Didier Raoult, pretentious git

The source of the claim that hydroxyquinone can treat the coronavirus, Didier Raoult, is a successful biomedical careerist in France, and a bit of a humbug. There are good reasons to be suspicious of the quality of his work.

Not surprisingly, Raoult’s rapid rise raised as many eyebrows as huzzahs. While his fans applaud the 3,000 scientific articles Raoult has co-signed, his critics argue that these staggering numbers do not add up. Do the math, they remark, and it turns out the Marseillais researcher publishes more papers in a month than most productive researchers publish in a career. Raoult’s method, according to one critic, is to task a young researcher at IHU with an experiment, then co-sign the piece before it is submitted to publication. “Raoult is thus able to reach this absolutely insane number of publications every year,” according to one anonymous source quoted by the site Mediapart. More disturbingly, the critic added, “it is simply impossible for Raoult to verify all of these papers.”

Yep. That’s the hallmark of a hack. But I want to focus on something in my bailiwick. He has written a book, Beyond Darwin, which is in French so I’m sorry (or perhaps relieved) to say I haven’t read, but I did read a translated interview with Raoult about it, via Google Translate (any infelicities in the translation should not be blamed on Raoult).

He belongs to a school of all-too-common evolutionary cranks who have a vague impression of what Charles Darwin said in the 19th century, know nothing at all about modern evolutionary biology, and imagine that the two are synonymous, so that they can deliver a double-whammy of ego gratification: evolutionary biologists are stupid, and he is brilliant, having discovered all the flaws in Darwinism all on his own.

For a long time, we thought that we were descended from a common ancestor: the Sapiens. In May 2010, a dramatic development: the results of an analysis of DNA taken from the bones of Neanderthals revealed that 1 to 4% of our genes come from Neanderthal. Whether we like it or not, we are related to this bastard, and not only to Sapiens “the intello”. The two met and mixed. The genealogical tree of the human species is anti-Darwinian because our ancestor is at the same time Sapiens, Neanderthal, a bacterium and a virus!

There are two gross errors in that accusation. The first is the idea that we think speciation has to be abrupt and instantaneous. Nope. No one argues that, so this is not a novel insight on his part. Speciation is often a mingling of braided streams that gradually separate, so the history of Homo neandertalensis and Homo sapiens is fairly typical of two closely related species. Calling that anti-Darwinian is kind of weird, because yeah, modern evolutionary biology is often non-Darwinian or even anti-Darwinian in the sense that we know a heck of a lot more about genes and genetics and the details of evolutionary history than Charles Darwin did. You don’t get a medal for bravery in defying 19th century beliefs in the 21st century, where undergraduate biology majors know things Darwin didn’t.

The second error is his over-emphasis on horizontal gene transfer. Of course some small amount of DNA from outside our direct lineage is occasionally inserted into our germ line via viral infection. Again, no one knowledgeable about evolution is going to be stunned by this revelation. The edifice of evolutionary theory is not perturbed in the slightest by the inclusion of yet another mechanism for mutation. What next? Gamma ray mutation means our genetic makeup has been modified by rays from outer space, therefore we’re all part alien? I probably shouldn’t give him ideas.

I occasionally run into cranks who insist there is no structure to our evolutionary history, that we’re all a melange of bits and pieces cobbled together into patchwork chimeras. Daoult isn’t the most extreme example of this nonsense, but he does have it bad.

The Darwinian tree does not exist. It is a fantasy. The idea of ​​a common core with divergent species like branches is nonsense. A tree of life, why not, but then planted upside down, roots in the air! If the species had definitively separated millions of years ago, there would in fact be no more living species on the planet. Each would have degenerated in its corner for not having been able to sufficiently renew its genetic heritage.

Except that we do have tools to measure the structure of a clade, and the evidence for it exists. I have no idea where this idea that we’d go extinct if we didn’t have other species to interbreed with comes from. I also don’t understand what “renew its genetic heritage” means.

In the Darwinian vision of evolution, everything was created once and for all, and if new species appear, it is only by gradual adaptation of existing species. In fact, nature does not just evolve, it continues to invent species.

This would be a surprising interpretation to the author of On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. How does nature “invent species”, if not by branching cladogenesis? Do these newly invented species lack ancestors? Do they just spontaneously pop into existence without predecessors?

