On Vaccine Safety, Ivermectin and the Dark Horse Podcast: An Investigation
This article is a detailed investigation of the claims made around ivermectin and vaccine safety by Bret Weinstein, Heather Heying, and their guests on the Dark Horse podcast. It is an attempt at a new and different form of journalistic inquiry, where we will be adding in new detail, corrections and updates as they come in (latest update 19th October).
Rebel Wisdom is principally focused on the difficulty of making sense of the world and finding truth — or ‘Sensemaking’. This is a long piece that was put together by Rebel Wisdom media channel founder David Fuller (former Channel 4 & BBC journalist), through original research and contextual conversations with multiple medical professionals, data analysts and others — some on, and some off the record. Additional research was provided by the journalist and writer, Ed Prideaux.
This is an attempt to largely judge the evidence and context, and is released alongside an article in the online magazine Areo that deals with the crisis of sensemaking that this whole scenario has shown up. We have just published a full video on this investigation here.
First, of course, we need to prove that there is a crisis of sensemaking, and that Bret and Heather have become caught up in it. I aim to make the case in this article.
From the outset, this article will be a controversial one. Vaccine claims are incredibly heated and polarising. They break friendships and strain family ties around the world. On one side, people believe that others’ decision not to get vaccinated is putting people at risk of death, while the other fears taking new and unproven medical treatments against their will.
I want people to be making their decisions based on the best possible evidence and an accurate assessment of the risks and rewards, something that’s hard to come by. Thanks to social media algorithms, we’re all enclosed in echo chambers and filter bubbles. All of us. What is true in one is obviously false in another, and vice versa.
Zooming out, the problem with much commentary on the topic is either a lack of depth — or too much focus on fine details — or a poverty of context and serious analysis. This is symptomatic of the ‘Uncanny Valley of Truth Seeking’ described on our channel and newsletters: the gaping chasm between the legacy media and the alternative.
This topic is firmly lodged in the Valley.
On either side, the mainstream tends to ignore claims by ‘fringe’ figures for fear of giving them ‘false equivalence’ with consensus narratives, while the alternative hosts the figures without scrutinising their claims. Yet the marketplace of ideas only functions when all ideas are considered, and all ideas are scrutinised.
I have sympathy with many of Bret and Heather’s points about “capture” and how the medical establishment and the authorities can warp the truth seeking landscape. However, in my analysis of their claims and the data, I don’t believe that accounts for all that is happening here.
Sensemaking is about much more than a simple ‘rational’ analysis of individual truth claims, it is always contextual. We have to judge sources of information in how they relate to others, assess likelihood and probability, and also to judge people’s motivations and reliability. This can take us into areas that some would consider ‘ad hominem’, criticising the messenger rather than the message, but this is unavoidable in an environment where the big tech platforms are systematically weaponising and exploiting our psychology against us. We need a much more sophisticated and honest conversation about these warping factors and how they affect all of us.
- The Institutional Trust Recession
- The Sensemaking Crisis
- Conflicts of Interest
- Addressing Bret & Heather’s latest: ‘On Driving Sars-CoV2 Extinct’
- “Four Clear Signals”?
- The Certainty Problem with Ivermectin
- Is Ivermectin “100% effective”?
- Vaccine Safety
- “Vaccines Don’t Stop You Getting Sick”?
- Are Vaccines Creating Variants?
- Substack’s Omissions — the Dark Horse claims
- Steve Kirsch & Robert Malone
- Exploding Ovaries? Vaccines & Fertility
- Dr Robert Malone, The Vaccine Whistleblower?
- Long term risks?
- Conclusion — Sensemaking & Journalism
The Institutional Trust Recession
There have been public critiques of Bret and Heather already. In early July, a Quillette article by lab leak researcher Yuri Deigin and Claire Berlinski was released to some criticism and applause. More recently, Sam Harris ran an interview on his Making Sense podcast with medical figure Eric Topol, and he followed up last week with an AMA that called out Bret more directly.
At least judging by the comment thread on Sam’s podcast, and the Twitter reaction to the Quillette article, both of these criticisms failed to reach a heterodox audience. They failed to cross the Uncanny Valley, in other words. Why?
Possibly because they rested too much on a simple appeal to medical consensus (and especially medical hierarchy, in the case of Topol).
For people immersed in the data and trying to figure it out themselves, appeals to authority fail on two levels. First, many don’t trust the consensus a priori, being that it recently ruled the lab leak origin for the virus as “conspiracy theory” before backtracking and admitting it could very well be true. Secondly, it’s a point that just doesn’t ‘cut through’ with much attack. It starts with authority and ends there.
The Sam Harris podcast made attempts to flesh out the authority claims with substantial arguments, but the limitations of the medium — a shorter dialogue between two people who already agreed, and who’d already decided what they believed before beginning — meant that they couldn’t tackle enough of the specific claims or show how they got there. It seemed that Sam’s guest believed that simply labelling Bret’s guests as “predators” would be enough to discredit them.
Again, this is another feature of the Uncanny Valley we’ve mentioned between the mainstream and alternative. The mainstream is concerned about boosting the signal of outsiders by giving them publicity, while they find large audiences on podcasts where the host has no incentive to challenge what they are saying. The flipside is that many quite easily-disproved claims aren’t, simply because of a lack of engagement from critical thinkers.
The problem is that a not-insubstantial portion of our population simply doesn’t automatically trust our institutions or its consensus. And with good reason.
As Eric Weinstein explained in our recent film on the subject, the loss of our reflexive ‘lean in’ towards authority is a price the authorities themselves have paid for their own fuck-ups.
Above all, the deliberate suppression of the ‘lab leak’ hypothesis — where a media narrative was cynically manufactured (as told in our Lab Leak film) in order to demonise anyone who thought the virus originated in a lab in Wuhan as a ‘conspiracy theorist’ — has seriously damaged trust.
And vaccines sit in an awkward spot at the intersection of science, medicine and public health, which do not mix. Science is about examining things as carefully as possible with no agenda. Public health is ALL agenda, identifying one single course of action and trying to make people follow it.
In this sense, you could argue that the messaging around vaccines is a ‘noble lie’. The vaccines are completely safe, we’re told, and anyone who disagrees is a dangerous ‘anti-vaxxer’ — ergo, we get people vaccinated. A more accurate message, however, would be that vaccines are medical interventions with a balance of risk and reward. And in the broader judgement of the medico-scientific community, the dangers of COVID-19 far outweigh any threats from the vaccines.
This gap between simplistic government and media messaging and the complex truth is the fertile soil for conspiracy narratives to grow. People sense they are being lied to and fill in the gaps.
The age of the internet has killed forever the time when public health messaging could be dumbed down, and authorities will have to develop public health messaging that treats people as adults, and communicates more than simple and catchy slogans in future.
The Sensemaking Crisis
Understanding the pandemic and its pain points is the greatest sensemaking challenge of the modern moment. It’s a matter of life and death and deep emotion. We have seen public spats between friends and former allies — most recently with Sam Harris publicly criticising Bret Weinstein, a man with whom he’d shared stages and hours of friendly podcast time.
It’s always tempting to use emotionally-loaded or dismissive language when we think our claims are important. Indeed, those most wedded to their perspectives can engage in an arms race of tribal signaling. Think of the parallel mud-slinging of ‘antivax’ and ‘shill’, ‘crank’ and ‘hack’, or ‘fake news’ (a slur thrown on both sides).
The assumption that anyone questioning the safety of vaccines is stupid, is clearly wrong, these are complex arguments, about spike proteins, mRNA technology or data analysis of Ivermectin use are really complex.
This links to another problem, one symptomatic of the Uncanny Valley crisis of media discussed earlier. We’ve seen a complete breakdown in our historic distinction between ‘opinion’ and ‘facts/news’ in the legacy and alternative media alike.
