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Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion, SUNY 2003Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld.net in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Author of Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion” (SUNY Press, 2003), which has been translated into 7 languages, and of 175+ essays on this website.
SEE MORE ESSAYS WRITTEN BY FRANK VISSER

TABLE OF CONTENTS | REVIEWS

SEE ALSO: Part 20: PCR-Gate: A Storm in a Petri Dish?

PCR-Gate 2:
When Lockdown Skeptics Pose as Expert Scientists

The Corona Conspiracy, Part 24

Frank Visser

"There is also no confusion with other viruses, other cold viruses, other coronaviruses or anything else for pathogens. There is simply no room for these discussions. The PCR is simply beyond doubt." (Christian Drosten).
This is a slanderous and grossly misinformed interpretation of what the Corman-Drosten protocol really intends to accomplish.

We will again touch upon the topic of the so-called "PCR-Gate", involving a retraction request of an early paper on the SARS-CoV-2 test protocol (see Part 20).[1] As it turned out, this retraction did not materialize, much to the chagrin of the main authors of this Corman-Drosten Review Report[2] and has caused another round of allegations and accusations regarding the policies of regular science. Though any scientific misconduct and conflicts of interest were denied by Eurosurveillance, this did not convince these authors in the least. On the contrary, they doubled down in their conviction that science had to be liberated from politics and the review processes used by science needed to become more transparant than ever.

In this Part 24 of our THE CORONA CONSPIRACY series we will show, however, that this exalted self-image of the Review Report authors as representing good science leaves a lot to be desired. The authors asked for input on their ten main points of criticism, and we will go into this in greater detail here as well.

As the saying goes, be careful what you ask for.

BROADCASTING CORONAVIRUS DISINFORMATION

As an example of how some of the main contributors of the Review Report spread disinformation about science, I first want to point to a YouTube video in which author and journalist Naomi Wolf interviewed Kevin McKernan and Bobby Malhotra.[3]

Naomi Wolf interviews Kevin McKernan and Bobby Malhotra (through video connection), two main authors of the Corman-Drosten Review Report.

The discussion aims at an entry level audience (so a lot of times the basics of the PCR test are explained, usually with other technical terms that will bedazzle the laymen), but here and there some scientific statements are made about the Corman-Drosten test. The interviewer expresses her astonishment with the fact the the Corman-Drosten team did not have the SARS-CoV-2 virus at their disposal at this early stage of the pandemic, and yet claimed to have a test that could detect this pathogen, among other "Asian coronaviruses". Now, any PCR or sequencing expert would instantly correct this layman understanding, but McKernan and Malhotra merely reinforce it.


“Frank Visser
brings light
and sanity to
the miasmal
confusion of
suspicions and
misinformation.”

(David Quammen)

CONTENTS
REVIEWS



Wolf: His [Christian Drostens] goal was to create, his stated goal, the author's stated goal, was to create a test that could detect a virus when the virus wasn't present. And in addition to that he didn't have virus, coronavirus, COVID-19 to work with, right?
Malhotra: [Nods]
Wolf: He was drawing a sequence from a computer database. Is all of that correct?
McKernan: Yes, I would say, say he had an intention to pick up the virus when it was present but in his design he admitted that he couldn't do a very good job with imperfect information and it would pick up other Asian coronaviruses.
Wolf: And that it would pick up other Asian coronaviruses...
McKernan: Yes.
Wolf: And when you say 'pick up' meaning the test would indicate, return a positive, yes, if there were other coronaviruses. And for the lay person, I didn't know this either, everything is a coronavirus, I mean... many cold viruses are also called 'coronavirus'. In fact, Covid-19 sounded so exotic and scary when we first learned about a corona virus, but many ordinary cold viruses are corona viruses, is that correct?
McKernan: It's correct, there's four that we watch very closely, HKU1 is a name of one, uh OC40, I think it's 43, and NL63 and NL229 [sic]. Those are the four ones that are commonly tracked but there's in fact thousands of them.
Wolf: The authors said in their paper: we can't guarantee that this will return a positive that doesn't also pick up other Asian cold viruses, is that correct?
McKernan: Yes, that's correct.
Wolf: Alright, pick up again Bobby please from there...
Malhotra: Yeah so to pick up from there, he [Drosten) sent his prototype PCR test to Hong Kong... and by luck it gave a positive test result and immediately Christian Drosten sent over his protocol to the WHO and also to Eurosurveillance and because he was very happy about it that it was positive. And yeah it was all a little bit of a guessing game in this case.
Wolf: So basically there's no way to know if that first historic positive PCR test was some Asian person with a cold or someone with an early detected COVID-19 case, is that correct?
Malhotra: It is correct, yeah I would say, it is correct.
Wolf: So basically it's not a casual step or gilding the lily. It's an absolutely essential final step [of] sequencing to make sure that what looks like it could be Covid-19 but it could also be a bunch of other asian cold viruses which we all get whether we're in asia or not...
McKernan: Right.
Wolf: ... they go around the world. That last step of sequencing to make sure this is Covid-19 was not taken, is that correct?
McKernan: Not in the PCR protocol that he utilized.
McKernan: In the draft or the text of their paper, they demonstrate that... they knew that they would pick up other viruses...
Wolf: Woooww! (9:00-14:00)

The grossly misguided picture presented here is that the Corman-Drosten test was created merely without having the SARS-CoV-2 virus at their disposal, but intentionally set up so vague as to pick up other Asian coronaviruses, and that this means we are never sure that if your test is positive you have COVID-19 or just the common cold. However, what in the Corman-Drosten paper is meant by "Asian viruses" were bat viruses! Duh. Here's the relevant paragraph titled "Detection range for SARS-related coronaviruses from bats."

