There is a new book out titled: “Raoult A French Madness“. It is about Didier Raoult, microbiology professor, chloroquine guru, director of IHU Marseille and misogynous bully. But if you expected a scandal, a charlatan mandarin shamed and exposed for what he really is – I must disappoint you, this is France after all, and Raoult is still a national hero, admired and protected across all political spectra. His entire career was built on inherited privilege, delusion of grandeur, narcissism, dishonesty, bullying, metrics fetish, questionable research practices of all kinds, parochial and nepotist structure of French academia, and political buddy networks from left to the far-right. Raoult, an abysmally inept caricature of a conceited male scientist, seems to be a symptom of a national and a nationalistic psychosis, and will only go away when France snaps out of it. I’m not saying that because IHU yesterday publicly announced to report me to police, in a statement most obviously written by Raoult himself 😉
The book is a in French, translation unlikely. So here a review by Alexander Samuel, a political activist who describes himself as “Teacher, PhD in Molecular Biology, CS tear gas misusage whistleblower.” Assisted by a certain relative of Raoult!
“Raoult. Une folie française”
A book review by Alexander Samuel, with Mag R-C
Two famous French journalists have written Didier Raoult’s biography, “Raoult. Une folie française”, by Ariane Chemin and Marie-France Etchegoin.
Ariane Chemin is famous for her work on Alexandre Benalla, Emmanuel Macron’s “bodyguard-in-chief” who was involved in many affairs, which French president tried to cover by spreading “a deceptive video montage”. Interestingly, Benalla is a close friend of the far-right MP Joachim Son-Forget, whose parliamentary assistant Benalla almost became. Remember Joachim and his 3-point linear regression promoting vitamin D?
Marie-France Etchegoin is also a journalist, mainly working on criminal affairs, she portrayed the Bettencourt family. She also explored conspiracy theories around Freemasons. But what makes her relevant for this book is her work on the city of Marseille, “a city tormented by power and crime”.
Some comments were provided by Mag R-C, a very good friend of mine, I really appreciate her. She happens to also be Didier Raoult’s daughter, one does not choose his family…
Throughout the book, Raoult’s personal and scientific life are described based on his views, and to be fair, the book’s authors generally didn’t simply take his word on everything. They did a pretty good job checking what he says, showing how Didier makes things look better than they are. Of course, they could have cross-checked what he said with other sources, go deeper and find some other narratives, especially less macho views, like having a women’s side narrative of this family too. We brought in some elements to read the story differently here.
The journalist authors, like most people, didn’t get the flaws in Didier Raoult’s studies. So it sounds to them like an open scientific debate. Their main angle was a political one, and while they do fall for Raoult’s crusade against an alleged conspiracy by Gilead (the maker of remdesivir), they completely miss out Raoult’s own conflicts. Other scientists explained why Raoult’s papers are worth nothing, simply because they are published in journals controlled by constantly self-quoting IHU members, all to game the impact factor and the French SIGAPS point system, according to which public research funds are distributed.
The authors at least did not miss Raoult’s political ties, and his cunning and calculative way of being friends with every political side, conservatives and liberals, far-right and socialists. Raoult used his political networks to maintain his privileges… And they didn’t miss how the French government and the French sanitary authorities did not react against Raoult’s illegal activities – the support came from all sides and from the very top, including from the President Emmanuel Macron himself.
The Young Rebel
This book starts with Didier Raoult as a child, in Senegal where he was born, and we can’t actually verify everything he says but at least we can doubt everything is true. According to him, he had an antelope as a pet and spent time running around with that lovely companion… Didier admires his father André Raoult, a military doctor in the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. We discover André’s early work in his “anthropological mission of indigenous populations, nutrition and food” where correlation between “intelligence” and “white blood” is tested and people are classified according to the 139 studied “ethnicities”.
His mother, Francine Le Gendre, is not considered with the same admiration. Married in 1942, she had 6 children with André in 10 years. Mag comments that despite the fact that Raoult sometimes presented himself as an only child (here, here and here), he was the last of 6 legitimate children.
Soon after, André left his wife alone in Marseille, while inventing “superamine” food complementation in Algeria. The book depicts superamine as a wonderful success. Didier also recalls André’s fight against Nestlé : water is not always clean in Africa, and using dried milk might be dangerous. What he forgot to mention, and which does not appear in this book, is the superamine’s recipe : one has to add water to the preparation… and it turned out to be a big industrial, economical and public health failure. Mag’s comment: Another family legend that sucks …
Despite Didier’s mother working as a nurse until the age of 85, while managing her family alone without any pension after her husband left (without a divorce, she wasn’t entitled), he decided to disclose some of her personal correspondence with the famous French writer Henry de Montherlant. This author, despite being called “enemy of women”, once fell in love with one. And yes, Francine was this woman. Would Didier disclose her personal correspondence if his mother’s lover was the local butcher, and not a famous writer ?
