"The Sorcerer's Apprentices": Alexandra Henrion Caude, or the art of twisting scientific facts

“The Sorcerer’s Apprentices”: Alexandra Henrion Caude, or the art of twisting scientific facts

Some 15,000 copies sold in four days. Rare are the books that can boast of such success… As soon as it was released on March 8, sorcerer’s apprentices, the antivax pamphlet by the geneticist Alexandra Henrion Caude propelled itself to the top of the sales charts achieved by L’Express with Edistat, in the “essays and documents” category. It must be said that his indictment was acclaimed by the covid-skeptical sphere. Pascal Praud on CNews, André Bercoff on Sud Radio, Radio Courtoisie, Current values, without forgetting a multitude of influencers on social networks: all of them are in working order to promote it.

Curled up on her sofa, behind her computer screen, Alexandra Henrion Caude displays a delighted smile despite the fever that prevents her from receiving L’Express. “I succeeded in my bet: to open the debate, to be able to discuss on a common basis, with verifiable sources”, explains the one that we have seen throughout the pandemic alongside the fine flower of conspiracy. Open the debate, really? The argument is taken up by its publisher, the very serious house Albin Michel, who has chosen to give it its backing: “It is perfectly legitimate for Alexandra Henrion Caude to be able to express herself and be published. Science, like democracy, must be able to exercise in contradiction and freedom of expression”, tells us a spokesperson by email.

It is still necessary for this to exchange on the basis of proven facts. Which is far from being the case throughout the 140 pages written by the former Inserm researcher, now disavowed by her former employer. “Wacky theses”, “lack of conclusive data”, “confusion in reading the studies”, “misunderstandings”: the scientists who L’Express asked to read all or part of the book had harsh words from his view.

Because the French flock to her book by the thousands, it seems essential to give the keys to reading it, and to show how this geneticist by training, who is neither a virologist, nor an epidemiologist, nor an immunologist, nor a pharmacologist, mistreats the “verifiable sources” on which it claims to rely. And thus goes “against public health messages validated by science”, in the words of Didier Samuel, the current president of Inserm.

Poor knowledge of the sources used

To underline the dangerousness of vaccines, Alexandra Henrion Caude points to the “alarming” number of notifications of post-vaccination adverse events, listed in pharmacovigilance databases in Europe or the United States. “She obviously does not know the role of this type of tool well”, annoys Francesco Salvo, head of the Bordeaux pharmacovigilance center, which coordinated the monitoring of anti-Covid vaccines. “These notifications are simple reports of events occurring after vaccination: in no case the causal link with the injections has been demonstrated at this stage. Medical and epidemiological analyzes are needed to confirm it, or to invalidate it. “recalls the doctor.

The geneticist then quotes the “priority list of adverse events of particular interest” established by the Brighton Collaboration, a partner structure of the World Health Organization (WHO). It turns out to be as long as it is frightening: thrombosis, multisystem inflammatory syndromes in children, acute respiratory distress, heart attack, meningitis, alopecia, convulsions… Problem, Alexandra Henrion Caude does not seem to know that this is a list established before the start of the vaccination campaign. “International experts have identified upstream the known adverse effects of all existing vaccines on the one hand, and of Covid itself on the other, so that, in the field, pharmacovigilance specialists know what to monitor first. “, details Professor Salvo. Fortunately, for most of these adverse events, no link to vaccines has been confirmed.

Unscientific omissions

First defect of messenger RNA vaccines according to Alexandra Henrion Caude, their ineffectiveness, since they “do not prevent catching Covid”. If their weak effect on transmission is obvious, the former researcher forgets to specify that their main interest was to protect us from serious forms. Asked about this point, she kicks into touch. “I want to let people believe it,” she had eluded in front of the CNews cameras. “This debate on serious forms, we cannot escape it, she assures L’Express. This is a subject that deserves a one-day congress, because we do not agree.” In her book, she nevertheless cites a study of 2022 indicating that two or three doses of vaccine do not prevent hospitalizations. “This is false: even in this work carried out in South Africa, the effectiveness was around 50% at three to four months, before declining thereafter. But above all, the author acts as if there was no no other publications on this subject. A serious scientist must take all the literature to see what makes consensus, and not select the studies which arrange it”, indignant Mahmoud Zureik, professor of epidemiology at Versailles Saint-Quentin University. And the consensus is clear: vaccination strongly protects against serious forms.