We discovered that a bacterium called Wolbachia had succeeded, by infecting a worm, in integrating 80% of its chromosome. She had, in fact, made a new species of worm! A brutal and massive evolution which has nothing to do with the slow and vertical evolution described by Darwin. If a woman carrying the herpes HV6 is pregnant, the virus having integrated into her chromosome, her son will have the virus in her genes. The boy’s grandfather will therefore be partly a virus!

This is not a particularly useful way of looking at our evolution. About 8% of our genome is made up of endogenous retroviral sequences, accumulated over many millions of years. These don’t significantly contribute to our physiology or morphology; they have accumulated precisely because they have so little impact on our overall biology that they escape natural selection for humans. So no, these things don’t fit any reasonable definition of “grandfather”.

He wouldn’t be an anti-Darwinian if he didn’t exercise a little hyperbole to show off his resentment of Darwin.

Darwinism ceased to be a scientific theory when Darwin was made a god. By introducing the concept of evolution after Lamarck, Darwin came to upset the frozen conception of creationists, who thought that the world had been stable since its creation. But, from then on, it became the object of a double myth. The myth of the diabolical for creationists, those who think that everything was created in a week, and the myth of scientists, who make “the origin of species” the new Gospel.

If you believe in the Judeo-Christian God, Darwin even makes it easier to understand him. With what we discover about biology, we come back rather to the gods of Antiquity. The men of Antiquity were perhaps animated by a just presentiment when, in mythological tales, they depicted hybrid beings, chimeras: Satyrs, Centaurs and Minotaur. Now imagine an evolutionary story written by a Buddhist scientist. It would be a question of cycle, even recycling, and mosaic beings, which we find in Nietzsche.

Hoo boy. There’s a common creationist trope, that Darwin is our god. It doesn’t work. We’re awfully critical of Darwin, and we rejoice when we discover new violations of his supposedly sacred dogma. Darwin is respected because of his careful, disciplined methodology and his appreciation of the evidence, and because he did have a brilliant insight that changed how scientists thought about history. It’s only kooks who simultaneously think Darwin is unjustly seated on a heavenly throne, and that they have had the grand, revolutionary insight that will allow them to displace him.

I won’t even get into his crap about old gods and chimeras, or his appallingly quaint rant about Apollonian and Dionysian dichotomies. Everything about this guy screams opportunistic kook with an exaggerated ego. At least it’s nice that he has found a friend in Donald Trump. They have much in common.

If you think I’m rude and dismissive, read this:

Now consider this. Raoult’s past papers show falsified data, which even resulted in his ban by ASM for one year, to which Raoult responded with threats of lawsuit. He is a patriarchal control freak and a misogynous bully who violently punishes all disagreement and uses threats against whistleblowers and victims to achieve compliance. He is pathologically resistant to criticism and believes to be infallible and omniscient: Raoult denied anthropogenic climate change in 2013 and before that, the microbiologist even denied evolution in his 2011 book “Beyond Darwin“. Raoult’s new study on chloroquine as the cure for COVID19 is obviously flawed, at best.

Should we really trust his claims and put our all lives in his hands?

Yet somehow he hangs onto his prestigious position with hundreds of underlings and publishes approximately a paper a day. This kind of abuse of the system ought to get him fired. It won’t.


  1. cartomancer says

    He’s not doing the reputation of French academics for being pretentious blatherers any favours there, is he?

  2. says

    I read the Slate article last week and started digging. He’s basically the French version of Wakefield. He slams through garbage science hoping something is going to stick with the public and he hit the jackpot with his 24 person study of corona virus that had no control and no hypothesis. “Let’s try throwing this at that” is no way to science. I can’t even find the original abstract any more (I did see it once) from his “research”.

  3. Walter Solomon says

    Is it just me or does this guy share more than a passing resemblance to Harold Bornstein, Trump’s personal physician? What is it about aging white guys with long hair that inspires confidence in Trump? Is it the hippie aesthetic?

  4. consciousness razor says

    but I did read a translated interview with Raoult about it, via Google Translate (any infelicities in the translation should not be blamed on Raoult).

    Would you please give the link to the interview?

  5. raven says

    The genealogical tree of the human species is anti-Darwinian because our ancestor is at the same time Sapiens, Neanderthal, a bacterium and a virus!