Mag comments in this regard: in this book it’s Raoult’s family legend that Montherlant broke off the engagement himself, falsely claiming he had syphilis. Do you really believe my hard-working grandmother, a good nurse, wouldn’t have noticed the cutaneous signs and the evidence showing that he really did get syphilis from his trip in Egypt ? Really ? When you listen to her letters, Francine was confident he actually had syphilis, and wasn’t fooled, so she kicked him out.
Didier’s self-mythology starts with a little embellishment… Two years are missing in his life. In his words, aged 17 (or 18 maybe ?), he will “sail on the seas”, sounding like an adventurous pirate. The “sailing” was actually on an elegant cruise liner, with Didier working as a deck seaman during a few months. Mag comments: He actually asked his mother for money by wire transfer to return to France.
Despite what is said in the book, this claim is not supported by any actual test, and while Didier says that IQ is dropping in time, his own IQ seems to be steadily rising. He often told his family this same story, but it started with a lower IQ number (130) back in the earlier days according to some family members. Did Didier gain 10 IQ points each time he told someone that story? He also claims to have been an anarchist in May 68. He was a bad pupil, changed schools a few times and had bad marks… André even had to write letters to protect his son from being dismissed from the high school…
But Didier will soon forget the revolution and become a long-haired and tall (self-declared 1.9m) DJ wearing chains in 1969. Mag’s comment: Not sure about his size though, seems it inflated with time like the IQ story…
The rebel will start studying medicine because it’s the only university degree his father André agrees to pay. His speciality will become the neglected infectious diseases, since he achieved a very bad ranking in his internship. Didier claims this passion comes from his mother’s father, Paul-Louis Le Gendre, who worked in that field and published many papers. Mag’s comment: Le Gendre, that’s the guy who told his daughter Francine medicine wasn’t for women, right?
Friends in politics and comrades in arms
The aspiring doctor ends up in the Houphouët-Boigny hospital in Marseille, where he will study Mediterranean spotted fever. Of course, Didier will revolutionize even this relatively mild infectious disease, by detecting a first fatal case among 40 cases, then finding 6 other fatal cases. He is called “mad” by experts, but manages to publish those cases in an “exotic diseases society”’s journal.
As a student, and in his early career, Didier will make some political friends. On the left, Michèle Rubirola, she will become Marseille mayor in 2020 for the Left/Green party, and will even ask for a Marseille “scientific council” with Didier Raoult, in order to oppose Macron’s official scientific council – that despite Rubirola also calling Raoult “a macho”. And of course Yolande Obadia, the current IHU president – as a student, she advocated the right for abortion when it was still forbidden in France. On the right of the political spectrum, Raoult befriended Maurice Toga (right-wing MP, president of the University of Marseille in 1989) and the young Renaud Muselier (considered as Toga’s spiritual son), who then became president of Marseille’s regional council, Provence Alpes Côte d’Azur. Muselier also very actively promoted hydroxychloroquine and attacked medical authorities like the Agence Nationale de Sécurité du Médicament.
The 28 year old Didier will find love in the person of Natacha Caïn, then 22 years old. At that time, he was already married with wife and daughter, and acted as Natacha’s internship director. She will become a psychiatrist. Both will travel to the U.S.A. where Didier will get a N.I.H. position and Natacha will test MDMA on monkeys in the Walters Reed Army Medical Center. But one year later, in 1987, both returned to Marseille. Toga will help Raoult get a professor position two years later. That is at least what the book said. Mag’s comment: Dates are wrong, it was in 1992 or 1993, and he was rejected the first time.
Didier was close to the mayor of Marseille at the time, Robert Vigouroux, who was also a neurosurgeon. Raoult then often claimed that the restoration of the city’s beaches during Vigouroux’s mandate were in fact his own idea.
He will create around himself a whole “commando”, talking about research like a general at war. He will sequence many pathogens, giving patriotic names to everything he finds, like districts from Marseille : Massiliasis, Quartiersnordsis, Timonensis, Conceptionnensis… His army were:
- Michel Drancourt, his biggest fan Didier met already at Houphouët in 1984, who names his findings after his boss (Raoultella…),
- Philippe Brouqui, who co-authored one of Raoult’s first books,
- Philippe Parola, who is also an army reservist for the famous “Légion étrangère” and served as a medical doctor for the army in Bosnia, Kosovo, Ivory Coast and Tchad.
- Bernard Davoust, general of the French Army Health Services, will be Didier’s companion in Guyana, Senegal, Congo, Rwanda…
- Eric Chabrière, biochemist and army reserve captain, will join in later.
Raoult began to publish a lot of research papers, fascinated by the “publish or perish” logic and obsessed by the Science Citation Index. Once elected as president of the Aix-Marseille University, he will subscribe to the Institute for Scientific Information, a bibliography database which includes the Science Citation Index. In 1997 Raoult used that tool to flatter his friend and famous immunologist, Claude Griscelli (closely associated with the right-wing president Jacques Chirac), and Claude Allègre, a geochemist and left-wing minister of education and research: both achieved a pretty high ranking with such a tool. Griscelli will later get Raoult the Officier de la Légion d’honneur and Commandeur de l’Ordre du mérite distinctions in 2011 and 2015.