Another example of omission, the author insists several times on myocarditis caused by vaccines. “They exist, but they turn out to be benign, whereas those caused by the infection are much more frequent, and much more serious”, recalls Professor Mathieu Molimard, of the French Society of Pharmacology and Therapeutics.

A truncated presentation of articles

Supporting five publications, Alexandra Henrion Caude insists on the link between vaccination and neurological disorders. She retains from a first prospective study that “8.5% of patients developed symptoms in the months following vaccination”. Forgetting to say that this statistic was calculated on 117 patients – much less spectacular. Same thing with this article “where we learn this time that 57% of patients in the study develop neurological disorders immediately after vaccination”: this is also a series of cases (22 patients !), which is not specified. “This truncated presentation could lead a neophyte reader to believe that these are data relating to the frequency of these disorders. If this were true, 30 million French people would suffer from neurological disorders after vaccination, which does not is of course not the case”, notes Professor Zureik. Asked about this point, the author highlights her “desire to simplify”. The rest of his references, however, are in keeping. A publication on one case, another on seven. The last finally, which “compiles the neurological effects”, underlines that the most frequent are headaches…

Another example, the geneticist reports that the messenger RNA of the vaccine would pass into breast milk (without saying that the quantities are negligible), which would lead to behavioral changes in babies. But it does not note that the causal link has not been demonstrated, nor that the authors of the cited study judge their data reassuring.

Worthless “studies”

Scientists know that not all scientific publications are created equal. Case series, such as those put forward by Alexandra Henrion Caude about neurological disorders, are considered non-demonstrative. Also not conclusive, surveys on the Internet. The author, however, bases herself on a survey of this type, with 300 volunteers who were kind enough to respond because they were probably suffering, to affirm that from 10% to 65% of women would be affected by post-vaccination menstrual disorders. A figure that she will also hammer on CNews, when in reality, their real impact is not known…

Even more surprising are the arguments deployed to point to a link between vaccines and cancer: Alexandra Henrion Caude evokes a “study” explaining that the Spike protein “could merge certain cells in vaccinated individuals”. Which, according to her this time, would increase the risk of tumors. In fact of study, it is of an opinion piece written by a consultant, who proves nothing. “There is no reason to think that the Spike leads to cell fusions. And these are not known to trigger, in themselves, cancerous processes”, underlines Professor Alain Fischer, former Chairman of the Vaccine Strategy Orientation Council. On the other hand, while the geneticist had claimed on CNews that vaccines were at the origin of “turbo cancers” (an assertion strongly denounced by the community of oncologists), the subject does not appear in her book.

Misinterpretations of articles

Alexandra Henrion Caude endorses the comment published by a cardiovascular surgeon in Virology Journal ensuring that a study of the Lancet shows that “immune function in vaccinated people eight months after the second dose is lower (sic) than in unvaccinated”. Problem, the study of Lancet does not mention this point (its authors show that there is no longer any protection at this stage). But the author does not budge: “It is the graph published in the study which clearly shows it, as resumed Virology Journal“, she assures us. Not really, for Mahmoud Zureik, who examined the study in question: “At eight months, the curve mentioned simply shows that the effectiveness is zero, which has since been invalidated by d other work. This graph above all indicates that the confidence interval (Editor’s note: the margin of error in the estimate of efficacy) is much larger at the end of the study, due to the very small number of subjects followed for a long time. “

A little further on, the author explains to us that Spike, the viral protein produced after the injection of the vaccine, could “reactivate virus sequences in our white blood cells”, and thus cause cancer or neurological diseases. Detail: the study in question does not speak of the effects of the vaccine but… of those of the virus.

Unsubstantiated theses

Some of the arguments put forward in the book seem to come straight from the imagination of Alexandra Henrion Caude. First example, the Spike protein induced by the vaccine in our cells would not be “inactivated”, and would therefore prove to be as toxic as the virus. No “verifiable source” here, and for good reason. “Vaccine Spike is slightly different from natural protein, but the idea of ​​it being activated or inactivated does not make sense, since it is not toxic by itself. It confuses protein with toxin”, assures Professor Fischer.

Second example, the idea that vaccines would integrate into our DNA and modify our genetic heritage. Only one study reports such a result – on cultured cells, in the laboratory. “There is no other evidence, neither experimental, nor animal, nor human, of integration of messenger RNA in the human genome”, recalls Professor Fischer. The rest is just conjecture.

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