Of course, this was never as absolute as was claimed. The ‘view from nowhere’ was always an affectation. But the alternative (especially podcasts and YouTube channels) doesn’t even attempt to split the two, so any analysis and factual claims come preloaded with the host’s views.
This comes from, and is leveraged by, the biases we all have. Dealing with these emotive topics is extremely difficult — and it doesn’t help that the tech firms and social media platforms are literally paid to addict us to our screens and tribes.
I hope this article will be different. I will try and follow the format of a live, good-faith sensemaking exercise, with updates notified. In particular, I will attempt to add more context and detail as they come in, and correct any errors it contains — or change arguments altogether if the alternative proves more persuasive.
In an ideal world, perhaps it would be better to have a panel of people making these decisions. For now, however, I will be making the final call on what is contained within. While not a credentialed scientist, I do have the power of research, contacts and common sensemaking. The only superpower journalists have, in fact, is finding those names to fill in gaps — and to try to quickly understand new material.
All in all, being that this is an article about Bret and Heather, it’s worth emphasising that I’ve tried my best to keep things fair, civil and humane. I’ve been in touch privately before releasing any of the material publicly.
This also takes place in an alternative media landscape that has been warped by the dynamic between public and private, and tribalism caused by friendships and shifting alliances. I have tried to be mindful of my obligations to friends, but I think it’s clear that there are bigger issues at stake, and truth seeking is of paramount importance.
Conflicts of Interest
Rebel Wisdom hosted Bret and Heather for our first ‘Summit’ in London in 2018, and have put out multiple films with them over some time. Our audience overlaps with the Dark Horse audience by about a third, according to YouTube analyst Mark Ledwich. They are friends and therefore this has been a very difficult situation to navigate.
Bret & Heather: ‘On Driving Sars-CoV2 Extinct’
Bret and Heather’s most recent thinking on the pandemic was delivered in a Substack newsletter called ‘On Driving Sars-CoV2 Extinct’.
Since this essay was written in response to Yuri Deigin and Claire Berlinski’s Quillette article and the Harris podcast, I will start with the essay’s claims before moving into those featured on Dark Horse. I will go through section by section: some objections are mild, some are significant.
Ivermectin is an anti-parasitic drug that has been claimed to be hugely effective as both a treatment for, and prophylaxis (prevention) for Covid. The question of how strong the evidence base is for it has been a heated topic for many months, with complex arguments over the data.
The two most well known advocates for Ivermectin are Pierre Kory, of the Front Line Covid-19 Critical Care Alliance, and Tess Lawrie of the UK BIRD Group (British Ivermectin Recommendation Development Group), who featured in our ‘Ivermectin For and Against’ film.
We tackle the Ivermectin topic in much more detail in our previous briefing document.
Even in the time since the release of that document, the balance of the evidence has been shifting with regular updates of new studies, and problems found with existing ones.
Bret and Heather begin their Substack paper with an argument that Ivermectin should be used as a prophylactic against Covid, and argue there are four clear signals pointing in the same direction of it working well.
They reference Tess Lawrie’s meta-analysis of ivermectin. Lawrie is a credentialled scientist, who has done work for the Cochrane Collaboration, one of the premier medical research organisations. She has also become a strong advocate and campaigner for Ivermectin.
Some of the strongest evidence in the Lawrie meta analysis, a randomised controlled trial showing serious benefit, a study called ‘Elgazzar’ from Egypt, was withdrawn a few weeks ago. Lawrie claims that this doesn’t affect the conclusions in her study, but others disagree.
While Bret and Heather reference Lawrie, they omit to reference other studies that came to different conclusions. A meta-analysis by Andrew Hill of Liverpool University was cited frequently in favour of ivermectin’s promise, yet it’s since been retracted after Elgazzar’s withdrawal undermined its conclusions. Hill has changed his position on the drug, saying simply that more data is required (something Pierre Kory attacked him for doing on Twitter).
Update (19/10): Pierre Kory of the FLCCC recognised the withdrawal in a fresh ‘Reanalysis of the Data’, although he suggests “the summary point estimates were largely unaffected”.
Meanwhile, Hill has since strengthened his distance from ivermectin advocacy. In a letter published in The Guardian, Hill describes how his change of mind on ivermectin triggered death threats. He has publicly criticised the BIRD group for misrepresenting his work and stance.
“Survival benefit of ivermectin disappears when only trials at low risk of bias are analysed. The reported survival effects are entirely driven by studies at high risk of bias or medical fraud”, he wrote.
The premier Cochrane Collaboration, a highly reputed medical information network, also released their analysis, which failed to find any benefit for the drug. Ironically, Tess Lawrie has worked on material for the Cochrane Collaboration, and this is frequently quoted by Ivermectin advocates to back up her bona fides.
The WHO considered sixteen studies in its own analysis of Ivermectin. They excluded quasi-randomised trials, or any RCT that did not use explicit randomisation techniques (ones which were otherwise included in Lawrie’s meta-analysis). Of these RCTs, the WHO notes, “only five directly compared Ivermectin with standard of care and reported mortality”, two benchmarks for adequate controls in RCTs.
In fact, the largest trial yet-conducted on ivermectin came out on Thursday 12th August, as we published this article. The TOGETHER trial — a collaboration among several universities — tested 1,300 patients with one of a randomised pool of possible drugs against placebo for treating COVID-19, and found essentially little-to-no benefit for mild COVID-19 patients at moderate risk.
The Certainty Problem with Ivermectin
The point about the Ivermectin debate is that the drug has become a proxy. It may still be proven to work well, but the argument that has been made over the last months has been that the evidence was overwhelming, and clearly proven beyond all doubt, and only deliberate suppression could explain why that was not recognised.
Consider some of the language being used. Bret’s interview with Pierre Kory covered what he called “The Crime of the Century”, or the alleged capture and cover-up of our institutions to stop ivermectin rollout for probable financial reasons. Bret said it would be hard to miss the evidence unless you “had a delusion or a reason not to want to know.” Bret took ivermectin live on air in another episode, too.
Having covered the Ivermectin story fairly closely for the last few weeks, I’m struck by how the narrative has slowly evolved into missionary sensibility. A core aspect of sensemaking is observing when people are hijacked by excessive levels of certainty and their inquiries collapse. We don’t only make judgements based on strict analysis of the data — the world is too complex for that — and we have to incorporate other signals of trustworthiness and care.
Yet the meme of the “lone doctors against the establishment” narrative is proving both powerful and incredibly seductive.
Consider Pierre Kory of the FLCCC. The following is contextual, from multiple doctors I have spoken to who know and have worked with Pierre Kory and others in the Front Line COVID-19 Critical Care Alliance.
They all talked about their admiration for Kory and his team, who had been experimenting and challenging best practice in emergency medicine for years pre-COVID. They had concluded that Ivermectin was a “miracle drug”, as Kory put it in his Senate testimony (although he later said he regretted that phrase).
Many of the doctors who knew Kory and his team said how they had been shocked by the change in him over the last months, as he increasingly began to speak in absolutes, and frame everyone who disagreed as part of some big conspiracy. He has publicly spoken about how he has “sacrificed his career” over this issue, so you can imagine a large personal investment now relies on his being right about Ivermectin.
But the size of the conspiracy required by the Ivermectin advocates to explain why the evidence keeps stacking up against them keeps getting bigger and bigger, and paranoid thinking becomes a trap — you can find any reason to suspect that any new piece of evidence is part of the same conspiracy, it’s a full epistemic closure.
When Dr Andrew Hill of the University of Liverpool retracted his meta-analysis favouring ivermectin, Kory tweeted: “Andy, STOP. Seriously, you are causing untold deaths man. For another WHO paycheck in the future? WTF. Me and Tess have both blown up our careers because history demanded it. Your fake cautiousness is the saddest shit I have ever seen. Fuck you. And that is putting it mildly.”
Update (13/08): It just emerged that Kory himself contracted Covid recently, along with his family, despite taking Ivermectin weekly.