The Corman-Drosten test was designed to cast its net as wide as possible, to catch as many unforeseen variants of this new SARS-CoV-2 virus as possible.

Nor was there any cross-reactivity with all the known "common cold" viruses:

What is wrong with this admittedly popularizing video of the Consortium authors?

First, the fact that the virus was not available at the time the test protocol was created is not a problem, because the virual sequence of SARS-CoV-2 was available, as it was shared to the Corman-Drosten team by the Chinese. By comparing this sequence with other SARS-related viruses which are stored in a large database, it became apparent very soon that this was a new SARS-CoV virus.

Second, even though this virus was a very specific one, the test was intentionally set up in a more generic way, because of the previous experience with SARS-CoV. After all, the pandemic was still in its early days and coronaviruses tend to mutate as they spread. But this would not be a problem since SARS-CoV or bat viruses are at present not circulating in humans, as Drosten was quick to point out.[2]. A specific test for SARS-CoV-2 was added as well.

And third, and most importantly, this did not mean that the viruses that cause the common cold were included. In fact, the Corman-Drosten paper clearly and unambiguously states that these four "common" coronaviruses were tested against as a test for cross-reactivity, and they specifically conclude, after having tested 22(!) known respiratory viruses, "None of the tested viruses or virus preparations showed reactivity with any assay."[1]

Partial view of the table of 22 known viruses the PCR test was tested for (including the common cold, MERS, influenza and rhinovirus). Corman et al., 2020

As you can clearly see, the four common cold viruses mentioned by McKernan to cast doubt on the effectiveness of the Corman-Drosten test and on the integrity of its authors were at the very top of the tests done for cross-reactivity. If this is the type of "science" advocated by this team of "top scientists", we are really in deep trouble. This is a slanderous and grossly misinformed interpretation of what the Corman-Drosten protocol really intends to accomplish—and has accomplished.

It's no use going deeper into this video, but this is what I found when analyzing only 5 minutes. You see the clear pattern of distortion and disinformation.

Here is the family tree of the coronaviruses for your convenience and education. As you can see the four common cold viruses mentioned in the video and the Corman-Drosten paper belong to completely different types or subgroups of coronaviruses:


Phylogenetic tree of coronaviruses. Relative positions of HCoV (human coronavirus) viruses and SARS-CoV. Note: The chart is from 2010, so SARS-CoV-2 is not yet on the map. (Wikipedia).

The "other" coronaviruses the Corman-Drosten test matches all belong to Subgroup B: sarbecoviruses. This consists of SARS-CoV, SARS-CoV-2, and two bat viruses: Bat SL-CoV-WIV1 and RaTG13. This does not make this test "completely aspecific" (Borger) for SARS-CoV-2.

TIME TO LET CHRISTIAN DROSTEN HAVE HIS SAY...

It is unfortunate—though perhaps understandable—that none of the Corman-Drosten paper authors has dealt with the Review Report points of criticism—that I must grant to their disgruntled authors. Obviously, the tone of voice of the Review Report didn't invite any such discussion and possibly alienated parts of their potential audience (though with an alleged 20 million page views, that audience has been extremely large for a "scientific" paper). Yet Christian Drosten has appeard in German media frequently in the past twelve months, and in this March 2020 fragment from the Norddeutscher Rundfunk radio he discusses similar concerns about his PCR test:

