No, German ‘supreme court’ didn’t rule that ‘measles doesn’t exist’

A number of posts shared on Facebook claim that biologist and prominent anti-vaccination activist Dr Stefan Lanka won a 2016 case in the German federal supreme court that confirmed there is no evidence the measles virus exists.

Anti-vaccination movements and vaccine hesitancy are linked to increased outbreaks of measles in both wealthier countries, and poorer countries such as South Africa.

Most of the posts link to similar articles, mostly published on junk news and quack health websites such as News Punch, Anon HQ,  Vaccine Impact and Natural Blaze. Some say the Anon HQ article was the original account of Lanka’s court case.

That article says Lanka offered a reward of €100,000 for “scientific proof of the existence of the alleged measles virus”. He had reportedly lost the bet and was ordered to pay up by a regional court.

But a higher regional court in Stuttgart “with more experts and the backing of two independent laboratories” ruled that the authors of the six publications which were submitted to prove the existence of the measles virus were all wrong, the article says.

It then claims that “as a direct result all measles virologists are still wrong today”. It also says the judgement was upheld by Germany’s federal supreme court.

Higher court ruling didn’t question existence of measles virus

But the article makes a number of misinformed claims. The first is that the courts ruled Lanka had won the bet. According to independent pharmaceutical journal DAZonline,  the higher regional court judges in Stuttgart, where Lanka filed his appeal in 2016, did not doubt the existence of the virus.

But they did say Lanka’s challenge was neither a bet nor a competition but an award. And only the promoter of the award, Lanka, could determine the rules and decide if its criteria had been met.

The judges said their decision was purely a legal judgement and did not make any statement on the existence or nonexistence of the measles virus.

The judges ruled according to other facts, such as the wording of Lanka’s offer which stated that the prize money would only be paid “when a scientific publication is presented in which the existence of the measles virus is not only asserted, but also proven and, among other things, its size is determined”.

The would-be winner, Dr David Bardens, had submitted six different papers, none of which alone fit all of Lanka’s requirements.

According to DAZ online, the presiding judge suggested that “they could also have submitted 600, he would have accepted none”.

Some of the papers submitted were also not considered “scientific work” because one of the experts in the trial testified that they were review articles and therefore were only summarising the results of others’ original work.

Federal Court of Justice

Germany does not have a “federal supreme court”. The country’s highest court of civil and criminal law is the Federal Court of Justice or Bundesgerichtshof.

In 2017 the federal court of justice decided against reevaluating the existence of measles and simply dismissed the appeal to the judgement of the Stuttgart higher regional court.

There was no mention of other measles research or the impact of the judgement on the findings of other measles virologists. Naphtali Khumalo (22/05/19)  


 

For publishers: what to do if your post is rated false

A fact-checker has rated your Facebook or Instagram post as “false”. What should you do? First, don't delete!

Click on our guide for the steps you should follow.

Publishers guide

Africa Check teams up with Facebook

Africa Check is a partner in Facebook’s third-party fact-checking programme to help stop the spread of false information on social media.

The content we rate as “false” will be downgraded on Facebook and Instagram. This means fewer people will see it.

You can also help identify false information on Facebook. This guide explains how.

Fighting coronavirus misinformation

Africa Check is working with the CoronaVirusFacts/DatosCoronaVirus Alliance, a coalition of more than 100 fact-checkers fighting misinformation about the Covid-19 pandemic.

Learn more about the alliance here.

© Copyright Africa Check 2020. Read our republishing guidelines. You may reproduce this piece or content from it for the purpose of reporting and/or discussing news and current events. This is subject to: Crediting Africa Check in the byline, keeping all hyperlinks to the sources used and adding this sentence at the end of your publication: “This report was written by Africa Check, a non-partisan fact-checking organisation. View the original piece on their website", with a link back to this page.