Raoult also started writing opinion letters in the right-wing newspaper “Le Figaro”, pleasing “Jacques Chirac’s friends association” so much with his economically liberal views that he will be asked to write the right-wing Rally for the Republic’s program on the university reform. He will work with Valérie Pécresse, who ten years later became minister of research and education.
The bloated Ego
Raoult is a weight lifter, Mag says he had barbells everywhere. In the book, Raoult claims he can still lift 140 kilograms on the bench press. True or not, he certainly is a narcissist. Mag’s comment: He was fascinated by all the busts at the Académie Nationale de Médecine in Paris and also wanted one…
There are also white colonnades, a leopard armchair, and even an imperial eagle statue in the garden… But also a lot of kitsch decorations and unmatched objects like an old pizza oven next to it…
Of course Didier Raoult was always a hero who saved lives. In the book, he tells a story of how during the Rwanda genocide he jumped on a plane, and saved thousands of lives by detecting typhus and administrating doxycycline. Later he will also save from Q-fever Briançon, a commune in the Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, by delivering hydroxychloroquine. After having discovered the giant Mimivirus in 2011, Raoult will get his IHU institute from France’s president Nicolas Sarkozy.
Prior to that, there was a research fraud affair with the American Society of Microbiology in 2006, which banned Raoult from submitting papers in their journals for a year. “A mistake”, Raoult says. And only those who do nothing never make mistakes.
Speaking of mistakes: Didier Raoult still denies the problem of antibiotic resistance. He discussed this in many letters to editors quoting “Matrix” or “Shadoks” (a French cartoon), while promoting massive use of antibiotics…
At around that time, Didier started criticizing “big pharma”, while promoting Ivermectin, a treatment against scabies disease. Raoult wanted to use ivermectin against lice, insisting that Merck and other big pharma aren’t interested in seeking an approval since ivermectin is a generic drug. The book, just like Raoult’s relevant research papers, forgets to mention that in 2014 he co-founded the IHU startup Arthrobac Pharma to treat lice with ivermectin (as commented on PubPeer). Chabriere now advocates ivermectin against Covid-19.
On March 27th, 2018, the health minister Agnès Buzyn was absent from Raoult’s inauguration as IHU’s scientific director. Frédérique Vidal, minister of research, wasn’t there either. Only local politicians and close friends Martine Vassal (president of Aix-Marseille-Provence Metropolis), Jean-Claude Gaudin and Renaud Muselier were present to celebrate Raoult. Why ?
From 2011 to 2018, a lot of things happened :
2013 : Conflicts with Marseille hospitals AP-HM and national organisms like INSERM and CNRS block the IHU construction, and Raoult has to force things, even threatening with a “SIGAPS points strike”, saying that his SIGAPS points allow AP-HM to earn between 7 and 8 million euro a year. This is because French research is evaluated by a tool called “SIGAPS”, which gives points to each institute depending on the number of publications, and the impact factor of the journal in which it is published. IHU professors are often editors in journals that publish mainly IHU work, like in the New Microbes New Infections journal in which Raoult’s name is on 32% of all publications. To raise the impact factor of those journals, a lot of self-quoting is mandatory of course. This paper mill system generates a lot of “SIGAPS” points, which in turn help the hospital structure “AP-HM” to get a lot of public money. This money is then redistributed to the different research structures from the AP-HM, although we don’t know how much funding the IHU exactly receives…
France’s research minister at that time, Geneviève Fioraso, resolved the conflict by taking sides with Raoult.
2016 : Fioraso and and Raoult’s friend Philippe Douste-Blazy (Minister of Health during the Mediator scandal) join the IHU administrator board, the institute starts its activities. In 2017, Raoult supports Douste-Blazy’s candidacy for WHO leadership (Douste-Blazy was already chairman of the WHO’s UNITAID Executive Board and UN Under-Secretary-General), that despite Raoult’s being a harsh critic of the World Health Organisation (WHO), calling it a “pyromaniac” institution which issues alarms for fake threats to please the vaccine and pharma industries… Later, Douste-Blazy will become a hydroxychloroquine enthusiast supporting Raoult during the COVID-19 pandemic…
IHU’s partner, the Institut pour la Recherche et le Développement (IRD) is led by Yolande Obadia’s husband Jean-Claude Moatti, who also led a research team, SESTIM, in IHU before – with CNRS, INSERM, and the French Army’s Health Service. Moatti later endorsed Raoult’s hydroxychloroquine-azithromycin method for COVID-19 in The Lancet where Moatti failed to declare his COI…The IRD-IHU collaboration is presently at the centre of a corruption affair, Raoult’s own office was raided.
