Lucky you that it only meant a room full of people snoring, rather than a methane explosion.

In the two times I’ve eaten Domino’s Pizza at business-related gatherings where it was offered, the “natural course” included a rapid trip to the WC as soon as I got home. I have no idea why it is, but Domino’s reliably causes something else that begins with a D. It used to be just plain terrible, then they did something that made it taste better… and made it rush from one end to the other to escape in a gusher. Far better to get decent local pizza.

Hello from italy.

You almost got the point: there is a legal agreement by which G&M can access the microscope located some 150miles away from their home like once a week.
In the agreement travel expenses should be refunded.

Here is the funny part: there is a video interview in which he confirms he has been sued by the owner of the microscope for fraus for having request too much refund, thus the investigation by fiscal agencgy.

So basically the search for the truth stumbled upon way too much sandwiches.

Ah, so they were padding their mileage reimbursement. Ouch, that’s definitely one way to get nailed for tax fraud (at least here in the US)

They live in Modena; gotta have to finance that Ferrari and the speeding tickets going along with it 😀

Al

I thought last years “contaminated vaccines” paper by these two researchers was poor and do not cite it. The lack of controls and inadequate methods description are fatal problems.

I think the provaccine are generaly right about this paper. Last year I urged vaccine reform activists not to cite or promote the paper but they ran with it anyway.

To the authors of this website: If this site wants to be taken seriously, I would suggest rather than attack the person, argue the research. Publish the paper on here and cite specifically what is wrong with it. Anyone up to the challenge??

Publish the paper on here and cite specifically what is wrong with it

What paper, my dude? I urge you to read the post, and work out what it’s actually about.

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