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How can germ theory denial explain contagion?

Germ theory denial has always had a hard time explaining the contagiousness of infectious diseases—until now, apparently. According to “Dr.” Melissa Sell, it’s all about the vibes, ma-an!

No Every so often over the years, I’ve discussed germ theory denial and how it is such an integral part of alternative medicine and the belief systems that undergird alternative medicine modalities. Germ theory denial, of course, is the denial that “germs” (i.e., microbes, pathogens, bacteria, viruses, and all the microscopic nasties that can cause infectious diseases) are actually the cause of infectious diseases. Indeed, nearly 12 years ago, I wrote a post entitled Yes, there really are people who don’t accept the germ theory of disease, in which I also noted how large swaths of antivaccine beliefs are rooted in germ theory denial. (After all, if germs don’t cause disease, then you don’t need vaccines.) Ever since then, periodically I’ve been gobsmacked by more examples of germ theory denial, up to and including during the COVID-19 pandemic, when quacks have even misused Koch’s postulates to try to “prove” that SARS-CoV-2 doesn’t cause COVID-19. But why are infectious diseases contagious? Germ theory explains why and how. Germ theory denial tries, but has far less explanatory power. That doesn’t stop “Dr.” Melissa Sells, who tells us that it’s all about the vibes—excuse me, vibrations—ma-an! Buckle up for some serious woo!

Given that germ theory, which started with Louis Pasteur and has been built upon since the late 1800s with additional complexities and nuances, is the foundational theory of infectious diseases, my colleagues often refused to believe me when I regaled them with tales and examples demonstrating how prevalent germ theory denial is in the alternative medicine concepts that too many of them eagerly accept as part of “integrative medicine.” True, fewer of them doubt me now, given how COVID-19 has revealed just how prevalent germ theory denial, both in its explicit form (i.e., “germs don’t cause disease, period” or “bacteria are a manifestation of dis-ease, not the cause”) and “softer” forms (i.e., only those with a “welcoming terrain” of bad health and concomitant “weakened” immune system are susceptible to disease caused by pathogenic microbes), is. Although the “harder” and more explicit form of germ theory denial does continue in the pandemic, with certain quacks denying that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, actually exists, that it’s been isolated, or that the electron micrographs showing it in cells actually show a virus, it’s more the “softer” form that predominates.

Not that there isn’t outright denial in the form of video series like this, which was advertised in an email I received just this morning:

The Viral Delusion: Germ theory denial.
There’s a lot of germ theory denial out there, even in the midst of a deadly pandemic. This particular video series claims that SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus that causes COVID-19, has never been isolated and that the studies that did report its isolation are all poor quality or fraudulent, to the point that the whole pandemic is a “delusion.” Their claim is that “the so-called SARS-CoV-2 virus exists only as a mental construct whose existence in the real world has been disproven by the science itself.”

Currently, the form of germ theory denial that is prevalent today is a throwback to the 19th century and the ideas of Louis Pasteur’s rivals, such as Claude Bernard and Antoine Béchamp, both of whom who had different ideas and have been cited by germ theory deniers. Béchamp, in particular, argued: 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 his part, 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. Both men’s ideas, but in particular their shared concept of the “terrain,” have been very attractive to germ theory deniers.

Besides not fitting with the scientific evidence, these ideas promoted by contemporaries of Louis Pasteur, particularly Béchamp, had nowhere near the explanatory and predictive power for infectious disease that Pasteur’s theory did. While these concepts were not unreasonable for the mid-19th century given the technology and science that was available at the time to investigate bacteria, they simply didn’t hold up to scrutiny with scientific observation and experimentation.

On the other hand, there is some truth to them. 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 healthy people. There is a twist, though. This same “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 and that immune response causes more damage than the virus. Even so, you can see how such concepts would support claims made by people like, for example, Bill Maher, who once famously claimed that he didn’t need the influenza vaccine and wouldn’t “get influenza on a plane” even if there were people coughing and sneezing because of his superior immune system honed by his superior lifestyle. The best response ever came from Bob Costas, of all people, whose exasperated retort, “Oh, come on, Superman!” forever earns him my kudos for pointing out the ridiculousness of the idea that pathogenic viruses and organisms can’t hurt you if you just live the “right” lifestyle.

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 Klaperto 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.

In 2022, one of the supreme weaknesses of germ theory denial—even among believers and leaving aside its pre-Pasteur rationales—has been its inability to provide even a semi-reasonable explanation for the contagiousness of infectious diseases. Even before scientists even knew that microorganisms existed, much less that they can cause disease, it was very obvious that infectious diseases could spread from one person to another or from something in the environment to people. Think the Black Death. Think even colds and flu. From these observations came miasma theory, which posited that such diseases were caused by “bad air.” by a miasma, which translates as “pollution” or “bad air”. Certainly it was a fairly trivial observation, even many centuries ago, that some diseases spread through the air somehow. It’s just that no one could tell you how because bacteria and other disease-causing microorganisms hadn’t been discovered yet. It’s also long been recognized that other diseases could be spread through the water and in other ways. After all, when John Snow halted the London cholera epidemic by shutting down the Broad Street pump in 1854, it was understood that contaminated water could spread disease, even if how was not yet understood. (Indeed, the causative organism for cholera, Vibrio cholera, was not identified until 30 years later.)

I think I’ve found one of the more unusual ways that someone steeped in germ theory denial explains the contagiousness of infectious diseases. Meet “Dr.” Melissa Sell. Here’s her Twitter bio:

Melissa Sell: Germ theory denial personified.
Melissa Sell: Germ theory denial personified.

