“If a lie is only printed often enough, it becomes a quasi-truth, and if such a truth is repeated often enough, it becomes an article of belief, a dogma, and men will die for it.” – From The Crown of Life by Isa Blagden
Rudolf Steiner, an Austrian philosopher, esotericist, spiritualist, claimed clairvoyant, and the founder of anthroposophy, is given credit for proving that chickenpox was indeed caused by an infectious agent in 1875. The CDC states this as a fact:
“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.”
The CDC’s claim that Rudolf Steiner took pustule from a chickenpox patient and proved it infectious upon subjecting healthy volunteers to the substance which resulted in itchy bumpy rashes definitely makes for an interesting story. But did this really happen?
One thing I took away from reading interviews with Kary Mullis (inventor of PCR) is that if you make a claim about something as a fact, it should be backed up with a citation to the paper which proves that as fact. Here is his quote regarding the lack of scientific proof for HIV:
“Its not even probable, let alone scientifically proven, that HIV causes AIDS. If there is evidence that HIV causes AIDS, There should be scientific documents which either singly or collectively demonstrate that fact, at least with a high probability. There are no such documents.”— Kary Mullis
While this statement may seem fairly obvious and straightforward, it is amazing how many take this essential task for granted and forego the necessary legwork to ensure that a specific claim is in fact true. If a large part of the proof that chickenpox is an infectious disease is based upon the experiments of Rudolf Steiner in 1875 as the CDC claims, there should be papers/documents backing this statement up. We should be able to read this work for ourselves in order to see if the results produced are valid.
With this in mind, I attempted to find Steiner’s original paper by combing through a few sources. The first is a 2015 paper on the history of herpes zoster. While it also identified Steiner as the man responsible for proving chickenpox infectiousness, the authors only provided a last name:
Zeroing in on zoster: a tale of many disorders produced by one virus
“The late 1800s also saw great strides toward understanding varicella. In 1875, Steiner inoculated healthy volunteers with vesicular fluid from individuals with active varicella infection , thus demonstrating that chickenpox is caused by an infectious agent.”
Fortunately, they did provide a citation to show where the claim originated. The  citation in this paper led me to a 1997 white paper on varicella:
Varicella-Zoster Virus Vaccine
“Although chickenpox was first proved to be an infectious disease in 1875, when Steiner  transmitted the virus from vesicles to susceptible volunteers, it was not until 1952 that the virus was isolated and propagated in vitro by Weller and Stoddard .”
Once again, only a last name was given but there was yet another citation where the authors attempted to back up their statement. This  reference led me to this citation in the paper:
Steiner P. Zur inokulation der varicellen. We in Med Wochenschr 1875; 25:306.
I also found this supposed paper by Rudolf Steiner listed in other papers as:
Steiner G: Zur Inokulation der Varicellen. Wien Med Wochenschr 1875;25:306.
STEINER: Zur inokulation der Varicella. Wien Med Wochenschr 25:306, 1875
As can be seen, the work cited in various papers is listed as being by P. Steiner, G. Steiner, or just plain ol’ Steiner, but not R. Steiner. Unfortunately, while I could find a few other papers with similar citations such as this, try as I might, I could not find the original 1875 paper neither in German nor in an English translation. I couldn’t even find any actual quotes taken from Steiner’s work. All I could find were the same repeated claims over and over again:
“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.”
“It took over a hundred years for another scientist, Rudolf Steiner in 1875, to identify that chicken pox was caused by an infectious agent. He did so by extracting fluid from the blisters of an infected person and rubbing it on the skin of healthy volunteers, they too devolved am itchy, blistering rash.”
“In the year 1875 it was discovered by a scientist that chickenpox was caused by an infectious agent. A man known as Rudolf Steiner, took some fluid from the chickenpox blisters of an infected individual and decided to rub the fluid upon the skin of healthy volunteers. Those healthy volunteers also developed an itchy bumpy rash.”
So while this paper by either P. or G. Steiner may exist, it is not readily accessible and is not credited to an R. Steiner. It seems that these ott-repeated claims about Rudolf Steiner playing a vital role in the history of chickenpox are presented without a physical paper backing it up. While the lack of the original paper is concerning, there are a few other problems with the story of Rudolf Steiner performing experiments in 1875 proving the infectiousness of chickenpox. For starters, Steiner’s first published credits are in 1883:
“Rudolf Steiner went to Weimar to edit the scientific writings of Goethe for the Kürschner edition of the “German National Literature.” Along with sorting and arranging Goethe’s works, Steiner wrote introductions and commentaries that have been collected and published in English translation under the titles, Goethe the Scientist, Goethean Science or Nature’s Open Secret. Originally published in German as, Einleitung Zu Goethes Naturwissenschaftliche Schriften, 1883.”
Secondly, Rudolf Steiner was born on February 27th, 1861 which means that he would have been 14 years old at the time these experiments were performed and when this paper was supposedly written in 1875. Now while unrealistic, it is plausible a 14 year old Steiner could have done these experiments and wrote a seminal chickenpox paper proving infectiousness, but is it probable?
