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Germ theory denialism: A major strain in “alt-med” thought

The longer I’m in this whole science-based medicine thing, not to mention the whole skepticism thing, the more I realize that no form of science is immune to woo. To move away from medicine just for a moment, even though I lament just how many people do not accept evolution, for example, I can somewhat understand it. Although the basics of the science and evidence support the theory of evolution as the central organizing principle of all biology, much of the evidence is not readily apparent to those who don’t make it a calling to study biology, evolution, and speciation. It’s not like, for example, gravity, which everyone experiences and of which everyone has a “gut level” understanding. So, not unexpectedly, when the theory of evolution conflicts with a person’s religious beliefs, for most people it’s very easy to discount the massive quantities of evidence that undergird the theory of evolution. It’s not so easy to discount the evidence for gravity.

In many ways, medicine is similar to evolution, but the situation is possibly even worse. The reason is that much of the evidence in medicine is conflicting and not readily apparent to the average person. There’s more than that, though, in that there are a number of confounding factors that make it very easy to come to the wrong conclusion in medicine, particularly when looking at single cases. Placebo effects and regression to the mean, for example, can make it appear to individual patients that, for example, water (i.e., what the quackery that is homeopathy is) or placebo interventions (i.e., acupuncture) cures or improves various medical conditions. Add to that confirmation bias, the normal human cognitive quirk whereby all of us — and I do mean all of us — tend to remember information that reinforces our preexisting beliefs and to forget information that would tend to refute those beliefs — and, at the level of a single person or even practitioner, it’s very, very easy to be misled in medicine into thinking that quackery works. On the other hand, at the single patient/practitioner level, one can also see evidence of the efficacy of modern medicine; for example, when a person catches pneumonia, is treated with antibiotics, and recovers quickly. Regardless of whether they’re being used to demonstrate quackery or scientific medicine, because personal experience and the evidence that people observe at the level of the people they know can be very deceptive in medicine, science-based medicine, with its basic science underpinnings and clinical trial evidence, is necessary to try to tease out what actually works and what doesn’t.

Medicine does, however, have its version of a theory of evolution, at least in terms of how well-supported and integrated into the very fabric of medicine it is. That theory is the germ theory of disease, which, just as evolution is the organizing principle of biology, functions as the organizing principle of infectious disease in medicine. When I first became interested in skepticism and medical pseudoscience and quackery, I couldn’t envision how anyone could deny the germ theory of disease. It just didn’t compute to me, given how copious the evidence in favor of this particular theory is. It turns out that I was wrong about that, too.

On Friday there was a video released that provides a very clear, succinct explanation of germ theory denialism:

Germ theory denialism: History

The only thing I would disagree with is the conclusion at the end that germ theory denialists are not much of a threat. (I’d also quibble with the inclusion of doctors of osteopathy with chiropractors and naturopaths. These days, most DOs are indistinguishable from MDs in how they practice.) In fact, germ theory denialism is a major strain of “thought” driving many forms of pseudoscience, such as chiropractic and naturopathy, as is shown in the video itself.

Given the content of the video, however, I thought it might be worth considering the question: How on earth could people seriously deny the germ theory of disease, given how much success the application of this theory has demonstrated in decreasing mortality? Think about it! Antibiotics, modern hygiene and public health measures, and vaccines have been responsible for preventing more deaths and arguably for saving more lives than virtually any other intervention, preventative or treatment, that science-based medicine has ever devised.

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 something like, “Many diseases are caused by microorganisms.” We could argue whether viruses count as microorganisms, but for purposes of the germ theory they do. (Most biologists do not consider viruses to be true living organisms, because they consist of nothing other than genetic material wrapped in a protein coat and lack the ability to reproduce without infecting the cell of an organism.)

The funny thing about germ theory denialism is that, long before Pasteur, there were concepts about disease that resembled the germ theory. 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 homestead 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 somehow spread from person to person or from other sources is so obvious that various explanations of how this 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 into “pollution” or “bad air.” Certainly some diseases can be spread through the air. However, it’s 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, as we have seen, 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 various concepts of “contamination,” in which miasmas or various other “poisons” somehow got into the body from the environment. Given the knowledge and religion of the time, these ideas were not unreasonable because science did not yet exist in a form that could falsify them as hypotheses, nor did the technology yet exist to identify the causative agents of disease. Given that background, attributing infectious disease 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 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 earlier. 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 to popularize the theory throughout Europe. Moreover, it should be noted, as it is in the video, that there were competing ideas; for example, those of Antoine Béchamp, who did indeed postulate nearly the exact opposite of what Pasteur did: that microorganisms were not the cause of disease but rather the consequence of disease, that injured or diseased tissues produced them and that it was the health of the organism that mattered, not the microorganisms.

Basically, Béchamp’s idea, known as the pleomorphic theory of disease, stated that bacteria change form (i.e., demonstrate pleomorphism) in response to disease. 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. Béchamp postulated that microzymas are normally present in tissues and that their effects depended upon the cellular terrain. Ultimately, Pasteur’s theory won out over that of Béchamp, based on evidence, but Béchamp was influential at the time, 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. 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 do not resist the invasion of microorganisms as well as strong, healthy people. Of course, another thing to remember is that the “terrain” can facilitate the harmful effect of microorganisms in unexpected ways. For example, certain strains of the flu (as in 1918 and H1N1) are more virulent in the young because the young mount a more vigorous immune response.

Béchamp is unusual, though, in that he is frequently invoked by peddlers of quackery as having been “right” while Pasteur and Koch were “wrong.” Just Google “Béchamp” AND “alternative medicine,”Béchamp germ theory,” or “Béchamp vaccination,” and you’ll see what I mean. Right on the first page are multiple links to that one-stop shopping site for all things quackery Whale.to, as well as links to that king of “acid-base” woo, the man who thinks all diseases are due to “excess acid,” Robert O. Young. One example of how Béchamp has come to be used to justify quackery appears on this discussion of vaccination at the Arizona Center for Advanced Medicine:

He [Pasteur] is remembered for promoting vaccinations.

Béchamp had a different idea. He believed in the pleomorphic theory, that bacteria change form and are the result of disease. He said bacteria change into organisms that are increasingly detrimental to the body. The waste products of their metabolism are harmful to local body fluids, causing pain and inflammation. It is not the germs, viruses, and bacteria that make you sick, it is the waste products of the metabolism of those organisms that make you sick.

