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Even in a deadly pandemic, germ theory denial persists

As hard as it is to believe, in the middle of a global pandemic that’s claimed so many lives and so thoroughly disrupted society, there are people who still deny germ theory. How can this be?

If there’s one thing that those of us who have been struggling to counter medical misinformation, quackery, and antivaccine pseudoscience frequently encounter, it’s people, particularly medical professionals and scientists, who have a hard time believing us when we describe just how unscientific, pseudoscientific, and just plain conspiracy-addled various beliefs underlying alternative medicine and antivaccine pseudoscience are. Surely, they seem to think, there’s no way anyone could actually believe that in 2021! How wrong they are! And it’s not as though such beliefs aren’t right there, in plain sight, for anyone who’s willing to take even a little time to look into various questions. Among the alternative medicine beliefs that provoke the most disbelief among my colleagues (and among educated lay people) is germ theory denial. After nearly a year of mass disruption and death caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, which has been caused by a novel coronavirus and resulted in the deaths of 350K people in the US alone (as of yesterday and still rapidly counting), there are still quacks, conspiracy theorists, and denialists who refuse to accept that the pandemic is due to a new virus that spread throughout the world because it was readily transmissible and new, meaning that the entire world was an immunologically naïve population for it. So I thought I’d discuss germ theory denial in the age of the pandemic, basically expanding on a previous post on the topic that only touched on some of the issues I want to discuss.

Although I had been alluding to germ theory denial for years before, a decade ago I wrote a post entitled “Yes, there really are people who don’t accept the germ theory of disease.”, and a couple of years earlier Harriet Hall had written a post referring to germ theory denial as a curiosity.” Unfortunately, beginning in 2020 (and undoubtedly continuing into 2021 and even beyond) germ theory denial ceased to be a “curiosity” and became a major threat to public health and efforts to slow the spread of SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, as it supports resistance to public acceptance public health interventions, ranging from masks to “lockdowns” to vaccines against COVID-19. As we enter the second year of the COVID-19 pandemic and as the new year dawns, I thought it would be useful to revisit the topic in the context of a global pandemic. One part of this post will be familiar to those who read my not-so-super-secret other blog, but some repetition is necessary to try to put all of this in context and to answer the question: How on earth can people deny germ theory in the middle of a pandemic that’s resulting in such strain on hospitals in some parts of the US that there is a very real fear that the healthcare system will break down under the load of COVID-19 patients and be unable to care for not just COVID-19 patients but patients requiring emergency medical care for other life-threatening conditions?

Germ theory versus “terrain theory” in the 19th century

The first thing we 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 in a form that resembles, “Certain diseases are caused by the invasion of the body by microorganisms”. We could argue whether viruses count as microorganisms, but for purposes of the germ theory of infectious diseases, they do. (Most biologists do not consider viruses to be true living organisms, because they consist of nothing other than genetic material wrapped in a protein coat and lack the ability to reproduce without infecting the cell of an organism.) Of course, over the more than a century and a half since Louis Pasteur first refuted the idea of spontaneous generation of life and posited the hypothesis that microbes caused many diseases, and Joseph Lister demonstrated that using carbolic acid to sterilize the surgical field greatly decreased the rate of postoperative infections, what is known as germ theory has become more complex, but at its root it’s still the same: Microbes (bacteria, viruses, parasites, etc.) cause some diseases by attacking the body.

In order for you to understand where germ theory denial came from and why it remains a potent force in alternative medicine, it’s necessary to understand a little bit of the history behind germ theory. Most of us were taught in high school and college in basic biology courses how Louis Pasteur’s observations led him to formulate what is now known as the germ theory of infectious disease. What most of us were not taught (or, if we were, only as a very brief aside) were the other hypotheses to explain infectious disease that were competing at the time with Pasteur’s hypotheses. We might, however, have been exposed to ideas that predated Pasteur regarding infectious disease.

The fascinating thing about germ theory denial is that, long before Pasteur, concepts resembling germ theory had been proposed. For example, it was written in the Atharvaveda, a sacred text of Hinduism, that there are living causative agents of disease, called the yatudhānya, the kimīdi, the kṛimi and the durṇama (see XIX.34.9). One of the earliest Western references to this latter theory appears in a treatise called On Agriculture by Marcus Terentius Varro in 36 BC. In it, there is a warning about locating a farm too close to swamps:

…and because there are bred certain minute creatures which cannot be seen by the eyes, which float in the air and enter the body through the mouth and nose and there cause serious diseases.

That certain infectious diseases are contagious and could spread from person to person or come from other sources was so obvious that various explanations of how such a thing could happen held sway over many centuries. One common idea was the miasma theory of disease, which stated that diseases such as cholera, chlamydia or the Black Death were caused by a miasma, which translates as “pollution” or “bad air”. Certainly it was a fairly trivial observation, even centuries ago, that some diseases spread through the air. It’s also long been recognized that other diseases could be spread through the water and in other ways. In any case, various ideas about how disease develops battled it out in various places over various times throughout the era of prescientific medicine. Many of these ideas involved various concepts of mystical “life energy” such as qi, whose ebbs and flows could be manipulated for therapeutic effect (as in acupuncture, for example). Other ideas involved differing concepts of “contamination”, in which miasmas or various other “poisons” somehow got into the body from the environment to cause disease. These ideas were not unreasonable in the context of their times because science did not yet exist in a form that could falsify them as hypotheses, nor had the technology yet been developed to identify microscopic causative agents of disease. Given that background, attributing some infectious diseases to “bad air” doesn’t seem so unreasonable.

The beauty of Pasteur’s work is that it provided an explanation for many diseases that encompassed the concepts of miasma and various other ideas that had preceded it. It should not be forgotten, however, that Pasteur was not the first to propose germ theory. Scientists such as Girolamo Fracastoro (who came up with the idea that fomites could harbor the seeds of contagion), Agostino Bassi (who discovered that the muscardine disease of silkworms was caused by a tiny parasitic organism, a fungus that was named Beauveria bassiana), Friedrich Henle (who developed the concepts of contagium vivum and contagium animatum), and others had proposed ideas similar to the germ theory of disease before Pasteur. Pasteur was, however, more than anyone else, the scientist who provided the evidence to show that the germ theory of disease was valid and useful and popularized the theory. Not that there were not competing ideas; for example, those of Claude Bernard and Antoine Béchamp, both of whom who postulated 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. In other words, the “terrain” was all. Bernard, for example, described the milieu intérieur, the interstitial fluids regarded as an internal environment in which the cells of the body are nourished and maintained in a state of equilibrium, which he and others also called terrain.

Béchamp’s idea, known as the pleomorphic theory of disease, stated that bacteria change form (i.e., demonstrate pleomorphism) in response to disease. In other words, they arise from tissues during disease states. Béchamp further postulated that bacteria arose from structures that he called microzymas, which to him referred to a class of enzymes, that microzymas are normally present in tissues, and that their effects depended upon the cellular terrain. Ultimately, Pasteur’s theory won out over the ideas of Bernard and Béchamp, based on evidence, but Béchamp was influential in the 19th century, and, given the science and technology of the time, his 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. (More on Koch’s postulates later.)

Besides not fitting with the scientific evidence, Béchamp’s idea had nowhere near the explanatory and predictive power that Pasteur’s theory did. On the other hand, there is a grain of truth in Béchamp’s ideas. Specifically, it is true that the condition of the “terrain” (the body) does matter when it comes to infectious disease. Debilitated people cannot resist the invasion of microorganisms as well as strong, healthy people. There is a twist, though. The “terrain” can facilitate the harmful effect of microorganisms in unexpected ways. One well-known example is how certain strains of influenza (as in 1918 and H1N1) are more virulent in the young because the young mount a more vigorous immune response against them.

Pre-pandemic (and now), the predominant form of germ theory denial appears to be a “softer” form of denial, just as the predominant form of evolution denial is not young earth creationism, but rather “intelligent design” (ID) creationism. True, there are still young earth creationists around, who state that the world is only 6,000 years old and that the creatures that exist now were put there by God in their current state, but most denialists of evolutionary theory now accept that the earth is several billion years old and that organisms do evolve. They simply deny that natural selection and other mechanisms encompassed in current evolutionary theory are sufficient to account for the complexity of life and instead postulate that there must be a “designer” guiding evolution. Similarly, there are still some die-hard germ theory denialists out there who cite Béchamp in much the same way young earth creationists cite the Bible and deny that germs have anything to do with disease whatsoever, claiming instead that microbes appear “because of the terrain” and are an indicator, rather than a cause, of disease. However, most cases of germ theory denial are of a piece with ID creationism. Like ID promoters who admit that evolution “does” happen, this variety of germ theory denialist accepts that microbes “can” cause disease, but they argue that microbes can only cause disease if the host is already diseased or debilitated. Using such claims, they argue that the “terrain” is by far the most important determinant of whether or not a person gets sick. As a result, they claim that eating the right diet, doing the right exercises, and taking the right supplements will protect you against disease as well as any vaccine — better, in fact, because supposedly you’re not injecting all those “toxins” from vaccines into your body.

