Paul Fassa writes in German Supreme Court Upholds Biologist’s Claim that Measles Virus Does Not Exist:

At first it appeared he had lost. But Dr. Lanka took his loss to a higher court with more experts and the backing of two independent laboratories. He wound up not having to pay. It turned out that the “proof” provided was a composite of several different electron microscope images. And the composite involved different components of damaged cells. The composite could not be duplicated. The German Federal Supreme Court confirmed that there was not enough evidence to prove the existence of the measles virus.

Is this an accurate representation of the court case?

  • 53
    The quoted text doesn't say the measles virus doesn't exist. It says that someone didn't provide enough evidence for its existence to force payout of a bet. – gnasher729 Oct 24 '17 at 18:56
  • 3
    @gnasher More like "didn't provide the specifics requested to win a sweepstakes competition." – fredsbend Oct 24 '17 at 20:16
  • 7
    Hmm, there was another question about this that was asked recently, but it got removed. I can't see it because of my low rep, but it was here: skeptics.stackexchange.com/questions/39792/… – sumelic Oct 24 '17 at 20:42
  • 1
    @sumelic glad I wasn't just imagining that one :-) – Kevin Oct 24 '17 at 22:21
  • 14
    There's no such thing as a “German Supreme Court” and the “Bundesgerichtshof” (Federal Court of Justice), the highest court to which this case was brought, is in no way supreme because its decisions are superseded by those of the “Bundesverfassungsgericht” (Federal Constitutional Court). Though in this case I doubt that the latter would admit the case considering its lack of constitutional impact, so the Bundesgerichtshof remains the highest court accessible to the involved parties. – David Foerster Oct 25 '17 at 9:44


The court cases are not represented accurately.

The denialist Stefan Lanka promised to pay 100 000 Euros to anyone that provided him proof that a measles virus causing the illness exists.

Soon after a Mr David Bardens sent 6 publications to Lanka doing just that. Lanka refused to pay out. In 2014 Bardens sued him and the local court (Landgericht Ravensburg) sentenced Lanka to pay. Bardens had to hire bodyguards for fear of anti vaccination fanatics.

Of course Lanka wasn't happy to be proven wrong and forced to pay. So he appealed that decision. And won this. Because his competition offer was formulated so "that someone please sent him just one scientific article that proves that measles exist". Bardens sent 6 so Lanka won this time on technicalities, although for fear of jail he did pay in the meantime.

The term "just one" is used here to clarify how Lanka surely meant his challenge and how everyone including Bardens understood it. The German eine is ambiguous as an indefinite article or a numeral. That Lanka wanted one and just one single paper, containing all criteria Lanka demanded fulfilled at the same time, only came up in court.

The chronology of the antics of this case up to that point are documented here:

The Bardens vs Lanka Case | Chronolgy and documentation

This time Bardens apealed that decision and unfortunately the highest court Bundesgerichtshof (Federal Court of Justice) rejected that appeal on Jan 26 2017, so that the previous decision on prize competition technicalities still stands.

The formalities of the 'competition' were set by Lanka:1

Anders als bei einer Wette oder einer Preisausschreibung hätte Lanka die Regeln bei der Auslobung selber bestimmen können – so die Frage, welche Artikel als Nachweis akzeptiert wurden. „Sie hätten aber auch 600 einreichen können, er hätte keine akzeptiert“, sagte der Vorsitzende Richter zu Bardens. (In contrast to a bet or a competition, Lanka defined the rules of this Auslobung on what kind of evidence would be acceptable or not. "You could have presented 600 pieces of evidence as well, and he would not have accepted any of them." explained the presiding judge.)

Never did any court of justice in these cases uphold "that the measles virus didn't exist". To the contrary: the publications sent by Bardens were deemed by the judges and their expert consultants to provide the proof – but only when read together did they meet all requirements as formulated by Lanka.

Reading the ruling further highlights how outrageously comic the experts consulted found2 all other statements emanating from Lanka regarding the matter at hand and his "scientific" arguments.

Quotes from the court ruling:

„Das Preisgeld wird ausgezahlt, wenn eine wissenschaftliche Publikation vorgelegt wird, in der die Existenz des Masern-Virus nicht nur behauptet, sondern auch bewiesen und darin u. a. dessen Durchmesser bestimmt ist.“

(Quoting the competition rules as set forth by Lanka. Highlighting that one scientific publication was required. Translation: "The prize money is paid when one scientific publication is presented in which the existence of the measles virus is not only asserted, but also proved, and among others the diameter of the virus is to be determined.")