Here’s the kicker:

Germs seek their natural habitat – diseased tissue. During the Civil War, maggots were brought into hospitals to feed on the diseased tissue of the wounded because the bugs were better at cleaning it up than potions or anticeptics. Think of mosquitoes. They seek stagnant water, but do not cause the pool to become stagnant. So when the terrain is weakened and sickly, all manner of bugs want to set up house. But they come after the disease has begun; they come because the terrain is inviting.

Not surprisingly, included in this article is the myth that Pasteur “recanted” on his deathbed and said that Béchamp is correct. The article also uses poor Béchamp to justify all manner of quackery, including live blood analysis, anti-vaccine beliefs, and claims that, because of Pasteur, the pharmaceutical companies have come to rule health, all standard tropes of the alt-med movement.

Germ theory denialism now: A “softer” form of Béchamp

In 2010, as hard as it is to believe, germ theory denialism still exists. In fact, contrary to the video above, I would argue that such denialism is actually a significant threat, as it is frequently used as a justification for anti-vaccine views, as demonstrated by the article above from Arizona Advanced Medicine. Moreover, it goes beyond anti-vaccine beliefs, to the point where I’m half tempted to label it as the alt-med/pseudoscience equivalent of the theory of evolution in its importance to woo. What I mean is that, just as the evolution is the central organizing principle of biology, germ theory denialism borders on being the central organizing idea behind the alt-med approach to disease.

Right now, the predominant form of germ theory denialism appears to be a “softer” form of denialism, just as the predominant form of evolution denialism 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 (or, as they frequently call it, “dis-ease”). However, most cases of germ theory denialism 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 I get 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.

We see this all the time among proponents of “alt-med.” For example, as I’ve written before many times, comedian Bill Maher expresses just such views. My favorite example was when he was having a discussion with Bob Costas about the flu and the flu vaccine and stated that, because he lives right and eats a healthy diet he “never gets the flu” and wouldn’t get the flu on an airplane even if several people with the flu were on that plane, to which Bob Costas made a hilariously spot-on reply, “Oh, come on, Superman!” That’s not too far from the truth, because the modern form of germ theory denialism does seem to claim that diet, exercise, and living the “right way” will make us all super men and super women, able to resist the nastiest of infectious disease.

Germ theory denialism: An example from naturopathy

After I saw C0nc0rdance’s video on germ theory denialism, I couldn’t resist looking at some of the videos that popped up on the sidebar of the YouTube link to see what was there. Prominent among the related videos that Google served up was a video by Dr. Shawn Sieracki of the Whole Body Healing Center of Lewisville. One might expect a whole lot of dubious therapies from Dr. Shawn based on what’s on his practice’s website, which touts woo such as the “detox challenge,” which boasts “Detoxify or die!” and offers services such as the infamous woo known as the “detox foot bath”:

Dr. Shawn has produced a video that demonstrates the germ theory denialism at the heart of much of what is espoused by naturopathy. His video is entitled Naturopathic Minute: Germ Theory, and he begins by baldly stating that “germ theory is not correct”:

Dr. Shawn bases much of his argument on a straw man version of germ theory. First, he claims that germ theory is what “traditional medicine” bases “all of its studies and research” on and that the “medical model” is based on germ theory. These statements are sort of true in that science-based medicine does primarily base its studies and therapies of infectious disease on germ theory (germ theory does, after all, work), but Dr. Shawn seems to be implying that all disease is caused by “germs” according to scientific medicine. He then goes on to misstate germ theory by stating first that it says that disease is caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites (true) but that scientific medicine also says that infectious disease is caused by “toxins” (false; that’s not what scientific medicine says–unless Dr. Shawn means something like the cholera toxin, and somehow I doubt that he does). He then boldly proclaims that germ theory is “not correct” because:

It’s not the germs that cause the disease. It’s the condition of the environment that causes the disease…I’m going to give you a layman’s terms example so that you can understand. Cockroaches are the germs. Now why do you have cockroaches in your kitchen sink and all over the kitchen counter? Is the cockroaches the problem, or is it the dirty dishes, the stinky syrup on the kitchen counter, the food crumbs all over the place? That, more than likely, is why the cockroaches are there. So, doctors treat the cockroaches as the problem. They spray the insecticides; they spray the pesticides, but they keep the dirty dishes in the kitchen sink. OK, does that make sense? A natural health practitioner is going to help you clean up that dirty kitchen sink…If you clean up the dirty kitchen sink, the cockroaches go away. They can’t feed on that environment.

Personally, having worked in a restaurant that had a cockroach infestation cockroaches before, I’d like to see Dr. Shawn get rid of cockroaches in a house by doing nothing more than cleaning up the kitchen. Once you have cockroaches, they won’t go away with such a minimal intervention. Just ask anyone who’s had them in his home. Restaurant management was already strict about proper food practice and keeping things clean. It became even more so after cockroaches were discovered. After all, cockroaches were bad for business. If a customer saw one, it’d be disastrous, and if the health inspector saw them on the next visit, it would be even more disastrous in that there would be fines and the restaurant might even be shut down. In addition to excellent food hygiene practices, it also took visits from the exterminator to get rid of the cockroaches, and we were under no illusion that the cockroaches wouldn’t be back promptly if our guard lapsed.

Dr. Shawn goes even further:

Another analogy would be a stagnant swamp, a stagnant swamp versus a river. A river is full of life. A river is healthy. It’s flowing just like the blood should be flowing in your body. Okay? You’ve got eagles floating, you’ve got cold water fish floating in a river. Now in a stagnant swamp, you’ve got mosquitos, gnats, flies. You’ve got deadly snakes swimming in that moldy, filthy water. It’s the condition of the pond that attracts that, okay, it’s the condition of the pond that attracts the mosquitos, that attracts the gnats, etc.

Of course, again, there is more than a grain of truth in the idea that the “terrain” matters. If you’re unhealthy or debilitated, your resistance to bacteria is decreased. For example, it’s well known that diabetics have difficulty fighting off infections; a whole specialty (vascular surgery) deals with the complications of that problem in the feet. This is not anything new, nor is studying the effect of nutrition and overall health on resistance to infectious disease. Scientists and physicians have been studying these questions for decades. Where naturopaths go off the deep end is in claiming that good health is enough to ward off infectious disease. You can be a perfectly healthy 20 year old and die of the flu. It happened to millions in the 1918 pandemic, which in the U.S. got its start in Army barracks, where very healthy 18-22 year old males congregated. You can be perfectly healthy, but if you are exposed to a pathogenic virus or bacteria, you can still come down with a disease that will kill you. It is also not correct to argue, as Dr. Shawn argues, that ill health “attracts” these bacteria. They’re out there. They live on your body; they’re in the environment; just by living you’re exposed to them.

