Taking Anti-Vaxxing To The Next Level

Ken AshfordHealth CareLeave a Comment

It’s one thing to say that measles vaccinations are harmful (they’re not), but it is entirely different to say that measles don’t exist at all.  Yet, one German pseudoscientist did, going so far as to put his money on it.  He lost:

This is something I thought would probably never happen – a science denier, in this case German virologist Stefan Lanka, was ordered by a court to pay 100,000 Euros to German doctor David Barden for meeting his challenge to prove that the measles virus exists.

Lanka is clearly, in my opinion, a crank, which is a specific flavor of pseudoscientist who makes sophisticated arguments to support a hilariously wrong conclusion. There is some major malfunction in their scientific reasoning. Typically, in my experience, they have an oversized ego and think they know better than the rest of the scientific community. For some reason an extreme narrative gets stuck in their brain, and they spend their career marshaling evidence and arguments to support a nonsensical idea. I find cranks endlessly fascinating because I think they are extreme cases that reveal major weaknesses in the operation of the human brain.

One favorite tactic of cranks and deniers is to issue an open challenge to prove what they deny exists. I think this strategy is inspired by the Randi Million Dollar Challenge, which is a legitimate challenge for anyone to prove a paranormal phenomenon. Randi has a specific process spelled out, with concrete criteria for success.

Hoax challenges are pure publicity stunts – they sound grandiose but typically are framed in such a way that the one issuing the challenge can wiggle out of ever having to pay. They are rigged from the beginning, mainly by not spelling out what kind of evidence would meet the challenge.

I guess Lanka got a little sloppy. He issued a 100,000 Euro challenge to anyone who could prove the measles virus exists. That’s right – the measles virus. Lanka is an HIV denier from back in the 1990s (and still denying HIV). HIV denial is the claim that AIDS does not exist as a discrete medical illness, or at least is not caused by a specific virus, and in fact the human immunodeficiency virus does not really exist.


That a court has now demanded that Lanka pay Barden the reward for meeting his challenge is an interesting twist. Barden pulled together published scientific evidence that together proves beyond a reasonable scientific doubt that measles is real. Lanka, of course, denied the evidence. That is what he does. You will never meet his burden of evidence to prove the thing that he denies, which is what makes such challenges from deniers a hoax.

However, Barden went to the courts to settle their dispute. The court, unlike Lanka, has apparently applied a reasonable standard for scientific proof and determined that Barden did indeed meet the burden of proof to demonstrate that measles is real. Lanka, of course, will appeal, and there is always the possibility that he will wiggle out of the judgment on legal grounds (rather than the merits of the case).