A third strike against this “evidence” is that Steiner seemed very much inclined to believe that disease occurred from spiritual conflict from within and that childhood diseases were caused by the child adapting to the physical world. He believed that the mind played a significant role in “catching” and preventing disease. Granted, maybe he came to these views later in life, however they definitely contradict the belief that “viruses” were a cause of disease. A few quotes here highlight his views:
Rudolf Steiner on Traditional Childhood Illnesses and Vaccines
“Rudolf Steiner generally portrayed the traditional childhood diseases as signs, aids, trials, and accompaniments of the natural process of child development and maturing immune systems. He helps us to understand their deeper meaning and management within human development.”
QUOTES FROM STEINER:
“. . . When I see people suffering from influenza, I must always turn my attention to something other than the symptoms that the doctors pay heed to, because the flu is actually a kind of brain illness. The flu is really an illness of the brain! I shall say more about this later.”
“Treatment with modified virus vaccine is effective in the case of diphtheria, because the body is thus given a strong impulse to become active, but it has unfavorable after-effects. Particularly if a child is treated with vaccine, it will later suffer a hardening of its organization. One must therefore strive to replace vaccines with bathing treatment, especially in the case of diphtheria, which is caused primarily be the effective activity of the skin. . . .”
“…if the body is left totally to its own devices in conditions of steady warmth and light, it can itself endure even the worst attacks of pneumonia, pleurisy, and peritonitis. The human being is capable of that. Even with the worst illnesses that display the symptoms mentioned, it is more a matter of proper nursing care than of remedies….”
“The risk of infection is actually great in diphtheria-related disorders, but why? It is because they develop in direct connection with learning to speak, and occur therefore most widely in children aged between two and four. After this age children are less susceptible. But every process in the human organism that arises in the normal course of things at any particular period can also arise abnormally. This process, therefore, that is really simply a natural process of childhood development can also occur at a later age, albeit in a somewhat modified form, a metamorphosis. When diphtheria occurs at a later age this is in a sense an infantile condition that works on in a person.”
“. . . If one has a heavenly Imagination such as that of which I spoke, one knows what smallpox is, because it is only the physical projection of what is experienced spiritually. And so it is, really, with all knowledge of illness.”
“We should not carelessly plump [“support”] straight for physical means of transmitting the disease, however. With smallpox the mental disposition plays a particularly great role. One proof of this would be that one is able to protect oneself extremely well if one is able to contain oneself in the right way. . . .one can protect oneself if one absolutely treats the sick person objectively, like any object, a stone or a shrub, with no feelings of fear or other emotions, but treats them as an objective fact. With this you counter the risk of infection to a high degree. The mental factor can thus play a considerable role when it comes to catching things.”
“I have actually never shied away from exposing myself to any danger of infections and have really never caught anything, have never got myself infected. This did show that mere awareness, powerful awareness of the existence of a disease, can bring about the disease through the astral body. Powerful awareness of a disease can be the cause of that disease arising form the astral body.”
It is clear from his quotes that Rudolf Steiner was not concerned with infection from a “virus” of any kind. Disease, to him, was the physical manifestation stemming from a mental and spiritual imbalance. In fact, he believed that just the very awareness of the disease could cause the physical symptoms to manifest themselves. Thus, even if he did do experiments “proving” the infectiousness of chickenpox at the age of 14 in 1875 as is so often stated, it seems rather obvious his evidence was not convincing enough for Steiner to hold on to that belief later in life.
Another interesting angle is that Rudolf Steiner was against vaccinations and believed that they would cut one off from the spiritual world. He spoke of dark forces dwelling inside the bodies of humans and feeding off of our fear, anxiety, pain, and suffering. He believed these demonic forces were guiding the practice of vaccination in order to cut us off from our humanity:
“In the future, we will eliminate the soul with medicine. Under the pretext of a ‘healthy point of view’, there will be a vaccine by which the human body will be treated as soon as possible directly at birth, so that the human being cannot develop the thought of the existence of soul and Spirit.
To materialistic doctors, will be entrusted with the task of removing the soul of humanity. As today, people are vaccine against this disease or disease, so in the future, children will be vaccinated with a substance that can be produced precisely in such a way that people, thanks to this vaccination, will be immune to being subjected to the “madness” of spiritual life. He would be extremely smart, but he would not develop a conscience, and that is the true goal of some materialistic circles.
With such a vaccine, you can easily make the etheric body loose in the physical body. Once the etheric body is detached, the relationship between the universe and the etheric body would become extremely unstable, and man would become an automaton, for the physical body of man must be polished on this Earth by spiritual will. So, the vaccine becomes a kind of arymanique force; man can no longer get rid of a given materialistic feeling. He becomes materialistic of constitution and can no longer rise to the spiritual.”