2018 : Yves Lévy, INSERM director, changed the IHU status from foundation to “group of public interest”, which meant less private funding possibilities and more oversight. Besides, IHU had lost CNRS and INSERM labels, which are attributed after evaluating the candidate’s performance and behaviour. Both were not good enough. Two other oversight bodies, IGAS and CHSCT, had noticed misconducts like sexual harassment by a Raoult protege or abuse of power by Raoult himself. Research evaluation by HCERES was also very negative, pointing out that some publications were only a collection of bacteria without any scientific benefit.
Sanofi used to fund the IHU with 50 000 € but ended that collaboration in 2015. Hitachi still maintains a partnership with IHU. IHU contains 8 start-ups, funding the institute with 5% of their capital, which means 500 000 € income every year. Chabrière is managing the start-up part. Raoult is a founding member of five of those start-ups, even though he always declares to have no conflicts of interests whatsoever, in all of his papers. Gene & Green TK is Chabrière’s neurotoxic decontamination start-up, Biosqual uses squalamin as an antiseptic agent, Pocramé (abbreviation for “point of care Raoult méditerranée”) produces and sells diagnostic devices (used during the pandemic, at least there Raoult admitted there might be a conflict of interest)…
Raoult’s power was crumbling, his reputation in tatters or even non-existent, but then the Covid-19 pandemic arrived.
The Pandemic begins
On January 21st, 2020, Raoult decides to use his IHU’s YouTube channel to “inform” about the novel coronavirus in China. He claims there is no real danger and denounces the WHO, which is “starting to create a panic” because of 3 deaths in China, less than what Push-scooters cause (according to him)… This is a major change compared to his 2003 analysis about bioterrorism, where he also warned about emerging infectious diseases with aerosol transmission.The next day, minister of health Agnès Buzyn will also insist that the risk is very low.
One thing kept puzzling me, but apparently not the book’s authors. Why did Raoult buy so much material in January 2020, while claiming WHO was overreacting ? As seen in the New York Times :
“By the standards of molecular biology, real-time polymerase chain reaction, the technology most commonly used to test for SARS-CoV-2, is not extravagantly complex. But it depends upon collection swabs, thermocycling machines, chemical reagents and nucleotide probes and primers, and if any one of these components is in insufficient supply, the tests cannot be run. Beginning in January, when the SARS-CoV-2 genome was first published, the IHU bought or borrowed as much of all these as possible, spending a half million euros on new machines alone. Whatever Raoult’s reservations about the virus, he did not intend to miss the opportunity to study it, and perhaps to win the race to find a treatment.”
Raoult was apparently playing once again for all sides.
On February 11th, 2020, WHO named this disease Covid-19, and one month later declared a pandemic. Raoult was still claiming that all infectious diseases are seasonal, and that the pandemic will naturally fade away after the spring. He reminds all the WHO “false alerts”, at least according to him: Bovine spongiform encephalopathy (only 177 deaths in UK and 27 in France), Chikungunya (0 deaths in France), Ebola (every 5 years they try to scare us with that), H5N1 avian flu (which was mainly avian, and Raoult’s book explaining that there was no real risk sold at only 2000 exemplaries while other more “alarmist” French authors sold over 150 000…). According to Raoult, the smartest thing that had been said was by president Trump : “By April, it will miraculously be gone”.
But he sure was not disinterested in Covid-19. On January 31st, 2020, French expats living in Hubei province were sent back home to France and put in quarantine in the city of Carry-le-Rouet, near Marseille. Raoult was not invited. But he will send his boys with nasal swabs to test the passengers. General Director of Health (Directeur Général de la Santé) Jérôme Salomon, who is the health minister’s first assistant, stopped Raoult with his “bureaucracy”,as the book writes. In reality, it was the ethics commission since applying nasal swabs that are not part of standard care was at that time considered as research and needed an ethical approval. Some insist that ethical approvals are not just “bureaucracy”, especially considering other ethical issues commented on PubPeer regarding Raoult’s research.
Interestingly, Jérôme Salomon is a former student of Raoult’s once adversary and now best friend Christian Perronne, Salomon even published some papers with Perronne about Chronic Lyme Disease and long-term antibiotics treatment. A very good book about this issue has been written by professor Eric Caumes.
Salomon has another strange passion: mindfulness. He even opens seminars about mindfulness, a debunked multimillion industry. In 2018, a mindfulness universitary course opened in Montpellier, and issued the first doctorate to the clinician Denis Agret, who turned out to be one of the most active French antivax misinformers during the pandemic. Meanwhile, the French minister of education Jean-Michel Blanquer wants mindfulness to be taught in nation’s schools.
A second humiliation for Raoult will be his exclusion from the Charles de Gaulle aircraft carrier : as for the expats from Hubei, when the virus will spread across the ships crew, Raoult will try to test them but he won’t be selected for that task.
Fin de Partie!
On February 25th, 2020, Raoult announced his famous Covid-19 cure : chloroquine, “fin de partie!”. He quotes two sources : in vitro results by Zhong et al 2020 and Gao et al 2020, a “study” on 100 patients in Wuhan, with no real data and a strange title: “Breakthrough: Chloroquine phosphate has shown apparent efficacy in treatment of COVID-19 associated pneumonia in clinical studies”.
