Pages like those from the National Vaccine Information Center NVIC or the Centers for Disease Control CDC make the following claim:

In 1875, Rudolf Steiner discovered that chickenpox was infectious to others after he took liquid from the chickenpox blisters of an infected individual and spread it to healthy volunteers.

— NVIC: "What is the history of Chickenpox in America and other countries?", no reference given for that.


In 1875, Rudolf Steiner demonstrated that chickenpox was caused by an infectious agent by inoculating volunteers with the vesicular fluid from a patient with acute varicella.

— CDC, Adriana Lopez, MHS; Theresa Harrington, MD, MPH&TM; and Mona Marin, MD: Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases CDC Varicella Epidemiology and Prevention of Vaccine-Preventable Diseases (The Pink Book). 13th ed. 2015.)

This is quite a remarkable claim to make.

On sites 'critical of virology' ('in general'), this is used to show that entities like the CDC or NVIC are very sloppy in 'just making up' ludicrous stories, like the above, and of course about 'viruses causing disease' as a collateral:

So here we are, left with a bit of a conundrum. Are we to believe that a 14 year old Rudolf Steiner performed experiments and wrote a paper proving chickenpox infectious in 1875? Does this paper even exist? […] Would these experiments even constitute proof of infection in the first place? If this work is such a seminal moment in the history of chickenpox, why is this paper seemingly impossible to find?

If such a paper exists and was written by a 14 year old Rudolf Steiner, it appears from his statements later in life that he was unconvinced by his own proof for the infectiousness of disease. Steiner was very much a believer in the mental and spiritual cause of disease and not a physical one such as being infected with “virus” particles. It was the person’s fear, anxiety, or even knowledge of the disease itself which manifested the symptoms rather than the action of a non-living obligate parasite. For now, without an actual copy of Rudolf Steiner’s own work to base these unsubstantiated repeated claims on, it remains a mystery that hardly constitutes proof of the infectiousness of the chickenpox or any other “virus.”

— Mike Stone: Viroliegy: "Did Rudolf Steiner Demonstrate Chickenpox Infectiousness in 1875?", January 6, 2022.

There are of course indeed reasons to doubt the original claim made by the CDC:

Rudolf Steiner is a well known historical figure, not least as a "polymath", and some of his adherents will claim him to be some kind of genius.

But did he do what the CDC above claims? Show proof of contagiousness of a viral disease, when his later writings demonstrably show a very different approach to illness and especially contagious diseases? And especially since in 1875, Steiner would have been indeed only 14 years old?

  • 2
    I have notified both CDC (responded today) and NVIC about the errors. Hopefully they fix the wrong attribution quickly and issue an errata.
    – oligofren
    Jan 18, 2022 at 14:13
  • @oligofren Any updates? Did they reply to you?
    – phk
    Oct 23, 2022 at 17:14
  • Same day I got this Gina Bernazzani, Director of Counseling at NVIC: "Thank you for contacting NVIC. Your email was forwarded to our Website Director.". If the website has not been updated since, I guess it went unnoticed.
    – oligofren
    Oct 24, 2022 at 7:46
  • I just checked, the error is still present on nvic.org/disease-vaccine/chickenpox/history. I pinged them about it today.
    – oligofren
    Oct 24, 2022 at 7:51
  • Got an answer back. They need more info: "suggest that you reach out to the CDC to notify them of the error in terms of the history of chickenpox. If you have information, such as links to studies, that demonstrate the error, we would be happy to review them and correct the statement. (...) I would need the actual 1875 translated study that demonstrates the error, or something along those lines demonstrating the error. "
    – oligofren
    Oct 28, 2022 at 7:15

2 Answers 2


No, but Johann Steiner did.

As identified in the blog referenced in the question, Rudolf Steiner, the well-known polymath would only have been 14 in 1875, so is an unlikely author of the paper.

Does this throw into question the very existence of the paper? Not necessarily - as also identified in the blog, there are many citations to the paper which don't mention the author's first name, or mention a different initial:

Steiner P. Zur inokulation der varicellen. We in Med Wochenschr 1875; 25:306.

Steiner G: Zur Inokulation der Varicellen. Wien Med Wochenschr 1875;25:306.