Lest you think that I’m exaggerating by calling “Dr.” Sell “germ theory denial personified,” check this out:

So, according to “Dr.” Sells, huge swaths of modern science-based medicine are “well-packaged webs of lies.” OK, then…

Actually, in “germ theory” viruses, even though they weren’t discovered until after bacteria, are nonetheless generally considered one of the “germs” (i.e., pathogenic microbes) that can cause infection diseases, but whatever. Also, note how she thinks that “cancer theory” (whatever that is) and “autoimmune theory” are also “well-packaged webs of lies.” That certainly sounds like germ theory denial!

Elsewhere, on Instagram, she’s saying that germs are good for you:

This is a gross oversimplification of the hygiene hypothesis, which states how exposure to microorganisms as a child prevents the development of allergies and is important for the proper development of the immune system. Of course, germ theory deniers just love the observations of modern microbiology that demonstrate that many bacteria living on and in our bodies are actually beneficial. Contrary to the tenets of germ theory denial, germ theory is not incompatible with the observation that many bacteria and other microbes are harmless or even potentially beneficial. After all, germ theory only says that some microorganisms cause some specific diseases, not that all microbes are harmful. This was even known a century ago! As for that bit about bacteria being “microsurgeons,” I can only imagine that she is echoing Béchamp’s idea that bacteria show up in bad “terrain,” sort of. My retort to this claim is to ask: Is gas gangrene a good example of this “microsurgery”? Certainly bacteria in a gangrenous limb are busily microsurgerizing the dead tissue.

Also, one more time, nothing in germ theory denies that humans are a part of nature. What germ theory denial, as expressed by Sells above, seems to be saying is that because “germs” are part of nature they can’t hurt us. This is obviously nonsense. There are lots of things in nature that can hurt or kill human beings, ranging from predatory animals to real toxins produced by various animals (as opposed to the imaginary “toxins” that supposedly cause disease in alternative medicine) to, yes, certain microorganisms that can infect even “healthy” people with the best “terrain” to cause harm or even kill. As for the “fourth biological law,” that’s an obvious reference to German New Medicine, a form of quackery that claims that cancer (actually all disease) is due to psychic trauma or “conflict.” Let’s just recount part of this “law”:

It is true that microbes are present in infectious diseases, but it is not the microbes that cause the disease. On the contrary, our organism uses the microbes to optimize the healing process. It is also true that microbes can be transmitted, but they stay inactive as long as we are not in the healing phase of the appropriate conflict.

That tracks. In germ theory denial, microbes are never the cause of disease (except, per softer forms of germ theory denial, when the “terrain” is already diseased). Then there’s this:

Translation from germ theory denial—excuse me, Germ Theory denial: “It’s not the germs that make you sick, it’s your belief in Germ Theory.” Personally, I’ll still wear an N95 mask in the hospital and anywhere that COVID-19 might be prevalent.

But wait, Orac! you say. I still don’t see an explanation for the contagiousness from this germ theory denier. Patience, it’s coming. In fact, here it is:

Vibrations. It had to be vibrations. How else can germ theory denial explain contagion?

Vibrations. Of course, it had to be vibrations, or, as I once said describing some particularly silly quackery: Vibrations. Toujours des vibrations. How much quackery is based on the idea of “vibrations” and “frequency”? More than I can remember! So of course germ theory denial incorporates these concepts into the denial of a foundational theory in medicine. Just look at Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and the “Body Vibes” magic vibration stickers she sold and might still be selling, for all I know. Look at Bill Nelson’s supremely ugly SCIO, Quantum Xrroid Consciousness Interface, which claimed to identify the “frequencies” of “vibration” to optimize your health and battle disease. Then there’s a the “bioresonance” machine beloved of naturopaths, which does more or less the same thing. I also can’t help but see “resonances”—sorry, couldn’t resist—of “harmonized water” and, going way, way back to 2006, Dr. Emoto’s imprinting of water with “positive” emotional vibrations.

So let me get this straight. The reason infectious diseases are infectious is not because “particles” (clearly a reference to viruses, which are not, strictly speaking, life forms because they basically cannot do much of anything until they get into cellular hosts to reproduce) can float from person to person on the air or go from person to person through touch or via fomites, but because the ill person’s vibe is off kilter and makes the vibes of people around him go off-kilter too? It gets worse, but first, who the heck is Melissa Sell? Apparently she’s a “health mindset coach,” whatever that means, who sells a “30 minute info” call for the low, low price of $111 and whose blog is a “target-rich environment” for future posts. She’s a chiropractor, because of course she is. With the help of her boyfriend Steven Ravnstag, she came up with something they call the 10 Module Online Course in Mind Mastery: The Ever Better Life Course and the Awareness School.

Coming back to the German New Medicine connection, let’s recount what the Fourth Biological Law says about contagion:

Based on the two-phase pattern of every SBS (Second Biological Law), “infections” cannot be transmitted to another person since the symptoms (discharge, inflammation, fever) are already healing symptoms. Moreover, a DHS that activates a Biological Special Program is a highly individual conflict experience. If two or more people happen to have the same symptoms, for example, a colddiarrhea, or a stomach flu, this means that all of them are in the healing phase of the same type of conflict (stink conflictindigestible morsel conflictterritorial anger conflict) that took place, let’s say, at school, at home, or at work. The idea that everyone had a “weak immune system” just at that time is rather far-fetched. The same holds true for epidemics which are the result of conflicts affecting large populations (attack conflictsterritorial fear conflictsdeath-fright conflicts). This was the case, for instance, with the Great Plague, the Spanish Flu, and the lung tuberculosis epidemic after World War I. Nowadays, such collective conflict shocks are easily evoked through frightening media reports (threats of an economic collapse, threats of a global war, threats of terrorist attacks, threats of a “deadly virus”). The ensuing pneumonia outbreak (termed SARS, the swine flu, and so forth) is a self-fulfilling prophecy.

