NOW ON KINDLE: The Corona Conspiracy: Combatting Disinformation about the Coronavirus
INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Frank Visser, graduated as a psychologist of culture and religion, founded IntegralWorld in 1997. He worked as production manager for various publishing houses and as service manager for various internet companies and lives in Amsterdam. Books: Ken Wilber: Thought as Passion (SUNY, 2003), and The Corona Conspiracy: Combatting Disinformation about the Coronavirus (Kindle, 2020).
Frank Visser brings light and sanity to the miasmal confusion of suspicions and misinformation. (David Quammen, November 23, 2020)
This chapter is referenced in David Gorski's blog posts "Germ theory denial in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic", sciencebasedmedicine.org, January 4, 2021 and "Even in a deadly pandemic germ theory denial persists", respectfulinsolence.com, January 11, 2021.
Debunking Andrew Kaufman's Virus Equals Exosome Hypothesis
The Corona Conspiracy, Part 2
A Virus or Not A Virus...
As a matter of fact, whenever I read an article on Corona and came upon the phrase "what is really going on", I stopped reading.
Having spent the past couple of weeks reading up on the "coronavirus" (how could one avoid it at all?), and the many conspiracy theories that have sprung up around it, I wrote up my impressions of the interview David Icke gave to London Real, which was banned from YouTube in a few days after its release, as you can read more fully in "Corona, Oxygen, 5G". I added more and more material and videos to the essay (please watch them there), until I considered making a sequel essay, where I could draw some conclusions about this phenomenon of a global pandemic that has taken over all over our media outlets, both offline and online, and has promoted so many contrarian views among the general public.
But first lets give an overview of the many possible ways people can deviate from the currently accepted scientific view of the Corona pandemicif we can even speak of such a view. Bear mind that many scientists are very careful in making general statements or predictions, and are well aware of how much they still don't know about this particular virus and its spread around the world (even if we have sequenced all of its 30.000 nucleotides). It is those harbouring some kind of conspiracy theory that often show no such hesitations. They are fully convinced they know "what is really going on." As a matter of fact, whenever I read an article on Corona and came upon the phrase "what is really going on", I stopped reading. This is a sure sign the author of the piece goes for a simple explanation for a phenomenon that is very complex, and by far not fully understood.
Most alternative views spread in conspiracy circles deny one or more of the following steps. Let's do a simple test. Just say Yes/No to the following claims. If you say Yes to all (even if tentatively), you reach the accepted science view. If you say No to one or more of these items, you might belong to some or other conspiracy subculture:
To stimulate your imagination a bit, let's walk through these points one by one.
The first thing one would have to accept about the coronavirus is of course, that it exists. But David Icke bluntly stated as his opinion: "There is no COVID-19. It doesn't exist." For reasons I haven't been able to fathom, Icke mixes up the name of the virus (SARS-CoV-2) and the name of the disease it causes (COVID-19). It shouldn't be too difficult, because the "D" in "COVID-19" is the "D" of "Disease". But anyways. He denies that it exists (including both the virus and the disease of that name). He does not deny people show symptoms attributed to COVID-19 or even die from it. What he wants to make clear is that these people suffer from a different disease. It is here that he largely relies on the opinions of Andrew Kaufman, as he has offered them in a widely viewed YouTube video. More on that later.
Next, even if one accepts the existence of the coronavirus, one might deny it is contagious. Some extremely dangerous viruses, such as the Ebola virus, are not very contagious. It is a not very effective strategy for a virus, because if you kill your host (the body you have infected) before you have reach a new victim, you have reached a dead end. But some anti-vaxxers have something else in mind: they deny any virus is contagious, so no vaccination is needed. How they explain the spread of an epidemic or pandemic without a contagious virus is beyond me, but usually they point to other common causes, such as the presence of toxic substances or poverty.
And again, even if the contagiousness of the coronavirus is granted, one could make the point that it isn't really that harmful. Some point to the fact that in terms of total deaths it doesn't really exceed a heavy flu season. And even if our Intensive Care departments are overcrowded with patients suffering from severe respirational symptoms at the moment, this only includes those of old age, who often suffer from multiple ailments (and it is not always easy to decide what actually caused their death). Elderly people are usually the first victims of a flu season.
Bear in mind that a less harmful but more contagious virus (e.g. SARS-CoV-2) can cause more deaths than a more harmful and less contagious one (e.g. Ebola, SARS-CoV). Why? Because in the end more people get infected and, even with a low percentage that is killed, the number of casualties is high.