A particularly silly form of germ theory denial
This is the sort of silly analogy that germ theory deniers consider compelling. Dr. Gorski can only respond: Why not both? It’s not as though we don’t have to use just one (vaccines) or the other (sanitation, better diet, etc.). Science-based medicine uses anything that science shows to be effective and safe.

In alternative medicine, this invocation of 19th century ideas is very attractive, in that Bernard and Béchamp can be invoked to justify claims such as this:

Bernard, Bechamp, and their successors, proved that germs are not the actual root cause of sickness or disease… in reality, it is a weak terrain that is the ROOT CAUSE of sickness and disease. A “weak terrain” is naturally more vulnerable to germs, so it needs to be built up through:
  • maximizing our nutritional status
  • minimizing our toxicity status, i.e. detoxification
  • maintaining a proper pH or acid/alkaline balance
  • maintaining a proper energetic/electrical balance
For this and other reasons Bechamp argued vehemently against vaccines, asserting that “The most serious disorders may be provoked by the injection of living organisms into the blood.” Untold numbers of researchers have agreed with him.

I can’t help but note that that “untold number” is very much near zero if you only include legitimate and competent scientists. I also can’t help but wonder how Béchamp could claim that injecting living organisms into the blood could provoke “the most serious disorders” even as he claimed that it was the “terrain”, not the microbes, that was responsible for disease. Also lacking from Béchamp’s ideas is how a “terrain”-based explanation of infectious disease could account for the obvious and long-observed fact that certain diseases could spread from person to person through the air, water, and fomites.

Germ theory denial even borrowed a page from conspiracy theories of all stripes, namely that of the “deathbed conversion” of the primary driver or originator of the conspiracy. In this case, there is a myth, parroted by people ranging from the antivaccine and HIV/AIDS-denying quack Kelly Brogan to Bill Maher to water fast guru Michael Klaper to functional medicine quack Dr. Mark Hyman, that Louis Pasteur “recanted” germ theory on his deathbed, reportedly saying, “Bernard avait raison. Le germe n’est rien, c’est le terrain qui est tout” (“Bernard is correct. The bacteria are nothing. The soil is everything”). In some versions of the telling, this statement is claimed to have been Pasteur’s last words right before he died, presumably because it’s a much more dramatic story that way. Guess what? As Peter Bowditch demonstrated in 2004, there is no evidence whatsoever that Pasteur ever said anything of the sort, either any time during his life or on his deathbed or as his last words. Moreover, the very first time this claim appears to have been published was in a 1976 revised edition of The Stress of Life by Hans Selye (although it might have been in the 1956 original edition). Selye, as I learned, was viewed as a pioneer in the study of how stress affects biology and susceptibility to disease and acknowledged the influence of Claude Bernard on his thinking; so it is perhaps not surprising that he might be attracted to an apocryphal story like that of Pasteur’s “deathbed conversion”. Selye’s apparent carelessness on this claim aside, right now, as I’ve said many times before, anyone who uses the myth that Louis Pasteur somehow “recanted” germ theory on his deathbed to justify ideas that lifestyle can make you virtually immune to disease has gone deep into germ theory denial, particularly if they also make claims like this one:

While Antoine Béchamp was a brilliant scientist with a remarkable mind, Louis Pasteur was very well-connected. So although the two researchers both studied disease pathology at the same point in time, it was Pateur’s connections which won him the financial backing to bring the germ theory mainstream. Pasteur’s germ theory won mainstream attention in part because of his political and financial connections, and also because his views were in-line with the science and politics of the time. Additionally, the germ theory has paved the way for incredible pharmaceutical industry profit: chemotherapy, synthetic drugs, surgical removal of body parts, and vaccines have become society’s medicines of choice due to the groundwork laid by Pasteur–all very profitable. The reason I want to revisit this moment is history is because although Pasteur’s germ theory has defined modern medicine–his theory has benefited scientific bias and insane industry profits–NOT public health.

It’s conspiracy theories all around, be they that of the “deathbed conversion” of Louis Pasteur or the claim that the only reason Pasteur’s theory ultimately won out over the ideas of Bernard and Béchamp is not because he was right but rather because his ideas were more profitable and he was politically well-connected. As I like to emphasize, science denialists always need a conspiracy theory to explain why science does not accept their preferred “alternative” ideas. Science denial is thus always rooted in conspiracy theories.

You can see where I’m going with this in the age of COVID-19 and why pandemic deniers and minimizers might be attracted to the 19th century ideas of the “terrain” being more important than the “microbe,” namely for the same reason that antivaxxers so frequently lapse into germ theory denial and invoke Béchamp and/or Bernard. (Examples include Kelly Brogan and Andrew Wakefield) After all, if SARS-CoV-2 is not the “main” cause of COVID-19 and severe illness, then all those public health interventions, such as masking, “lockdowns,” and vaccines become superfluous and unnecessary, if not actively harmful. I’ll discuss this aspect more near the end of this post. I’ll also prime you by suggesting that, even if you’ve never heard of Claude Bernard, Antoine Béchamp, or “terrain theory” before, I bet you’ve encountered these ideas being invoked by quacks, antivaxxers, antimaskers, and anti-“lockdown” activists.

Germ theory denial in the age of the pandemic: SARS-CoV-2 is an exosome, not a virus!

There has really been no serious alternative hypothesis to explain infectious disease since the late 19th century, and, if anything, the intervening century and a half since germ theory was verified has only strengthened the hold. None of this has stopped the man who is arguably the most prolific promoter of the false idea that SARS-CoV-2 isn’t real and therefore this particular coronavirus can’t be the cause COVID-19, Dr. Andrew Kaufman, a psychiatrist who has essentially become a naturopath. Jonathan Jarry has described his tactics in general, which are common to his two major claims about COVID-19, very well:

In building a bridge between an observation and a conclusion he likes, he will often use valid science to lay down a number of planks. When that bridge is almost complete, he runs out of planks and takes a leap of faith, but that leap may only be noticeable by an expert.

This is actually a common tactic among science deniers. This particular science denier, Dr. Kaufman, describes himself thusly:

I am a natural healing consultant, inventor, public speaker, forensic psychiatrist, and expert witness. I completed my psychiatric training at Duke University Medical Center after graduating from the Medical University of South Carolina, and I have a B.S. from M.I.T. in Molecular Biology. I have conducted and published original research and lectured, supervised, and mentored medical students, residents, and fellows in all psychiatric specialties. I have been qualified as an expert witness in local, state, and federal courts. I have held leadership positions in academic medicine and professional organizations. I ran a start-up company to develop a medical device I invented and patented.

He also sends up a lot of red flags, for example:

Medicamentum Authentica means “authentic medicine” in Latin. This is the standard I ascribe to when I present health information and work with clients. Since word meanings are frequently changed, even inverted, by official dictionaries, Latin provides sanctuary. Since Latin is no longer spoken, it is considered a ‘dead language.’ Thus, its meanings will never be compromised.

Be very careful whenever you see a physician or other health practitioner using words like “true” and “authentic” with respect to medicine. These words bespeak a rather concrete worldview, in which only what they promote is “true” and “authentic”. The reference to Latin as a “dead language’ whose meanings will “never be compromised” is only a cherry on the top of the sundae of woo-speak. And Kaufman is definitely a germ theory denier. As Jarry notes:

Sounding composed and knowledgeable, Kaufman repeatedly tells his viewers that viruses are not a cause of human diseases. Through watching hours and hours of video, I have seen him deny the existence of the viruses behind the common cold, polio, HIV-AIDS, viral hepatitis, chickenpox, COVID-19, and measles.

Here’s the video in which he denies that viruses cause the common cold, polio, AIDS, chickenpox, and the measles. Because it’s nearly an hour and a half long, I have to commend Jarry for having suffered through it:

So what’s Kaufman’s alternative explanation? If you’ve followed this blog any length of time, you probably already know: “toxic exposures”, “malnutrition”, or the body’s “self-renewing” process or, in the case of polio, pesticides (nope).