    This is just babbling and gibberish.

    It’s simple, basic biology that this guy has gotten wrong.
    PZ already explained it so I’m not going to bother.

    The viruses are probably all the ancient retroviruses that have invaded our genome over time. The estimate is around 8% of our genome.
    The bacterium is probably our mitochondria. Which are undoubtedly of prokaryotic origin.
    Which is so what.
    And plants also have another prokaryote, the chloroplast.

    With that high level of ignorance and nonthought, this guy has vaporized his credibility.

  6. lucifersbike says

    I note that Pr Raoult’s book is published by Plon, once an independent publishing house, now part of some enormous conglomerate. Plon’s website has the following advice to authors submitting manuscripts:
    “Our on line service for submitting manuscripts is accessible at the following address: http://manuscrits.plon.fr
    We accept the following genres: novels, crime novels, historical novels, witness stories, and essays. Other works, in particular science fiction, fantasy, weird tales and books for young people, will not be considered for publication” (My translation, with apologies, French is my fourth language by a long way).
    I do not see any mention of serious scientific works or even popular science books here.

  7. says

    Raoult’s method, according to one critic, is to task a young researcher at IHU with an experiment, then co-sign the piece before it is submitted to publication.

    That being the case, I’m mildly curious who the real authors of the study are. I always say, give credit to the grad students. And to be consistent I’d have to say spare some culpability for the grad students.

  8. Matt G says

    I know a handful of 6th graders who could school him on evolutionary theory. And this clown has published a book on the subject? Jesus H. Tap-dancing Christ.

  9. Jazzlet says

    There is evidence of both data and image manipulation from Raoult’s group. Furthermore he apparently bullies junior staff and will launch into humiliating public tirades about their supposed incompetance in the weekly group meetings. This link is to a very long article, the first part reviews the first HCQ study, it then moves on to historical accusations of fraud, then to accusations of bullying. https://forbetterscience.com/2020/03/26/chloroquine-genius-didier-raoult-to-save-the-world-from-covid-19/ No idea how sound it is, but the chap does link to sources so you can go follow a Raoult slime trail if you want.

  10. says

    cartomancer @ #1:

    He’s not doing the reputation of French academics for being pretentious blatherers any favours there, is he?

    His paraphrasing Lacan doesn’t help, either.

  11. KG says

    He’s not doing the reputation of French academics for being pretentious blatherers any favours there, is he? – cartomancer@1

    Be fair – he’s upholding it to the best of his ability!

  12. nomdeplume says

    Who would have thought that there would never be a better time than the 21st century to be a crank and a lunatic?

  13. Pierce R. Butler says

    <a href=”https://www.rawstory.com/2020/04/macron-visits-marseille-doctor-behind-virus-cure-touted-by-trump/’>Macron visits Marseille doctor behind virus ‘cure’ touted by Trump

    Macron, who met Professor Didier Raoult at his Marseille hospital behind closed doors, did not endorse the treatment, his office said… Last week, doctors in Paris reported that they tried to replicate the results of the Marseille study and failed. … According to Les Echos newspaper, Raoult gave Macron the results of a new study on 1,061 patients showing a 91 percent success rate. … While it gives the doctor a measure of “legitimacy”, the president’s visit is also “a way of controlling Didier Raoult’s comments because now he cannot say no one ever listened to him”, [Fredric] Dabi [deputy director general of polling firm Ifop] said.

  14. jrkrideau says

    I don’t remember if I have mentioned the various posts about Didier Raoult and his paper but the French blog, Les Crises, has been covering the mess in a series of posts. What may be the culmination Les énormes failles éthiques et méthodologiques dans l’essai Raoult : analyse, par Olivier Berruyer or The enormous ethical and methodological flaws in the Raoult paper: analysis, by Olivier Berruyer makes for interesting reading. It has links to the three earlier posts and seems, at least in part, a summary of them. IT is pretty devastating.

    In one amusing section, while pointing out problems with dates the author notes that it appears that the study started before it had ethics approval which carries a legal penalty in France.

    Unfortunately, I do not see an English version but for someone with even my primitive French plus Google it is pretty easy to read. before it had ethics approval which carries a legal sanction.