I note that the above website has only been slightly updated for COVID-19, but there are still “gems” there, such as the explanation for anosmia (loss of sense of smell) and the loss of sense of taste that COVID-19 often causes:

loss of smell (anosmia) is linked to the olfactory nerves and the biological conflict of “not being able to smell something or someone”. Curfews and “social distancing” (not being able to smell a loved one, a friend, a school mate, a teacher) can easily trigger the conflict; but also the opposite, namely, “not wanting to smell someone” because of the fear of getting infected by coming too close to a person. The symptom occurs during conflict activity

loss of taste is linked to the posterior third of the tongue and the conflict of “not being able to taste something” caused, for example, by a fear of not being able to buy food or not being allowed to eat out due to the shutdown of restaurants.

Or maybe—just maybe—SARs-CoV-2 is what causes loss of sense of taste and smell in those who get COVID-19. A crazy idea, I know!

So Ms. Sell’s claim is, basically, that bad vibes reflect or cause disease and are contagious. Of course, whenever I come across an alternative medicine claim like this, I imagine the consequences of this particular idea. That led me to imagine the worst: That my wife became deathly ill, say with cancer. If Ms. Sells’ and “German New Medicine” are correct, does that mean that I caused it by transmitting bad vibes to her? Or does it mean that if she doesn’t recover I or someone else close to her must be the cause? Or does it mean that if I don’t somehow cut myself off from her I’ll become deathly ill with cancer or something else too?

I’m not the only one for whom the logical conclusion coming from Ms. Sell’s statement was obvious, either:

Seriously, do quacks like “Dr.” Sell not even consider the logical endpoint of their health claims, in this case, blaming the victim and the wife?

Seriously, do these quacks even consider the victim blaming and the blaming of loved ones that flow from their ideas of “interconnectedness,” “vibrations,” and the germ theory denial version of “contagion”?

When you come right down to it, as I say all the time, this form of alternative medicine is nothing more than The Secret, which I once described as the central dogma of alternative medicine. You might remember The Secret from the 2000s, back when Oprah Winfrey was promoting it. Basically, the first idea is that, if you wish for “health” or “healing” hard enough, you will attract it from the universe through the force of your mind/spirit/energy. The second idea is that, if you attract that “healing,” “nature” can heal you of almost anything, just as, according to the Law of Attraction from The Secret, you “attract” things to you from the universe according to your thoughts, intents, and desires. In one way, The Secret is obviously trivial in that there is no doubt that if you truly want something badly enough you will be far more likely to take action to go after it and therefore become more likely to get it. However, action based on desire is not what The Secret is about; rather, it’s about thoughts and attitudes. As I like to say, the central dogma of alternative medicine is The Secret, or: Wishing makes it so.

The similarity with much of alt-med should be obvious and embodied in the idea, which I’ve seen so many times on so many alt-med websites, that you – yes, you! – are completely responsible for your own health by your own lifestyle choices. According to this line of “thought” (if you can call it that), all it takes is living the right way, doing the right things, using the right supplements, and you can be not just healthy, but virtually immune to serious diseases up to and including cancer and, even if you get them, you can cure yourself of them “naturally.” As with The Secret, there is a germ of truth embedded in the concept that your thoughts can make you healthy. It just doesn’t work the way it’s stated or implied by alt-med practitioners. Again, if you have a genuine desire to be healthy, it is more likely that you will act on that desire and exercise, lay off the unhealthy habits such as drinking to excess and smoking, and eat a healthy diet. However, as reasonable people know, it’s a matter of probabilities. Diet and a healthy lifestyle are no panacea, and even the most “righteous” person (from a healthy living standpoint) is not immune to cancer, heart disease, infectious diseases, or any of the other diseases and conditions to which the human organism is prone. Worse, the corollary of the central dogma appears to be that if you are ill it is your fault for not having the right “intent,” attitude, and thoughts and therefore not doing the right things and/or not believing hard enough.

If you don’t believe that, here’s Ms. Sell elsewhere:

This sounds nice, but this sure seems to echo The Secret in that it says you will attract ugliness to yourself. And it’s a “law,” too!

In another Tweet, Ms. Sell emphasizes the same principle:

Note the moralism. She might have saved us a lot of time and just said, “Evil is its own punishment. Good is its own reward.” Very religion-like.

And, of course, like all quacks:

I do like the nod to “petroleum-based pharmaceuticals.”

And, finally:

Define “nature.” Define “truth.” Two can play this game.

At least Ms. Sell seems to be, whether she realizes it or not, admitting to magical thinking with her reference to her critics being “muggles.” As anyone who’s ever read the Harry Potter books or seen the movies knows, a “muggle” is a nonmagical human, as opposed to wizards and witches, who have the ability to use magic. I suppose that I should be relieved she didn’t use the term “mudblood” instead, although it would have totally fit with German New Medicine if she had.

In Ms. Sell’s world of germ theory denial, apparently all we have to do to get the COVID-19 pandemic under control is to harmonize everyone’s vibes to a happy, healthy frequency. I have an idea.

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]

75 replies on “How can germ theory denial explain contagion?”

It seems to me that both the terrain theory and germ theory are simultaneously applicable and one can’t come to an understanding of disease by excluding one or the other. Indeed the germ/allopathic folks have screwed this up before : scurvy. Indeed it was the group think and authoritarian nature of medicine that delayed the wide understanding of scurvy.

What on earth are you talking about?
The “citrus cure” for scurvy was independently identified several times in Britain alone between 1707 and when citrus fruits were required by the Royal Navy in 1795.

Yes, the medical establishment at the time had a hard time addressing this based on their medical theories, but those theories were of the Four Humors, not germ theory.

Germ theory didn’t become widespread for at least another fifty years after the Royal Navy started using lemon juice to prevent scurvy.

So no, germ theory has nothing to do with scurvy prevention or treatment.

And, demonstrating the arrogance and group think of establishment science, the fella that discovered it in the 1750s was rejected for 40 years.