And here’s the video where Kaufman denies that a virus causes COVID-19:

And here are the two key slides, screenshots from the video:

The germ theory denial gets even sillier!
Wow! Who can argue that the two look similar? That must mean they are the same thing; that is, only if you ignore all the other evidence that the SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus causes COVID-19.
The stupid, it burns

This was Kaufman’s first claim, namely that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, is not a virus at all, but in fact exosomes that are removing the “toxins” that are the “real” cause of COVID-19. What are exosomes? In brief, they are small extracellular vesicles (like bubbles) that bud off from cells and can bump into and fuse with other cells. They were first discovered nearly 40 years ago:

The presence of membranous vesicles outside cells was first recognized 50 years ago, although these were originally assumed to be waste products released via shedding of the plasma membrane. The recognition of what we now call exosomes didn’t come until 1983, from studies on the loss of transferrin during the maturation of reticulocytes into erythrocytes [1]. These studies showed, by following transferrin-gold conjugates through the endocytic system, that [intraluminal vesicles] generated in [multivesicular bodies] can be released to the extracellular space through fusion with the plasma membrane [2], although it was not until 1987 that the term ‘exosome’ was coined for them [3].

Even then, however, these extracellular vesicles were largely ignored, forgotten or, again, dismissed as a means of cellular waste disposal. It is only in the past decade that interest in exosomes has exploded, with a nearly tenfold increase in publications in as many years (115 in 2006, 1010 in 2015).

This review article on exosomes published last February is an excellent overview for those with sufficient science background. Briefly, exosomes are a kind of extracellular vesicle (EV):

Exosomes are EVs with a size range of ~40 to 160 nm (average ~100 nm) in diameter with an endosomal origin. Sequential invagination of the plasma membrane ultimately results in the formation of multivesicular bodies, which can intersect with other intracellular vesicles and organelles, contributing to diversity in the constituents of exosomes. Depending on the cell of origin, EVs, including exosomes, can contain many constituents of a cell, including DNA, RNA, lipids, metabolites, and cytosolic and cell-surface proteins. The physiological purpose of generating exosomes remains largely unknown and needs investigation. One speculated role is that exosomes likely remove excess and/or unnecessary constituents from cells to maintain cellular homeostasis. Recent studies reviewed here also indicate a functional, targeted, mechanism-driven accumulation of specific cellular components in exosomes, suggesting that they have a role in regulating intercellular communication.

Confusing the issue is the observation that after replication in the cell some viruses can hijack exosome biogenesis machinery to promote their dissemination, with new virus particles “budding off” from the infected cell in exosome-like envelopes. Here is a diagram from the same review article:

Exosomes

Another wrinkle is that exosomes and lipid nanoparticles resembling exosomes have been utilized for drug delivery. Indeed, the lipid nanoparticles that encompass the mRNA used in the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna COVID-19 vaccines resemble exosomes and fuse to the cell membrane to deliver their mRNA payloads.

In any event, Kaufman claims that what is seen on electron microscopy is not a coronavirus, much less SARS-CoV-2, but rather exosomes. It does beggar the imagination that so many virologists and electron microscopy would make such a fundamental mistake, but Kaufman does seem to be arguing that. Specifically, as Frank Visser points out, his argument really is as simple as observing that the coronavirus resembles an exosome plus adding the claim that what PCR is detecting is RNA in exosomes, not the coronavirus, as his slide above states. He also cherry picks a quote by an expert to support his claim that viruses are exosomes. Here’s what Kaufman says:

I happened to look into the virology literature and actually they also think that viruses and exosomes are possibly the same thing. This is James Hildreth, a very famous researcher and academic physician in the field of virology and HIV research [lists his many other credentials] and he wrote this paper with two of his colleages [sic] there, and what he said, and I quote, “the virus is fully an exosome in every sense of the word.” Now this was just a great confirmation of what I was already thinking. I was kind of blown away when I read this in a paper. Because this was one of the last papers I looked at. To find that they have come to the same conclusion really helped validate my opinion.”

This quote occurs in an article by William A. Wells about HIV and how the virus can hijack exosomes, but is unreferenced, and Visser couldn’t find it anywhere else. On Twitter, Professor Hildreth said:

In an interview in March, Prof. Hildreth also made it very clear that he considered COVID-19 to be caused by the coronavirus that had been shown to cause it.

As Jarry put it, this is what Kaufman’s claim that SARS-CoV-2 is not a virus but rather an exosome is really doing:

Going back to exosomes, most of what Kaufman says is true. Our body is made of cells, and you can imagine a cell like a soap bubble. An exosome is a tiny bubble that buds off from that soap bubble and starts floating around, maybe eventually fusing with another soap bubble. These exosomes can carry payloads, like genetic material, and act as transporters inside our body, and they do look an awful lot like many viruses. In fact, sometimes a virus will infect a cell and an exosome containing the virus’ genetic material will bud off and go on to infect another cell, just like a viral particle would! But here we reach the end of our bridge. Two scientific experts discussed this issue in a YouTube video and concluded that “clearly, there are similarities between exosomes and the coronavirus but they are absolutely different in many aspects.” Kaufman takes a leap and claims the virus does not exist. It’s all exosomes.

This brings us to the abuse of Koch’s postulates by Kaufman and other COVID-19 deniers.

Abusing Koch’s postulates

Jarry got it quite right when he characterized how Kaufman uses some accurate science to build to his denial of the coronavirus and then makes a leap. Another example is how Kaufman claims that SARS-CoV-2 does not fulfill Koch’s postulates as the cause for COVID-19. Here’s the video where he does it, in which he is interviewed by Sayer Ji (Kelly Brogan’s husband, it turns out), whom we’ve met a number of times before in the context of discussing his antivaccine propaganda, genetics denial, and mangling of overdiagnosis:

The video’s introduction states:

In this interview, Dr. Kaufman explores a new study published in which claims to establish COVID-19 related pathogenicity in an animal model, but which does not fulfill Koch’s postulates for germ theory, and may overtly misrepresent the truth. This, in fact, is not new, as many publications have claimed to isolate COVID-19 or prove its role in causing animal and human deaths, yet none of them are actually capable of demonstrating this conclusively. Sayer Ji asks hard hitting questions and together they explore the implications of this and other research to the ongoing weaponization of germ theory as a political weapon for mass control and surveillance in violation of basic human, civil, constitutional and medical rights.

NATURE

Note how the language gives away the game: “Weaponization of germ theory as a political weapon for mass control and surveillance”. Ji even introduces Kaufman with statements about how he is a “leader” in questioning how the “dominant narrative around COVID being this lethal invisible particle” that “sprung up in Wuhan in some kind of wet market” or was a “bioweapon” led to the “complete cessation” of social and economic activity, all based on what Ji characterizes as this “invisible particle” that’s been identified and is being tested everywhere. Particularly amusing is how Ji claims that Kaufman has been “telling the truth from the perspective of science itself”.

I’m not even going to go too much into the weeds of the video, because there’s so much misinformation, bad science, pseudoscience, and disinformation in the video that it would take a series of posts to deal with it, although I can point out that Jarry was very much right about Kaufman’s techniques of science denial and disinformation in terms of how he cherry picks papers and takes germs of reasonable science and concerns and twists them into weapons against germ theory that he uses to deny that SARS-CoV-2 has definitively been shown to be the cause of the COVID-19 pandemic. His core claim, which I’m going to zero in on, is that SARS-CoV-2 does not meet Koch’s postulates for causation of COVID-19.

First, let’s review Koch’s postulates, using the quote from Robert Koch from 1890 repeated on the website of a chiropractor hosting the video:

However, if it can be proved: first that the parasite occurs in every case of the disease in question, and under circumstances which can account for the pathological changes and clinical course of the disease; secondly, that it occurs in no other disease as a fortuitous and non­ pathogenic parasite; and thirdly, that it, after being fully isolated from the body and repeatedly grown in pure culture, can induce the disease anew…

Or, to boil Koch’s postulates down to a 1937 version by Thomas Rivers and colleagues:

  1. The parasite (virus) is present in every case of the disease.
  2. The parasite should be fully isolated from the body and all products of disease (i.e. purified)
  3. The parasite should be grown in a pure culture (not possible for viruses)
  4. The isolated parasite produces the same disease, with all of its characteristics, in a normal host

As is the case with “terrain theory”, I love to note how germ theory-denying quacks just love to cite 19th century understandings of infectious disease as the be-all and end-all of the science of infectious disease, as if science hasn’t advanced in 120 years! Ji and Kaufmann even cite a quote that Koch’s postulates have not been satisfied in viral diseases, leading to this quote about modification of Koch’s postulates for viruses:

… the spirit of his [Koch’s] rules of proof still holds in that a worker must demonstrate that a virus is not only associated with a disease but that is actually the cause… this is accomplished by the production with a degree of regularity of a transmissible infection in susceptible experimental hosts by means of inoculation of material, free from ordinary microbes or ricketssiae [sic], obtained from patients with the natural disease…

Again, Koch’s postulates arose from 19th century science and were proposed when germ theory was still in its infancy. We’ve learned since then that things are a lot more complicated, and, of course, quacks have been trying to point to examples of that complexity to cast doubt on the whole edifice of germ theory as the explanation for infectious diseases. The funny thing is that even in the 19th century Koch soon realized that there existed infectious diseases that did not fulfill his postulates. Thomas Rivers, viewed as the “father of modern virology” even wrote:

It is unfortunate that so many workers blindly followed the rules, because Koch himself quickly realized that in certain instances all the conditions could not be met… Thus, in regard to certain diseases, particularly those caused by viruses, the blind adherence to Koch’s postulates may act as a hindrance instead of an aid.