As to the nature of COVID-19 as a distinct illness, many critics claim it's just like the flu, even if it might be a pretty severe one. Others claim the illness is different, and much more lethal. This is a statistical playground for math nerds, and I will not touch on that one here. As to the distinctness of the virus itself, much more reliable data can be found. These days, viruses are identified by their genome, not so much by their morphology. And genomes of SARS-CoV-2 we do have in abundance (on GISAID you will currently find 316.000). It is about 30.000 bases long, which makes it one of the largest RNA viruses. Virus denialists typically deny the value of these recent scientific advancements, and stick to their microscopes.
Then we have to face the question of its origin: was it natural or manufactured by humans? A natural origin means that the virus passed on from some animal species to our own species. As you can read in David Quammen's book Spillover: Animal Infections and the Next Human Pandemic (2013), most viruses live in a given species (the "reservoir"), where they don't make this species ill, or at least not very seriously. Bats, of the mammalian order chiroptera (or "hand-wing") are often the most likely candidate. Their viruses can sometimes jump to another animal species (the "vector", which can be a camel or a pangolin or a chimpanzee). This particular animal comes in close contact with human beings and passes its viruses on to them. And in some cases, the virus learns to adapt to the human body and reproduce itself. And if the virus is "lucky", we pass it on to others, by coughing and sneezingand flying in airplanes. The result is a worldwide pandemic.
Some people suspectand now we are in conspiracy territorythat the coronavirus doesn't have a natural origin. It is either manufactured in a Chinese lab, with evil intentions to be used as a bio weapon, or it accidentally escaped from such an environment. It should surprise nobody that such viral labs exist in many countries, either to understand the behavior of viruses when they have jumped to humans, or to be prepared when foreign enemies use biowarfare against us. Since the genome of viruses can be sequenced fully it is in principle possible to detect any such signs of doctoring. As of now, this does not seem to be the case for the coronavirus.
But assuming a natural origin of the virus doesn't mean we humans are not involved. Most environmentalists, including Quammen, argue that it is our relentless invading of the remaining jungles of the world for our own economic gain that has disturbed the habitat of these viral reservoir-host animals such as bats. They are forced to leave their familiar niches and move over to our life worldif we don't eat them. It is true that plagues have occurred in all times and ages, but due to the fact that the human population is now 7.783.557.722 billion (as of today, May 10th, 2020, 20:27 CET) and we have inhabited almost all continents, the chances of such a viral spillover have only increased.
Then, as to the best way to treat this pandemic, scientists almost all over the world advise a lockdown, global distancing and hygienic measures, for several months. Since this policy has severe consequences for the economy, many feel that the cure is worse than the disease here, and suspect ulterior motives behind our scientists and politicians. Others argue that, given the newness of the virus and its potentially disastrous impact, it's better to stay on the safe side and try to "flatten the curve", until a proper vaccin has been developed and distributed. Again, this is food for those conspirationists who think these compulsory vaccination programmes will only poison or even kill usthey might even implant nanotechnology in our blood to spy on us! Some see a dystopian surveillance society on the horizon.
Incidentally, there are currently over 100 vaccin proposals under investigation, and they follow different principles. For none of them it is guaranteed they will work safely and effectively, so a lot of time consuming testing is in order. And it is not even certain a vaccin for COVID-19 will be found at all, since these RNA viruses have a habit of mutating rather fast (as do the regular flu viruses). But whenever a safe and effective vaccin has been produced and distributed, scientists expect that this particular coronavirus will weaken to the level of a "regular" flu. That means we will never fully get rid of it, and it is there to stay for a very long time indeed.
Each of these "Twelve Steps" can be denied, on either factual or imaginary grounds, leading to dissident-scientific or conspirational views. Yes, the coronavirus might have been escaped from a lab by accident, it might not be as harmful as many scientists have predicted, it could be unrelated to any wet market in China.
Or it might not even exist at all... Yesbelieve it or notthat too is possible.
MEET THE VIRUS DENIALISTS
Why on earth would we have an immune system in the first place if not to combat these invisible intruders?
Enter the conspirational world of David Icke and his "brilliant scientist" Andrew Kaufman, who both turn out to be virus denialists.
As I described in "Corona, Oxygen, 5G" Icke denies the existence of the virus, because he has another culprit: in his considered opinion it is 5G that is causing all the trouble, and the coronavirus is only a cover up for this project. I will leave that idea to rest here, because I am more interested in the biological evidence he provides for the non-existence of the SARS-CoV-2 virus. He is fully dependent on Kaufman here, so we will see what he has to offer to advance this rather outlandish point of view.