    @ consciousness razor

    It is the link where PZ says, rather confusingly, “I did read a translated interview with Raoult about it”. He was linking to the actual interview in Le Point, not the translation which is how I first read it.

    https://www.l Le Point, epoint.fr/debats/et-si-darwin-s-etait-trompe-12-12-2011-1406407_2.php

  15. Pierce R. Butler says

    About 8% of our genome is made up of endogenous retroviral sequences…

    Per the Pffft!:

    Short interspersed nuclear elements … >1,000,000 copies throughout the [human] genome, which is over 10 percent of the total genome …

    Long interspersed nuclear elements … make up around 21.1% of the human genome.

    Apparently our esteemed host defines or measures something differently than do the wikipersons – can anybody help me reconcile the differences here?

  16. nematoady says

    I’m looking at the study now…Can you verify this, PZ?
    Take a look at Supplementary Table 1, which lists characteristics of the patients and their RT-PCR tests on the 6 days of the trial. The lower the number (of PCR cycles), the more easily viral RNA was detected, with >35 cycles interpreted as no virus, and less than…15? cycles (they don’t say) being reported as “POS.”
    ALL of the patients given hydroxychloroquine had numbers from 15-31 ; while most of the patients not given the drug were reported as “POS” at the start, i.e. a high viral load…
    It sure looks to me like the test was not blind, that the patients given the drugs were cherry-picked to have a lighter viral load before the trial started! How do you read this? Or am I missing something (always possible)?

  17. Athaic says

    He’s not doing the reputation of French academics for being pretentious blatherers any favours there, is he? – cartomancer@1

    It’s OK, we will just say he is an physician, not an academic.
    Actually, he says so himself, when explaining why he doesn’t feel like following the usual rules in his scientific approach.
    (but sadly, yes, from the beginning I keep telling myself, if this is not the most archetypical case of ivory tower/arrogant/pretentious scientist/physician…)

    and less than…15? cycles (they don’t say) being reported as “POS.” – nematoady@22

    Ah, that’s the issue, they don’t say.
    In the pre-print loaded (on arXiv I believe), there isn’t even something written. “Pos” came after.
    My own interpretation was along the LOQ/LOD values – if you cannot assign a value to your quantification, usually because the signal is too low, you can put “positive” to at least mention that the stuff of interest was detected, but not quantified.
    IOW, I’m taking “Pos” as meaning “not found after 35 cycles, but maybe it was there at 40 or 50 cycles”.
    Which of course, in the context of looking for a decrease of the viral load, is not much different from “not seen anymore”.
    Arguably, my interpretation of “Pos” is subjectively going in the direction of Raoult being a cheater; I’m letting my prejudices leading me.
    Now, if we go toward your interpretation, that means the severity of the virus infection increased among the control patients. I would then expect a few of them to become severe cases. But as there was no follow-up, I have no idea if this is true. Patients dropped from the study, but from the treated group, not the control group.
    Anyway, either way you cut it, if the viruses were detected at 15 or at 50 cycles, why not write it, instead of leaving us guessing?
    I’m afraid the most likely explanation is that the virus load was not correctly measured among 10 of the control patients. So discussing about this study’s results is pointless.

  18. Athaic says

    Addendum, for clarity:

    It sure looks to me like the test was not blind, that the patients given the drugs were cherry-picked to have a lighter viral load before the trial started!

    It could be my own prejudices , but such an interpretation did pop in my head, yes.
    As the saying goes, don’t assign to malignancy that could be chalked to incompetence (and/or hastiness), but after the second, no-control study…
    Sure, “we” don’t have time to do a full-scale double-blind study with appropriate treated and control arms, no, no, we should rush and take the great Pr Raoult at his word.
    And yet, he did had the time to run a second study. And botched it as well, by not including a control group. If this is not trolling…

  19. Pierce R. Butler says

    John Morales @ # 21 – thanks!

    However, while (a) filling in a bit of the picture while (b) reminding me of the depths of my own ignorance regarding genetics, and (c) tossing in another number (“… approximately 98,000 ERV elements and fragments making up 5–8%”) while not mentioning SINEs or LINEs per se, your citation does not (sfaict) answer my question as to the discrepancy between ~8% and ~31% ERVs in the human genome. (Fwiw, I seem to recall other articles putting the total of _INEs at well over 40%.)