Christian Drosten
Christian Drosten
Korinna Hennig: The critical voices, in particular the quoted Wolfgang Wodarg, also relate directly to the PCR test, i.e. the genetic test for the virus that you and your team have developed and that is used worldwide. It has not been validated at all, i.e. has been adequately scientifically assessed, and has not been created at all on the basis of the current SARS-CoV-2 genome and would therefore also display everything else possible. Can you briefly explain to us how you established the PCR test back then and who was looking at it, in layman's terms?
Christian Drosten: This test was done at a time when we didn't even have this virus in the country or in the laboratory. And we have started developing it based on the closely related SARS coronavirus. But this has nothing to do with the common cold coronaviruses. Genetically, that's very far. And we did two tests. In fact, we actually did a whole series of tests—candidate tests. And they were made on the basis of the old SARS coronavirus and a huge diversity of bat coronaviruses, i.e. the closest relatives that are all in the same virus type. And we've done tests that would detect a number of these coronaviruses. So these animal corona viruses, bat corona viruses, would also be recorded. And the old SARS coronavirus and then with some probability the new one too. And then the sequence of the new coronavirus came out. Then we matched that.
“This test was done at a time when we didn't even have this virus in the country or in the laboratory. And we have started developing it based on the closely related SARS coronavirus. But this has nothing to do with the common cold coronaviruses.” —Christian Drosten
Korinna Hennig: From China.
Christian Drosten: From China, from colleagues, but only theoretically as sequence information. Then we took the two tests from our candidate tests that are particularly good for this new virus. We then further validated them, with the University of Hong Kong, the University of Rotterdam, the national public health organization in London and our own patients. A very, very large validation study has been done. I would have to open it on my computer now to go back to the numbers. But we have large numbers of real patient samples—with known positive evidence of other coronaviruses and also every other cold virus we know, and a whole number of them for each individual virus—a whole number of patient samples, that is, hundreds of samples with other coronaviruses and other cold virus, we tested in this test. And not once has there been a false positive reaction. So this test does not react against any other human coronavirus and against any other human cold virus.
It's true, but of course that is completely misleading information, in theory this test would react against the old SARS coronavirus. But this has not happened in humans for 16 years. And theoretically, this test would also react against a whole range of bat coronaviruses, but they don't exist in humans either.[4]

That last paragraph nails it. The common cold viruses are excluded, and the apparent a-specificity of the test, which is designed intentionally, can do no harm, for humans don't suffer from SARS-CoV or bat viruses at the moment.

Drosten also touches on the financial gains he might have received by distributing this test (remember that the Review Report stressed this "conflict of interest" aspect):

Christian Drosten: And the kind of technical validation is at such a high level, and we already published it in January, it was one of the first scientific publications ever about this new virus, that an incredibly large number of companies, not only in Germany, but in the all over the world, has started to transfer this test immediately into commercial validated test systems because of this good validation data. And at the same time, the World Health Organization immediately put this test protocol public on their side so that all public health agencies can use it.
And we immediately started distributing the essential material around the world. We started right away in mid-January, incidentally, free of charge, so we're involved in a research project that is being paid for by the European Union. They give us support for a personnel position that packs these packages that we send worldwide for RNA material. And the recipients on the other hand do not have to pay an allowance for the transport costs to us, but to this EU project (which, by the way, is coordinated at the University of Marseille).
Korinna Hennig: So, you don't make any money with it.
Christian Drosten: We don't earn a cent. On the contrary, we pay a lot on top of it. Fortunately, we are supported by public research funding from the European Union and, more recently, from the Bill Gates Foundation, Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. But these are research funds that are specifically there for this purpose. We don't do any other research with it, but basically just pack packages with it. So we don't earn a penny, we pay more because we didn't have this research funding at the beginning. We just had to push it out of the postage because otherwise nobody would have done anything....
Korinna Hennig: So transparency not only in research, but also in the figures.

Here's a table summarizing the whole production and test flow of the Corman-Drosten PCR test:

CHINA GERMANY VALIDATION
The raw material was gathered by China:

- Patient samples

- SARS-CoV-2 virus

- SARS-CoV-2 sequence (sent to Germany)
Several tests were developed in Germany based on:

- SARS-CoV sequence

- Bat virus sequences

- SARS-CoV-2 sequence (received from China)
Positive results:
- SARS-CoV-virus
- Bat viruses
- SARS-CoV-2 (synthetic)

Negative results:
- Common cold viruses
- MERS
- Influenza viruses
- Rhinovirus
Etc. (20 known viruses in total)
The Corman-Drosten PCR protocol is based on the SARS-CoV-2 genome as received from China, includes SARS and some bat viruses, but excludes the common cold.

To summarize: the Corman-Drosten test was based on a full SARS-CoV-2 genome received from Chinese researchers, who had assembled it within days. Given their expertise with SARS-CoV the Drosten team re-used an existing test protocol for this previous SARS virus, but also added specifics that would makes sure SARS-CoV-2 was matched. So there are generic and specific elements to this test. However, it is not so generic that viruses other than animal bat or SARS viruses are matched as well, and it can distinguish between SARS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2. As a proper test for this new virus should be able to do. And even if that SARS-CoV-2 element was skipped, the SARS-generic test would still make do because SARS-CoV is no longer circulating.

None of these basic facts were picked up by the two authors/contributors of the Review Report, who feature so erroneously as "courageous scientists" in the Naomi Wolf video interview. False heroism, if you ask me.

In fact, this whole notion of an "INTERNATIONAL CONSORTIUM OF SCIENTISTS IN LIFE SCIENCES (ICSLS)" which produced the Review Report is an inflated charade when it comes to relevant technical PCR expertise.

