Skeptophilia (skep-to-fil-i-a) (n.) - the love of logical thought, skepticism, and thinking critically. Being an exploration of the applications of skeptical thinking to the world at large, with periodic excursions into linguistics, music, politics, cryptozoology, and why people keep seeing the face of Jesus on grilled cheese sandwiches.

Friday, March 6, 2015

Sick unto death

New from the Dangerous Nonsense department: there's a new alternative-medicine model out of Germany that claims that viruses and bacteria aren't the cause of infectious diseases.

The website linked above, which was sent to me by a loyal reader of Skeptophilia, had me muttering imprecations under my breath pretty much right from the first line.  The author, Caroline Markolin, starts with a line from the famous 19th century biologist Rudolf Virchow: "If I could live my life over again, I would devote it to proving that germs seek their natural habitat -- diseased tissue -- rather than being the cause of diseased tissue."

Virchow was a brilliant pathologist and cellular biologist, but being good at some things doesn't mean you can't be dead wrong about others.  And the article conveniently fails to mention that Virchow not only disbelieved that pathogens caused diseases, he was also an ardent anti-evolutionist who considered Darwin an "ignoramus."

Be that as it may, we then are treated to quite a confection of nonsense.  Colds and flu, we're told, are actually the same thing, and are both caused by stress, not by viruses:
The common cold is linked to a "stink conflict", which can be experienced in real terms but also figuratively as "This situation stinks!" or "I've had it!". During the conflict-active phase the nasal membrane lining widens through ulceration, which is usually not noticed. In the healing phase, however, when the nasal tissue is being repaired, the nasal membrane swells up. A runny nose (healing always occurs in a fluid environment), headaches, tiredness, an elevated temperature or fever are all typical signs of a vagotonic healing process. If the cold symptoms are more severe, then this is commonly called the "flu". The claim, however, that "influenza" viruses are the culprits, has yet to be proven.
Nor has this claim, of course.  The "germ theory of disease" has over a hundred years of hard data supporting it.  This theory (if I can dignify it by that name) has a few vague generalities, a couple of ten-dollar words like "vagotonic," a photograph of a woman blowing her nose, so q.e.d., apparently.

We then find out that the "Spanish" flu of 1918-1919, that killed between 50 and 100 million people (hard numbers are difficult to come by, since the epidemic occurred during World War I, and many deaths in rural or isolated places went unrecorded), was not caused by a virus, it was caused by "stress."  People were under "territorial fear conflicts" and "death fright conflicts," and sickened from those; the acute, and frequently deadly, symptoms occurred when the body was trying to heal itself and the lung tumors caused by "stress" decomposed.

[image courtesy of the Wikimedia Commons]

Oh, and tuberculosis and AIDS aren't caused by pathogens, either.

And don't take antibiotics.  Ever.  Because they cause cancer.  Lung cancer, Markolin tells us, isn't caused by smoking; to hell with the research, which includes a study that demonstrated that 2/3 of the people who smoke will eventually die from conditions associated with tobacco use.  Cancer is caused by "shock," she says.  In a statement that should be an odds-on favorite for the Circular Logic Award of 2015, she states, "We have to bear in mind that every diagnosis shock can potentially cause... cancer," implying that the diagnosis of cancer is what caused the cancer to appear.

But how was the cancer there to diagnose if the diagnosis caused the cancer, you may ask?  To which I respond: stress vagotonic death fight conflicts.  And fear.  Stop asking questions, because you're going to stress me out and give me a cold.

Oh, and viruses, "if they existed," would "assist in the reconstruction of... tissues."  Because evolution, for some reason.  Microbes are our friends; all disease is caused by emotional conflict.

Makes you wonder, doesn't it, how plants get infectious diseases.  Maybe my tomato plants didn't get late blight last year, maybe they were just feeling lonely and unappreciated.

But I'm certain that Markolin would have some sort of bullshit response to this, too.  Probably that humans with all of their ugly unnatural habits are causing the plants to stress out, and so the tomatoes are picking up on our conflicted quantum vibrational states and becoming sick themselves.

Nothing whatsoever to do with pathogens.  Just like colds, flu, AIDS, tuberculosis, and the bubonic plague.

The difficulty here is that there is a germ of truth (rimshot) to what she's saying.  The mind does have a role in health; stress does cause physical manifestations, probably mediated by the hormone cortisol.  But this is a far cry from saying that all disease is caused by stress, and that pathogens have nothing to do with it.

The problem with all of this is not that a crackpot has a website.  Many crackpots do.  It seems to be a favorite hobby of theirs, in fact.  The problem is that naïve people will fall for this, and fail to seek out proper medical care for curable conditions.  So it's homeopathy all over again; a claim that is entirely unsupported by research and evidence, and only believable if you fall for some hand-waving foolishness that the students in my Introductory Biology classes could debunk without even breaking a sweat.  That hasn't stopped the story, however, from being picked up by Spirit Science, so it's popping up all over woo-woo alt-med websites just in the last few days.  (If you go to the Spirit Science article, don't read the comments.  Really.  I mean it.  It will result in your spending the rest of the day curled up in a corner, whimpering softly.  If you ignore this advice, allow me to say simply that, yes, there are people in the world who are this stupid.  And they vote.)

So the caveat emptor principle applies here, of course.  People should be smart enough not to believe appealing nonsense about preventing the flu by becoming less stressed.  But I still feel some sympathy with the folks who are ignorant, or desperate, enough to fall for something like this, and who will suffer the consequences of that ignorance.

And as far as Markolin and her idiotic theory, I'm about done with it.  The whole thing is stressing me out, and we can't have that.

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