Today scientists recognize Koch’s postulates mainly for their historical importance rather than as hard-and-fast rules to demonstrate disease causation. As mentioned by Thomas Rivers above, even Koch started to loosen the requirements of some of his own postulates, for example:

Koch abandoned the requirement of the first postulate altogether when he discovered asymptomatic carriers of cholera and, later, of typhoid fever. Asymptomatic or subclinical infection carriers are now known to be a common feature of many infectious diseases, especially viruses such as polio, herpes simplex, HIV, and hepatitis C. Specifically, all doctors and virologists agree that the poliovirus causes paralysis in just a few infected subjects, and the success of the polio vaccine in preventing disease supports the conviction that the poliovirus is the causative agent.

Sound familiar? It is now known that SARS-CoV-2 can cause asymptomatic infections in a relatively high proportion of patients and that these asymptomatic people can transmit the virus. How large a driver of the pandemic asymptomatic spread is has been heatedly debated, but there is no doubt that you can have COVID-19 and have few or no symptoms. It is true that, early in the pandemic, the World Health Organization appeared to have stated that asymptomatic spread of COVID-19 was rare (it didn’t exactly say that), and it was soon forced to walk even that claim back rapidly.

Even the second of Koch’s postulates doesn’t always apply:

The second postulate may also be suspended for certain microorganisms or entities that cannot (at the present time) be grown in pure culture, such as prions responsible for Creutzfeldt–Jakob disease.

Ditto the third of Koch’s postulates:

The third postulate specifies “should”, not “must”, because as Koch himself proved in regard to both tuberculosis and cholera, that not all organisms exposed to an infectious agent will acquire the infection. Noninfection may be due to such factors as general health and proper immune functioning; acquired immunity from previous exposure or vaccination; or genetic immunity, as with the resistance to malaria conferred by possessing at least one sickle cell allele.

Again, does this sound familiar? Asymptomatic infection with SARS-CoV-2 occurs. A lot. Moreover, the virus can be grown in culture, just as many coronaviruses have been. It’s related to SARS, a coronavirus (hence its name), the coronavirus that was so feared in 2002-2003.

Another thing that Kaufman does in the video is to cherry pick studies to try to cast doubt on. For instance, he looks at the New England Journal of Medicine study published in January that first described the novel coronavirus isolated from patients with a mysterious new pneumonia in China in late 2019 that isolated virus from three patients in Wuhan. He harps on a statement in the conclusion of the paper:

Although our study does not fulfill Koch’s postulates, our analyses provide evidence implicating 2019-nCoV in the Wuhan outbreak. Additional evidence to confirm the etiologic significance of 2019-nCoV in the Wuhan outbreak include identification of a 2019-nCoV antigen in the lung tissue of patients by immunohistochemical analysis, detection of IgM and IgG antiviral antibodies in the serum samples from a patient at two time points to demonstrate seroconversion, and animal (monkey) experiments to provide evidence of pathogenicity.

Well, duh! It was January 2020. The outbreak in Wuhan was only a couple of months old. In fact, that paper was quite impressive for what the scientists could accomplish in that they isolated a new virus, sequenced its genome and related it to existing coronaviruses, and published highly suggestive evidence that this new coronavirus was the cause of the pneumonia observed.

Kaufman also tries to cast doubt on this study by pointing to the small sample size. Again, this study was preliminary evidence, not absolutely confirmatory, and there have been many, many studies since then confirming that this then-novel coronavirus is the cause of COVID-19. He also claims that there was “no virus particle directly from patient demonstrated or identified”. Note the word “directly”. The authors actually did culture the virus in human airway epithelial cells and Vero E6 and Huh-7 cell lines. Hilariously, Kaufman also claims that “short RNA sequences of unknown origin from BAL sample” were “not conclusive”. This is a misrepresentation of PCR methods used to amplify RNA from the virus taken from human respiratory isolates. He even dismisses, in essence, the computational biology behind next generation sequencing that has been used to sequence the virus as a “theoretical model of a theoretical virus”. He says he’s working on a white paper to claim this. He also dismisses next gen sequencing as being only good if you know what the sequence is already, which is utter nonsense. Of course, knowledge of existing coronavirus sequences was used to guide the sequencing of SARS-CoV-2, but that doesn’t mean that scientists didn’t correctly identify the virus. (I suspect that molecular biologists who deal with next gen sequencing would be face palming furiously, if they ever listened to this part.)

In fact, an update to Koch’s postulates based on advances over the prior 100 years in science, microbiology, virology, and nucleic acid sequencing was proposed in 1996 by Fredricks and Relman and were summarized thusly:

  1. A nucleic acid sequence belonging to a putative pathogen should be present in most cases of an infectious disease. Microbial nucleic acids should be found preferentially in those organs or gross anatomic sites known to be diseased, and not in those organs that lack pathology.
  2. Fewer, or no, copy numbers of pathogen-associated nucleic acid sequences should occur in hosts or tissues without disease.
  3. With resolution of disease, the copy number of pathogen-associated nucleic acid sequences should decrease or become undetectable. With clinical relapse, the opposite should occur.
  4. When sequence detection predates disease, or sequence copy number correlates with severity of disease or pathology, the sequence-disease association is more likely to be a causal relationship.
  5. The nature of the microorganism inferred from the available sequence should be consistent with the known biological characteristics of that group of organisms.
  6. Tissue-sequence correlates should be sought at the cellular level: efforts should be made to demonstrate specific in situ hybridization of microbial sequence to areas of tissue pathology and to visible microorganisms or to areas where microorganisms are presumed to be located.
  7. These sequence-based forms of evidence for microbial causation should be reproducible.

SARS-CoV-2 fulfills Koch’s postulates easily, as can be demonstrated by looking at the totality of evidence and not misrepresenting it, all while recognizing what PCR and next generation sequencing really are, rather than the simplistic, distorted view that Kaufman provides. In fact, I don’t even need to list all the examples myself here. In October Virology Down Under published an exhaustive list of studies showing that this coronavirus does, in fact, fulfill Koch’s postulates.

Of course, if the virus doesn’t exist and germ theory doesn’t explain an infectious disease like SARS-CoV-2, then why does Dr. Kaufman care if it fulfills Koch’s postulates or not? Inquiring minds want to know.

The fringier fringe

While Dr. Kaufman is arguably the most persistent germ theory denier promoting disinformation about COVID-19, he’s not the only one. There are a number of deniers out there promoting even wilder ideas. For example:

Longtime readers will recognize this as nothing more than a variant of an idea that I first encountered when it was being promoted by über-quack Robert O. Young, who claims that viruses are “molecular acids” and denies that they cause disease:

The point being that viruses are molecular liquids or gases (venom) that can be created by chemical imbalances in humans, plants and animals (by malnutrition or toxic acidic food and/or drink consumption), also created in humans, plants and animal glands, sometimes used in defense (snake venom) or emergency (overactive adrenals), also can be crystallized in laboratories, rarely, if ever crystallized in vivo, and foolish to call viruses contagious when viruses are nothing more than acidic liquids or gases from biological transformation or rotting matter.

Basically, to Young, viruses are not real, bacteria do not cause sepsis, and cancer is “acid“, with the cancerous tumor being the body’s healthy reaction to eliminate the acidic “toxins”.

Then there is misinformation like this, as posted by Peter Bowditch:

The fringiest fringe of germ theory denial

I love the part complaining about how the electron micrographs of viruses are “blurry” is reason to believe that viruses don’t exist and can’t be imaged with electron microscopy. Obviously because images of molecules and atoms are similarly somewhat blurry that must mean that molecules and atoms don’t exist!