STEINER: Zur inokulation der Varicella. Wien Med Wochenschr 25:306, 1875

So it seems that what's happened here is an embarrassing confusion between the real author, and the more famous figure sharing their surname.

The "Wien Med Wochenschr" in those citations is the Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift (roughly translated as "Viennese Medicine Weekly Magazine") and in Vol 25, Nr 16, dated 17 April 1875, we find the paper "Zur Inokulation der Varicellen" credited to Prof Steiner (Vorstand der pädiatrischen Klinik zu Prag) ["Prof Steiner (Head of the Pediatric Clinic in Prague)."]

A bit of digging uncovers a Johann Steiner heading a pediatric clinic in Prague at the right time. In this biography (in German), it identifies him as working on varicella:

Steiner, Johann (1833–1876), Pädiater und Fachschriftsteller

[...] führte er ab 1874 die in dem Kinderkrankenhaus errichtete Kinderklinik [...]

[...] befaßte sich S. in erster Linie mit verschiedenen Kinderkrankheiten, insbes. mit den Varicellen und deren Impfbarkeit [...]

Machine translation:

Steiner, Johann (1833–1876), pediatrician and specialist writer

[...] He led the children's clinic built in the children's hospital from 1874 [...]

[...] dealt primarily with various childhood diseases, especially with the varicella and their vaccinability [...]

At some point, somebody seems to have been looking for a first name for the "Prof Steiner" who authored this famous paper, and guessed at the more famous Rudolf. This mistake has then been copied by other people who, even if they tracked down the original paper, wouldn't immediately realise that he was not the author.

Note: This answer is Community Wiki, because all the research is from LangLangC's answer, I just think that answer emphasises all the wrong things.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation has been moved to chat.
    – user11643
    Jan 15, 2022 at 18:36

No, he did not.

Rudolf Joseph Lorenz Steiner (27 (or 25) February 1861 – 30 March 1925) was an Austrian, philosopher, social reformer, architect, esotericist and claimed clairvoyant.

Rudolf Steiner was indeed born a bit late in 1861 for having authored a seminal paper in the history of medicine and even virology in 1875 at the age of 14.

So, 'the doubting website' is correct in disputing even the possibility of Steiner being the author of this 'alleged' paper. But what's going on here?

Neither the CDC nor the NVIC cite any proper sources for their claims, one of which at least looks even like plagiarising the other. So, does any paper exist in the history of varicella research similar to the ones described above?

Going back we do find a few other papers that seem to make reference to the one sought:

  1. Steiner P. Zur inokulation der varicellen. Wein Med Wochenschr 1875; 25:306.

— C. Jo White: "Varicella-Zoster Virus Vaccine", Clinical Infectious Diseases, Volume 24, Issue 5, May 1997, Pages 753–763, 01 May 1997. https://doi.org/10.1093/clinids/24.5.753

But this is already a "P Steiner", not an "R Steiner".

Another reference —this time to "G Steiner"— is found in

1 Steiner G: Zur Inokulation der Varicellen. Wien Med Wochenschr 1875;25:306.

— Gerd Gross & Hans Wilhelm Doerr: "Herpes Zoster Recent Aspects of Diagnosis and Control", Monographs in Virology, Vol. 26, Karger: Basel, Freiburg, 2006, pIX.


Steiner W. Zur Inokulation der Varicellen. Wien Med Wochenschr 1875:16:306.

— Robert Weibel et al.: "Live attenuated Varicella Virus Vaccine. Efficacy Trial in Healthy Children", New England Journal of Medicine, Vol 310, No 22, 31 May 1984, pp1409–1415. DOI: 10.1056/NEJM198405313102201

At other even earlier times this paper is referenced just as "Steiner" (doi).

Just like in the CDC's own earlier "Pink Book" editions, for example in 1996 or (3rd edition, 1996, p186; 6th edition, 2000, p171), which I could confirm up to 11th edition.

But perhaps as early as the 12th, quoted in question from the 13th edition, and even in the latest version, 14th edition from 2021, which claims to have zero errata pending, it says:

In 1875, Rudolf Steiner demonstrated that chickenpox was caused by an infectious agent by inoculating volunteers with the vesicular fluid from a patient with acute varicella.

