How ignorant can journalists be?


Felix Abt

They are often arrogant, know-it-all and lecturing rather than knowledgeable

In the course of my professional career, I have hired many employees. In doing so, like probably every other manager or entrepreneur, I paid attention to the core competencies required for the respective position: For example, I expected an accountant to be balance sheet savvy, a production manager to be familiar with PPS (production planning and control), or a marketing manager to have very good analytical and communication skills.

I never had the opportunity to hire journalists – thank heaven! – because I never made it to editor-in-chief, let alone publisher. But I imagine that even in the media industry, personnel selection is about skills such as mastering interview techniques, excellent writing skills (and speaking skills in the case of audiovisual media), investigative skills, and a good general education.

But general knowledge seems to be an extremely scarce commodity here. German journalist Oliver Stock, himself an editor-in-chief of a German business magazine, writes in the Swiss Weltwoche:

“Gunpowder, printing, the automobile, and yes: most recently, a completely redesigned vaccine – all these are inventions from Germany that have changed the world.”

Oliver Stock is a German economist and historian, author of several books and blogger. He is one of the most influential journalists in the German-speaking part of Europe and was, among other things, editor-in-chief of the WirtschaftsKurier, whose readers are mainly executives from the German economy. [Screenshot “Weltwoche” from the article by Oliver Stock]

Let’s go in order and let me start with the fact check on gunpowder:

Western history books admit that the Chinese discovered gunpowder in 850 AD and not the German monk Berthold Schwarz in the 14th century. However, their authors claim that the Chinese used this discovery only for fireworks. Those who read Chinese history books know that the Song Dynasty forces used gunpowder devices against their main enemy, the Mongols, as early as 904 AD. These weapons included, for example, the “flying fire” (fei huo), an arrow with a burning tube of gunpowder attached to its shaft.

Who invented letterpress printing: explains, “The printing press, invented in China, revolutionized society there before being further developed in Europe in the 15th century by Johannes Gutenberg and his invention of the Gutenberg Press.”


“By the 9th century, Chinese craftsmen had developed a method of mass-producing books by carving words and pictures into wooden blocks, coloring them, and then pressing paper onto the blocks. Each block consisted of a full page of text and illustrations:” Columbia University, New York

If you read Chinese rather than German history books, you will learn that the first printing press was invented by Bi Sheng, a man who lived in Yingshan, China, in the 10th century during the Song Dynasty, more than four centuries before Gutenberg saw the light of day. The inventions of woodblock printing and movable type enabled the publication of a wide range of texts and the spread of knowledge and education in China and beyond.

Of the four examples Oliver Stock gives, he is right about one: the German Karl Benz was the first to patent a “vehicle with a gas engine,” a truism familiar to any crossword solver.

Did Germany invent a world-changing vaccine?

Stock’s claim that a “new vaccine that changed the world” was also a German invention is merely his own invention. The German company BioNTech and other non-German companies have developed Covid vaccines based on new mRNA technology invented in America. Hundreds of scientists worldwide had been working on mRNA vaccines for decades, long before the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic.

It was Drew Weissman, an American physician-scientist, and Katalin Karikó, a Hungarian-American biochemist, who made the breakthrough with mRNA technology in 2005, a full three years before BionTech was founded!

As the Corona virus began to spread, Weissman quickly realized it was a perfect candidate for an mRNA vaccine.

Two biotech newcomers, Moderna from the U.S. state of Massachusetts, and the German company BioNTech licensed Weissman’s and Karikó’s patents. BioNTech discontinued the latter in 2013, and the company later partnered with U.S. pharmaceutical giant Pfizer on vaccine development.

Though Bill Gates was a strong proponent of the new nRNA vaccines despite the lack of safety data he contradicts Stock’s glorification of such vaccines:

“The current vaccines are not infection blocking; they’re not broad, so when new variants come up you lose protection, and they have very short duration.”

Unlike the United States, or Germany and other Western countries for that matter, China has not used its population as “guinea pigs” for untested mRNA vaccines and has only approved conventional vaccines that use the inactivated virus to stimulate the body’s immune system against the coronavirus. Gates admits that the Chinese approach works better:

“China will have about a third the death rate of rich countries, including the US.”


Four allegations and only one hit: should readers let a journalist with the rank of editor-in-chief get away with this? In any case, such an employee would not survive the probationary period of the employment contract with me!