A German man who claims that measles doesn't exist was made to come good on his offer of €100,000 ($106,000) to anyone who could prove that measles is a virus. It seems Stefan Lanka forgot that the whole world is not like the Internet: You can't just claim any nonsense you like and refuse to accept the evidence.
Lanka, who claims to be a biologist, takes anti-vaccination to a seldom-witnessed extreme. While many anti-vaxxers have tried to minimize the seriousness of measles, even to the point of publishing a children's book describing it as marvelous, Lanka says it is entirely psychosomatic. That is, he claims there is no physical basis for the condition, people just convince themselves they have the disease to such a degree that they get symptoms.
While psychosomatic diseases undoubtedly exist, the idea that measles is one of them would be a shock to parents who have lost children to the virus, or who now have children suffering from blindness or severe brain damage from infection. Lanka's suggestion that measles is caused by “traumatic separations” must come as an added insult to parents suffering the ultimate traumatic separation of losing a child.
Although Lanka hasn't explained why these traumatic separations plunged in Europe and North America after the introduction of the measles vaccine in 1963, and are only returning now that many people are failing to vaccinate their children, he is free to keep on peddling his dangerous propaganda.
Lanka's misstep was to go further in an effort to build support for his views. Four years ago, he made a €100,000 offer, translated by The Local as saying, “Because we know that the "measles virus" doesn’t exist, and according to biology and medical science can't exist, and because we know the real cause of measles, we want the reward to get people to enlighten themselves, for the enlightened to help the less enlightened and for the enlightened to influence those in power."
Dr. David Barden sent Lanka the research in the area, which is easily available to anyone wishing to use Google Scholar. Predictably, Lanka refused to pay up. Barden went to court, where the evidence was tested by neutral parties. A regional court in the south German Ravensburg district ruled in his favor, ordering Lanka to pay up.
Lanka has said he will appeal, and legal fees may exceed Barden's winnings. It is also possible that higher courts could decide the offer is not legally enforceable for some reason or other. However, given the vast body of evidence in Barden's favor, there is little danger any court will go against him on the science.
The seriousness of the issue has been underlined with the death of an 18-month-old boy less than a month ago in Berlin. Germany is experiencing its worst measles outbreak in a decade, while cases in the U.S. originating from the Disneyland outbreak continue to occur.