It’s also not true that the flu shot “gives you the flu,” as Dr. Shawn claims in one of his more ignorant statements.

Dr. Shawn also parrots another germ theory denialist argument, frequently found on numerous websites. Specifically, he gives the example of ten people on an elevator with a person with the flu (sometimes it’s a pathogenic bacteria when repeated elsewhere), who’s coughing all over the place. He points out that, although everyone in the elevator was exposed to the flu virus, not everyone gets the flu, as if that were evidence that the germ theory is incorrect! Germ theory denialists seem to think that anything less than a 100% infection rate in people exposed to a pathogenic organism means that that organism doesn’t cause the disease. This is a particularly prominent trait among HIV/AIDS denialists because HIV only causes disease in only a relatively small percentage of people exposed to it once. It’s an example of all-or-nothing thinking that’s so prevalent in promoters of pseudoscience. For example, it’s very much akin to when anti-vaccine zealots in essence argue that if a vaccine doesn’t prevent disease 100% of the time it’s useless, as they so frequently do with, for example, the flu vaccine or the measles vaccine, the latter of which is approximately 90% effective. Sometimes, it leads to arguments like this, where it is argued that pathogenic bacteria are not only not the cause of disease, but they are there to rid the body of disease:

Germs take part in all disease phenomena because these are processes requiring the breaking down or disintegration of accumulated refuse and toxic matter within the body, which the system is endeavouring to throw off. But to assume, as our medical scientists do, that merely because germs are present and active in all disease phenomena, they are therefore the cause of the same diseases, is just as wrong as it would be to assume that because germs are present and active in the decomposition processes connected with all dead organic matter, they are the cause of the death of the organic matter in question. The analogy is absolutely just and fair! And equally ridiculous!

But no one would say that because the decaying body of a dead dog is full of bacteria, the bacteria are the cause of the dog’s death. We know they are there as a part of the natural disintegration process taking place as a result of the death of the dog. And so it is with germs and disease. Germs are a part of the results of disease, not its cause.

Germs are present in disease not as causes, but as superficial helpers brought there by Nature to rid the body of disease. They are the “scavengers” employed by Mother Nature to break up and “bring to a head” the accumulated internal filth of years of unhygienic and unwholesome living, which are clogging the tissues of the body and preventing proper functioning.

While it’s true that there are many bacteria that live as commensal organisms in the colon of each and every human, not to mention the trillions upon trillions of bacteria that live on the skin, the statement is denialist in that it refuses to acknowledge that there are both helpful and very harmful bacteria. To the author, bacteria not only don’t cause disease, but they are what’s trying to eliminate disease. While it is true that there are cases in which the native bacterial flora living on our body “crowd out” pathogenic bacteria and the elimination of that bacterial flora with antibiotics can leave a person susceptible to pathogenic bacteria that are there all along (C. difficile colitis comes to mind), to make such a blanket statement is the sheerest folly.

Still, it doesn’t take very much searching through the “alt-med” parts of the Internet to find all sorts of mind-bogglingly ignorant attacks against Pasteur, for example:

One can’t help but notice that in the last example, a chapter attacking germ theory is the very first chapter in a book on “natural cures.”

Why is germ theory denialism so attractive?

There is little doubt that germ theory denialism is a strain of “thought” (again, if you can call it that) that undergirds a lot of quackery. The question is: Why? After all, despite its flaws and despite the manner in which microorganisms have become resistant to antibiotics, thanks to our overuse, the germ theory of disease arguably marked the beginning of the scientific revolution in medicine and the birth of science-based medicine. After Pasteur’s popularization of the germ theory of disease, medicine entered a period of remarkable advances that continue to this day. Before Pasteur, there was no unifying theory for infectious disease. After Pasteur, there was, and the success of Pasteur’s theory revolutionized not just medicine but food preparation, particularly the process of Pasteurization of milk and other products, which greatly decreased the chance of illness borne by dairy products and other products that could be treated. Proper surgical antisepsis led to declines in surgical mortality.

I suspect that a large part of the reason that germ theory denialism persists in a range of forms from hardcore belief that Béchamp was right and Pasteur wrong to softer forms that claim that better nutrition and health would be as effective, or more so, than vaccines or antibiotics in preventing and treating disease derives from the very worship of the “natural” that so much of “alt-med” is built upon. If nature is so benevolent, then how could it be that there are microorganisms that will harm or even kill us if they gain a foothold in our bodies? Also, there is a great deal of “Secret“-like mystical thinking in alt-med, making it unsurprising that, if Béchamp were right, that would imply that disease or lack of disease is within us. That further implies that the means of ridding ourselves of disease is also within us through diet, exercise, and whatever activities that promote health we can undertake. This is far more reassuring than the idea that there are microorganisms out there that care nothing for our hopes or activities and are just waiting for an opportunity to attack. It’s far more reassuring to believe that we can have complete control over our health than it is to think that a random twist of fate could inoculate us with microbes that care nothing for any of that.

Regardless of the motivations behind germ theory denialism, I can’t help but find it odd that a mere three days from now the director of the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), Dr. Josephine Briggs, will be speaking to the 25th Anniversary Convention of the American Association of Naturopathic Physicians (AANP). I wonder if Dr. Briggs knows the depths of germ theory denialism and anti-science that form the basis of so much “alternative medicine” in general and of naturopathy in particular. Perhaps Dr. Shawn will even be in the audience when she speaks. I wonder if he’ll approve of Dr. Briggs’ talk.

Posted in: Chiropractic, Naturopathy, Nutrition, Vaccines

Leave a Comment (59) ↓

59 thoughts on “Germ theory denialism: A major strain in “alt-med” thought

  1. Mark P says:

    Another analogy would be a stagnant swamp, a stagnant swamp versus a river. A river is full of life. A river is healthy.

    Eh? A clear river is more or less sterile. It’s the muddy “stagnant” swamp that’s full of life.

    So the swamp is not full of life that we admire, but the crabs love it! But they cannot live in clear river water. From their point of view it is the rivers that are “unhealthy”.

    Having lived in the tropics, I also agree about the cockroaches. Their presence is not caused, as such, by uncleanliness. People of immaculate cleanliness were cursed by them. And once they are present the cure is not to be cleaner – more radical methods are required.

    These alt-med people need to work on their metaphors!

    Their logic too.

  2. I don’t understand this bit: “[F]or most people it’s very easy to discount the massive quantities of evidence that undergird the theory of evolution. It’s not so easy to discount the evidence for the theory of evolution.”

    Editing miss?