HOW A CONSORTIUM OF NON-EXPERTS IS BUILT

Andreas Beyer
Andreas Beyer

The main objection of the Review Report main authors to the response from Eurosurveillance seemed to be that it did not address their many points of criticism. Well, it turns out that that work has already been done. On Researchgate I found a long article by Andreas Beyer, which reviewed the Corman-Drosten Review Report paper point-by-point.[5] Beyer is currently a university professor in molecular biology at the Westfälische Hochschule in Recklinghausen, Germany. In this role he covers the fields of: standard methodology of molecular biology, DNA sequencing, PCR, biochemistry and computer-assisted sequence analysis. His competence by far exceeds those of most "top scientists in the life sciences" of the Consortium that published the Review Report.

As Beyer drily remarks when commenting on the "expertise" of the 22 authors/proofreaders of the Review Report: with few exceptions, none of them are molecular biologists with PCR-related experience. Now this has often been taken to involve unwarranted ad hominem attacks on the Consortium members, but that is most definitely not the case. Qualifications do matter here. It is highly relevant. With the exception of first author Pieter Borger and Kevin McKernan, none of these luminaries have evidenced any practical experience or theoretical expertise with this specialized field, not even the last author (who normally has a senior and supervising role in scientific articles), Ulrike Kämmerer, who specializes in cancer and nutrition!

Here's Beyer's breakdown of the Consortium members:

Critical Evaluation of the "Expertise" of the Review Report Authors/Proofreaders of the Consortium
CONSORTIUM MEMBERS COMMENTS BEYER
Dr. Peter Borger (MSc, PhD), Molecular Genetics, W+W Research Associate, Lörrach, Germany "W+W" (for Wort und Wissen, "Word and Knowledge") is a creationist association. There are no laboratories and scientific research groups. And hence, there is also no "Research Associate".
Rajesh Kumar Malhotra (Artist Alias: Bobby Rajesh Malhotra), Former 3D Artist / Scientific Visualizations at CeMM - Center for Molecular Medicine of the Austrian Academy of Sciences (2019-2020), University for Applied Arts - Department for Digital Arts Vienna, Austria A "3D-artist", seriously??
Dr. Michael Yeadon BSs(Hons) Biochem Tox U Surrey, PhD Pharmacology U Surrey. Managing Director, Yeadon Consulting Ltd, former Pfizer Chief Scientist, United Kingdom, Former Pfizer employee (pharmacologist / toxicologist / manager) and anti-vaccationist / conspiracy theorist, not a molecular biologist
Dr. Clare Craig MA, (Cantab) BM, BCh (Oxon), FRCPath, United Kingdom A pathologist is not a molecular biologist
Kevin McKernan, BS Emory University, Chief Scientific Officer, founder Medical Genomics, engineered the sequencing pipeline at WIBR/MIT for the Human Genome Project, Invented and developed the SOLiD sequencer, awarded patents related to PCR, DNA Isolation and Sequencing, USA Since decades McKernan is involved in science management and organisation, now he is chief sales officer and hence out of practical science since many years (Medical Genomics). ["When it comes to cannabis genetics and microbial detection, Medicinal Genomics is in a class of its own."]
Dr. Paul McSheehy (BSc, PhD), Biochemist & Industry Pharmacologist, Loerrach, Germany A biochemist / pharmacologist is not a molecular biologist
Dr. Lidiya Angelova, MSc in Biology, PhD in Microbiology, Former researcher at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), Maryland, USA We could not find any scientific publication of Dr. Angelova on Corona or on diagnostic PCR systems. Moreover, it seems as if she has a different job now and is no more active in science.
Dr. Fabio Franchi, Former Dirigente Medico (M.D) in an Infectious Disease Ward, specialized in “Infectious Diseases” and “Hygiene and Preventive Medicine”, Società Scientifica per il Principio di Precauzione (SSPP), Italy A physician - microbiology, hygiene, infectiology - is not a molecular biologist. None of his three scientific, peer-reviewed papers has to do with PCR-systems.
Dr. med. Thomas Binder, Internist and Cardiologist (FMH), Switzerland An internist / cardiologist is not a molecular biologist
Prof. Dr. med. Henrik Ullrich, specialist Diagnostic Radiology, Chief Medical Doctor at the Center for Radiology of Collm Oschatz-Hospital, Germany A radiologist is not a molecular biologist. Besides this, he is the second author belonging to the pseudoscientific creationist organisation "Wort und Wissen" - he even is the chairman
Prof. Dr. Makoto Ohashi, Professor emeritus, PhD in Microbiology and Immunology, Tokushima University, Japan Prof. Ohashi was a specialist for Epstein-Barr-Virus as well as viral induced lymphoma. He never was involved in Corona research or in development of diagnostic PCR systems.
Dr. Stefano Scoglio, B.Sc. Ph.D., Microbiologist, Nutritionist, Italy A microbiologist / nutritionist is not a molecular biologist
Dr. Marjolein Doesburg-van Kleffens (MSc, PhD), specialist in Laboratory Medicine (clinical chemistry), Maasziekenhuis Pantein, Beugen, the Netherlands A specialist in Laboratory Medicine is not a molecular biologist
Dr. Dorothea Gilbert (MSc, PhD), PhD Environmental Chemistry and Toxicology. DGI Consulting Services, Oslo, Norway Review Report - Corman-Drosten et al., Eurosurveillance 2020 An environmental chemist / toxicologist medicine is not a molecular biologist
Dr. Rainer J. Klement, PhD. Department of Radiation Oncology, Leopoldina Hospital Schweinfurt, Germany An oncologist is not a molecular biologist
Dr. Ruth Schruefer, PhD, human genetics/ immunology, Munich, Germany PhD in immunology 2006. She seems to be out of science since then.
Dra. Berber W. Pieksma, General Practitioner, The Netherlands General Practitioner? Seriously??
Dr. med. Jan Bonte (GJ), Consultant Neurologist, the Netherlands An neurologist is not a molecular biologist
Dr. Bruno H. Dalle Carbonare (Molecular biologist), IP specialist, BDC Basel, Switzerland This person is out of practical science since decades. He is involved in science management and organisation instead.
Dr. Kevin P. Corbett, MSc Nursing (Kings College London) PhD (London South Bank) Social Sciences (Science & Technology Studies) London, England, UK Nursing and Social Sciences, seriously?
Prof. Dr. Ulrike Kämmerer, specialist in Virology / Immunology / Human Biology / Cell Biology, University Hospital Würzburg, Germany Prof. Kämmerers expertise as given on her website at the Würzburg gynaecological hospital - where she is listed as research assistant - is human biology, virology, immunology and cell biology. However, the "research"-link on this site does not list virology. She is author of popular science books on cancer and nutrition. Her scientific work comprises quite a few papers on immunology, cancer, and reproduction biology. There is only a virological paper on enteroviruses (with her as coauthor) from 1998 and a paper on detection of picornavirus by PCR from 1995. There was a short e-mail exchange between her and me in December 2020. I asked her for her own experience and skills in qPCR. She refused to answer In other words: She neither is a virologist nor an expert in PCR. However, she distributes conspiracy theory, e.g. in "Die freie Welt" - an internet-newspaper of the right-wing populist party AfD, where she said "PCR-test is like reading the tea leaves".

