HomeScienceDeep dive into stupid: Meet the growing group that rejects germ theory

Deep dive into stupid: Meet the growing group that rejects germ theory

This thriving Facebook group says viruses don't cause disease and the pandemic isn't real.
Enlarge / This thriving Facebook group says viruses don’t cause disease and the pandemic isn’t real.

Listen up, sheeple: COVID-19 doesn’t exist. Viruses don’t cause disease, and they aren’t contagious. Those doctors and health experts who say otherwise don’t know what they’re talking about; the real experts are on Facebook. And they’re saying it loud and clear: The pandemic is caused by your own deplorable life choices, like eating meat or pasta. Any “COVID” symptoms you might experience are actually the result of toxic lifestyle exposures—and you have only yourself to blame.

As utterly idiotic and abhorrent as all of the above is, it’s not an exaggeration of the messages being spread by a growing group of Darwin-award finalists on the Internet—that is, germ theory denialists. Yes, you read that correctly: Germ theory denialists—also known as people who don’t believe that pathogenic viruses and bacteria can cause disease.

As an extension of their rejection of basic scientific and clinical data collected over centuries, they deny the existence of the devastating pandemic that has sickened upwards of 200 million people worldwide, killing more than 4 million.

Germ theory denialism isn’t new. It can be traced back to the origin of germ theory itself, often to the contemporaries of Louis Pasteur named Claude Bernard and Antoine Béchamp. Both came up with opposing hypotheses to Pasteur’s enduring germ theory. Bernard proposed the concept of milieu intérieur, which suggests that the body’s internal environment—or terrain—maintains its equilibrium. The state of the terrain, rather than the presence of pathogens, ultimately dictates whether disease will develop (which is not an entirely crazy idea, given what we now know about the microbiome and the immunocompromised). Meanwhile, Béchamp—considered a bitter crank and rival of Pasteur—suggested that pathogenic bacteria are produced by human tissue as a response to a harmful change in the terrain. Thus, bacteria do not cause disease; they are merely a self-created symptom of it—which is clearly just incorrect.

The scientific and medical communities left these ideas behind in light of Pasteur’s findings and, later, Robert Koch’s foundational concepts for microbial pathogenesis, Koch’s postulates. But it seems they have endured in a fringe community, with their interpretations and explanations shifting and morphing over time. And with the devastating global pandemic, the denialists seem to be having something of a renaissance.

A germ theory denialist emailed me and pointed to a Facebook group called “Terrain Model Refutes Germ Theory,” where a particular strain of germ theory denialism is thriving. An administrator for the group noted in April that the group had reached 15,000 members, up from just 147 members in April of 2020. Now, just a few months later, the tally is up to 18,400.

Toxic ignorance

While the depths of human stupidity on display across the Internet rival that of the Marianas Trench, the audacious ignorance on display in this group is truly stunning. In the group’s current take on germ theory denialism, bacteria are merely scavengers and are a symptom of disease. Viruses are considered cellular debris and cannot cause disease or transmit from one person to another.

According to the group members’ delusions, there is only one disease in existence: toxemia. This disease is caused by toxic exposures that occur by leading a dirty, unnatural lifestyle, which causes damage to your terrain. All disease symptoms are merely a sign that your body is trying to “detox.” If your body isn’t able to detox, the disease will progress through seven levels, the last one being cancer. The type of symptom you’re experiencing can help identify the kind of toxic exposure you’ve had. If you remove the toxic component of your diet or environment, you’ll recover—though if you reach the seventh level, it can be hard to come back from.

The group notes that a sick person has no one but themselves to blame for their illness. “Blaming disease on viruses or bacteria is an easy cop out,” one post in the group’s “guide” section reads. “It’s not good business to tell a client that they have caused their own miseries, so the medical profession has blamed suffering on everything but the individual’s own failure in the game of living.”

So how do you avoid toxic exposures and failing at life? Basically, you just eat a lot of fruit and cut out all things “not fit for man.” That includes meat, dairy, eggs, breads, pasta, soy, nut and seed oils, potatoes, garlic, onions, cereals, salt, fermented foods, coffee, supplements, alcohol, tobacco, and any other intoxicating substances. Oh, and all evidence-based drugs, medical treatments, and vaccines—obviously.