Update (1/09): Rebel Wisdom did the first interview with former member of the FLCCC Eric Osgood MD, where he talked about his concern at the direction of the organisation, and how he saw Kory’s behaviour change hugely when firstly he was unfairly not given credit for his innovations around steroids and blood thinners earlier in the pandemic (the editor of the New England Journal of Medicine said Kory’s team “got lucky”). And then when Kory appeared before the Senate as part of a group of fringe doctors arranged by Senator Ron Johnson, the Democrat members called it a “publicity stunt” and walked out. Osgood believes these two incidents radicalised Kory against the mainstream and led to him becoming more extreme in his language and alliances.
With all this in mind, the ‘captured’ and ‘standard narrative’ claims rely on assumptions that aren’t necessarily true. While ivermectin is off-patent and margins may be low, the financial incentives don’t only run one way. Ivermectin prices have risen substantially in recent weeks. Patent and intellectual property concerns have not dissuaded pharmaceutical firms from selling and distributing Dexamethasone, another cheap treatment that was endorsed as early as September last year by European regulators.
Is Ivermectin “100% effective”?
In Bret and Kory’s appearance with Rogan, for example, Bret claimed that “you have a drug that’s good enough to end the pandemic at any point you wanted.” Rogan even acknowledged that the podcast sounded “like a commercial for ivermectin”.
Or consider how Bret has called ivermectin “something like 100% effective when taken properly” in preventing catching COVID-19. This is a consequential claim. Being a claim on prophylaxis, this may lead people to take ivermectin instead of the vaccines.
This ‘100%’ claim is based on a single study: Carvallo et al from Argentina, which again tested (as Bret and Heather acknowledge) ivermectin together with another drug, Iota Carrageenan, and found that zero healthcare workers on the regimen got sick (something Kory talked at length about on both Dark Horse and Rogan).
The evidence base for this trial has come under serious question, and some are now asking whether it took place at all.
Update (19/10): Changed to reflect the findings of Buzzfeed journalists and to add the discussion of Kory’s latest meta-analysis.
The paper is littered with basic errors: sum totals that don’t add up, proportions of ages that don’t make sense, incorrect graphs. The study was received, accepted and published within just 7 days, too, and by a journal which has published only a single issue and generates part of its revenue through soliciting payments from researchers. Carvallo has now said he won’t release any more data until after the pandemic — including, Buzzfeed reported, with one of his collaborators.
“A hospital named in the paper as taking part in the experiments said it has no record of it happening”, journalists from Buzzfeed report. “Health officials in the province of Buenos Aires have also said that they also have no record of the study receiving local approval.”
Interestingly, while the retraction of Elgazzar et al prompted Kory to remove the study in his re-analysis, Carvallo et al has remained.
At the very least, these concerns should moderate any certainty we attach to the study, especially when its 100% claims are so substantial and when we’re in a pandemic situation of life and death with prophylaxis.
To be fair, Bret and Heather acknowledge that “some critiques of this work [not detailed] have been raised that are worth considering.” Their response?
“These results demand a follow-up: another study. The cost of an out-of-hand dismissal of any potentially lifesaving tool can be astronomical even at the best of times, but the potential cost in the midst of a global pandemic is unthinkable.”
It’s good to see a concession towards uncertainty, but it’d be even better to see a revision of their previous certainty — or some opposing voices on their platform. And it’s not exactly clear who is making these ‘out-of-hand dismissals’. No researcher to whom I’ve spoken has recommended ceasing ivermectin research altogether. It’s worth noting, too, that Bret was one of the voices opposed to the massive forthcoming PRINCIPLE study at the University of Oxford, which both Kory and Lawrie deemed “immoral” for adding delay to the drug’s rollout.
Update (1/09): On their latest Dark Horse podcast Bret and Heather have distanced themselves from the Carvallo study. Rebel Wisdom also interviewed Dr Eric Osgood, a former member of Pierre Kory’s FLCCC, who was deeply unhappy about how the case for Ivermectin became hijacked by anti-vaccine activists. He still believes Ivermectin will be proved to have some benefit as a treatment but says that his experience is that it is no longer effective as a prophylactic against the Delta variant.
Bret and Heather later make another, slightly weaker, argument for Ivermectin in their Substack article. Even if the Carvallo and Elgazzar studies have flaws, they say, there are “multiple signals in the same direction”, providing at least a tentative basis in favour of the drug. But many of their “multiple signals” has serious question marks.
Signal one, they quote the Bryant-Lawrie meta analysis as above. Signal two is the Carvallo study mentioned above.
Signal 3 is observational data from Africa. Political scientist Cameron Wimpy contacted me on Twitter to say that he had serious concerns about these studies, had rerun them with more controls and found the supposed effect largely disappeared: “As a political scientist, who also in part focuses on Africa, I can tell you the analyses they cite are also based on very flawed methodologies. The authors they directly quoted are using experimental methods on observational data and hence control for no country-level factors that could be driving the differences they find. This is what random assignment does in an experiment, but short of that you need a statistical model (e.g., regression analysis) that allows for “control” of differences like population density, rurality, doctor density, human development, etc. I have replicated the study and the effects do not hold in the presence of controls.
The other study they mention at least used regression but in that case they only controlled for test rates and human development. Again, those results go away when additional controls are added. But even worse they used the incorrect modeling strategy given the statistical distribution of the data. A third study in preprint out of Japan suffers from the same flaws of the first mentioned above. Suffice to say none of this could be published in a reputable political science journal. I have become very skeptical of practices in some of these medical or public health disciplines during the pandemic (didn’t have much of a reason to read them before). Many of the researchers simply don’t have the statistical chops to be doing what they claim, and even then there’s seemingly no pushback on severe research design issues in the review process.”
Signal four is a claim that the Ivermectin roll out in India seems to correlate with a drop in cases. But Ivermectin has never been widely used as a prophylactic in India, but rather is recommended as a possible treatment in mild cases of COVID-19. And where it has been prescribed, it’s worth noting, several Indian doctors have come forward to complain of ivermectin’s overprescription, including under pressure from top-down and bottom-up.
Update (19/10): Reports from September suggested that the Indian government had added ivermectin to its revised list of Essential Medicines. Medical authorities have since dropped the drug from their guidelines together with hydroxychloroquine.
To be clear, on April 22, the All India Institute of Medical Science (AIIMS) and the Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR) added Ivermectin to the protocol as an option for the early treatment — even in mild cases — of COVID-19.
Proponents of ivermectin have made much of the situation in and around Uttar Pradesh, a state whose COVID cases have rapidly plummeted down to near-zero since their April peak. They’ve linked the drop to healthcare packages carried by state personnel, which include Vitamins C and D3, 12mg tabs of ivermectin, paracetamol, and other repurposed drugs. At the same time, reports from September suggest that just 11% of Uttar Pradesh residents are fully-vaccinated.
The case of Uttar Pradesh is often-contrasted with Kerala, where around 80% have had their first jab and 30% are fully-vaccinated, but COVID cases still remain in the thousands per day. Crucially, ivermectin proponents emphasise, Kerala withdrew its use of ivermectin from treatment protocols in August, which may have reduced the overall upward pressure on prophylaxis and driven infections.
Looking at the data in detail, though, neither the cases of Uttar Pradesh nor Kerala provide the rigorous case studies for ivermectin many suppose. Case undercounting has been a huge problem for India nationally, but especially in states like Uttar Pradesh. Estimates from July 2021 suggested that Kerala detected 17% of cases, whole Uttar Pradesh detected just 1%.
In an explainer article, epidemiologist Rajib Dasgupta made clear that the Uttar Pradesh’s sharp decline in COVID-19 casesis probably thanks to its high proportion of previously-infected individuals, which fuels the natural immunity that depresses new cases. In July 2021, tests found that 71% of the population of Uttar Pradesh had antibodies for Covid, and therefore natural immunity.