Raoult’s student, Yanis Roussel, was filming and asking questions. Yanis has a MSc degree in European politics, his PhD is now on “history of medicine”, with his office directly next to Raoult’s. He is also a candidate at local elections, for president Macron’s party LREM, on Yvon Berland’s list. Berland used to be a right-wing politician, closely connected to the former president Jacques Chirac, and previously helped Raoult to become the president of Aix Marseille University (1994-1999).
The book did not mention that Berland was also already supporting Didier Raoult’s IHU project in 2011, together with André Syrota, INSERM president at that time. Syrota was a member of the “Marescaux Commission” under president Sarkozy. This triggered a strong opposition from the left-wing collective “Sauvons l’Université”, who were questioning the consequences of Sarkozy’s reform, especially because it matched what big pharmaceutical companies like Sanofi wanted, and giving them too much power over academic and research liberty.
Yet inside IHU, even one of Raoult’s ardent loyalists, La Scola, was doubting the efficacy of chloroquine, especially because in vitro is not in vivo. Drancourt supported Didier’s position though, explaining that Raoult already ate a lot of chloroquine himself in Africa, and that he used it successfully against Q fever and Whipple disease. Parola, who used to be a physician for the soldiers of the Foreign Legion division of the French army, reminded that chloroquine was free for sale and even used to commit suicide, “one box and it’s over”.
Raoult doesn’t listen. Despite being called “fake news” by Le Monde journal, he says
When Martin Hirsch, director of Paris hospitals, says that all the experts he asked confirmed “it works in a test tube, but was never confirmed on a living being”, Raoult tells people to check Zhong’s Wikipedia page and compare it with Hirsch’s page.
On March 5th, 2020, Raoult went to Paris and joined president Macron’s scientific council on March 12th. He will leave it soon after. Macron was very eager to meet Raoult, especially because he was advised to invite him first by Renaud Muselier, Jean-François Delfraissy (who is board member of IHU scientific council and president of Macron’s scientific council) and even by Thierry Coulhon, Macron’s “Mister Research” during the election campaign, who in turn was in Valérie Pécresse’s team when she was minister of research under president Sarkozy. Coulhon is the man who negotiated rewards and positions for student syndicate representatives if they opposed social movements during Macron’s presidency, as revealed by the MacronLeaks. Recently, Macron made a campaign, with around a 14M views video with young YouTubers McFly and Carlito, in which he even invited them to listen to grindcore metal in his garden. The student syndicate was being financially rewarded for preparing the 2022 presidential election.
Despite everything, Raoult is bothered that Macron’s scientific council is led by Delfraissy, who is a good friend of the French minister of health Agnès Buzyn’s husband Yves Lévy, director of INSERM which unlabeled his IHU two years earlier. Raoult also disapproves of the presence of the infectious disease researcher Yazdan Yazdanpanah.
As the pandemic hit France, Buzyn launched “REACTing”, an INSERM study coordinated by Yazdanpanah, aiming to test which drugs could be efficient against Covid-19. 8 out of 10 members of Macron’s scientific council are also involved. Just after launching REACTing, Buzyn decided to leave and replace a candidate for local mayor elections in Paris, Benjamin Griveaux, who was dismissed because of a sextape. Olivier Véran is now minister of health. Véran was previously acting as deputy in the team of Geneviève Fioraso (former Health Minister who helped Raoult build IHU and then joined its board). According to the authors of this book,
Previously, Yazdanpanah’s candidature as Delfraissy’s successor for the HIV research agency had been rejected because of too many conflicts of interests with the pharma industry. But he remained on Macron’s scientific council [earlier article version misstated this, my fault, -LS]. Other important people were present at the March 5th 2020 council meeting: David Loew, director of Sanofi (which selling Plaquénil aka Hydroxychloroquine), and Michel Joly, director of the French branch of Gilead (which produces Remdesivir). .According to Raoult, “Gilead financed half of the infectious disease specialists in France”, including of course Yazdanpanah, who even was on Gilead’s advisory board from 2014 to 2016. The French Haut Conseil de Santé Publique (High Council for Public Health) has just recommended Remdesivir for late stages of Covid-19 at that time, but according to Raoult, antivirals are useless because at late stages, there is no virus present anymore.
Another person present at the council meeting was Arnaud Fontanet, an epidemiologist who quoted the head of the Hong Kong medicine faculty, Gabriel Leung, and the Imperial College London epidemiologist Neil Ferguson. Didier Raoult considered both as too alarmist and contested their mathématical projections, and yet he himself used to reject maths since high school.
In front of the president Macron, Raoult answers to Fontanet: “I’m not doing astrology”.