And, demonstrating the arrogance and group think of establishment science, the fella that discovered it in the 1750s was rejected for 40 years.

You do realize that science-based medicine didn’t get started until the 19th century, right? “Dr.” Sells has far more in common with the medical establishment of the 18th century than Orac does.

John’s responses have raised another terrifying prospect. A long time ago houses used to be built out of wickerwork and mud. Or turf. Or chopped logs. Can you imagine any of those materials supporting buildings hundreds of metres tall? I certainly can’t. All of you living in tower blocks, get out now!!!

Modern suspension bridges. F@#king death traps.

Oh, I see. John, are you familiar, at all, with European history of this time period? The political structures (somewhat varied but all class-based systems with landed aristocrats), the major philosophical changes, the religious strife, any of it?

It is a complex time, I will grant you. A time of great change, and resistance to change. A time when the word “scientist” was not yet in common use and the more common term was “natural philosopher” and there really wasn’t much of an “establishment” yet and they all spent all the time they weren’t writing or experimenting arguing with each other.

The idea that it was somehow “science’s” fault that aristocrats had a hard time accepting new ideas that really were shockingly new, is absurd.

Unfortunately for your story, people knew how to stop scurvy before germ theory was established. So sad.

If you want a case where the authoritarian nature of medicine delayed discovery of how to treat an illness, you need to talk about ulcers. Until the late 20th century, the foolish doctors thought that ulcers were a disease of the terrain, curable by happy thoughts and careful diet. Then a brave renegade proved that ulcers are caused by germs.

Things can have more than one cause. Having not enough stomach acid can cause more pathogens to thrive. Both terrain and germ are causes in fact. Scurvy is straight terrain though. Denied by medical establishment for hundreds of years.

And even that case is rather exaggerated. Medical science was actually rather quick in accepting that ulcers were caused by bacteria, it was the treatment that took a bit of convincing.

Yep. I’ve written about it before. The time from the discovery that H. pylori was associated with peptic ulcers to the widespread acceptance of antibiotic therapy to treat those ulcers was actually very rapid.


One example (summarized very well by Kimball Atwood IV, MD) is the discovery that most duodenal ulcers are actually caused by a bacterium, H. pylori. Barry Marshall and Robin Warren first reported a curious finding of what they described as “unidentified curved bacilli on gastric epithelium in active chronic gastritis” (not ulcer) in two letters to The Lancet, published on June 4, 1983. They reported that it wasn’t seen using traditional staining methods and suggested that they might be associated with gastritis. By 1992, multiple studies had been published establishing the causative role of H. pylori in peptic ulcer disease, and medical practice rapidly changed. That’s less than ten years, which, given how long it takes to organize and carry out clinical trials, is amazingly fast. Yet somehow a favorite denialist myth is that “dogmatic,” “close-minded” scientists refused to accept Marshall and Warren’s findings. It’s an example of a scientific consensus that deserved to be questioned, was questioned in the right way, and was overthrown.

Cranks and quacks love to massively exaggerate the resistance and skepticism over Marshall and Warren’s finding, but in reality science and doctors embraced it rather rapidly, and it changed the standard of care within a few years, which is actually quite fast. I was also in medical school and residency during that time period and remember how excited doctors were that there might be a treatment more effective than antacids, bland diets, etc., whose lack of success led to a frequent need for surgical intervention to treat ulcers.

This really is an ignorant comment. But I know – troll.

Scurvy is caused by a deficiency in Vitamin C, it has nothing to do with germ theory and as for terrain theory, there is no useful way to apply that to the management of scurvy.

It was known from the end of the 15th Century that fresh food could cure scurvy. The trouble was there was no way to keep food fresh for long sea voyages.

This is a ridiculous comment. Exactly, scurvy is not an infectious disease. But the medical establishment thought so for a long time. It wasn’t accepted as the fix until lat 1700’s and not across the whole medical establishment even then.

You’re very silly. That was a hundred years before germ theory was even proposed, back when infectious disease was thought to be due to miasmas, “bad air,” or other things.

I guess theoretically you could apply the terrain idea to treat scurvy by using gene therapy to replace the broken gene for L-gulonolactone oxidase with a functioning one. Side effects unknown.

For that matter, a vaccination is a modification of terrain as well, so are those germ denialists accidentally advocating vaccination?

Miasma theory would imply the scurvy is caused by poison. Saying scurvy is caused by terrain makes as much sense as saying broken legs are caused by terrain. Steep stairs are the terrain, but nothing happens if you don’t break the leg.

I can accept that vitamin deficiency is part of terrain, but scurvy is a consequence of the deficiency. Labarge’s arguments are just absurd.

We know that vitamin A deficiency bodes for poorer outcome with measles and might be regarded as “terrain” in that circumstance, but we also know that measles is caused by infection with measles morbillivirus. We also know that that infection results in messing up the terrain for quite some time with regard to other diseases by killing B cells.

Your post is exactly why no one takes your words seriously. To your unevidenced opinion, no, your sense of germ theory compared to so off, off brand terrain theory (such discontinued), is laughable to people who know the field. What is your profession please again?

Gonna say I appreciate this post as my wake up. Thanks! More to come I hope!

You guys love to misinterpret things deliberately. The same arrogance that gave rise to scurvy blinds y’all to other theories of disease is the reason medical science has not advanced too much in the past 30 or 40 years.

“Not advanced?”

You definitely don’t live on the same planet as the rest of us.

Cancer survival rates are up, several childhood cancers can be cured…AIDS is no longer a death sentence, genetic testing has allowed many more diseases and conditions to be identified and either cures or controlled.