And, as with any high-level population analysis, you can’t ignore the influence of other variables, including lockdowns and social distancing restrictions, which Uttar Pradesh only phased out last month.
Zooming out further, the idea that any case drops in India were caused by mass prophylaxis caused by Ivermectin seems to fail a common sense check anyway. India has some of the poorest populations in the world, where a vast number of Indians (especially rural Indians) lack basic and regular access to healthcare. How likely is it that they were able to roll out massive prophylactic Ivermectin, where people would need to take the drug weekly, in such large numbers as to make huge differences to the death tolls?
It’s also emerging that cases and deaths in India were widely undercounted by up to a factor of ten. This is the case especially for Goa and Uttarakhand, two states promoted for their more expansive Ivermectin programmes, but have now respectively reported the second and fourth highest death ratios in India. And while Kory claimed on Bret’s podcast that “the variants do not appear to escape ivermectin. They do appear to escape vaccines” (something offered without evidence), India was the birthplace of the Delta variant now ravaging the world.
To match against the flawed “multiple signals”, we can add multiple signals in the other direction. Peru, for example, has had one of the highest death tolls in the world despite aggressive use of Ivermectin.
Ivermectin advocates refer to this preprint paper to argue that Peru was having success with Ivermectin until a directive to stop using it was made, and then cases skyrocketed. This seems unlikely to me from the outset. If it was having such a clear advantage, then why would all the Peruvian medical staff go along with such a directive to stop using it? Where are the cries of outrage from the doctors? Again, the size of a necessary cover up or conspiracy starts to grow exponentially when applied to real life.
As outlined in an instructive Twitter thread, there are core problems with the paper, too. The authors’ basic conclusion — advertised in its title of ‘14-fold reduction in nationwide excess deaths’ with Ivermectin — is that so-called ‘maximal’ Peruvian states, where ivermectin was most widely used, outperformed those in the ‘medium’ and ‘low’ categories according to ‘excess deaths’.
To start, their metric for excess deaths was to compare the death rate to just two months in early 2020: far too small a sample to create a workable trend against which to compare. What’s more, the authors attempt to adjust for age, by accounting for those only over 60, but they overlook the exponential way in which the mortality risk from COVID-19 grows with age, which creates a large variance that skews results.
Yet most importantly, we and the authors have no idea how many people took the ivermectin in each area (and we’ve no idea with India, either). There’s only an indication of how much of the drug was distributed, measured by numbers of ‘care packages’ for high-risk people that tested positive (which may or may not, in fact, have contained Ivermectin) and had to stay at home. Not only was the reach of the care package programme relatively small, but it started in July: months before the government’s mass distribution ivermectin scheme, which exposed areas around the country significantly to the drug, including and up to the ‘medium’ and ‘low’ regions outlined in the paper. The basis for comparison is completely undercut.
It’s also worth asking why ivermectin ceased in Peru at all, which is a core question in the paper. Five months on from unveiling the drug, the country’s health minister ceased use because there just wasn’t enough evidence it worked. Some of the population evidence has been disputed in more specific ways.
The Peruvian case also captures a broader problem with country-level analysis. While useful and indicative, the medical consensus states that national studies are often flawed because it is nigh-on impossible to pull apart correlation and causation, with many complicating factors like lockdowns, social distancing, mask wearing etc., all of which come into play when cases are spiking. Funnily enough, it’s another effect that the authors attempted to adjust for: yet, as Gideon again points out, some states had as much as 10% difference depending on government controls.
National claims are always hard to base claims on. Consider how Pierre Kory of the FLCCC claimed, on Bret’s podcast, that authorities “literally eradicated COVID using ivermectin in Zimbabwe.” This was broadcast on June 1st, during a lull in case numbers. Then see what happened later. It’s worth asking how it was administered. In 500,000 bottles between December and February: a quantity that would cover only 3.3% of the Zimbabwean population, assuming that all were actually taken. Additional claims made by Kory that “variants do not escape ivermectin” are unsubstantiated — as are, for certain, the parallel suggestion that variants escape vaccines.
Putting aside these problems, if a cover-up of ivermectin’s power were occurring, this is something Peruvian journalists — always looking for a story — would be desperate to report. I simply do not believe in a conspiracy wide enough to prevent this story being told.
This is not to say Ivermectin definitely doesn’t work. None of the doctors I spoke to rejected it as a treatment. All of them said, though, that the data looked very shaky and they wouldn’t recommend any other drug with a similar data profile. Simply, more big and rigorous trials are needed. The real danger, my sources said, lies when ivermectin is recommended instead of vaccines. The two technically run in parallel — with one line not necessarily crossing the other — but Bret’s sympathies for Ivermectin and complete scepticism on the vaccines (more later) seem to support a substitution of the latter for the former.
Bret and Heather’s Substack article then stages a deep-dive into vaccines.
The contents of the US early warning system on vaccine effects, the VAERS database, has been the subject of huge controversy, is it picking up most, or all of the effects, are all the adverse reactions there really related to the vaccines, or not?
On one side, people point to a large number of adverse events, and argue that there are more than any previous vaccines. Bret has argued that the vaccine programme should have been halted at 50 cases.
The counter argument is that there is nothing to compare it to — a mass vaccination programme like this in the middle of a pandemic is nearly unprecedented, and that the adverse event numbers peaked early in the vaccine rollout — as it was treating the most vulnerable, the elderly and infirm, who were most likely to be in poor health already, and most likely to get sick whether that was related or not to the vaccines.
It is also worth adding the context here that, if the hypothesis is that the authorities, in collusion with big pharma, are deliberately suppressing information on the adverse reactions to the vaccines, which is possible, the counter argument is that the authorities also suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine (in Europe) and the Johnson and Johnson vaccine (in the US) on just a tiny number of rare blood clotting issues.
Update (19/10): In our new iteration of the Investigation, we’ve decided to delete a discussion around a paper by Queen Mary, University of London’s Scott McLachlan on VAERS statistics. Bret and Heather cited this paper as a source in their Substack piece to corroborate that sizable volumes of people may be dying from the vaccine, and that VAERS statistics in general should be afforded a priori credibility.
Our criticism — which resulted in a back-and-forth between McLachlan and our researcher, Ed Prideaux — centred on the low epistemic authority we believe McLachlan to hold, and why this should moderate certainty in discussions of life-and-death. This has been evidenced further since our initial publication, as outlined in Ed’s write-up. That said, given the existing length of the article and the easy confusion between ad hominem attacks and legitimate questions around authority — and in the interest of avoiding further antagonism — we’ve decided to re-prioritise and delete the section.
“Vaccines Don’t Stop You Getting Sick”?
Then comes one of the most extraordinary claims in this document. Bret and Heather go on to claim that the vaccines are not preventing serious illness and death among younger people who still get sick through breakthrough cases.
“”We are assured that the novel coronavirus vaccines are highly effective … It does seem to be true that the risk of infection is far lower in vaccinated than in unvaccinated individuals. But if a person is both vaccinated and infected, the correct math reveals no reduction in deaths, compared to being unvaccinated, unless they are old.”
This again is a very important and influential claim, as it would likely affect people’s decision on whether or not to be vaccinated. It’s hard to overstate how significant a claim this is, if true. That the vaccines stop serious infection and death in even breakthrough cases is one of the most well established facts in the whole pandemic. All the most deeply researched long articles, such as this in the Atlantic, and this in NYMag, repeat the claim that vaccines stop serious illness, even though there are more and more breakthrough cases, especially with the Delta variant. If the entire medical and journalistic establishment have got this wrong, then this is something that should urgently be corrected, and should be front page news everywhere.
And on the face of it, this seems hugely counter-intuitive for anyone who has been paying attention to the progress of the vaccine studies, and tracking the data. The headline from the early vaccine trials, of huge numbers of people, were that nearly all the vaccines were more effective at preventing serious illness and death than they were at preventing illness (even though they were up to 95% effective at preventing illness). For example, a headline in the UK was how a large trial of the AstraZeneca vaccine found zero deaths in the vaccine arm of the trial.