The main, or at least the last author of the Review Report paper, Ulrike Kämmerer, recently gave a rather curious justification of the doubtful expertise of the the Consortium members:[6]

About the authors [of the Review Report] it was always said that we weren't active virologists who deal with SARS-CoV-2. PCR is a completely normal, mundane, routine method in every laboratory. I don't have to be a top virologist or anything on the contrary: the people who do their daily work with it, see where these technical flaws are much faster than someone who hovers somewhere above.
I don't have to be a bricklayer to see a wall is skewed. (p. 75)

Yet, how many of these 22 "experts" have this day-to-day experience with PCR testing? It is precisely those PCR specialists, like Andreas Beyer, Ian MacKay and others, who posses this expertise, and who have raised stern objections to this whole retraction project! It is precisely the bricklayers who have to be listened to here.

In fact, this whole notion of an "INTERNATIONAL CONSORTIUM OF SCIENTISTS IN LIFE SCIENCES (ICSLS)" which produced the Review Report is an inflated charade when it comes to relevant technical PCR expertise. In my opinion, Borger and McKernan could have co-authored it with more, not less credibility. And even then, as Beyer comments: Borger is currently a "research associate" at the Christian-creationist organization Wort und Wissen, which has no research division or laboratory, and McKernan is more of a sales manager for Medical Genomics (and specializing in the genomics of... cannabis. Hey, I am from Amsterdam).

Actually, in a recent interview the second author of the retraction paper, Bobby Malhotra, gives us some insight in how the "Consortium" came together:

On a day when I was very upset [after his contract was not renewed in Q4, 2020], I created a mega thread on Twitter with 124 tweets. In "Corona Ausschuss Nr. 22", Corona Committee No. 22, Prof. Dr. Ulrike Kämmerer had explained the problem of Drosten PCR tests. I linked this with my knowledge and tried to explain it for the beginner on Twitter—a mixture of corruption, bioinformatics and the PCR problem. This thread pretty much hit home.
This is how I came across Dr. Pieter Borger, who was already critical on ResearchGate at the same time... After a meeting with Pieter Borger and Ulrike Kämmerer, everything was actually clear relatively quickly. We split up, asked our scientific circles and gathered 22 scientists... So we went on a search with Kevin McKernan. He's sort of our "Mister Technical Details," the technical details man, the "Mister PCR" of the scientific literature.
From him we know that this Charité [Corman-Drosten] primers & probes design is actually pretty garbage. We then put such technical details into the Addendum. For example, the RdRp gene has too low a sensitivity. The point is that you have to have a certain kind of sensitivity to be really sure that this result is true. It just isn't.[7]

As I wrote in Part 20, the reduced sensitivity of one part of the Corman-Drosten test is widely known, and hardly a reason to demand a retraction. I would say "the first pancake always fails" and the more pancakes we bake, the better they become.

A POINT-BY-POINT REBUTTAL OF BORGER ET AL.