There’s also a lot of concrete thinking behind germ theory denial. The most prominent example is the tendency of deniers to claim that, because not everyone gets sick when they are exposed to a pathogen, it must mean that germ theory is invalid and terrain theory is a better explanation. I discussed this in my previous post on germ theory denial, for instance, the example of ten people go get on an elevator with a person with the flu who’s coughing all over the place. Everyone in the elevator is exposed to the flu virus, the argument goes, but not everyone gets the flu. Observations like this are referenced as though they were evidence that the germ theory is fatally flawed! Basically, germ theory denialists seem to think that anything less than a 100% infection and illness rate in people exposed to a pathogenic organism means that that organism doesn’t cause the disease, and don’t even get them started on asymptomatic transmission, as is common with SARS-CoV-2. It’s an example of all-or-nothing thinking that’s so prevalent in promoters of pseudoscience and is very much akin to how antivaccine zealots argue, in essence, that if a vaccine isn’t 100% effective and 100% safe it’s useless, just as if a PCR test for COVID-19 has a false positive rate and isn’t perfect then the pandemic is really a “casedemic” of false positives.

The attraction of “soft” germ theory denial in the age of COVID-19

Germ theory denial is not a new phenomenon. It’s been around as long as germ theory has and has long been a major strain in alternative medicine beliefs about disease. Pre-pandemic, the attractiveness is that “terrain” theory allowed its believers to labor under the delusion that, if only they ate the right foods, lived the right lifestyle, did the right things, and were, from a health standpoint, virtuous, they would be virtually immune to infectious disease. My favorite example occurred when Bill Maher claimed that his diet and lifestyle (but what about his copious use of weed?) meant that he couldn’t catch the flu on an airplane even if there were several people with the flu on the flight, to which Bob Costas retorted acidly (word choice intentional), “Oh, come on, Superman!” It’s all of a piece with what I like to call the Central Dogma of Alternative Medicine, namely that you have virtually 100% control over whether you get sick and if you just want to be healthy badly enough you will be.

Of course, as I said before, these days most germ theory denial is not absolute. Far more often, germ theory denial is “soft” in that it takes the form of a (usually weak) concession that microbes can under certain circumstances (basically only if the host is already sick) cause disease, but with the caveat that the disease is so much less likely to take hold or so much less likely to be deadly if you only live a virtuous life in terms of diet, exercise, and lifestyle; i.e., if you are Superman in terms of health. Unsurprisingly, it is the latter claim that nearly always overshadows the concession.

There is, of course, a grain of truth here in that debilitated people and people with comorbidities are far more likely to die of COVID-19 (for example), but in the hands of “soft deniers” of germ theory that grain of truth results in the delusion that they can’t get seriously sick from COVID-19 because they are so healthy and that they are thus not a danger to those who are particularly susceptible to coronavirus. This “soft” germ theory denial also leads to massive victim shaming, such as when Del Bigtree urged his listeners to “catch this cold” (COVID-19) to gain “natural immunity”, even as he blamed those at risk for death from coronavirus for having lived an unhealthy lifestyle that had put them at risk. It also leads to ideas that border on eugenics, such as the Great Barrington Declaration, which recommends basically letting COVID-19 rip through the “healthy” population while using “focused protection” to protect the vulnerable. Never mind that COVID-19 can kill the healthy and that it’s impossible to isolate the vulnerable from the virus while it’s spreading exponentially in the general population. Finally, this “soft” germ theory denial provides a reasonable-seeming pretext to oppose masks, any sort of “lockdown”, and, of course, vaccines.

A decade ago, germ theory denial was largely viewed as no more than a “curiosity,” a quirky idea held by few and likely not of much consequence or likely to cause much harm. Few other than those of us who recognized how such denial fueled the antivaccine movement recognized it as a problem. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic has made it very clear how deadly such ideas are.

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]

82 replies on “Even in a deadly pandemic, germ theory denial persists”

One of my first essays in 3rd year Molecular biology Glasgow, was “Is a virus alive”. Cant remember if I argued yes or no. Still not sure.

I subscribe to the proposition “sometimes” — generally no, but yes when the cellular machinery is being actively exploited.

It’s a little valid. I leave a biofilm growing all over the bathroom so my germs can eat the other germs and keep me safe. It does sometimes sprout fruit flies, gnats, stink bugs, and teeny tiny beatles — maybe next year, I’ll put the screen back in the window I keep cracked open and try to reproduce Louis’ extraordinary claims.

It’s gone beyond persistence – the pandemic has reinvigorated germ theory denial.

One of the symptoms of exposure to unpleasant aspects of dealing with SARS-CoV-2 is the spontaneous generation of ignorance thought to have been wiped out generations ago.

I particularly like the delusional anti-science, anti-vaccine morons who, in one post, point to the supposed failure of science to embrace teh TRVTH! via the story of the resistance/objections to Ignaz Semmelweis’ hand washing/hygiene protocol in 1847; then, in the next post, deny germ theory and Pasteur.
At this point it is fun to watch them drool when asked, “If germs don’t cause disease then what was the purpose of Semmelweis’ hand washing/hygiene protocol – What was he washing off that caused disease? Evil spells?”
.
Holding conflicting beliefs is a hallmark of the kooky anti-science lunatics.
.
Have fun.

Similarly, the Semmelweis Society gave its “clean hands” award to Peter Duesberg and Celia Farber who deny that hiv/ aids is caused by hiv
..
I should note that the Society was established by another aids denialist- isn’t that an odd name to choose if you deny viruses’/ microbes’ effects?

I swear, I’m not making thus up.

That fish is quarantined, not vaccinated. The purpose of quarantine is to keep the fish clean while you clean the tank.

Indeed. They cannot even get their images to be accurate.

When you start to delve into the philosophy of germ-theory denial it is almost always inaccurate. If germs did not exist, what would be the point of boosting your immune system through diet or supplements, which many germ theory deniers advocate?

Boosting your immune system in the absence of microbes is more likely to result in auto-immune conditions. Immune systems are something else that germ-theory deniers fail to understand.

As mentioned in the article, germ-theory denial is often soft in various ways. These people never behave as if there are no microbes in the world or no microbes that cause harm. Germ-theory denial just becomes a convenient crutch for them to convince themselves that their brand of medical treatment avoidance is the correct course.

vaccination of fish is quite a big deal

There are people working on vaccinating sharks.
Or maybe, more accurately, on vaccinated sharks.

Makes for a heck of a resumé.

(but what about his copious use of weed?)

That promotes health and longevity and show me the peer reviewed research that claims otherwise.

(also, this comment is to unstuck this page because it is doing that thing again)

Ha Ha LoL. filed under ‘current events’/off topic I think Don Lemmon might lurk on reddit:

“Pretend that twitter is a christian-owned bakery and donald trump is a gay-themed wedding cake.” or words to that effect.

Of course, Limbaugh today was “and all the tweets are disappearing by the hand of big tech, kind of like all the real trump votes”. It is a shame, that in the last days of his life, it’s no longer a game of how he was going to spin it but instead I’m just left screaming at out right lies.

Medicamentum Authentica means “authentic medicine” in Latin. This is the standard I ascribe to when I present health information and work with clients. Since word meanings are frequently changed, even inverted, by official dictionaries, Latin provides sanctuary. Since Latin is no longer spoken, it is considered a ‘dead language.’ Thus, its meanings will never be compromised.

This is why magic works when the spells are said in Latin.
The dude thinks the Harry Potter movies were documentaries. J. K. Rowling has a lot to answer for.

C’mon doug, when you are building a massive conspiracy theory, you don’t have time to take notice of minor details like grammar. Just ask Donald Trump.

” J. K. Rowling has a lot to answer for.”

She made my friend gay. And a satanist. And then he spread it to me to {not the gay stuff but worshiping the devil..maybe a little of the gay stuff because the devil told me to do it. but I said, “no homo” so I’m good, right??}.

Latin is a spoken language! Sacred (church) Latin is spoken (recited) all over the world. Heck, back in the 90’s (when I took Latin) there was a radio station up on the Canadian border (east coast) that played a show in Ancient Latin.

Latin is a dead language,
Dead as dead can be.
First it killed the Romans,
And now it’s killing me!

You know what is a dead language? Linear A. Which no one can read, so it’s meanings are inherently compromised. Sounds like someone didn’t get any grounding in the humanities, let alone the Classics.

Btw, that isn’t even Latin
The word “medicamentum” is singular 2nd declination neutral, and “authentica” is not properly correlating with it. Just to be annoying. 😉

Btw, that isn’t even Latin

Yah. I didn’t have the energy to take it apart the last time that quote showed up here. I’m not optimistic about this time, either. This might help, should anyone care to do the cleanup on the aisle.

“Neuter,” though.