All the observational data also seems to support the assertion that the vaccines are reducing deaths and serious illness, even as cases surge in the UK and elsewhere, the number of deaths from the virus is infinitely lower than in previous waves of the disease (see graph).
This is supported by evidence from some of the biggest medical trials, observational data from states, for example in Virginia, for instance, just under 54 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, while over 98 percent of the people hospitalised are not fully vaccinated and nearly all deaths are for people who are not fully vaccinated.
So what do Bret and Heather base this extremely important assertion on? A paper published on Substack by “Dr RollerGator PhD”.
(Edit: 17/08. Dr RollerGator objected to the original wording of this part of the article — I have rewritten to the best of my understanding for clarity, if he still believes it is incorrect, then he is welcome to send me his analysis and I will include it in the document. [edit 18/08 — adding Rollergator’s response below])
In his paper he looks at a study in Israel and makes the case that people who use the data from this study to argue the vaccines are reducing deaths by large numbers are conflating this with the “protection” offered by the vaccines, ie: stopping people getting ill in the first place, and that a proper analysis of the data shows that it is unclear if the vaccines are not stopping (younger) people dying if they get breakthrough cases.
Another account called Bad Stats has written a detailed analysis of the Rollergator paper, which I think can be summarised as: his analysis was narrowly true in the study he was looking at, but that it was such a tiny sample that the conclusions were unreliable to make wider claims about the effectiveness of vaccines in preventing deaths in infected (younger) people.
It’s unclear whether Rollergator is asserting that his paper means that he believes that the vaccines are not preventing deaths and serious illness outside the elderly more widely, or whether he is making a smaller claim related to this Israeli study. The central issue here is that Bret and Heather use this paper to make that wider claim that the “correct math” shows the vaccines are not preventing serious illness and death among younger people who contract Covid while vaccinated.
If this is true, then this turns upside down the currently accepted wisdom on the vaccines. A Pulitzer nomination awaits Dr Rollergator if he continues this investigation and proves his case beyond the small study he references. But the claim also requires we believe, not only that the entire world of journalism and media has missed the story, but also that the entire medical world has missed it too. And even though much ‘conventional wisdom’ has been overturned in the course of the pandemic, this really stretches credulity. Let alone the decoupling we have seen between infections and deaths worldwide in vaccinated countries, I’ve been in touch with multiple prominent medical figures, many of whom have large podcasts aimed at the medical profession and are plugged into vast networks of frontline medical staff. They all say this claim does not fit with what they are seeing. Just one example, Graham Walker, who is a working ER doctor in San Francisco (one of the most highly vaccinated cities in the US) said the claim was on its face bizarre: “I don’t know how to say this isn’t true enough times. I have hospitalized personally zero patients who are vaccinated. I have hospitalized dozens of unvaccinated COVID patients.”
The epidemiologist Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz also looked at the RollerGator paper and concluded:
“I’ve seen this blog before — it’s essentially a really bad argument where he treats uncertainty as evidence against efficacy. What he’s really showing is that the trials were not big enough to demonstrate efficacy in these populations (because young people are less likely to die from COVID-19), but then uses that to argue that this is evidence that the vaccines don’t work for this age group.
“Even more strangely, he uses a Bayesian uninformative prior to simulate this uncertainty, which gives him a presumed death rate of 0.04% from COVID in a group of people 16–44 years in which there were no COVID deaths. All he’s doing is modelling uncertainty (because this is uncertain) and then claiming that the point-estimates he gets are the true value, which is totally wrong.
“A more accurate statement based on this evidence is that for certain age groups it is hard to estimate the efficacy of vaccines against death due to the low numbers, but given the extremely high levels of protection in age groups where deaths are more common we can assume the vaccine is very effective at preventing death even in those who are infected after being immunized.”
Dr Rollergator has sent me his response to this section, pasted below as I offered.
“My article had two central premises. The first premise is that public communicators, including journalists, credentialed medical professionals, and public facing government officials, regularly fail to maintain an important distinction between COVID vaccines preventing COVID infection and COVID vaccines reducing hospitalization and death rates after infection with COVID.
The second premise is that, at the time, it was claimed that the vaccines had ~97% protection against death after infection. Those numbers were coming from the largest study in the world at the time of 6.5 million people observed meticulously via government surveillance, and only related to preventing infection. Those who never get COVID obviously do not become hospitalized or die with COVID. The same study did not contain enough information to determine if for ages under 65 there existed any reduction in hospitalization or death after infection.
David’s Medium article confirms both premises. The Bad Stats twitter account agreed with both premises explicitly and Gideon Meyerowitz-Katz confirmed that the largest study in the world at the time of 6.5 million people observed meticulously via government surveillance, did not contain enough information to determine if for ages under 65 there existed any significant reduction in hospitalization or death after infection, and therefore could not support the claim of ~97% protection from death if infected.
David demonstrated the first premise by failing to maintain the difference between preventing infection, and reduction in hospitalization or death after infection. David’s examples, including graphs, ER doctors, Virginia data, are results of preventing infection and do not maintain the distinction. My article is not in contradiction with any existing evidence. It simply requires one maintain a significant and important distinction. David’s inability to maintain that distinction should not make me eligible for a Pulitzer Prize.
Lastly, I did not make any point estimates and consider them the true value, and I didn’t make any argument “against efficacy.” Those are a complete invention of Meyerowitz-Katz.”
David’s note: The central point is not Rollergator’s article, it is whether Bret and Heather have interpreted it correctly when they made the wider claim about the vaccines not preventing serious illness and death in breakthrough cases. I have asked Rollergator on at least ten occasions if they interpreted his article correctly and he has refused to answer. People can make of that what they will, but it’s Crisis Comms 101 when on the defensive to find one small error in a lengthy argument and then focus on it obsessively, and hope people miss the wider evidence and argument.
Are Vaccines Creating Variants?
From here, they advance another quite extraordinary claim that the vaccines themselves have created many of the existing variants the world is wrestling with. Their argument is that small vaccine trials in the UK/India and elsewhere were responsible for the variants such as Alpha or Delta. It’s worth stopping to think about what an amazing claim this is, and how newsworthy it would be if true. Every paper in the world would print that story. But the evidence they present is non-existent.
This is an argument first put forward by a veterinarian and vaccine expert Geert Vanden Bossche, a Dutch scientist whom Bret hosted a couple of months ago, and whose concerns Bret shared on Twitter as recently as last week.
He argued that vaccinating during a pandemic was dangerous as it could create evolutionary pressure to create vaccine-resistant ‘escape’ variants. The reasoning is threefold: the vaccine is not perfectly effective, the pandemic (and new variant production) is ongoing, and not everyone will be vaccinated to the same degree simultaneously. The result is that suboptimal levels of immunity will place selective pressure on the virus, as with any evolutionary dynamic, to produce more transmissible variants beyond the reach of vaccines: ones that prolong the pandemic and produce more deaths.
There is a more mainstream version of this argument supported by many scientists and doctors. Namely, that high cases and high vaccination can be a dangerous combination if it encourages natural mutation. This was highlighted, in fact, by 100 physicians in an open letter to the UK government, which raised concerns about the highly vaccinated UK opening up from lockdown with cases surging.
Yet Vanden Bossche translates his claim into a call for the total cessation of the vaccine programme. The medical consensus is the opposite. The main risk, it suggests, is the sheer number of cases, and therefore the number of potential bodies the virus has to mutate within — this means that the vaccine programme should instead be accelerated.
For all these problems, Bret has claimed that Vanden Bossche has been “proved right” because of the new surge in dangerous variants like Delta. I argued to Bret that these variants, such as Alpha in the UK, and Delta in India, actually emerged well before widespread vaccine penetration.
