Skepticism

New Video! Court Orders Measles Quack to Pay 100,000 Euros

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Sort of transcript:

Following quickly on the heels of my video about Mike Cernovich, yet another HIV/AIDS denier is in the news. This time it’s a classic denier: Stefan Lanka is a German biologist who doesn’t believe that HIV exists. He doesn’t just stop there, though! He also denies the existence of measles, a disease that has been known about for nearly 1,000 years, and for the past century we’ve understood that it’s a virus.

Lanka believes that measles is actually a psychosomatic illness caused by separation anxiety, despite the fact that it obviously occurs in outbreaks that have already killed one baby in Germany this year.

He’s so sure about his belief that he took out an ad offering 100,000 euros to anyone who could prove measles is a virus.

We’ve seen this sort of thing before: Kent Hovind has offered $250,000 to anyone who can provide scientific evidence for evolution, and he’s just one of many creationists with that idea. Unfortunately, every biologist who has offered that evidence in the way of peer-reviewed published research has somehow been turned down by Hovind.

Hovind of course is now in prison for tax evasion, with an additional judgment handed down last week for contempt on top of it, so we probably can’t expect him to be giving away that money any time soon.

But there’s good news: a German doctor took Lanka’s challenge, and sent him one extensive peer-reviewed scientific research paper describing the measles virus. Lanka, of course, denied that this was good evidence.

Usually, like with Hovind, that’s where that story would end. But the good doctor, David Bardens, decided to take Lanka to court for failure to follow through on his promise. Remarkably, the court looked at Bardens’ evidence, said, “Yeah, obviously measles is a virus,” and awarded him the 100,000 euros.

Lanka will probably appeal, but in the meanwhile this is hilarious and awesome, and I hope that someone with the time and money follows through and does this to other quacks who put up money like this in an attempt to shut down criticism.

That said, I do worry about courts ruling on scientific evidence. Judges and juries aren’t necessarily trained to evaluate scientific research, so this could be used for evil. I have to say, though, that this case gives me a bit of confidence in the court system that I haven’t felt since Kitzmiller vs. Dover, in which a conservative judge ruled that the evidence presented in court showed that intelligent design was not science and should not be taught in public schools.

Ideally, court systems shouldn’t be ruling on science. But man, if they have to, it’s really awesome to see them make the right call.

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca leads a team of skeptical female activists at Skepchick.org. She travels around the world delivering entertaining talks on science, atheism, feminism, and skepticism. There is currently an asteroid orbiting the sun with her name on it. You can follow her every fascinating move on Twitter or on Google+.

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2 Comments

  1. I’m pretty sure you mispronounced Dover. Everyone else pronounces the o lax, as in hot.

    While I don’t like the idea of courts defining science, just because the courts are surprisingly partisan for nonpartisan tickets or appointments. I only have one thing to say about this.

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