  3. I didn’t read the source, but maybe this needs some clarification: “He then goes on to mistate germ theory by stating first that it says that disease is caused by bacteria, viruses, and parasites (true) but that scientific medicine also says that infectious disease is caused by “toxins” (false; that’s not what scientific medicine says).”

    My understanding is that there are diarrheal diseases that are caused by commensal microorganisms which sometimes turn around and start producing toxins that can cause massive dehydration quite quickly.

    And generally, don’t infectious organisms often produce toxins?

    I didn’t read the original, so I’m guessing this isn’t what he was saying modern medicine proposes, but it’s unclear to anyone just reading your text and not following all the links.

  4. phayes says:

    There will always be quacks and crackpots but I’m much more annoyed by the many rational scientists and medics who, like Dr Kleinschmidt in the ‘detox’ video above, make sins of their dispassionate conservatism and rigour by their (sometimes /absolutely/ inappropriate and intellectually cowardly*) perverse resort to them in the least appropriate circumstances.

    * Or… just how far has this ‘no-need-for-medics-to-learn-any-science’ business gone if some are happy to appear on a TV show and respond as equivocally as that guy did to a disgusting quack blatantly conning people with a simple electrolysis trick?

  5. David Gorski says:

    @Alison

    Listen to the video. I could be wrong, but in context Dr. Shawn is not referring to bacteria-produced toxins. Think about it: How could he be referring to something like, say, cholera toxin if he’s denying that bacteria cause disease at all? On the other hand, it is odd that he brings up “toxins” at all, much less ascribing the idea to conventional medicine.

  6. MKirschMD says:

    Rejection of germ theory, or medical evidence in general, is the mother’s milk of alternative medicine and its practitioners. Faith becomes evidence. Science is sidelined in the pursuit of ‘wellness’. Intelligent folks can also be myopic when they are convinced that a medical association is real. There are folks throughout the country who believe that certain vaccines and their components cause autism. This is patently false. It is not simply that the issue has not been studied; it has been carefully scrutinized and the vaccines have been exonerated by the scientific method. Sunlight is the best disinfectant, but there are many dark corners that still need to be illuminated.

  7. kwombles says:

    David,

    I actually went to high school with Dr. Shawn,and I passed on the information I discovered about how he was targeting parents of autistic children to provide therapy to my blogging friend, Thelma, where she looked into some of his various woo in this blog: http://counteringageofautism.blogspot.com/2010/01/naturopathic-woo-woo-well-take-your.html

    Thelma wrote in part (and I note he’s still using equipment banned in the US):

    “Are ya kiddin me? Ya go right on and put your lives, ifn ya got life-threatenin diseases, in the hands of folks who think the magic water is real, as these folks do and who are gonna diagnose ya, I kid ya not with things like the Quantum SCIO and QXCI. Now, you seriously have to go read these two links, I am for reals serious with this, Thelma is. Go and read these two sites and sit and ponder on anyone believin such woo. Ya don’t even need to be tipsy to laugh your ass off, either. Comedic relief right there in them two pages is what I am sayin. It gets even richer on the website itself: ‘The Quantum is reading your Super-Conscience mind. 90% of your Super conscience mind is not being used.’”

  8. Dr Benway says:

    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 into “pollution” or “bad air.”

    “Toxins” are today’s “miasma.”

    Young mammals enjoy a good feeling when near their moms and a bad feeling when around strangers. Those early imperatives form foundation for all the moral feelings that make life so interesting.

    “Nature” or “wellness” is the environmental mother and the good feeling of her approval. “Miasma” and “toxins” are her disapproval.

    Mark P above illustrates how a river can be imbued with the good feeling of “clean, flowing, healthy,” OR the bad feeling of “sterile, dead.”

    Poor hallucinating humans who cannot see a stick of wood or a sunset as it actually is apart from the distorting influence of their petty desires!

  9. Anarres says:

    I enjoyed this post very much. Thanks Dr. Gorski, but

    “…I’d also quibble with the inclusion of doctors of osteopathy with chiropractors and naturopaths. These days, most DOs are indistinguishable from MDs in how they practice…”

    Maybe in the US… as european I find your statement somewhat disturbing, especially the word “most”…
    In Spain, it isn’t illegal but isn’t officially recognised.

    “…It’s far more reassuring to believe that we can have complete control over our health than it is to think that a random twist of fate could inoculate us with microbes that care nothing for any of that.”

    The blacklash to woo-believers: your disease is your fault:

    “…Clark Baker says that AIDS was invented because “a small group of promiscuous, addicted, nitrite-huffing, gonorrheal and syphilitic bath house veterans began to get sick…”

    http://www.thebody.com/content/news/art57918.html

    I´m not a believer, but this guy lives in a swamp and never gets a infection, so I trust him as alt-med provider:

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gUyu5prWjTE

  10. Alt-Med almost always has a glaring limit in their logic. The logic usually is: criticize mainstream medicine for its reliance on [fill in the blank], then present the superior hypothesis for illness and proposed cure. The two main [fill in the blanks] are: the idea of some offending germ or disease process that needs to be correctly understood, and whatever scientific methods that were used that are inherently flawed and led to modern medicine having an incorrect view of disease and treatment.

    The germ theeory denialists rage against germ theory so that they can discredit modern medicine, but usually replace germ theory with another such parallel theory, such as “toxin theory,” then propose a parallel treatment – get the toxin out, rather than get the germ out.

    The other parallel is to discredit scientific methodology is mis-guided and ill-equipped to evaluate claims of curative factors, then to turn around and use the methodology of a trial to demonstrate the worthiness of their remedy. Uh, doc, the idea of the “trial” is part of modern medicine.

    The criticism and proposed solution are usually separated by a paragraph of impressive woo-cabulary designed to help you forget that they just denigrated the concept of the trial, since they are about to return right back to the tool of the trial to demonstrate their cure.

    I believe these are almost humorous characteristics of much of alt med – almost humorous but not — people are wasting money, missing the opportunity for valid treatments, and are getting harmed. That is not funny.

    [I believe all of this is simply a repeat of what has been said many times before on this blog, but at least I got to write "woocabulary.]

  11. windriven says:

    A chilling post, Dr. Gorski. I would like to point out that the producer of the YouTube video on germ theory denialism did, in fact, note that he had mischaracterized US osteopathy practice both in an author’s note:

    “I was careless with my wording on Osteopathic Physicians. In the US, they are evidence-based physicians. Outside the US, there is considerable heterogeneity in who can be called an “osteopath”.”

    and in a visual during the audio portion where he conflated osteopathy with egregious forms of woo.

    It is to the author’s credit that he has attempted to set the record right (though one wonders why he didn’t simply alter the voice-over).