In their paper, they double down on the “Vanden Bossche was right” argument in a further and very peculiar way. They argue that each of the variants (Alpha / Beta / Gamma / Delta) emerged in places that were holding vaccine trials at the time.
They say: “Let us examine the specifics of the variants that have spread and caused trouble.
“The Alpha variant emerged in the UK in October, which was when Oxford-AstraZeneca was holding vaccine trials there.
“The Beta variant emerged in South Africa, and was first detected in December, 2020, at the tail end of trial periods for both Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer vaccines. This variant carries three mutations in the spike protein.
“The Gamma variant was first detected in Japan, but soon after in Brazil, making the origin a little harder to determine. But since Japan has had far lower viral spread than Brazil, it makes the most sense that Brazil was the source. Both Oxford-AstraZeneca and Pfizer trialed their vaccines in Brazil.
“The Delta variant was first detected in India in October, 2020. India hosted numerous vaccine trials including one for Oxford-AstraZeneca and one for Covishield.”
This is an amazing claim. If it’s true, this should be a front page feature everywhere. It’s major news. If the Delta variant ravaging the world actually emerged because of vaccine trials in India, then this is something of interest to every single news organisation and scientist, and desperately calls to be factored into our response.
I don’t understand how evolutionary biologists can make this claim, given the logic of the argument about vaccine escape and variants. Simply put, the argument is a sheer numbers game: the larger the number of cases, and therefore the number of bodies in which the virus has a chance to mutate, versus the number of vaccinated people, so the amount of potential interactions between the two (infected + vaccinated) selects for a variant that can cross the gap. The higher each of those numbers is, the more chance of a virus mutating and crossing over to the vaccinated.
To believe that the odds favour this happening related to small vaccine trials in the countries mentioned strains credulity. Firstly it is far more likely is that Delta emerged because of the sheer number of cases in India, where up to two-thirds are now believed to have antibodies and thus a history of infection.
Secondly: IF this argument about the vaccine trials was true — this would mean it is incredibly easy to create variants with even small vaccination programmes. In this case we should now be seeing an absolute cascade of them around the world. The UK would be ground zero, in fact, given its perfect storm of high case numbers, high vaccination rates. The UK, of all countries would be most likely to detect this given that it has the biggest and best virus sequencing programme in the world, with around 23% of all worldwide capacity (which is why we detected Alpha in late 2020). Yet we aren’t seeing this at all.
It’s odd that Bret and Heather single out India, Brazil and the UK for their vaccine trials. Studies were around the world, and this looks like a very tenuous attempt to fit a post-hoc justification “VDB was right” to the evidence rather than looking at things objectively and with a balance of probabilities.
There are multiple other concerns about Vanden Bossche’s theories, which seem to rely on an understanding of the body’s immune system that most doctors find unique and peculiar. Adding to this, he is running a company promoting rival vaccine products based on “natural killer cells”. As with many of the claims discussed today, these are red flags. Not kisses of death, but certainly red flags.
Vanden Bossche’s other claims have been contested. Our current suite of vaccines are largely efficacious and effective against new variants, and crucially they reduce transmission as well as infectivity. Preliminary data from countries with high vaccination rates, such as Israel, the U.K., and the U.S., suggest that COVID-19 vaccines reduce viral transmission in the real world, and the emergence of variants like Alpha in the UK or India’s Delta predated mass vaccination. One study published in The New England Journal of Medicine found that there were 92% fewer infections among individuals in Israel who received both doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine compared to unvaccinated individuals.
Even if they don’t prevent all transmissions, vaccines can cut the transmission chain across the board and place downward pressure on epidemics. Delta may provide an exception — as with its extreme infectivity and spread — but most viral evolution also has no effects on function, or can produce weakened new versions less likely to kill their hosts (being that viruses need their hosts to be alive to continue transmitting). In this sense, the way to prevent new variants would be precisely, it seems, to deploy vaccination.
It’s not unprecedented to deploy vaccines during pandemics, either, like he often suggests: the 1989 measles outbreak in the US, or containing mumps and meningococcal disease in the US, has followed this approach (all without producing deadlier variants).
Update (19/10): It’s worth mentioning, though, that vaccines can promote new variants — if we balance their administration in the wrong way on an international level. As reported in NPR, WHO scientists have argued that a programme of ‘booster shots’ — intended for rollout from September in the US — risks diverting vaccines from the chronically under-jabbed developing world, which places upward pressure on the viral load and fosters new variants.
Substack’s Omissions — the Dark Horse claims
What is striking about Bret and Heather’s Substack posting is not what they are saying. It’s what they’re not saying — and what they are not trying to defend. Indeed, some truly extraordinary claims were made on their Dark Horse podcast.
These are the same claims, it’s worth noting, which prompted the censorship and demonetisation that led to Bret’s “free speech” case being taken up by people like Matt Taibbi, or scoring interviews with the likes of Megyn Kelly, Tucker Carlson and Lex Fridman.
Steve Kirsch & Robert Malone
Some of the most concerning claims took place on the podcast hosted by Bret with entrepreneur Steve Kirsch and Robert Malone alluded to earlier: an episode called “How to Save the World, in Three Easy Steps”.
In my view, their claims, and many of the other claims made by Bret and Heather on the podcast fall into three different camps.
- Genuine concerns, that are often reflected by other doctors and there is a healthy debate around, for example whether the risk/benefit ratio of vaccinating children is the same as for adults, or whether people who are immune through recovery should be vaccinated.
- Issues that were raised during the research process (eg: what happens to the ‘spike protein’) but largely resolved and answered, in a different way to that claimed by Bret’s guests.
- Flat out and easily provable misinformation.
Even the Dark Horse comments thread found Steve Kirsch a bit much, for his constant talking over the other guest and excitable and bombastic speech. It was he who made lurid claims about miscarriages, and babies with bloody and split brains.
He is a “serial entrepreneur” in Silicon Valley, trained in engineering and with no professional medical background. He is the author of a widely shared Google document where he has compiled all the evidence that he believes shows the vaccines to be dangerous. It was this document that led Bret to invite him onto the podcast with Robert Malone to relay his findings to Bret’s audience. He also penned a viral article for Trial Site News, an alternative medicine site for which Dr Robert Malone (more on him later) serves on the Advisory Board.
That article in particular is very badly written, lurid and conspiratorial. Many of its statements are unsupported and obviously false. He repeated them on the Dark Horse podcast, too, and a good and fairly categorical assessment of his claims can be found here.
As one example, in the podcast Kirsch and Bret both state that the vaccines skipped animal trials. This claim was also repeated to me by Ivermectin advocate Tess Lawrie. It is categorically false. Consider the primate studies by Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax (a jab that Kirsch and Malone champion), and Johnson and Johnson, or that by Pfizer/BioNTech, which administered the vaccine to primates as well as mice.
Yet this claim has just as easily become an article of faith for many people. How big a demonstration of how small the echo chamber of vaccine skepticism must be — and how little engagement with any critical feedback could there be — that this claim continues to circulate as unchallenged fact?
Exploding Ovaries? Vaccines & Fertility
The most extreme claims made by Kirsch were related to fertility, and they have since gone viral. He claimed that the spike protein from the vaccine migrated to the ovaries and became concentrated there; he showed a graph that was on view for nearly ten minutes, purporting to show a massive spike in the ovaries. Here’s how he put it:
“Here’s what this means. This vaccine seeks out your daughter’s ovaries and instructs the cells in the ovaries to turn out a very toxic spike protein. It also goes to your child’s brain, heart, and other critical organs. This can cause deafness, blindness, inability to speak, myocarditis, pericarditis, and more at unacceptable rates. It may permanently damage your child’s reproductive system.”
Since many people who watched this video are probably already vaccinated, this claim is highly likely to cause distress and concern, and to worry that they have a time bomb in their veins.
