There is, it seems, an even dumber crowd than the flat earthers:
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.
As it happens, I’m working on a book right now, tentatively titled So Very Small* about the origins of germ theory and the perplexing difficulty humans have had in fully coming to grips with the discovery that we share the world with a whole universe of creatures that seem, but are not, so very distant from our daily experience.
Mole notes, entirely correctly, that doubters of germ theory were present from very early in its modern history–the period in the 1860s, 70s, and 80s when Pasteur and Koch and others established that microbes do indeed cause human (and animal) diseases, and that t his knowledge could be used to erect defenses against such scourges. I take the story a bit further back in time, but I see the same thing she does: the idea that humans could be brought low by something as insignificant as a bacterium or (even more diminutive) a virus so offends a certain kind of sensibility that no amount of evidence to the contrary penetrates.
That said, there are a lot of reasons why it took a long time to get from Leeuenhoek’s discovery of microbes (in the 1670s) to Pasteur. None of those obtain since he figured out how to prevent “diseases” of wine and to cure chicken cholera, and since his rival Koch demonstrated the mechanism of infection with anthrax. We really knew this stuff then, with a stunningly complete set of empirical observations and demonstrations to confirm the basic mechanism of infection in hand by sometime in the 1880s. There just hasn’t been any reason to doubt germ theory for a century and a half.
Except these bozos are sure that all such knowledge is just Big Science running it’s usual con:
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…”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!
“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.”
— Will McPhail (@WillMcPhail) January 2, 2017
You can’t fix this. Some germ theory truthers will get sick and discover that no, it’s not what they ate (unless they chowed down on a great big whack of E. coli, of course), pasta doesn’t cause cancer and the rest of it. Or someone they love gets ill and in extremis they try an antibiotic, which (for a while yet) actually works and so on. Those may have near death (or deathbed) conversions.
But they’re going to have to come to it on their own. There’s no way to penetrate such a hermetically sealed worldview, or such utterly unmerited confidence in one’s own judgment, nor such disdain for just how amazing it is that humans have managed to wrest so much knowledge of nature from the terrifying ground of experience. The tragedy is that some of exactly these kinds of folk have seats in Congress.
All I’m going to add is that it has never mattered whether you believe in Darwin (or any of the rest of modern biology). The question has always been, does natural selection believe in you.
*From this Hillaire Belloc poem. Do click–it’s a hoot.
Image: Jan Vermeer, The Geographer, 1669. It has been suggested that Leeuenhoek was the sitter for Vermeer’s natural philosopher in this painting and his The Astronomer. Most biographers of either man question that, though it is true that they may have known each other. They did live in the same neighborhood, and Leeuenhoek was the executor of the painter’s will. That does not in itself imply a close relationship, as by that time, he was a Delft city official, and may have been charged with settling Vermeer’s estate as an official obligation, not a personal one.