  12. WilliamLawrenceUtridge says:

    Bizarre fallacies of the nutter fringe:

    1) All theories pass or fail on the basis of what their originator thought
    2) Medicine is easy, reality is not complicated
    3) Alt med is 100% effective in all circumstances
    4) There is no interaction between person and environment, it is strictly unidirectional
    5) Mother Nature gives a crap about both humans in general, and you specifically
    6) All Native Americans in North and South America became very, very dirty housekeepers shortly after 1492
    7) Columbus wasn’t a carrier of infectious disease, he was a bad role model
    9) Humans do not vary in their ability to resist specific infections, there is no genetic component to the immune system

    There is no fallacy 8.

  13. David Gorski says:

    @windriven

    Maybe he hasn’t gotten around to altering the voiceover yet. Adding a comment to the YouTube page is quick. Rerecording part of the voiceover and then adding it to the video and uploading it again, not so quick.

  14. Josie says:

    One person’s swamp is another’s wetland. I like wetlands, they are pretty useful and full of diversity.

    I agree with Mark P –their metaphors need work. They should also take basic ecology while they are re-taking that college english class.

  15. superdave says:

    Great post Dr. Gorski. This reminds me a lot of the wedge issue in politics. You don’t need complete denial, you just need enough to wedge your brand of pseudoscience into a tiny crack of the scientific door.

  16. Harriet Hall says:

    My favorite germ theory denial comment was that of a chiropractor who told me “Germs don’t cause disease: if they did, we’d all be dead.”

  17. Alexie says:

    I find something deeply sad about this – and I mean ‘sad’ as in contemplating this post makes me melancholy. Vaccines and hygiene must rate among the greatest human achievements ever. To find that there are rich celebrities with the ability to reach a wide audience who would use their pulpit to bring back the miseries of pre-modern medicine is shocking.

    I did, however, get a smile upon discovering there is a book out there entitled “Why the Anthrax Bacteria is No More Dangerous to You Than Any Other Germ”. I wonder if the author could be persuaded to test that idea?

  18. David Gorski says:

    My favorite germ theory denial comment was that of a chiropractor who told me “Germs don’t cause disease: if they did, we’d all be dead.”

    Well, we do all die eventually, don’t we? Therefore germ theory is correct! (Just using similar “logic” to Dr. Shawn.) :-)

  19. xwolp says:

    “Well, we do all die eventually, don’t we? Therefore germ theory is correct!”

    To quote some woo-peddler “All science science has ever managed to do is to extend our life”

  20. Toiletman says:

    Hmmm as for acupuncture, hasn’t there recently been a study that kind of gave a scientific explanation for it? Of course something totally unralated to the prescientific theory of meridians. Afaik, it was the release of adenosine in the area targeted with a needle.

  21. wales says:

    “Of course, again, there is more than a grain of truth in the idea that the “terrain” matters.”

    Of course there is, especially since humans as “terrain” are only “10% human, 90% bacterial” according to Bonnie Bassler http://www.ted.com/index.php/talks/bonnie_bassler_on_how_bacteria_communicate.html

    And there is a huge difference in the way bacteria were understood by Pasteur and the way they are understood today. It would seem that Pasteurian germ theory and its denialism are both rather simplistic views of a complex topic. Enter the fascinating world of biofilms, the toxins they produce, and the “natural” substances being used to combat them.

    “Ever since Louis Pasteur first grew bacteria in flasks, biologists have pictured bacteria as individual invaders floating or swimming in a liquid sea, moving through our blood and lymph like a school of piranhas down the Amazon. But in recent years, scientists have come to understand that much, and perhaps most, of bacterial life is collective: 99 percent of bacteria live in biofilms.” http://discovermagazine.com/2009/jul-aug/17-slime-city-germs-talk-each-other-plan-attacks

    I was surprised to learn this “Each year roughly 500,000 people in the United States die of biofilm-associated infections, nearly as many as those who die of cancer.”

    Bonnie Bassler has done some rather interesting work on bacterial communication. http://www.molbio.princeton.edu/index.php?option=content&task=view&id=27
    “Quorum-sensing molecules also play an important part in bacterial virulence, or deadliness. If a lethal germ released toxic chemicals immediately after entering the host’s body, the immune system would quickly sense the toxin and go after the invader. So it pays for bacteria to wait, stealthily multiplying until the unwitting host is full of them. Then they can release their toxins all at once, overwhelming immunity and sickening or killing the host.”

    One scientist in the above cited Discover piece has had good results using extract of witch hazel bark to interrupt the bacterial communication.

    Then there’s the successful wound-healing work of Randall Wolcott “Xylitol is a plant-sugar alcohol that has powerful antibiofilm properties.”

    So while infectious disease may not be directly “caused” by “toxins”, toxins are secreted by bacteria based upon quorum communication and can be deadly to the host. Some simple substances seem to be effective in interrupting that communication. Interesting.

  22. Al Morrison says:

    Great article. Really. Could easily be a chapter in a book.

    One thing to add: Another reason germ-theory denialism exists is to all alt med purveyors and others to make money with their health improving products and regimens.

  23. JMB says:

    I like the Dr Gorski’s use of strain in the title. It is as if there is a strain of virus causing a cerebritis in people so that they forget science taught to them in elementary school. Maybe it is an internet acquired virus.

  24. windriven says:

    @wales

    “So it pays for bacteria to wait, stealthily multiplying until the unwitting host is full of them. Then they can release their toxins all at once, overwhelming immunity and sickening or killing the host.”

    Sickening, yes. But what is the evolutionary advantage to killing the host? Perhaps if carrion-eaters are the vector. But that seems a pretty narrow evolutionary path.

    Besides, my (quite limited) understanding is that the immune system keys on proteins on the infectious agent and that in general the ‘toxins’ are released in largest quantity when the bacteria die.

  25. nitpicking says:

    @toiletman, well-conducted studies show that acupuncture with real needles, and play-acting acupuncture with no actual penetration of the skin have the same effect.

    That is, there is no need to explain the effect of acupuncture because there is no such effect in the first place.

  26. BillyJoe says:

    “Bonnie Bassler has done some rather interesting work on bacterial communication.”

    As long as you don’t make the mistake of a poster on Steven Novella’s Neurologica blog who thinks this means that bacteria are conscious.
    (He also had a “quantum mind” theory for this as well which he never quite managed to explain.)