Very soon after that episode aired, however, it emerged that the graph Steve Kirsch had provided was completely inaccurate. The vaccine does not become concentrated in the ovaries: the vast majority of it stays at the injection site, and organs other than the ovaries have much higher concentrations. This is something he even acknowledges in the descriptor of his graph. What he doesn’t mention is that the graph being shown was a record of vaccines given to rats at a rate up to 35 times greater than humans.
Kirsch also claims in his document the spontaneous abortion rate after the vaccine is 82%, and is therefore dangerous for pregnant women. In their podcast, Bret said: “at some level, it’s not safe for women at all.”
As well as there being no headline evidence from animal studies or our healthcare institutions of risk to pregnancy, what size of conspiracy would be required if this was true? Think of the obstetricians and medical professionals around the world, forced to keep quiet as nearly every pregnancy failed following the vaccine. How many medical professionals would be required to cover up abortions, betray their medical training and ethical obligations?
There doesn’t need to be a cover-up, either, because his 82% claim — much like that around lipid nanoparticles — isn’t true. It’s based on a skewed interpretation of a paper in the New England Journal of Medicine, which examined the outcomes of over 35,000 pregnant women given the jab. The paper found that 104 women had ‘spontaneous abortions’, or miscarriages, before 20 weeks.
Yet rather than divide this number by the denominator of all the women up to 20 weeks (at least 1,125, if you exclude some of the 1,714 women who were jabbed in their second trimester), Kirsch only accounts for those women whose pregnancies were completed at the time of publication, reducing it to 127. Rather than a reasonable miscarriage rate of around 8.5% — close to the standard miscarriage rate of around 10% — Kirsch engineers a number an order of magnitude higher. He does this despite the authors in the paper concluding that there is “no obvious safety signals among pregnant persons who received mRNA Covid-19 vaccines.”
This and other seemingly deliberate and premeditated distortions of research and evidence by Kirsch demonstrate him to be an outright fabricator and fantasist. In my last ‘Dark Horse, Final Word’ film, I said that the fact that Kirsch had not been criticised, in fact was still supported, by so many of these figures seriously discredits all of them.
Dr Robert Malone, The Vaccine Whistleblower?
That Dr Robert Malone is making these claims should be a cause for concern among audiences. He’s billed as the inventor of mRNA vaccines, and he’s pitched as a brave whistleblower ready to sound the alarm on the research he pioneered. Malone was everything that Kirsch wasn’t, too: sober, measured and definitive.
Yet it’s highly unclear if he was the inventor at all, which is generally credited to Katalin Kariko. It’s interesting that the veteran journalist Matt Taibbi, who has written in support of Bret from a free speech angle on a number of occasions, initially wrote of Malone as “inventor of the mRNA vaccine technology” on June 16, but in his subsequent piece on July 2nd Malone was described as “a former Salk Institute researcher often credited with helping develop mRNA vaccine technology”, a much weaker claim.
Nowhere until his pandemic appearances on Fox News and The Daily Mail and Bret’s podcast has Malone claimed to be the inventor of mRNA vaccines. He has claimed to be the inventor of DNA vaccines on his website since at least 2010, though. We’re not told — as mentioned earlier — that he is also on the advisory board for Trial Site News, either — a key medical site for vaccine sceptical information. It doesn’t mean what he says cannot be trusted, but it certainly shows that he has a history of involvement with vaccine skepticism, and is not solely a reluctant whistleblower.
Authority claims are problematic, too, we may be told. It’s what he says, not who he is. True. Yet Bret has previously used Malone’s credentials as the precise grounding for his claims. “In June of 2021 Politifact “fact checked” the assertion (made on the DarkHorse Podcast by Dr. Robert Malone, inventor of mRNA vaccine technology) that “spike protein is cytotoxic.” They declared it false. How did they end up the arbiter of factual authority in this case? Shouldn’t the presumption be with Dr. Malone, and with DarkHorse?”, Bret declared.
It’s also something Bret seems to care about. Consider his response to Sam Harris’ podcast: “Likewise, Eric Topol portrays Robert Malone as not the inventor of mRNA vaccine technology, which is clearly not the case. This has been looked into. There are publications and there are patents that clearly indicate that he is where he said he was.”
As a journalist, there are good workflows, and red flags in dealing with whistleblowers. One of the clear red flags is whether there was any controversy or bad feeling from their previous employment, and whether anything other than simply the desire to right a wrong might be playing out.
In an article linked on his website and other declarations, Malone has given a lengthy account of how his invention of mRNA technology was stolen from him and passed off as someone else’s work: an act he called “intellectual rape” and “academic theft”. Not necessarily disqualifying, again, but would an experience like this — the feeling of being written out of history, and any potential financial benefits (a particular concern since his patents are now expired) — be a factor in his assessment of the risks and desire to speak out? We don’t know, but humans are human, and this is why we need to have a healthy skepticism and critique of his claims.
Like Vanden Bossche, Malone works on a different vaccine technology based on recombinant nanoparticles, which involve producing copies of the antigenic protein in insect cells, purifying them, and linking them together to form small poly-protein particles. He’s been very active in the press lately touting the superiority of the technology over others. It’s perhaps worth noting that Malone runs a commercial consultancy, which also may benefit from any corresponding publicity.
Malone suggests (like Kirsch) that the spike protein embedded in the vaccine can circulate in the blood and cause damage to our organs. Kirsch — and, to an extent, Bret — mixed this claim with a parallel one that the spike protein can cross the ‘blood-brain barrier’, which may explain the preponderance of headaches they allege after vaccination. Update (19/10): Malone seemed to re-emphasise these concerns on September 10th, sharing an article he wrote was forward to him by Bret, on how the SARS-CoV-2 spike protein damages the body.
According to Abraham Ahlamad, biologist of the blood-brain barrier, this is not the case. He argues that the spike protein in the jab behaves very differently to that seen in SARS-CoV-2’s outer layer. Most of the spike protein is very quickly disassembled or processed in the liver, and observed blood-brain barrier crossing occurred at doses in animals far, far higher than that prescribed in humans. In fact, medical journalist Edward Nirenberg calculated that the doses required to cause harm through the spike protein — based on the quantities seen in cell culture studies — would need to be increased by around 100,000 times.
It’s also notable that the Novavax vaccine, promoted by Kirsch, utilises a spike protein technology, albeit of a different kind. Like Pfizer and Moderna, it’s also manufactured by a pharmaceutical firm (part of Big Pharma, I’ll add) — yet we don’t see the same standard applied.
Long Term Risks?
One of the more credible claims made by Malone, Kirsch and Bret, is something that many people share, concerns about the ‘long-term effects’ of novel mRNA vaccines. While their research stretches back to the 1970s and directly on animals to thirty years ago — and they’ve been used on humans as long as four years ago -the technology certainly hasn’t been administered on humans at scale. There is indication that the vaccines produce a statistically higher likelihood of certain side effects, such as blood clotting and Bells Palsy, as Bret has emphasised. This may be a harbinger of other factors down the line.
This is among the vaccine sceptics’ most compelling arguments. But it faces problems like everything else. As has been stated many times by others, any side effects from the vaccine are typically exceedingly rare: as of April, (update 19/10) eighty six reports of blood clots among twenty-five million in Europe, four in a million with Pfizer or Moderna. Anaphylaxis, including with Polyethylene Glycol, a chemical present in the vaccines about which Bret and Heather have sounded some alarm, occurs at 1.31 per million. Anaphylaxis in general is fatal in only 1 in 1,000 cases.
Three, six, twelve months on from the vaccine administration — including the vaccine trial participants last year, who are still being observed — you aren’t seeing these side effects, either. Why would there be a discrete leap in side effects all this time later? What would be the mechanism? Hiding behind “possibility” and “long-term effects” doesn’t always work, either. As “something that could happen”, Bret went as far as suggesting that the vaccine could create lymphomas and blood cancer. Yet the mRNA vaccine does not use DNA, and goes nowhere near the nucleus of the cell, which would be required to cause cancer.