Anti-vaxxers, when they hear the name Dr. Paul Offitt, love to ask when he’s going to give himself those “10,000 vaccines”, citing a ridiculous misinterpretation of a statement he made regarding the capacity of an infant’s immune system to respond to antigens ( nicely explained/debunked by Joel Harrison PhD, MPH on “Shot of Prevention”).

Well, the “soft” germ-theory denialists like to claim that if you merely buy all their supplements/detoxes/superfoodscrap/etc they sell/promote, then you can build this bulletproof immune system rendering vaccines unnecessary. So why aren’t they all lining up to test this their claims on themselves?. Why did Del Bigtree tell everyone else to “go catch this cold”? Why isn’t Del Bigtree out there leading the charge instead of grifting suckers for $500 to line the walkway of his con-job Texas compound that he won’t let anyone visit? Why is de-license quack physician Paul Thomas plugging (in his $18 booklet you can get on Amazon) all his costly untested supplements as “immune boosters” but not willing to prove they work like Barry Marshall did with h pylori for gastric ulcers?

I don’t wish COVID-19 on anyone and I sure don’t advocate “COVID-19 parties” or any other form of deliberate innoculation, but given the number of anti-public-health scammers out there pushing this “terrain” nonsense, you’d think at least one of them in the last 9 months would have been brazenly stupid enough to “take the COVID-19 challenge”. That none have (versus all us 1A healthcare workers who have taking either the Pfizer-BionTech or Moderna or Astra-Zeneca COVID-19 vaccines.

While that may not quite say it all, it sure says more than enough about these quacks. It’s not about their pseudocscience. It’s all about the $$$ and publicity.

@ Christopher Hickie

Thanks for referring to my article. Nice to know people read it. However, I wrote numerous articles debunking antivaccinationists for Every Child By Two. When they decided to extend their promoting of vaccines to everyone, they changed their name to Vaccinate Your Family and developed a new website. Their website manager, a great guy, tragically died of a heart attack, so he managed to post only the Executive Summaries of some of my articles. My article debunking the “10,000” gives a much much stronger debunking than just the Executive Summary. If you want to read it and all of the other full articles I wrote for Every Child By Two, I posted them on the WayBackMachine. You can find the article on the “10,000” at:
https://ia903002.us.archive.org/17/items/2.joela.harrison2014nov4.expertcommentaryserieswrongaboutgeneticresearchandautis/8.%20Joel%20A.%20Harrison%20%282016%20Mar%2018%29.%20Expert%20Commentary%20Series%20-%20Ignoring%20Context%20and%20a%20Lack%20of%20Common%20Sense%20-%20Antivaccinationists%20Absurdly%20Misusing%20Dr.%20Paul%20Offit’s%20“each%20infant%20would%20have%20the%20theoretical%20capacity%20to%20respond%20to%20about%2010%2C000%20vaccine.pdf

And ALL of my articles for ECBT at:

https://archive.org/details/2.joela.harrison2014nov4.expertcommentaryserieswrongaboutgeneticresearchandautis

And a new book came out in September 2020 by Brian Deer “The Doctor Who Fooled The World” that is the absolute best book ever destroying the foundation of the current antivaccinationists movement. He shows Andrew Wakefield to be a totally dishonest fraud; e.g., fake lab reports, changed diagnoses, greed, etc. Having read most books and tons of papers, this book is the best. Absolutely incredible the evidence he presents. He makes Sherlock Holmes look like a rank amateur. In American criminal law, guilt based on “beyond a reasonable doubt.” Well, the evidence Deer presents is “NO DOUBT WHATSOEVER”. I highly recommend the book.

No. I’m not returning to posting comments; but continue to read Orac and David Gorski’s articles and scan the comments.

Oh, I am in the Clinical Trial for Moderna’s COVID-19 vaccine. Got one shot Sept 2 and second Oct 2. They notified us that they will be calling us in this month, unblinding the study, and those who got the placebo will be offered the vaccine. Before volunteering I read up numerous articles on mRNA and reviewed several Genetic’s textbooks I own. I have thought of writing an article debunking point by point bogus critiques; but just old and tired and almost a year alone with my dog. If I received vaccine and/or get it, as soon as I know I have it, I will begin donating plasma and volunteer at nearby Food Bank. Though I will still wear a mask. I did donate Whole Blood three times last year, despite being in my mid-70s.

One last comment. Natalie White doesn’t believe the stats on COVID-19 deaths. How does she explain that in California hospitals intensive care units are full to the brim? I know a couple of Intensive Care Nurses and they confirm this. Just one example of someone who ignores reality.

Thanks again for reading my article.

Joel! Glad to hear you’re doing well! I’m looking forward to reading your articles (thanks for the links).

I wish I could get my vaccine already and go back to volunteering at the soup kitchen, but I’m so far at the end of the list I’m thinking it will be a Christmas present.

Say hi to your dog for me!

Joel!

I’m so glad to hear that you’re alright. I tried to find you online but only got your comments to your local newspaper.
You are greatly valued, appreciated and missed but I won’t twist your arm

Whilst I enjoy writing, sometimes mindless comments and aggressive hatred towards SBM and us, frankly makes me sick so I can understand your hesitance if that is the cause of your absence.

BUT hopefully, we can always read your work elsewhere. Be well and enjoy watching current events on television!

Good to hear from you, Joel. Glad you’re doing well. My wife is temporarily in a nursing facility and got her first dose of the Moderna vaccine last week. No problems at all!

i too wonder how they explain the freezer trucks and overflowing morgues if it’s just BAU.

Hoping this year is better for you.

Hi Joel, I was afraid a gave you a seizure.

“enjoy watching current events on television!

That’s a funny way to spell “shitting bricks.”

It is lovely to see you. And yes, the comments are only worth a scan, especially with the despicable sadistic attitude towards children, science and reality from the likes of Natalie White.

@Joel: “How does [White] explain that in California hospitals intensive care units are full to the brim?”

If she can’t see it, it doesn’t exist.

@has,

I think there’s a strong core of truth in that.

I recall some claims back in April that there weren’t really that many Covid-19 patients in the New York hospitals because no one was allowed to go in and tour the facility.

Hey Joel,

Happy New Year! Keeping busy is so good for you. Glad you are doing well which leads me to doubt you received the vaccine. I’m sure you are familiar with the possible effects –

“The most commonly reported side effects, which typically lasted several days, were pain at the injection site, tiredness, headache, muscle pain, chills, joint pain, swollen lymph nodes in the same arm as the injection, nausea and vomiting, and fever. Of note, more people experienced these side effects after the second dose than after the first dose, so it is important for vaccination providers and recipients to expect that there may be some side effects after either dose, but even more so after the second dose.”

https://www.fda.gov/emergency-preparedness-and-response/coronavirus-disease-2019-covid-19/moderna-covid-19-vaccine

You wrote, “How does she explain that in California hospitals intensive care units are full to the brim?” Well, I don’t doubt the lack of ICU services. The lack of local hospital services from years of acquisitions and mergers from corporations has left many communities without adequate local services. In addition to the shady diagnosis coding.

https://www.thenation.com/article/society/coronavirus-healthcare-consolidation/

Ironically, the “pandemic” is boosting the A & M markets, so the problem will only get worse.

Gotta go now and get some things done. I hope you come back with the big reveal to let us know whether or not you received the vaccine…a real cliff hanger for sure!

Good day and good health to you.

@ Joel

As I now have reasons to believe you read the comments of this blog, I wish to apologise for the rather brutal conversation I had with you. My position hasn’t changed, but nonetheless, I regret the turn our discussion took.

I’d really wish you came back.

Did you ever wonder why Texas?

Recent rants by PRN’s CEO reveal that he’s moving his operations/ residency status outside of NYC**- that cesspit of corruption and elected mafiosi- to Texas ( occasionally, also Florida) where there is no state income tax and little regulation so he can run “de-aging retreats” and counsel veterans renaming his estates “animal sanctuaries” (FL) or “veterans’ villages” ( TX) to take advantage of more loopholes.

Peter Hotez notes that health freedom advocacy is all the rage in Texas and it fuels anti-vax and Covid denialism.

** ” everyone is leaving NY, NJ and CA- they will soon be ghost towns”

similarly, Mike Adams, whose empire expands around Austin. ” Leave the cities! Before the Great Civil War/ Reset/ Whatever”

Also Bigtree can have his “compound” with all the guns he wants. Seems like everyone who wants to “be free” from “liberal oppression” is fleeing to a handful of states with Texas at the top.

Is Wakefraud still in Texas?

Did you ever wonder why Texas?

I presume Florida is full. (ISTR that Jake’s parents are here, though. Dollars to donuts they don’t have a basement.)