Im Ergebnis hat die Berufung, soweit sie zulässig ist, jedenfalls Erfolg, weil das Kriterium der Auslobung, den Beweis der Existenz des Masernvirus durch „eine wissenschaftliche Publikation“ zu führen, durch den Kläger nicht erfüllt wurde.

(Stating the appeal was succesful because the exact wording was calling for a single scientific publication. Translation: "As a result, the appeal, in so far as it is admissible, is successful in any event, since the criterion of the claim to prove the existence of the measles virus by 'one scientific publication' has not been fulfilled by the applicant.")

The Stuttgart judges commentating the ruling publicly :

However, this is by no means to be understood as confirmation of the theories of Lanka, according to the court: "It is by no means the opinion of the court that a measles virus does not exist". And addressed to the members of the press the presiding judge said: "Watch your headlines."

1 Further explanation: Scientific journal articles are usually very space constrained and tend to focus on answering one research question (sound familiar?). The trick for going scot free here was that from the beginning the diameter was called for. – For example in an article that describes and explains the complete decoding and analysis of the virus' genome there usually would be no need and no room for a dropping that states the measurement of the diameter as well.
Since Lanka still claims there is no proof whatsoever, (no shred of a piece of real evidence to be found anywhere) his bet, as originally formulated, has to be read so that he lost that bet thoroughly and decisively. Only the exact fulfilment of later specified competition rules was 'on trial'. (Bardens got those specified after he asked Lanka if he was serious about this.) And even those rules where so sloppily phrased that his lawyer only convincingly applied higher forms of grammatical precision interpretation in the second round.

2 That link goes to a page controlled by Lanka and contains the reproduction and transcript of the first trial expert consultation in court. The expert explains to the court details from his assessment of the papers submitted and also some fundamentals of biology and virology to the lawyers, and Lanka. That is quite remarkable because Lanka now keeps telling his followers that he has now legal proof that no viruses exit at all. Although Lanka got his diploma and PhD in biology by describing an algae attacking virus and acknowledging its pathogenic potential. Many videos on YouTube to witness that: Asked how measles outbreaks in schools can be explained, he now says measles are caused by e.g. lack of hugging ("knuddeln") from teachers! Basically, he indirectly states himself that all his credentials as a biologist were acquired by means of a huge error.

  • 20
    "Because his competition offer was formulated so "that someone please sent him just one scientific article that proves that measles exist". Bardens sent 6 so Lanka won this time on technicalities, although for fear of jail he did pay in the meantime." This is unbelievable. Life imitating a sitcom. – Hashim Oct 26 '17 at 23:36
  • 2
    Somewhat off-topic, but I wonder if someone can still win the bet if they make an aggregation paper which combines the results of all 6 papers in one paper that does meet the demands of Dr Lanka. – Nzall Oct 27 '17 at 15:03
  • 1
    Or just send one of the papers? – OganM Oct 27 '17 at 20:21
  • 2
    If I read that correctly, the problem was not that Bardens sent 6 articles where Lanka only asked for one. It was that the articles together proved the existenec of the virus, where Lanka asked for one article that proved it, which apparently none of the articles on their own did. – sgf Oct 28 '17 at 11:00
  • Or, to challenge your presentation, Lanka did not want "one and just one single paper" that fulfilled his criteria. You could have sent him any number of papers that fulfilled his criteria and won the bet, you just couldn't send him a bunch of papers and claim that they together fulfilled his criteria, as long as there was no single paper in there that fulfilled them alone. – sgf Oct 28 '17 at 11:22

There was a court case that went to the German Supreme court involving Measles where an anti-vaccine litigant ultimately won. However, the court never ruled that "the measles virus doesn't exist".

The court case brought up in question was in response to a challenge by Stefan Lanka. Mr. Lanka is an anti-immunization activist, more commonly known as a vaccine denier. On his website, dated November 24, 2011, Mr. Lanka posted the following challenge (available via Wayback Machine, and passed through Google Translate).

To summarize the challenge, Mr. Lanka would give €100,000 to anyone who could prove the existence of the Measles virus. In the post, he lists the following requirements.

(Translated from German using Google Translate) The prize money is paid when a scientific publication is submitted in which the existence of the measles virus is not only asserted, but also proved, and among other things its diameter is determined.

Dr. David Bardens took up the challenge of Mr. Lanka, providing a series of scientific papers to prove that the Measles virus does in fact exist. Mr. Lanka refused to acknowledge the papers, and was subsequently sued by Dr. Bardens. In March 2015, a German Court found that the evidence provided by Dr. Bardens was sufficient and Mr. Lanka would have to pay the agreed upon sum of money.