  27. wales says:

    Windriven: I don’t fully understand it, but biofilms are a fascinating subject. My point was that the traditional, planktonic model of free floating, individual bacteria as understood by Pasteur and Koch is outdated, and therefore so is “germ theory” as most people think of it. The planktonic phase is just that, a phase, and apparently a transient one. Here’s a JAMA article on biofilms

    http://66.96.238.245/~woundcar/wp-content/uploads/2009/07/biofilms-and-chronic-infections.pdf

    Another paper makes a similar point: “Since the inception of the germ theory of disease over 150 years ago, it has generally been assumed that potential pathogens invade the host essentially as solitary microorganisms (“lone soldiers”). Successful pathogens must find a susceptible host and then gain access to host tissues through a defect in epithelial barriers. The pathogen must replicate rapidly, and either overwhelms the host’s innate and adaptive immune system, or successfully evades antimicrobial defenses by avoiding host recognition and clearance mechanisms. This traditional view of microbial pathogenesis was turned on its head about 30 years ago when three microbiologists, Nealson, Platt, and Hastings, made the seemingly innocuous discovery that some marine bacteria actually have the capacity to communicate with each other and coordinate their activities to their mutual benefit [11].http://www.plosmedicine.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pmed.0040349

    This may be old news to some readers, but it is new to me.

    Billy Joe, I had never thought about consciousness and bacteria. It all depends on what the meaning of the word “consciousness” is, I guess. Biofilm behavior is fascinating, whether or not you attribute consciousness to it.

  28. wales says:

    windriven I had another thought regarding your question as to the evolutionary advantage of killing off the host. If bacterial and viral biofilms are so adept at sensing the immune vulnerability of their hosts as the above cited articles show, then perhaps making a host sick enough to enter the hospital, where there are plenty of immuno-compromised individuals to prey upon (and where it is easy to hitch a ride to the next victim because hand hygiene compliance is only at 35%), creates an advantage. I don’t attribute any “conscious forethought” to the little critters, but it seems to work for them somehow.

  29. windriven says:

    wales,
    I am intrigued by the whole concept. It will be interesting to watch further research as it emerges.

  30. wales,

    Are you proposing that microorganisms/ biofilms only kill or sicken humans, and that they only started doing so in the 500 or so years since hospitals were invented?

    Cool!

    (But I guess microorganisms/ biofilms will start evolving to make dogs and cats sick now that we have urban animal hospitals for sick pets to contaminate eachother in. That’s not so cool. But now that we know that infectious disease is caused by the evolutionary pressure exerted by hospitals, we can take action and abolish hospitals! In the absence of evolutionary pressure, infectious illness will disappear!)

  31. Sorry, that should be “selection pressure.”

  32. Mark Crislip, I believe, knows rather a lot about biofilms: I seem to remember that they were the subject of a thesis, directly or indirectly because of sticking to plastic. I think that was in his other blog which I don’t seem to be able to search.

    He’s mentioned biofilms at least twice right here on SBM:
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=563
    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=681

    In one of those he even gets quite excited about the “10% human, 90% bacterial” concept.

  33. Calli Arcale says:

    No, I think he’s suggesting that within the timeframe that hospitals have existed, some bacteria’s behavior has changed to better exploit that environment. Given how rapidly bacteria evolve in response to other pressures even over shorter timeframes, I actually wouldn’t be all that surprised.

  34. Calli Arcale says:

    They’ve always killed or sickened us; now they’ve just found new ways of doing so. ;-)

  35. wales says:

    No Alison, I wasn’t proposing what you speculate I was proposing.

    I glanced at MC’s posts on biofilms. I know nothing about the Marshall Protocol nor do I see the relevance to the topic of biofilms as I mentioned it. I do note that contrary to MC’s statement that bacteria colonize only the “outside” of humans (including the GI tract), they apparently are present elsewhere in the biofilm mode, as noted below (including the vagina, as I have read elsewhere).

    http://www.americanscientist.org/issues/pub/biofilms/1

    “The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that up to 70 percent of the human bacterial infections in the Western world are caused by biofilms. This includes diseases such as prostatitis and kidney infections, as well as illnesses associated with implanted medical devices such as artificial joints and catheters and the dental diseases—both tooth decay and gum disease—that arise from dental plaque, a biofilm. In the lungs of cystic fibrosis patients, Pseudomonas aeruginosa frequently forms biofilms that cause potentially lethal pneumonias. There is a long list of biofilm-related ailments, and many scientists believe the list will continue to grow as we learn more about the function of these microbial structures.”

    As for debating the 10%/90% human/bacterial composition, MC will have to take that up with Bonnie Bassler & others.

  36. wales on the purpose of a biofilm: “So it pays for bacteria to wait, stealthily multiplying until the unwitting host is full of them. Then they can release their toxins all at once, overwhelming immunity and sickening or killing the host.”

    wales is quite clear here that the goal of bacteria is to sneak in, accumulate sufficient numbers, and then sicken or kill the host. This behaviour “pays.” windriven asks why bacteria might have sickening or killing the host as a goal.

    wales on the evolutionary pressure to sicken or kill a host: “Making a host sick enough to enter the hospital, where there are plenty of immuno-compromised individuals to prey upon creates an advantage.”

    If wales did not mean that microorganisms sicken hosts in order to send them to hospitals where they can be retransmitted, then wales should not have said that.

    *** *** ***
    There are very plausible reasons why microorganisms might sicken hosts — most of them specific to the microorganism or illness. Diarrheal illnesses (usually caused by toxins, I believe) lead to water-borne transmission, which is great for microorganisms. Colds lead to sneezing and to germy snot everywhere. (Someone with a low-grade cold that drags on is more likely to transmit it to more people than someone with acute pneumonia who needs to be hospitalized.)

    In other situations it seems as though when humans acquired the disease it was extremely virulent and got less so over time because it is precisely NOT in the interest of the microorganism to disable or kill the host. (Do yaws and syphillis fall into this category? What about poxes?)

    And then there’s toxoplasmosis, which takes over your brain and will convert you into a toxo-transmitting cat lady.

    Why wales would invent a hypothesis where the reason we get sick (in general) is so that we can take biofilms (in particular) to the hospital for transmission when there are all kinds of plausible hypotheses out there… I just don’t know. wales lulls me into thinking they are kind of smart, then comes up with agnostic wingnut proposals like this one. (Which, knowing wales, will go undefended: “I don’t know, I’m just proposing, anything is possible, and besides somebody wrote about it in a book and impressed me.”)

  37. wales on whether there is a grain of truth in the terrain hypothesis: “Of course there is, especially since humans as “terrain” are only “10% human, 90% bacterial” according to Bonnie Bassler.”

    wales on defending assertions: “As for debating the 10%/90% human/bacterial composition, MC will have to take that up with Bonnie Bassler & others.”