Above the Law
Back in Marseille, Raoult already started his study on 26 patients, while president Macron was going to the theater, inviting the French people not to be scared and to have fun despite the virus, and organizing mayor elections on March 15th, 2020. The next day, the French were awaiting Macron’s speech planned in the evening, but Didier Raoult was faster: he announced the Gautret et al IJAA 2020 results in a video on YouTube that went viral. Interestingly, that day, he switched from “chloroquine” to “hydroxychloroquine”… Plaquénil is immediately sold out in French pharmacies, and the madness begins in France, even among politicians.
Les Républicains right-wing politicians in Marseille are among the first sars-cov-2 clusters : Guy Tessier and Valérie Boyer are even called the “marseille pangolins”. Among Martine Vassal’s (Republican candidate) staff, the virus will spread quickly. Even Raoult’s political patron Berland, candidate for Macron’s “La République en Marche”, will test positive. All of them will promote hydroxychloroquine. Les Républicains candidates like Yves Moraine or Christian Estrosi make videos taking hydroxychloroquine and surviving Covid-19. Raoult’s long-term friend Muselier sends 4 family members, 8 members of his staff and 25 of the region office, who all tested positive, to IHU. And of course everyone survives, even Muselier’s 92 year-old grandmother, so all Les Républicains start advertising for IHU. In Paris, an infectious disease MD, Alexandre Bleibtreu, will first call Raoult’s work “bullshit”, but starts endorsing hydroxychloroquine 2 weeks later. And many other MDs seem to follow this path less publicly, prescribing hydroxychloroquine.
REACTing is soon forced to include hydroxychloroquine in the WHO’s Discovery clinical trial. But Raoult is still not satisfied, since the protocol gives it at late stages, and he wants hydroxychloroquine to be given early. On March 21st 2020, Minister of Health Véran authorizes hydroxychloroquine in compassionate use for severe hospitalised cases. It will be applied by a legal decree on March 26th. Raoult is still unhappy because the decree still forbids “his protocol” of early treatment.
Since this part is very important, here is an exact translation from the book:
“The same day, on March 21st, here is Olivier Véran who also ends up dropping the bombshell: he authorizes the use of the controversial molecule for the treatment of Covid-19 “by collegial decision of the doctors and under strict supervision” and in the event of “severe and hospitable forms”. The minister’s decision is to take effect on March 26th after the promulgation of a decree. But Raoult already sees red. As with Discovery, he won only part of the victory. “Severe forms” means that he will not be able to administer “his” protocol at the IHU, at the first signs of illness. He picks up his phone and calls the Elysee. “We must take care of Raoult”, said the president to Olivier Véran. The minister reassures the professor: the French administration will not check too much to whom the famous treatment will be administered.”
This is actually a legally complex issue, and depends on how the decree is read and understood. The decree says :
Notwithstanding Article L. 5121-8 of the Public Health Code, hydroxychloroquine and the lopinavir / ritonavir combination may be prescribed, dispensed and administered under the responsibility of a physician to patients affected by covid-19 , in the health establishments which take care of them, as well as, for the continuation of their treatment if their condition allows it and on authorization of the initial prescriber, at home. These prescriptions come into effect, after collegial decision, in compliance with the recommendations of the High Council for Public Health and, in particular, the indication for patients with oxygen-requiring pneumonia or organ failure.
The recommendations of the High Council for Public Health are :
a) In the case of COVID-19 patients with suspected symptomatic pauci and pneumonia without sign of severity and without risk factors of severe form;
Absence of treatment with an expected antiviral effect
b) In patients with pneumonia diagnosed with clinical signs of lower respiratory infection, suspected or documented with SARS-CoV-2 without signs of severity, not requiring oxygen and with risk factors of severe form;
Absence of treatment with an expected antiviral effect
c) In patients with oxygen-requiring pneumonia [low oxygen flow];
Treatment discussion depending on following signs :
- oxygen dependance > 3L /min
- respiratory frequency > 24 cycles / min
- spO2 < 90% in ambient air
- PaO2 < 70 mm Hg
- attention disorders
- Systolic Arterial Pressure < 100 mm Hg
- Arterial Lactate > 2 mmol / L
- CT scan or radiography with bilateral anomalies
Treatments are lopinavir / ritonavir or hydroxychloroquine. They should be discussed collegially.
d) In patients with pneumonia with acute respiratory failure (≥ 6l O2 min-1) or with organ failure;
Remdesivir with organ failure, lopinavir/ritonavir or hydroxychloroquine without organ failure.
e) In the event of infection with the SARS-CoV-2 virus with secondary aggravation and absence of viral excretion (inflammatory form).
Intensive care with corticosteroids, no antiviral treatment in the absence of a positive RT-PCR test.
Raoult will not even wait for the decree, he announces on March 22nd that patients can be treated with hydroxychloroquine at early stages directly once tested positive at his IHU. On March 27th, he publishes a second study on 80 patients (Gautret et al TMID 2020), without any control group at all anymore… Chabrière goes on TV to promote the treatment, calling the IHU “Fort Vauban of infectious diseases”.