How many times one has to repeat to you that lime cure for scurvy was invented long before the germ theory,1747 ( a controlled clinical experiment, though Lind hinself did not think that lime juice is a cure). Alternative theory was that is was caused by germs, Problem was that people then learned medicine from classical books,

Unfortunately, I am overly familiar with vibrational woo/ energy healing in that one of the loons I survey ( PRN) professes that all life and health, indeed all human interactions, are energy exchanges! If you learn from a teacher, desire someone sexually or get into an argument, it’s all just energy being exchanged**. Vibrations interact and affect each other interpersonally, in fact, his highly fine tuned vibes can adjust the more wanky energies of an unhealthy/ dysfunctional person, healing their ills. Healers like Royal Rife even discovered the exact frequencies needed to cure everything.

Similarly, different foods emit good or bad vibrations: organic, non-GMO vegan options are the best and dead meat ( animal corpses) is worst. People’s personalities or abilities are derived from whether their energies fit particular inborn patterns such as dynamic, creative or supportive ( leaders, artists and sheep) with shades of difference concerning assertiveness or other cockamamie dimensions. Illness is not determined*** because of pathogens but by energies
based upon the person’s belief system which affects outcomes: a person might not eat perfectly or even smoke but his beliefs will override the errors. Of course, yoga, acupuncture or meditation can supplement thinking the right thoughts but nasty chemicals, 5G or microwaves etc can ruin health.

There’s so much more for hilarity’s sake but I have work to do!

** he sometimes claims a doctorate in psychology and experience counselling thousands
*** although he disinfects and sterilises everything as loons often do

Never particularly clear to me what they claim is vibrating. Electromagnetic fields? Probability distributions? Concentrations of neurochemical metabolites? Kind of hard to verify whether or not something exists if they never even provide an appropriate medium where to look for it –pretty much assuring that we can say it doesn’t exist without even looking.

Gotta hand it to her: she’s got the mystic man-atop-the-mountain sounding aphorisms down pat.

This drives me crazy also. Some people claim us skeptical types are low frequency. Frequency of what?

“Rockefeller medicine taught you bullshit to shill their petroleum based pharmaceuticals.”

Petroleum based is a problem? What’s wrong with being a well-oiled machine?

Oh, my head. Has this woman never looked through a microscope? Or a telescope? Has she never considered the wider universe? And she calls us blinkered.

Anyway, two specific examples/refutations:
1) If all disease is caused by serious conflict, then how do children too young to understand conflict get sick? What “ugliness” did any of the kids up at the children’s hospital put out into the world that they are dying horribly? What “judgement” was rendered by all the tiny children who die every year of malaria?

2) German New Medicine started after the founder got testicular cancer after his son died tragically. If, based on this theory, the sudden death of a child (even an adult child) causes cancer of the reproductive system, then shouldn’t most men and women of previous centuries have died of testicular or uterine cancer back when childhood mortality rates were terribly high? Or do these GNM proponents want to claim that people in the past didn’t love and mourn their children?

They might try to claim “cosmic justice” but all I see is blatant, vicious victim blaming. And it’s not new, or modern. It was old when the Puritans lived by it (illness is cause by spiritual weakness), and it’s just a voiced fear, fear that you don’t know what causes disease and you can’t prevent it, so you’ll invent a way to say that people caused their own illness so you can tell yourself that you’re a better person and therefore you won’t get sick. Which is both cruel and stupid.

If all disease is caused by serious conflict, then how do children too young to understand conflict get sick?

This would be caused by a serious conflict by their parents, or grandparents.

It is ancestral sin.

I am over being surprised about how many of the concepts in the alternative medicine arena have been borrowed directly from retributive religion.

They might try to claim “cosmic justice” but all I see is blatant, vicious victim blaming.

Another concept borrowed wholesale from retributive religion.

In this, alternative medicine shows itself to be pre-enlightenment.

I first came across this stuff with Tristan Wells from Australia. What I remember most is his view that rash diseases are from separation anxiety. All of them. Because for him, measles and rubella were the same. And as you point out, the fault of the victim.

Thank you. Great article. Those people drive me crazy with their smugness. I was especially interested in the part where you mentioned the younger people having a higher mortality rate during the 1918 flu due to their immune systems overreacting, and that overreaction proving to be more dangerous than the actual pathogen. I know very little about infectious disease, so I wondered if you could tell me why that doesn’t seem to be the case with Sars-Cov 2 when the elderly (I’m an elderly type) tend to be more at risk for severe outcomes? I tried to figure that out prior to asking, but came up with nothing. Thank you.

Basically it’s because old people are old, and their immune system (like most of their other body systems) is not as robust as in younger people. So there just aren’t enough immune cells to mount a cytokine storm. Unfortunately this means there also aren’t enough immune cells to mount a robust immune response, which puts those people at greater risk of poor outcomes.

This is also why infants tend to have poor outcomes with infectious disease: their immune system isn’t mature enough to mount a really effective response.

Also, a cytokine storm (or cytokine release syndrome as we call it now) is terrifyingly fast. Minutes to hours from “fine” to “intubated and hanging on by a thread”.

With the 1918 the very young and the elderly were at a “normal” amount of high risk, young adults were at an unusual amount of high risk. For slightly older adults their immune systems were mature enough to know how to fight the disease without going overboard.

Sort of like how college students can have frankly too much energy for shenanigans where slightly older people will look at, say, going to the pub til midnight and then going for a 10 mile hike in the morning and say “nope, one or the other”.

With SARS-CoV-2, thankfully, the virus just doesn’t seem to stimulate that kind of intense over-response nearly as often as 1918 flu did. I don’t know exactly why (I’m an immunologist not a virologist), but it might have to do with the kind of virus, the specific cell types it likes to invade. It could also be that when the cytokine storm does happen we have much better treatments for it now than a hundred years ago (like steroids).

Was that helpful?