In 1917 Rudolf Steiner Foresaw a Vaccine that Would ‘Drive All Inclination Toward Spirituality Out of People’s Souls’
“I have told you that the spirits of darkness are going to inspire their human hosts, in whom they will be dwelling, to find a vaccine that will drive all inclination toward spirituality out of people’s souls when they are still very young, and this will happen in a roundabout way through the living body. Today, bodies are vaccinated against one thing and another; in future, children will be vaccinated with a substance which it will certainly be possible to produce, and this will make them immune, so that they do not develop foolish inclinations connected with spiritual life – ‘foolish’ here, or course, in the eyes of materialists. . . .
“. . . a way will finally be found to vaccinate bodies so that these bodies will not allow the inclination toward spiritual ideas to develop and all their lives people will believe only in the physical world they perceive with the senses. Out of impulses which the medical profession gained from presumption – oh, I beg your pardon, from the consumption [tuberculosis] they themselves suffered – people are now vaccinated against consumption, and in the same way they will be vaccinated against any inclination toward spirituality. This is merely to give you a particularly striking example of many things which will come in the near and more distant future in this field – the aim being to bring confusion into the impulses which want to stream down to earth after the victory of the [Michaelic] spirits of light [in 1879].”
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? If so, why were there either different initials regarding the first name and/or a lack of a first name based on the citation listed? If it does exist, why does the Rudolf Steiner archive list his first published work as being done as an editor of Goethes work in 1883? Should the writings of a 14 year old Steiner, where he supposedly took pustule from a chickenpox patient and transferred infection to a healthy patient by rubbing it on their skin, be taken seriously? Were these experiments validated or repeated by anyone else? 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.”
UPDATE 1/12/22: MYSTERY SOLVED!
Did a 14 year old Rudolf Steiner write the paper “proving” chickenpox infectiousness in 1875 as claimed by the CDC and others? Of course not, don’t be silly.
It was Johann Steiner, a German pediatrician who worked on varicella cases. I can not take credit for this discovery. I was alerted by a commenter to my post being discussed at this site. Fortunately, the Steiner question was posed and two answers came back uncovering this mystery once and for all. I will highlight a few sections from the comments to show how this information came about by people obviously much better at internet sleuthing than myself:
Response # 1:
“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 […]
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.”
Response # 2:
“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 PubMed is unaware of it.
The references uncovered so far are sometimes quite a bit wobbly on the details.
The proper citation is spelled out in full:
Since the article is very short, I reproduce it here in full in two pictures:
— 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 lists 305 as the reference.
The author is now just given as “Prof Steiner of Prague”. Absolutely no first name given.
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.
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 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.
The CDC uses an unverified, unreferenced and possibly plagiarized invention for the first name that is missing in the original publication.”
It was Johann!
Now that the real culprit has been identified and Rudolf Steiner has been cleared of all chickenpox-related charges, it’s time to take a look at the paper in question by Johann Steiner. Sadly, I do not speak nor read German so the best I can do is supply auto translated images from German to English. My guess after reading is that this translation is not 100% accurate, but it does at least give us an idea of what the so-called Steiner proof contains:
From what I can gather from this translation, Johann’s proof boils down to taking unpurified lymph fluid said to contain varicella from one child and inoculating this into a 4 year old boy and a two year old girl. No mention of what was done to the sample before inoculation is detailed beyond placing it in a glass vial with water. He described what happened to the boy after inoculation over the course of several days yet failed to mention what happened to the girl. He provided some quick hits from his previous experiments claiming success but does not share any detailed methods. All we really have to go on is evidence from one 4 year old boy. Does taking unpurified pus and scraping that into the child’s arm and documenting symptoms constitute irrefutable proof for the transmission of chickenpox? No, not at all, especially in light of the negative transmission experiments in the 1900’s. Maybe this unconvincing evidence is why it was so difficult (at least for myself) to track down the original paper and why it was hidden behind numerous error-filled citations?
A Lie Told Often Enough…
This Steiner-Chickenpox situation is not a trivial one. It is a microcosm of what is wrong with much of the scientific literature today. Claims are made and experiments/literature are cited without checking to see whether the content is actually true. This is exactly why there is a reproducibility crisis in the sciences and why most of the scientific literature is considered false or invalid. How many papers are built upon faulty references or unsound unscientific studies? How many researchers make claims about the work of others without verifying whether the evidence actually exists or supports said claims?
The CDC and others made numerous statements that Rudolf Steiner proved the infectiousness of chickenpox in 1875. This was an obviously ridiculous claim to anyone doing a cursory bit of research, especially with Rudolf being 14 at the time. Yet the CDC is considered a “credible” source. People believe them, expect their “facts” to be checked, and repeat their “facts” as if they are the gospel truth. This very incident shows how fallible the CDC truly is. It took myself and a few independent researchers a matter of a few days to uncover this citatation mystery. We weren’t coordinating or working together. The CDC should have far better resources. They should have been able to easily verify whether the Rudolf Steiner information was correct. They did not, and this ludicrous rumor has spread through multiple sources as if it were a fact.
The CDC could not fact-check nor correct the obviously false Rudolf Steiner information. If they are this lazy when it comes to a citation, what makes anyone think they will do a better job with the research they fund, oversee, and/or review to base their decisions on?
Who fact-checks those presenting the “facts?”