Beyer calls the tone of the Review Report paper “presumptuous and insolent”. But on to the Review Report itself and its main points of criticism directed at the Corman-Drosten PCR protocol. I restrict myself to the SUMMARY CATALOGUE OF ERRORS FOUND IN THE PAPER of the Review Report, and will quote Beyer's comments in full:

Critical Review by Andreas Beyer of the 10 Main Criticisms of the Corman-Drosten Review Report
BORGER ET AL. BEYER'S COMMENT
1. There exists no specified reason to use these extremely high concentrations of primers in this protocol. The described concentrations lead to increased nonspecific bindings and PCR product amplifications, making the test unsuitable as a specific diagnostic tool to identify the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Everyone who is experienced in the design of such qPCR systems knows: The so-called standard concentrations only are guide values to start with. Appropriate concentrations have to be determined empirically. Hence it is failed to criticise a qPCR only on "theoretical" grounds without any laboratory test.
2. Six unspecified wobbly positions will introduce an enormous variability in the real world laboratory implementations of this test; the confusing nonspecific description in the Corman-Drosten paper is not suitable as a Standard Operational Protocol making the test unsuitable as a specific diagnostic tool to identify the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Here four severe errors of Borger et al have to be stated.
I: Viral genomes accumulate mutations, not equally distributed over the genome. For primers target positions have to be chosen that are as well conserved as possible, at the same time different to other groups. However, perfect targets in fact do not exist. Hence, positions with ambiguities, resulting in wobble-positions, have to be accepted. This is proper design rather than a design error.
II: Such wobble positions do surely not create "enormous variability". Primers with wobble positions from the start are synthesised and later used as defined mixtures.
III: For users, wobble positions do not cause confusion. Every professional PCR operator knows the respective code and knows how to handle it.
IV: PCR with wobble-primers will not automatically lose specificity. Specificity is determined during establishment and validation of the test. By the way, wobbleprimers are standard (not only) for HIV-diagnostics since decades.
3. The test cannot discriminate between the whole virus and viral fragments. Therefore, the test cannot be used as a diagnostic for intact (infectious) viruses, making the test unsuitable as a specific diagnostic tool to identify the SARS-CoV-2 virus and make inferences about the presence of an infection. This argument is completely mistaken.
I: No test at all can discriminate between complete and incomplete / fragmented viral genomes.
II: The ability to such discrimination is unnecessary because each genome copy—no matter if intact or damaged—originates from a cell infected with an intact virus.
4. A difference of 10° C with respect to the annealing temperature Tm for primer pair1 (RdRp_SARSr_F and RdRp_SARSr_R) also makes the test unsuitable as a specific diagnostic tool to identify the SARS-CoV-2 virus. First, the authors confuse annealing temperature (which for both primers necessarily is identical) with melting temperature. Indeed, melting temperatures should be as similar as possible. But again: Everyone who has experience in PCR design knows that reality—i.e. the sequence context—dictates what is feasible. Greater deviations of melting temperatures sometimes are inevitable. This is one more reason for exhaustive testing of a diagnostic qPCR system which has been done by Corman et al.
5. A severe error is the omission of a Ct value at which a sample is considered positive and negative. This Ct value is also not found in follow-up submissions making the test unsuitable as a specific diagnostic tool to identify the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Again Borger et al. mix up technical terms. You never can predefine a Ct value, since Ct is measured during each qPCR run for each sample. Probably the threshold is meant instead. But this also does not make any sense, because the threshold is dependent from the detection system and the qPCR machine used. Obviously, - Borger et al. have no idea how to perform a qPCR test: Alongside with the samples, a dilution series is processed, serving as a standard to compare the samples with.
6. The PCR products have not been validated at the molecular level. This fact makes the protocol useless as a specific diagnostic tool to identify the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Of course PCR fragments have been analysed by gel electrophoresis in the beginning! This is standard procedure! However, it needs not to be mentioned because specificity testing is more important. Moreover, the three independent oligonucleotides employed for TaqMan qPCR guarantee for high specificity. And the Drosten-Corman paper thoroughly documents validation of the qPCR system.
7. The PCR test contains neither a unique positive control to evaluate its specificity for SARS-CoV-2 nor a negative control to exclude the presence of other coronaviruses, making the test unsuitable as a specific diagnostic tool to identify the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The opposite is true. The Corman-Drosten paper describes some positive and negative controls as well as thorough validation. Precise setup of the test—including controls—is up to each individual user. And the user also has to define his own SOP.
8. The test design in the Corman-Drosten paper is so vague and flawed that one can go in dozens of different directions; nothing is standardized and there is no SOP. This highly questions the scientific validity of the test and makes it unsuitable as a specific diagnostic tool to identify the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Half of the claim is untrue, the other half is irrelevant. Indeed, the Corman-Drosten paper specifies all relevant information: Primer and probe sequences, concentrations, PCR conditions. On the other hand, formulation of the SOP is up to the user and not to the publisher of a test.
9. Most likely, the Corman-Drosten paper was not peer-reviewed making the test unsuitable as a specific diagnostic tool to identify the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Indeed, peer reviews usually take days or even weeks—Eurosurveillance, however, is known for high speed. Sometimes—especially when authors and journal agree that publication is urgent—arrangements are made: Either reviewers may stand by the very hour the paper is filed. Or the paper is filed and reviewed bit by bit. In such a case the noted day of submission is the day when the last part or the last data were filed. This may well be the day of approval. By the way—in the case of the CormanDrosten publication, the paper was available to reviewers one week before on a preprint server.
10. We find severe conflicts of interest for at least four authors, in addition to the fact that two of the authors of the Corman-Drosten paper (Christian Drosten and Chantal Reusken) are members of the editorial board of Eurosurveillance. A conflict of interest was added on July 29 2020 (Olfert Landt is CEO of TIB-Molbiol; Marco Kaiser is senior researcher at GenExpress and serves as scientific advisor for TIB-Molbiol), that was not declared in the original version (and still is missing in the PubMed version); TIB-Molbiol is the company which was "the first" to produce PCR kits (Light Mix) based on the protocol published in the Corman-Drosten manuscript, and according to their own words, they distributed these PCR-test kits before the publication was even submitted; further, Victor Corman & Christian Drosten failed to mention their second affiliation: the commercial test laboratory "Labor Berlin". Both are responsible for the virus diagnostics there and the company operates in the realm of real time PCR-testing. Conflicts of interest only exist if the respective coauthors had an advantage from the publication, e.g. by marketing and distribution of kits or by gaining market share. However, the described qPCR system is freely available and applicable for everyone and reagents can be purchased from any distributor, Hence it is hard to interpret this claim of Borger et al. different than vicious slander.