There are lots of things in nature that can hurt or kill human beings, ranging from predatory animals to real toxins produced by various animals

I wonder if this ‘Dr.’ Sell has ever heard of these extremely nasty bacterial toxins such as botulin toxin, tetanospasmin and diphtheria toxin, to name just a few. These toxins are what makes infection with the respective bacteria so extremely deadly – and we can in fact isolate those toxins from bacterial cultures, and show their deadly effects on living creatures. I’d be interested to hear how this ‘Dr.’ Sell thinks that vibes are involved in this mechanism, and not the actual bacteria.

On second thought, I don’t really want to hear anything more that this ‘Dr.’ Sell has to say. Just reading her utterances here has already seriously maxed out my quackery tolerance.

Oh oh, I can guess! She’d say that you’re wanting the cells/animals to get sick/die, and that’s why the cell die, not because of the toxins but because you willed it into being.

Gah, I need to go wash my hands just for typing that.

But it is an excellent “get out of reality free” card, when you can just claim that everything happens because we the nasty unbelievers have manifested it.

In addition to engaging in germ theory denial, obsession over “Rockefeller medicine” and viewing herself as heiress to the tradition of German New Medicine, Ms. Sell is, as you’d expect, an antivaxer.

Incidentally, Ms. Sell says she started on her health awareness “journey” out of high school, as a chiropractic assistant.

A fabulous journey with her through the land of Woo seems drastically underpriced at $111 for 30 minutes.


blockquote>A fabulous journey with her through the land of Woo seems drastically underpriced at $111 for 30 minutes.



I can entertain myself far more effectively, and far more cheaply, by a short walk in the bush.

Or Ricin…

And as far as vibrations go maybe it is the sub-sub-sub atomic strings vibrating. (Oops, I should not give woomeisters any ideas!)

Or Ricin…

Ricin is not a toxin made by a pathogen, so it probably hasn’t any of botulin toxin’s ‘Bad Sausage Vibes’ (botulus=sausage in Latin), but rather ‘Bad Bean Vibes’ or something like that.

Drat … this ‘vibe’ thinking seems contagious …


Heh! I was thinking similar further up the comments that “vibrations” will somewhere in the woosphere be linked to string theory in the same was that Chopra misreprents all things quantum.

Orac- this is the third time I have read you alluding to Claude Bernard as a germ theory denier. He was no such thing and when I invited any evidence for such a notion , from anybody who comments on this blog, two responders acknowledged that Bernard had nothing to say against the germ theory of disease . For those wishing further information , apart from Wikipedia, would profit by reading ‘Claude Bernard and the Constancy of the Internal Environment’ by Charles G Gross, in the Neuroscientist, vol4, Number 5, 1998 to obtain a balanced view of Bernard’s life’s work.
I am disappointed that such a high quality forum for knowledge and opinion of matters medical and ‘anti’ that the very principles that rightly animate the author and the intelligent commenters allow repetition of a trope so patently false.

I didn’t say that Bernard was a germ theory denier. (No, go back and look.) I said that germ theory deniers like to cite Bernard’s ideas (along with those of Béchamp) to justify their germ theory denial. Bernard’s concept of milieu interieur is frequently referenced by germ theory deniers.

Anyway, here’s an article on the appeal of Bernard and Béchamp to alternative medicine and “alternatives” to germ theory:

Indeed, this was a rare post about germ theory denial in which I didn’t mention the false rumor spread by germ theory deniers of Pasteur’s “deathbed recantation” in which he reportedly said, “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”). Perhaps I will add that bit to the post. [Addendum: I added a paragraph about the false “deathbed conversion” of Pasteur. Thanks for giving me an excuse to do so.]

I am disappointed that someone like you apparently doesn’t perceive the difference between deniers citing a 19th century scientist to justify germ theory denial and calling that scientist a germ theory denier. Indeed, I wouldn’t even call Béchamp a germ theory denier, given that in the context of the mid-19th century in which he worked, germ theory was not really yet a theory, but a rival hypothesis and, as I’ve pointed out elsewhere, even Béchamp’s ideas weren’t outlandish for the time, given the state of scientific knowledge and technology.

The woo-meister I described above often presents Bechamp ( mispronounced, of course) as being foundational in altie theory in opposition to Pasteur ( also mispronounced).

— as an aside: I’ve often wondered myself just what is vibrating?

People might mistake the “energy” they experience ( as interest, attraction, attention, effort, will, persistence?) as a being something outside of the biophysical energies of living organisms. This experiential “energy” may be what prescientific writers describe as Qi, Mana, elan vital, libido etc ( discussed by Carl Jung as “psychic energy”- where “psychic” meant psychological).

I suspect that what “vibrates” ( in alties’ view) is something that has to do with souls or underlying inborn personality coefficients. Not anything real.

Orac- I framed my response based on the limited text seen on my email. Having referred to the whole of your response to my ‘nag’ and having read your reference I withdraw completely my accusation of you being disingenuous and that you didn’t write of ‘misuse’ in that response. You did. I stand by my request that you make clear that Bernard (and Walter Cannon ) had nothing to say against germ theory and that their work was in the direction of experimental medicine, physiology and particularly what has now fully developed as homeostasis

I could always add a bit about how part of why Béchamp hated Pasteur is because Pasteur once accused him of plagiarism (probably falsely), which, given Pasteur’s reputation, was very harmful to Béchamp’s reputation.

I just tell my boys to eat fish eyes — high vita C (or so I’ve heard tell and tell them)

Johnny: “This is a ridiculous comment. Exactly, scurvy is not an infectious disease. But the medical establishment thought so for a long time. It wasn’t accepted as the fix until lat 1700’s and not across the whole medical establishment even then.”

I’m impressed at the ability of the medical establishment to time travel – they thought of scurvy as an infectious disease for centuries before the idea of an infectious disease existed! Cool!


” Medical science was actually rather quick in accepting that ulcers were caused by bacteria, it was the treatment that took a bit of convincing.”