Now why would someone want to deny the existence of this virusor in fact the existence of any virus? More moderate alternative views usually acknowledge the existence of a virus, but deny either its contagiousness or its harmfulness. More importantly, they promote a different view of health and disease. It is not the germ or virus that makes us sick but our weak immune system, or so they say, which should be boosted by several means (vitamins, good food, no electro-smog, etc.). On Kaufman's YouTube channel we see videos on health food, detox, dentistry, etc., so he definitely belongs to that camp. Now it seems to me patently obvious that nobody argues that the immune system is irrelevant in this discussion. Why on earth would we have an immune system in the first place if not to combat these invisible intruders?
Here's Kaufman's YouTube video in which he presents his "virus equals exosome" hypothesis (see also Part 1 for more details and a critical take down). It has received close to 165.000 views as of today. Oddly enough, it carries the title "SPECIAL REPORT: Humanity is NOT a virus!" Is anybody claiming it is? The real title of this video is "Is COVID-19 really an exosome and not a virus?" Again, this is funny: it is a question a sceptic would raise when viewing his video. The question he answers himself is rather the opposite: "Is COVID-19 really an virus and not an exosome?" That is what Kaufman is questioning: the existing of the virus that causes COVID-19.
Kaufman argues along the following lines: the coronavirus has not been isolated, so it can't be called the cause of any disease if we are to follow the so called Koch's postulates, after the German physician Robert Hermann Koch (1843-1910). Koch's postulates are the following:
These postulates, however, were formulated when the existence of viruses was not yet established, and makes sense when applied to bacteria. In the case of viruses, the first postulate doesn't apply, because they can also be found in healthy people (the so called "asymptomatic" cases). Of course, one can argue what it means to be healthy, and if that only means the absence of symptoms or really the absence of viruses. The second postulate, too, doesn't apply, because viruses are a form of quasi-life, that can't be grown in a culture as is the case with bacteria; they only thrive when they have infected a cell. That's in fact how viruses are studied by science.
More importantly, Koch noticed himself that these postulates needed some amendment:
However, Koch later abandoned the universalist requirement of the first postulate altogether when he discovered asymptomatic carriers of cholera and, later, of typhoid fever. Asymptomatic or subclinical infection carriers are now known to be a common feature of many infectious diseases, especially viral diseases such as polio, herpes simplex, HIV/AIDS, and hepatitis C. As a specific example, all doctors and virologists agree that poliovirus causes paralysis in just a few infected subjects, and the success of the polio vaccine in preventing disease supports the conviction that the poliovirus is the causative agent. (Wikipedia)
Likewise, "all doctors and virologists" agree that the SARS-CoV-2 virus causes the severe acute respiratory syndrome (the meaning of "SARS") "in a few infected subjects", and that the success of a future vaccine against this virus "supports the conviction" that this virus is the causative agent of COVID-19. Koch's postulates have been expanded upon by several scientists (most notably Thomas Rivers), but "these modifications are still controversial in that they do not account well for established disease associations" (Wikipedia). Obviously, we should take these rules lightly. We are talking about "established disease associations" only (you can find more on Koch and Rivers in Part 16).
Kaufman argues from a different standpoint: it is not that viruses may or may not be the causative agent for a certain disease, but that they don't exist in the first place! As he concludes his presentation: "there's no evidence for a virus." This is quite odd, given the fact that the SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fully sequenced last January, and that its place within the evolutionary family tree of corona viruses has been established based on these data. Furthermore, viruses have been photographed with the help of electronmicroscopy with a very fine details (see the H1N1 influnza particles image showing the surface proteins on the virus particles in black).
Instead of accepting the plain existence of viruses, Kaufman argues that what is actually seen under a microscope are so called "exosomes", and this is what the larger part of his presentation deals with. Exosomes can be seen as the "garbage bags" of a cell, that are able to dispose of cell material by packaging it in a small membrame and fusing this with the cell's own membrame. They also serve a communication function between cells.
Now a virus has four challenges to face, according to Quammen, before it can be successful in an evolutionary sense (Quammen, Spillover, p. 268):
It is step 4 that shows similarity to what exosomes usually do: dispose of cell material. It is discussed in the literature that the ability to form these vesicles might have been the result of past viral infections, in which the genes for building these packages are integrated permanently in the host cell's genome. There's even a kind of spectrum between active viruses, inactive viruses, exosomes with viral genetic material and exosomes without any viral genetic material. These exosomes turn out to play a role both in viral infections and their suppression. But that is another story.