Raoult set up mass testing at IHU, while he was promoting hydroxychloroquine, waiting lines grew outside of the institute. The regional health agency tried to counter on March 22nd: straight after Raoult’s chloroquine campaign, they issued a “Stay at home” message on social networks and media. While French biologists from research institutes or even veterinary labs struggled with authorisations and bureaucracy to be allowed to run Covid-19 tests, and never got any replies, Raoult’s boys Pierre-Edouard Fournier and Philippe Colson collected PCR equipment gifts and began mass-testing. La Scola was now finally convinced that hydroxychloroquine/azithromycin therapy works, while Chabrière was preparing the exact doses. The whole team is presented in a YouTube video on March 31st.
A phenomenon of “Raoultmania” is triggered. Investors like Bernard Arnault (one of world’s richest men, owner of LVMH) started to buy any equipment Raoult asked for: gloves, lab coats… (LVMH also helped the magical secret cure in Pasteur Lille). Didier Raoult will take care of any V.I.P. he can find who tested positive for Covid-19: Constance Benque (responsible for media communication at Lagardère group), Claude Perdriel, 94 years old and creator of L’obs magazine, philosopher Bernard-Henri Lévy, Laeticia Halliday (wife of the famous french singer Johnny Halliday), Michel Polnareff (musician), Mylène Demongeot (actress), Fabrice Luchini (actor who wants to play Raoult in a biopic)…
In Marseille, a fan gets a Raoult portrait as a tattoo, football fans hang a supportive banner on IHU, and a petition is started to draw a portrait of Raoult on a famous big wall on the seaside ledge where once Zinedine Zidane was portrayed. Merchandising products like candles, t-shirts, beer, etc are sold. Facebook groups are created with over 370 000 members in a few days, and Didier Raoult also creates his Twitter account and instantly gets thousands of followers.
Politicians from Les Républicains party continue promoting Raoult, including the former president Nicolas Sarkozy, his former research minister Valérie Pécresse, Renaud Muselier, Christian Estrosi and his wife Laure Tenoudji (diarist at “Télématin” TV show)… But also left-wing former presidential candidate Ségolène Royal or far-right Marine Le Pen and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan support Raoult. Foreign presidents like Macky Sall of Senegal also promote hydroxychloroquine… and soon even Donald Trump in the USA !
A famous French philosopher, Michel Onfray, starts promoting Raoult’s work, writing passionately about him. Onfray’s position sounds conspirationist, Didier is the “hero” against lab “mercenaries” who prefer “having people die” to “make money”… Far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon will also support Raoult on a public tribune. Religious far-right politician Philippe de Villiers also defends Raoult against “Big Pharma, Big Data and Big Finance”.
On March 25th, Didier Raoult becomes France’s second favorite personality and almost ⅔ of the population demands hydroxychloroquine according to an official institute poll from Odoxa.
On April 9th, 2020, president Macron visits Raoult at his IHU in Marseille. The host compliments Macron and talks about “two high-IQ brains that rub against each other”. His main regret is that Macron did not come with his helicopter, but only with a limo. Instead, president Macron came with a friend: Jean-François Delfraissy, who also happens to be president of the National Consultative Ethics Committee. Raoult will attack Delfraissy that he didn’t even answer when veterinary laboratories offered to perform PCR tests, and also for the ethics approval Raoult did not get for testing of the expats from Hubei…
When Raoult shows his 1061 patients study, Delfraissy asks him why he didn’t perform a normally randomized clinical trial, and why …Raoult changes the subject and says “85% of covid deaths are people aged 65 and more”. Delfraissy then asks: “and in your study, how many are older than 65 ?”. Again Raoult doesn’t answer and changes the subject again: “that’s not an issue, we also performed a study showing that younger children are not infected”. Delfraissy retorted with “your samples were too small to be statistically relevant…”.
Macron had multiple reasons to meet Raoult. First he had already been overwhelmed by the “yellow vest” movement, and since Raoult was so popular, he wanted to meet him in person. Macron’s wife Brigitte also encouraged him. Her very good friend Sabrina Roubache has had Covid-19 because her husband Jean-Philippe Agresti was in Martine Vassal’s Les Républicains team, which made one of the first Covid-19 clusters in Marseille. While Roubache was hospitalized at IHU, Brigitte Macron called her every day.
The smaller the sample, the higher the significance
The book does not detail the scientific criticisms of Raoult’s studies, and follows the wrong paradigm Raoult imposed on everyone: hydroxychloroquine can either work or do nothing, and its side effects are very rare. The book’s authors merely mention some discussions about “methodology” or “data manipulation”, and the torsade de pointe risk of heart failures with regard to chloroquine.
In April 2020, the WHO Discovery clinical trial has been postponed and the UK trial Recovery just started, and yet on May 27th 2020 minister Véran halted all hydroxychloroquine administration for Covid-19 patients. Why?.
The reason was the fraudulent study by Sapan Desai, Mehra et al 2020, published and then retracted in The Lancet. The authors claimed the drug was killing the patients, based on entirely fabricated datasets of thousands of hospitals all over the world. Initially a setback, the Lancetgate fraud affair became the biggest boon to Raoult, his chloroquine cult and his million-strong followship of conspiracy theorists.
