Germ theory denialism

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Germ theory denialism is the pseudoscientific belief that germs do not cause infectious disease, and that the germ theory of disease is wrong.[1] It usually involves arguing that Louis Pasteur's model of infectious disease was wrong, and that Antoine Béchamp's was right. In fact, its origins are rooted in Béchamp's empirically disproved (in the context of disease) theory of pleomorphism. [2] Another obsolete variation is known as terrain theory and postulates that diseased tissue attracts germs rather than being caused by it.[3]


Germ theory denialism (GTD) is as old as germ theory itself beginning with the rivalry of Pasteur and Béchamp. Pasteur's work in preventing beverage contamination led him to discover that it was due to microorganisms and led him down the path to be the first scientist to show the theory was valid and popularize it in Europe.[2] Although he was not the first to have the idea and scientists such as Girolamo Fracastoro (had the idea that fomites could harbor the seeds of contagion), Agostino Bassi (discovered the muscardine disease of silkworms was caused by a fungus that was named Beauveria bassiana), Friedrich Henle (developed the concepts of contagium vivum and contagium animatum), and others had earlier proposed ideas similar to germ theory.[4][5]

Béchamp strongly contested this view offering up a competing idea known as the pleomorphic theory of disease. This theory says that all life is based on forms that a certain class of organisms take during stages of their life-cycles and that germs are attracted to the environment of diseased tissue rather than being the cause of it.[6] Proponents of this idea insist microbes that live in an organism go through the same stages of their development. According to Günther Enderlein they are as follows: Colloidmicrobe (primitive phase), bacteria (middle phase), and fungus (end phase).[7]

Earlier non-germ theories, in addition to the earlier idea of miasma, focused on spontaneous generation – the idea that living matter could arise from non-living – and the terrain theory variation of Béchamp's ideas. Pasteur disproved spontaneous generation with a series of experiments in the 1870s.[4] However, understanding the cause of a sickness does not always immediately lead to effective treatment of sickness and the great decline in mortality during the 19th century is mostly associated with improvement in hygiene and cleanliness. In fact, one of the first movements to deny the germ theory was the Sanitary Movement, and was nevertheless central in developing America's public health infrastructure. By providing clean water and sanitation there was less of an environment for pathogens to develop and mortality rates fell dramatically.[8]

GTD has significant overlap with chiropractic practice. Many chiropractors believe immunity to be a function of spine alignment and the brain's ability to communicate efficiently with the body and that it has little to nothing to do with external pathogens.[9]

A common thread among many alternative medicine proponents is opposition to vaccines and many use GTD to justify their claims.[10] Germ theory deniers make many claims about the biological underpinnings of the theory and the historical record[11][12] that are at odds with what is accepted by most modern scientists and historians.[1][2][4][13] Another popular claim from the anti-vaccine community is that all diseases are caused by toxemia due to inadequate diet and health practices.[14]


Harriet Hall published an article in Skeptic where she describes her experience arguing with germ theory deniers.[14]

Members of the medical community who are also skeptics, such as David Gorski and Steven Novella, point out that denying germ theory is counter to years of experiments and the prevailing opinion of most doctors and scientists.[1][2][15]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Novella, Steven (2010-11-04). "Germ Theory Denial". neurologica blog. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  2. ^ a b c d Gorski, David (2010-08-09). "Germ theory denialism: A major strain in "alt-med" thought". Science-Based Medicine. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  3. ^ Madigan, M.T.; Martinko, J.M. (2006). Brock Biology of Microorganisms. Pearson Prentice Hall. ISBN 978-0132017848. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  4. ^ a b c "Germ Theory". Contagion – Historical Views of Disease and Epidemics. Harvard. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  5. ^ Guthrie, D.J.; Rhodes, P. "Verification of the germ theory". Encyclopedia Brittannica. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  6. ^ "Antoine Sechamp and Pleomorphism". Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  7. ^ Poehlman, K.H. "Synthesis of the Work of Enderlein, Bechamps and other Pleomorphic Researchers". Scribd. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  8. ^ Pizzi, R.A. "Apostles of cleanliness". the timeline. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  9. ^ Barrett, Steven. "Chiropractors and Immunization". Chirobase. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  10. ^ Crilip, Mark (2008-11-07). "It's just a theory". Science-Based Medicine. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  11. ^ Fielder, J.L. (2001). Handbook of Nature Cure Volume One: Nature Cure vs. Medical Science; Chapter One: That Fallacious Germ Theory. Academy of Natural Living. ISBN 0958661146. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  12. ^ "Vaccinations – Overview". Arizona Advanced Medicine. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  13. ^ Hodkinson, J. "The history of germ theory". Big Picture Education. Retrieved 23 May 2018.
  14. ^ a b Hall, Harriet A. (2008-12-09). "'I Reject Your Reality' – Germ Theory Denial and Other Curiosities". science-based medicine. Retrieved 22 May 2018.
  15. ^ Gorski, David (2010-08-09). "Yes, there really are people who don't accept the germ theory of disease". Respectful Insolence. Retrieved 23 May 2018.