Now, Kaufman points to the visual resemblance between the coronavirus and exosomes. Some virus types might superficially look like exosomes under a microscope, but that's not the case for all virus types. Some are indeed spherical, but some are complex (like a moon-lander), icosahedral (geometric) or helical (spiral):
To establish the link between viruses and these exosomes, small vesicles which exist in most cells of the body, in his presentation Kaufman prominently quotes a well-known AIDS virologist James E.K. Hildreth as saying "the virus is fully an exosome in every sense of the word."
Here's what Kaufman says about how his opinion about viruses being exosomes was "confirmed" by the scientific literatureand it is telling about how he operates:
I happened to look into the virology literature and actually they also think that viruses and exosomes are possibly the same thing. This is James Hildreth, a very famous researcher and academic physician in the field of virology and HIV research [lists his many other credentials] and he wrote this paper with two of his colleages there, and what he said, and I quote, "the virus is fully an exosome in every sense of the word." Now this was just a great confirmation of what I was already thinking. I was kind of blown away when I read this in a paper. Because this was one of the last papers I looked at. To find that they have come to the same conclusion really helped validate my opinion." (25:00)
Does this sound like competent research? Looking "into the virology literature" makes someone conclude viruses don't exist and are really something else? Or was it only the last paper he looked at that gave him that erroneous impression? Has he reallly read and understood this paper (which is about viruses hijacking exosome pathways in cells, not about viruses and exosomes being the same thing)? Kaufman just grabs a quote, from "one of the last papers I looked at", and sees confirmation of his own views (and was even "kind of blown away"). And even if he phrases it with caution, "possibly the same thing", he gets carried away by his preconceived notions about viruses actually being exosomes. Confirmation bias is in full swing here.
And no, the author quoted here, James Hildreth, does not believe that "viruses and exosomes are possibly the same thing". Not even as a possibility.
‘The virus is real. The pandemic is real.’
This sentence "the virus is fully an exosome in every sense of the word" actually occurs as a quote attributed to Hildreth in the article "When is a virus an exosome?" by William A. Wells. (The very title of the Wells article suggests of course that there are many cases where a virus is not an exosome.) And in this article the quote is not referenced. The article by Hildreth and two colleagues to which Kaufman most probably refers, "The Trojan exosome hypothesis", is listed in the references of the Wells article, but doesn't contain this quote "the virus is fully an exosome in every sense of the word" at all. But it has gone viral in the alt-medicine communities by now.
The Wells article starts like this (and this basically says it all): "A bold new theory suggests that retroviruses have hijacked an intercellular communication system for both their biogenesis and spread."
Now I don't claim any medical expertise in this area, but when I read this article as an interested layman, I get the message that under certain circumstances, an AIDS virus can hijack the exosome pathway (i.e. the ability to create vesicles and hide within them, and thus escape the cell's immune system). The very first line of the summary of "The Trojan exosome hypothesis", of which Hildreth is mentioned as the last author (usually the group leader or supervisor) reads:
We propose that retroviruses exploit a cell-encoded pathway of intercellular vesicle traffic, exosome exchange, for both the biogenesis of retroviral particles and a low-efficiency but mechanistically important mode of infection.
So we have (retro)virussen on the one hand, and exosomes, or their cellular pathways, on the other, which get exploited by these viruses. One wonders what words in this sentence Kaufman didn't understand.
Just to give you a flavor of real science, I give you a long quote from the Wells article, from where you can see that "the virus is fully an exosome in every sense of the word" is an unreferenced quote, attributed to Hildreth:
Hildreth was looking at human proteins that HIV acquires during its biogenesis, and noticed that lysosomal proteins were in the mix. This ties in with recent findings in this and other journals that HIV is packaged in late endosomes (for review see Amara and Littman, 2003).
Hildreth now proposes that “the virus is fully an exosome in every sense of the word.” Others have found that HIV particles contain MHC, but by the exosome hypothesis they may also contain proteins that exosomes use to fuse with target cells and to avoid attack by complement. As Gould points out, an exosome makes a perfect vector for HIV, because an exosome “is not just proteins in a vesicle, it's something that is meant to traffic.”
Now, all medical subtleties aside, I read this as an interesting field of study of the behavior of the HIV virus within an infected cell, not as an argument for the equivalence of viruses and exosomes! Let alone as an argument to do away with viruses altogether!
Just in case you still might have any doubts, I checked with Hildreth on Twitter about him being quoted by Kaufman on the matter of viruses being exosomes, and not the cause of COVID-19 at all, and this was his almost immediate response:
And here's another Twitter post from Hildreth, in which he explicitly distances himself from Kaufman and confirms he is taking the coronavirus very seriously:
So much for the scientific credibility of Andrew Kaufman's pronouncements on viruses being exosomes... As to viruses being exosomes, he doesn't even bother to refute this, because he knows some viruses just know ways to co-opt cellular processes, inluding exosome pathways. There is no equivalence between viruses and exosomes.