Mr. Lanka ultimately appealed the decision by the lower court, on the grounds that Dr. Bardens did not satisfy his requirements, mainly that Dr. Bardens submitted 6 publications instead of a single publication. In February 2016, the Higher Regional Court of Stuttgart agreed with Mr. Lanka, and overturned the decision. (Google translate version of the court ruling available here)

(Translated from German, credit to @leftaroundabout for the improved translation)

20 It also required [according to the defendant] the submission of a single publication in which both the evidence for the existence of the measles virus and the diameter thereof were determined, hence it would not be sufficient if – as represented by the expert – only the combination of the scientific statements in the six presented articles proved the existence of the measles virus and at least two of these articles contained sufficient values for the diameter of the measles virus.


76 However, the restrictive conditions of the defendant need to be considered, for he is – evident for third parties – not in fact interested in evidence for the measles virus

77 (1) Criterion: proof by a single scientific publication

78 The prize money will be calculated according to the clear wording of the tender

79 "... if a scientific publication is presented in which the existence of the measles virus is not only asserted, but also proved, and among other things its diameter is determined.

80 The prize money will not be paid if the determination of the diameter of the measles virus is only about models or drawings like this ... "

81 According to the clear and unambiguous wording, a single publication is to be submitted in which the evidence is to be given.

82 This interpretation is supported not only by the wording, but also by the fact that a single work is not merely closed in its exterior form and therefore clearly delimits the subject matter, but also in that no debate can arise in the question of which passage in which of possibly a multitude of works supplies which proof. In the case of a multitude of works through which the proof is to be given only collectively, it can be significantly more difficult to bring each work on a common and comparable level in terms of methodology and content. Furthermore, it considerably reduces the effort required for confirmation if the proof is required to be given in a single work, as per the challenge's wording. It is evident, also for third parties, that the defendant can not have wished for e.g. 50, 100 or 500 different works to be given, from which single text passages or sections might then have to be assembled like a puzzle before the statement in question can be discussed in its entire context.


122 As a result, the appeal, in so far as it is admissible, is successful in any event, since the criterion of the claim to prove the existence of the measles virus by "a scientific publication" has not been fulfilled by the applicant.

  • 2
    Many of my sources are from German websites, and as a result I was forced to use Google Translate for some of my sources. If someone is willing to provide better translations of the noted places, I would greatly appreciate it! – DenisS Oct 24 '17 at 21:40
  • 2
    Wow. Who's on first? ;) – LangLangC Oct 24 '17 at 21:44
  • 34
    I'm glad the OP question wasn't asking for one skeptics answer to this claim. :) – LangLangC Oct 24 '17 at 21:46
  • 5
    @LangLangC +1 to you both, since most people prefer more evidence to less. – Nat Oct 24 '17 at 23:14
  • 24
    Lanka created requirements that he knew would be almost impossible to fulfill, not least of which was that there be one single research paper which included a bunch of different unrelated research elements. – barbecue Oct 25 '17 at 3:53

Stefan Lanka put out a challenge on his newsletter to prove in a very specific way that the measles virus exists and pay 100,000 Euro to anyone who can prove the existence of the measles virus with a single paper that contains among other things an image of the virus and the determination of its diameter.

David Bardens sent him six papers that contained together all the information that Lanka asked for and wanted the 100,000 Euro from Lanka. When Lanka didn't pay Bardens sued him. Bardens won the first case at Landgerichts Ravensburg - 4 O 346/13. In the second instance he lost the case at Oberlandesgericht Stuttgart 12 U 63/15 and the court found that Lanka doesn't have to pay the ~100,000 Euro money to Bardens.

The court argued that while the six papers together contained all the information that Lanka wanted to see, the conditions of Lanka's challenge contained the demand that all information was supposed to be in a single paper instead of six.

Scientists that study viruses seldom write about their diameter and as such information about the diameter and other information that Lanka asked for were spread about multiple scientific papers. In the eyes of the court that didn't mean that the Measles virus doesn't exist and just that none of the six papers prove it when you look at them alone instead of together.

The OGH Stuttgart also said in their ruling that a higher court isn't supposed to hear the case. Afterward Bardens asked the Federal Court of Justice hear the case but that court decided against hearing the case.




You must log in to answer this question.

protected by Sklivvz Oct 26 '17 at 21:54

Thank you for your interest in this question. Because it has attracted low-quality or spam answers that had to be removed, posting an answer now requires 10 reputation on this site (the association bonus does not count).

Would you like to answer one of these unanswered questions instead?

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .