Debunking Steve Kirsch’s claims about covid vaccine deaths

What motivates a tech millionaire to fight against covid vaccines?

Peter Miller
Microbial Instincts

--

In a 58 page document, tech entrepreneur Steve Kirsch argues there have been over 150,000 covid vaccine deaths in the United States.

If that sounds absurd to you, then feel free to quit reading. It is absurd. This post is mostly a bunch of boring graphs explaining why that’s not possible.

Steve is famous for offering million dollar prizes to anyone who can disprove him. In the middle of this article, I present an argument that should win one of Steve’s prizes. But, I also point out that it won’t win, because the prizes aren’t real — Steve has previously changed the rules of his contests so that they can’t be won.

One famous scientist tried to take Steve up on his million dollar debate offer and Steve refused. In another case, Steve offered to pay a doctor $10,000 to have a debate and then refused to pay out afterwards. More recently, gambler Saar Wilf tried to take Steve up on a million dollar bet debating covid vaccines. Steve said he wouldn’t debate unless he could pick the judges, and he nominated 2 anti-vax judges that already agreed with him. After half a year of negotiations, Steve has still refused any other judges for the debate.

Basically, Steve knows that he can’t win any fair contest. Instead, he refuses any fair offer, and then pretends that no one will debate him.

On the occasions that Steve does hold discussions, he uses a few dishonest tactics to level the playing field. In a video with Yuri Deigin, Steve brought 12 friends to the debate, without warning. In an interview with Al Ozonoff, Steve told Ozonoff that they would be having a private discussion, asked at the last minute if he could record their call, and then posted it on substack, pretending they had planned a debate. Steve has even dodged debate challenges against other conspiracy theorists by demanding he bring his team to the debate. It seems that Steve knows that he can’t win a one on one contest with anyone.

At the end of the article, I talk a bit about the psychology of the anti-vax movement and try to answer a more interesting question: what motivates a multi-millionaire like Steve to make false claims about covid vaccines?

The lie keeps getting bigger

Steve originally claimed that there were 25,000 vaccine deaths, and they were hidden in the CDC’s unclassified deaths category (R00-R99 deaths). This argument was repeatedly discredited by myself, by Avi Bitterman, by @PiercedGeek. It was just an artifact of how deaths get categorized — at any given time, about 25,000 are waiting for classification. Steve admitted he was wrong, and promised to look into it more and fix his statements.

Instead of retracting the claim, Steve moved on to say there are 150,000 vaccine deaths. I’m going to debunk that too. Maybe I’m a glutton for punishment.

The problem with Steve’s claim is that you need some place to hide all those bodies. It’s totally possible that the covid vaccines have some dangerous side effects. It’s possible they’ve killed 100 people. Or 1,000 people. Numbers like that could stay hidden in the data. You’d have to look carefully to prove it.

If the vaccines killed 150,000 people, there would be a surge in excess deaths. If they caused heart attacks, there would be a surge in heart disease deaths.

Let’s start with the over-all picture of excess deaths. We know there’s a pandemic going on, because more people are dying than in a normal year. The US has seen 4 waves of covid deaths:

All cause mortality by week, from CDC data

To make this clearer, we can substract the usual number of deaths and look only at the excess deaths. During the worst weeks of the pandemic, 40% more people were dying than in a regular week back in 2019:

These excess deaths happened while the country was having covid deaths but not while we were vaccinating people. @hjametx made some graphs to show this clearly:

Excess deaths in the US (black line) compared to covid deaths (red) and vaccinations (blue)

Hjametx graphed this for 100 countries. Excess deaths line up with covid deaths just about everywhere. They don’t tend to line up with vaccination rates anywhere. Here are the first 25 countries:

Most countries do not have a surge of deaths while people get vaccinated.

Steve tries to rescue this argument by saying that maybe the vaccine only kills elderly people and the vaccine deaths happened back in December and January, when the oldest people were getting the shots. On page 43 of his document, Steve says:

the death rate is not going to be proportional to doses. The peak death rate will be in January and decline over time since it is based on when the oldest people were vaccinated. Those are the most likely to die. So the excess death curve does not follow the number of vaccine doses delivered because of this (which is why it doesn’t peak in April).

It turns out this argument fails, too, because there are many countries that had no excess deaths, even when old people were getting the shots. Here are 3 of them.

