sam bailey on isolating viruses, and why she is wrong

Recently I was told I needed to go to the Youtube channel of Dr Sam BaileyA and watch one of her videosB. So I did.

This particular video is called The Truth About Virus Isolation, and yes it’s on Youtube, and no I’m not linking directly because I refuse to link to such a misleading channel. It’s ostensibly about the (lack of) isolation of the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Given that there have been a lot of papers published on this very topic, one might expect a discussion of what Bailey sees as their flaws – especially given her lead-in claim that “the scientific literature is a mess” – and at the very least reference to some of them. One would be mistaken. There is, however, a certain amount of shadeC: “I’m not sure if many virologists and scientists are aware of what they’re doing any moreD,” she says, about 10 minutes in. (For some reason she expects journalists to know more & to “call the researchers out.”)

Remember that covid-19 was first identified as a distinct infection back in December 2019 (hence the name) & SARS-Cov-2 (the virus itself) was officially named in early February 2020. The viral genome was described – and shared globally – a little earlier, in mid-January that year. And there have been a large number of papers describing isolation and genomic sequencing from patients the world over (for some examples see here, here, here & here). And here’s a detailed description of steps taken to grow & isolate the virus. Basically researchers can take the liquid that cells grow in, centrifuge it, and pass what they get through a filter.

Sam Bailey seems very hung up on dictionary definitions of “isolate” and “isolation”, but nowhere does she really look at what this entails when it comes to viruses, which (as she correctly notes) have to be grown in living tissues. In effect, this means that Koch’s Postulates can’t be applied in their entirely to viruses, which is hardly surprising since the existence of viruses hadn’t been discovered at the time that Koch developed his guidelines. In fact, even in his lifetime Koch knew that the postulates didn’t apply universally – he knew that Vibrio cholerae was found in healthy people as well as those ill with cholera, for example. In the same vein, the leprosy bacterium has so far been impossible to culture outside of living organisms (humans, armadillos – & mice’s footpads). Since then, microbiologists have adapted his original postulates to accommodate the fact that viruses cannot be grown in pure culture outside of living cells (see here, and here, as examples). Siouxsie Wiles had a bit to say about this late last year.

Bailey then moves on to statements by Vincent Racaniello (of Virology Blog), prefacing them by saying that “My opinions on what are termed viruses and how these relate to disease differ sharply from Professor RacanielloE,” and talks of “establishment virology theories.” While she includes a couple of slides with quotes that come from a video or videos by Racaniello, there are no links to the actual sources, which really made me wonder about the potential for cherry-picking in her claims regarding the lack of clarity in relevant terminology. Fortunately videos of his virology lectures are up on line, and this the one that Bailey appears to be using the most in her own video. It’s fairly easy to follow and you can hear for yourself how he defines the relevant terminology.

Just over 6 minutes into the talk, Bailey talks about “the purported virusF” before going on to show an image from a “studyG” that shows responses from some authors (far from all of them) of papers describing isolation of the virus. Again, she seems to think that without electron microscope images of virions, there has been no purification. It’s worth noting that, once the genome sequence was available and specific PCR tests developed, there was hardly a need for everyone to purify their sample and photograph it; the molecular technologies alone could confirm presence or absence of the virus. However, at the 6:24 timestamp, she complains that “they” haven’t got a “purified form” before returning to a dictionary definition for the purification of bacteria, not viruses. In any case this complaint is groundless, given that institutions such as the CDC hold reference samples of the virus. Pure virus samples are fairly straightforward to isolate from the cells in which they’re been grown. And in fact, it would have been impossible for researchers to undertake this work on the in situ structural analysis of the viral ‘spike’ protein if they didn’t first have a purified sample – in situ means in place on the viral particle. The paper even includes a description of how the pure sample was obtained.

She then presents the results of a request under the Official Information Act to the University of Otago that is so carefully phrased as to suggest that those making the request wanted a negative result. Unsurprisingly that’s what they got. However, it’s clear that Otago researchers led by Prof Quiñones-Mateu & postdoctoral fellow Dr Harfoot are indeed working with the SARS-Cov-2 virus. Why the apparent discrepancy? Because, as we already know, in order to get enough virus to isolate in meaningful amounts, the team would first need to grow more virus particles & this can only be done in living cellsa step that was specifically excluded in the OIA request. I’ve underlined the relevant part in the screenshot below.

Let’s continue.

On the 8:24 timestamp there’s a quote from Prof Racaniello’s video lecture that is taken out of context. “…most of the time we take this nasopharyngeal swab in the solution, we just do the genome sequence and we don’t actually have a physical isolate virus and that’s very important.” According to Bailey, the genomic data by themselves do “not equate to proof of a virus.” To support this she moves to a blog post by Racaniello, which she claims shows him admitting that very same thing.

Again, as is the case throughout this video, there’s no link or url visible, but the blog post is easy to find. What the professor said was that the presence of Zika virus RNA in mice, up to 60 days post-infection, was not the same as the presence of infectious virus. She kind of left that italicised word out. In that blog post it’s clear that the virus was present in the mice at some point – because the researchers infected them with it, & so at the very least the test was detecting prior infection. (CT values on a PCR test do allow an estimation of whether someone is likely to be infectious or not.)