And what of how sensitive our authorities have been to them? The extremely small blood clotting signal led European authorities to temporarily discontinue their vaccine, and similarly tiny side effects of myocarditis (discussed above) have caused a hesitancy to endorse vaccine use among young people around the world.
This article in the Age in Australia makes an interesting argument, that because vaccines work on the immune system, any negative effects tend to show up very quickly. This was echoed by Eric Topol in the podcast with Sam Harris.
“A phase-three is typically tens of thousands. We already have real-world experience in tens of millions. We have massive experience using the best surveillance system we’ve ever had,” says Robert Booy, senior professorial fellow at the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance.
Even if there were real, substantial signal, what of the side effects, both long- and short-term, of the virus itself? It may seem glib to mention this, but Bret and Heather have been at pains for some time — especially in their response to Sam Harris’ recent podcast — to emphasise the possibility of natural immunity instead of vaccine-acquired protection, by which one would acquire the antibodies through being infected with SARS-CoV-2. When the side effects of developing acute and chronic COVID-19 are this serious, it makes little sense for there to be so little comparative emphasis on the dangers of this natural immunity.
They may respond, however, that natural immunity is simply more effective than through vaccines. They grounded this suggestion in a podcast using a preprint paper, which — as well as concluding that vaccine immunity was similarly “robust” — seems to clash with the broader evidence base, which has shown vaccine-acquired protection to be more effective. Research by Khoury et al suggests that the concentration of antibodies is higher in mRNA-jabbed subjects. Resistance to spike proteins is higher, too, as is their ability to produce ‘recall responses’ to fight infection. Those who’d received just a quarter-dose of the Moderna vaccine, in fact, were observed to have an equivalent immunity to those who’d been infected by COVID-19.
Update (19/10): The debate of ‘natural immunity’ versus vaccine-acquired immunity picked up pace in the last couple of months, though, with the publication of an Israeli study from Maccabi Healthcare and Tel Aviv University. See below for our breakdown.
In a preprint study that made waves in the media, a major study suggests that natural immunity may be more robust than that generated through vaccines. Appraising 76,000 Israelis, authors carved their sample in three groups: the double-jabbed (with the Pfizer vaccine), the previously infected who hadn’t been jabbed, and those previously infected who’d had a single jab.
They found that fully vaccinated but uninfected people had a ‘13.06-fold’ greater likelihood of ‘breakthrough’ infection than people who had previously been infected and recovered from the disease. It’s a striking result, which can been interpreted in different ways. Some say the study demonstrates natural immunity may be more effective, and should at least cause us to consider natural immunity over vaccines for infection-spreading children.
Others may interpret the study as supportive of booster jabs, if the protection afforded by the vaccine declines over time. This can be grouped with another study from Maccabi Healthcare released the same week, which demonstrated 86% effectiveness for the third booster jab in those over sixty.
As alluded above, a major problem with ‘natural immunity’ is that it carries a higher risk of ‘side effects’. Namely, acquiring the virus and risking major health impacts and death, including elevated risks of the problems emphasised by vaccine-sceptics — including myocarditis (inflammation of the heart muscle), blood clots and strokes.
In her breakdown of the Maccabi paper, Dr Charlotte Thalin of the Karolinska Institute spelled out that the paper did not properly analyse the ‘benefit of vaccination’, since the vaccinated cohort was not granularised into those who had and hadn’t been previously infected for a comparison.
“The low rate of COVID-related hospitalisations among vaccinated participants (eight out of 16,000) would probably be strikingly lower than among non-vaccinated people without prior infection, but this group was not included in the analyses”, she writes.
The paper also concedes a few important limitations, including that it appraised only the Delta variant, the Pfizer jab, overlooked the presence of asymptomatic infection (the most common type of infection with Delta, according to the WHO), and may not have controlled enough for mitigative measures like mask-wearing and social distancing. In a thread on Twitter, the immunologist Andrew Croxford emphasised behavioural problems: that people who’ve been previously-infected (and therefore had to isolate for sometimes-long stretches) will be reluctant to re-test and document their infections. The testing for the paper was voluntary.
“It would have to be a big effect to overturn the 13-fold increase in infections, but I wouldn’t count it out as significant factor in this result”, Croxford wrote.
It’s also worth pointing to data released via the Office for National Statistics in the UK that same week (referenced by Croxford), which found that the immunity generated by two vaccines “remains at least as great as protection afforded by prior natural infection”, and was statistically greater.
We can pick holes in the above all we want, too, but the fact that this evidence base wasn’t mentioned is at least some cause for concern — especially since their contest with the binary of ‘unvaccinated’ versus ‘vaccinated’ is a core feature of their current case.
Many more of the claims made on this podcast, and by figures like Kirsch and Malone, have questions against them. It really shouldn’t be on others to have to do the work to address them, instead of the person who decided to signal boost the claims.
Conclusion — Sensemaking & Journalism
As I stated at the outset, I’m a journalist, I worked in the newsroom of Channel 4 News (multiple International Emmy-award winning programme), trained at the BBC, and made Royal Television Society award nominated documentaries for Channel 4. I gradually transitioned to making films for Rebel Wisdom to try to bring a deeper lens than mainstream media allows, making films and interviews with philosophical and psychological depth.
This document was pulled together over a number of weeks by me and one researcher working two days per week. Bret and Heather are working with similar resources.
I’m bringing a set of experiences, ethical judgements and principles that may or may not be entirely appropriate for the alternative media space. One of the issues we have, as was flagged up by Eric Weinstein recently is that we simply don’t know how to do truth seeking well outside the institutions.
Of course it is also true that the institutions themselves have deep deep problems, ideological capture, corruption and more.
However, I do think that there are some clear ethical principles here for us operating in ‘alternative media space’, and that all of us as content creators have some obligation to our audiences, for fact checking and duty of care.
Bret and Heather both have superpowers of communication, are credentialled scientific experts and a compelling personal narrative of heroism, standing up to a “woke mob” in Evergreen. This gives them arguably more influence over the people who follow and trust them than any mainstream sources of information, which most of their audience have likely already rejected.
By choosing to host certain guests, Bret lends his scientific credibility to them. One of the reasons that the Dark Horse has attracted a new audience in the last weeks, is that they have been upregulating people and messages that have been circulating in anti-vaccine circles for a long time. These are not necessarily new people and arguments. I first became aware of them in May last year through my investigations into Brian Rose and London Real, and how he used spurious ‘free speech’ arguments to raise over a million dollars for a scam “digital freedom platform”.
The central case that I was making in the Areo article is that I believe Bret and Heather’s bubble of trusted information has become far too small for the nature of the claims that they were making, which is already some way outside their specialist area of evolutionary biology.
Especially it seems not to include any medical experts who aren’t part of the narrow ‘vaccine-sceptical’ folks connected to counter-consensus sites like TrialSiteNews. The proof of that, I would argue is in some of the recent claims that they have made that are clearly untrue, or highly unlikely, and would be picked up by almost any medically informed person who has been tracking the progress of the pandemic.
Bret and Heather are not journalists, but in this new media environment, they are broadcasters, and broadcasters with arguably much more authority than mere journalists given their assumed scientific rigour and compelling personal narratives.
In a recent podcast they took pains to say that they hadn’t told anyone to do anything and that people were responsible for their own decisions. While this is strictly true that they hadn’t given clear medical advice, is there really no responsibility at all? These ethical concerns and a sense of responsibility for content was baked into every level of the process at media outlets. You can argue that the legacy media takes gatekeeping too far and should trust their audiences more, but surely with power and influence comes some responsibility.
As I cover in the Areo article, all of this is downstream of the crisis of sensemaking and the warping of the information landscape, and in many ways this could happen to all of us. We desperately need more structures and systems to do this outside the institutions, something Rebel Wisdom will be covering closely over the next months.