@ Chris Hickie:

I don’t know. His ex wife still lives there I assume. House from divorce settlement?

Andy’s SO, Elle, has a waterside estate in Florida though. House from divorce settlement plus BIG money from ex…

Recent paparazzi shots of Elle are from Florida (or the Bahamas), so my guess is Wakefield is now residing in Florida. I like how all the Australian gossip mags that mention Wakefield start with “disgraced former doctor…”

Claude Bernard’s concept of the milieu interieur was referring to what later became known , through Walter Cannon, described in his ‘Wisdom of the Body’, as homeostasis and it’s mechanisms..If he held and stated the opposite to Pasteur’s germ theory a reference would be appreciated. Milieu interieur does not fit the bill, regardless of the term’s misuse by the wingnuts. Also, is it not in fact true that most serious disorders may be provoked by the injection of certain living organisms into the blood.?

Orac- it seems to me that you have misconstrued the work of Claude Bernard whose interests and achievements resided elsewhere than denial of microbial theories of disease causation.. You should provide some reference to your claim of his denial of microbes in disease causation or correct the error. Your claim never appeared in your 2010 article and since Claude Bernard has been dead some time before this you should have evidence for this most recent article where you invoke his denial hypothesis…Please do not take this as a criticism of your otherwise excellent and thorough article. I have admired and been seriously influenced by Claude Bernard ever since reading his book (in 1961) ‘An introduction to the Study of Experimental Medicine’

Reality: “At this point it is fun to watch them drool when asked, “If germs don’t cause disease then what was the purpose of Semmelweis’ hand washing/hygiene protocol – What was he washing off that caused disease? Evil spells?””

No problem. The customary response: 1) changing the subject, 2) calling you a shill, or 3) sullen silence.

He also dismisses next gen sequencing as being only good if you know what the sequence is already, which is utter nonsense

That bit is not nonsense, but rather another way to misrepresent science. You can use long read data to create a reference genome, which is a step in the process, not a fatal blow.

I can imagine the bit about exomes being another example, if literature on transposable elements is misconstrued.

I found this entire article quite frightening. We have a plague of technological illiteracy because we restrict access to knowledge (e.g. outrageous tuition fees, extreme cost of scientific literature, inadequate public schools, etc.). Because large portions of the public are locked out of education, technological illiteracy is being weaponized. It makes sense though, COVID-19 denialism and conspiracies make you feel like you’re in the know, rather than constantly shit on for being “uneducated.”

Kaufman is a quackarse of all trades. In Sept 2020 some anti-maskers in Connecticut wanted to use him as an expert witness in how psychologically harmful masks are to children. Thankfully the judge said Kaufman’s beliefs regarding science were so irrational as to disqualify him as an expert witness. Bwahahahaha. Also of interest that rabid foaming-at-the-mouth anti-vax loon of a physician James Meehan was also disqualified from testifying as an expert witness, though ironically only because Meehan is an ophthalmologist and not an infectious disease doctor. Too bad the judge didn’t take a close look at how anti-science crazy Meehan is (at least as much as Kaufman).

Judge rejects doctors’ testimony in student mask lawsuit

HARTFORD — Lawyers challenging a mask requirement for Connecticut students will not be permitted to bring in testimony from two out-of-state doctors after a Superior Court judge ruled Tuesday they were unqualified to serve as expert witnesses.

The plaintiffs are trying to get an emergency injunction that would put the state’s mask mandate for school children to slow the spread of the coronavirus on hold. On Monday, the plaintiffs’ witnesses provided testimony before Judge Thomas G. Moukawsher so he could determine whether they would be allowed to testify in the hearing for their injunction.
The families, who are from Manchester, Wallingford, Niantic, Marlborough and Farmington, had hoped to admit testimony from two doctors prepared to say masks were damaging to children both psychologically and physically. A lawyer for the state objected to both doctors, highlighting past statements from the two men to argue that they were both ideologically too radical to serve as expert witnesses.

In his Tuesday ruling, Moukawsher sided with the state and deemed both doctors unqualified, though not for the same reasons.

The judge wrote that he had an easy time disqualifying Dr. Andrew Kaufman, a New York psychiatrist the plaintiffs tapped to speak to the psychological impact of masks. On cross- examination Monday, Kaufman said he believed that COVID-19 was a hoax to control the population; vaccines were poison; and suggested that viruses do not exist.
“The court will not accept as an expert advisor to it on a matter of life and death a man who defies science so firmly established as to be beyond rational dispute,” Moukawsher wrote. “The court cannot believe that his irrationality in one area will not overwhelm his reason in another.”

Moukawsher also refused to accept as an expert Dr. James Meehan Jr., an ophthalmologist from Oklahoma. The state had sought to disqualify Meehan in part based on his past statements that mask mandates were “about symbolism, fear, and psychological operations to control the population.” The state also objected to his marketing and profit from vitamin sales as an alternative to face masks.

Moukawsher said it was not Meehan’s beliefs that disqualified him, it was his professional background. The judge said the group could have sought the testimony of any of the 12,000 members of the Infectious Diseases Society of America but instead chose a doctor whose specialty was in eye diseases and vision problems.

“The illusion that most expert testimony comes from dispassionate sages faded from the courthouse a long time ago. The trouble here is not Dr. Meehan’s passion. It is his qualifications,” the judge wrote.

Moukawsher’s ruling also served to narrow the scope of the lawsuit somewhat. The plaintiffs have sought to call individual parents to speak to difficulties their children have had with masks. The judge ruled that the state guidance already provides for individual exemptions and said that problems qualifying for them should be challenged at the local level….

What is it about ophthalmologists and really extra bad takes on COVID?
Or is it just this guy and that one Senator?

Yes, the eyes are immunologically privileged, but not so much so that you don’t know anything about basic germ theory.

I don’t know if anyone has looked to see if any one medical specialization has a much higher number of anti-vax doctors than all others (normalized to the % of physicians in each specialization). Somewhere out there there’s this list of ~ 100 anti-vax doctors and there’s probably another 20-30 beyond that who have some sort of public infamy, so maybe some conclusions could be drawn.

Ok I have never heard of somebody being complementing on their nice “terrain” other than a couple of farmers or ranchers describing a piece of property.

Isn’t there some validity to their argument that the “terrain” has something to do with a person reaction to germs/virus etc. Haven’t we been told for years, by health officials to eat right, get a good nights sleep, avoid excess alcohol and exerciser. Isn’t that what the organic food movement is all about.

I would think that the data from the deaths, with just this virus, which effects/affects (not all, as some people with outstanding ‘terrains’ have died) mostly who already are having issues with the shape of their “terrain” (commodities), wouldn’t that prove that it is a systems flaw or break down. As an example, if a mechanical device has a break down, it is going to happen because of the weakness of 1 or more parts. It’s the reason why not everyone gets high blood pressure, kidney problems, cancers, polio, etc. some systems have some thing in their ‘terrain” which has been able to fight off the invaders. Vaccines, cleanliness, modern sources of food have helped the ‘terrain’ fight off the germs and viruses but their is something else that is helping defend the ‘terrain’

@ scott allen

“Isn’t there some validity to their argument that the “terrain” has something to do with a person reaction to germs/virus etc.”

Purely in the abstract, yes. Put a healthy seed in a bad soil, and it will be diseased. You can blame the soil or the genetics of the seed. Your choice: gives you two distinct path of action.

“Haven’t we been told for years, by health officials to eat right, get a good nights sleep, avoid excess alcohol and exerciser. Isn’t that what the organic food movement is all about.”

In a sense, yes. There’s nothing wrong taking care of oneself with good habits (though I’m not playing that game any more…). The problem is when you extrapolate this common sense where it does not apply anymore. Such as oncology. Carrot juice only carries you so far.

Isn’t there some validity to their argument that the “terrain” has something to do with a person reaction to germs/virus etc.

That is not germane to this discussion. The issue is that they insist that “terrain of the body” is all-important, and that Germ Theory is wrong.
While it is certainly the case that a healthy person will fight off a new infection much more easily than someone following an unhealthy lifestyle, it is not the be-all and end-all.

“Isn’t there some validity to their argument that the “terrain” has something to do with a person reaction to germs/virus etc.”

You’re missing an important bit here: “reaction to virus”. The people who espouse “terrain” in place of germ theory don’t acknowledge things like viruses or bacteria. At it’s root, terrain theory says that you can sit alone in a monastery cell having no direct physical contact with anyone for a year and spontaneously develop primary syphilis because your “terrain” is bad because you haven’t gotten enough fresh air (or sunlight, or vegetables, or exercise, or whatever).