Blue lines are vaccinations, red are covid deaths, black/gray are excess deaths

As we’ll see later, there are many countries like this. It’s true on every island that avoided covid. It’s true in Scandinavia. That’s the simple argument — if the vaccine is deadly, it has to be deadly everywhere. There were no excess deaths in Australia, or New Zealand, or Korea, or Norway. So, the vaccine does not cause mass casualties.

But let’s work out some exact numbers, to make this as clear as possible. Steve says the vaccine mostly kills old people, and that is supported by the data. In the US, possible vaccine deaths are filed in VAERS reports. We currently have almost 8,000 deaths reported. Most of the reported deaths are among the elderly, about half are over the age of 75:

Because these are mostly old and unhealthy people, we don’t actually know if the VAERS deaths are vaccine deaths. Some of these might be vaccine deaths, and some might just be people that died soon after getting a shot, and the vaccine was not to blame.

Here’s an example of a VAERS report — an 89 year old woman who died 5 days after vaccination:

Write-up: Resident in our long term care facility who received first dose of Moderna COVID-19 Vaccine on 12/22/2020, only documented side effect was mild fatigue after receiving. She passed away on 12/27/2020 of natural causes per report. Has previously been in & out of hospice care, resided in nursing home for 9+ years, elderly with dementia. Due to proximity of vaccination we felt we should report the death, even though it is not believed to be related.

So, the VAERS data doesn’t mean there have been 8,000 vaccine deaths in the US, it just means that there have been 8,000 old people who died some time after they got a shot. And that’s not a suspiciously large number, because 8,000 people die every day in America.

If there were 150,000 vaccine deaths, you’d think there would be 150,000 VAERS reports. People would be lining up to complain about their loved ones mysteriously dying.

But Steve thinks that people are just failing to file reports. He claims that VAERS deaths are under-reported by a factor of 40, and it should really be 320,000 reports if people had reported accurately. That seems very unlikely— it means that some people were so cautious that they reported an 89 year old dying from dementia, but there were also 39 other people dying unreported, for every one like that.

The best way to test Steve’s claim is to look at the excess deaths to find all those unreported deaths. Steve and I are in agreement, at least — if the vaccine does kill anyone, it mostly kills elderly people. So the deaths would happen soon after any country starts rolling out the vaccines.

Steve argues for 150,000 vaccine deaths in the US. In a normal year, there are about 3 million US deaths from all causes. That would be a 5% increase in excess mortality if the vaccine deaths were spread out over the full year.

But, it would happen in a shorter period of time. In the US, most VAERS deaths were reported over a span of 3–4 months:

If all the deaths happened over 3 months, that means excess mortality should spike by 20% for those 3 months. (3 months at 20% excess is the same as 1 year at 5%)

In the US, elderly people got vaccinated while the country was having a big spike of covid cases. It would be hard to disentangle deaths from covid and from the vaccine.

How do we resolve this?

We look at countries and states where the pandemic is under control. There are several to choose from. Some countries were hit hard by covid, others made it through the pandemic with no excess deaths:

Excess mortality by country. Red shading is 2020 numbers, Blue is 2021.

We can look for a sign of vaccine deaths in places without covid deaths. A few countries that work are Australia, New Zealand, Norway, Denmark, and South Korea.

Here’s the situation in Australia:

Australia got through the pandemic without any excess deaths:

Deaths went down in 2020, went above the average trend a bit in November, then stayed roughly flat through 2021.

How does this compare to the theoretical picture? If the vaccines were as deadly as Steve thinks, you’d expect a big 20% spike in excess mortality, while they were rolled out:

There is no sign of a 20% increase. There might be a smaller blip in excess deaths there, or that could be some random noise.

I tried summing up the excess deaths in the 3 months before vaccination started and the 3 months after it started. You can download the data I used from here, if you want to check these calculations.

In the 3 months prior to vaccines, excess deaths were running at 5.3%. In the next 3 months, while the elderly are being vaccinated, excess deaths were at 7.8%. The net increase was 2.5% per month, almost 10 times lower than Steve’s math would predict.

The Australian data doesn’t rule out the possibility that the vaccine killed some people. It just shows that claims like 150,000 vaccine deaths in the US are absurd.

I tried looking at other control group countries, to see if the numbers came out the same. If each of these country had a 2.5% increase, that would be good evidence that there are some vaccine deaths, just 10 times less than Steve thinks. But it turns out that’s not true, either.

In Norway, vaccinations began on December 27th. Excess deaths actually went down by 8.25% during the 3 months of vaccinations, compared to the 3 months before.

In Denmark, excess deaths went down by 10%.

In New Zealand, excess deaths went down by 3.6%.

There are several countries that had no excess deaths while vaccinating the elderly. That’s strong evidence that vaccines don’t cause many deaths.

Where do excess deaths come from, besides covid?

On page 43 of his document, Steve claims there are 771,066 excess deaths in America and 600,000 covid deaths. I’m not sure exactly when he snapshotted that data. Steve says the difference of 171,000 deaths hides the vaccine deaths.

Studying excess deaths is important, because the number of covid deaths doesn’t line up with the number of excess deaths in America. What’s going on there? Are covid deaths undercounted? Are people dying from the lockdowns? Are people dying from vaccines?

In 2020, about 500,000 more people died in the US than in an average year. Only 350,000 of these deaths were logged as covid deaths:

Besides the covid deaths, we have 32,000 extra deaths from heart disease, 9,000 extra strokes, 12,000 deaths from Alzheimer’s, 14,000 from diabetes.

Unintentional injuries went up by 19,000. I think that’s referring to drug overdoses. Overdose deaths went up a lot, that’s mostly fentanyl. I think the fentanyl deaths are mostly an issue of the drugs being unpredictably strong, not so much “deaths of despair”. But that question is complicated — maybe the pandemic did make more people use drugs.

If the lockdowns had caused despair, then suicides would have gone up too. Suicides actually went down in 2020. Less people killed themselves, less shot themselves. The lockdowns didn’t cause kids to kill themselves, either. Teenage suicide normally goes up during the school year and down during summer vacation. They go up on schooldays and down on the weekend. In 2020, teenage suicide went down when we pulled kids out of school for covid.

Murders went up by about 5,000 in 2020. Add up all those categories and we’re at 91,000 excess deaths, with 59,000 that still need to be explained. Rarer categories of deaths aren’t listed in that table.

So, what caused those extra 32,000 heart disease deaths? Could that have been the vaccine?

Here’s a graph of heart disease deaths in the US by week:

The heart disease deaths spike at the same time as covid deaths spike, in spring 2020 and then again in winter.

Excess heart disease deaths tracked covid deaths, through the pandemic:

Graph the deaths state by state, and you can find some more patterns. Here are heart disease deaths from California on the left and New York on the right:

Covid deaths in CA and NY have the same pattern. New York had a big wave of covid deaths in spring 2020, but California was spared. California had a covid problem that next winter while New York did better:

So, heart disease deaths only spike in states that are currently having a wave of covid deaths. And it’s the same thing with every category. Here are alzheimer’s disease deaths in CA (left) and NY (right):

Here are diabetes deaths in CA (left) and NY (right):

I have 2 theories for what’s going on. One theory is that we’re not diagnosing every case of covid. Covid is a clotting disease, so mild cases are causing some people to die of heart attacks or strokes. The other theory is that hospitals get overwhelmed when covid cases get high. The quality of medical care declines, and people are more likely to die or heart disease or diabetes.

So, excess deaths track covid deaths. They’re caused by or related to covid.

The only major source of excess deaths that’s unrelated is fentanyl overdoses.

We had 150,000 excess deaths in 2020 that weren’t diagnosed as covid. Those were not all vaccine deaths, because we only started vaccinating people on December 14th.

Also, there are a number of states that got through the pandemic with no waves of excess deaths. Here are all cause mortality graphs from two examples: Hawaii (left) and Vermont (right):

Remember: if the vaccine is deadly, it should be deadly everywhere. It should kill you in Hawaii as easily as in California. There should be a 15–20% spike in excess deaths in every state and every country that used it, during the first few months while elderly people get vaccinated. Many states and countries didn’t see any such spike.

Steve Kirsch is looking for an explanation for 171,000 excess deaths. That covers almost 150,000 of them, which happened before vaccinations began.

Million Dollar Prizes

There aren’t a bunch of vaccine deaths hidden in the excess deaths.

To be thorough, let’s consider Steve’s other argument: vaccine deaths have been hidden by calling them covid deaths.

We should already know this is false. Some countries had few covid deaths. Those countries have nowhere to hide vaccine deaths. They also have no excess deaths. That means there aren’t many vaccine deaths.

Steve thinks otherwise. He points to two blog posts by Mathew Crawford. He’s so confident in these two arguments that he’s offered a million dollars to anyone who can prove these arguments wrong.

It turns out that most of Steve’s million dollar offers are actually bullshit. You have to read the terms and conditions to understand. I thought about applying for one of them before. Steve offered a million dollars to prove that there had been less than 500 vaccine deaths in the US. I started working on some data analysis to come up with an argument. Then Steve quietly changed the terms of his million dollar challenge without notice.

At first, the bet said:

Then, he changed it to this:

See the difference? At first, you had to prove that there were less than 500 vaccine deaths. That might be possible. In the second case, you had to prove there were zero vaccine deaths. That’s not possible. Even the government admits that there is a 1 in a million risk that some covid vaccines can kill you from blood clotting. So, there have definitely been more than zero vaccine deaths.

The change is important, because it proves what Steve actually thinks. Steve changed the prize so you can’t win by proving there were less than 500 deaths. That means Steve actually thinks there were less than 500 deaths, or he’s afraid that someone could win that prize. As far as his mouth is concerned, there were 150,000 vaccine deaths. As far as his money is concerned, there were less than 500.

In the case of this other prize, regarding Mathew Crawford’s blog posts, Steve’s million dollar bet has the caveat that you need to be an academic and you need to get the proof published in a medical journal (even though the arguments themselves are just blog posts on substack). It’s also not enough to just publish the argument, you need to be a researcher with a high level of notoriety. And, even if you jump through all the hoops to apply for the prize, Steve will probably just change the terms of his offer again, like he did last time.

It’s a scam. There is no prize. Steve is welcome to prove me wrong by sending me a million dollars. Here’s a proof that Crawford’s blog posts are wrong:

In the first post, Crawford divides up countries of the world into different groups:

For the 23 nations marked in green, there was a rise in excess deaths starting after vaccination campaigns began. Red and dark gray nations are excluded.

Sometimes it’s more important to look at what an author is not telling you, compared to what they are.

Crawford has decided to “exclude all islands”. And peninsulas, I guess. I’ve seen this kind of reasoning throughout the pandemic. Like, people say it was inevitable that the US would have more covid deaths than Australia or Japan, because those are islands. It’s not a perfect argument — covid doesn’t swim from country to country, it comes in on airplanes. It matters what a country does to control transmission inside the country, just as much as it matters controlling what comes in. The UK is an island that had a bad covid outbreak. But it is a plausible argument — it is easier for an island to control its border, so islands do have some advantages.

When we start talking about vaccine deaths, excluding islands makes no sense whatsoever. We’re no longer talking about covid transmission. If the vaccine kills people, it doesn’t matter if you take it on an island or a continent.

It should kill you in Hawaii. It should kill you in California. It should kill you whether you take it in the United States or Australia or New Zealand or Iceland or Japan.

So, why did Crawford exclude islands? Because they falsify his argument. None of these countries had excess deaths during vaccination:

Blue lines are vaccinations, red are covid deaths, black/gray are excess deaths

Scandinavian countries also falsify the argument:

Crawford has simply gone around the world looking for cases where a wave of covid deaths came soon after vaccination began (usually because delta hit a country), then he averaged those together, assumed all deaths were vaccine deaths, and came up for an estimate that the vaccine is highly deadly.

Crawford pretends he’s shown that the vaccine is deadly. What he actually showed is that the delta variant killed a lot of people.

Steve plays the same game of cherry-picking countries in some of his own writing (see page 23 of his document). Finding a few countries where there were deaths after vaccines doesn’t actually prove anything — if there are excess deaths, it could also be covid.

On the other hand, finding a country without excess deaths does prove the vaccine is safe — if the vaccine is deadly, it has to be deadly everywhere.

You have to refute 2 blog posts to win Steve’s “million dollar prize”. The other blog post is also wrong, but it’s a bit more subtle, it’s harder to tease apart how Crawford is lying.

Crawford claims that the covid case fatality rate (CFR) went up in Europe, right around when vaccinations began:

CFR is defined as covid deaths divided by covid cases. He used case numbers from 18 days prior, assuming that’s roughly how long it takes to die from covid. And he smooths out both cases and deaths, to reduce the noise. So far, that’s perfectly reasonable.

Then Crawford makes the assumption that the CFR went up because vaccine deaths got smuggled in to the covid death numbers, while cases stayed the same.

There are actually lots of other reasons why case fatality rates change, over time. I tried to compute the CFR the same way Crawford does. If you plot the US CFR from the beginning of the pandemic, it declines dramatically:

Covid wasn’t actually 50% fatal in March 2020. We just didn’t have much testing capacity at the time that people started dying in New York City. So this number always depends on the numerator (covid deaths) and the denominator (covid cases). The denominator also depends on the testing rate, and whether cases are increasing faster than the testing rate.

The US CFR does settle down to a reasonable range. Let’s crop it to starting in September. There’s a clearer signal but it’s still pretty noisy:

Let me annotate that for you:

To double check, I pulled up the same same graph on OurWorldInData, they use a slightly different time lag between cases and deaths (10 days instead of 18), but it’s about the same shape as mine. So I think you can probably use their data to double check Crawford’s analysis if you’d like to run the numbers for yourself:

In general, CFR graphs are noisy enough that it’s hard to see anything but the largest effects in them. I’m skeptical that you could see vaccine deaths hidden in the numerator, because the case numbers in the denominator are too inaccurate.

CFR can go up and down for a few reasons. When an outbreak first starts, CFR can be high because testing doesn’t ramp up quickly enough. People start dying before tests get rolled out. One good example would be Peru, in January 2021. CFR gets to over 20%:

That’s not the result of vaccines, which didn’t get sent to Peru until February 9th.

Was the high CFR because of a bad outbreak? No, deaths and cases were both low at the time. It was the start of a new outbreak, and deaths ramped up faster than tested case numbers:

CFR can also go up when a big outbreak happens. CFR goes up because testing numbers stay constant, but the true numbers of cases go up. We stop catching the same fraction of the positive cases. Deaths are free to go up, but reported case numbers are constrained by testing.

This effect can be seen in Europe, last winter. European countries had a CFR spike because every country in Europe had a covid spike during the winter. In France, for instance, the CFR starts going up in September and then peaks on December 14th. The big spike is unrelated to vaccines, France didn’t start vaccinating until December 21st. I’m not a published researcher, but I’m pretty sure that cause comes before effect.

For Crawford to find vaccine deaths hidden in the case fatality rates, he’s going to have to first find a way to factor out the seasonal spike that started months before vaccinations begin. I don’t see any effort to do this in his calculation, it looks like he just averaged the CFR across all of Europe, plotted that against the vaccine program start dates (in December/January) and found some kind of spike.

Crawford pretends he’s found some hidden signal of vaccine deaths. What he’s actually discovered is winter.

One way we could try to control for case reporting and underreporting is to look at how deadly the average covid hospitalization is. In the US, it averages around 20%:

There’s some improvement in the rate, starting around March. Could the vaccines be helping? I’m not sure, I haven’t looked that carefully or checked this since August.

Basically, we have a certain number of people who have covid. We undercount the cases by some variable amount. We count the hospitalizations and deaths better, that ratio seems to be more stable.

Crawford thinks the vaccine deaths were smuggled into the data as covid deaths. He thinks the CFR spikes represent hidden vaccine deaths. For his argument to be true, each of those fake covid deaths would need 5 fake covid hospitalizations recorded with it, to keep the 20% ratio constant. It doesn’t look like that’s happening in the US, I have not yet checked across Europe.

It’s almost impossible to salvage Crawford’s argument. For his theory to be true, those 9 (mostly island) countries I’ve pointed to must be lying and hiding their vaccine deaths. Low covid states like Vermont and Hawaii must also be hiding the deaths. The 23 countries he’s pointed to must be lying by mislabeling massive numbers of vaccine deaths as covid deaths. Europe would have to be mislabeling vaccine deaths as covid deaths, as well, so it’s more like 40 countries in on the plot. And they’d all be making up fake hospital records to go along with the fake covid deaths.

This would all be the greatest data conspiracy the world has ever seen, with at least 40 countries manipulating their hospital records, covid data, newspaper obituaries, and more to hide the evidence.

But, for some reason, those countries can’t all just come together and hide 100% of the evidence. They’ve left just enough bread crumbs that only this one scrappy substack blogger can figure it out. And, this blogger claims that you can learn the truth too, you just have to pay him $5 a month.

Let’s talk about psychology

For some reason, this reminds me of QAnon.

QAnon wasn’t just crazy because it theorized that Trump was fighting a global cabal of wealthy elites that terrorize children and drink their blood.

It was crazy because it said that cabal controls the media and all the tech companies but the cabal isn’t strong enough to control Youtube. It said that the average conspiracy theorist can learn all about it just watching videos:

If you believe Kirsch and Crawford, you’re just like the confused boomer with a computer. You’re sitting at home, pretending you’re fighting a vaccine conspiracy. They’re telling you that every data source is wrong, but only they have the truth.

The truth is, you’re just a mark for these 2 grifters.

People like solving puzzles. Q drops were interesting to people because Q would say mysterious, cryptic things and people would try to parse them.

Anti-vax sites are interesting to people because they’re encouraged to “do their own research”. This flatters people: they feel smart while doing it and they feel like they’re being let in on hidden secrets.

Some people call this the Ikea Effect of misinformation: people are more attached to things they put together themselves, so if you get them to follow along on an anti-vax data site and feed them breadcrumbs, they’ll be more convinced that the vaccines are deadly.

The government message is not as interesting to many people. It’s actually a bit condescending. The government just tells you: “take the vaccine, it’s safe”. We all know it’s not 100% safe. The mRNA vaccines give some young men myocarditis after the 2nd shot. A few people have died from blood clots. There might be risks beyond that, it might have taken out some 80-year-olds in nursing homes. We should study which vaccines are safest, whether teenage boys should get one shot or two, things like that.

The government has also done some things to hurt their own credibility. They initially denied that covid is serious, changed opinions on masks, suppressed lab leak discussion, oversold the vaccines. That leaves a hunger for better information. Conspiracy theorists and grifters fill that void. They insist you research it for yourself. But the anti-vaxxers tend to then give people exaggerated or inaccurate numbers to start their research from, or they say that official numbers are lies.

To the best of my knowledge, the risks of vaccines are small and getting the shot is safer than getting the virus. For most people, it’s probably not worth doing too much research into the question. Good research is time-consuming. You have to go to primary sources to get data and crunch a lot of numbers. Most people don’t have time for that, so they end up watching someone’s misleading Youtube video:

So, what’s Crawford’s game? I don’t know. Crawford could be a totally honest guy who believes everything he’s saying, but he’s just bad at data analysis. More likely, he’s a grifter, pandering to a gullible audience. There’s a lot of money to be made telling conspiracy theorists what they want to hear. Alex Berenson is making over $700,000 per year on substack. I don’t know how much Crawford is making, but it’s at least enough to hire a paid research assistant.

Another possibility is that Crawford is just seeking status and belonging in a community. Scott Alexander writes about how some people get attracted to conspiracy theories because making discoveries is fun and it’s easier to make discoveries in a false belief system than in reality. Another anti-vaxxer (Igor Chudov) wrote to tell me that he likes getting followers and he likes making contributions. A guy like Mathew Crawford probably can’t hack it in terms of discovering new covid drugs or treatments, but he can compete at being one of the best guys to lie about covid vaccines.

What motivates Steve?

Steve Kirsch’s angle on this is harder to parse. He’s started several successful tech companies. He created the search engine Infoseek and a bunch of other companies (Mouse Systems, FrameMaker, OneID, Propel Software, and M10). If you still has any of that money, he has absolutely no need to make money selling blog posts. So, why is he telling people that the vaccine kills 150,000 people?

First, let’s ask: what do people do when they get so rich that they don’t need more money?

For the world’s two richest men, the answer is simple: build giant, dick-shaped rockets and launch them into space. That’s how Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos spend their free time:

They’re not all exactly the same. Elon Musk builds rockets but doesn’t fly on them. Bezos flew to space in his own rocket. I think this means that Musk likes to watch dicks while Bezos likes to ride them.

Building space rockets sounds kind of fun — being an astronaut is a dream for a lot of kids. But it’s also a status game. When you have enough money, the next thing to acquire is status, to have people tell you you’re important.

For some men, the ultimate status game is saving the world. Bill Gates spends his money on charity work, curing diseases around the world. He wants to be recognized for it. Gates had some puzzling connection to Jeffrey Epstein. Apparently this was about Gates hoping that Epstein could pull some strings and help win him a Nobel prize.

An article in MIT technology review talks about Steve Kirsch’s history.

The reporter finds that:

Saving the world has been a theme of Kirsch’s life for years. “There are two ways I’ve discovered that I may be able to save the world,” he told an IEEE Spectrum reporter in 2000. “One is to reduce the threat of nuclear war. Another is to identify an asteroid that is going to hit the planet.”

Steve embarked on a world saving quest in March 2020, to identify cheap, generic drugs that would fight covid:

By March 2020, he’d settled on the idea of searching for covid treatments in the pre-existing pharmacopeia. The premise made sense: Most experts were predicting vaccines would take years, while finding helpful drugs with known safety profiles could shortcut the approval process.

With little government funding available for such work, Kirsch founded the Covid-19 Early Treatment Fund (CETF), putting in $1 million of his own money and bringing in donations from Silicon Valley luminaries: the CETF website lists the foundations of Marc Benioff and Elon Musk as donors. Over the last 18 months, the fund has granted at least $4.5 million to researchers testing the covid-fighting powers of drugs that are already FDA-approved for other diseases.

You can see his list of promising drugs here:

I’d say these are all reasonable choices. One of the drugs, Fluvoxamine, showed a 30% reduction in covid hospitalizations in a large trial. The next on the list, Camostat, has a good theory for why it might work. There’s some experimental evidence suggesting it should help with both covid and the flu. There has not been a good randomized trial for early treatment with Camostat. It failed in an RCT for late treatment.

There are 5 other drugs listed on the page. All have plausible mechanisms of action. All of them are underfunded and not being tested enough, or quickly enough.

But it sounds like Steve couldn’t play well with others. When trials came back with poor results for hydroxychloroquine, Kirsch blamed the researchers for doing the trial wrong. When a small trial came back with positive results for Fluvoxamine, Steve made a post about it on Medium called:

“The Fast, Easy, Safe, Simple, Low-Cost Solution to COVID That Works 100% of the Time That Nobody Wants to Talk About”

Steve got banned by Medium. The post was exaggerated, later trials showed the drug might work, but it’s nowhere near 100% effective. It could have still helped to get the word out — maybe if Steve had written an honest post he could have done some good.

The censorship isn’t what held the drug back. The FDA doesn’t approve drugs because they’re popular on social media. It approves them when large randomized controlled trials prove they work. Steve could have gotten the drug approved by just spending more of his money to fund a larger trial. Instead, he got angry and became a conspiracy theorist.

As vaccines came out, Steve increasingly portrayed them as deadly and dangerous. As he became more vocally anti-vax, every science advisor stepped down from his early treatment fund. He left the board of his own company and resigned as CEO.

Kirsch sounds generally disappointed with his successes in life:

Kirsch is also motivated by an unsatisfied competitive streak. In that same IEEE Spectrum story about his then-new startup, Propel Software, he said he felt successful, but not famous.

“Mouse Systems is not a household word,” he told the journalist. “We didn’t come up with better mouse technology than Microsoft did. Infoseek lost out to Yahoo; it had a chance to grow bigger, but it didn’t. And FrameMaker is still a niche product. Yes, these were successes, but the successes could have been bigger if we had really paid attention to marketing. I’m not going to make the same mistake again.”

This all sounds a bit like “silver medalist syndrome”, to me.

One study found that silver medalists die younger than gold medalists or bronze medalists. Gold medalists spend their lives thrilled that they won. Bronze are happy that they made the podium. Silver medalists spend the rest of their lives consumed by guilt that they didn’t win.

So, Steve has a huge brain. A strong work ethic. He built a search engine, but it wasn’t Google. He built some other cool startups, but he never became a household name.

And now, his ego is wrapped up in the generic drugs project. He wants to be the guy that solved covid. But he didn’t. Vaccines came out first. And Steve’s project didn’t even fund the large trials that proved fluvoxamine successful, that was done by two other charities (the Rainwater Foundation and Fast Grants).