Subsequently there’s a screenshot of a Nextstrain image showing the phylogenetic relationship of SARS-Cov-2 obtained from almost 4,000 individuals (it’s a screenshot from one of Racaniello’s teaching videos, but my link is to the original on the Nextstrain site) and claims that because there were no purified samples then the whole thing is based solely on PCR tests & is nonsense. What she’s conveniently omitting here is the fact that Nextstrain’s analyses are based data from on sequencing of the entire viral genome from each of those individuals – the same sort of thing that’s done here when our Ministry of Health covid-19 team is trying to track potential chains of transmission. Racaniello’s own video describes how the information in that family tree is generated and interpreted by researchers.

However, Bailey would like us to believe that there’s no evidence that any of those genome sequences come from the virus. (Mind-boggling, I know.) As ‘evidence’ for this, she shows a screenshot from a religous organisation’s page that highlights an offer of a 1-million-euro prize to anyone who provides “irrefutable evidence” of isolation of the virus and asking why no scientists have claimed it. Again, no link – but a little detective work shows that it’s an “offer” made by a far-right German antivaccine activist. The offer has strings attached – he wants scientists to follow those original Koch’s Postulates. Hardly surprising that no serious scientist would take the offer seriously, Sam.

Next we see a screenshot from a 1978 letter to the editor of The Lancet, – again, no url or publication details. Why is that? In any case, the authors of the paper comment quite clearly (& you can see this in her screenshot) that the presence of an organism can be identified even in the absence of an isolate, by using other techniques. The image really doesn’t support the laboured point she’s trying to make.

And then, at 11 minutes 58 seconds in, we get the startling statement that the image below, which clearly shows coronavirus particles (you can see their ‘crown’ of spike proteins in the image) outside a cell is actually ‘nanoparticles’ close to a ‘cell wall’. (NB in the absence of any identification of the image source in Bailey’s video, I found it impossible to track down the original. Even Google Lens was no help.) That’s closely followed by an attempt to conflate these particles with structures called exosomes, or extra-cellular vesicles (& again we have this hang-up on definitions rather than actual science), using a screenshot from this journal article that is talking about nomenclature in a rather abstruse way, and not about viruses at all.

And then there’s “this gem of a publication that appeared in the Lancet last year” – you’ll find it here. Interestingly it includes images that the authors clearly view as SARS-Cov-2 virus particles that are near-identical to those that she characterised as non-viral ‘nanoparticles’ just a few minutes earlier in her video. Furthermore, there’s no evidence that the authors characterised other, inaccurate images as the “fraud” that Bailey claims; they say only that these latter images are too ambiguous or show intracellular structures.

In other words, the video is full of inaccuracies, misrepresentation, contradictions, and missing links.

And, verily it is said that the time & effort required to review these things far exceeds the time taken for someone else to produce them.

 

 

A Dr Bailey is a Christchurch-based GP. On her YT channel she describes herself as a “research physician” who “researches and covers common medical conditions”. Looking material up in databases or more general online sources doesn’t by itself make you a researcher; at least, not in the sense that people engaged in actual scientific/medical research programs would understand the term.

B I was also advised to buy her book (which is clearly visible in the background throughout this particular video). I did not. It’s interesting how so many of the “experts” held up by those opposed to vaccines are so keen to have you buy products of theirs. Can I say “grifters”? Yes, I can.

C Make that, rather a lot of shade: “the supposed SARS-Cov-2 tests are supposed to react to mRNA that’s specific to the virus.” That is exactly what they do; Bailey needs a refresher on how PCR operates – it’s a highly specific technology.

D This is a bit rich coming from someone who isn’t a virologist or a scientist, but oh well.

E There is more than a little hubris here, & almost a nod to denial of germ theory.

F And a nod to the conspiracy theory that the virus doesn’t exist? (see also E.)

G The results, she says, are published in her book, so we aren’t talking peer-reviewed material here.

 

 

10 thoughts on “sam bailey on isolating viruses, and why she is wrong”

  • Howard Vickridge says:

    Thanks you so much for your endless work knocking back the scientifically illiterate numbskulls. These people who shoot arrows outside their field of expertise are a real blight on wisdom, and unfortunately journalists buy their crap stories under the illusion that a ‘Dr’ of any kind is a genius of everything. GP is a specialist for sure, but is far from being a biologist, virologist, or a public health expert. That Bailey is flogging a book tells all we need to know of their motivation to shit-stir. Shame on them.

  • it’s an “offer” made by a far-right German antivaccine activist.

    Eckert started out as a televangelist but he shifted to antivax scamming as even more lucrative.

  • Thanks for your hard work here!
    There are far too few people countering this person. I tried raising a few of the points about her claims it being a mess and that the virus hasn’t been isolated. Also her seeming confusion over isolates isolate and purification on the video in question and I’m certainly no virologist!

  • Hi Alison,
    thanks for you assessment. I think you miss the point of Dr Bailey’s video regarding the fact that people are talking about different things when they say “isolation” of viruses. As she points out Vincent Racaniello also admits this – the language has confused both scientists and the public. I think your article is weakened by questioning Bailey’s motives and the authenticity of the references which are usually all cited with all her videos. (Not sure if you realised the references are in the video description?)
    I don’t think she works as a GP anymore, she states in a video about clinical trials that she is a research physician in later stage clinical trials (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7h7mLhjYvF8).

    One point you miss is the uncertainly of the provenance of the nucleic acid sequences. Dr Bailey is certainly not the first to raise this question. The sequences are put together from cell cultures which contain millions of bits of nucleic acids, how do we know they come from inside a virus?

    Did you try to contact Dr Bailey? I’ve emailed her previously and she responded quickly to some questions I wanted clarified. She is very friendly and you might even learn something new!

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