The nature and severity of the COVID-19 pandemic was the subject of intense discussion throughout 2020, both inside and outside of science. Some argued that with severe lockdown measures the government was overestimating the problem, others considered those measures to be appropriate and proportionate, and still others believed that the government was taking irresponsible risks in removing restrictions.
However, everyone seems to agree on one thing: the disease is caused by a new virus, which has been given the name SARS-CoV-2. Or, at least, everybody except a small group of natural healers, who hold a completely different opinion. According to this committed bunch, viruses don’t exist at all. And if they do exist, they aren’t that dangerous at all. And if they are really dangerous, it’s all a big conspiracy. Scientists, they say, just don’t understand it at all.
David Icke, the British former football player and sports journalist who became an influential propagator of conspiracy theories around 1990, was interviewed in April this year by the online platform London Real. The conversation accumulated 65,000 live viewers before YouTube removed it “for recommending medically unsound methods to prevent the coronavirus.”
In the interview, Icke stated that COVID-19 (by which he meant the virus) does not exist, that the reported symptoms are actually the result of 5G radiation, before explaining that he believes Bill Gates belongs in prison.
To back up his 5G claims, Icke brought up the work of forensic psychiatrist Andrew Kaufman, who offers a range of detoxifying health advice on his own YouTube channel, including a holistic root canal treatment. Kaufman has also argued that COVID-19 could be the result of all manner of causes, but that it is certainly not caused by a virus. Instead, he claims the disease is the result of stress, improper nutrition, pollution, ionizing radiation and a variety of unspecified conditions. However, for a direct relationship with 5G, he said he had found no data in the research literature. So much for him supporting Icke’s 5G theory.
Koch’s Postulates and chain reactions
Kaufman makes even more dubious claims in his COVID-19 video, which has now been viewed 225,000 times and is frequently referred to on the internet in the alternative circuit. For example, he claims it is not proven that SARS-CoV-2 is the cause of COVID-19 according to Koch’s Postulates – the criteria that Robert Koch established in 1884 to identify microorganisms as the cause of a disease. In particular, the virus had not been isolated – a claim that has become a common complaint in these circles.
Kaufman also claims that the numerous electron microscopic images available of the virus are either animations or that they show very small but normal cell parts, called ‘exosomes’, which few people have heard of. Exosomes are small membrane bound structures released by cells into the space surrounding them; they are about the same size as coronaviruses. Could it really be true that the virologist community mistakenly confused these with viruses? And that a forensic psychiatrist is now helping the world clear up this misunderstanding? I will come back to that later.
Kaufman also discussed the reliability of the PCR test, the Polymerase Chain Reaction, a method for detecting minute amounts of hereditary material. He says that its inventor, Nobel Prize winner Kary Mullis, had already warned that the method is not suitable for detecting viral material. The test could only detect common – in this case human – genetic material. And this, according to Kaufman, would explain why so many people are given a positive result on this test, and thus are wrongly labeled as infected persons.
Obviously, the PCR patent already explicitly states that the method is suitable for detecting viral material. Moreover, this test is precisely designed to search very specifically for genetic material that only occurs in the targeted micro-organism and not in others. Even though the total genome of SARS-CoV-2 consists of 30,000 bases, it is sufficient to detect only 1 per thousand (30 bases) to make sure that we are dealing with this specific virus. It appears that the forensic psychiatrist Kaufman missed this revolution in microbiology.
In conspiracy circles, in short, the pandemic is all about a non-existent disease, which they explain away by suggesting the evil medical profession, led by the World Health Organization, is doing everything it can to artificially add to the number of cases. In addition, all deaths that could indicate even the slightest indication of COVID-19 are ‘unfairly’ included in the statistics.
Measles virus challenge
Kaufman in turn refers to yet another scientist, Stefan Lanka, to substantiate his theses. This German biologist and anti-vaxxer briefly made international headlines when, in 2011, he offered a reward of 100,000 euros if someone could show him one scientific article proving both the existence and, among other things, the size of the measles virus. According to Lanka, measles was nothing more than a rash from some kind of psychological trauma. When his countryman David Bardens, then a medical student, sent him six articles and claimed the reward, Lanka refused to pay it. Bardens filed a lawsuit, which he won. Lanka was nevertheless right on appeal – after all, he had asked for one article and not six. An attempt by Bardens to challenge this decision at an even higher legal level failed. In the alternate world, this outcome is presented as definitive proof that viruses don’t exist.
Lanka also believes that even if viruses exist, they cannot be detected with current technology. The fact that the entire genome of SARS-CoV-2 had been unraveled within a very short time, and that people can be tested on that basis, makes little impression on him or on Kaufman.
Lanka is now again challenging the experts and has published an open letter to German virologist Christian Drosten accusing him of ‘crimes against humanity’ for advocating vaccinations on unscientific grounds and developing a virus test prematurely. Drosten is thus, according to Lanka, responsible for ‘the increase and globalization of the Chinese disease panic’.
And what is Lanka’s view of health based on? It is based on the ideas of Ryke Geerd Hamer, a well-known figure in the Netherlands and Germany who claimed at the end of the last century that he could offer a new “Germanic” alternative to “Jewish medical science”, which he believes is aimed at exterminating the non-Jewish population. Hamer, in turn, based his ideas on those of the Nazi physician Gerhard Wagner, adding, among other things, his own ‘observation’ that most German oncologists these days were Jewish, and that no Jew in Germany receives chemotherapy… because the needles used to deliver it also implant nanochips containing venom compartments which can be activated via artificial moons.
Here we end up in a morass of anti-Semitism, pseudoscience and paranoia from which some people seem unable to escape.
The virus exists. Period
In order to make a final attempt to see if there could be any truth in Kaufman’s claims, I contacted several researchers. Kaufman quite prominently quotes in his video American virologist James Hildreth, who allegedly claimed that “the virus is an exosome in every way.”
Now, first of all, this is a quote taken out of context: Hildreth wanted to point out that in some cases a virus can behave like an exosome, if it is looking for a way to leave the infected cells – his 2003 “Trojan exosome hypothesis”. When I pointed out this interpretation of his work to Hildreth via Twitter, he resolutely replied, “The virus exists. The pandemic exists and is caused by the virus. Period.”
Swedish researcher Jan Lötvall, himself an expert on exosomes research, interviewed American molecular biologist Kenneth Witwer in April of this year for his YouTube channel about the views of Kaufman and associates that researchers would confuse viruses and exosomes. In the interview, Witwer confirmed the presence of viruses is no longer determined by means of a microscope, so it does not matter whether they look like exosomes.
And on the statement that the virus does not exist at all, or at least is harmless: “Why anyone would believe that despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary is unclear.”
This article first appeared in the Dutch Skepsis Foundation Skepter magazine in September 2020.