There are other pertinent points raised in the Beyer paper, but I leave it to you to pursue this further, if that's your interest. But as you can see from the above, there is, again, a world of difference between the belligerent and accusative mood of the Corman-Drosten Review Report and the informed opinions of experienced scientists, who know that what works in theory doesn't always do so in practice. As we say in Dutch: "The best helmsmen stand on shore" (which seems to be equivalent to: "Bachelors' wives and maidens' children are well taught", source: Heywood, 1546).

Beyer is even more blunt in his final conclusions:

The authors claim to be able to refute the Drosten paper on scientific grounds.

  • However, if you want to criticise a scientific paper, you should do this in the form of another scientific paper, published in a scientific journal with peer review (!) and not in the form of a private www-domain. This fact alone already renders this "peer review" highly dubious. Hence, as long as the text by Borger et al. has not been checked and accepted by a scientific journal (which will not happen due to its blatant errors) it is nothing than expression of opinion of some laypeople.
  • Second, the fact that the authors did not perform a single experiment but argue alone on basis of "theoretical considerations" is more than questionable.
  • Third, the authors have no expertise in analytic / diagnostic PCR systems. There is only a single virologist among them—Prof. Ohashi. And he has no experience in corona research. The ignorance of the authors can easily be recognised by the flawed critique they utter. Some of the mistakes they make even are beginner's mistakes. It is nothing but imprudence to criticise on such weak grounds a peer-reviewed paper from an internationally well-respected scientific group.
  • Fourth, the respective qPCR-system has now been used worldwide since several months. If it was faulty, if it had any of the claimed impairments it would have been criticised long ago. In contrary—meanwhile there have quite a few comparisons of existing PCR assays been published (z. B. Afzal 2020, Matheeussen et al. 2020, Nalla et al. 2020, Vogels et al. 2020). No one has found severe drawbacks in the Corman-Drosten assay (just a less sensitive RdRp-assay in comparison to others, that was all).
  • Fifth, it can easily be shown that all critical points submitted by the authors implode under closer inspection. However, quite a bit technical knowledge—not available for laypeople—is necessary to see through this flawed argumentation. And so, this "paper" already has become famous among conspiracy theory proponents, anti-vaccationists and creationists: Audacter calumniare—semper aliquid haeret... [slander boldly, something always sticks].
  • Last, Borger et al. were given the chance to comment on my arguments and to defend themselves. They kept silent.

    In all, this "peer review" is at best pseudoscience—if not conspiracy theory and slander.
  • In the meantime, Bobby Malhotra, who we met in the video and who features as the second author of the Review Report—and is for sure the most vindicative and the least qualified of all, being a 3D artist—has already announced an official reply to Beyer's paper, again losing all sense of perspective and proportion (there we have the ad hominems again!).

    So it's "totally wrong" vs. "utter nonsense"? Not a good climate for productive debate. Two paradigms or false equivalence? "Free and reliable science" or "political and pseudoscience" (as Pieter Borger frames it)? I would not put my bet on the Consortium. They will predictably complain, "Yes, but what about our Addendum?" But if the theoretical foundations of their Review Report are so problematic, why bother?

    Stay tuned. And stay safe.

    Appendix 1 : Another Debunk of the Retraction Request

    Dan Wilson, a PhD scientist in molecular and structural biology, has a YouTube channel "Debunk the Funk with Dr. Wilson", on which I found this debunk of the Borger et al. paper. He has also debunked Kaufman, Cowan, the Chromosome 8 canard, Michael Yeadon, the lab orgin theory, and many other topics covered in THE CORONA CONSPIRACY, so he's definitely a kindred spirit.