Time to clear that up.

On that site claiming to be skeptical about "all of virology's lies", the very existence of the paper is called into question.

So, does this paper exist?

Yes. It does. Although for example PubMed is unaware of it. It is shown below, and thus any further speculation arising from 'non existent paper' seem moot…

The references uncovered so far are sometimes quite a bit wobbly on the details.

The proper citation is spelled out in full:

For the paper, that one is called: "Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift", (not something like "We in" etc) which is archived and digitized at the Austrian National Library

Since the article is very short, I reproduce it here in full in two pictures:

Steiner: "Zur Inokulation der Varicellen", pages 305,306 Steiner: "Zur Inokulation der Varicellen", pages 307,308

That is:

— Prof Steiner (Vorstand der pädiatrischen Klinik zu Prag): "Zur Inokulation der Varicellen", Wiener Medizinische Wochenschrift, Vol 25, Nr 16, p305–308, 17 April 1875. (direct-link)

As can be seen, the columns are the page numbers, so a proper citation would list 305 as the reference, not 306 as the examples above.

The author is now just given as "Prof Steiner of Prague". Absolutely no first name present on that paper.

Even assuming a "Genius Rudolf Steiner", writing about an experiment at 14 years of age might be remarkable, but holding the title of Professor seems impossible.

So who is this Steiner, if not a Rudolf?

We find for example another standard work of reference from that time, a book called "Compendium der Kinderkrankheiten für Studirende und Ärzte", authored by Johann Steiner, Leipzig: Verlag von F.C.W. Vogel 1872. From this work is its English translation on archive.org:

FIFTEEN years. of uninterrupted activity in the Francis Joseph Hospital for Children in Prague, […] and partly in the independent position of Teacher and Physician in Ordinary to the Hospital, have encouraged me and given me some claim to write this treatise. […]

  1. Varicella, chicken-pox:

This is an acute, epidemic, and

— from "Author's Preface" in the English version from 1875, (preface unpaginated, p11 in PDF; but on the topic of varicella: p351-358)

This Johann Steiner led the Children's Hospital in Prague ("Franz-Josef-Kinderspital") at the time, and has its own biography entry read:

Steiner, Johann (1833–1876), Pädiater und Fachschriftsteller
1866 ao. Prof. für Kinderheilkde., führte er ab 1874 die in dem Kinderkrankenhaus errichtete Kinderklinik. Wiss. befaßte sich S. in erster Linie mit verschiedenen Kinderkrankheiten, insbes. mit den Varicellen und deren Impfbarkeit, […]

This addition of an arbitrary erroneous first name seems to have happened around 2008, with — Gretchen Hoffmann: "Chickenpox", 2008. among the first to conjure it up, at least as far as full text searches of digitized books available via net searches allow such conclusions.

Curiously, even though a 2010 German text book still uses only the last name in its 2010 third edition, when this very same edition was translated into English, the name "Rudolf" appears.

(German: — Susanne Modrow, Dietrich Falke, Uwe Truyen, Hermann Schätzl: "Molekulare Virologie" (3rd German edition), Spektrum: Heidelberg, 2010, p588. worldcat Versus: — S Modrow et al.: "Molecular Virology" (1st English edition), Springer: Heidelberg New York, 2013, p798. worldcat)


No, Rudolf Steiner did not conduct these experiments or write anything in 1875 about varicella viruses. Johann Steiner did.

All those websites —like the CDC in their reference 'pink book', and those then copying and thus propagating the errors from it — use an unverified, unreferenced and very possibly plagiarized invention for the first name that is missing in the original publication.

As listed in examples above: Many authors accumulated different errors (plural!) in their copying of personally unread reference material: for the author names, the article titles, the journal names, the page numbers, in essence pretending proper reference work, and thus committing plagiarism in that part.

  • 1
    Comments clean up: the conversation continues in chat.
    – user11643
    Jan 12, 2022 at 19:44
  • 2
    Whatever you're thinking of saying, it's probably been said already. All further comments to the chatroom please. It'll be open for 15 more days!
    – user11643
    Jan 15, 2022 at 17:20

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