Didier Raoult’s reaction ? “big data won’t change what we have seen with our eyes”. But the whole fake data Lancetgate story explodes. In France, former health minister Douste-Blazy starts criticizing the study, making mistakes and pushing conspiracy theories like the Chatham House conference in London, but who cares ? Didier Raoult is regularly invited on main TV channels like LCI or BFMTV. If Lancetgate was a fraud, that must mean Raoult is right.
June 5th, 2020, Recovery clinical trial results are announced and then published (Hornby et al 2020), but it’s too late, hydroxychloroquine crusaders can’t be convinced of its inefficacy anymore. On June 24th 2020, Didier Raoult was questioned in a parliamentary inquiry. The book does not mention the fact that he refused to talk in presence of other scientists. And it does not mention that he said “I never recommended hydroxychloroquine”, while having published a paper saying “we therefore recommend that COVID-19 patients be treated with hydroxychloroquine and azithromycin to cure their infection and to limit the transmission to other people”. Seems like it is not considered as a lie.
After some flattering by Eric Ciotti (Les Républicains deputy), center politician Philippe Berta (Mouvement Démocratique, MODEM) asked some questions about the Gautret et al. 2020 study : “I know your scientific work. You knew this pseudo-clinical-trial doesn’t meet any scientific standards. Why didn’t you make a normal clinical trial?” Didier Raoult simply answered “I feel sorry you don’t like my study, I do like it very much”.
Raoult returns home to Marseille and announces the end of the pandemic, there won’t be a second wave, or so he reassures. He invites Christian Perronne on his boat. They have a common enemy : SPILF (Société de Pathologies Infectieuses de Langue Française) a french infectious disease society that decided to counter Perronne’s official recommendations on Lyme disease in France, and which sued Didier Raoult.
It became quiet around Raoult by the end of summer 2020, except when a fake profile tricked a journalist into believing Raoult would leave France for China. But the second wave was coming. It was already detected in Marseille’s wastewater on July 23rd. Masks become mandatory again on August 25th, and an 11 p.m. curfew is decided. Republican politicans and heads of Marseille governments, Martine Vassal and Michèle Rubirola, organize a joint meeting at IHU to protest against these measures.
Raoult still denies the situation, comparing the 800 000 dead worldwide so far to the 5 million of spanish flu, and comparing the lower number of deaths in Marseille with the high numbers in Paris. Rubirola decided to retire as mayor of Marseille, leaving her position to Benoît Payan. Who will oppose the national decision from September 23rd to consider Marseille region as a highest alert zone. Renaud Muselier will join him, calling it a “collective punishment”, which he doesn’t accept. Eric Chabrière even says he has a mole in Olivier Véran’s ministry, who allegedly informed him the official epidemic numbers were faked.
Riding the waves
On October 2nd, 2020, Donald Trump announced he has Covid-19. But he won’t take hydroxychloroquine. Philosopher Michel Onfray also didn’t want hydroxychloroquine when he had Covid-19 a few days before Christmas. He even harshly criticizes Raoult and recalls all the mistakes Raoult had made, like claiming there won’t be a second wave… Most politicians, company leaders, and VIPs in general abandoned the hydroxychloroquine boat. Some even criticize the fact that president Macron still calls Raoult on the phone. People don’t give Raoult as much attention as he once had, and his study about hookah spreading the disease even became a running joke. Still, Yanis Roussel made an entire presentation at IHU about it.
Raoult courts his hardcore fans, like the CNRS sociologist Laurent Mucchielli, while Eric Chabrière leads an agressive verbal war on social networks, against NoFakeMed, Olivier Véran, Damien Barraud, Pierre Tattevin (director of SPILF), Yazdan Yazdanpanah, Nathan Peiffer-Smadja, Karine Lacombe, Patrick Cohen (a journalist who criticized Didier Raoult), Christian Lehmann (the clinician who uncovered how Raoult’s treatment was billed for over 1200€ for each patient thanks to a “daily hospitalisation pass”… Chabriere also promotes French conspiracy theories like Hold-up (a covidiot documentary) and conspiracy theorists like Louis Fouché, Fabrice Di Vizio, Xavier Azalbert (France Soir).
Raoult meanwhile publishes a book called “War Diaries”, transcribing his weekly videos on YouTube… Chloroquine is generally not used anymore as Covid-19 medicine in most of the world, but some politicians still support Raoult. Martine Vassal hands Raoult a “great departmental prize” for “all his discoveries”. On March, 31st, 2021, president Macky Sall from Senegal hands him the distinction of “Commander in the National Order of the Lion”. In this country, the authors comment, people still love Raoult while France is turning its back to him. Worse, his enemies received the French Legion of Honor distinctions.
The book concludes with one of Didier Raoult’s favorite expressions from Roman Antiquity :
As a conclusion, there is one thing I want to add. Mag actually knows how to ride a bicycle. Her father lied.