If you are not convinced by the group’s ideas and point to medical experts who say wild things like “viruses can make you sick” and “protein is necessary for a healthy diet,” you are embarrassingly mistaken. According to the group, all doctors are simply brainwashed puppets, controlled by a profit-driven pharmaceutical and medical research community determined to convince everyone that they need to buy magic pills to stay healthy. “The germ theory is nothing but a massive profit driver for the disease industry,” germ theory denialist Nora Lenz said in a video hosted on the site. The group members know better, of course, because, you know, they’ve read a lot of stuff on the Internet—like a lot!

“Facts-inated”

“There are people with masters [sic] degrees that fell for this pandemic charade,” one group member posted. “And there are high school dropouts that can see through all the deception of the media. That’s why being smart isn’t measured solely on being educated by colleges.”

Indeed, the denialist who led me to this Facebook group—Robert Yaklin—did so to point out my ignorance. “I couldn’t resist contacting you when I read that you are interested in infectious diseases,” Yaklin wrote, seemingly referencing the fact that I have a doctorate in bacterial pathogenesis. “While I’m sure you believe that such a thing exists because you have been indoctrinated to believe in germ theory, it is no more proven than the theory of a flat earth. I suggest working toward getting fully “facts-inated” by reading about Terrain Model. There is plenty to keep you busy reading at the Facebook group “Terrain Model Refutes Germ Theory” for months if not years or longer. Don’t feel bad just because so many things you have believed will be revealed untrue.” (If only my PhD advisor had known about this Facebook group!)

In subsequent email exchanges, Yaklin compared believing in disease-causing bacteria to believing in Santa Claus or the Easter bunny. “The idea of viruses causing anything is even more far-fetched,” he wrote.

As for an explanation of the current pandemic caused by a contagious coronavirus, Yalkin said it is due to “a group of people with similar diet and habits [who] are likely to be taking on a similar amount of toxins, and therefore their bodies are likely to exhibit similar detox symptoms around the same time.”

And as for following public health measures to prevent SARS-CoV-2 transmission, Yalkin simply said, “There are no public health experts recommending wearing a mask or getting vaccinated. There may be people who call themselves public health experts, but they are virtually clueless about actual health, having received training and indoctrination in the cult of disease and drugs.”

The nonsense he spewed was straight from the pages of the Facebook group, of course. Based on recent activity, two of the more active administrators for the group are Lauren Whiteman, who said she took over the group in April of 2020, and Lauren Takacs.

Misinformation and moderation

Whiteman appeared in the video with Lenz and said she had studied hygiene theory for five years. She claimed that her natural diet cured all of her health issues and cured blindness, deafness, and seizures in the dogs she fosters. This has apparently given her authority to provide medical advice, telling people in the group that vaccines are “extremely dangerous and harmful to health.” In one exchange, she claimed that a person diagnosed with COVID-19 had low blood oxygen levels because of poor lifestyle choices. “The cause of oxygen deficiency is wrong health habits,” she declared. “Wrong foods going in, taking drugs, not living in alignment with your physiology.”

Whiteman did not respond to an interview request from Ars.

According to her public Facebook posts, Takacs graduated from high school in 2016 and has no health or medical background. However, that didn’t stop her from recommending to one group member that she no longer needed health insurance, simply because she was following the terrain model lifestyle. In another post, Takacs suggests that a mother of a 3-year-old with cancer should stop bringing her son to the hospital for treatments, which she called “poisonings.” Instead, she recommended feeding the toddler fruits and vegetables as treatment.

Takacs did not respond to an interview request from Ars.

Ars also reached out to Facebook to understand how all of the health misinformation and falsehoods in the group fall in the company’s moderation policies. The social media giant is said to be actively monitoring the site, reviewing posts, and removing violating material. Broadly, if a group repeatedly breaks rules, Facebook will permanently remove it.

“We take strong action against content that violates our COVID-19 and vaccine policies,” a Facebook spokesperson told Ars in a statement. “We continue to monitor for misinformation on our platforms and we will continue to enforce against any account or group that violates our rules.”

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