The news is all over the web now: a German court has ordered virologist Stefan Lanka to pay the 100,000 euros he promised to anyone who could prove that the measles virus exists. German doctor David Bardens decided to take Lanka to court as he didn’t want to send Bardens the money. Bardens had sent Lanka a number of scientific articles which according to Bardens meet the challenge. I was curious to find out which articles Bardens thinks provide the evidence, eventually I’ve found the list in an article written by his adversary.
In April last year the court in Ravensburg appointed an expert to judge the evidence provided by Bardens. The expert of choice was professor Andreas Podbielski, director of the Institut für Medizinische Mikrobiologie, Virologie und Hygiene, university of Rostock. In his opinion the six articles in question prove the existence of the measles virus beyond any reasonable doubt.
The position of Lanka seems even more extreme than that of ‘regular’ anti-vaxxers. He denies that viruses can cause diseases and in his view the massive amount of scientific evidence published doesn’t meet the level of evidence he demands. As Steven Novella writes it isn’t that easy to give a direct, simple prove for the existence of viruses and to show that they cause the symptoms by which we have always identified the disease:
The existence of viruses is also largely determined through inference. Most viruses are too small to see even through a microscope, and they can’t be easily grown in a dish like bacteria. Viruses are identified through isolating antibodies to them, isolating viral proteins, demonstrating biochemical activity, demonstrating disease activity, and eventually taking electron micrographs of viral particles. Taken together this evidence can be absolutely definitive, but the denier can continue to argue that the evidence is all indirect or mistaken.
When you are dealing with something too small to see directly, or a process that is very slow or occurred in the past, we rarely have a single smoking gun that by itself establishes the reality of the phenomenon. Instead, the science is built upon a large body of evidence, direct, indirect, and inferential. In the case of measles, perhaps the ultimate test was the measles vaccine, which clearly works. If measles were a myth, then a vaccine would have been frustratingly impossible to develop.
It is no wonder that Bardens couldn’t suffice with sending Lanka a single scientific paper. According to the reports about the court case, he had sent six, but none of the reports mention which those are. Eventually I found the list in an article by Lanka in his own magazine Wissenschaftplus (pdf), of course accompanied by Lanka’s comments.
These are the articles:
- Enders JF, Peebles TC. Propagation in tissue cultures of cytopathogenic agents from patients with measles. Proc Soc Exp Biol Med. 1954 Jun;86(2):277–286.
- Bech V, Magnus Pv. Studies on measles virus in monkey kidney tissue cultures. Acta Pathol Microbiol Scand. 1959; 42(1): 75–85
- Horikami SM, Moyer SA. Structure, Transcription, and Replication of Measles Virus. Curr Top Microbiol Immunol. 1995; 191: 35–50.
- Nakai M, Imagawa DT. Electron microscopy of measels virus replication. J Virol. 1969 Feb; 3(2): 187–97.
- Lund GA, Tyrell, DL, Bradley RD, Scraba DG. The molecular length of measles virus RNA and the structural organization of measles nucleocapsids. J Gen Virol. 1984 Sep;65 (Pt 9):1535–42.
- Daikoku E, Morita C, Kohno T, Sano K. Analysis of Morphology and Infectivity of Measles Virus Particles. Bulletin of the Osaka Medical College. 2007; 53(2): 107–14.
In the court room Podbielski told the judge that in his opinion these six articles are good enough as proof, but that even more convincing articles could have been provided. Lanka has appealed, so the discussion about what (scientific) evidence actually is in this case will probably return in more detail in the higher court(s) as Lanka doesn’t seem to give up that easily.
NB the commentary of Lanka on those articles is in German , so not all visitors might be able to read that. Maybe I’ll give a summary in English later on.
Update 23 January 2017