See Part 3, in which I take a deeper dive into the phenomenon of exosomes, and the literature Kaufman has "quoted" in support of his opinions.
Kaufman's Professional Track Record
Checking up on Kaufman's medical career, I found the following information on Docinfo about forensic psychiatrist Andrew Russell Kaufman, MD (graduated from South Carolina in 2004, so this must be him): SUSPENSION OF MEDICAL LICENCE, four years after graduation, and REPRIMANDED some years later (in both cases no details are listed).
Thanks to the research of Dr. Kevin McCairn (from "Hoaxes Debunked") the reasons for the suspension have been uncovered:
Cause: Dr. Kaufman participated in a research project that offered participants a $25 gift code to amazon.com as an incentive. After the study concluded Dr. Kaufman used nearly all the remaining gift codes, which had been purchased with unrestricted grant money from a pharmaceutical company, to purchase personal items. Dr. Kaufman later took steps to cancel the order and return the merchandise. However, as a result of his actions, Dr. Kaufman was suspended from the residency program and notified that his status would be listed as nonprogram completion, which caused his resident training license to become inactive. Duke University and Dr. Kaufman have since executed an agreement providing for a six-month remediation program beginning on January 1, 2009 that will enable Dr. Kaufman to complete his residency program..
This matches the credentials Kaufman gives in his video:
Kaufman's video has now been fllagged by YouTube as "inappropriate content"I am sure conspirationists will scream "censorship"!:
A More Integral View of Health
So to conclude, we have the very odd situation of:
To make things worse,
Layers upon layers of quicksand, until we reach the rock bottom of science.
So much for these conspiracy claims beings based on science. And this disinformation is transmitted to millions of people, under the guise of individual freedom of speech, by the platforms of Icke and London Real.
The causes of disease can be both biological (bacteria, viruses) and physical (toxic substances, pollution).
I found it also quite ironic that all these germ- or virus denialists who are in favor of good food and immune system boosting practices and hope this will cure all of our ills, see themselves as fighting a huge medical-financial establishment, which tries to force vaccines on us and worse, and robs us of all our individual freedom (and health). But if you look into the history of medicine, the germ-theory of disease had to fight the rigid establishment of folk medicine and practices, which held on to the so called "miasma theory" of disease ("miasma" meaning "pollution"). So disease was caused by toxic elements in the environment or lack of fresh air, not germs. The resistance to the suggestion of Semmelweis to doctors to wash their hands before investigating pregnant women, which saved millions of lives, is illustrative of the strength of this pre-scientific worldview. It was only when Pasteur formulated the germ-theory of disease that this advice was understood and followed.
Be that as it may, we shouldn't exchange one half-truth for another half-truth. Why not see the complete picture? Taking a more integral of health and disease, we should accept both the idea that some (but definitely not all) germs can cause disease, and that a clean and healthy environment is conducive to health. The causes of disease can be both biological (bacteria, viruses) as in the scientific view and physical (toxic substances, pollution) as in the alternative view. Why deny one over the other? I suspect that those who resonate with these odd virus denialists are afraid germs are seen by science as the only causal agents in disease, to the neglect of environmental factors. But that is not a necessary conclusion at all.
We can acknowledge both the existence and (sometimes) harmfulness of bacteria and viruses and at the same time see most of them as inseparable and necessary parts of nature and our bodies. There is no need to let amateurism and unsupported claims get the better of us. Least of all to listen to viro-nutcases like Icke and Kaufman, who with no or little real expertise try to challenge the scientific world.
 Frank Visser, "Corona, Oxygen, 5G: The Paranoid Worldview of David Icke", www.integralworld.net, April 2020.
 Viviane Callier, "Cells Talk and Help One Another via Tiny Tube Networks", quantamagazine.org, April 23, 2018.
 Esther Nolte-'t Hoen et.al., "Extracellular vesicles and viruses: Are they close relatives?", Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2016 Aug 16; 113(33): 9155-9161.
 William A. Wells, "When is a virus an exosome?", J Cell Biol. 2003 Sep 15; 162(6): 960.
 Stephen J. Gould, Amy M. Booth, and James E. K. Hildreth, "The Trojan exosome hypothesis", Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2003 Sep 16; 100(19): 10592-10597.
83 Vaccine Myths from docbastard.net
To all those who claim SARS-CoV-2or any virusdoes 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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