But arrogant stick-in-the-mud medical folk like John insist on holding to the old theories about ulcers.

“They are so deep in mainstream lies, rigid in their cognitive bias, perceptual chauvinists, blinded by “education” and peer reviewed bullshit.

Abandon all the old theories and observe nature, there you will find truth.”

Is this yet another example of “those awful science lessons were far too hard and I couldn’t understand it, therefore it’s all wrong, ‘cos I’d understand it if it was right, ‘cos I couldn’t possibly not know, so it can’t be right!”?

Certainly looks that way…

Yea. I frequently find myself reminding others that, just because they cannot understand something in a comprehensive way, does not mean another cannot. I can almost picture in my head how molecules fit together but, try though I might, I cannot understand even the basics of string theory.

The difference is, of course, I’m not over on some physics blog arguing about string theory with experts calling them “Big String” shills or whatever…

The thing is, while some scientific knowledge may be arcane, and hard for non-specialists to understand, a lot of what woo-ists reject is pretty simple: germ theory being a perfect example. Don’t flatter yourself that you’re just the smartest and “they” are just dumbos. Many, maybe most of these folks could understand the science. They just don’t want to. They want magic to be true. That has nothing to do with the difficulty of the science academically.

” .. a lot of what woo-ists reject is pretty simple: germ theory being a perfect example.” sadmar

which might be the right place to start when deconstructing woo. An average person who buys into altie BS could be reminded how they accept a system involving homeopathy – that diluting something makes it stronger and that a preparation is effective despite not having a molecule of the ‘curative’ substance remaining or that bacteria and viruses don’t cause illness or that acupuncture stimulates non-existent points on imaginary meridians. Or that healing at a distance occurs.

Alties might confuse potential marks with arcane issues concerning vaccines or nutrition but usually one of these woo defining concepts will appear in their writings or CV.
Alties make a fuss when you label them as hiv/ aids denialist because they know that to the general public that appellation is the kiss of death for their credibility. Similarly, believing that all vaccines are somehow harmful so they avoid Orac’s question: ” Which ones are safe?”

@ johnlabarge

You write: “This is a ridiculous comment. Exactly, scurvy is not an infectious disease. But the medical establishment thought so for a long time. It wasn’t accepted as the fix until lat 1700’s and not across the whole medical establishment even then”

STUPID as ever. This conversation is about germ theory. Germ theory did NOT develop until the 19th Century though hints existed going back to the ancient Greeks. In addition, science as we know it today didn’t exist. There were NO requirements for how research should be conducted, though James Lind did test a variety of treatments, including oranges, lemons, vinegar, garlic, etc.

You write: “Things can have more than one cause. Having not enough stomach acid can cause more pathogens to thrive. Both terrain and germ are causes in fact”

NOPE. only one cause. Just a ridiculous example. If two people are shot at; but one wearing a Kevlar vest, the other not, is the not wearing a Kevlar vest also a cause? Nope, just the bullet. Yep, low stomach acid can allow some microbes to grow; but two people with low stomach acid, one may become infected with some type of pathological microbe, the other not. Like the Kevlar vest, the stomach acid is NOT cause the disease, only a specific microbe. If I drink water that has NOT been chlorinated and get some infection, would you say lack of chlorination was the cause? Of course, you would.

Obviously, given what we now know, there are underlying conditions that either help us resist infection and/or recuperate better or make us more vulnerable; but even the healthiest person, exercise, good nutrition, etc. if exposed to a variety of pathogenic microbes will get sick.

I have asked over and over; but once more: What do you base you knowledge of infection, vaccines, etc on? Have you studied immunology, microbiology, epidemiology, etc.? Even read a single book or articles in, for instance, Scientific American? What is your education? What is your occupation? Why do you keep making a FOOL OF YOURSELF?

Dr. Joel-I’m ever more convinced by the minute that folks like this are just turning up here to improve their fallacious arguments before dumping them on less sophisticated, unsuspecting audiences elsewhere.

You give them far too much credit. The majority seem to be unhappy people who temporarily feel better about their existence by poking and prodding others with their contrariness, just to get a rise out of them and bring attention to themselves. Happily most child bullies grow out of it and become responsible adults. The others become internet trolls. I suspect we get the better deal from being entertained by their pointless antics. So, no, they won’t get any better.

Oh, yes! One of the anti-vax mother warriors even admitted that she came to RI to learn how to combat SBM’s position.
Plus, they’re trying to prove themselves as superior.

At least they get some information from outside the bubble. You never know, something could get through

Ms. Sell is far from the first practitioner, or even the first “mental coach” to recognize the importance of vibrations.

“One time my mother went to the Chittenden Hotel to call on a woman mental healer who was lecturing in Columbus on the subject of “Harmonious Vibrations.” She wanted to find out if it was possible to get harmonious vibrations into a dog. “He’s a large tan-colored Airedale,” mother explained. The woman said that she had never treated a dog but she advised my mother to hold the thought that he did not bite and would not bite. Mother was holding the thought the very next morning when Muggs got the iceman but she blamed that slip-up on the iceman. “If you didn’t think he would bite you, he wouldn’t,” mother told him. He stomped out of the house in a terrible jangle of vibrations.”

James Thurber, “The Dog That Bit People”.

Here’s the latest COVID news from across our clinical network:
–We’ve only had a 3% positivity rate the last two weeks for PCR tests that’s EXTREMELY low. Looks to be receding.
–The emerging B.A.2 variant seems to be hitting a couple of European countries but doesn’t look (yet) like it’s going to take off here. Could cause another minor bump.

“I’m still wearing my mask in crowded indoor venues (malls, stores and such)”

Our school just removed the requirement for masks except for classrooms (so hallways, dining halls, dorm rooms, etc., masks not required, classrooms require them). I still require students to have them if they come to my office, but since most prefer virtual office hours that’s not an issue.