For Steve’s world saving drugs to be important, the covid vaccines have to be bad. Psychologically, Steve has to throw all of his energy at the vaccines being bad. And, I guess, confirmation bias does the rest?

I think a lot of covid deniers are in a similar psychological situation. It’s hard to stop believing in a covid conspiracy theory because you have to admit that you have harmed people:

Here’s the sad part: we still need cheap, generic drugs to treat covid. Many people in the 3rd world don’t have access to vaccines. Many people in the first world are getting breakthrough infections. If covid mutates, the vaccines could become less effective, maybe even useless.

The mRNA vaccines might still end up as the first choice, they might be the safest, strongest measure against covid, the gold medal winner. But we still need a backup plan, we need treatments to take 2nd and 3rd place.

We need someone to fund trials on cheap drugs to figure out which one, or which combination, actually works. And, unless the government steps up, Steve could still be that guy. He just needs to drop any false anti-vax arguments. To stop undermining the credibility of his own movement. To stop screaming about 150,000 vaccine deaths. He just needs to make honest claims and build his credibility back. And to spend more on drug trials to prove which drugs work.

Steve should just double down on funding trials for cheap, generic drugs. If they work, he could prove it and save thousands, maybe millions of lives. People might thank him, they might not — Bill Gates has saved a lot of lives, lots of people hate him for it. He’d end up the target for the conspiracy theories, not the source. But he’d still be doing the world a favor.

If Steve keeps up the way he’s going, people will only remember the tantrum he threw after not winning:

Edit:

Steve Kirsch read this post and wrote a “response”. I use quotes because he didn’t actually interact with a single one of the charts, graphs, or arguments I laid out. He just made a list of 70 other questions and said I need to answer those before he’ll take me seriously. He said he also has 130 other questions in reserve, if I do answer the first 70.

The standard term for this debate tactic is “gish gallop”, it’s a trick where you just throw out so much bullshit that your opponent doesn’t have the time to respond to it all.

I’m not going to go through 200 questions. Steve might be right about some things. I’ve already praised his early treatment project. But his estimate of the number of vaccine deaths in America is very far from the truth, so I would suggest you be very cautious in believing any other claims he makes.

Steve also challenged me to a “debate”. I use quotes because it wouldn’t be a 1 on 1 discussion with him, it would be a zoom call with me talking to Steve and 15 of his friends at the same time. If you’d like to see how these go, here’s a video were Yuri Deigin talked to Steve and all his friends. They changed the topic so often that nothing really got discussed or resolved. Yuri brought slides to discuss and Steve refused to look at them. Steve’s friends didn’t even agree with each other about covid, they just made 3 hours of noise.

I’m not interested in doing that. Steve would ignore any data I brought, change the subject a lot, and no one would learn anything from watching.

There is another video going around, from Peter McCullough’s appearance on Joe Rogan. McCullough said that Steve Kirsch will give 2 million dollars to anyone who tries to make the case that vaccines are safe and effective. To win the money, you don’t even have to win the debate, you just have to try.

I would gladly go on Joe Rogan to talk to Steve, in exchange for 2 million dollars. But that offer is surely a lie, just like all of Steve’s other million dollar offers.

Steve is too cheap to even pay out a $10,000 prize, let alone a million. Steve promised Dr Avi Bitterman $10,000 to hold a 1:1 debate. They held the debate and Steve got owned. And, of course, Steve never paid. Instead, he called Avi’s job and tried to get the guy fired.

Steve also asked Dr Angela Rasmussen if she would debate him for a million dollars. Angela replied, saying that she would debate if Steve donated one million dollars to a charity of her choice. Steve never replied to Angela’s offer.

Steve is welcome to prove me wrong. He can write me a check for 2 million dollars, and I’d be happy to debate him. But, as we’ve seen, Steve is afraid to debate anyone in any fair format.

Other than that, I’m happy to go back and forth with written responses about the data. I’d love to know if I’ve made any mistakes in this post. It’s funny, Steve didn’t respond to anything I wrote and Crawford said he’s “too busy” to respond.

They’re eager to prove to the world how deadly the covid vaccines are, but when faced with an honest response, they don’t have an hour free to discuss it?

Why won’t they debate me?

--

--