    If you use a statement as a premise, you should be prepared to defend your use of that statement as a premise. If you don’t understand why you find an analysis persuasive, why would you base an argument of your own on it? You’re the one who brought up the 10/90 split, not Mark Crislip; why would Mark Crislip take it up with anyone?

  38. wales says:

    Alison, that’s what I like about you, ever willing to bicker and denigrate. I only wish your comments were more educational.

    BTW, your “wales on the purpose of…” comment was actually a Bonnie Bassler quote, not mine.

    Here are a few more interesting articles.

    http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/508109_2

    http://www.uchospitals.edu/news/2005/20050728-pseudomonas.html

  39. wales says:

    Alison now you’re really not making sense. You brought MC into the 10/90 split topic.

    I feel no need to defend myself. I cite articles that I find to be educational, hoping they are educational for others as well, as that is my primary purpose in reading here. However the blog authors rarely cite references anymore (they used to, what gives?).

  40. wales says:

    Alison here’s a tip: just ignore my comments. Save yourself the frustration and energy. Unless of course you enjoy having a venting target, then carry on, carry on. We all need to release now and then.

  41. wales says:

    Oh for the Medscape piece just google “biofilm development on catheter surfaces”

  42. weing says:

    You guys have it all wrong. Bacteria evolved humans to serve as transport media for exploring outer space.

  43. Mostly, I don’t understand how the poisonous snakes are living in the moldy, filthy pond when one of their main sources of food (frogs) are so sensitive to environmental toxins.

    And why is it when he talks about clear mountain streams that all I can think of is elk pee* and Giardia? (maybe just me.)

    But as Dr Shawn points out ‘It’s difficult and complicated, he’s trying to simplify it, so we can understand’.

    Hmmm, refuting alchemists one day (Newton aside, kinda hard to refute gravity, well you can try, but it hurts) and self important asses the other, perhaps SBM isn’t really challenging themselves this week. :)

    On the other hand perhaps the hot, muggy weather and the overwhelmingness of cicadas is just the right time to lighten the debunking theme. Switching from gravy to a mango salsa, as it were.

    *My spiritual take away, do not let the quantum elk pee in your stream of consciousness.

  44. wales says:

    Calli you were right on about my comments. I guess my unclear writing isn’t so unclear to everyone. Windriven, I agree, very interesting. What I found so hopeful about Ms. Bassler’s presentation was the idea of new antibiotics that target the communication lines of the bacteria. Because biofilm bacteria are much more resistant to antibiotics than their planktonic brethren, this is a huge problem.

    Google “biofilm recalcitrance to antimicrobials” for another page in the medscape article on biofilms.

    “Systemic dosing levels of antibiotics, which were developed according to the pharmacodynamics and pharmacokinetics of planktonic organisms, are relatively ineffective against biofilm micro-organisms. Biofilm micro-organisms have been shown to be 100-1000 times less susceptible to antibiotics than their planktonic counterparts. At least 4 mechanisms are attributed to this resistance: (1) restricted penetration of the antibiotic through the biofilm; (2) nutrient limitation, altered microenvironment, and slow growth of biofilm cells; (3) adaptive responses; and (4) genetic alteration to “persister” cells.”

  45. Alison – I think “wales is quite clear here that the goal of bacteria is to sneak in, accumulate sufficient numbers, and then sicken or kill the host. This behaviour “pays.” windriven asks why bacteria might have sickening or killing the host as a goal.”

    Sorry, I’m not completely following this interchange, but the above question just struck a couple examples in my mind.

    In Cholera, the sickening of the host (diarrhea) clearly serves to increase transmission of the disease and increase bacteria population (goal)*.

    Also, I once heard a theory that the malaria parasite alters the infected mosquito in order to increase feeding, thereby shortening the mosquito’s lifespan and increasing the population of malaria parasite (goal).

    So, as Calli already indicated, the sickening or killing of the host can sometimes have an evolutionary advantage when it increases the transmission/population of the bacteria, parasite, etc, unless (or until) it wipes out the host species within transmission range.

    Wales – I wish I had more time to read your sources. The idea sounds interesting. I hope to get to it another day. I am confused by your example of the infection that sicken a patient and seeks out immune compromised patients. I don’t understand the lifecycle of this hypothetical (?) bacteria. Perhaps if you could outline a real disease that behaves this way and the transmission pattern/lifecyle I might better understand your idea.

    Or alternately, I will get to read the articles and it may become more clear.

    *of course, there actually is no goal in evolution since “goal” suggest conscious planning, there is only the advantageous result.

  46. wales says:

    Michele, the “hypothesis” was nothing more than a momentary idea, a response to windriven’s comment. This is a blog after all. I make no claims to developing complex theories.

  47. wales – fair enough, I was just curious.

  48. Calli Arcale says:

    It is a cool idea, and would be cool if it would get tested. ;-) Of course, it’s also possible that bacteria could have evolved to provoke certain behaviors in humans without forming biofilms at all. Bacterial behaviors can be more complicated than one might at first think, even though they have no volition of their own.

    I don’t have references, or time to find some, but I seem to recall reading about researchers looking at ways to disrupt the formation of biofilms as a new line of attack against antibiotic resistant bacteria. The clever part is that as it doesn’t kill the bacteria or impede their reproduction, it doesn’t exert as much evolutionary pressure as an antibiotic. Thus, it may be harder for bacteria to become resistant to this approach.

    wales mentioned biofilms forming in the vagina. They can indeed, and they can form elsewhere too. My grandfather has had them in several parts of his body (like the inside of his knee joints), and his were MRSA. (He’s probably still got MRSA living in his body; it’s just in a benign mode at present, and we hope it doesn’t flare up; each episode has been worse than the one before it.) As I have recurrent bladder infections, I’ve got a particular interest there; a fair amount of research has focused on biofilm formation within the bladder. (Turns out that if cranberry really does help at all, it’s in disrupting the biofilm formation stage. Sadly, that means it’s probably not that much help with an active infection but might be useful as a preventative, once more research is done to figure out a practical and effective dosing regimen.)

    Bacteria are fascinating things. They’re brainless, primitive, microscopic lumps — but they’re also much, much more than that. They don’t just blindly eat and breed.

  49. wales says:

    I believe someone asked how biofilms get inside the body (or perhaps that was MC’s biofilm post I’m thinking of). Anyhow, this CDC article explains how this happens with regard to implanted medical devices (including catheters). I hadn’t thought about contact lenses……and it’s interesting that the biofilms can adhere to either non-living material or living tissue.