Orac- you are being disingenuous. It is true you have written of the misuse of Bernard’s concept of ‘milieu interieur’ ( but not in this post) by germ theory deniers but you go further with your highlighting of Bechamp and Bernard as opponents of Pasteur’s germ theory. I certainly know the differences of which you appear to think I do not. Although Bernard’s concept is misused you should make clear that his life’s work had nothing to do with germ theory denial. NOTHING

Sure, whatever.

Oh, wait. From this post:

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.

And, added (paraphrased from a previous post, actually), because you reminded me that I didn’t mention the myth of Pasteur’s “deathbed recantation”:

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.

You know what, though? To make you happy and, more importantly, to stop your annoying perseveration, I’ll probably add something to clarify. It probably won’t go far enough or make it so incredibly explicit enough for you—I won’t include an all caps “NOTHING,” for instance—but such is life.


blockquote>You – yes, you! – are completely responsible for your own health by your own lifestyle choices… All it takes is living the right way, doing the right things…. if you are ill it is your fault for not having the right “intent,” attitude, and thoughts and therefore not doing the right things


blockquote>Take all of this rhetoric, replace ‘health’ with ‘wealth’ and ‘illness’ with ‘poverty’ and you’ve got Milton Friedman.*

So here’s Dr. Sell “Mental Freedom Coach. Through Individualism” Sell-ing an “Online Course in Mind Mastery. Hmm. I’m surprised she only has <6000 followers, and hasn’t (yet?) hooked up with the Brownstoners. (I bet the “Rockefeller Petroleum Pharma smack wouldn’t prevent her from taking $$ from AIER, despite it’s fossil fuel funding…)

“She’s a chiropractor, because of course she is.” Which is what I think when chiros make the news — as GOP donors, GOP candidates and legislators, COVID deniars, “no way in hell” Trump lost election deniers…

or his mentor Ayn Rand.

Apologies for the massive HTML-tag fail there… :- (

I wanted to emphasize “Rockefeller” to suggest it’s odd she uses a quite old paradigm of Big Oil for her CT, rather than implicate any contemporary fossil fuel barons — like, maybe she doesn’t want to alienate them for some reason (hint, hint…).

In case anyone is still confused by Sell’s ranting about “Rockefeller medicine”, it’s a not uncommon fetish among alties.

Many of them see pre-1910 health care in the U.S. as a golden age of “natural” remedies, when hordes of poorly trained graduates were churned out by for-profit medical schools and foisted electrotherapy, homeopathy, naturopathy and other nonsense on patients. Then the Carnegie Foundation with financial assistance from John D. Rockefeller commissioned the Flexner report, which was highly influential in gaining support for medical education being based on scientific principles and hands-on clinical training. As a result, many low quality medical schools shut down and the practice of medicine started shedding its worst forms of quackery.

Flexner had his flaws (his views on black physicians and their training had more than a tinge of racism) but the Flexner Report did a great deal towards prioritizing science-based medicine, which is why, over a century later, alties are still fuming about it.

just when i thought anti vaxxers couldnt get any more stupid….i read this and Dr Sell’s website. wow. i stand corrected. more stupid is possible. i need a beer to calm my blown mind

@ Orac and EVERYONE

Simple question: How do anti-germ theorist/terrain is everything explain existence of our immune systems. A complex system designed to deal with microbes and other living invaders; e.g., protozoa, etc? We know, for instance, that the innate immune system has polymorphonuclear cells that are programmed to recognize certain aspects of microbes that have been around for millennia, pathogen-associated molecular patterns (PAMPS). We know that macrophages and dendritic cells, sometimes B-cells are created to gobble up anything they don’t recognize, display small parts which they show to B-cells and T-cells. We know that B and T cells, once recognizing something (we have ca 100 million of each with slightly different recognition sites), take about 10 – 14 days to proliferate and attack the invaders. And we know that invaders that do damage, kill us before they can proliferate exist vs those we can actually measure increase in B and T cells, antibodies, etc. as other invaders diminish and disappear. Besides, we have in vitro and in vivo studies of how the immune system attacks invaders. An example of the former is Hanta Pulmonary Syndrome which attacked people in four corners of New Mexico, Arizona, et. early 1990s. People died within a day or two; but it was because of lungs filling with liquid and dying from asphyxiation. So, they were put on ECMO, filtering blood and adding oxygen. This kept people alive long enough for immune system to defeat the Hanta virus, no drugs, etc. Our immune systems are capable of defeating almost all microbes, almost, not all; but often some do considerable damage, even kill us, before adaptive immune system reaches full potential, after 10 – 14 days.

And, regardless of level of stomach acid, etc. the immune system is what takes care of living invaders. Of course, if someone has extreme deficiencies of nutrients; e.g., vitamin D3, etc. then immune system doesn’t function at its best; but our bodies have homeostasis, that is, a narrow range of nutritional needs, mega-doses don’t increase health. But, the bottom line is, it is microbes that attack us and it is our immune systems that fight them. So, how do anti-germ theories/terrain is everything advocates explain existence of our complex superbly coordinated immune systems?

One last point, of course, if we eat healthy and exercise, then our immune system work as designed and if they defeat an attacking microbe, we have better chance of recuperating and faster. Obviously, an obese, chain smoker, with already damaged health will do worse; but it is still his/her immune system that does the fighting.

Playlist for this thread:

Here Comes Terrain Again
Terrainy Day Women Numbers 12 and 30C
Terrain Keeps Droppin’ On My Head
Who’ll Stop Terrain…

For your entertainment (?)….

Jessica Rose explains her research in detail and why we can’t trust vaccine research
Gary Null Show, today or prn/live 20 minutes in to 54 minutes. She’ll be back.
For some reason, they retracted her paper.

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