When infectious disease doctors are more famous than footballers, you know an epidemic is serious

Professors of medicine, writes Dalrymple,

don’t usually look as if they were the drummer of a 1960s rock band just emerged from drug rehabilitation for the 17th time. That is how Didier Raoult, elevated to the rank of the most famous infectious disease doctor, looks. If you type Didier in your search engine, up comes Raoult, before even the soccer player, Drogba.


has a jaundiced view of mathematical modelling of epidemics, because they have so often in the past been so wildly, and in retrospect so ridiculously, wrong and exaggerated.

He has consistently pleaded during the Chinese flu for a sense of proportion.

At least in terms of mortality, if not in those of clinical horrors, it is by no means unusual (he says): there have been many worse epidemics. It takes bravery to say this publicly now, when no one yet knows where or how the epidemic will end.

Cult founder

Raoult’s view is that the approach to the Wuhan virus

has been wrong. There should have been mass testing and treatment with his drug régime. If that had been done from the start, we should not have been facing an economic and social apocalypse.

While he claims excellent results for his treatment,

most of his peers (not that he recognises any as such) do not believe that he has established his case. His publications on the subject are poor methodologically, and in this context method is all.


Raoult would reply, says Dalrymple,

that his detractors are conventional, plodding, stick-in-the-mud, apparatchik types. His view of the world is that it is full of mediocrities opposing strokes of genius. He is good at ad hominem attacks. He detests the Parisian domination of everything, having pursued his whole career in Marseilles. But the fact that his provincial colleagues do not agree with him somewhat undermines the simple story of the provincial David versus the Parisian Goliath.

Magic potion

Dalrymple says that when he sees pictures of people lining up on the steps of Raoult’s hospital to be first tested and then treated by his method if positive for the China virus, he cannot help but think that the professor has become

a religious leader. His treatment method will survive any demonstration that it doesn’t work. When prophecies fail, they are not abandoned, they are projected once more into the future. If I were seriously ill and likely to die, I would probably want to try Raoult’s régime, faute de mieux.

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