    “Microbial biofilms develop when microorganisms irreversibly adhere to a submerged surface and produce extracellular polymers that facilitate adhesion and provide a structural matrix. This surface may be inert, nonliving material or living tissue. Biofilm-associated microorganisms behave differently from planktonic (freely suspended) organisms with respect to growth rates and ability to resist antimicrobial treatments and therefore pose a public health problem. This article describes the microbial biofilms that develop on or within indwelling medical devices (e.g., contact lenses, central venous catheters and needleless connectors, endotracheal tubes, intrauterine devices, mechanical heart valves, pacemakers, peritoneal dialysis catheters, prosthetic joints, tympanostomy tubes, urinary catheters, and voice prostheses).”

    http://www.cdc.gov/ncidod/eid/vol7no2/donlan.htm

  50. Calli Arcale says:

    I think the short version is that biofilms don’t (generally) jump into a body. Rather, individual bacteria get into a body, breed, perhaps live with it harmlessly for decades, and then one day, in response to some trigger, suddenly the population of this one species of bacteria abruptly changes its behavior and forms into a biofilm.

    It’s sort of like parasites. A ten foot tapeworm doesn’t enter the body. But tapeworm larvae do, and then they mature inside the body, growing into a ten foot tapeworm lodged in the digestive tract.

    My grandpa had particular trouble with them colonizing the surfaces of his artificial knees. The last time, the doctors finally resorted to removing the knee, putting it through an autoclave, and then reinstalling it.

  51. windriven says:

    @Michele-

    I specifically acknowledged the value of sickening the host where sneezing, diarrhea, etc. were involved. I doubt the evolutionary advantage gained by killing a host except in certain unusual situations. On the other hand, killing the host can be an unintended (and I do not mean this in any literal sense) consequence secondary to sneezing/coughing/diarrhea/etc.

  52. windriven – sorry about that then, didn’t mean to imply you didn’t cover it in your post. I picked up your statement in Alison’s post and had a hard time finding your original comment, but since I was so excited about my examples I decided to just go with it.

    enthusiasm > knowledge, I guess.

    Yes, I understand, the host’s death generally seems to be collateral damage rather than a positive event for the infecting species. (Outside of rather icky examples like the parasitic nematodes, that my husband tried on our lawn. These seem to occur in insects as far as I know, not people. http://www.ext.colostate.edu/pubs/insect/05573.html)

  53. tm says:

    ‘It’s not like, for example, gravity, which everyone experiences and of which everyone has a “gut level” understanding.’

    Ah, if only gravity were so simple at its core. Most people’s experience with gravity is simple: Stuff falls down. Even if they had been exposed to Newton’s theory of gravity, it’s long forgotten now, that brain space now populated with “cleansing” ritual procedures.

    And Einstein, who is for most the face they imagine when they hear the word “genius”? He took Newton’s theory literally to the next level. Meaning if you shook with fear looking upon an integral in calculus, Einstein’s General Theory of Relativity would reduce you to a puddle with the mathematical tools that must be mastered to really get at its heart. Needless to say, anyone who has mastered it is on the physics tenure track or doing quantitative work on Wall Street.

    And this may get at the why. Unlike physics, people must actually make decisions about medical issues (I’d argue that people’s lack of understanding of basic physics, e.g. conservation of momentum in motorized vehicles, leads them to cause their own medical issues). And the science of medicine is daunting to the layperson, just as a tensor would be to most MDs.

    Alt-”med” provides simplicity, just as ID/creationism provides a simple explanation vs evolution. There are no ambiguous statistics in woo-med. There are no latin phrases (but plenty of East Asian ones) to decipher. It sells itself as both universally applicable, but personalized. It’s easy. Modern medicine isn’t.

    The funny thing, though, is that unlike gravity, alt-med suffers from the same problem medicine does. There is no “gut instinct” level to most of alt-med. Instead, alt-med has these long-winded explanations of their theories. Which invariably refer to Einstein’s theories (but no math!) or to quantum mechanics (again, no math), to get that veneer of respectability physics has as a real science. Well, usually they refer to both, ignorant of the fact that Einstein never believed in quantum anything.

    Which again is odd, since of all of the sciences, physics has been the only one that has truly threatened all life as we know it. Sure, chemists have wreaked some ecological havoc, but that’s pretty small fry compared to Mutually Assured Destruction. And the brouhaha over the LHC? That’s right, biologists, you don’t have people protesting that you will conjure up a black hole.

    It’s amusing that a community that so aligns itself with Mother Nature, would, for the sake of proving their legitimacy, snuggle up with Dr. Strangelove. Next time an alt-medder brings up quantum in their spiel, remind them that it was quantum mechanics that brought humanity into the nuclear age.

  54. Sweetie says:

    I’ll leave you all with a closing thought as to why you should reassess the dominant “scientific” view of “the germ theory” and I would suggest you consult leading virologists like Stefan Lanka who will explain to you why the theory is a complete conspiratorial crime. If you don’t understand why “HIV” is not and has never been proven to be the causative agent in AIDS then go to theperthgroup.com and read what real science is all about.

    “Radical views that are outside the mainstream generally (but not always) are more reliable than the dominant view because they are more regularly challenged and tested against evidence. They do not get to float freely down the mainstream; they must swim against the current. They cannot rest on the orthodox power to foreclose dissent, and they are not supported by the unanimity of bias that passes for objectivity.” Michael Parenti

    You are all indoctrinated into the “unanimity of bias” with your uncritical blind support and complicity in the “germ theory” and the vacciantion hoax, the latter causing great pain and suffering to humanity. You are all brainwashed by stupifying medical school paradigm that seeks only profit and illness.

  55. Sweetie says:

    What do chiropractors have to do with the pseudo science of “virology”? My cousin is a chiropractor and has never heard of opposition to the germ theory. He’s to busy getting rich just like Allopathic doctors.

  56. David Gorski says:

    Oh, goody. An HIV/AIDS denialist. Here, Sweetie:

    http://www.sciencebasedmedicine.org/?p=328

  57. Bacteriophile says:

    “He then goes on to misstate germ theory by stating first that it says that disease is caused by bacteria”

    Misquote there, Dr. Gorski: he never once says “bacteria” without the addition of an “s” to make it plural.

    I’ve had an encounter with a germ theory denier, someone I knew who I thought was relatively rational. It was in an anti-vaccine context, as might be expected. Thanks for this post, especially for clarifying Bechamp’s theory for me.

    It makes me wonder, how would a germ denier explain mosquito-borne diseases that are controlled when mosquito populations are controlled, or only extend as far as the range of a particular mosquito species?

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