Or to offer a simpler example: if terrain theory were true, then it would not be possible to can food to preserve it, because the terrain would be the same before and after boiling, so the food would still spoil. Since this doesn’t happen (if the food has been canned properly), then terrain theory is not predictive, and therefore untrue.

‘That is not germane to this discussion” actually it kind a was as it was the first paragraph of the post.

“it is not the be-all and end-all”, I never claimed, stated or anything like that, nor was there anything like that stated in orac’s post. I just said, doesn’t a healthily life style have some positive effect/affect on the “terrain”, if not, what’s all the fuss about our eating, drinking, physical fitness etc. And I would agree that people who eat organic food are throwing their money away, but it’s their money.

I have read studies (the American Cancer Society) on propensity for people of different ethnicity/races/sexes who get different types of cancer, heart problems etc. . Black have the highest rates of cancer deaths and people of Asian decent have the lowest rates in the US. Men have a higher rate versus women. It’s the old question of nature versus nurture.

I will repeat this, Covid kills older people and people who have comorbidities (yes I spelled it correctly this time) than younger healthier persons. There is something about the “terrain” in these people that is allowing the virus to kill (for lack of a better word).

I don’t believe our medical researchers have yet to explain the actual why’s and how this genetic difference as we have not reached the point where we can draw blood from a new born and predict what cancers, blood disease, heart problems the child is susceptible to get. Yet there are differences.

@ scott allen

“There is something about the “terrain” in these people that is allowing the virus to kill (for lack of a better word).”

Even if that were true, there wouldn’t be a realistic way to control it as far as I’m aware of.

I saw some low-cohort studies that I wouldn’t consider reliable on the topic of vitamin D. I’ve heard it might help the “terrain”. Though I’m pretty sure that would be offset by overdoses of vitamin D if it were touted on media as a miracle cure… kids with alleged rickets anyone?

I’m just not sure that it doesn’t help the “terrain” in the abstract. But not as a publicly-endorsed policy… I’ve got a nag that it might be something that makes sense but is actively discouraged by authorities for sound reasons such as overdoses.

“There is something about the “terrain” in these people that is allowing the virus to kill”

Yea. Old Age has blasted the thymus so he could build a wall where it was and now all the ‘helpers’ just give up and go back to the bone marrow. Also; fuck the snail darter.

This is this and that is that Scott. You seem to be looking for an argument where none exists. There isn’t a doctor in the world who doesn’t know that a healthy lifestyle makes a healthy body and that a healthy body is generally better able to fight off illness.

Anti-vaxxers and alt-med enthusiasts like to portray doctors as pushing drugs rather than general health but it just isn’t true. My partner frequents a forum for chronic illness sufferers. The number of people who are obviously overweight but get upset at being told, by doctors, that they can can afford to lose a few pounds is astonishing. They’d much rather self diagnose and then doctor shop in the hope of some magic pill.

@ NumberWang

“Anti-vaxxers and alt-med enthusiasts like to portray doctors as pushing drugs rather than general health but it just isn’t true.”

Hmmmmmmmhhh… My take is the following: if a patient seeks treatment on his own free will and accepts treatment, then yes, it’s not pushing drugs: you accept responsibility for treatment you sought. Otherwise… it winds up in another discussion.

It’s the reason why not everyone gets high blood pressure, kidney problems, cancers, polio, etc.

Phew! I was wondering where to put this:

Rejection of germ theory in favor of the “terrain” argument often reflects massive ego (“my superior terrain will protect me, unlike you weaklings” (an example being Del Bigtree downplaying Covid-19) or a need to feel a sense of control when danger threatens (“if I live right, take the proper supplements and avoid 5G, then no germ can harm me”).

There is zero convincing evidence that eating organic food makes you less susceptible to infectious disease, or for that matter any disease.

Basically, germ theory denialists seem to think that anything less than a 100% infection and illness rate in people exposed to a pathogenic organism means that that organism doesn’t cause the disease

Intrepid Reader: Feline Viral Tracheitis: Hi.

@ Squirrelelite – Hi there. Thanks for your reply. I don’t have a sub for NYT…can’t access the article. But, off the top of my head, you’d think admissions would be more than a 13% increase during a “pandemic”. Doesn’t make sense. Up 13% from what, when?

When flu struck badly a few seasons back, I remember the local hospital triaging and treating in tents, etc…because they couldn’t handle the local case load.

The percentage is a 14 day change in the 7 day average. You can get similar numbers from.JHU or Wikipedia, among others.

Bad flu seasons do produce a lot of hospitalizations but not nearly as many deaths as Covid-19.

It seems to be a thing that happens from time to time. I forget what I thought I found triggered it but it’s like the cookie gets confused. Perhaps I had the site open in the other browser, or accidentally paged away and then back. Months ago, it was just plain getting the comments out of order with the CF switchover.

Also, it was consistently doing it in one setup but not the other so I just went ahead and let a bunch of crap back on and that seems to have fixed it. Probably one of the wp/wordpress as I don’t remember seeing that many last year.

Though scott should be good to go as blocking facebook (.NET) prevents the feds from grabbing the post and putting it back in the wrong place.

What are the scare quotes for, Nats?

Um, scaring?

You’re assuming an imagination where there is none. Might as well throw a pebble down a dry well.

Feel free to assemble your erudition using penny whistle. Uke’s OK</a?. Banjo has already been taken. I will accept accordion if you post a video of yourself playing the squeeze box.

(Strangely, The Shawshank Redemption was on in the bar car one time I really couldn’t take it any more and fled by train to Seattle. I didn’t pay attention. Nor do I pay much attention to people who tell me to pay attention to its profundity unless I must. I am also pretty sure that I have mixed up stories.)

@ Tim

Thanks. I just love that kind of minimalistic music. (Not sure the commenters on the blog fully welcome your vids, though… stay on the safe side.)

@ Narad – Hi Cheeky. Yeah, I don’t know what happened above. It wasn’t intentional. I thought I hit the reply button. The site does seem to do some janky stuff sometimes as mentioned by Tim.

Re: Scare quotes – Funny you thought of it that way as my intention was more of an Austin Powers Dr. Evil air quotes. Made me recheck the definition of pandemic:

pan·dem·ic/panˈdemik/ adjective: pandemic

(of a disease) prevalent over a whole country or the world.

So…by this definition the common cold could be considered a “pandemic”.

Anywho…I hope you are able to go outside and enjoy winter in FL instead of wasting your time with trashy TVs fear mongering. Last time I checked FL is not under a tyrannical mask mandate like here in Commifornia.

Oh and thanks for the ukelele ditty – very nice. Your request to “post a video of yourself playing the squeeze box.” Well… I liked this song as a child but didn’t realize the double entendre until later in life.

Good day and good health to you!

@Natalie White,

Now you are arguing common usage English versus technical terminology, in this case as used by the public health community. In technical terminology, it is particularly important to maintain distinctions between similar terms, as explained in this link.

https://apic.org/monthly_alerts/outbreaks-epidemics-and-pandemics-what-you-need-to-know/#:~:text=A%20pandemic%20is%20a%20global,for%20a%20long%20time.

Not all outbreaks are epidemics.

Not all epidemics are pandemics.

Adding the quotes is generally used to imply that this is the word they used, but it is not what they really meant or the word they should have used.

Is there any reason we should recognize that you did not intend that implication?

@ Tim – Thanks for the techie tips. I appreciate the gesture. : )

So, the quest to convert you continues. I hope you get off your self-proclaimed bony ass and dance and/or do a few squats ‘cuz stagnation = death!

Good day and good health.

@ ORAC and crew – If this is posting a second time, apologies.

[…] Clearly, Doshi lacks a broad research and publication record in any of those fields that matter to the study of vaccines. He made a statement that claims that “influenza” (a disease caused by influenza viruses) is different than “flu” (a syndrome with many causes, of which influenza viruses appear to be a minor contributor).” That makes me conclude that Doshi actually fails to understand the basic principles of diseases, and, I would dare say, he’s a germ theory denier.  […]

@ Skeptical Raptor – Oh really? This critique coming from someone who hides behind a nym? At least Peter Doshi has the cojones to use his name. Oh and he is an editor at the BMJ. You, on the other hand, have a blog and claim your this and that – Hilarious! Now really, who comes off as a false authority here? We’re just to take your word for it that you’re an expert? C’mon man! What a bunch of malarkey!

Good day! Thanks for the much needed comic relief. Laughter truly is the BEST medicine!

Signing a petition in support of the crackpot idea that HIV doesn’t cause AIDS (which Doshi did) goes a long way towards demonstrating that he’s a false authority.

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