    Critical review by molecular biologist Dan Wilson of the Corman Drosten Review Report
    CLAIMS BORGER ET AL. COMMENTS WILSON
    The PCR test is based on a theoretical model of the virus The PCR test is based on the full genome of the virus
    It is impossible to make a valid PCR test without a virus isolate This is just wrong. Though not ideal, it is entirely possible
    Primer temperatures used in this PCR protocol are too high It is well within the range of what people normally use.
    Wobbly base pairs in primers and probes cause confusion Wobbly base pairs were used for unconserved regions
    The test detects fragments, not the full genome of the virus PCR tests only detect fragments, by design
    The number of amplification cycles used is too high The positives show up in real time, irrespective of the maximum
    Setting a high number of amplification numbers is useless It can still be useful to find pre- or post-sympomatic cases
    Biological validations a lacking in this paper True, but it doesn't make the paper invalid
    There was no peer review done on this paper The peer review for this paper was fast-tracked
    Some authors of this paper are also editors of the journal This happens sometimes, but it doesn't make the paper invalid
    This test produces too many or only false positivies Where are all these false positives, seriously?

    He concludes: why do we find positives only in countries that are still impacted by the virus, with many hospitalized cases and deaths, and not in countries were they have seemed to have beaten the virus (even though wide-scale testing has continued)?

    Ultimately this critique [by Borger et al.] is nothing more than conspiracy theories with an illusion of expertise behind it. It offers really no helpful critiques, nothing of scientific substance to this conversation and only serves to galvanize the COVID-denying movement.

    Ironically the more people deny COVID the more dangerous the virus gets.

    Another astute observation by Wilson: "this Corman-Drosten paper reflects both the good and the bad parts of science during this pandemic." He recommends reading Ed Young's piece for The Atlantic: "How Science Beat the Virus, and what it lost in the process".[8] From which:

    [T]he COVID-19 pivot has also revealed the all-too-human frailties of the scientific enterprise. Flawed research made the pandemic more confusing, influencing misguided policies. Clinicians wasted millions of dollars on trials that were so sloppy as to be pointless. Overconfident poseurs published misleading work on topics in which they had no expertise. Racial and gender inequalities in the scientific field widened.
    If I were to summarize this critique [by Borger et al.] I would say that it's mostly wrong but even when it is right, it is overly dramatic. (Dan Wilson)

    NOTES

    [1] Victor M Corman et. al., "Detection of 2019 novel coronavirus (2019-nCoV) by real-time RT-PCR", PMC, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov, (Euro Surveillance, 2020 Jan 23).

    [2] Pieter Borger et. al., "Review report Corman-Drosten et al. Eurosurveillance 2020", External peer review of the RTPCR test to detect SARS-CoV-2 reveals 10 major scientific flaws at the molecular and methodological level: consequences for false positive results, November 27, 2020.

    [3] Naomi Wolf, "PCR Lab Visit: Whistleblowers Kevin McKernan, Bobby Malhotra Explain Why COVID Tests are 'Garbage'", YouTube, 24 Jan 2021.

    [4] Korinna Hennig, "Coronavirus Update, Folge 16", NDR, March 18, 2020.

    [5] Andreas Beyer, "Pseudowissenschaftliche Kritik an einem von der Berliner Charité veröffentlichten Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2)-Test, publiziert von Peter Borger und Koautoren / Pseudoscientific criticism on a Coronavirus (SARS-CoV-2) test published by Peter Borger and coauthors-PCR-Borger-Report", January 2021, www.researchgate.net (PDF)

    [6] "Illa", Das PCR-Desaster, Genese und Evolution des "Drosten-Tests", Verlag Thomas Kubo, 2021 (PDF). Kämmerer's quote comes from a partial transcript from: 38. Sitzung zum Thema "Angriff auf Mensch und Gesellschaft" (corona-ausschuss.de, February 5, 2021), which is inluded in this book.

    [7] Aya Velázquez, "We are in the middle of an information war", medium.com, Febuary 3, 2021.

    [8] Ed Young, "How Science Beat the Virus, and what it lost in the process", The Atlantic, December 14, 2020.


    Check out: 27 Covid-19 Myths &
    83 Vaccine Myths from docbastard.net
    To all those who claim SARS-CoV-2—or any virus—does not exist: the virosphere consists of 4 realms, 9 kingdoms, 16 phyla, 2 subphyla, 36 classes, 55 orders, 8 suborders, 168 families, 103 subfamilies, 1421 genera, 68 subgenera, 6590 species. Take that. https://talk.ictvonline.org/taxonomy/

    A summary of early parts of this series has appeared in the Dutch magazine Skepter 33(3), September 2020, as "Viruses don't exist" (covering Parts 1-5). German: Skeptiker (December 2020); English: Skeptic.org.uk (January 2021)






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